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 work – combined with the £1,799 price tag – make it a tough choice for most users.
The PL-400 offers a 24-bit, 13.3-inch screen that supports a resolution of 1,024 x 768 pixels, and it comes with a PCI video card. 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 colour reproduction is problematic. Despite the quality of the screen, the tablet’s contrast and colour 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 colour 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 computer: more accurate than a touch screen, more natural-feeling than a regular tablet. But £1,799 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 colour 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 super-accurate colour, you’ll find that the PL-400 delivers on its claims.