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4.9.2007 - [BenQ FP241VW, Mon Amour] Hide
BenQ FP241VW

As mentioned previously, I have a PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Up until last week, I had been playing both using a 15 year old Sharp 27" TV, of the tube variety, and so the overall presentation was quite meager. Sure, DVDs and broadcast TV were alright, but I knew that I was missing out when it comes to "this gen" gaming.

So, ever since I found my 360, I've been planning for the day where I could find a LCD display to replace my Sharp, one with all the inputs I needed (HDMI, DVI, Component, Composite, S-Video, VGA), and the best picture possible for the price (1080p being the resolution of choice). I knew I couldn't quite afford anything above $1000, so that ruled out anything about 32" or so. I didn't care about having a NTSC (old style TV), ATSC (new style digital TV) or cable TV tuner, since I would probably want to use a Mac and EyeTV for reception and DVR. That meant I was probably looking for a computer display, rather than a TV.

The world of 1080p (actually, 1920 by 1200) displays is rather large, with various offerings from Apple, Dell, Samsung, NEC and many other vendors. Some, like the Apple displays, don't have anything but DVI input, which basically means they're useless for my needs as an all around video display. Others, like the Dell lineup, are relatively inexpensive, but not that great when it comes to the latest HDMI 1.3, like what the PS3 has to offer. The issue is that HDMI, the currently hot display technology, has high quality video and audio via one cable, along with excessive copy protection called HDCP. HDCP is mostly seen via HDTV movies on disc, like from the Blu-Ray that my PS3 has. Therefore, proper handling of HDMI with HDCP was essential.

A number of potential candidates were ready in time for this year's new product cycle, and I was drawn to the offerings from BenQ, a Chinese company spun off of Acer. They had a display called the FP241W which fit all of my criteria, a 24 inch 1080p LCD with all of the trimmings. However, that model was derided by the enthusiasts, since the image was always stretched to fill the screen, thus distorting a movie or game to the point of distraction. Instead of wanting to watch somewhat elongated people, I preferred to wait until a promised firmware fix was rolled into that model.

A few months later, they fix was implemented, but there were also two new displays to choose from, the FP241WZ (a typical black computer display with small pedestal) and the FP241VW (the same display as the WZ, but with a sturdier base, and more focus on gaming). These two displays are currently available, and besides the usual Full stretch, they also offer Aspect and 1:1 modes. Understanding what these modes can offer is the difference between a great looking display with stretched images, and a great looking display with perfect images. Before getting into that, let me just say that both displays offer new Advanced Motion Accelerator Z technology, which basically throws in some black frames between the regular frames, in an attempt to seriously reduce motion blur, which many LCDs are known for. This is a great option to have, with three levels of adjustment, or you can simply turn it off.

It's pretty obvious from the title of this entry that I eventually purchased the FP241VW, and that I'm quite happy with it. However, it can definitely be an acquired taste, especially for those looking for a sharp display to act as a TV, rather than a computer peripheral. This is due to the nature of how displays treat video, like what a normal DVD player or game console would produce via an analog input (composite, S-Video, even component). Typical TV images in the US are 720 by 480 resolution, with an 4:3 aspect ratio. However, if you do the math, it would seem that the resolution should have a 3:2 ratio, which is much wider than tall. In fact, the closest resolution to normal NTSC images is 640 by 480, and you'll notice that most 4:3 video files, like via QuickTime, are in that resolution.

Simulation of 3:2 Problem - Not an actual shot of FP241VW

This isn't merely a technical matter, since if you attach a 720 by 480 analog video source to a monitor like the FP241VW, you'll get an image that's abnormally stretched horizontally, no matter if you watch it at 1:1 (actual resolution) or via Aspect mode. This is because the display does a great job scaling up the image, but it doesn't know that it's supposed to be 4:3, independent of the actual 3:2 resolution. So, if you watch a 4:3 DVD, it will look a bit fat. If you watch a 16:9 DVD, it will be squashed into that 3:2 image, unless you turn on Full mode. Then, it will be full screen, but it will be slightly stretched out of the 16:9 ratio vertically. It seems like you just can't win with such content.

Compare this to the output of the Xbox 360 over component, or the PS3 over HDMI. The image is simply perfect when using Aspect mode - exactly 16:9, with slight black bars on the top and bottom. Game play is excellent, with a great color gamut (the range of colors is larger than most displays) and high detail, as one would expect. Then, put in an older PS2 game, or a regular DVD. What do you see - the same 4:3 vs. 3:2 problem. It seems the game consoles output 480p when necessary, thus confusing the display and causing the horizontal stretch. This annoyed me to no end, until I stopped thinking of this display as a TV, and started considering it as just a monitor. The secret is VGA.

See, VGA is the older analog standard for video, and with that mode you can tell a monitor to choose a particular resolution to always work from. I theorized that I could tell the display to always use 640 by 480, using the VGA out of my Xbox 360, to force it to display 4:3 content as 4:3. I tried this, and it worked perfectly. Furthermore, I set the Xbox 360 to 1366 by 768 resolution, its maximum, to get a 16:9 image, slightly better than 720p. This image is always on screen, so if I happen to insert a DVD into the Xbox 360, the 4:3 content will perfectly display in the center, at 4:3. If it's supposed to be 16:9, then it will perfectly be 16:9. That difference means a whole lot to me, since the primary reason I bought the monitor was to replace my 15 year old TV, as a DVD and Blu-Ray playback system. Now, with the VGA trick (which would also work via DVI, from sources that support it), I'm in LCD heaven.

The only thing I lack now is a way to get the PS3 to use the same trick. It doesn't have VGA or DVI out, and doesn't let you choose custom resolutions beyond the typical 1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480p, and 480i over analog. This means when the Blu-Ray presentation is over (with a perfect aspect), and I watch the 4:3 extra content, it looks all fat. Or, when I want to play my Region 2 DVDs from Japan, they look fat or otherwise stretched. Even 5% stretching is too much for long, in my eyes. Eventually, I'll probably just keep the PS3 for games and Blu-Ray, and I'll buy a region free DVD player that can upsample, and can use custom DVI resolutions.

Beyond all of this, I have to mention the stellar image quality of this display. No stuck pixels, much more brightness than most anyone needs, and what I consider an excellent scaler. This means that even through composite input, with my older DVD player, the images really pop, and look far better than on a tube. When using the Xbox 360 with 1366 by 768 (which I totally recommend), the images have solid separation between colors, and basically the most detail you can coax out of a DVD for that price. Compare that to component from the same Xbox 360, and the difference is night and day.

My viewing distance is about 9 feet for movies, and perhaps half that for gaming. Now, for a small 24" display (in comparison to the 32" or 40" ones that rule the roost), that's pretty far, but I'm not terribly concerned by seeing every last detail, just by having the best possible image for the small space I can devote to it. Plus, 24" displays are easy to transport, and this one was only $769 via, which is almost 50% off of list. If you haven't measured, the 16:9 image of a 24" LCD is the same size as that 16:9 image letterboxed on a 27" tube. So, my 16:9 content is the same size, and the 4:3 is somewhat smaller.

Here are some of the potential and real negatives. There are no built-in speakers, and no composite audio inputs, so you have to roll your own. You can use a analog mini-jack to get the HDMI audio. There is no remote, so if you want to change inputs, or something about the image, you have to use either the buttons on the left side of the stand, or you have to go into the on-screen menu, which can be awkward to manipulate. If you ever want to change the aspect ratio, you have to go into the menu, and what should be an one step process (press a button on the monitor to cycle between ratios) becomes a true chore (press 4 buttons perhaps 8-10 times to get in and out of the menu).

BenQ FP241VW

The display does tilt back, but it doesn't tilt forward enough to easily get at the ports on the back, after you set it down. I also noticed some rare, slight distortion when there's extreme flickering, like with subtitles over composite, but that doesn't show up except for the worst inputs, and only pehaps once ever few minutes - it's probably in the scaling. When I had the display on, and started the microwave to warm something up, I notice a good deal of distortion at the top of the screen, some sort of electrical interference. I don't know if it's sensitive to certain RF emissions, or if I just have an apartment issue, but no other device has ever done that. So, I just turn off the display while cooking, as a short term solution.

I haven't tested the DVI or S-Video, but one can assume they perform like the VGA and composite, respectively. That said, I highly recommend this monitor above the offerings by Dell or other vendors, for use with an Xbox 360, PS3, or other sources, with the strong warning about the 4:3/3:2 issue. I don't know if other displays have already solved this problem, but since I found the good VGA workaround, there's no need to consider returning it - it has a great picture at a great price, and I'm enjoying my DVDs or Blu-Ray from Netflix almost nightly. I probably won't have this for another 15 years as my main display, especially when really good 37"-40" 1080p products fall below $1000, but it can alway serve as a fine monitor for my next Mac.

Finally, one last word about the PS3, and 4:3 video. If you set it for 1080p or 720p, and play 720 by 480 video that's on the PS3 hard drive (like MPEG-2 Program Streams from EyeTV), it will play back as 4:3, as expected. The same for photos - the PS3 knows what ratio to use, but when you play a DVD, that 720 by 480 output takes over the 720p or 1080p, and then the display has the 3:2 issue. I'll leave this for someone else to figure out.


4.2.2007 - [Contest: Memories Of Matsuko DVD] Hide
[Memories Of Matsuko] by Tetsuya Nakajima

[Kiraware Matsuko No Issho], translated as [Memories Of Matsuko], is a wonderful film from 2006 by Tetsuya Nakajima, the director of [Shimotsuma Story], aka [Kamikaze Girls].

It's visually stunning, and focused on the trials and travails of a young woman (played by Miki Nakatani), searching for love and a perfect life. The real joy is in the humor and fantasy sequences that punctuate the tragedy - look for music cameos by Bonnie Pink, Kaela Kimura, and more. Overall, it's a highly entertaining package.

You'll be winning a brand new, shrinkwrapped, Japanese version of this DVD, purchased by me especially for this contest. It does not have English subtitles as an option. This DVD is Japanese Region 2, so it won't play on a normal DVD player in the US. There are ways around this, but I can't help you with that process.

Don't you want to win this fabulous movie? Visit this page to find out how. You can enter until 4.30.2007, and the winner will be contacted at that time. Only residents of the United States can win, since I'm not shipping abroad this time - sorry about that.


4.1.2007 - [Without Warning, More Things From Japan] Hide
[Paprika] by Satoshi Kon

As is my tendency, I have an updated list of some CDs and DVDs on preorder from Japan. At this point, perhaps one or two people actually find this useful, so now is the time for them to party.

01) [Super Roots 9], BOREDOMS(V REDOMS), 3.28.07, RZCM-45441, 2,381yen (live album)

02) [FIXER], Kenichi Asai, 4.4.07, BVCR-19080, 1,200yen (single)

03) [Johnny Heaven - Johnny Hell Tour DVD], Kenichi Asai, 4.4.07, BVBR-11077, 7,600yen (live DVD)

04) [Scarecrow], The Pillows, 4.4.07, AVCD-31197, 1,714yen (single, version with DVD)

05) [The Best Damn Thing], Avril Lavigne, 4.18.07, BVCP-24110, 2,190yen (album, with bonus track)

06) [ThmLues Maji de Tour 2006], Thmlues, 4.25.07, VRDVS-2012, 3,800yen (DVD)

07) [Heisei Fuzoku Daiginjo], Ringo Shiina, Neko Saito, 4.25.07, TOBF-5520, 4,286yen (DVD)

08) [Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!], The Pillows, 5.2.07, AVCD-23281, 3,143yen (album, version with DVD)

09) [Dark Cherry], Kenichi Asai, 5.23.07, BVCR-19708, 1,800yen (single, version with DVD)

10) [Paprika], Satoshi Kon, 5.23.07, BRS-41985, 5,695yen (Blu-Ray anime movie)

Please note the new releases by Kenichi Asai, which I'm quite excited about. No one can complain about a new, live Boredoms album, and the Thmlues and Ringo Shiina DVDs should also be grand.

Note also the early release Avril Lavigne album, since I'm still a fan, and [Paprika], Satoshi Kon's new anime movie that's coming out on Blu-Ray in Japan, right before it has a limited release in US theaters. Be warned that I don't think the disc has English subtitles, but I'm sure the eventual US home release will.

Here are some older releases you should note, that haven't reached my PO Box yet:

01) [KAELA KIMURA 1st TOUR 2005 4YOU], Kaela Kimura, 7.6.05, COBA-4422, 3,800yen (live DVD)

02) [Taste My xxxremixxxxxxx!!!!!!!! Beat Life!], Anna Tsuchiya, 3.23.06, CTCR-14463, 2,381yen (album with DVD)

03) [Indies Best Aka], Thmlues, 11.29.06, VRCSJ-2010, 1,905yen

04) [Indies Best Ao], Thmlues, 11.29.06, VRCSJ-2011, 1,905yen

05) [LOVE MY LIFE Original Soundtrack performed by noodles], Noodles, 1.17.07, DAKBUMP-25, 1,715yen

06) [Bokura ga Ikiru My Asia], Morning Musume. Tanjo 10 Nen Kinentai, 1.24.07, EPCE-5448, 1,200yen (single, version with DVD)

07) [Softly], Leah Dizon, 2.14.07, VIZL-216, 1,800yen (single, version with DVD)

08) [Egao Yes Nude], Morning Musume, 2.14.07, EPCE-5450, 1,600yen (single, version with DVD)

09) [OLIVIA inspi' REIRA (TRAPNEST)], OLIVIA inspi' REIRA (TRAPNEST), 2.28.07, CTCR-14536, 2,857yen (album, version with DVD)

10) [Karate House], Polysics, 2.28.07, KSCL-1117, 3,200yen (album, version with DVD)

11) [Heavy Starry Heavenly], Tommy heavenly6, 3.7.07, DFCL-1348, 3,800yen (album, version with DVD)

I'm so terribly patient, so I won't be receiving the new album by Tommy heavenly6 until a few weeks from now, since I bundle my orders together over a few months. I also want to hear the indie work of Thmlues, some of which I don't already have, as it was collected at the end of 2006 over two CDs.

Don't pay too much attention to the Leah Dizon or Morning Musume releases - cute singers are just one of those bad habits I have - but do note the OLIVIA release from the [NANA] anime series, which should go well with my ANNA (Tsuchiya) singles and albums.



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