NEC SpectraView 1980 review

£799
Price when reviewed

Despite flat-panel TFTs steam-rollering the conventional CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor market, conventional tube-based monitors are still favoured by many photographers and pre-press production departments where decent colour reproduction is important. But both Eizo and NEC have now released digital TFTs that claim to challenge the final realm of CRTs. Both monitors have an unprecedented colour gamut, covering Adobe’s RGB colour space (see Colour gamut, right).

NEC SpectraView 1980 review

The Eizo ColorEdge CG220 is a different class of beast from your standard TFT. Aimed at high-end, pre-press applications, its 23in widescreen offers a resolution of 1,920 x 1,200 pixels. Although the bezel is thin, its depth ensures you don’t mistake it for any run-of-the-mill panel. The columns of specialised indicators on the fascia add to the air of standoffish professionalism, showing current colour mode (custom, sRGB, EMU, manual- and auto-calibrated). It also ships with a hood to reduce reflections from nearby light sources, as does the NEC.

As well as covering Adobe RGB, the CG220’s colour range encompasses the CMYK ISO-coated colour space used in commercial printing. This, claims Eizo, makes it the first display suitable for ‘soft proofing’ without the expense of hard-copy proofs. A hard-copy final proof will always be necessary, but it could certainly replace hard copy at some stages in the production workflow.

NEC’s SpectraView 1980 is more conventional, both in looks and specification. With its slimmer frame and normal 4:3-aspect screen it looks like any other 19in panel, albeit a high-end one. It’s fairly deep at 80mm, but it has this in common with NEC’s standard MultiSync panels. The native resolution is 1,280 x 1,024 – standard fare for a 19in TFT. It’s a shame NEC hasn’t pulled off a coup and produced a native 1,600 x 1,200 display, but it’s still practical.

Both monitors are designed to be used in a fully calibrated environment. To this end we used a GretagMacbeth EyeOne Professional optical calibration device with both units, using their respective proprietary colour-matching packages. On both monitors we calibrated for a 6,500K colour temperature at a Windows-standard gamma of 2.2. Both calibration routines generate a custom International Color Consortium monitor profile, which Windows immediately puts to use.

The NEC’s image quality is superb: backlight evenness is virtually perfect, and the key question of colour linearity is answered with performance far better than most panels. Using DisplayMate’s linearity tests, a near-white box with R, G, and B levels of 253 is clearly distinguishable from a pure white box at maximum 255. The same goes for near-black greys; there’s no discernible non-linearity at either end of the dynamic range.

It’s worth noting that while the CG220 is at least as accurate when it comes to colour, its brightness levels aren’t the match of many consumer-level screens. Maximum brightness is a relatively restricted 200cd/m2, and by default the calibration routine allows you to select from a range of 80-120cd/m2. This is intentional: a bright display gives inaccurate colour compared to reflective (printed) material that doesn’t generate its own light. And this isn’t a monitor on which you’ll be watching films either: its slow 37ms pixel-response time results in pronounced smearing with moving images.

There’s no doubting these monitors represent a significant step forward for TFT panels and display technology in general, but both have their limitations. The CG220 is very much a specialist device, and its price tag reflects this. It’s three times the price of TFTs of equivalent size and resolution, such as BenQ’s FP231W (see issue 122, p68), and some aspects of its specification are inferior to the cheaper panel. NEC is pitching the SpectraView 1980 below pre-press applications and towards photographers, but there aren’t many digital pros willing to edit their 8-megapixel shots at 1,280 x 1,024 when they’re used to a minimum 1,600 x 1,200. An interesting first punt for both NEC and Eizo then, but we can’t recommend wide-gamut displays just yet.

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