It happens every time you open that spreadsheet. You’re boosting capital investments in column B, but you have to scroll to column Z to see the long-term payback. You try zooming out, but the numbers shrink into unreadable specks of gray…
You need a bigger monitor.
Graphic artists have long recognized the benefits of large-screen displays, which let you view your work in its full dimensions, with all your tools and palettes conveniently arranged. But with the average price of a 21-inch monitor now at about $1,200, these monitors aren’t just the domain of designers anymore.
To help sort out your options, Macworld Lab examined 29 general-use 21-inch monitors, ranging in price from about $750 to $1,900 (see the table, ”
The Big Picture,” for details about each model). Our panel of experts put the monitors through their paces, testing for display quality and ease of operation. We used objective and subjective tests to evaluate such factors as brightness, sharpness, and color display (see the benchmark, ”
The Eyes Have It
“). We learned that while there are some bargains to be had, the best-looking 21-inch displays for general use will set you back at least $1,500.
Never fear, we didn’t forget the designers among us, either: see the sidebar, “Think Accurate: 5 Pro Monitors Show Their Stuff,” for
‘s evaluation of four color-calibrated monitors for graphics pros, and check the table for their ratings.
Before you begin your quest for the perfect monitor, here are a few pointers.
The monitors we tested all use cathode-ray tubes (CRTs), still the most common technology for desktop displays. CRTs create images on the screen by using a gun to shoot a beam of electrons at red, green, and blue phosphors painted on the back of the screen, thus creating the range of colors you see on the screen.
CRTs come in two types: shadow mask and aperture grille. Each uses a different technology to direct the electron beams to the phosphors. A shadow-mask monitor aligns the beams of electrons as they pass through a sheet of metal riddled with a honeycomb of tiny holes. Aperture-grille monitors (which are often labeled with brand names such as Sony Trinitron or Mitsubishi DiamondTron) align the beams using an array of thin wires.
So what does that mean to you? Monitors that use shadow-mask technology are more common and often less expensive, but they can also offer poorer-quality images. Typically, fewer electrons are able to pass through the shadow-mask structure than through an aperture-grille one, which can mean a dimmer and less focused image. Manufacturers of aperture-grille monitors claim that their technology offers sharper images and richer colors. Overall, we found this to be true.
In the past, CRTs have always had a slightly curved screen, which can introduce subtle image distortions especially annoying to people working with exact shapes and measurements, such as CAD users. This year a few of our monitors?including Sony’s GDM-F500; NEC’s MultiSync FP1350; and one of our Editors’ Choice winners, Mitsubishi’s Diamond Pro 2020u?features an innovation: the flat-screen CRT. Because it removes the subtle distortion caused by a curved surface, a flat screen typically gives you a better-looking image and is also less prone to glare. In most cases, we found that the flat screen did improve image quality.
When you read the spec sheets for 21-inch monitors, it’s easy to be impressed by the number of pixels they can display, but what does this really mean?
In most applications you’ll want to view images and text at close to their actual dimensions, so a page that will be letter-size when you print appears letter-size on screen. This means choosing the resolution setting?the total number of horizontal and vertical pixels?that best matches the monitor size. On a 21-inch display, the optimal setting is 1,152 by 870 pixels?equivalent to about 72 dots per inch. At that resolution, a 16-by-12-inch document fills the screen when viewed at 100 percent. If you set a higher resolution, the document shrinks on screen because the pixels are squeezed into a smaller space. Set it too high, and most documents become unreadable.
Why care if a monitor can handle more? Some applications, especially CAD programs, benefit from higher resolutions. Besides, it’s nice to have a choice.
Keep in mind that if you want to run at a higher resolution, you’ll need enough video memory?either built-in or on a graphics card?to handle the extra pixels. If you have an older Macintosh, you’ll likely need a graphics card to take full advantage of the monitor. In addition to boosting the video memory, these cards include graphics-acceleration chips. Apple’s new Power Mac G3 systems include built-in graphics acceleration.
When you spend hours staring at a computer screen, nothing is more annoying?or likely to induce headaches and eyestrain?than flickering. When a screen flickers, it means the electrons are not illuminating the phosphors quickly enough to fool your eyes?there’s a tiny pause as the screen refreshes. The speed at which the electrons paint the screen is known as the refresh rate. To prevent screen flickering, you need a refresh rate of at least 66Hz. Most monitors offer a range of refresh rates that vary depending on the screen resolution. In our general testing, we set all the monitors at a 75Hz refresh rate, with a resolution of 1,152 by 870. All offer higher rates if necessary, although their maximum refresh rates do vary.
Massive Monitors Compared
A monitor that looks top-of-the-line on paper can still show blurry images or faded colors when you sit down in front of it. The best way to evaluate monitors is to do your own side-by-side comparisons, so that’s what our panel of experts did.
Macworld Lab lined up 33 monitors (our 29 general-use monitors as well as the 4 non-Apple professional monitors discussed in “Think Accurate”) for in-depth examination. Covering the windows in the lab to eliminate extraneous outside light, we scrutinized test images designed to showcase the monitors’ color quality and ability to display sharp text and graphics. We also evaluated each monitor’s brightness.
A Sharper Image
Whether you’re crunching numbers or laying out pages in QuarkXPress, you want text and other items to appear sharp. Displayed information is always sharper in the middle of the screen and tends to get blurrier toward the edges, so our experts examined a Microsoft Excel 98 worksheet that contained normal and reversed text both in the middle and at the edges.
Overall, we found all the monitors to offer acceptable sharpness, but a few stood out as exceptional. The $1,499 Apple Studio Display with ColorSync displayed crisp text across the entire screen. The $1,499 Mitsubishi Diamond Pro 2020u also scored high for uniform sharpness. The $1,900 Sony GDM-F500 did very well with normal text, although it showed somewhat fuzzy reversed text.
On the low end of acceptable, Eizo’s $1,399 FlexScan T960 and Mitsubishi’s $1,349 Diamond Pro 1000e and $1,499 Diamond Pro 1010e had problems displaying reversed text, but not enough to render it illegible. The jury did find some monitors’ sharpness unacceptable, however. Panasonic’s $999 PanaSync E110 showed blurry, hard-to-read text, especially at the edges of the screen. ViewSonic’s $1,149 MB110 also suffered from overly blurry text.
When we tested the monitors at a higher resolution?1,600 by 1,200?iiyama’s $1,239 VisionMaster 502, Sony’s $1,049 CPD-520GS, and ViewSonic’s MB110 were the only monitors that displayed unacceptably fuzzy and unreadable text. At this resolution, Princeton’s $999 Princeton EO2010 showed blurry reversed type, but not to an extent that the jury found unacceptable. One note: Eizo’s $1,399 FlexScan FX-E7S documentation recommends using a maximum resolution of 1,280 by 1,024 with this monitor. However, we found that the monitor’s quality did not suffer when resolution was set to 1,600 by 1,200.
The Right Color
While these monitors are not intended for color proofing (see “Think Accurate”), colors should still be rich and realistic. If you’re shopping for sweaters on the Web, after all, you want to know if that cardigan is actually green or turquoise. To test the monitors’ color-display capabilities, our experts examined an Adobe Photoshop image that included the hardest things to get right: an array of primary colors, flesh tones, and solid blacks.
Two of the monitors that scored best on sharpness?the Apple Studio Display and the Sony GDM-F500?also led the pack in color reproduction, with accurate colors, realistic flesh tones, and dark blacks. ViewSonic’s $1,295 PT813 also excelled, with rich colors and dark blacks, although it did show poor contrast between areas of similar color.
None of the monitors drew an unacceptable rating for color reproduction, but some did have quirks. CTX’s $1,285 EX1300, Optiquest’s $1,049 V115, Samsung’s $1,179 SyncMaster 1000s, and NEC’s $1,099 MultiSync P1250+ suffered from somewhat faded, washed-out colors. Hitachi’s $999 RasterOps 8115 showed a slight color cast.
Some monitors are brighter than others, a factor that comes into play if you work in a well-lit environment. Under fluorescent lights, a monitor projecting about 20 to 23 footlamberts?the standard measurement for brightness?is sufficient for most people. In a less ideal setting you may need a brighter display. For example, if you sit by a window, a bright monitor will be able to compensate for the direct light.
To test brightness, we cranked up each monitor’s contrast to the maximum level and adjusted the brightness control to ensure consistent results. We then measured luminance, using a Minolta color analyzer.
Hitachi’s $1,229 RasterOps 8135 and the aforementioned RasterOps 8115 stood out as the brightest monitors, measuring 30.7 and 29.1 footlamberts, respectively. Sony’s CPD-520GS and miro’s $1,249 Radius Precision View XL-1 came in a close third, producing 28.5 footlamberts. Only a few monitors fell notably below the ideal range for brightness, including CTX’s EX1300 at 18.0 footlamberts, Eizo’s FlexScan FX-E7S at 18.4 footlamberts, and Panasonic’s $1,399 PanaSync/Pro P110 at 19.1 footlamberts.
If you see an annoying wavy distortion on your screen, especially when viewing intricate detail, it may be a moire effect, which is often caused by interference from patterns that are close to the same frequency as the monitor’s dot pitch.
In our testing, several of the shadow-mask CRTs displayed moire effects. In almost all cases, these distortions disappeared when we tweaked on-screen moire controls. However, even after taking this step, we were unable to get rid of noticeable distortions (visible even in solid colors) in ADI’s $850 MicroScan 6G. To a much lesser extent, Mag InnoVision’s $747 DJ920 also suffered from some subtle but stubborn distortion.
Keeping Things under Control
Even if annoying moire effects aren’t a problem, you’ll probably want to experiment with monitor settings to get the picture most pleasing to your eye. All of the monitors we evaluated sported easy-access brightness and contrast controls along with on-screen menu systems that let you adjust horizontal and vertical scaling, panning, and other settings you may need to modify from time to time. Not all menu systems are created equal, however.
The Mag InnoVision DJ920 and the $999 Philips Brilliance 201B use intuitive circular controls to help you navigate the menu system. Most of the other models employ a four-button method?one for menu, navigate right, navigate left, and exit?which we also found easy to use. ADI’s MicroScan 6G had the least intuitive controls. This monitor sports a whopping 14 buttons, not including the power switch, which means it’s a lot easier to inadvertently change the wrong settings.
A Control Conundrum
The Apple Studio Display’s controls are almost entirely on screen; the monitor uses software-based on-screen controls that require a USB connection between the monitor and computer. As a result, Apple has certified the display to work only with the new, blue Power Mac G3s, which include built-in USB ports.
We tried connecting the monitor to an early Power Mac G3 using a USB PCI card, but the software controls failed to work. In theory, you should be able to use the monitor with any Power Mac, but be forewarned: without on-screen controls, you’ll be limited to adjusting only brightness and contrast.
The Apple Studio Display’s unusual USB setup may reduce its flexibility, but some of the displays in our roundup offer built-in (or optional) USB hubs that expand their flexibility.
We were particularly impressed by Mitsubishi’s USB hub, which is a $79 option for most of the company’s monitors but is built into the Diamond Pro 2020u. Unlike other companies’ hubs, Mitsubishi’s allows you to hook up two computers to your monitor. This means the computers can share a keyboard, pointing device, and other USB peripherals?a rare convenience, especially for people who use both a Mac and a PC.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
Two monitors displayed overall quality that made them stand out from the pack: the Apple Studio Display and the Sony GDM-F500. Both these monitors offer excellent sharpness as well as rich, saturated, and accurate color that is noticeably a step above the rest. The GDM-F500 has a better warranty than the Apple monitor, has a flat screen, and works with any Mac, but it also costs $400 more. For this reason, the Apple Studio Display is our Editors’ Choice for people who own, or are about to buy, a new blue Apple G3.
If you own an older Mac, we recommend Mitsubishi’s Diamond Pro 2020u. This monitor is priced identically to the Apple Studio Display and offers superb sharpness, a flat screen, and acceptable?if not excellent?color quality. The unusual flexibility offered by the Diamond Pro’s special USB hub also helped us give it the nod as our second Editors’ Choice. If color quality is paramount and money is no object, the Sony GDM-F500 is also a solid choice.
Get ready to stretch out and open that spreadsheet. You’ll see it all?your 30-year business plan from column A through column Z. So now how does it all add up?
‘s Senior Editor/News and Reviews STEPHEN BEALE covers the graphics and imaging beats. Assistant Editor MICHAEL GOWAN wouldn’t mind having a bigger monitor one bit.
Think Accurate: 5 Pro Monitors Show Their Stuff
Graphics professionals generally want the same things from a monitor as anyone else: big or little, it should be sharp and free of distortions and shouldn’t take a degree in rocket science to set up. But while most users will happily settle for a pleasing display, graphics pros who make critical color decisions need a monitor that displays color consistently and
Monitor accuracy isn’t just a luxury anymore.
Direct-to-plate printing and color-management-savvy applications such as Adobe Photoshop 5 and QuarkXPress 4 have helped soft proofing (using the monitor to judge color and tone) become, if not a replacement for, then certainly a very useful adjunct to conventional hard-copy proofing. Even in situations where you’re still making film and Matchprints, a well-calibrated monitor can save you from going through the multiple iterations of corrections and proofing that are commonplace in high-end prepress work.
To find out just how accurate a monitor can be, Macworld Lab tested five 21-inch models for color accuracy: the $1,499 Apple Studio Display with ColorSync, the $4,295 Barco Personal Calibrator Plus, the $6,990 Barco Reference Calibrator Plus, the $1,849 LaCie electron21/108 with blue eye calibrator, and the $3,499 Mitsubishi SpectraView 1000. We performed two sets of tests, one subjective and the other objective, to see which monitor matched colors the best.
We had hoped to include the new miro PressView XL display (miro acquired the rights to Radius’s monitor line late last year). Unfortunately, no final units were available for testing. Based on past experience, we expect the PressView XL to be a serious contender. Look for an upcoming review.
How Calibration Works
Making a monitor display color accurately is as much a function of the software as it is the hardware. The main thing we ask of the hardware is that it behave consistently; that’s where calibration comes in. Simply put, when you calibrate a monitor, you’re setting it to a known state. The critical parameters are
(usually measured in kelvins), which specifies the color of white;
(usually measured in candelas/m
or footlamberts), which defines the brightness of white; black level, which specifies the brightness of black; and
, which expresses the overall contrast.
To display images in a consistent way, you need to calibrate the monitor to a
set of values for color temperature, gamma, white luminance, and black level. This will ensure that the monitor produces the same results over time. You also need a way of recording these settings, along with the color of your monitor’s phosphors, in a ColorSync profile so that applications such as Photoshop 5 and QuarkXPress 4 can send the proper signals to make the color come out right on your particular monitor.
What Makes These Monitors Special
There are third-party packages that allow you to calibrate any monitor, but the five monitors we looked at come with proprietary calibration tools that offer a significant advantage over those third-party packages.
The reason? Third-party calibrators set the color temperature by changing values in a lookup table in the video card. The video lookup table contains 256 entries for each channel, corresponding to the 256 possible shades of red, green, and blue the monitor can display. The calibrators simply turn off some of these shades to arrive at the desired color temperature, which means that you lose some brightness and the monitor produces somewhat fewer than the 256 possible shades of red, green, and blue.
Instead of simply turning things down in the video card, these monitors each use a serial connection between the monitor and the host Mac that lets the calibration software apply gains in the voltage amplifiers that drive the monitor’s guns. This lets the displays achieve the target color temperature without sacrificing brightness or levels.
The Serial Situation
Note that the Apple Studio Display is the only professional monitor configured to connect to the USB port in the new G3 Macs. In fact, right now it will work only with the new, blue Power Mac G3s. The other four monitors all require a serial port, so if you want to use one of these with the new Macs, you’ll need a USB-to-serial adapter. We used Keyspan’s (510/222-0131,
) $79 USB Serial Adapter.
With the exception of the Apple display, our professional monitors also allow you to set a specific luminance level for both white and black, which most third-party calibrators won’t do. This means that you won’t overwork the monitor and will always return it to exactly the same state when you recalibrate.
Pro Monitors Compared
Calibration is, after all, about getting what you see on screen to match what you see on paper. With this in mind, Macworld Lab ran two separate color-fidelity tests to figure out which of our professional monitors did the best job.
First we went for the objective facts. We created a series of color swatches in CIELAB (a perceptually based, device-independent color space), displayed these in Photoshop, and measured the color displayed on each monitor with a Photo Research PR-703A spectroradiometer. We then compared these results with the values in the CIELAB file to see if they were the same.
Our second test addressed the subjective nature of color matching. No matter how good your equipment, it’s impossible to measure
the colors in a natural image; in any case, what’s usually most important is preserving the overall relationship between the image’s colors. We asked a panel of experts, skilled in evaluating color, to judge how well a printed image on a properly lit Matchprint compared to the same image displayed on screen in Photoshop 5.
Mitsubishi SpectraView 1000
The SpectraView 1000 was the least accurate monitor in our objective test. This information was confirmed in our subjective testing. Our panel felt that it had an overall bluish-green cast, and this was borne out by the measured data. The monitor did, however, track gray levels quite well. The default calibration set the white luminance noticeably higher than any of the other monitors, which may cause the monitor to wear out more quickly. In the end, all this, combined with a price of $3,499, made us find the SpectraView disappointing.
Apple Studio Display with ColorSync
Unlike the other monitors, the Apple Studio Display does not use a separate instrument to measure the light produced by the monitor. Instead, it keeps tabs on the beam current and uses an embedded processor to track phosphor aging. This innovative approach is less expensive and simpler than actually having to measure the light produced by the monitor with an instrument, but it’s also probably less accurate.
In our objective tests, the Apple Studio Display reproduced hues?the property of colors that we refer to when we use a color name such as “red”?quite accurately. However, it had fairly large errors in tonal values, the lightness or darkness of the colors. A 25 percent gray, for example, was much too dark.
Our jury characterized the monitor’s color quality as inviting but suffering from too much contrast, with loss of detail in both the highlight and the shadow areas. The Apple monitor?one of our Editors’ Choice winners for general use?offers convenient calibration at a comparatively low price, but we do not recommend using it for critical image-editing tasks.
Barco Reference Calibrator Plus
At $6,990, the Reference Calibrator Plus was the most expensive monitor under consideration. According to our objective tests, it was also the most accurate by far, with an average error of just one delta-e CIELAB. (One delta-e is generally reckoned to be the smallest perceptible color difference?six delta-e is usually accepted as a good commercial match in printing.)
Our jury felt that the contrast was a little flat, but it’s quite likely that the jury was biased by looking at the other monitors simultaneously: the higher contrast of the LaCie was more appealing, for instance, but probably didn’t match the print as accurately. The jury deemed the Barco’s color rendition, sharpness, and detail excellent.
We also liked Barco’s CalibratorTalk software. It offers very simple, one-button calibration (with every user-definable override you could conceivably want). The calibration instrument is stored in the monitor housing and is matched to the individual monitor at the factory. This provides unparalleled accuracy and makes it very hard to lose the instrument. (Of course, it also means you can’t use the device with your other monitors.) All in all, if you want the Rolls-Royce of monitors, this is it?but it comes with a Rolls-Royce price tag.
Barco Personal Calibrator Plus
The less expensive alternative is Barco’s Personal Calibrator Plus. It was the second-most-accurate monitor in our objective test, slightly ahead of the LaCie. One of our jurors felt that the monitor had a slight bluish cast and that it displayed a little less highlight detail than the Reference Calibrator Plus, but the jury generally rated it highly.
The Personal Calibrator Plus comes with the same CalibratorTalk software as its more expensive sibling and includes a simple measuring puck from Sequel Instruments. CalibratorTalk supports other instruments, too, and discussions with a Barco representative suggest that using CalibratorTalk with a better instrument?such as the $495 X-RiteColor DTP92 Monitor Optimizer, from X-Rite (888/826-3059,
)?could improve accuracy.
LaCie electron21/108 with blue eye calibrator
Although we liked the Personal Calibrator Plus, which costs $2,695 less than the Reference Calibrator Plus, at a mere $1,849 LaCie’s electron21/108 was the clear price/performance winner in this group.
The electron21/108 displayed slightly more hue error in our objective tests than did the Apple monitor, but it tracked gray values much more accurately, particularly in the shadows. Our jury preferred it over all the other monitors for overall contrast and color, perhaps in part because of its flat screen. Our only real complaint about the electron21/108 is its dark-blue plastic casing, which introduces extraneous color that can skew the viewer’s perception.
LaCie’s software is particularly elegant, with one-button calibration and intuitive control over all monitor settings. The only thing the software doesn’t do is automatically set the ColorSync profile it creates as the System Profile. Overall, however, this monitor is a deal. It wins on price, performance, and ease of use.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
If you want the absolute best and don’t mind paying for it, Barco’s Reference Calibrator Plus is state-of-the-art. The Personal Calibrator Plus comes in a close second. However, if you’re concerned about money, as most of us are, LaCie’s electron21/108 with blue eye calibrator delivers very impressive performance at a hitherto undreamed-of price.
One thing to note is that the Barco monitors’ target luminance is quite a bit lower than that of the LaCie monitor. This means that to get the full benefit of the Barco calibration, you need to use those monitors in a very low ambient-light setting. The CalibratorTalk software does allow you to choose a higher target brightness, but doing so will shorten the life of the display. The electron21/108’s greater brightness makes it more tolerant of higher ambient light. You really can’t go very wrong with any of our top three monitors. Your color will be more predictable, you’ll save money by eliminating multiple iterations of proofing, and you’ll have far fewer surprises at print time.
Best Professional Display
LaCie electron21/108 with blue eye calibrator This inexpensive calibrated monitor offers impressive color accuracy and ease of use. Company: LaCie (503/844- 4500,
). List price: $1,849.
Reviews you can trustMacworld
rates only final shipping products, not prototypes. What we review is what you can actually buy.
Contributing Editor BRUCE FRASER is a coauthor of
Real World Photoshop 5
(Peachpit Press, 1999).
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