While reviewing the ViewSonic V3D231 monitor I had a stark realization – there is almost no difference between reviewing a monitor and a video game – both are completely subjective.  While we can (and will) talk about the features of the monitor, much of what makes this a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ review, is entirely based on opinion.  This review will focus on the thing that matters here at Gaming Trend – games.  We’ll put this monitor through the paces of Mass Effect 3, Batman: Arkham City, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Diablo III, and Star Wars: The Old Republic.  These games represent some of the fantastic titles that have released in the last few months, as well as what I had already installed and ready to go. We will also check out a few 3D BluRay titles since I haven’t bothered to put them into my DVD case quite yet.  While I’m sure there are better ways to benchmark a monitor (specialized 3D Mark tests, Delta 3 Nits, , etc.), I just don’t care – I don’t play those utilities, and neither do you.  Let’s get to gaming and movie watching on this monitor and see what happens.

In the Box:
The ViewSonic V3D231 monitor is a 23” widepanel monitor with passive 3D built in.  In the box we have the monitor itself, a pair of polarized plastic glasses, a clip-on pair for those who already wear glasses (a nice touch!), an HDMI cable, a power cable, an audio cable, and a VGA cable.   There is also a user guide/installation CD, the monitor stand, and a smattering of setup instruction leaflets.  Don’t look at me like that – it’s a monitor.  What did you expect would be in the box, a gold watch?

Let’s back this monitor up and take a look at what’s going on in the rear.  The back panel of this monitor is pretty simple – lined up from left to right we have the standard trinity of connectors: VGA, DVI, and HDMI.   Right next to that is the headphone jack you won’t be using and the power cable connector that I’m sure isn’t as optional.

The front bezel of the monitor contains the usual suspects – power, sound, and two buttons (cleverly labeled “1” and “2”) for adjustment.   Button 2 is simplest to describe – it flips between the inputs.  Button 1 contains the good stuff – Contrast/Brightness, audio adjustments, color adjustments, language, auto-power off, and more.  It also contains the all important “Response Time” setting, we’ll get into the specifics of adjustment later.  If you’ve tuned a ViewSonic monitor in any level of recent history, you’ll know what you are getting – Diablo II was new when they changed the OSD last.

I’m a guy, so these included instruction leaflets are usually good filler for my recycle bin, but since I’m reviewing this monitor I had to actually read everything. Painful as it was, I discovered a few little head-scratching gems while pawing through the cd-based manual.  The Up Arrow on the underside of the monitor doesn’t turn up the volume as you might expect – it’s actually used to turn on 3D versus non-3D timing for the monitor.  The Down Arrow is used as a shortcut into the OSD to allow you to adjust the speakers.  I suspect most people will change their volume more often than their 3D / Non-3D timing, so it doesn’t make a lick of sense to have it set up this way, but after we talk about these speakers you’ll agree that most people won’t be using them either, making the point I just made kinda moot.

On the aesthetics side of life, the monitor is a bit busy with logos and such.  Perched on one corner we have the ViewSonic logo (Ha!  A pun…you know, because it’s three little birds!), and in the opposite corner we have a removable energy star sticker and the “3D Ready, LED, 1080P Full HD, SRS Premium Sound” sticker.  On the lower left corner is where we get the LED / HDMI / 1080p Full HD logo again, but this time they are etched into the shiny plastic.  Dead center on the bottom we also have the word ViewSonic etched in once again just above the OSD indicators.  While I could care less about the reflective shiny surface of the bezel (seriously, if you don’t like fingerprints on your monitor edges, just don’t touch the edges!  As for reflection, let’s not pretend we don’t all game in the darkest environments possible – there won’t be a glare), I do prefer the approach that companies like Westinghouse have used where there is nothing on the bezel but a small W logo.  By the end of the first hour of fiddling you are navigating the OSD by touch, and you probably had a good idea that the monitor was LED and HDMI before you purchased it.  It’s nitpicky, but I spend a lot of time in front of a monitor – I prefer a clean and simple look.

The stand for the monitor uses a simple cylinder and post style clip system that can be easily removed by pressing buttons on both sides.  The shape is semi-oval with a bit more footprint up front.  It works well without overwhelming your desk with a massive footprint, and also serves as a reflective surface to show the amber no-signal light or the blue everything-is-good light.  Ok, enough about the looks of the monitor – let’s get to some games, right?!

In the Guts:
NO!  No games yet!  We still have to talk about what is going on inside the monitor so we can judge whether or not ViewSonic delivers on their promise for this monitor.  ViewSonic offers up that this monitor sports a 2ms response time, reducing ghosting and other visual artifacts that are usually inherent in cheaper monitors.  In all my time working in technology I can tell you one absolute certainty – most people run the defaults on their hardware, meaning most people will never see this 2ms response time out of this monitor. I say that as the setup defaults to Standard in the OSD. With the options Ultra Fast and Advanced waiting in the wings, I quickly changed to Ultra Fast. Before you ask, no, I’m not sure why you’d select “Advanced” – unless you are into tweaking monitor settings such as hue, brightness, and individual color blends its result was akin to turning off the Turbo button on my old 486.

ViewSonic also advertises that this monitor uses a TN Panel.  TN stands for Twisted Nematic, which likely means absolutely nothing to you.  I can tell you why you should care though – it means limited viewing angles.  I wasn’t aware of this issue when I first got the monitor, but my wife sure noticed it.  TN panels are 18-bit instead of 24-bit, meaning you don’t get the full color pallet, but you likely won’t notice that as much as how it impacts the viewing angle.  By dithering the color pallet the monitor takes on a bit of a washed out look from certain angles.  Realistically, most people won’t notice this as they’ll be watching the monitor from a head-on perspective, but it is noticeable when more than one person is watching.  If you think back to the first HD TVs and you remember how they seemed to ‘black out’ quite a  bit when viewed at a higher or lower angle, thankfully it isn’t quite that bad.  What you do get is a bit of color distortion, adding more black to the scene.  This isn’t a fault of the monitor per-se, but in the TN Panel technology itself.  You are trading some flexibility for incredible response time.  This means that already dark movies like horror films will become very difficult to watch, and brighter films (e.g. anything from Pixar) may have some color distortion.  There really isn’t any way to fix this – as I said, it’s inherent in the chosen technology.  TN does keep costs down for the most part when compared to monitor types, but obviously there is a hidden cost.

Ok, ok…we will get away from the technobabble in just a minute, right after we cover the audio on this monitor.  The first thing you’ll want to do as a gamer is get away from these speakers.  Even with the included SRS Premium Sound software installed, you’ll likely want something with a bit more oomph in the audio department.  The speakers tend to be a bit tinny, and the bass is pretty absent.  I’m not sure why monitor manufacturers haven’t figured out what Dell has been doing for the last few iterations of the XPS, but even a 1 Watt bass kick in your monitor would work wonders.  I digress – just use external speakers and save yourself from tilting your ears at the monitor like a dog that has just been shown a card trick.

During my review I also noticed just how difficult it is to demonstrate image quality. I’ll include some images so you can see what the monitor looks like in action, but it’s a little difficult to quantify the difference in quality without comparing it to something else.  Without going into serious techno-speak and using benchmarking applications and screen measurement tools, the only fair, albeit limited, method is a side-by-side comparison which isn’t something that everyone has available to them. There are a number of factors, such as manufacturer, make, model and specs which all come into play – I’d like to reiterate that this is subjective observation.

A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far Far Away
The first title I took for a spin is the recently-released MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Since I’ve cranked entirely too many hours at this title, I knew it would allow me to quickly spot any differences.  It was easy to spot the difference right off the bat, due to the TN Panel.  As you can see in the image below, it is easy to spot the dithering in the letters.  Granted, you don’t play with your nose against the glass, so you won’t likely see it to this level, but it does make a difference in the general ‘sharpness’ of the display.  Once the game moved past the text and loading sequence, I saw some of the jagged edges I didn’t expect to see at high resolution.  Thankfully, the V3D231 does a fantastic job of delivering a crisp display where it counts – in motion.  The 2ms display is smooth as silk in SWTOR, showing no signs of blurring or color-bleed, except where it is intended.  I’d go so far as to say it’s a cleaner display than my non-TN monitor in this admittedly subjective test.

Next up on the testing block is Diablo III.  The game has caught a lot of heat for being as bright and colorful as it is since gameplay was first revealed, so it made sense to get a good look at the effect that TN has on the color palette.  Unfortunately, this test didn’t blow me away in motion.  As I mentioned before, TN panels don’t give the full color gamut, and the Diablo III Beta made that apparent when I got down into the dungeon with the Witch Doctor.  Spitting poisoned darts at my enemies, I found that the green array of colors was a bit muted on the ViewSonic.  Without a second monitor to compare it to, I’m not sure I’d notice, but it is clear that we are not working with the full deck of cards for color.

The story was similar when I put Mass Effect 3, Batman: Arkham City, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 through their paces.  I had thought that the high pace of Modern Warfare 3 would have been enough to shake this monitor, but even in the most intense of scenes, the display remained as clean and clear as crystal.  Similarly, I did see some muting of colors, but once again nobody would be able to really see the difference without having a non-TN monitor adjacent to it.  The only thing left to do was see what this monitor brings as its wheelhouse – 3D.

First up on the menu is one of my guilty pleasures – I’m a huge fan of Tron: Legacy.  I know, the storyline is nothing to write home about, and watching The Big Lebowsky as Flynn was a little odd (I’m surprised we didn’t see a rug in his cave hideout) but there is absolutely no way that you can deny that this movie is extremely pretty to look at.  Like a dumb cheerleader, she may not be a Mensa member, but she’s got it where it counts.  Having seen it on the IMAX in 3D, then again on a 72” Plasma in active 3D, it would be interesting to round out the full experience by seeing it in passive 3D on the ViewSonic.

The scene where Sam is revealed to be a User and is placed on the Grid to square off against Clu is the best 3D moment in the movie. Giving viewers some subtle 3D moments with cycles at multiple levels, as well as some in-your-face 3D, this moment is a good blend of CGI and real actors, so if there is anything amiss it’ll stick out like Paris Hilton in a convent.

The issue with active 3D is that it gives a good chunk of the population a headache.  The flickering between left and right to alternate the polarization wreaks havoc on the ocular muscles.  As the eye muscles tighten, it causes mild headaches for some, and for migraine sufferers like me it triggers cluster migraines.  It isn’t every time, but I imagine watching Frodo walk his furry ass from the Shire to Mordor would do the trick pretty quick.  This means that playing a game like Mass Effect 3 would be difficult in 3D as it demands a more protracted time commitment.  It is in this way that the ViewSonic is an absolutely perfect monitor.  Offering up Passive 3D and the incredible 2ms display speed, the monitor does an incredible job of providing clean 3D without all of the constant flickering.   The glasses are lightweight, so they also don’t add the weight and cord that active 3D glasses do.  In practice it offers up exactly what was promised.  I played through the entire Mass Effect 3 demo on the PC without a single issue at maximum resolution.  After tempting fate once, I tried it again the next day with no ill effects.   I’m sure that the folks at ViewSonic didn’t intend that this would be endorsed as the “Migraine-friendly” monitor, but as somebody who has suffered with debilitating pain in my head since my injuries in the military, I’m always on the lookout for things that enable me to play the same as anyone else.  You do have to tip the hat to active 3D for clarity (as it was on the 72″ Plasma), but not having a soul-crushing pain in your skull goes a little further.

Summing up:
Entirely too often with electronics we are struck with buyer’s remorse when products don’t deliver on their promises, but the ViewSonic V3D231 offers up Passive 3D in the best format I’ve seen to date.  While the color palette might not be as robust as I might like, and the TN monitor introduces some scan-line dithering that has a negative impact on letter clarity, in the realm of refresh speed and passive 3D it has no equal.  Gone are the bulky and irritating corded active 3D glasses, replaced by lightweight polarized lenses or clip-ons for those of us who wear glasses. With a choice of VGA, DVI or HDMI inputs, the monitor comes with the standard trio of connection options, but the included speakers are weaker than the single speaker on my cell phone.   Additionally, there is no denying that this monitor is made for a single user.  While the 3D clarity and brightness works well head on, viewers from any sort of angle suffer from ‘blackout’, with the most severe of angles obfuscating the screen almost entirely.  Is the ViewSonic V3D231 for you?  That’s hard to say.  If you are a migraine sufferer like I am, and you want to play in 3D, it’s hard not to recommend the ViewSonic V3D231.   If you fall outside of those parameters, there are more attractively-featured monitors for less money.

MSRP: $399.99
Amazon Price: $294.97