Update: I’ve reached out directly to Unico and I am working with them to fix these issues. This has been an egg in the face moment for them and they are serious about fixing this stuff. No ETA or timeframe, but it’s being worked on. Hopefully we can go from lemons to lemonade
This summer a company named Unico USA started marketing brand new 26 inch 4:3 aspect ratio LCD monitors for use in arcade machines. Unico is the company behind the MVSX arcade cabinets.
Unico at the time stated this about the ULM26 monitor:
Active Screen Size: 25.7″
4:3 TFT Active Matrix Panel
Display Colors: 16.7M
Resolution: 1600×1200 (Tested)
Contrast Ratio: 1000:1
Response Time: 1ms to 1.5ms
Viewing Angles: 176(H)/176(V)
The monitor has HDMI, VGA and RGBS inputs.
On paper, holy cow, this looks incredible! A new, large 4:3 aspect ratio monitor that can display 1600×1200 is a dream. This would give your similar viewing space to a 32 inch 16:9 LCD with a 4:3 image on it. And with a resolution of 1600×1200 you can easily 5x integer scale 320×240 up to its native resolution. This would be excellent as a drop in replacement into cabinets with worn out 25 inch CRTs and new builds that wanted a larger 4:3 aspect ratio screen. And that low latency should make for excellent response times for even the hardest core of twitch gaming. And with HDMI and VGA, these could make for excellent standalone displays for FPGA or software emulation based setups.
Over the course of the last few weeks monitors started arriving at folks doorsteps and the first signs that something was amiss started with the included specifications sheet.
That’s very different from what Unico’s website states. That 1280×1024 resolution isn’t even a 4:3 aspect ratio, it’s 5:4!
I personally ordered 2 monitors and they arrived very quickly from Unico. They are boxed well with double boxing and thick foam inserts.
Curious about the documentation difference, I checked their Facebook page and found this quote:
Documentation was never changed unfortunately from our first attempt with original prototype pre-order attempt it was caught after monitors shipped to warehouse.
Ok, so fair enough. The paperwork was printed based off the specs of a previous prototype version.
I plugged the ULM26 into my MiSTer FPGA and setup a 1600×1200 video mode. However the display wasn’t very sharp.
It’s hard to capture via a picture, but the picture looked more like what happens when you run a LCD at it’s non native resolution. I posted on twitter all last weekend long about this monitor and some of the issues I was seeing (non crispy looking image and weird integer scaling) and started talking to Joe the Mid_GeekCrisis. He reached out to the Unico folks via Instagram and got some very unhelpful responses as he too noticed the display didn’t appear to be performing as it should. They were more or less like “It looks good to us”. Very helpful.
So Joe took apart the display and stripped it down as far as he could reasonably go. The LCD Panel itself has absolutely no markings whatsoever. No stickers, no stamps, nothing to indicate who makes it or model number. However, the t-con board does and that’s our first indication that something is afoul.
If we look that model number on that t-con board up, it points to the board out of a 32 inch 1366×768 HD television!
So they (or whoever actually built these monitors for them) cobbled together these units with a unknown resolution panel and a controller board out of a low end 32 inch HD television. This would probably explain some other issues people are seeing such as the inability to connect these to a Windows computer and set the resolution to a 4:3 aspect ratio one and have it display full screen.
To test this, I plugged the display into my Windows work laptop and set the resolution to several different 4:3 ratio resolutions (1024×768 and 1600×1200) and each time the picture was squished in the the center of the display. Even if you go into the monitors display options and change the aspect ratio, it still doesn’t work correctly.
Over the course of the past week or so, there has been a flurry of posts to the Unico Facebook page asking about these issues people are seeing. Some of them were answered quickly (such as the paperwork and websites listing different specs) whereas more technical issues such as the inability to display full screen from Windows and what the actual panel resolution is took longer.
According to Unico, the display issue from Windows is because:
Here are Microsoft Windows issues we hadn’t accounted for as the monitor was produced as an Arcade CRT Replacement LCD Monitor.
The monitor is set to default to 1024×768, We have run into an issue with the generic windows driver where it only detects certain resolutions available.Currently the resolution has to be forced in the video card control panel windows or the graphics card custom controller panel for example 1600×1200.We are developing a custom windows display driver and more adjustment features in firmware once available we will post them on site and Facebook to download.One odd issue we saw in Microsoft Windows is at 1600x,1200 with windows the characters are blurry but once you bring up emulators the picture is perfect no issues.
We are working as fast as we can and expect a windows driver and firmware update providing more adjustment features in a month and a half to two months.
Personally I am not buying this completely as we have already determined that the controller board in this is from a HD TV. More than likely Windows thinks the display is a 16:9 aspect display regardless of selected resolution and outputting accordingly and the display is setting the aspect ratio wrong regardless of input resolution because it probably still thinks a 16:9 panel is attached. Side note: If you output a 4:3 resolution from a different device such as MiSTer, it does display full screen. I think it’s pretty clear that at a minimum the firmware on the driver board needs to be fixed so that anything you plug into it knows what the native resolution of the panel is and displays accordingly.
That brings us to the next issue, what is the resolution of the display? After several days worth of delays to get accurate panel info, Unico concluded:
Our engineer along with two other fellow engineers agree with Jason Horns assessment here on Facebook that by pixel count the panel appears to be 1024×768 panel sorry for typo the panel provider also concurs.
???? lol wut? Just a typo? It appears to be 1024×768 and the panel provider concurs? Did they dig these out of the back alley in Shenzen and have no idea what they put in them? I find that incredibly unbelievable and highly suspect. That’s like asking Ford what engine they put in your new Mustang and them saying “the engineer concurs that it appears to be a 5.0 L V8.” They don’t know for a fact?
However, the story doesn’t stop there. According to Andrew Liu on Facebook
Given how large the individual pixels are, I’m reasonably certain that the native resolution of the panel is 960p as claimed in the manual. You can measure that 2 pixels is very roughly 1mm in width, which would be very close to the physical width of the monitor (.5mm X 960 pixels = ~19 in vs. the actual panel at roughly 20.5 in). Another oddity I noticed is that the panel is rotated, and the RGB stripe goes from top to bottom instead of left to right. Because of this, it will be difficult for Windows to look good, especially for text. See the attached reference photo for pixel size and orientation
So at this point who knows what the actual resolution of the panel is. Unico has since changed their website to indicate it’s native resolution is 1024×768 so I guess that’s better than misleading people to think it’s a Unicorn 1600×1200.
Another detail you should be aware of is that the stated 1 to 1.5 ms response time. This is the normal gray to gray measurement of the panel and tells us this that the display has fast response time to minimize blur. And I can verify that this is the case as I haven’t noticed any blurring with fast movement. However, this should NOT be confused with display latency. The display has been tested with a Time Sleuth via Andrew Liu and and he found that the total display lag (panel + input lag) was 12ms in the middle of the display and closer to 6ms at the top of the display. I really, REALLY want companies to get away from only listing grey to grey response time stuff because it paints an inaccurate picture of what a LCD displays performance is actually like. It’s kinda like back in the earlier days of car audio and you would see these completely outrageous wattage claims (8000watt PMPO!!) which were beyond misleading and downright fraudulent. This isn’t specific to Unico either. It’s something that the majority of display makers are guilty of.
Unico has stated on their Facebook page that anyone who has purchased a display and is unhappy with it is free to return them. Just email them and they will provide you with a return label. They also say they are planning to address some of the issues of the display (such as poor color management) by doing a firmware update to the driver board in the next month or two. This is interesting as it’s not like there is a USB port or sd card socket on it to update the panel with. This will likely either require a jtag type setup or to ship back the driver board and have Unico update it. Or maybe Unico will ship out updated boards. Who knows at this point.
The only real saving grace here is that Unico never marketed it as anything other than a CRT replacement in arcade cabinets. While that doesn’t let them off the hook for misleading specifications (and bizarre behavior when attached to devices), they have stated that was what these were intended for. And if you look at their Facebook Page, there is plenty of happy folks who have installed these in cabinets to replace dead or worn out CRTs. So if you are an Arcade OP who needs to replace a display in a cab to get it back up and running, this might be the ticket for you.
With that said, if you are a LCD display enthusiast, I personally can’t recommend this display in it’s current form until Unico updates the firmware in the control board to allow you to send the native panel resolution to it (which ever that might be). Also, they need to add better color management tools to it as all it currently has is color temp adjustments. I am really hoping Unico can turn this around and get these updates out to fix the issues that this display has.
Also, I designed a set of legs and control board case for this display for use on a desk or table top and you are free to download and print them out if that’s something of interest to you.