Being ultrathin isn't in vogue for supermodels only--it's also de rigueur for LCD monitors. The superslim LG Flatron L1981Q takes this to the extreme, measuring 1.5 inches thick, where most LCD panels are 3 inches or more. Staying slim comes with some costs: this Flatron has an external power block instead of integrated power, and inputs connect at the monitor's base instead of its back. Just an average performer, the main strength of the L1981Q lies in its design and flexibility. At $499 (as of August 2005), the Flatron L1981Q is fairly priced for a 19-inch LCD with pivoting capabilities; other monitors in this price range, such as the HP L1940, offer superior performance but less pivot flexibility.
The sleek Flatron L1981Q's screen is surrounded by a thin black-and-silver bezel, while the back and the neck are made of glossy white plastic. The dual-hinged neck connects to a silver, 10-inch ring-shaped base. This stable design keeps the monitor from wobbling when you adjust the screen. The dual-hinge design lets you flip the screen over the hinges, tilt it back so that the display faces the ceiling, and pivot it 180 degrees--twice as far as most other monitors. It doesn't swivel horizontally, however, and its height can be adjusted only 2.5 inches. Once you install LG's included ForteManager software, the image will automatically adjust when you pivot or flip the screen. The HP L1940, by contrast, swivels, pivots 90 degrees, and is height adjustable; it performed better on our tests, though it is a tad wobbly. On the L1981Q, the digital, analog, and power inputs plug into the monitor's base, eliminating the need for a cable management system but necessitating the use of a power block instead of a single cord.
The onscreen menu (OSM) buttons are discreetly tucked under the bottom edge of the screen; only the power button is visible on the silver part of the front bezel. All of the buttons are touch sensitive with no tactile feedback, which makes them very easy to hit accidentally when adjusting the screen. When pivoting the display, we often hit the power button or accidentally changed settings. Still, the OSM menus are easy to navigate, and you can adjust brightness, contrast, gamma, and screen position; there's also an f-engine button that opens a list of preconfigured screen settings for Text, Movies, Normal, and User-defined. By using the ForteManager software, you can bypass the OSM and calibrate your settings with your keyboard and mouse. Unfortunately, CNET's test unit came with an outdated version of ForteManager, so we had to download a 20MB file to get all of the features to work.
At its native resolution of 1,280x1,024 pixels, the Flatron 1981Q turned in an average performance. Text looked superb, especially when we used the f-engine text preset, but we were less impressed with the color and grayscale quality on CNET Labs' DisplayMate-based tests. Whites looked bright, but we saw color throughout the scale and noticed compression on the light and dark ends. Finally, brightness was not uniform, with the top third of the display perceptibly darker than the bottom, especially toward the right. Despite the color problems, DVDs looked pretty good, thanks to a fairly fast 8-millisecond pixel-response time. Colors looked vivid, but some details were lost in the darker scenes.
LG provides an abundance of extras and support for the Flatron L1981Q. The box comes with analog and digital cables and a bracket for an arm- or wall-mount. LG provides the industry-standard three years of coverage for parts, labor, and backlight and pays shipping both ways for service; you also get lifetime 24/7 tech support on a toll-free line.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)