The Mobile Mac

Cheap Is as Cheap Does: A Crappy Cable Cripples a Capable Display

- 2006.11.08 - Tip Jar

Last month I hired a new paralegal, and the first thing I needed to do was upgrade our extra computer from a 15" XGA (1024 x 768) to a 19" SXGA (1280 x 1024) monitor.

We have a pair of excellent Samsung 19" LCD monitors in the office already (the midlevel DVI/analog models), and my initial plan was to just order another Samsung. Then I checked my email.

A local computer store was having a sale on laptops and LCD monitors, and the email listed a 19" dual input (DVI and analog) LCD for an unbelievable US$200, which is cheaper than even the analog-only Samsung. I went to the store after work and was impressed by the display model, which was indistinguishable in image quality from the Samsung right next to it, so I bought it on the spot.

Strike 1

The monitor was a ViewSonic, a brand I'd known for years and had no reason not to trust, yet when I hooked the monitor up to the Compaq PC that our paralegal was to use, I was shocked at the horribly distorted image and moving, wavelike lines all over the monitor.

My first thought was that Windows didn't correctly recognize the monitor, so I downloaded a newer driver, but it made no difference whatsoever.

I moved the monitor over to the Mac in my associate's office and connected it using the cable already attached to the Mac's Samsung monitor. The image was perfect.

Moving back to the PC, I tried using the VGA cable that usually connects the Samsung LCD on my desk to my laptop, and, sure enough, the problem was the cable that came in the box with the ViewSonic display.

For giggles, I tried the ViewSonic cable with my laptop and the Samsung monitor - and had the exact same distortion and image problems.

Fortunately, my associate's Mac is running on DVI, so I dug up the box from her monitor and found an unused Samsung VGA cable to fill in the gap. All was well.

Strike 2

The same weekend I was swapping out the 19" Samsung from my home computer for a 19" widescreen monitor for my daughter to use, and in that same trip to the computer store I had purchased a 19" ViewSonic widescreen with built-in speakers.

Since that monitor was to be connected by VGA, I was worried that I'd run into the same problem, and sure enough, the second ViewSonic monitor came with a VGA cable so bad as to make it unusable. To make matters worse, I had used my extra VGA cable at the office, so the only choice was buy a different cable or exchange the monitor.

Not sure which would be the more economical option, I packed the monitor back up and went back to the store. A high-end VGA cable rated for a 19" monitor cost $50, while there was a 19" Samsung widescreen on sale for $250, which was only $30 more than I'd paid for the widescreen ViewSonic.

You're Out

It took a bit of arguing and a demonstration of both ViewSonic VGA cables to convince the store to take the monitor back and not charge a restocking fee, but I prevailed and brought home the Samsung 19" widescreen LCD. As always, Samsung's video cable was more than up to the task, and a crisp and beautiful image was the first thing I saw when I turned it on.

...it really doesn't matter how good an item is if corners are cut that take away from its usefulness.

The lesson here is that it really doesn't matter how good an item is if corners are cut that take away from its usefulness. The ViewSonic monitors are truly excellent monitors, and had I been using them with DVI or had an existing high-quality VGA cable, I'd have no complaints. The normal aspect-ration ViewSonic is doing a great job on my paralegal's PC and is a pleasure to work with, but it and the widescreen version I have at home are completely unusable with the included VGA cable.

Why bother including a cable if the quality is so poor as to render the monitor unusable? This is worse than not including it at all, as it may make a buyer think it's a defective monitor.

Even though the monitor itself is of excellent quality, the hassle of figuring out the problem and having to add the cost of an after-market cable tipped the value equation to favor a more expensive Samsung monitor that came with an adequate cable.

Quality Matters

It doesn't matter what the product is; there must be a certain standard of quality for all of its components.

It reminds me of a classmate from law school who bought a Dell laptop. The laptop was small and light, but the display latch was so flimsy that it broke after barely a week of gentle use. He returned the computer and bought a different brand.

It doesn't matter how good the rest of the design might have been or what cool and powerful features were packed into that small and light case. All that mattered is that the latch was too delicate.

Companies need to wake up and realize that while cutting costs is an important part of doing business today, they can't be too aggressive in shaving pennies. I'm sure ViewSonic's bean-counters are very pleased at the low-cost VGA cables that are going into ViewSonic monitor boxes, but in the long run I think that decision will end up costing far more than it saves. LEM

Andrew J Fishkin, Esq, is a laptop using attorney in Los Angeles, CA.

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