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November 2014
Issue: February 1, 2008

BROADCAST MONITORS

By: Marc Loftus
Today’s flat panel displays offer a number of benefits over their cathode ray tube-based predecessors. Lightweight, low power, small footprints and larger screen sizes are just some of the benefits that make them attractive. They are also much more environmentally friendly. CRTs contain significant amounts of lead and many countries have already announced their opposition to these types of products, limiting the potential customer base of manufacturers that want to play on a worldwide stage.
But professionals who require high-end monitors for critical evaluation purposes — color correction, DI, broadcast and digital cinema — have found numerous shortcomings with flat panel displays. Consistency, contrast ratio, “blacks,” off-angle viewing and latency are all issues that often come up when arguing against flat panels as a replacement for the CRT.
The thing is, there’s not much of an alternative. Factories that once produced CRTs are no longer doing so, so pros are being forced to adapt.
WORKING WITH LCD
Terry Curren, principal of Burbank post house AlphaDogs (www.alphadogs.tv), has been closely evaluating new flat panel displays. His Avid- and Apple Final Cut Pro-based facility has 12 rooms that work on film and television projects, including The History Channel’s Mega Disasters, and popular unscripted programs like SciFi’s Ghost Hunters and TLC’s Overhaulin’.
And just about once a month, AlphaDogs hosts The Editors Lounge, a forum that invites pros to discuss industry issues, as well as check out new technologies in a low-pressure, unbiased setting. One such event included a side-by-side comparison of some of today’s latest flat panels. Curren says that after checking out many releases, he’s still not found a critical evaluation LCD that offers the same performance as CRT units. “The LCDs don’t do a lot of things properly,” he states. “Most importantly, they don’t do black or gray.”
The Editors Lounge evaluation that AlphaDogs hosted had releases from eCinema, Sony, Panasonic, JVC and TV Logic. Curren says he set them up with “a proper back light, and I put together a reel with some really nasty footage that would check the ability of the monitors. And when you walked into the room, just scanning across the monitors, you’d see the [eCinema] DPX monitor in the middle of the room — the black was black!”
A similar comparison was also held at Burbank’s Band Pro Film & Digital. Curren and his colleagues who attended these comparisons drew the following conclusion: the eCinema DPX monitor — which isn’t cheap, coming in at $37,995 for the 24-inch and $59,995 for the 40-inch — handled black the best.“The rest of them aren’t all that different, so you might as well buy one at four grand. I’d settle for the JVC at four grand,” he notes.
Comparisons like these are important, says Curren, so manufacturers can see how their products truly stack up against the competition and hopefully make improvements, and so pros can bypass manufacturer hype.
So how are these manufacturers working to bring their flat panels up to the high standards demanded by those who, for so long, have relied on CRTs? Read on…
SONY
According to John Kaloukian, director of Sony Electronics’ professional display group (http://bssc.sel.sony. com), the company realizes the inevitable extinction of CRT monitors and is trying to stay ahead of the curve, which includes the development of its first LCD-based BVM model, the L230, a 22.5-inch display.
“Obviously one of the long-standing legacies and traditions [here at Sony] is in monitors and the Trinitron monitor,” says Kaloukian. “As we planned the exit of the CRT business, one of the biggest things we had to address was long-standing success in the BVM space — high-end production, post production, critical evaluation-type monitoring. Although we are still shipping some BVM CRT monitors that we have in stock, it is our strategy and position to promote the BVM-L230, which is the first of our BVM LCD introductions, which we launched at NAB last year. We took a lot of what we know about  production monitors with the BVM CRTs and put it into the LCDs.”
Sony already has a line of LCD monitors for production applications in its Luma line, which includes 17- and 20-inch models. The new BVM-L series will target critical evaluation applications and is set to grow with the addition of a new 42-inch model that will be shown for the first time at NAB in April.
Sony’s Trimaster technology is what helps the BVM-L series achieve its high-end performance. “We have an LED backlight, developed by Sony, that drives the whole thing,” explains Mark Bonifacio, group marketing manager for Sony Electronics’ professional display group. “The LED backlight allows us to keep a very uniform color across the entire LCD panel — corners and side to side. Typically with CRTs, and most certainly with florescent backlight LCDs, you get hot spots: the center is a little brighter than the corners. So with the LED backlight, we are able to alter the color at various points along the display to keep it uniform from corner to corner.”
Bonifacio adds that a feedback sensor, similar to those used in the company’s CRT/BVM line, takes measurements from several dozen points throughout the monitor and makes adjustments as needed, keeping the backlight very stable.
“In addition to that, one of the biggest benefits you get by moving to LCD is that it’s a digital monitor all the way through to the end,” he says. “So we are able to do things with the color space — basically make the color space be anything that we want it to be.”
The use of phosphors in CRT monitors, points out Bonifacio, also limited their versatility. “We had SMPTE C color space that the US operated in, but there was EBU phosphors that Europe operated in. And then they came out with the ITU 709 spec, which is sort of between the two. If you were a Hollywood post house that operated globally, you needed to buy multiple monitors to see what the color was going to be in Europe. Now with the LCD, because of this LED backlight, you’re able to flip a switch with the menu setting and change the color setting to emulate the output — SMPTE or EBU or ITU, or even the DCI digital cinema color spec. So that’s a huge benefit to the customer.”
Additional achievements of Sony’s L230 include the use of a 10-bit LCD panel, where many other manufacturers are using 8-bit panels. “And we get 1,024 levels of grayscale,” notes Bonifacio, “so what that means is there is a very smooth level of change from white to black — you don’t see the steps.”
Two processing chips drive the monitor, helping to eliminate frame delays. Typically, Bonifacio says, LCDs see two to three frame delays, or 20 to 30 millisecond on a production-level monitor. “Now we are below 10 milliseconds, so we did take care of that latency issue.”
Also from Sony’s L230 is the “true interlaced display mode.” All fixed pixel array panels — plasma or LCD — are progressive by nature, he notes. Many manufacturers’ monitors perform an interlaced-to-progressive transition to drive an interlaced signal. There is also scaling often involved.
“Typically, you lose all of the interlace information on an LCD or plasma because everyone is changing it to progressive mode,” he explains. “You may not know if there is an interlacing artifact that occurs between fields, so we have introduced an actual interlace mode. Instead of interpolating what the missing field is, we input black to the even field on an odd field frame, and we input black to the odd field on an even field frame. That’s our own development.”
A native pixel mode also allows users to view footage at one-to-one, without any scaling, which is important in critical evaluation applications.
Sony has already sold numerous units to Crosscreek Television Productions for use in its mobile unit, and to Discovery Production Center. The BVM-L230 began shipping in late October and has a list price of approximately $25,000.
PANASONIC
Panasonic (www.panasonic.com/broadcast) has a line of LCD monitors aimed specifically at the production/broadcast space, and product line business manager Steve Golub says the company is seeing a lot of success with its sales each month, even with resistance by some long-term CRT users. “For a reference monitor, I agree, none of them are as good as a CRT, yet,” says Golub, noting comparisons in black levels and off-axis viewing.
Many professionals, he says, are used to working with CRT monitors, but CRTs do have their flaws. “Monitors drift,” he points out, “they are very expensive, they are very heavy, there is a lot of lead in them and they are very deep. Basically, that technology is very ‘horse and buggy.’ If you want to stay with that, it’s fine, but your customer is watching a plasma or LCD. He’s not watching an HD CRT.” And, he adds, “they are not making them anymore.” So CRTs, essentially, are no longer an option.
Panasonic has four models in its BT series of LCD monitors. The most popular is the 17-inch widescreen BT-LH1700W, which is priced at $3,400 and can operate in HD or SD modes. The unit runs on AC/DC power, allowing it to be used in various applications. Weighing under 18lbs., it’s also suitable for work in the field.
The company also offers a 26-inch model — the LH2600W — which is priced at $4,950. Both the LH1700W and LH2600W are equipped with built-in waveform monitors.
The BT-LH80W is a 7.9-inch HD/SD 16x9 LCD that can attach to a camera or be used in a mobile unit. And the LH900APJ is a high-resolution 8.4-inch HD/SD LCD that can also work with a camera package or in a truck, and offers greater off-axis viewing.
JVC
JVC (www.pro.jvc.com) is still producing CRT monitors while there is an availability of picture tubes, says senior engineering manager Edgar Shane. “Obviously, sooner or later, our supply of picture tubes will dry out,” says Shane, who adds, “the clear trend is to transition to flat panel monitors.”
JVC’s DT Series of flat panels includes 24-, 20-, 17- and 9-inch models, all of which are designed for broadcast post production applications. “There is some confusion about the quality of LCD monitors,” says Shane. “Everytime you say LCD monitor, everyone immediately thinks ‘computer monitor’ — ones they can buy at Best Buy for $100. If you look at the JVC professional site, I specifically deleted the word LCD monitors. I don’t like to use that term. Even though these monitors are using LCD technology, they are not conventional LCD monitors — these are broadcast monitors. And when I say ‘broadcast,’ it means the technology is LCD, but the panel used is a different grade panel from those found in computer monitors.”
Shane prefers to refer to JVC’s product line as “flat panels.” LCD panels used in broadcast monitors are of a different grade, he says. “They are high grade LCD panels. An LCD panel is comprised of the primary filters, and also backlight. Those components are designed specifically for high quality video viewing. They cost much more money. We use specific filters in front of the backlight to achieve color temperature, and we use specific primary filters/RGB filters with the color imagery, which is very close to broadcast color imagery. It all starts with the panel and the panel is not the same panel as your computer monitor.”
The company takes a number of different measures to achieve high performance with its flat panels. Processors are incorporated into units to improve response time. Brightness, says Shane, should not be an issue because LCDs can achieve higher brightness than CRTs.
Contrast ratio, often comes up as a concern. “Contrast ratio maybe limited, but on our products we have more than 1,000 to 1, which I think looks pretty good,” he states.
“We have sold many monitors to very demanding customers, like broadcasters and post houses,” reports Shane. “There are some limitations, but the more we sell, the more it becomes common. Everybody is talking about the drawbacks of LCD monitors, but there are many advantages. Our 24-inch monitor is 1920x1080 pixels, which is pix to pix 1080p. None of the CRT monitors, even [those] five times more expensive than this monitor, can achieve this resolution.” LCDs also offer uniformity of conversion. “There is no such thing as converting three things in one. It’s always perfect sharpness, perfect focus all over the screen, regardless of whether its in the center or outskirts of the screen.”
From his experience in sales to broadcasters and post houses, Shane says there is an immediate willingness to adopt the new technology. “I’ve found that almost everybody wants to buy LCD-based monitors, but they would like those monitors to look very much the same as CRTs. They like the much higher resolution, much less power consumption, compact design and much less weight. All the good things about LCD monitors are accepted almost instantly. Since they are so used to CRT-based models, they would like to have a very similar look with LCD products. And I think that’s what all manufacturers are working toward — mimicking that look of CRT-based products.”
JVC’s flat panels offer a number of features that were not available on CRT-based monitors before. “If you look at our product line, besides the image, which is 1920x1080 pixels, we also have an auxiliary section of the screen, above the image, which gives you a lot of additional information, like color temperature, audio levels, timecode, many other things.”
The company’s flagship 24-inch model — the DT-V24L1DU — is priced around $4,600. “Every time I go to a demonstration with a high-profile customer,” says Shane, “they are always comparing it to Sony reference BVM series monitors. And I always bring up the fact that it’s one-fifth the price [with] higher resolution, better sharpness — so it’s a good deal!”
CINE-TAL
Rob Carroll, president/CEO of Indianapolis’s Cine-tal (www.cinetal.com) says the environmental impact issues manufacturers faced in producing CRT monitors is only half the reason the industry is seeing a move to flat panels.
“The reality is probably an equal if not more significant factor: the pure economics of maintaining a cathode ray tube fabrication line,” Carroll explains. “And with the demise of cathode ray tubes in the consumer market — the appetite in the consumer market being more flat panel technology, whether its plasma, LCD or DLP — the ability for a manufacturer to sustain the cost of a cathode ray tube production line is pretty much non existent. Penetration of LCD and other types of flat panel technology is well surpassing the 50 percent mark in the home. And it’s definitely at the 80 percent mark in new unit acquisition. It’s my opinion that the consumer economic model is more of a factor than anything else.”
Resistance by the professional segment to adopt LCD, says Carroll, often comes down to concerns in interoperability. Studios, he says, need to be able to move data, material and clients from room to room, and have the clients feel assured that they are going to see the same image as they move from a grading room to an effects room to an editing room. That said, clients also expect to see the same level or interoperability if they move from facility to facility throughout the course of the post process.
Cine-tal’s first LCD product, Cinemage, was designed for the cinema production marketplace — specifically for use on-set — but in the last year, Carroll says the solution is being sold into post facilities even more often than for its initial production application. “We ended up creating such a good LCD-based display device that was closer than anything else in replicating the black-level response, as well as the color response of CRTs, that a lot of people pulled that device, even though it was meant for production, into the post production studios — mostly because of the lack of a good LCD solution.”
The 24-inch Cinemage uses a modified version of the same display that many manufacturers are using. But it’s Cine-tal’s Intelligent Display Server (IDS) technology that allows it to meet the demands necessary for critical monitoring applications. IDS provides image processing, signal routing, frame stores, color manipulation (3D LUTs), display calibration and test and measurement all in a network appliance configuration.
“Our color processors provide look-up table functionality to emulate any display that you try to emulate,” says Carroll. “With our calibration and good look-up table management, [users] can load different look-up tables into our system to help them emulate other types of display technology, whether it be film or CRT or other things.”
Carroll says Cine-tal has been going into facilities to profile their CRT systems in order to best match Cinemage to what pros are accustomed to. With the backlight cranked up, Carroll says the unit has a sequential contrast ratio of 1,000:1, but in studio environments, 850:1, he feels, is more realistic.
The Cinemage has a starting price of less than $10K, and depending on software options, that price can climb to $22K. Options include an automated calibration system, a built-in waveform vectorscope, a framestore, and 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 functionality.
Twenty years ago, Carroll says the industry was faced with a very similar dilemma to what we are seeing today with flat panels. Standardizing on the Trinitron tube back then helped to resolve interoperability concerns. But today, that solution is not as easily achieved.
“I’m not sure it will happen,” Carroll says of standardization. “With all of these divergent distribution methods and divergent display technologies at the end of those distribution methods, we have a much different model than we did 20 years ago when we tried to solve this problem.”