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Old Apr 14, 2011, 11:05 PM   #1
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Default Are monitors a neglected topic?

I'd been thinking about buying a new monitor for some time, but when I searched "best monitor" here in Steve's Digicams I saw that the most recent discussion of the topic was about 18 months ago in 2009. I would have thought that people interested in photography would have rated the monitor as the most useful component - far more so than having a more powerful computer?

At any rate I have just bought one - an H.P ZR24w.

Aside from being substantially bigger than my 20" HP w2007, it has a display based on some technology called IPS.

Was it worth it? From what I've read of IPS it may not be suited to programs such as games that display lots of fast movement, but those things don't interest me. On the other hand the display is very pleasing indeed - very good resolution and what seem (to me) to be accurate colors. It cost a good deal more than most monitors of this size, but to me it seems well worth the extra cost.
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Old Apr 18, 2011, 12:57 PM   #2
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Yes, monitors are not much discussed here and to me they are as important to digital photographers as speakers are to an audiophile.

Like speakers, there is a sweet spot in terms of bang for buck beyond which you see less and less obvious gain in performance for the average/typical user, perhaps in part due the untrained eye/ear. But once the eye/ear is trained.... woe!

I check the Steve's forums daily and see very comments on monitors unlike other forums.

Here's a bit of what I would offer for people new to LCD monitors....


TFT LCD Panels

In terms of image quality for photo editing, these are the TFT LCD panel types from best to worst:

IPS (newer variants are S-IPS, AS-IPS, H-IPS, e-IPS, etc)
PVA (newer variants are S-PVA, c-PVA)
MVA (newer variants are A-MVA, P-MVA, S-MVA, etc)

If you would like some background on these panels, read this article:

IMHO, current IPS and PVA monitors can be very close in image quality with units from the top tier manufacturers; IPS do show more detail in dark areas of an image but a number of users are finding that middle to low end IPS panels show unwanted "tinting" noticeable on white or gray backgrounds. Others object to the anti-reflection treatment on the matte screens of some IPS monitors (gives a "dirty" appearance) but most users get used to this.

Samsung has recently announced a new panel type... S-PLS which looks to be a variation of IPS. There is some hope it will be better with the "tinting" issue.


Viewing Angles

IPS and PVA are preferred because, typically, when you look at the screen from where you sit while editing, the gamma/color does not shift noticeably at the edges of the screen. With a TN panel the gamma/color shift is noticeable both at the sides and top and bottom.

You will see that most of the better monitor review sites will have a collage of photos showing the monitor from various angles in each review.

TN tft panel
(per TFT Central BenQ XL2410T review http://www.tftcentral.co.uk/reviews.htm )

IPS tft panel
(per TFT Central NEC EA232w review http://www.tftcentral.co.uk/reviews.htm )

You can also search on YouTube for "IPS vs TN" videos to see examples of color fidelity at angles off centre.

Typically, current IPS and PVA panels have viewing angles specified as 178 horizontal and 178 vertical.

Typically, current TN panels have viewing angles specified as either 170 or 160 horizontal and 160 vertical. A sure tell tale of a TN panel if you're checking them in a store is to look at the panel from below. As your angle off centre increases you should see the screen darken and the image flip so that it almost looks like a film negative.


Bit Depth

IPS & PVA panels are typically 8bit or pseudo 10bit, while TN panels are for the most part pseudo 8bit - they are a 6bit panel which uses electronic techniques (Frame Rate Control & dithering) to simulate an 8bit (aka 24bit RGB) color depth.

6bit >> 6bit Red + 6bit Green + 6bit Blue >> 18bit RGB >> 262,000 colors

TN pseudo 8bit >> 16.2 million colors, many mfg's now list as 16.7 million

8bit = 8bit Red + 8bit Green + 8bit Blue >> 24bit RGB >> 16.7 million colors

10bit >> 10bit Red + 10bit Green + 10bit Blue >> 30bit RGB >> over 1 billion colors

You want a higher bit depth as, generally speaking, the higher bit depth and better quality brand of monitor will hopefully have higher quality electronics that process the image, thereby decreasing the potential to have issues with banding and/or posterization in the image on screen.

Recently, TFT Central revealed that a number of low cost ($200 to $300) monitors that use e-IPS panels and thought to be true 8 bit, were actually 6bit + A-FRC.


Contrast Ratios

Don't pay much attention to manufacturer's claims for contrast ratios. You'll see a number of monitors promoting ratios like 50,000:1. Frankly it is marketing bull poop - meaningless for image editing but possibly desirable for watching movies.

These high ratios are for Dynamic CR and for image editing you'll be using the monitor in a Static mode. After reading a few dozen reviews of better quality image editing monitors you'll see that typically, the measured contrast ratio (static) after calibration falls within a range of 600:1 to 900:1.




Most LCD monitors offer at least a standard color gamut covering close to 100% of the "sRGB" color space. This equates to about 72% of the NTSC standard which is a specification you'll sometimes see listed. This is usually adequate for people editing images for posting to web sites like Flickr, Smugmug, Zenfolio, and others and/or where they upload images to off site printers like Costco and others.

"Wide Gamut" sRGB + AdobeRGB

A number of LCD monitors on the market offer a "wide gamut" covering about 100% of the sRGB color space and about 100% of the AdobeRGB color space. This is roughly equivalent to about 104% of the NTSC standard. For people who edit images in the AdobeRGB or ProPhotoRGB color space, it is essential to use a wide gamut monitor to see all the true nuances of color on screen.

However.... wide gamut monitors require a complete understanding of color management. ICC profiles must be identified and assigned for use in viewing and printing images using color managed software. Viewing images on a wide gamut monitor using software that is not color managed often shows a image with certain colors noticeably over saturated - typically reds and greens are what stand out initially.


A caveat... most LCD monitors are not particularly accurate as unpacked from the factory. A hardware colorimeter kit is the most accurate, time effective solution to calibration of the monitor and for creation of an ICC profile to be used by your OS for color accuracy.

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Old Apr 20, 2011, 3:03 PM   #3
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There are many more issues now with monitor selection. These include availability of ratios as relates to general purpose use, warranty regarding pixels (hot/dead) as well as general unavailability of non-bottom end displays in brick & mortar stores (ie, requiring displays to be purchased sight unseen - based on specifications, technical reviews and user testimonies).


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