- Review Price: £919.00
Ask any imaging professional or enthusiast about their digital imaging workflow and the words “colour calibration” will undoubtedly crop up in the conversation. However, ask a number of these people to describe exactly what it is that they do and I can pretty much guarantee their methods will all differ in a number of ways, apart from one fundamental goal – the desire to bring all of their imaging hardware and software together under a unified colour-matched umbrella.
Now, how to do this properly has been a long-running and continuing debate that started ever since colour film and colour displays were brought to market. How is colour perceived? Does an output device produce a comparable image to the input device? Does the software accurately handle colour? Does the final image look like the original scene? These are the type of questions that worry users, especially those in the pre-press sector or those fully versed in digital photography or graphic design and animation.
Whether you fall into one of the aforementioned job descriptions or if you simply like to produce your own pictures at home on your printer, there is one component of the digital imaging workflow that is generally regarded as the most important piece of hardware – the monitor. This is the device you use to evaluate those pictures you’ve captured from your scanner or digital camera and in my opinion it’s the first device you should calibrate.
If I tell you the number of times I‘ve been asked the question, “Why do my prints look nothing like the images on my monitor”, then you’ll understand why I believe monitor calibration to be such an important task. If you can’t place any faith in the colours it reproduces there’s basically no point in conducting any colour calibration to the rest of the components in your imaging setup.
In the past (and to this day I might add), many monitor manufacturers overlook calibration altogether and basically leave the user to calibrate the monitor themselves whether it be a CRT or LCD. This is why a number of third party companies have stepped in and have produced hardware or software packages that allow you to calibrate your monitor by creating ICC (International Colour Consortium) profiles that are specific to the actual display you are using. These are then employed by the operating system at start-up (Mac OS), or are made available when ICC aware software applications (Photoshop, etc) are fired up. Such examples are Adobe’s Gamma utility that comes with the companies Photoshop software or the various photo sensors, colourimeters, and spectral photometers that are available that actually take measurements directly from the monitors screen.
However some monitor manufacturers are fully aware of how important their displays are in the world of image editing, and consequently they’ve taken the proverbial bull by its horns and seriously entered the colour management market.
One such company is NEC/Mitsubishi that back in September 2004 announced a new range of LCD monitors that are geared towards colour critical applications. All members of this range fall under the company’s sub-brand “SpectraView” and the first to market are the 19in SpectraView 1980 which I have here, and the 21in SpectraView 2180. These will be followed by the launch of a 21in LED backlight version (the SpectraView 2180WG) in 2005, which the company claims will have the widest colour gamut in the history of flat panel displays. For now though, let’s take a closer look at the SpectraView 1980.
First of all, the SpectraView 1980 is actually an S-IPS (In Plane Switching) TFT MultiSync 1980SXi that has undergone the SpectraView treatment (the aspects of which I’ll explain later). Many of our readers will also instantly recognise NEC/Mitsubishi’s angular design that we saw in the both the 2080UX+ and the 2180UX models we’ve reviewed. Personally, I like the overall industrial look of these monitors but I know that some will prefer monitors with smoother lines. Of course, it’s largely down to personal preference, but what you can’t argue with is the range of adjustability that these monitors offer. A spring-assisted height adjustable range of 130mm will make sure that all users will find a comfortable eye-level to work with, whereas a swivelling base that can almost complete a 360 degree turn will find favour with those that love to show the information on their screens to others seated around them. In addition, there’s the neat ball and socket arrangement between the neck and the back of the panel casing that allows for a full tilting arc of 30 degrees, plus 90 degrees worth of rotation for a portrait view.
As for cable routing, there’s no cable hooks as such and instead NEC/Mitsubishi has gone for a detachable cable cover that clips on the back for loosely gathering up all the cables. The cables themselves come in the shape of two types – a D-SUB to DVI-A cable and a DVI-D-to-DVI-D one. There’s no D-SUB-to-D-SUB cable because you don’t really need one because NEC/Mitsubishi employs what it calls the ‘Ambix’ feature. Derived from the word ambidextrous, the 1980 comes complete with a D-SUB, DVI-D, and a DVI-I port for a full range of connection options. For example, the DVI-I port can accept a signal from either an analogue or digital-enabled graphics card and at the same time you can attach another two PCs – one with an analogue interface and the other with a digital one to the remaining respective ports. In other words, you’re pretty much covered for any setup scenario.
Another aspect I really like is the very narrow bezel. It’s got to be one of the thinnest I’ve seen at only 17mm along the sides. This not only frames the picture beautifully, but also makes the bezel less conspicuous, especially when you place or mount several of these monitors side by side in a multi-display setup. If this is what you’re after, it’s possible to combine up to 25 units in a 5×5 arrangement to display a shared picture, but you’ll need a video amplifier in order to do so.
That more or less covers the design of the chassis and the available inputs, but what makes this 1980SXi a SpectraView classified model? Well, many of you will probably recognise the folding hood that comes with the SpectraView CRTs that are currently marketed in the US. This serves a similar function here, in that it blocks out a high degree of ambient light thereby making colour calibration and general use more effective. The hood comes as standard and is secured to the screen along magnetic strips. It also features a sliding aperture that allows you to hang an optional optical sensor against the screen during calibration.
The is just one aspect of the SpectraView branding, so don’t be mistaken into thinking that the extra £200 on top of the £599 estimated street price (all ex VAT) of the 1980SXi is just for the felt-lined hood. Also included is the SpectraView Profiler software on CD, which works with a range of optical sensors currently available on the market. NEC/Mitsubishi kindly supplied me with a GretagMacbeth EyeOne Display sensor which worked seamlessly with the Profiler software, once it was fully licensed through a web-based registration process. The software itself is pretty easy to use and comes with extensive .pdf documentation. Without going into too much detail, it allows the brightness, white point and luminance curve to be calibrated in the monitors hardware, and ultimately to create an ICC colour profile for use in your workflow.
That’s not all the extra cost entails. There’s a whole protocol that NEC/Mitsubishi follows before sending a SpectraView monitor out to you. First of all, a 1980SXi is hand selected from stock and the magnetic hood strips are fitted. The monitor is then pre-set via the OSD for use in the pre-press environment to the following settings: Brightness level 60% (160-170cd/m2); Colour temperature 5000K (Daylight 50); and Gamma Correction 1.8 (for the Mac OS). This is then followed by a full validation of these settings by comparing the colour differences to the CIE L*a*b* Colour Space Specification, expressed as a DeltaE value.
This colour uniformity value and the results of the validation are included on a signed certificate that accompanies every SpectraView monitor. As a rule, a DeltaE value of one is considered a perfect calibration i.e. there is no difference between the CIE L*a*b* colour space and the colours reproduced by the monitor. Furthermore, DeltaE values that are equal to or less than three are considered highly accurate. A DeltaE of three, or more and the chances are you’ll notice the colour differences. Interestingly, the DeltaE number on my certificate here shows a figure of 3.49.
In addition, it’s worth noting that a quick browse through some of the literature from NEC reveals that a test report from an independent colour consultant using Altona’s Test Suite, recommends that the SpectraView 1980 is more suited to good reproduction of RGB images, but less suited for pre-press soft proofing with the CMYK colour space. Nevertheless we’re talking high-end printing there and for those like me involved in digital photography and web images where an RGB colour space is probably the best option for encompassing how your monitor will render my images in your non-colour aware Internet browser (Apple’s Safari and IE for Mac browsers excused). For this purpose, the NEC SpectraView lends itself splendidly.
Of course, all this talk of DeltaE values can sound rather complicated to the novice, whereas some people in the industry regard the CIE L*a*b* colour space to be an out of date reference. On the other hand, all this colour calibration can be totally ignored if you prefer using your own pair of eyes to setup the SpectraView 1980. Indeed, you’re not short of adjustable settings in the OSD. A total of eight buttons laid out in the same fashion as the 2180UX, cover power, a factory reset, a select button that also switches between the inputs, two pairs of select and adjust buttons and an exit button.
Using these to invoke changes from within the OSD is reasonably intuitive and the range of settings covers everything from brightness and contrast, picture position, and sharpness, all the way to image zoom expansion, video signal priority detection, and OSD position/rotation. Six colour temperatures as well as an sRGB and an original native colour mode are also included, plus you can increase or decrease the levels of not only red, green and blue, but also of yellow, cyan, and magenta. Even the saturation level can be tweaked. Either way there’s no denying that this 19in monitor is a top performer and a quick run through the DisplayMate’s test screens quickly revealed this.
Both colour scales and greyscales were evenly stepped. The 256 greyscale test showed no signs of banding with very smooth ramps from white to black and vice versa. I saw no evidence of pixel jitter when the SpectraView 1980 was fed with an analogue signal although if there was, it would probably be corrected before I spotted it because the built-in auto-adjust function is activated every time the monitor is started-up. Colours looked very rich and in terms of real world testing, I found I could easily distinguish detail from low contrast, shadowy areas in my test images. Skin tones were well reproduced too, and with a response time of 25ms I found little to worry me in the motion smearing department. DVD movies looked rich although a little soft, but this could be improved with the sharpness setting within the OSD. Viewing angles were very wide with no apparent colour shift when viewed from around 170 degrees both horizontally and vertically – an inherent property of an IPS panel.
Overall, I was very pleased with the SpectraView 1980’s image quality results. For a 19in display (which the truth be told, is a size I’m not keen on simply because I can pay less for a good 17in display that offers the same 1,280 x 1,024 native resolution) the 1980 is excellent, although very pricey.
Despite my personal feelings about 19in LCDs, the NEC SpectraView 1980 is by far the most accurate 19in display I have used in terms of colour reproduction. It certainly made my job easier when controlling the colour casts of my images. The SpectraView Profiler software is comprehensive and lets you quickly calibrate and profile the properties of the monitor for your digital workflow. The only real issue I have is one of price and the fact that you have to buy the optical sensor later which could set you back another couple hundred. The SpectraView 1980 does cost a lot more than your average 19in monitor, but the old adage of “you get what you pay for” is one that’s applicable here. Hopefully, NEC/Mitsubishi’s estimated retail prices quoted here will fall when more units flood the market.
Score in detail
Image Quality 9