Mounted vertically around the back are three video ports: two D-SUBs and one DVI-D, the latter supporting HDTV in both 480p and 720p flavours. To switch between the signals you can choose the connection within the OSD or use the button labelled '2' to select the one you want. Alongside the video ports is the power socket that feeds the internal PSU together with its own on/off rocker switch to completely cut off the power. In the box, you'll find a cable for each port type that, when connected, can be neatly routed around the back of the stand's neck through the series of cable loops.
The lower part of the VP171b's bezel sports ViewSonic's five familiar and unobtrusive buttons consisting of the power button, a main menu button labelled '1', up and down scroll buttons and another button labelled '2'. The reason behind the labelling is clearly displayed on most of the sub-menus - you press '1' to exit, '2' to select. This makes for an intuitive OSD that also carries settings for auto image adjustment and picture position (both for an analogue connection only), plus contrast, brightness, and colour temperature.
There are some omissions. When using an analogue signal through one of the D-SUB ports, I would have liked a button to function as a one-press auto-calibration button for correcting any pixel jitter and/or timing drift that could develop over the course of a working day. Instead you have to enter the OSD for that setting. Secondly, I'm not a big fan of peculiarly calibrated adjustment scales. For instance, I'd much prefer to see a percentage scale rather than 34 steps for the brightness and contrast levels and 51 steps for the user-definable RGB settings. Still, the level of control is better than in some displays and this was needed when setting up the display for testing.
Before doing so, the VP171b needed a little attention. A pinkish cast could be seen across much of the panel and especially from an elevated viewing angle. A ViewSonic representative said this was a result of the preset contrast values which are somewhat elevated when the displays leave the factory. Indeed, this pinkish cast was reduced by dropping the contrast level and ensuring that the colour temperature was set 6500K.
With VP171b now optimised and set to its native 1280 x 1024 resolution, I ran through DisplayMate Multimedia Edition with Motion 2.10's test script for LCD screens. I was highly impressed by the greyscale tests. There were no visible signs of banding across the 256-level scales, which showed a silky smooth gradation from black to white. In the white level saturation test I was able to distinguish level 253 against the white background, which for an LCD is also commendable and is largely attributable to the VP171b's 500:1 contrast ratio.
As for the colour tests, the ramps were smooth and linear with only a hint of compression at the dim ends of the scales. This just goes to show that it's possible to achieve good results with a 6-bit plus 2-bit Frame Rate Control to dither up to a full colour gamut. Colour purity was very clean and vibrant, although I should add that this particular model showed a 3cm-wide lighter vertical band in the dark screen test. It's difficult to say what had caused this but I'd say it was an anomaly in this specific unit as it was not apparent in another one I had a look at.