With its platinum-blue and black casing, embedded speakers, and array of video inputs, the f2304 is designed to match HP's new line of Media Center PCs, which come with (among other things) TV tuner cards that include personal video recording functionality. We like that kind of convergence, but it also evokes some concerns around the concept of a home theater/computing center. How do you create an ergonomic setup that is conducive to both up-close computer usage and at-a-distance TV viewing? We could see having an HP f2304 plus a Media Center PC in the bedroom--assuming your bedroom is also a home office--or in the kitchen. But how many of us have couches in the kitchen? And how many of us really want a computer setup in the space where our living-room entertainment center is supposed to go? Could it be that the answer to all of these questions is better convergence furniture?
Compared to displays such as the Apple Cinema Display and HP's business-oriented L2335, the design of the HP f2304 leaves a few things to be desired. It looks pretty good; the top and bottom bezels are slim, the speakers along the side edges give it the illusion of being extrawide, which in turn gives it home-theater appeal, and we like that the control buttons are tucked out of sight under the bottom bezel. However, it's not the most usable display we've encountered. The analog and DVI ports on the back panel are hard to access (we had to turn the whole display upside down to connect the cables), and although the component, S-Video, PC-stereo, and right and left audio inputs are conveniently located along the side of the back panel, they are covered by a plastic panel that is so hard to remove it took two strong Labs technicians and a writer several tries to pry it off.
The display is also not very adjustable, which is problematic given the aforementioned ergonomic concerns and the f2304's high price. You can tilt the LCD panel back and forth about 25 degrees, but you can't raise or lower it, swivel it from side to side, or pivot it between Portrait and Landscape modes, though it is compatible with VESA wall or swing-arm mounts. Our review unit had an annoying tendency to slip out of position after we tilted it for optimal viewing. Still, the f2304 includes a few useful features: the multimedia inputs are lit, so you can see them easily when plugging in cables; two cable-feed rings help keep things neat once you've hooked up everything; and the display has a picture-in-picture window so that you can watch video while you compute. It also comes with all necessary cables, including a composite-to-S-Video adapter. Still, the HP L2335 is cheaper and more adjustable, and it has all of the same multimedia options (except built-in speakers).
CNET Labs tested the HP f2304 as a computer monitor at its native resolution of 1,920x1,200, with a 60Hz refresh rate, and the results were disappointing. Text is passably sharp, but better contrast would improve text clarity. The display had trouble on our CNET Labs' DisplayMate-based grayscale and white-level screens. Rather than creating a smooth, color-free transition from dark to light, the f2304 showed tinting in the grayscale, with a pinkish cast on the light end and a greenish cast on the dark end. We were able to nominally improve this by adjusting the red levels in the display's color temperature setting. The display's version of "pure" black is too bright and too tinged with charcoal for our taste. The screen is not uniformly dark, either; it has bright spots at the corners, and some light leaks out, especially along the left edge. Colorful Web images look pretty good, though a bit artificial compared with the smooth, warm tones reproduced by a high-end CRT, such as the IBM C220p.
From a home-theater perspective, the biggest issue we had with the HP f2304 was the lack of control over the picture. For example, there was not enough range with the brightness control on the component-video input to set the black level properly for DVD--even at maximum, the HP f2304 lost detail in the dark areas. Also, the global gain controls for red, green, and blue don't have enough range to track a grayscale well. For that reason, you're better off leaving the color adjustments at the factory settings, as the variation in the grayscale was better before we color calibrated it. The DVI input is clearly meant for use with computers, as it leaves only the brightness control available in the menu for tweaking, and it yields an unacceptable video picture.