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Inside the shadowy underground of Korean monitor sales

Loyd Case | Sept. 20, 2012
If you're in the market for a new high-definition desktop monitor, take note: You may be able to pick up a very good Korean-made display for far less money than what you'd spend on, say, an Asus, Dell, HP, or Samsung model. Sure, you'll have to cope with odd product branding, limited functionality, and less-than-inspired product design; but if your primary concern is image quality, a Korean display purchased on eBay could be just the ticket.

If you're in the market for a new high-definition desktop monitor, take note: You may be able to pick up a very good Korean-made display for far less money than what you'd spend on, say, an Asus, Dell, HP, or Samsung model. Sure, you'll have to cope with odd product branding, limited functionality, and less-than-inspired product design; but if your primary concern is image quality, a Korean display purchased on eBay could be just the ticket.

It all depends on your appetite for adventure.

When I first stumbled across a long thread about Korean monitors at Overclock.net, I didn't take much notice. But when another thread popped up on Quarter to Three, one of my regular Web hangouts, my interest was piqued. The first post was pretty negative but, as it turned out, mistaken. Both threads gave advice on the different manufacturers and resellers, and included descriptions of feature sets and information on which outfits were the most reliable. I was still hesitant, sure, but I began to think that this Korean-monitors thing was for real. So I dug deeper.

On eBay I found numerous small Korean resellers offering 27-inch, 2560-by-1440-pixel monitors at fantastic, sub-$400 prices. And many of them listed high buyer satisfaction rates, which eBay buyers generate themselves.

I was still skittish about buying a monitor from an overseas source: Even if a reseller's customer support is excellent, shipping a defective monitor back to Korea isn't a low-cost endeavor. Then I noticed that some of the resellers were offering "perfect pixel" guarantees. Those weren't enhanced warranty exchange programs, however. Instead, "perfect pixel" meant that the reseller opened the box, connected the display, and visually inspected it; the reseller would ship only those monitors without hot or missing pixels.

So I decided to take the plunge. But whom to buy from? And which specific display should I choose?

Putting my money where my mouth is

When you search eBay for one of these Korean IPS displays, you won't find familiar brands such as LG or Samsung. Instead you'll be looking at something from Imon, Shimian, or Yamakasi. Yes, these are not household names.

Clearly, most of these items are actually private labels, because they're all quite similar. I found some monitors that cost less than $300, but typically they were untested displays with a single DVI dual-link connector. Most of the least-expensive displays don't support HDCP content protection, so if you should want to play Blu-ray movies or other protected content from set-top boxes, you may be out of luck.

You can find units with additional features, such as HDMI and DisplayPort support, but the costs then rise to a little over $400. Even then, you'll encounter limitations. HDMI inputs, for example, may not support the higher-bandwidth HDMI 1.4a standard, so output resolution will be limited to 1920 by 1080 pixels when you connect the monitor via HDMI. Units with HDMI 1.4a support rise to almost $500.

 

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