Lately I have seen more and more displays that, according to the manufacturers’ claims, produce a wider range of color than less capable or older models. Often referred to as wide-gamut displays, these displays are frequently more expensive than what we might ordinarily choose for everyday business use. The question is, are they good enough to be worth the money?
The bottom line: Yes! If you are serious about photography and image editing, and you want to print your images at a high level of quality, you should consider a wide-gamut display.
Many mid- to lower-cost, or older LCD displays produce color only in the sRGB color space, which was developed quite some time ago. The sRGB space covers a relatively small portion of the colors that are visible to us, and most of the newer pro-model inkjet printers can print a much wider gamut than sRGB.
More recently, display manufacturers (such as Eizo, LaCie, HP, NEC, and others) have been producing displays that have greater color capability. Many can display Adobe 98 RGB, which is significantly larger than sRGB, and others can produce an even larger range of color, such as NTSC. (NTSC in this context does not refer to television standards, but to a specific, very large color space.) When displays are designed to show Adobe 98 RGB or NTSC, we are able to see many more colors on screen.
Additionally, many of these displays use 10-bit color, rather than the older 8-bit system. A 10-bit color monitor can display over a billion colors and color variations; an 8-bit system can display millions. As a result, I have not seen banding or related artifacts on a 10-bit display.
Also, many of the wide-gamut displays allow you to adjust the white point without distorting colors or clipping the dynamic range. Most of these monitors use the new LED backlights, instead of the older cold cathode fluorescent technology.
So, what about the argument “Why bother with a better display, when I can’t see or print those colors anyway?”
Fact is, one can certainly see Adobe 98 RGB, and many inkjet printers handle it quite well. In fact, the engineers at HP told me I could use an ever wider color space—Pro Photo RGB—and I could send the image file as is to a Designjet Z3200 printer.
But the best reason to use a wide-gamut display is control. The more colors you can see, the greater control you will have over the range of color in your images and over highlight and shadow details. In general, a wide-gamut display will give you much greater control over the process of editing your images.
I have the HP Dreamcolor LP2480zx 24 inch display, running on an Intel Mac, Snow Leopard, Photoshop CS5. Once it’s calibrated, I get a highly accurate screen-to-print match. My proof printing is at a minimum, because I have learned to trust what I see on the display. I have no issues, even with high contrast/high dynamic range images or highly saturated colors.
But wait, there’s more! Displays in this class have a very good angle of view (178 degrees), a matte finish screen, and a height-adjustable stand that swings, tilts, and swivels. Additionally, the screen can be rotated 90 degrees to portrait view if needed. I’ve found that these superior ergonomics reduce fatigue and improve productivity. If you spend even a moderate amount of time editing images, you’ll feel and see the benefits right away.
Plus, as competition continues to increase in the wide-gamut display market, prices are becoming much more reasonable. From time to time, I’ve helped others find displays offered with promotional rebates, lightly used demo models, and the like. If you’re interested in one of these devices, it pays to shop around.
So which one should you get? Here are a few tips:
See one before you buy. Check out the image quality, including the evenness of the illumination and color from corner to corner, and from different angles of view. Note some of the ergonomic features and controls. A complete set of on-panel controls is important, too. As for finish, I prefer a matte-finish display. Glossy displays give me headaches from reflections.
At minimum, get a display that can handle 100% of Adobe 98 RGB. If the manufacturer offers specifications referencing NTSC, go for 100% (or more) if possible.
Check out the connectors. Connectors should include DVI-I, HDMI, DisplayPort, Component Video, S-Video, Composite Video, and USB. Many offer a USB hub, which is very convenient.
Look for a unit with a three-year warranty. Many displays have only one-year coverage.
In my view, a wide-gamut display can be a very good investment. In most cases, it will increase your productivity and help you get the most out of your inkjet printer. It’s an option well worth considering.