The latest addition to Wacom's family of high-resolution, pressure-sensitive graphics tablets, the PL-400 lets you paint and draw directly onto an active-matrix LCD screen built into the tablet. If you've never felt comfortable writing on a tablet while watching your monitor, you'll immediately appreciate the natural feel of drawing directly onto the PL-400's screen. But despite the tablet's fine engineering and intuitive feel, the LCD's limitations for serious graphics workcombined with the $3,000 price tagmake it a tough choice for most users.
The PL-400 is a definite improvement over the smaller PL-300 (see Reviews, February 1998). It offers a 24-bit, 13.3-inch screen that supports a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels, and it comes with a PCI video card; the PL-300 required a separate video card. And installation is simple: just insert the PCI video card into your computer, attach the external power supply and the tablet's cable to the card, and plug the serial cable into one of your computer's serial ports. The easily adjustable stand lets you tilt the tablet anywhere between flat and upright. The software is equally easy to install and includes controls for adjusting everything from pressure sensitivity to monitor setup.
Unfortunately, the LCD's color reproduction is problematic. Despite the quality of the screen, the tablet's contrast and color gamut are, as with any LCD panel, far inferior to those of a good monitor. And like any other LCD, the PL-400's screen has a limited viewing range; contrast varies greatly, depending on your viewing angle. Although you can adjust the tablet's angle to improve contrast, there's no way to tell which angle will yield the truest color reproduction.
Another problem is sluggish performance: although the tablet's refresh rate is high enough to produce a sharp, steady image, the pen's slight lag time is disconcerting. And because there's a slight space between the drawing surface and the LCD screen, the tip of the pen doesn't appear to correspond precisely to the pixels on the screen. This is particularly annoying when you're doing fine, detailed close-up work.
Wacom's LCD pen tablets offer the most intuitive way to interact with a computermore accurate than a touch screen, more natural-feeling than a regular tablet. But $3,000 is probably more than you want to spend just to have a more comfortable tablet. And although some users won't be bothered by the PL-400's less-than-speedy pen performance, no serious graphic artist could ignore the color and contrast problems inherent in an LCD screen. If you spend most of your day painting or drawing, however, and you aren't concerned with superaccurate color, you'll find that the PL-400 delivers on its claims.
RATING: PROS: Very comfortable, natural feel; easy to set up; sharp, stable image. CONS: LCD screen makes for inaccurate color and low contrast; slow pen performance. COMPANY: Wacom Technology (360/896-9833, http://www.wacom.com ). LIST PRICE: $2,999.
May 1999 page: 60