The ViewSonic VG171 has outstanding display quality and a comparatively low street price. It offers both digital and analog video interfaces; tested via its digital video mode, this model outscored all of its competitors in both our text and graphics tests. Our panel of judges remarked on its sharp text in Microsoft Word and Excel documents, as well as its rich and vivid colours in our photo and colour scale tests. Though the digital mode of a dual-input monitor typically provides better images than the analog mode, we saw little difference between the two from the VG171: When we ran some of the same test screens in the unit's analog mode, text was still pleasingly sharp - Arial text looked clear down to 7.5 points - and photos had saturated, natural-looking colours.
There are no high-end features at this price. This model does not pivot to allow using the display in portrait orientation, and it has no USB ports or speakers. When making on-screen adjustments, such as changing the brightness or contrast, only a single horizontal bar serves as a visual gauge of the amount of adjustment. Although this inconvenience isn't critical, some users may prefer the added precision of a numeric value.
The VG171 has five basic control buttons aligned horizontally on the bottom of its front panel. Despite the lack of numbers on the controls, it's easy to auto-adjust the image, and manipulating the individual controls is relatively uncomplicated as well. You use the up and down arrow buttons to navigate among the on-screen menu choices, and you use the buttons marked '1' and '2' to exit and select, respectively. It would be nice if the 1 and 2 buttons on the bezel were labeled 'Exit' and 'Select', but it's easy enough to get used to the convention, which is consistently applied. The auto-adjust and Manual Image Adjust controls are inactive when you connect the VG171 via its digital interface. Digital technology makes them unnecessary--those adjustments are as good (or bad) as they're going to get. A Kensington antitheft slot is built into the case to help prevent your expensive monitor from walking away.
The printed documentation is a sparse quick-start guide, with setup instructions that consist of only three diagrams. A thorough manual is included on CD-ROM, however, along with two color-calibration applications, Colorific and True Internet Color.
The VG171 uses diffusion film technology to provide horizontal and vertical viewing angles of 150 and 140 degrees, respectively (as measured by ViewSonic). If you want wider viewing angles, you should consider one of the more expensive models from ViewSonic or others that use in-plane switching (IPS) or multidomain vertical alignment (MVA). We noticed some loss of brightness when looking up at this monitor; to ensure consistent brightness and contrast, you should place the VG171 at a height that's level with your line of sight. Since this monitor is not height adjustable, that could mean using a riser, or raising or lowering your work surface.