The monitor component of the Cintiq 21UX is a 21.3in, 1,600 by 1,200 panel. That’s right, as all you haters of widescreen displays will have noticed, that gives it an aspect ratio of 4:3 rather than the usual 16:10 found on professional monitors these days, or the 16:9 that’s (unfortunately) becoming ever-more common. In fact, if you’re after a square screen, this is one of the few new options on the market.
Its old school aspect ratio will probably be the most controversial decision about this Cintiq. Its smaller 12in sibling is a widescreen affair, so why go for an ‘outdated’ square screen on the top-end model? Part of it is probably to make it more manageable as a tablet, especially when rotating it or using it on your lap. Maybe it’s also to cater to the established fanbase
who are used to this resolution on the older models. To be honest though, we would far rather have seen a 1,920 x 1,200 panel here. It’s the industry standard, and going back to less simply feels restrictive.
It’s a real shame too, since otherwise the 21UX holds up well as a monitor. As you would expect at this price point, it doesn’t use a cheap and shoddy TN panel. Instead you’ll find a proper high-end IPS panel, with excellent viewing angles, dark detailing and colour characteristics. Despite a glass panel protecting it from wear and tear, it has a matt finish so reflections aren’t a problem.
Once calibrated this screen is a joy to use for graphics work. Viewing angles are nearly as good as it gets, with no significant contrast or colour shift no matter from where you’re viewing the screen – an essential attribute on a panel you’ll be using in various states of tilt. Colours are rich without being oversaturated, and though blacks are certainly far from the deepest we’ve seen, the panel easily distinguished between even the darkest grey shades without losing significant white purity, and doesn’t suffer from backlight bleed or clouding (it’s worth noting, by the way, that in order to enable brightness and contrast control on the Cintiq, the colour temperature needs to be set to Custom).
Nor are there any nasty artefacts, with smooth gradients and sharp text. We even found the 21UX’s response time holds up well, so all but the most avid gamers won’t be left wanting. And that’s a good thing, as some games (like Plants versus Zombies and other mouse-only titles) are a whole new level of fun when played with a stylus on a flat surface. Even trying an FPS or two is a very different and interesting experience.
Unfortunately the Cintiq’s screen controls and OSD aren’t exactly the most ergonomic or aesthetically-pleasing we’ve come across. The buttons are tucked away behind the bezel, and none of them act as a shortcut. You can’t, for example, select presets without entering the OSD. Even then, all the ‘presets’ you're offered are choices between colour temperatures. The OSD itself, meanwhile, is fairly straightforward but looks like something from 1992.
Still, these are all minor complaints really, and don’t detract from a good monitor experience. Just remember that if you intend to use the 4:3 Cintiq as your main monitor, widescreen movies will have black bars the size of placards, and we do hold the 21UX's lack of horizontal resolution against it.