Flat panel display comes of age

Everywhere I take the Nokia 500Xa, this flat panel display monitor turns heads. Roughly 16" * 14", thinner than 4", and weighing less than 16 pounds, the 500Xa isn't difficult to tote around. Try lugging a standard CRT monitor somewhere, and you'll understand why I'm excited about the 500Xa's portability.

Because the 500Xa is slim and lightweight, it's easy to place. You can even mount the monitor on a wall, if you purchase the optional mounting unit. Although the display's maximum resolution of 1024 * 768 isn't optimal, the 500Xa monitor has a wide viewing angle (100 degrees * 120 degrees) and a 15.1" display panel. The display supports 16.7 million colors, is amazingly resistant to glare, and uses active-matrix Thin Film Transistor (TFT) LCD technology that produces uniform pixel sharpness across the display panel and stable picture geometry. The display panel's high-contrast ratio and brightness level make viewing easy, even under problematic lighting conditions. The 500Xa produces minimal electromagnetic radiation, so you can use several monitors in close proximity without adversely affecting their image quality.

Among the most important variables to consider in a flat panel display are contrast ratio, refresh rate, and ability to render off-horizontal wireframe images with minimal stairstepping. The 500Xa's 300:1 contrast ratio is very good and considerably higher than that of many of its competitors. When I ran the display at refresh frequencies of 60Hz and 75Hz and moved the mouse cursor rapidly across the screen, the 500Xa didn't produce the cursor trails that older flat panel displays sometimes produce. Thanks to the 500Xa's LCD technology, the display doesn't flicker, even at low refresh-rate levels.

To test the 500Xa's ability to display rapid-fire wireframe renderings, I hooked up the monitor to a Dell Precision WorkStation 610 with dual 400MHz Pentium II Xeon processors and an Intergraph VX113GT graphics card (the 500Xa also supports Universal Serial Bus—USB—connections). I ran the CDRS Viewset to test the system's 3-D rendering capabilities. The test involves rotating an image of an electric lawn mower that has various shapes and textures, including a wireframe model. (You can find more information about the CDRS Viewset and the Viewperf benchmark tests, in addition to test scores for various systems, at http://www.specbench.org.) During the portion of the CDRS test in which wireframe representations of the mower rotate, I detected no difference between the 500Xa's ability to render crisp images of the mower with negligible stairstepping on lines just off the horizontal, and the same crisp rendering ability in traditional CRT monitors. I'm not saying that the 500Xa renders images as well as standard or high-end monitors do—the comparatively low resolution of this flat panel display suggests that flat panel display technology isn't yet ready for production art or engineering work, at least not at a price for which you couldn't also purchase a new car.

The 500Xa is a multimedia monitor with an integrated stereo sound system, so it doesn't require additional hardware to use your applications' audio features. Nokia's engineers incorporated two stereo speakers in the unit's base and situated a microphone at the top of the monitor. Placing the microphone as far away from the speakers as possible is a good idea, and decreases audio feedback and distortion that sometimes occur when microphones are too close to speakers. The small speakers produce acceptable audio quality, though not the clearest or the loudest sound I've ever heard.

Prices for space-saving lightweight flat panel display monitors are approaching those for standard CRT monitors. This trend is likely to continue, and many experts predict large price drops in 2001, when several flat panel display manufacturing facilities in Asia will be fully operational. This situation is auspicious, because flat panel display is the monitor technology of tomorrow. And if the 500Xa is typical of the quality we can expect from modern flat panel display monitors, tomorrow can't come fast enough.

Nokia 500Xa
Contact: Nokia * 972-894-5000
Web: http://www.nokia.com
Price: $1519