Planar PL1700M 17" LCD Monitor, built-in Speakers Reviews

Planar PL1700M 17" LCD Monitor, built-in Speakers

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PL1700 Good Value, Great Service

Aug 1, 2006 (Updated Oct 1, 2006)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

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Pros:Excellent service, warranty, great image quality, well designed

Cons:Fonts a little jagged, not good for low resolution apps, no DVI, limited-motion standard mount

The Bottom Line: Solid, high-quality mid-range LCD monitor. Planar's excellent service, the 3 year warranty, and the great image quality, plus the good price (now $200), make this a great buy.

Being of a somewhat frugal bent (imagine that), when the 15" CRT on my circa 1999 PC died, I dug out the old 13" from the circa 1995 PC and used it for about a week, despite the fact that after staring at the blurry, ghostly image for a while it felt like I was wearing somebody else's glasses for the rest of the day. Except I don't even wear glasses. Then my significant other used it for about 5 minutes and said, "Buy a new LCD monitor, I'll pay for it. This is horrible".

Heh heh heh. I love it when that happens.

So off I go into researching new LCD's, and found the key features to look for:

1) Screen size: A 15" LCD actually has about as much true viewing area as a 17" CRT, but I figured in the long run a 17" was a better value, especially since I have no intention of getting a new one until this one dies in 10 years (knock on wood). 19" was overkill, and very costly.

2) Response time, or how quickly the screen refreshes data. A slow response time could mean blurry or streaky animation. The PL1700 has a 16ms response, about as fast as you could get at the time for a reasonable price (mid 2005). The cheaper ones generally were about 21ms.

3) Brightness. The PL1700 has a brightness of 260 cd/m2 (that's candles/m2), which is a bit low for some LCD's, but as I'll explain below, more than plenty bright.

4) Dot pitch, or how small the pixels are. The PL1700 has a dot pitch of .264mm, and a maximum resolution of 1280x1024. This is not quite top of the line, but pretty close for the average user.

5) Video output - DVI and/or VGA. DVI is digital output, which is only now becoming more common on PC's (kinda like HDTV). VGA is the classic analog output that's been used since forever. For me just VGA was fine, but for someone looking for DVI or both the PL1700 won't cut it - it's VGA only.

6) Contrast ratio, or the difference between the blackest black and the whitest white. The PL1700 is about 450:1, or close to the best. This gives an extremely crisp display.

7) Price. Here's where I departed from my normal cheapskate ways. I've found out the hard way that getting too cheap with electronics or appliances, especially long-lived ones, is a bad idea. Granted, there's perfectly serviceable cheap monitors out there, but I decided I wanted quality and longevity, and was willing to pay an extra $100 for it. Especially since it wasn't my money.

Once I'd gotten that figured out, now it was time to narrow it down. I had already focused on Planar for 3 reasons:

1) Their HQ is near where I live (around Portland Oregon), and I like supporting local businesses.
2) Their primary customer base is business and institutional. If you pay attention there are a LOT of Planar monitors and screens in airports, doctor's offices, etc. And businesses and institutions are much fussier than your average retail customer.
3) 3 year immediate replacement warranty - the best I found.

That left me with choosing a model, and since what I was looking for was the best monitor with the least bells and whistles (ie, no speakers, no stainless steel trim, etc.), the PL1700 turned out to be the best match. I ended up purchasing it sight unseen from Monitors Direct, one of Planars "approved" outlets, since they have no direct retail presence in any of the electronics stores. Ordering was a breeze and it came within a week.

Hooking it up was a breeze too, and it came with a test CD that helped optimize all the settings. There are actually quite a few settings, like phase and sharpness, that I'd never heard of (and still don't understand all that well). Fortunately, there's an "Auto Adjust" option that gets the display nearly perfect.

But, alas, there was a spot. A spot that would not come off. A darkened spot about 1/2" wide that looked a lot like something was trapped behind the glass, the way a frosted glass light cover looks when bugs get in it. So I called Planar, got a real person within about 5 minutes, explained the problem, and 5 minutes later I had a brand new monitor being shipped express the same day (yup, they send a new one even before they get the old one back). It was that simple. After expecting at least some resistance ("are you SURE you tried to wipe it off") or some bureaucratic nightmare ("fill out these 5 forms and then it'll take 30 days after my supervisor reviews the case") this was a downright pleasant experience. And the new monitor was defect-free.

Now, to get to actual usage. The first thing I found was that the LCD is considerably brighter than a CRT. I found that setting brightness and contrast at about 50% is ideal; higher than that is almost painful, especially with text. However, if you use a lot of graphics or view photos it's actually a good thing - especially if the graphics tend to be on the dark side. This also helps with longevity - as it gets older and starts to dim there's plenty of room for adjustment.

The other thing is, because of the high contrast, every pixel in a font tends to become obvious, leading to the appearance of jagged edges on rounded letters like "a". If you've got Win XP, supposedly there's a font smoothing option in the display that minimizes this. I've got Win 98, and it has something like that but it doesn't work very well. This is where actually using a monitor before you buy it is probably a good idea - what's annoying to one person may be a non-issue to another. All LCD's have limits on how much you can play with your screen resolution, unlike CRT's, which look pretty much the same no matter how the resolution is set. The monitor looks its best at the highest resolution of 1280x1024. Any lower, and the pixels become extremely obvious and the image quality declines substantially. The PL1700 struggles with 320x200 resolution - the whole screen shifts left and the horizontal adjustments can't fully compensate. If you're like me and have a fair collection of DOS games that run at 640x480 or lower, a CRT is better. However, the good news is, at 1280x1024 the 17" PL1700 has a huge, clean, usable viewing area, great for multiple windows, and text is especially crisp. Another big advantage of LCD's is low power consumption -at least 50% less than a CRT.

Where this monitor shines is in graphics, especially high detail like photographs or game backgrounds. I swear, if the whole screen is filled with a photo or a high resolution graphic, it looks to me just like a matte print - beautiful colors, clean edges, and an almost 3D clarity. The glass screen has a nice non-reflective matte finish, so there are no annoying reflections from windows or lights.

Plus, even though it's kind of obvious, the 17" LCD takes up next to no desk space, and is quite attractive - a nice narrow black frame, unobtrusive yet easy-to-use adjustment buttons, and a simple square base. I kinda wish it came standard with a more adjustable base that allows universal movement (you can spend another $50 or so for a better mount) but that's not really a big issue for my basic PC use.

Overall, this is one of the better investments I've made of someone else's money. Between the warranty, service, and quality of the product I have no regrets, and would recommend the Planar to anyone, especially now that you can get one for less than $200!

Update, 8/6/06: It occurred to me that my ancient PC with its currently overtaxed video card may have something to do with the jaggedness and resolution issues. I suspect a newer pc with better video processing would look even better.

Update, 10/1/06: The march of technology being what it is, you can now get a Planar 19" with DVI, speakers, and specs at least twice as good as the PL1700 for $250. I'd check those out before getting this one, but you still get the same great 3 year warranty.

Recommend this product? Yes

Amount Paid (US$): 300 (8/05)
Operating System: Windows

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