Ultra-Big, Ultra-Cheap Monitors Emerge From The Gray Market

For all our brand loyalty, consumer electronics are commodities. A very small number of suppliers produce the guts of most electronic devices, and competing brands are often assembled in the same factories (we're looking at you, Foxconn). Assuming the same components, the only major differences among many products are fit-and-finish standards and customer support.

What Would You Pay For Giant Monitor?

Sometimes support is reason enough to pay more. When my Macbook Pro's hard drive died 10 months after purchase, I had a replacement hard drive installed within two hours. That beats boxing the computer and waiting weeks for a replacement. When it comes to laptops, a few dollars more can be a worthwhile investment. But what about components that don't usually break? Like monitors, for example?

Source: Shutterstock Source: Shutterstock For the past several years, budget-savvy buyers have saved cash by buying grey-market Asian (usually Korean) merchandise - including large-screen monitors - directly from importers. The sellers typically work through eBay, Amazon, or an auction site, and the products the buyer receives are pretty bare-bones. Seller warranties usually cover products that are Dead On Arriva and (in the case of monitors), a negotiable number of dead pixels, but that's it. The manufacturer warranties are typically written in Korean, and it's up in the air whether they even apply in the States. It's a lot like the gray market trade on which many camera vendors have built a business, but in this case the manufacturers themselves are relative nobodies, too. When you buy a Yamasaki Catleap or a Crossover 27Q monitor, you're pretty much on your own.

The flip side, of course, is that you get a whole lot of 27-inch monitor for your money. Less than $400 to your door (add an extra $10 to $100 for a "pixel-perfect" guarantee) buys components found in domestic monitors at more than twice the price. Inputs are limited, controls are basic, and case design can be a bit wonky, but you'll get the same LG IPS panel Apple uses in its Cinema Display, which is a truly beautiful thing to behold.

What About The Warranty?

At this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Monoprice (the ultra low-cost retailer that's been the king of cables and accessories for some time) was showing off its entry to the sub-$400 27-inch monitor market: the CrystalPro WQHD. Like the other Korean imports, the CrystalPro sports a high-resolution, 2560 x 1440, LG IPS panel, a VESA wall mount, and dual-link DVI inputs. The difference is the warranty. Monoprice offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, a full one-year warranty on the monitor, and a lifetime warranty on cables and accessories. Plus, it's located in Rancho Cucamonga, California, with live chat support seven days a week.

There's no denying that Apple's Cinema Display is a better, more polished product, but when properly calibrated, the display quality of the Korean imports can hold their own at a fraction of the cost. For system builders, those contemplating a multiple-monitor setup, or anyone looking to step up from a smaller screen, the $400 deal is tempting. With the addition of a real warranty from an American importer, we may have reached a tipping point.

My old 24-inch monitor is suddenly looking kind of small and tired. For $390, I'm willing to give an off-brand alternative a shot. How about you?