Introduction and Technical Specifications
Monitors have come a long way in recent times. For people of a certain age, and so that includes me, the thought of a monitor supporting VGA seemed to be very up-market indeed. Quickly a 14" monitor was replaced by the behemoths that were 1600x1200 CRTs, taking up swathes of desk-space, power, and weighing the best part of a ton.
The main problem with CRTs was the refresh rate issue. Although a lot of people didn't notice I always found a 60hz refresh rate gave me a monster headache, and I'm sure I'm not alone.
LCDs very quickly appeared on the market at incredibly high prices for even the tiniest monitor, so for a long while the choice for anyone needing a new display was either to buy a big, cumbersome, high resolution CRT. Or to spend much more on on a very small LCD that wasn't much use for gaming because technology hadn't caught up.
Now of course that's a distant memory. TN panels are so cheap, and LCD monitors so prevalent, that not owning a widescreen monitor around 22" is almost unheard of. So affordable are they that owning a couple is within the means of most, and both ATI and nVidia have based their latest technologies about you having three.
As the actual "wonder" of having a flat panel is so diluted as to be meaningless, manufacturers have taken to using those little details to steer you towards them.
ASUS MS236H Technical Specifications
ASUS have gone down the design road for their MS236H, and we'll take a close look and how this works on the next few pages. For now though we'll grab the technical specifications from the ASUS website.
|Panel Size: 23“ Wide Screen |
Color Staturation 72%(NTSC)
True Resolution: 1920X1080
Pixel Pitch: 0.265mm
Brightness(Max): 250 cd/㎡
Contrast Ratio (Max.): 50000 :1 (ASCR)
Display Color: 16.7M
Viewing Angle (CR≧10): 170°(H)/160°(V)
Response Time: 2 ms (Gray-to-Gray)
|Video Features||Trace Free Technology|
SPLENDID Video Intelligence Technology
SPLENDID Video Preset Modes (5 modes)
Skin-Tone Selection (3 mode)
Color Temperature Selection(5 modes)
|Convenient Hotkey||SPLENDID Video Preset Mode Selection|
|Input / Output||PC Input: HDMI/D-Sub|
Video Input: HDMI 1.3
AV Audio Input: HDMI 1.3
Earphone jack: 3.5mm Mini-jack (for HDMI only)
|Signal Frequency||Analog Signal Frequency: 30~85 KHz(H)/ 55~75 Hz(V) |
Digital Signal Frequency: 30~85 KHz(H)/ 55~75 Hz(V)
|Power Consumption||Power Consumption < 33 W |
Power Saving Mode < 1 W
|Mechanical Design||Chassis Colors: Black/White|
|Dimension (WxHxD mm)||Phys.Dimension(WxHxD): 566.2x406.8x150.9mm|
Box Dimension(WxHxD): 640x510x145mm
|Weight||Net Weight (Esti.): 3.9 kg |
Gross Weight (Esti.): 6.2 kg
Quick start guide
Not much there of outstanding note. The specifications are round about what we'd expect for a TN panel.
Now the "Unique Selling Point" of the ASUS MS236H is the design. More specifically the stand itself, and the buttons. So let's grab a look.
Firstly the contents of the box are all you'd expect. To ensure the monitor is kept as thin as possible, only 16.5mm thick, the power is removed from the monitor and kept in a separate block. We also have a VGA to VGA lead, DVI to VGA adaptor and DVI to HDMI adaptor. Finally the stand itself which consists of a smoke plastic ring, a clear plastic triangle for stability, and a single screw to keep it all together.
The rear of the MS236H, unlike the piano black front, is very white indeed. It's quite a contrast, but white is popular these days so maybe you'll like it. It's also clear that we have no VESA compatibility here, so the stand better put the monitor at exactly the right spot.
And here is the stand itself. It consists of two parts the main ring itself and the clear triangle that allows it to remain planted hopefully. It's a little bit, shall we say 'fun', to get the triangle on the ring, and it's slightly concerning to see it hasn't got any form of grip on the bottom.
The mounting point for the stand is extremely simple. It's a slight hinge with very limited movement, onto which you screw the stand. Couldn't be simpler. Apparently this hinge contains the "ASUS-exclusive Ergo-Fit Technology, which allows for easy tilting adjustment with just one finger".
Here the stand is mounted, with the stabilising triangle. Two points to make here are that the triangle isn't obligatory should you feel it detracts sufficiently from the aesthetics, and also that although the underside of the ring appears to have a sliver of rubber on it, it hasn't.
With the stand in place the monitor sits fairly vertically, and the piano black gloss finish really makes taking photos a pain, but looks very swish.
On the rear we have four main inputs. The power, a HDMI, DVI and a headphone port.
On the front we have 6 capacitive buttons for the various settings and the power itself. From left to right we have the display mode, contrast, menu, brightness and input. The contrast/brightness double up for maneuvering around the OSD, and the menu and display mode buttons are used for ok/cancel respectively.
The ASUS OSD is certainly comprehensive. Starting from the left we have the predefined colour schemes. These aren't hugely different from each other and mainly seem to effect the the contrast. Second one along is the brightness and contrast itself. Always the first port of call as "out of the box" monitors are always set up to be blindingly bright so the image looks good in the shop, rather than the dark confines of your room.
Moving along to the colour temperature, which should always be normal although slight adjustments are sometimes necessary for certain tasks or variances in monitor panel. Not all TN panels are built the same.
Should you desire to change your input via the menu, rather than the specialist button, you can do so in the next one along.
Finally the system setup menu is where you can adjust the volume, aspect ratio and other settings. As well as hit the "reset to defaults" should you tweak a little too much.
The aspect control is a little bone of contention, as it contains full and overscan, but not 1:1 mapping.
Demonstrating the colour modes is difficult as all the modes are within a gnats chuff of each other. However as we have this handy backdrop with a lot of colour shift and some very fine detail that can quickly get swamped with vigorous contrast adjustment. Hopefully you'll be able to distinguish here.
Naturally the differences are more visible with the naked eye rather than via a camera lens.
Standard mode Theatre Mode
Game mode Night View mode
The first thing to do with any monitor is to calibrate it. As we unfortunately don't receive enough monitors to invest in dedicated calibration equipment, although we're always willing to do so, we've used the absolutely excellent Lagom test suite available online here.
Once the various tests were run through we got to the bane of most TN panels, viewing angle. This is especially a problem with this MS236H because it lays flush to the desk and can only be adjusted angle wise, and not for height. ASUS have specifically designed this to match the height of a notebook so it can be used as a secondary display. This unfortunately doesn't work very well in a desktop environment when you're not viewing between two screens and does really emphasise the viewing angle problem of TN panels.
Here we have, from top to bottom, the viewpoint as I see it, one foot to the left and right, and then from just below.
As you can see the viewing angle is pretty poor from anything but directly in front. Even then we have a fairly significant colour shift in a very short vertical span. Considering the limitations of the stand this isn't good news, but it naturally looks lot worse in a test situation than daily use. However if you're after a for photo work I'd look elsewhere. Although it's unlikely you'd go with a TN over an IPS if you were serious anyway.
Let's go through a few of our other tests and a couple of pictures before we wrap this up.
Without specifically saying as much and spoiling the conclusion, you might have noticed that I'm not a big fan of the stand. I'm not sure if it's merely that our test model has been around the block a bit and so the hinge is loose, but if you attempt to leave it more vertically orientated it doesn't take more than a few minutes before the lack of grip on either the ring or the triangular stand shines through to allow the monitor to slide back.
In case you're thinking, come on VB that is a minor issue, here is a couple of photos taken with the monitor in the position it naturally rests at, and on the right the position I prefer it in and calibrated it to. As you can see the differences are vast. This is hugely frustrating because the quality of the contrast and colour on the ASUS MS236H are excellent for a panel of this type, and yet something so simple lets the whole thing down.
Having applied an extremely high-tech OC3D solution to the issue of the monitor slipping (Blu-tac) we then set about the odious task of watching lots of films and playing lots of games. It's a difficult job but someone has to do it.
With the monitor fixed and calibrated it was time for some films and what are better to test the saturation, sharpness and motion abilities than with the always finely detailed and fast paced world of Animation.
The quality of the image on the ASUS MS236H is wonderful with saturated colours that really pop without becoming slabs of colour. The gradients still shine through, something that hopefully I've managed to capture in these shots from Kung Fu Panda and Monsters Inc respectively.The main thing you have to remember is that the picture quality is impossible to show properly in a photograph as a CCD can't handle the image as well as the human eye, and by the time it's gone onto the camera, resized for the site and uploaded it's had a lot of processing. So although they are impressive here, in real-life the quality is even more so.
During testing of the games, which are similar to the movies in that they look wonderful, one small issue arose. When testing via the DVI port the image, 1920x1080, filled the screen up perfectly. When switching to the HDMI port there was a border around the edge. This appears to be related to the ATI control panel and its overscanning, but is also a problem with the lack of 1:1 mapping available within the settings menu of the monitor. However it only happens when using the HDMI input.
During testing we ran plenty of games through the MS236H, including our normal benchmark games of Dirt2, NFS Shift, Crysis Warhead etc, but also almost anything we had around the office from Pacman to Napoleon Total War.
Regardless of what we tried and how hard and fast we pushed it, the ASUS just kept pace. No noticeable smearing occurred in even the most demanding situations. Turning quickly to cap a flanking enemy or drifting through Eau Rouge for example.
The number one thing that kept us impressed throughout though was the colour reproduction. This led to a bit of head-scratching as we wondered what the best game to demonstrate this to you is, before we settled on the arcade candy goodness that is Sega All-Stars Racing.
Time to wrap up.
Striking a balance when reviewing is always tricky. On the one hand you want to make sure that you've covered all the good and bad points fairly so that the conclusion is just a summation of all that is gone before. However sometimes something is so over-riding that you can end up, be it good or bad, focusing on that element.
With monitors, like mice and a few other things, it's even harder. After all if the picture displayed is great and there isn't a lot of motion-smearing or huge issues with the consistency of the back-light brightness, then it will be great in everything. Which does tend to make the good points rather sparse and the bad points brought into even sharper relief.
Firstly the panel is fantastic. The sharpness and clarity are great through all applications without ever having those white specs that can come from over-use of a sharpening algorithm. Rather the display itself is of a very high standard for a TN panel. As we showed on the previous page, even when calibrated the colour reproduction is exceptional.
Sometimes for the sake of grabbing your attention the brightness and saturation are overly enhanced when you first set a monitor up, but ASUS have done a great job with getting the MS236H pretty close at the default settings. Equally good as always is the ASUS build quality. Despite the monitor being very thin indeed, it's fairly robust. The lack of girth from a VESA mount or an on-board power does make it slightly more flexible than most, but never in a problematic way.
Finally the buttons work exactly like all capacitive buttons, in that they work with a mere touch. Exactly like the buttons on your PS3 or similar. This makes the front of the monitor as sleek as the back. With a panel so good there are bound to be a few issues.
Sadly the primary one is ergonomics. As part of this I naturally have to sit here for a large portion of my day. The inability to raise the monitor at all off the desk is almost crippling. If you're one of those people who've always wondered why VESA compatibility is a useful feature to have, then you really need to get a quality stand that allows you to put the monitor where you want. If, like me, you have got a third-party stand then the adjustments available on the MS236H are woeful. Maybe because they're entirely non-existent. It can't be put in portrait mode. I can't be raised or lowered. It can't be rotated without physically moving it.
All you're left with is the ability to lean it slightly forward or slightly back. Even this is flawed. The stand design certainly looks wonderful and if you like your PC to be part of the decor rather than part of your life, then I'm sure it scores highly. But what on earth possessed ASUS to not only have a tiny piece of plastic being the only thing really keeping the monitor up, but to not even supply it with a little rubber so it stays where it's put, is beyond me. A £200+ monitor shouldn't require a blob of Blu-Tac to be useful. The positioning is wrong too. Without the weight of the power supply at the bottom the monitor weighs the same all over. So the bottom position of the stand only exacerbates the problem of it naturally returning to a tilted back state.
So you have two choices. Have the monitor vertical and lower your chair so you don't end up with crippling shoulder and neck pain from looking down all the time but have to type with your arms around your ears, or live with the pain and maybe even use the monitor less. Which seems to defeat the object.
Lastly, and small potatoes compared to the ergonomics problem of the stand, are those swish buttons. Sure they look good when they're off, but there aren't any labels. So with the glow of a screen and the naturally darker environment we place our screens into, means the tiny dots to indicate the placement of each button get lost. So you poke at the corner until they light up and you can use them. The actual sensitive area is also too small. I've got big fingers and still have about a 50% success rate of getting the button to activate. Why they couldn't have indented them as they have with the power button is beyond me.
So, back at the start we said about how the ASUS MS236H was using design to separate itself from the pack of monitors. Unfortunately this is almost a perfect example of form over function. The back is in plain white, the front in gloss piano black. The buttons look good but aren't very easy to find or to press. And the stand looks the part and is easy to fit but causes huge comfort issues for the user.
It's very disappointing because the panel is fantastic and one of the best TN panels around. It's just been wasted in this weird design. And it would take so little to make it a star too. A little bit of rubber at the base of the stand, VESA compatibility, 1:1 Pixel Mapping and change the other buttons to the same style as the power button and you have a blinding monitor that still follows the design creed, but would be fun to use.
So if you're a midget, or don't mind only using it in extremely short burst, then it could be the monitor for you. Otherwise, there are equally good monitors that haven't thrown ergonomics out the window entirely.
For our scoring today Performance relates solely to the panel itself, and Presentation relates to the design elements.
- One of the best TN panels we've used
- Good connectivity
- Looks flash
- Buttons aren't the easiest thing in the world to use
- Stand was clearly designed for looks and is almost wholly useless.
Thanks to ASUS for providing the MS236H for testing. Discuss in our forums.