Not so long ago, flat-panel monitors were still regarded with, at best, bemused curiosity by professionals whose livelihood depended on the critical use of colour. An early generation VGA flat-panel could hardly be described as a thing of joy, with a display resembling nothing so much as smears of jam on a piece of cling-film. Try moving your head from a position exactly perpendicular to the display – or invite a colleague to view your work – and what you thought you saw previously all but disappeared.
But technology moves on, and one strength of all flat panels is the energy saving they offer over CRT displays. Reason enough, then, to concentrate on improving what was in those days underdeveloped.
There are very few actual manufacturers of the LCD panels themselves, and each seems to have worked on its own variant of the technology. This has, to a certain extent, led to both exaggerated differences in price between panels using the different technologies, and some trenchant opinions as to which of those technologies offers the best performance.
For this test, then, we chose representatives of as broad a range of those rival technologies as we could muster. They are, in no particular order:
The BenQ FP241W, the only monitor on test to use an A-MVA panel. MVA (Multi Domain Vertical Alignment) has, in the past, been criticised for restricted viewing angles (the horizontal and vertical angles within which you can properly view the plane of the display), though adherents of A-MVA (Advanced MVA) claim that it has now overcome this limitation.
Dell’s UltraSharp 2408, Eizo’s ColorEdge CG241W and Samsung’s SyncMaster XL30 have all adopted s-PVA. S (short for ‘Super)-PVA is an enhancement of Samsung’s Patterned Vertical Alignment (PVA) technology. PVA panels are usually regarded as good all-rounders; however, what counts for the purposes of our tests is what matters to the design professional: first and foremost consistent, accurate colour.
Finally, both the LaCie 526 and the NEC MultiSync LCD2690WUXi use In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology. Slightly more expensive to manufacture, IPS displays have a solid reputation for colour accuracy, hence their adoption by LaCie for its large professional monitor. The one factor that traditionally let down IPS panels was a certain slowness of response time: while this has very little effect on design work, for movie making (and watching) it can be detrimental.
Six monitors, three different technologies; and there can be only one winner...