I’ve always been a fan of high-end displays like those from Eizo, Barco, Quato, NEC and the like. At the same time I recognize that these pinnacles of technology are hard for most people to justify. I love discovering displays that are affordable yet meet the demands of the most finicky printmakers. Simply put, some ~$800 displays hold up darn well against $2000+ displays when they are well calibrated and it’s this “best value, high quality” category that I get excited about and often recommend to my clients.
All of these displays use an LED backlit lightsource, IPS LCD panels and eco-conscious materials. These first two technologies are crucial for demanding professionals. The LED lightsource provides consistency across the screen, a boost in color gamut, power savings, lower heat generation and can achieve the lower luminance (brightness) levels that print professionals need. The IPS LCD panel provides a wide viewing angle so that the viewer doesn’t experience the density shifting that’s become so common with laptop and most LCD displays today that use the less expensive TN LCD panel technology. A lot of companies (like Samsung and Dell) used to offer good value IPS displays before the recession but have since lowered the quality of their displays by abandoning IPS technology. Interestingly enough, Apple (and to a lesser extent NEC) is one of the only companies that’s currently increasing the quality of their displays while lowering their pricing.
The NEC MultiSync PA241W display includes internal 14bit 3D LUT calibration hardware, a matte surface and a 4 year warranty that the Cinema Displays do not. NEC displays are not compatible with 3rd party calibration packages like Color Eyes Display Pro and instead require the $280 NEC SpectraView calibration system that’s sold separately. Apple’s LED Cinema Displays have built in speakers, camera and laptop power connections that lead to less clutter on the desktop. Both brands include an internal USB hub and several USB ports for convenience. Apple hasn’t actually announced the 27-30″ LED Cinema Display but it’s widely expected to come to market within the next few months. The already announced NEC MultiSync PA241W is expected to start shipping in the US in a few weeks.
We can’t talk about high quality displays without also talking about calibration. After all, any display isn’t going to perform as desired until it’s calibrated to match the lighting in the environment that the user’s eye has chromatically adapted to. A well calibrated display will show white as matching paper white. When viewing a white Photoshop document, for example, it shouldn’t look cooler (bluer) or brighter than a white piece of paper as viewed a few feet away. Customizing the white point color temp and luminance setting via display calibration software to match print viewing or ambient lighting is a must. While the NEC has to be calibrated with NEC’s excellent Spectraview calibration package, I recommend Color Eyes Display Pro for calibrating displays that don’t come with calibration hardware (like the Cinema Displays). Color Eyes Display Pro’s iterative calibration process does such an impressive job smoothing out gradations that you won’t miss the calibration hardware that far more expensive displays include.
A lot of people, (myself included) have had a knee-jerk reaction to Apple’s highly reflective glossy displays. I have to say – it’s really not that bad – especially if you have excellent, well placed lighting in your work environment. If the display makes you think about improving your lighting that’s not such a bad thing. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when we all worked behind glass faced monitors. I’m seeing a number of demanding clients using Apple’s new LED displays and, reflectiveness aside, they all have great things to say about them. I too have put them to the test and found that they perform admirably. Better than the previous generation for sure.
Photographers use lenses and display prints behind “museum” glass that have highly effective antiglare coatings. If Apple were to bring the same antiglare, museum glass coatings to their Cinema Displays, the cycle would be complete. Glassless, matte surfaced displays have become a regular option for MacbookPros so it’s not out of the question that they might come out with glassless matte surface LED Cinema Displays. Apple does have options for lowering the reflectivity on their Cinema Displays and I look forward to seeing what solutions they come out with in the future. This is definitely something to watch, and the existing 24″ LED display and 27″ iMac are both pretty nice in the meantime for the price.
As long as we’re talking about Apple’s “Pro” products, I think Compact Flash card readers should be built into these Cinema Displays, as well as MacBookPros and MacPros. Professionals, after all, use Compact Flash cards, not the consumer oriented SD cards found in smaller cameras.
Don’t get me wrong, I love expensive Eizo, Barco, and Quato displays (and NEC’s other displays). My clients and I have enjoyed them for years. But not only do most of their displays use the older CCFL backlit technology, the cost difference just doesn’t justify the difference in quality like it used to. Imagemakers like myself have to ask if the difference in cost might be better spent, say, on a new lens or printing equipment.
As expected, Apple just announced the 27″ LED Cinema Display for $999 and lowered the price of the 24″ LED Cinema Display to $799. For those on lower budget, the Viewsonic VP2365wb 23″ is an IPS 1920 x 1080 DVI display that performs surprisingly well for $300.