The Ultimate Monitors for Critical Image Evaluation and Editing

Laptops, iMacs, wide gamut displays of all sorts, IPS vs TN panels, 4k, 5k, 8k and on & on. After much serious research, we settled on NEC PA302W-BK SpectraView ll monitors for our colour critical image evaluation and editing work. We had not looked back, until recently. These monitors have provided excellent accuracy, consistency, flexibility and reliability. They have proven to be worth every penny.

But, recently, the time arrived for a new addition to our monitor line up. Only this time, we were interested in the 4k offerings. Having had only excellent experience with our NEC 30” displays, we were hard pressed to consider other players such as Ben-Q, LG, Samsung, Dell or even EIZO. But, to be thorough, we persisted.

The Apple Cinema Display (LG) which is the same display as the iMac was not considered because while the monitor is apparently acceptable for video work, it falls far short of the requirements for critical image work due to its gloss glass and DCI-P3 colour space at approximately 84% coverage of Adobe RGB not to mention the absence of the valuable calibration features available with some of these monitors. It’s virtually a large size version of a Mac laptop display.

Our primary requirements for the new monitor included: 30” to 32” IPS panel, 10 bit display, high resolution, matte surface screen, critical colour accuracy, excellent uniformity, large native gamut of at least full coverage of Adobe RGB, full coverage of sRGB, 14 bit on board calibration with wide range of adjustments of all display aspects in addition to a wide range of profiling tools and options, low native black point, adjustable height, portrait and landscape display positioning, at least 4 year warranty, monitor hood, display port connectivity, established manufacturer history with excellent reputation and customer service. Price was a concern, of course. But it was secondary to image quality, monitor functionality and the majority of features mentioned above.

Over the years, it had become clear that  selection of the best monitor cannot be made by comparisons of general specifications alone. Many have very similar if not the same general specifications. As a result, one may be tempted instead to look only at price and assume that all monitors with similar specs are the same. So, we decided to test several of the monitors which had most, if not all, of the features and benefits we need. After looking closely at the monitors mentioned in terms of the features mentioned, image stability and especially the ability to accurately and directly calibrate the monitor itself ("Hardware Calibration") versus having to use third party software with a colorimeter to adjust the computer graphics card output, only the EIZO and again the NEC measured up to these requirements. Every other monitor had one or more failed or missing requirements on the list. So, at the end of the process, only two monitors remained for serious consideration – the 31.5” NEC PA322UHD-BK-2-SV 4k with SpectraView ll and the 31.1” EIZO CG319-x 4k with ColorNavigator.

The EIZO monitor was of interest first because it satisfied every important requirement on our list and also because of a long-standing solid reputation with respect to high quality, colour critical monitors and excellent customer service. But the intensity of our curiosity was primarily due to the huge price differential between the EIZO and the NEC. What could the EIZO CG319-z 4k  monitor possibly offer over the NEC to make it worth the significant difference in price?

At first, this was a difficult comparison. Like many of these colour critical monitors, the specification lists are very similar although the EIZO surpassed several items by various degrees. For example, the warranty is 5 years versus 4 for the NEC. Investigation of the company revealed that EIZO is intensely discriminating regarding the quality of the panels they select for their monitors. The displays are also manufactured completely in house – as opposed to compiling various components gathered from here, there and everywhere. This greatly improves quality assurance and consistency.

Nevertheless, the answer was not found in all of this alone nor in the very positive owner testimonials of which there are many nor in information presented in EIZO literature. It was found by testing the monitor itself. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating," as they say.

Almost immediately after turning on the new EIZO CG319x display its advantages and its superiority started to become crystal clear. Every subtle nuance of tonality and image detail is visible from L* 1 to 99. The black point is far below the NEC or any other monitor we’ve seen. There is no IPS glow whatsoever and overall uniformity and stability are exceptional. At 4096 x 2160, the resolution is true 4k. The NEC is 3840 x 2160. The on-board monitor calibration is managed via ColorNavigator software in combination with a built-in sensor. Nevertheless, an option exists to use an external colorimeter or spectrophotometer for certain functions. For the NEC, its on-board calibration if managed via NEC's SpectraView ll software with an external colorimeter only. With the EIZO ColorNavigator, we can quickly make as many profile targets as we like to accommodate various printing substrates and conditions, calibrate and profile each one and then switch between them with roughly between one and two second delay. This is an excellent tool for image comparison within soft-proofing environments. Switching between calibrations on the NEC takes at least 35 seconds for each change and the creation and calibration of each target takes over twice as long as it does in ColorNavigator.

Regarding the on-board calibration with these monitors, I should point out that unlike most conventional monitors, when you calibrate professional photographic displays such as the NEC or the EIZO using their included software, the calibration results are stored in the monitor itself, not in the computer. If you move the displays from one computer to another, they remain calibrated. If you feed them an uncalibrated source, they remain calibrated. The calibration also takes place with much greater precision than conventional computer-based monitor calibration by which third part software is used to modify the signal produced by the computer's graphic card which is then sent to the monitor. In this situation, the monitor is a dumb receiver which sits there awaiting modified signals from the computer. The calibration lookup tables in a computer are only 8-bit, while the NEC and Eizo monitors use 16-bit tables to calibrate their 10-bit panels.

Now, on to some really impressive functionality: The built-in sensor on the EIZO automatically calibrates the system on a timed basis which is set by the user. It performs the monitor calibration while you work. You never need to stop & wait for 15 minutes as you do with the NEC and others. Within ColorNavigator we have the ability to optimize specific colour ranges for each profile in terms of Hue, Saturation and Lightness via sliders for Red, Green, Blue, Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. This is similar to the selective colour correction sliders in PhotoShop or Lightroom. When an optimized colour set is achieved, a profile is quickly created via the on-board sensor and you can quickly flip back & forth between the new profile and the previous or any other profile in your collection within a second or two at most. This valuable functionality is not available on the NEC nor any other monitor of which I am aware.

Also, we have a GTI Graphiclight SoftView booth beside the EIZO monitor into which we can hang a blank sheet of any paper on which we plan to print, from fine art to glossy RC, then adjust the booth's lighting to the desired level for critical evaluation, then attach an external colorimeter or spectrophotometer to the EIZO and have it read the actual white point of the paper in the GTI booth. ColorNavigator then sets the white point of the monitor to match that paper at the brightness level of the booth. What results from this in combination with the colour correction and optimization is astonishing colour accuracy and display to print match. The calibration is then correlated to the internal sensor which takes over future adjustments to keep the calibration on target, always. It is fascinating to see this in action and the resulting display accuracy is amazing.

You don’t actually need a viewing booth for this. A standard desk lamp with balanced viewing illumination (Solux 5000k bulb in a den lamp, for example) or whatever illumination under which you choose to review your prints is all that is required to accomplish the same display to paper correlation and calibration. This system takes soft-proofing to a level of accuracy that is simply not possible with other displays. It is well beyond that which is achievable in Photoshop or Lightroom alone. It's really quite amazing!

At the end of the day, we’re talking about the cream of the crop with these colour critical monitor technologies. The EIZO CG319-X-4K-BK monitor is indeed the highest level of colour critical display technology that we know of on the planet. In life, the old adage “you get what you pay for” sometimes doesn’t apply. But, with respect to these monitors it most certainly does apply and we are very certainly pleased.

Please note: We have no affiliation with NEC or Eizo, whatsoever.