Laptop Guide: Advantages of IPS Display Laptops and Where to Find Them


With the advent of the Apple iPad more people are now aware of what an IPS (in-plane switching) display is and the advantages of it.  Most tablets on the market these days come equipped with an IPS display.  This makes sense, the major benefit of an IPS display is its extremely wide viewing angles, meaning colors stay true no matter what angle you view it from.   A tablet is designed to be viewed from any angle and so color reproduction from wide angles is important.  The YouTube video below gives a great example of how the colors stay the same from almost any angle on the iPad:

Apple iPad IPS Display viewing angle demo

Non-IPS displays, such as the TN (twisted nematic) technology used in most laptops tend to wash out and have color distortion when you view it from angles other than straight on and perpendicular to your eyes.  As an example, check out this video of an Acer laptop with a typical TN panel screen used in most laptops:

Acer Laptop TN screen viewing angle demo

The difference is pretty shocking, the same images are used on both the Apple iPad screen and the Acer laptop screen and you can see how much better the colors are on the iPad at various viewing angles compared to the Acer.  For those that can’t play video at work or prefer images, here’s a side-by-side shot of the iPad (on the left) and Acer laptop (on the right) showing how colors are at an angle over 45 degrees from viewing:

IPS and TN comparison

After seeing this you might wonder why every laptop maker doesn’t just use an IPS screen instead of TN technology screen?  The easy answer to that is they don’t because IPS is expensive.  If you’re buying a $500 15-inch screen laptop with a TN type screen it’s probably not worth it to you to spend the extra $100 – $150 that’s required to upgrade to an IPS style display.  Most people buy a laptop based on price first and foremost and then look at features like the processor, screen size, hard drive size and amount of RAM.   The screen quality and type of screen is an afterthought (or non-thought) for most buyers so laptop manufacturers have little incentive to make more laptops with an IPS display.

So what type of person does generally look for and need an IPS display in a laptop?  Photographers, designers, video editors, animations artists and technophiles to name just a few.   The main advantages to an IPS display over TN are summarized below:

  • IPS has Better Color Gamut – An IPS display compared to TN has a much better color gamut.  IPS monitors have true 8-bit color representation while TN is only 6-bits.   This means a TN panel is limited to 65,536 colors while an IPS panel is closer to the 16.7-million colors a typical graphics card can produce.  This means an IPS display is able to give full color reproduction with no dithering, TN panels cannot and have to dither or “makeup” colors it cannot reproduce.  This color gamut advantage is of course very important to those whose work depends on producing accurate true to life images and video.
  • IPS has Better Color Accuracy – This goes hand-in-hand with having a better color gamut, it is easier to calibrate an IPS display and get accurate colors on it than a TN panel.  Blacks appear black, reds appear red, whites appear white.
  • IPS has Better Viewing Angles – This is of course the feature most noticeable to the average eye and easy to demonstrate as the videos did previously.  IPS displays can have viewing angles up to 178-degrees wide, while TN panels might be as little as 10 – 15 degrees before color shifting occurs.

These advantages of IPS display are all nice and you’re probably asking, “great, where can I get a laptop with an IPS display?”.  Not so fast, it’s not that easy to find them, the amount of laptops with an IPS display on the market at this time is very limited.  Here’s the short list:

If we include Windows based tablets we can expand the list to more:

That’s right, of the hundreds of laptop models for sale today there are just seven dedicated laptops with confirmed IPS display, and the LG P330 is hard to find anywhere but Korea so let’s call it just six.  There are laptops known for having very good TN based screens with some IPS-like qualities, but we’ll discuss those along with some disadvantages to IPS (yes, there are some) in an upcoming article and stay focused on IPS availability and advantages for now.

So why are there few laptops with an IPS display?  You’ll notice that those IPS laptops being sold are mostly business laptops with a high price tag so they’re targeted at a niche audience with specific needs that are willing to pay up for a better display.  With tablets becoming more popular and people being more aware of IPS display advantages we might see an uptick in offerings, for instance the ThinkPad X Series did not offer IPS until this year, maybe the iPad was viewed as competition for a smaller laptop.  With 2012 here we’ll be looking for a refresh of laptops when Intel releases Ivy Bridge in the Spring and at that time there will be a flood of new laptops.  We’ll see then if IPS screens make it into more of those upcoming 2012 laptops.

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10 Responses to Laptop Guide: Advantages of IPS Display Laptops and Where to Find Them

  1. Jonathan December 28, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    Thank you for posting this! I’m a Thinkpad enthusiast who spent for an IPS X220 for personal use, and I’m hooked on good viewing angles. True screen quality is so rarely talked about in laptop reviews.

    I think there should be a couple of extra examples on your IPS list: First, what about the convertible tablets? The X220t and Elitebook 2760p have IPS, and the Fujitsu Lifebook uses a competing non-IPS technology for wide viewing angles. Also, the Iconia Tab W500 is a Windows machine, and it has wide viewing angles, even if it’s not IPS.

    And what are the alternatives for laptop users who want screen quality without Workstation pricing, and who don’t want an Envy 15 for whatever reason? How can we vote with our dollars?

    At CES, the big thing is going to be Ultrabooks, unfortunately. People want portability, but none of those laptops have good viewing angles, not even the original MacBook Air (although it comes close).

    Should consumers interesting in viewing angles buy tablets instead, hold off on laptop purchases, and hope the manufacturers get the message? Or are we just resigned to saving up for an Envy 15, X220, convertible tablet, or a workstation?

    • Andrew December 28, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

      Jonathan, thanks for your feedback. Snap on the laptop, I also have an X220 with IPS display. It was only a $50 upgrade so is by far the most “affordable” IPS laptop option and the X220 just so happens to fit my needs in most other ways.

      You’re right, I should include Windows based tablet convertibles as they can easily serve as laptops, I’m even willing to include Windows slate tablets as a consideration for “laptop” buyers since it’s pretty easy to dock and use them like a laptop. So I’ll add those two convertibles + Fujitsu Slate (I believe you’re referring to the Slate Q550 with IPS display). I’ll leave the Iconia Tab W500 out if it’s not IPS, there are some very good TN panels such as the Dell XPS 15, Sony VAIO SE and Sony VAIO F 3D screen that are “near” IPS quality TN panels but at the end of the day don’t use IPS.

      Yes, Ultrabooks will be the buzz at CES in regards to laptops and Windows machines. It’s exciting I to see ultra thin laptops with bells and whistles but I don’t think they’ll be 40% of the market next year like Intel predicts, price being the major reasoning there and then not everyone wants to sacrifice on performance, port selection and upgradeability with a laptop. It is a bummer that they’re premium priced sans a premium screen.

      I’ve followed discussion surrounding availability of IPS displays for a few years now and not much has changed, in fact I think there are less options now than a few years ago when Lenovo used to offer FlexView (IPS) in the T series and R series. I do think if more people move to tablets and cite the better screen for a reason that laptop manufacturers will get the message. What I hope is that as more tablets use IPS screens the panel pricing from suppliers comes down and it lowers the barrier for manufacturers to then offer it. In the near term the answer is yes, you’re resigned to spending the $$$ to get a premium laptop, by the end of 2012 I would expect to see more than we have now though. Not at a $600 price point laptop however!

  2. Frank Stefanec December 29, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    Geez, the decision continues to get tougher. I have a 5 yr old MacBookPro (MBP). I keep looking at the ultrabooks like X220, MacBookAir (MBA), Sony Vaio Z…
    I have an iPad 1 that basically short of word processing, and spreadsheeting which I do at a basic level, is doing everything a MBA can do and at a fraction of the cost… actually, I received the iPad as a gift, so at no cost. And it’s tiny to carry around.
    MBP is getting slower, I see the beachball much more with Lion than I ever did before.
    Besides… it’s 5 yrs old and I “deserve” a new computer… but am I missing something in my hesitation???
    Thx.
    Frank

    • Andrew December 29, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

      5-years is pretty old for a laptop, it’s my opinion that if your time and productivity are worth something and you sit there waiting for your laptop a lot it’s probably time for a new machine. Since you’ve waited 5-years, you might think about waiting until April when Intel releases a new set of processors and Apple and others will undoubtedly refresh their products.

    • ZaZ December 30, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

      Might I ask which MBP you have? If it’s a Core 2 Duo based model, you might want to consider a better hard drive or SSD. CPU utilization has sort of plateaued, A new drive might speed things up considerably. Something like the Seagate Momentus XT might be worth a look. Once it figures your usage patterns, it gives near SSD performance and you’d have a lot of space left over.

  3. pcunite January 17, 2012 at 12:05 am #

    Thank you for listing these models. If possible, please keep tabs on this as it is extremely useful. I get asked all the time “what laptop should I buy” and I try to steer them towards the better offerings. Your site has really helped in this regard.

    • Andrew January 17, 2012 at 3:43 am #

      Thanks for the positive feedback, I’ll definitely make a point to keep this list an updated reference.

  4. Jeff Bellin February 6, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

    Great piece on IPS displays. There are several debates raging on forums such as NBR and the good news is that, with the new slate tablets all the rage, people are discovering the joys of screens with unlimited viewing angles, wide, accurate color representation, 1000:1 + contrast ratios and 300-400 nit brightness. As more tablet and laptop makers source high quality displays, the more economies of scale will develop among the screen makers and good displays will move down the price point curve in laptops.

    I would like to point out that, with the exception of vertical viewing angles, many very fine TN panels on the market, even in consumer laptops, meet or exceed the quality of the modestly priced IPS/AFFS/PVA panels. Examples of laptops with screens that are better than the IPS screens of the new Envy 15, the Thinkpad X220 or the Sony SE would include: 1)Sony Z (both 900p and 1080p), 2) HP Envy 14 Spectre (return of the original, superb – TN – Radiance!), 3) Dell Studio XPS-15 B+RGLED. The latter two are or will be available for $1,200 to $1,400, not “budget, but not nearly workstation level pricing. And while it’s true the Sony Zs are outrageously expensive, it’s not clear that the cost of the screens are a material driver in $2,000 to $3,000 price points. – ie, if they chose to, they could likely put the same screens in their SA series and sell them for around $1,300. According to notebookcheck.net and andandtech.com all of these TN screens are brighter, have higher contrast rations, lower black levels, wider color gamuts and equivalent horizontal viewing angles as compared to the IPS displays I note above and, I would add from observation, as compared to the HP 2760 and Fujitsu AFFS+ screens as well. Moreover the Dell B+RGLED in the XPS15 (also used in the affordable Sager/Clevo lines) is nearly the equal in all critical specs (except vertical angles) of both the Precision IPS and HP Elitebook Dream Color screens, which are known as the gold standard in laptop IPS LCDs. Anandtech does some quality testing and has excellent charts showing the performance of a wide range of displays, and the B+RG in the Dell is at the top of almost every chart.

    I mention the TNs because I have found people are less educated as to the specs that distinguish a good LCD panel from a great one and many are adopting an “IPS:good; TN;Bad” rule of thumb and that will cause them to make sub-optimal choices. Though the IPS design does have theoretical advantages in color, contrast and viewing angles, over TN technology, the more popularly priced ones fall well short of the better TNs, as noted above. The collective anxiety (!) by Sony SE and Envy 15 owners could have been easily avoided had they read test results of color gamut and accuracy in notebookcheck.net or anandtech.com. The other trade mags should be doing these measurements as well, but as long as consumers don’t show a concern about them, they will continue to report that “bright colors pop” in the 1366X768 low contrast screens from Acers and Asus they review and leave it at that. Your visual checks on unusual color values and black/white contrasts proved to be an excellent “poor man’s/web site’s” version of using precision instruments to measure color gamut and accuracy. In any event, they would have saved a lot of SE/Envy 15 owners the grief and disappointment they have experienced. I also applaud you for putting it in perspective: the rusty reds may not be ideal, but they don’t render the screens useless, except for graphics professionals.

    Bravo to Andrew and laptopreviews.com for doing this service to readers! I say let’s keep educating the enthusiast audience you deservedly have attracted to make excellent decisions and show manufacturers that it takes more than “1080p” or “IPS” as marketing slogans to get our business.

  5. Nick D. November 5, 2012 at 12:35 pm #

    I would highly appreciate your current suggestions for a 17″ screen laptop that has colour accuracy & performance similar to IPS or -VA panels. I need it for graphic design and photo editing.

    I own an Eizo TN monitor (S2202W) and an IPS HP ZR24W, and the Eizo (10bit colour, 98% sRGB coverage) is able to reproduce decently a wide enough spectrum but it is horribly uneven especially when moving vertically, and with very limited viewing angles. Anyways i would compromise with a 17″ laptop screen of similar performance, for example at least knowing colours, contrast, tonal performance are decently accurate and wide, looking dead center @ 90 degrees angle. That would be my down limit for a laptop screen.

    After 17″ and IPS/VA level screen performance my next criteria would be budget. Do you have any suggestions maybe? Thank you.

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