It's not obvious when you meet me. I'm creative, but I'm not square-frame-glasses-skinny-jeans-and-bangs about it. I don't own an iPhone. I liked Justin Long more in Dodgeball than I did in their commercials.
Still, I'm a bit of a Mac fanboy.
I got my first unibody MacBook three years ago. You could say it was "love at first swipe" for me. Everything was intuitive and just worked.
But the best part had to be the screen. It was bright, crisp, vibrant...visually a step above what I'd grown accustomed to with past laptops and LCD monitors. I even found myself putting extra effort into choosing my desktop wallpaper. Whatever I chose needed to be worthy of occupying those thirteen diagonal inches.
So when I realized I could be more productive with an external monitor, which monitor to get became complicated. I'd grown accustomed to the MacBook's display, and I didn't want to be underwhelmed with my supplementary screen. Clearly some "trying before buying" was required.
But when I demoed monitors in person, I was less than enthused. I was looking at relatively high-end LED monitors with 1080p resolution, but nothing was POPPING like my MacBook's screen.
As I demoed and Googled, I realized my disappointment had nothing to do with resolution, pixel pitch, or backlight. Even the sole IPS panel I saw didn't compare, even with its full coverage of the color gamut. The panel Apple uses in the unibody MacBook screens is just a regular 6-bit TN panel. So what made it look better (to me) than most other displays?
In a word: gloss.
No, not like Lil' Mama's lip gloss (although it'd probably look even more poppin' on the MacBook's display). Screen gloss.
Most monitor screens come with a matte coating. The rough surface acts as a polarizer, diffusing ambient light that strikes the screen. This reduces glare in well-lit environments, but unfortunately also diffuses light coming from the panel itself, effectively dimming and blurring the image while reducing perceived contrast, making it appear "flat" or "muted".
While glossy screens do reflect some ambient light, the images they produce appear crisper and "pop" more than those on matte screens, making them ideal for photography or video editing. If you work in low light or can handle a little reflectivity, the glossy screens seem like the way to go.
So I Googled "glossy screen monitor" - but the first results I got weren't very helpful. While there were several matte vs. glossy threads, very listed current glossy models. For being touted as "preferred by many consumers," glossy screen monitors were an elusive bunch.
Apparently I wasn't alone in my search. I found numerous threads that began with, "I'm looking for a glossy screen monitor."
Without fail, this lead-in awoke the trolls.
If you wanted a glossy screen, you were either an idiot or wanted to check yourself out constantly in the monitor's reflective screen. The fact that you might prefer a better image in a controlled environment was inconceivable.
The remaining search results were mostly for "glossy" monitors - in other words, monitors with matte screens and glossy bezels. Fingerprint magnets without the crisp image? No thanks.
As I continued to search, I realized I might have better luck finding glossy screen monitors based on manufacturer branding. To that effect, I found this helpful Wikipedia page. While many of the brands were either defunct or designated laptop screens, I eventually stumbled upon HP's BrightView products.
Unsurprisingly, it wouldn't be that easy. Even within a model line, different sizes would use different coatings. For example, while the 25" HP 2511x featured a BrightView glossy screen, the 23" HP 2311x's screen employed a matte coating.
Eventually I found and settled on the HP x2301 monitor, pictured below.
Well, not exactly...
While most people had only incredibly positive things to say about the monitor, a handful of reviews complained that the monitor seemed to display a very faint grid that made viewing images reminiscent of looking out through a screen door. And once the excitement wore off after the unboxing and the first ecstatic night of feverish multi-screen multitasking, the grey light of dawn illuminated a harsher reality.
I noticed the grid.
So I contacted HP Support. The representative was incredibly friendly and apologetic, and the entire return process was painless and quick. A new x2301 monitor was rush-shipped to my house...
...and as soon as I turned it on, I noticed the grid. It may not have been as pronounced, but it was still faintly visible.
Then I looked closer, then stepped back (literally) and assessed the situation again.
If I put my face within a foot of the screen, I couldn't see the grid at all. And if I moved about two feet back - the typical distance I sat comfortably from the monitor - I couldn't see it there, either. The grid was only faintly visible when viewing the screen from a distance of about fifteen inches.
My suspicion is there's an anti-glare coating on the screen that's not designed to adversely affect light transmission as a matte screen coating would, and at a certain distance, the regular pattern of distortion it produces is more readily visible to the naked eye.
So I didn't discover the Holy Grail - the sub-$200 monitor that would kill the Apple Cinema displays. But I discovered something far more valuable - and excusing the clichéd analogies to romantic relationships and general life, I'll share it with you.
If you purchase any product and set out to find flaws, you'll find them. The more important question is whether they're deal-breakers.
And in the case of this monitor, they certainly aren't. If I hadn't read those reviews complaining about the faint grid, I probably never would've noticed.
I'm sitting two feet back as I type this blog post, and everything looks gorgeously bright and crisp. Movies and photographs look better on this than they do on my IPS panel HDTV. And looking at the images side by side, my MacBook Pro's screen actually looked a little muted. (Before getting this monitor, I didn't realize it was dirty.)
For under $200, I'd recommend the x2301 to almost anyone without hesitation.
Now to turn it off and mess with my hair a little in the reflection...