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What's the Best PC Monitor/TV for Under $350?

A reader asks: One of my college housemates just moved out, which is a good thing, but he took his TV with him. This is a bad thing. So I'm looking for a PC monitor that can do double duty as a TV, too -- something reasonably big, as good quality as possible, fast enough for console games and is around $350 or so. I'm stuck with a laptop 12-inch screen until you reply, so hurry up and just tell me what to get!

Dear Reader: On those gray days when we wake up in the morning and wonder what it all means anyway, it's questions like these that bring us around and get our blood pumping again: We do it for the children!

Sob stories aside, your question is actually a good one, since a dual-purpose monitor is a great solution for a lot of people who don't have the space, cash or inclination to get multiple flat screens. And, while we're under the impression that many college kids already watch TV shows almost exclusively on laptops and monitors, movies and console games are inherently social activities that benefit from a communal screen.

We looked high and low for candidates that meet your needs: a 24-inch or larger, 1080p LCD with HDMI and DVI inputs, an excellent brightness level and contrast ratio, speedy response, an overall high-quality picture and a price under $350. We found several models, but, after some testing, finally settled on a favorite: the Samsung Syncmaster P2570, available online starting at $309. (The slightly upgraded P2570HD is currently $325 on Amazon; see below for more info.)

The P2570 features a 1080p, 24.6-inch screen, HDMI, DVI, RGB and composite inputs (along with analog and optical outputs for hooking up additional components), an impressive 2 millisecond response, 300 candela brightness, and a really sharp bezel and stand. By default, the brightness was set to staring-at-the-sun levels, so we dropped them by half. Similarly, the colors definitely needed calibration, but otherwise, it was plug-and-play wonderfulness, whether with a laptop or a cable box.

As a PC monitor, it easily fits two expanded browser windows with space to spare and is razor sharp without any flicker, banding or other issues. We also watched 1080i cable TV, which looked crisp and colorful. During HBO's 'The Pacific,' the monitor easily handled fast-motion sequences and dark scenes -- not as well as our Sony Bravia, for sure, but very well all the same. While 24.6 inches isn't exactly a cinema experience, it's plenty big from eight feet away, or so.

The only major setback we'd note is the lack of speakers, which are included in some other companies' comparable monitors. (In its defense, the P2570HD has them built-in, along with an HDTV tuner, but it suffers from a slower response time.) Plus, we're a little bummed that the stand doesn't swivel or tilt. Still, for us, the P2570's image quality, as compared to other manufacturers' models, more than makes up for those drawbacks. All in all, we're sure it'll be a welcome sight for your sore, suffering eyes.

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Tags: 1080p, 24-inch display, 24-inchDisplay, features, hdtv, justtellmewhattoget, monitor, p2570, reviews, samsung syncmaster p2570, SamsungSyncmasterP2570, top