IBM T221 review
Currently the domain of specialist applications, this monitor give us a glimpse of the future. And it's stunning.
Review Date: 20 Sep 2004
Reviewed By: David Fearon
Price when reviewed: (£5,434 inc VAT)
Before you get too excited about this combination of graphics card and monitor - and excited you should be, because they're awesome - sit yourself down. And if you've not already done so, check the prices above.
Picked yourself up off the floor now? Good. Suffice to say that you're not going to be loading your trolley with one of these beasts at your local Dixons for a while. These products, particularly the IBM T221, are the Formula 1 cars of the display world. And, like Formula 1, the technology will filter down to the rest of us before too long; you shouldn't have to wait another ten years to get hold of something similar at an affordable price.
The IBM's 22.2in viewable diagonal isn't too special: we've already seen a larger widescreen on HP's L2335 (see issue 120, p68). It's the native pixel resolution that sets the T221 apart: an enormous 3,840 x 2,400 pixels. That's four times the number of the L2335 and seven times that of your average 1,280 x 1,024 17in model.
The monitor itself is chunky, with a case depth of 196mm, but not ugly - the austere IBM colouring renders it rather attractive. Buried behind a rear pop-off flap are two inputs: these are high-density LFH-60 digital connectors integrating two normal DVI-D video signals into one. In other words, the T221 basically accepts four separate video inputs, which it composites into one hi-res image - the standard DVI spec can't handle resolutions above 1,920 x 1,200.
The ostensible market of the T221 is specialist applications, including CAD (computer-aided design), satellite and medical imaging. You might think that's the only possible use for such a high resolution. You might continue to think it having seen Windows at native resolution: the Start menu at this setting is just 6mm wide - smaller than you'll find even on subnotebooks with the tiniest of screens.
But there's a key point to bear in mind. One of the few remaining drawbacks with TFT displays is the fact that, in order to supply an electrical signal to drive transistors bonded to the glass substrate, every pixel is surrounded by a black line. But since the T221's pixels are so small, the connecting conductors are proportionately fine. So even if you don't use the full resolution and set the desktop to 1,920 x 1,200 - exactly half of native, so no interpolation is required - you get a super-crisp display, and you simply can't see the gaps between the pixels. The result is a picture that's almost a perfect hybrid of the sharpness of an LCD and the smooth presentation of a CRT.
If you do drop the T221 into full native resolution, you can get up to all sorts of interesting tricks. Firing up Photoshop, loading an 8-megapixel shot from the Canon EOS-1D Mark II camera (see issue 119, p64) and viewing the image at a 100 per cent magnification - with a million pixels to spare - is quite an experience.
Needless to say, the T221 can't be partnered with a standard graphics card. The Parhelia is Matrox's well-engineered solution to this problem, charged with a very simple task: to drive ultra-high resolution 2D displays. A 3,840 x 2,400-resolution Desktop with 32-bit colour depth requires a 35MB frame buffer, and that's before you take double or triple buffering into account, hence the Parhelia's 256MB memory. Unlike the standard Parhelia, the HR256 variant makes no claims as to its 3D capabilities - this is purely a 2D affair. Its performance in 2D is excellent; running at full resolution, applications such as Photoshop are subjectively as smooth as a standard card, despite the burden of an extra seven million-odd pixels.
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