Monitor, Monitor on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?

Posted By TJ Ryan on April 17, 2012 03:25 pm | Permalink

When I come to Vegas, pressing the 6 and putting a hundred on a hard eight is a gamble I'm willing to make.  But, when it comes to equipment, like monitors, I don't gamble on picture quality.

I started out in this business in Telecine Dailies.  Working with a Sony CRT, a DaVinci 2K and a Spirit Data Cine were things I took for granted.  But now, as a partner in Chop House Post, and President of Digital Factory Inc. I can't afford to make a mistake with my money or my clients.

Since the end of the CRT I have been looking for a monitor that can compare in picture quality, black levels and off axis of viewing.  I can assure you that search is a painful and endless effort.  One must eventual come to the conclusion that there are no LCD or Plasma monitors that compare to the original Sony BVM CRT's.

At Chop House Post we use a combination of projector for the DI room, TV Logic 42" LCD for the Smoke finishing rooms and Panasonic Plasma's for the offline edit rooms.  With Digital Factory I have installed TV Logics at Paramount and AOL; Sony LCD's for shading rooms in the studios; and most of the HD trucks we build with Marshall rackmount monitors.

This year at NAB I did a monitor evaluation of the following maufacturer's Sony; Boland; TV Logic; Panasonic; Canon; and Marshall.  And the winner is... just kidding.  Before I do, we need to qualify a few things.  First we should agree that the LCD monitor solution that is being offered by all will never be the same as a CRT.  Second, when I am looking at monitors I am mostly interested in Color Critical viewing.

I started at the Boland booth and spoke with Gary Litwin.  He showed me the new SE series of monitors boasting full 10-bit color space, 1920x1080, 1300 to 1 contrast ration, 178 degree off axis viewing and over a billion colors.  "You know what cooler than a million? A billion."  The Boland monitors look really nice and range in sizes from 24" all the way up to 70".  Clients wont be complaining about looking at a 70" rec 709 monitor, will they.

Right next door to Boland was the TV Logic.  They have a new XVM series color critical monitor.  I was looking at a 32" LVM next to a 32" XVM and I could not see a difference.  I ask the salesman if could see a difference and he explained that the LVM is 8 bit processing and the XVM is 10 and 12 bit.  contrast ration and color space matched the Boland and both offer an LED back lighting.

Next up was Panasonic.  in the LCD world they have the BTLH monitor series.  I have seen this monitor in many edit bays, but I for one am not a big fan.  For my eyes the black levels and the white don't look as good as they do on the TV Logics and Boland.  Also, Panasonic only goes up to a 25" monitor and for client monitors I like to at least be over 42".  But they have made some nice impovements on their TH-50T300U plasma monitors.  I have seen the plasma's used around Hollywood in some top facilities and this is a nice option especially when you add the HD SDI input card.  The liquid blacks of the plasma still look better than LCD's

On my way to Sony I passed the Canon booth.  Canon was showing off their new 4K reference display.  I couldn't get much info on it since it a prototype only, so no brochure or web info.  In terms of just a quick view it looked good.  I will wait till it is closer to being released before giving a full opinion.

3 years ago I walked into the Sony booth and said show me your LCD solution that you plan on selling to replace the CRT's.  They hadn't quite caught up to other LCD manufactures and what they had was not impressive at all.  Especially as they were still trying to sell it at the CRT price.  This year I was blown away by the Sony Trimaster EL.  Hello blacks, where have you been.  Right in front of my eyes I see liquid shiny blacks and off axis viewing just like in the old CRT days.  Sony is using OLED technology to get deep blacks with high dynamic range.  I was able to wipe the drool from my mouth using the monitors $26k price tag.

Last stop was Marshall monitors.  Marshall has always been the option I would use for installing in racks and trucks.  I love the quad monitor.  They fit perfect in a rack with 4 AJA Ki Pros.  Looks slick.  The new thing with these guys is waveform monitor vectorscope with RGB parade.   So here is what I was thinking.  Pick up a V-R72DP-2C, that's the dual 3 RU 7" monitor for $1999 and put the vectorscope on one side and the waveform on the other and you have scopes for color grading and post for under $2k.  Of course you could just by a videotek, or a techtronix, or a leader for over $12k and do the same thing if you want.  I'm looking to get a 17" DLW series and put it on the desktop for audio meters, waveform, and vector all under 4k.

All right, I am done talking monitors.  I know I promised you a winner.  So here it is.  They winner is... all of them.  Don't get mad, hear me out.  In terms of having a great Rec 709 monitor for a super price Boland is the winner hands down.  Pound for pound with the technology being the same no one can compare to the price point that Boland is offering.  Plus they have a bunch of really cool guys that are always willing to help out.  The winner for best picture is Sony as soon as I can offord it I want a trimaster.  But if I can't, a lot of my clients can and I will be recommending it for use in color suites and shading stations.  And finally, the best quality scopes with full RGB parade goes to Marshall.  I used to put in a rack moun rasterizer and then feed the DVI output into a Marshall monitor for a cost of $20k.  Now I can do the same thing for under $4k and it looks exactly like the $20k option.

Alright, back to the floor.  Good luck with your monitor hunt and happy viewing.

TJ Ryan