Review: HP's Z27x DreamColor display
Issue: January 1, 2015

Review: HP's Z27x DreamColor display



PRICE: $1,499


- true, reliable color
- 2,560x1,440 native resolution
- flexible inputs

I’m always excited doing display reviews because I’m such a screen-queen. When teaching in a lab with only a single monitor, I bristle and break into a sweat digging through stacked-up windows, stepping all over everything, tripping over my own cursor. But in our world, multiple screens is the norm. Or at the very least, 27-inch and higher is preferred.

Fortunately on my home office desk is a bright and vibrant 27-inch HP monitor (zr2740w), beside which is a portrait-oriented 24-inch workhorse that has been with me for years (and still looks great). This is my screen space, and I’m happy in its warm glow.

Then, HP emails about their 27-inch DreamColor display, and I hesitate for an instant; I already have a perfect setup; this could mean there’s something more perfect? I’ve had experience with DreamColor displays before, but mostly on HP mobile workstations; I’ve always enjoyed their steady and accurate color. I haven’t had a chance to experience this large of a DreamColor display until now, and for this long. HP graciously sent me the HP Z27x, which I connected to my home-built workstation running a 6Gb Nvidia Quadro 5000. Already accustomed to the resolution and size of the HP zr2740w 27-inch display I have, I wasn’t sure what more I could expect, aside from DreamColor’s famed color accuracy.

Well, there’s a lot. For one, I can select my color space directly from the panel itself, giving you BT.709, sRGB D65 and D50, AdobeRGB, BT.2020 and DCI P3. This should make it easier for my large-scale photography prints to be closer to what I see on the screen, staying in AdobeRGB, since I’m too lazy and cheap to properly calibrate my Canon printer to my screen. It also allows me to better match to my other display color space more easily. At sRGB D65, this screen matches my other HP 27-inch. A single window across both displays doesn’t present a noticeable color shift like I had before between my (non-DreamColor) HP 27-inch and my workhorse 24-inch. I like this; I like this a lot.

The Z27x sports a native resolution of 2,560x1,440, same as my other HP, however the Z27x can scale up (in the panel, or through the GPU) to 4K (3,840x2,160 as well as 4,095x2,160). This comes at a cost, however, with a refresh rate of only 24Hz compared to 60Hz on most panels. This causes a noticeable lag in performance on the screen and is not acceptable to me, so I keep it at its native resolution.

Autodesk Maya in 4K, however, is a thing of beauty, as long as you’re OK with super tiny icons. The 3D space you get in the viewpanels is to die for, and 4K doesn’t slow down Maya’s display performance through the GPU. However, the lag in mouse actions when the display is scaling at 24Hz is just not workable. Sad face. 60Hz 4K native resolution may be asking a lot at this point, as 4K is only now slowly making its way into the broader market. I would like to see a higher DPI at that resolution, akin to Apple’s Retina. That would be super-rad since I’m about 10-inches away from some screen or another for 18 hours a day.

After quite a bit of usage, I really like this screen. There is no color bleed, the LED backlighting is perfectly even, blacks are deep and rich, and the image is sharp as a tack. Color is exactly what it should be: true. Some screens push the saturation point to make their colors “pop,” but thankfully not here. Accuracy is the name of the game, and to that point, the 10-bit colors are on point (for the applications that support 10-bit).

The display’s 7ms response time is great for professional use, too. I don’t do much gaming, so I’m not wanting faster response like serious gamers would. Just the same, fast video playback is smooth and I didn’t notice any ghosting or blurring. Not that I watch TV on this thing, though with an HDMI port and an optical audio out for a sound bar (for example), I totally could. What I do have it setup for is my lighting reference display. My V-Ray frame buffer sits in the middle of this screen, assuring me what I see is on the mark for my intended color space.

The Z27x has about a billion inputs: two DisplayPort 1.2s, an HDMI 1.4 (all with HDCP), four USB 3.0s, as well as two USB 2.0s. As a matter of fact, the calibration and color management options for the Z27x are numerous and impressive. It also has an Ethernet port for remote display and management.

With a street price of about $1,400, you won’t be outfitting every artist in your studio with the Z27x, but your lead lighters and compositors should have one on-hand for sure. And if you’re a small shop, it’s a worthwhile investment. The display is the one thing that will outlive any processor or GPU, so while you may change out your GPU or even the whole workstation, the Z27x could sit on your desk for years and years, and still deliver at a professional caliber every day.