|Studios are coming to grips with the fact that cathode ray tube-based monitors are quickly becoming a technology of the past. Manufacturers have switched to LCD panels, and the economics of scale, driven by the consumer business, means it's no longer cost effective to keep CRT production lines operating.
Since many manufacturers use the same panels that are available, it's up to each to improve performance to meet post facilities' high standards for film, color correction, DI and broadcast work.
Here's a look at a number of current offerings and an inside look at what manufacturers are doing to make their models stand out:
Wes Donahue, director of sales and marketing for eCinema Systems (www.ecinemasystems.com), says that professionals see three important areas where LCDs are lacking. "LCDs do some things well," he reports. "They do have good colorimetry, but they do not generally do a good job of rendering black or very deep shades.They also do not do a great job of handling motion, because of response time."
And the way LCDs handle interlaced images is also an issue, because the panels write in a progressive format. "A lot of televisions in people's homes are still interlaced and broadcast is still interlaced, so when people are creating content, they need to know what the interlaced image looks like. And they need an LCD that can accurately recreate interlaced video artifacts so it can be a useful diagnostic tool."
eCinema Systems is addressing each of these concerns. For the last five years the company has been developing their proprietary Dark Pixel Technology, a balance of electronics and optics designed to control the light that can leak through pixels in an LCD display, affecting blacks.
"We engineered a way to keep that from happening," Donahue says of the leaking light, "to make sure that blacks are black and not gray."
The result of Dark Pixel Technology, he says, is the creation of deep level blacks previously seen only on CRTs. Donahue touts their DPX-2310 — a 23-inch reference master monitor priced at $39,995 — which offers a simultaneous contrast ratio of 15,000:1, matching that of the best reference CRTs.
Latency is improved through the use of a new custom 10-bit LCD panel that combines a fast pixel response time with a 120Hz frame rate for better motion rendering, particularly with 24fps video. Interlaced video can be simulated with eCinema's exclusive iSIM mode, which is designed to reveal intra-field motion issues if present.
And with eCinema's TruGamut LED backlight system driving a 10-bit panel, DPX monitors can accurately display the full range of REC 709 color space, far surpassing that of 8-bit panels. The 10-bit panel allows pros shooting on 10-bit — or better — formats to actually see the colors they are capturing. This is important for on-set grading, DI, telecine and other color critical applications.
The same panel is used in their Pro-2310 model, trading the Dark Pixel Technology for a wide-gamut CCFL backlight array. Contrast ratio is reduced to around 1000:1, but the price is considerably less than the DPX, at $9,995 in a 4:4:4 configuration that also supports 3D LUTs. A 4:2:2 Pro model is also available for $7,995
And the company is also offering a complete desktop monitoring solution called eDesk Pro. Designed to provide artists with uniform colorimetry and zero frames of delay between monitors, the system bundles a Pro unit with two or more Pro DVI monitors and eCinema's calibration probe that saves and stores a monitor "fingerprint" for quick and easy calibration.
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. Currently, the company is offering a $100 rebate promotion on the 17-inch DT-V17L2DU and 20-inch DT-V20L1DU. The promotion runs through March 27th.
To improve response time, JVC (www.pro.jvc. com) incorporates processors into its units. Contrast ratio is said to be more than 1,000:1. And JVC's flat panels offer a number of features that were not available on CRT-based monitors. An auxiliary section of the screen, for example, located above the image, gives users detail on color temperature, audio levels and timecode.
The company's flagship 24-inch model — the DT-V24L1DU — is priced around $4,600 and is 1920x1080 pixels, which is pixel to pixel 1080p.
"From here forward, it's going to be technology other than cathode ray tubes," says Rob Carroll, president/CEO of Indianapolis's Cine-tal (www.cinetal.com). "There are lots of flat technology coming out. There's Field Effect Display-type technology coming out of Japan that is looking very promising," he says. "Any of these technologies are still going to have the economies of scale issue in that you are going to have to have enough traction and enough market to justify the manufacturing and fabrication process."
Carroll says Cine-tal is display agnostic. "Our focus is in calibration and accuracy, and being able to simulate other types of display technologies and display environments as closely as possible."
The company offers the 24-inch Cinemage, which incorporates Cine-tal's Intelligent Display Server (IDS) technology, allowing it to meet the demands of critical monitoring applications. And at NAB last year, Cine-tal introduced Davio, a processing device that can sit in front of other displays and provide all the color and calibration processing to bring those displays into alignment with standards, or to simulate within those displays, other types of displays.
2008 also saw the acquisition of the Cinespace product line from Rising Sun Research. "Now we've got the measurement and transform development software that allows you to measure devices and create transforms, so you can make other devices [look] like that device you measured," Carroll explains. This allows monitors to simulate film stocks, as well as be calibrated for VFX, gaming apps or simulation.
Despite the current economy, Carroll says Cine-tal is seeing growth over last year's sales. They have sold into top-tier facilities, such as Technicolor, Ascent and PostWorks, and see huge potential in the second tier studio business. "A large market still has to move to HD and get rid of their Betacam SP [gear]," says Carroll.
While he was not yet ready to reveal the company's NAB plans at press time, Carroll did comment on where he sees things heading: "I think the software side of things is getting more compelling. Looking at our Cinespace product line and the ability to take a monitor and measure its critical performance metrics and then use those metrics to understand what you have to do to calibrate it to a digital cinema standard or HD standard, or to simulate what other display technology might look like out there."
An example, he notes, would be studios that are creating content specifically for delivery to Apple iPods. "[The] iPod's color temperature differs from REC 709. With products like Cinespace you can actually measure the iPod and create transforms that you can load into our display processors or our monitors that will simulate what the iPod looks like."
Houston's Ikan Corporation (www.ikancorp.com) offers an eight-inch professional HD LCD monitor in its V8000HDMI. The unit is an evolution of its predecessor, offering additional inputs and new power options. The V8000 has pass through inputs for composite, S-Video and SD/HD component video, and now features an HDMI input. Also added are 100mm VESA mounting threads.
New power options include the ability to use prosumer Sony L series batteries, and optional battery adapter plates ($29.95 each) make the V8000HDMI compatible with Panasonic, Canon and JVC DV batteries, too. For pro apps, Ikan has developed a mounting system that suspends the battery separately from the monitor.
The V8000HDMI is suitable for 480i, 480p, 720p and 1080i applications. A guide defines safe areas for both 16x9 and 4x3 aspect ratios. Pricing for the 1.15-pound unit is $995.
Regional sales manager Clint Milby says the company is responding to customer demand with its new V17, a full-size 17-inch high definition monitor that is encased in a robust metal housing, making it suitable for field use when a full-sized monitor is desired. Pricing is $1,199. And on the other end of the spectrum, Ikan is introducing a 5.6-inch monitor at the upcoming NAB show. The V5600, says Milby, is one of the smallest, high definition monitors available for video production. It's priced at $699.
At NAB last year, Barco (www.barco.com) introduced the RHDM-2301, a 23-inch high definition reference monitor. The unit went into production last September and began shipping in November.
The company describes the RHDM-2301 as a true grade-1 LCD display designed for studios performing color-critical work on a daily basis, providing high color accuracy, image stability and motion handling.
The unit uses a 10-bit LCD panel and realtime color stabilized LED backlights. In addition to its ability to handle grayscales, deep darks and pastel tones, the RHDM-2301 is also well designed for the monitoring of fast moving video thanks to the 120Hz panel and scanning LED backlight technology, which helps to avoid motion blur and judder, and simulates the look of a CRT.
Panasonic (www.panasonic.com/broadcast) recently released its new, high-resolution BT-LH2550 LCD HD production monitor, a 25.5-inch LCD with a full 1920x1200-pixel In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel. The unit features an expanded color gamut that exceeds the NTSC standard, making it suitable for critical monitoring environments.
The LH2550 offers six color space settings: SMPTE, EBU, ITU-R BT.709, Adobe 2.2, Adobe 1.8 and d-cinema. Its image processing engine has a three-dimensional look-up table that calibrates it to reproduce content according to the specific color standard selected.
In addition to its color reproduction capabilities, the monitor is equipped with built-in waveform monitor and vectorscope functions that display all picture lines for signal level monitoring. It also features pre-installed calibration software that allows the monitor to be calibrated directly with color analyzers without using a PC. A split-screen function permits the simultaneous display of two video sources side-by-side from two different video inputs.
Additional features include a Cine-gamma Film-Rec compensation function for compatible use with cameras such as Panasonic's AJ-HPX3700 and AJ-HPX2700 P2 HD VariCam, and the AJ-HDC27 VariCam HD cinema camera. Additional monitoring tools include split-screen/freeze frame (live input vs. freeze frame), Standard Markers and Blue-only, H/V delay display, monochrome and Cross Hatch overlay display.
Panasonic has the LH2550 priced at $5,995. It's one-third lighter than its predecessor, the BT-LH2600W, and operates without a cooling fan for noise-free performance. Professional level inputs include DVI-D input, two auto-switching SDI (HD/SD) inputs (with switched output), component and RGB, as well as standard RS-232C (9-pin) and GPI (9-pin) remote inputs.
Panasonic touts the unit's high contrast and brightness, motion response and wide viewing angle of 178 degrees.
Chicago-based NEC Display Solutions of America (www.nec-display.com), introduced two new displays at Macworld that are designed for color critical viewing apps. The 26-inch MultiSync LCD2690W2-BK-SV and 30-inch LCD3090W-BK-SV widescreen displays feature SpectraViewIIT color calibration sensor and software, as well as the new SpectraViewII Kit (SVII-PRO-KIT), which enhances select models of NEC displays.
The SpectraViewII color calibration solution provides a color measurement sensor and software that helps achieve a highly accurate, reliable, repeatable and feature-rich display calibration and profiling solution. The SpectraViewII system, available for Mac OS and Windows, uses a custom-calibrated, co-branded colorimeter based on the iOne Display 2 from X-Rite, to take color measurements of the display screen during calibration.
The software analyzes these measurements and sends color adjustment commands directly to the display monitor, allowing the full color resolution and fidelity of the system to be maintained.
Three internal 12-bit look-up tables allow precise adjustments to be made to the display's tone response curve with minimal reduction to the number of displayable colors. Fully automated calibration makes adjustments directly in the display hardware, allowing optimal settings to be configured without any user interaction.
Calibrated display information shows the results of the calibration, including the measured color gamut, grayscale color tracking, Delta-E and luminance values. And monitor locking allows the On Screen Display controls to lock the monitor once calibrated, preventing accidental or unauthorized adjustments
Advanced backlight technology enables the displays to produce 98 percent coverage and 107 percent the gamut size of the AdobeRGB color space.
The SVII-PRO-KIT is available as an accessory for select NEC LCD displays and includes the new color measurement sensor and SpectraViewII calibration software. Existing customers with a supported color sensor device can purchase the SpectraViewII software separately.
The LCD2690W2-BK-SV and LCD3090-W-BK-SV are priced at $1,449 and $2,449, respectively. The SVII-PRO-KIT is available at an estimated street price of $329. The new version of SpectraViewII software will be available for free download for existing SpectraViewII customers.
At NAB in April, Sony (www.pro.sony. com) will show two new models: an addition to its Trimaster LCD master monitor series, and the new Trimaster series broadcast monitor.
The 16.5-inch BVM-L170 features an exclusively-designed panel that follows the Trimaster criterion. The model offers full HD resolution, a wide viewing angle and a 10-bit driver. Its compact size makes it suitable for multiple applications.
The BVM-L170 supports multiple color gamuts, including SMPTE-C, EBU, ITU-R BT.709, D-Cine, and L170Native. Multi-format signal support includes video signals from analog composite to dual-link HD-SDI video input; PC signals from VGA to full HD via DVI-D; and HDMI interfaces. In addition, the unit supports several picture-in-picture options. Pricing is $13,000.
Sony's 23-inch PVM-L2300 LCD is specifically designed for use in broadcast. Built on the Trimaster design concept, the L2300 reproduces images consistent with the BVML-230 Trimaster master monitor. The model uses a 1920x1200 panel with a 10-bit LCD driver and supports multiple color gamuts. Like the BVM-L170, the L2300 ($11,000) also supports multiple video and PC signals, as well as picture-in-picture.