The expansion of addressable screen space on computer monitors has historically moved at a very slow pace, punctuated by a sudden switch to a new display standard. This has created a relative level of stagnation in terms of display technology; displays aren't advancing in terms of pixel density and addressable pixels in the same way that advances occur in processors, hard disks, and memory. In short: computer displays are not, necessarily, one of the beneficiaries of Moore's law.
The other side to this problem is that while specialty products do exist, they tend to be poorly publicized, obscure, and priced outside of the range of everyone except the most diehard enthusiasts and the deep pockets of large corporations, such as the IBM T220, which debuted in 2001 at $17,999 (USD). Luckily, a new series of products are available to consumers, though quite often, they are far overpriced — particularly depending on what vendor you acquire them from.
These products are WQHD displays: IPS LCD screens typically 27" diagonally, with a native resolution of 2560x1440, or 60% more pixels than relatively common and inexpensive 1080p monitors. This is also otherwise known as a 1440p display. A variety of companies well-known to American consumers produce WQHD monitors: Apple, Dell, and ASUS, to name a few. There are other companies that produce WQHD monitors that you probably have not heard of, such as QNIX, Catleap, and X-Star. The secret behind this, however, is that none of these companies actually produce the display panel inside these monitors — those are actually produced by the well-known Korean firm LG.
Bearing that in mind, a price comparison between these products is in order. Keep in mind that the prices listed include free shipping in the United States.
Apple Thunderbolt Display
Apple's LED Cinema Display, and the essentially identical Apple Thunderbolt Display, are the two most expensive offerings from name-brand suppliers, at $999 (USD). They both feature a contrast ratio of 1000:1, brightness of 375 cd/m², and response time of 12ms. These displays do bring some additional features that few other products claim to offer: In addition to a 2.1 speaker setup, both offer three powered USB 2.0 ports and a built-in webcam with microphone. The Thunderbolt Display also offers FireWire 800 and a Gigabit Ethernet port. As the name implies, the Thunderbolt display connects to (mostly Apple) computers featuring Thunderbolt ports, and the LED Cinema Display offers Mini DisplayPort.
Dell UltraSharp U2713HM
The Dell UltraSharp display is the second-most expensive offering from a name-brand supplier, at an MSRP of $799.99 (USD), though pinning down a price on this is challenging. At the time of this writing, Newegg offers it at $699.99 (USD), Amazon for $639.99 (USD), and Dell actually offers it at $559 (USD). It features the same contrast ratio as the Apple products above, while being marginally darker at 350 cd/m² and faster with a response time of 8ms. Though it lacks any speakers, it has a 4 port USB 3.0 hub built in. It connects to computers using D-Sub (VGA), DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort.
This monitor is something of an honorable mention in the brand-name category, as it isn't quite up to par with the displays offered by Apple and Dell above, but it does come at an attractive price. The MSRP is $759.99 (USD), though Newegg currently offers it at $559.00 (USD), and B&H offers it for $554.10 (USD). The PC278Q is only a PLS display, not a higher-quality IPS display, so photographers and others who require precision color reproduction should take note. Gamers may well find it to be a better option, however, as this monitor offers a 5ms response time. Also, at 300 cd/m², it is darker than the other displays. Like the Dell UltraSharp, it connects via D-Sub (VGA), DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort, but it lacks the USB 3.0 hub. Unlike the Dell display, it features two 3W stereo speakers.
In searching for Korean monitors, it is vital to keep a few things in mind. First, these devices are most often sold by third-party organizations on Amazon or eBay, with eBay typically having the best price. Second, these monitors typically don't have onboard scalers ("AD Board"), constraining their use to desktops only, and require the use of a full DVI-D (Dual Link) port.
The Crossover 27Q, available from eBay seller bigclothcraft for $338.50 (USD), is one of the better options available in the world of Korean-sourced WQHD displays, at an impressive 380 cd/m² brightness and 6ms response time. It also features a pair of 3W speakers. Of note, the power adapter for this particular display isn't a standard barrel-pin arrangement, so finding replacement adapters may be a challenging task.
The QNIX QX2170, available from eBay seller accessorieswhole for $319 (USD), is one of the most affordable and relatively cheap Korean-sourced monitors. Much like the PC278Q, it is a Samsung-produced PLS display at 300 cd/m². It features a marginally slower 6ms response time, and marginally better pair of 5W speakers, compared to the 3W pair from the ASUS model.
Monoprice 27" IPS-G Pro
The somewhat bafflingly named IPS-G Pro from Monoprice is a rather deluxe WQHD monitor that currently costs $418.62 (USD). At a purported 440 cd/m², it is the brightest of the bunch, with a response time of 6ms. It also has, for the category, the distinction of having an onboard scaler, allowing users to connect using VGA, DVI-D (Dual Link), DisplayPort, and HDMI.
Oddball honorable mentions
With an article about niche monitors from Asian suppliers, I would be remiss in failing to include these rather unique products.
On September 18th, LG will release the 29EA73-P, a 29" display with a native resolution of 2560x1080. As opposed to a 16:9 display, as has been discussed in this article, the ratio of this display is 21:9. Driven by an IPS panel with 5ms response time, 300 cd/m² brightness, and a pair of 7W speakers, it is one of the most interesting panels commercially available at the moment. Newegg currently offers it for $499.99 (USD), though the MSRP is $649 (USD).
Not everyone likes the 16:9 aspect ratio, and for those who need something with a little more height, the Crossover 30Q5 is the best bet. The WQXGA, or 2560x1600 display, is an impressive display at 370 cd/m² and 5ms response time. As is standard, it requires a DVI-D (Dual Link) port. It can be purchased from eBay seller accessorieswhole for $599 (USD).
Overall, the monitors available are far more user-friendly than the IBM T220, and they're much easier on the wallet. While it might be something of a stretch to say that 1440p displays are a better value than simply attaching two 1080p displays, it can be easier than arranging a multi-monitor setup and has the added benefit of only taking up one plug on your UPS. However, the options available from the off-name brands appear to be every bit of quality kit as the name-brand options, this owing largely to using the same panel suppliers.
James Sanders is a Java programmer specializing in software as a service and thin client design, and virtualizing legacy programs for modern hardware.