With the Viewsonic VA2231wm-LED ($140 street) you get bright colors, dark blacks, and a crisp high definition picture for under $150. The 21.5 inch TN+ panel can't display the brightest shades of gray, however, and it's missing one of the most widely used digital inputs. On the plus side, it won't put a strain on your electric bill.
Design and Features
The VA2231wm's 1,902-by-1,080 TN+ panel is shrouded in a matte black cabinet with glossy black bezels that are 0.76 inches wide. At 2.5 inches the cabinet is fairly thick for an LED backlit monitor, especially when compared with the Acer S230HL ($189 list, 3 Stars), which is only one-inch deep at its thickest point. The bottom bezel curves downward on the center to accommodate five function buttons; a power switch, menu and input select keys, and two OSD navigation buttons. One of the buttons doubles as a hot key for adjusting contrast and one adjusts the speaker volume. The 2 watt speakers are typical monitor issue; they don't get very loud, and they lack bass, but they are adequate for low volume listening.
You don't get an HDMI port with the VA2231wm, which is unfortunate considering most game consoles and other entertainment devices use HDMI as their primary output. What you do get is one DVI and one VGA input and an audio-in jack, all of which are located on the rear of the cabinet. Other features such as USB ports, a webcam, and a height adjustable stand are not available on this model. The shiny black oval base does allow you to tilt the panel, however.
Picture settings are limited; in addition to Contrast, Brightness, and Dynamic Contrast Ratio controls there are five Color Temperature presets (sRGB, 9300k, 7500k, 6500k, 5000k) and a User setting that lets you create your own custom color setting by adjusting red, green, and blue values. There are also three ECO mode settings including Standard, Optimize, and Conserve. In Standard mode the VA2231wm used 17 watts of power during my testing, while Optimize used 15 watts and Conserve used 12 watts. Although screen brightness is diminished in Conserve mode the picture is still bright enough for most lighting environments. As such, the VA2231wm's low power characteristics earn it our Greentech stamp of approval.
Viewsonic covers the VA2231wm-LED with a three year warranty that includes parts, labor, and backlighting. The monitor comes with a CD containing drivers and a user manual, DVI and VGTA cables, and an audio cable.
The VA2231wm-LED provides bright, bold colors and dark blacks. Colors ramped smoothly from dark to light on the DisplayMate Color Scales test and skin tones were natural looking on my blu-ray test video, 2012. The panel did an adequate job of displaying each shade of dark gray on the 64-Step Grayscale test but light grays were clipped at the high end of the scale and appeared white. As a result, highlight detail on my test photos was washed out. Small text (5.3 points) was legible but not quite as clean as what I observed with the Acer S230HL .
The panel's five-millisecond (black-to-white) pixel response helped deliver smooth game play; the PC version of Duke Nukem Forever looked crisp and did not show any obvious motion artifacts such as ghosting or blurring. Off angle viewing was good for a TN+ panel; there was some color shifting when viewed from the far end of either side but the effect was not as severe as it was with the HP 2311gt ($299.99 list, 3 Stars).
The Viewsonic VA2231wm-LED will appeal to energy-conscious users on a budget. It delivers a bright, colorful picture with solid blacks and it does it without using a lot of power. Light grayscale performance is lacking, however, and features are scarce. An HDMI port would be a welcome addition here. The IPS-based Asus VS229H-P ($160 list, 4 Stars), on the other hand, is only $20 more and offers superior color, grayscale, and viewing angle performance, and it has HDMI, DVI, and VGA ports. That's why the Asus VS229H-P remains our Editors' Choice for budget monitors.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.