Every creative wants a 30-inch monitor – and with prices currently little more than £1,000, this is the ideal time to pick one up. Owning one isn’t just about showing off to your colleagues how important you are (though it’s an added bonus) but a larger monitor will help you be more productive.
It’s not really about size: resolution is what matters here. A larger size allows more pixels without making the user’s eyes hurt by forcing them to squint.
The majority of 30-inch displays, including all the models we’ve looked at here, have a native resolution of 2,560-x-1,600 for a total of 4.1 million pixels. By contrast, most 23- to 26-inch monitors offer 2.3 million pixels (1,920-x-1,200), and most widescreen 20- and 21-inch displays have 1.8 million pixels (1,680-x-1,050).
The extra resolution means you can see your work in more detail. A 300dpi A3 landscape image (or spread of A4 portrait pages) can be viewed at 25 per cent on a 23-26-inch monitor. On a 30-inch display, you can see it at 50 per cent – and the ability to see a more accurate representation of how your work will look helps you to design more efficiently and spot problems quicker. Editors and artists working with HD video can see video within their applications at 100 per cent, and see more of their timeline.
Creatives working in 3D will see one downside to a 30-inch display: the extra resolution puts more strain on your graphics card, reducing the frame rate. However, such artists can designate a portion of their display for their core 3D application, using the full resolution when working on detailed textures in Photoshop, for example.
The best 30-inch monitors offer 10-bit or higher colour processing (see Tech Notes, right), but there isn’t the big divide between pro-level and gamer-focused displays as with smaller monitors – almost all 30-inch models for desktop use are aimed at creative professionals. There are 30-inch displays available for medical imaging and presentation, but these are sold through different channels and creative pros are unlikely to encounter them.
All 30-inch displays require a graphics card that supports Dual Link, as this technology is necessary for resolutions larger than 1,920-x-1,200. However, most recent graphics cards support Dual Link, and the only models available today that don’t support it are the true entry-level cards.
Alongside DVI connectors, many displays include a USB 2.0 hub for easy attachment of peripherals and drives. Apple’s 30-inch Cinema HD Display also offers a FireWire hub, while Dell’s UltraSharp 3007WFP-HC offers a selection of media card slots for quickly taking images off digital cameras.
Design is an important part of choosing a monitor, but this doesn’t just mean aesthetics. It should be possible to position the monitor so that its screen is directly facing you – and a good monitor should feature adjustable height and tilt so that can sit without putting strain on your back.
Tech notes: Deep colour
Previously, if you needed 10-bit or higher colour processing, it would have been necessary to buy a smaller monitor. Now, however, we’re seeing the emergence of 30-inch models that offer this feature. LCD displays and most graphics cards output an eight-bit per colour depth (also known as 24-bit colour, as it’s eight bits each for red, green and blue), so each pixel can show one of 16 million colours.
However, the colour gamuts of your monitor and your graphics card can be quite different, so the monitor needs to translate from one to the other. By having a 10-bit per colour LUT (Look-Up Table), the monitor has an internal palette of 64 million colours to help the translation, so what you see on screen is more accurate. It’s with subtle shades and gradients that this is most apparent.
The first 30-inch monitor to offer a colour depth of more than 8-bit per colour is Eizo’s FlexScan SX3031W, which offers 12-bit LUT for an internal palette of 256 million colours. In the next few months, rivals from NEC and Samsung should appear. NEC announced the MultiSync LCD3090WQXi at the Macworld trade show in January, which also has a 12-bit LUT.
Samsung doesn’t state the internal palette for its forthcoming XL30 (below), which is the first 30-inch model with LED backlights. LED-based monitors have a wider colour gamut than conventional LCD displays, as LEDs offer more subtle gradation of brightness than standard lights. They also use less power and don’t contain mercury like LCD models, so are more environmentally friendly.
How we tested
Each monitor was connected to CAD2’s Vision DQX-SE, which uses an ATI FireGL 8600 workstation-class graphics card. First we compared each monitor’s output straight ‘out of the box’ – using colour profiles, where they were provided – to a calibrated test sheet.
We then calibrated each display using a GretagMacbeth Eye-One Display 2, which gives a more accurate colour profile, and we compared the output from each monitor using its calibrated profile to the test sheet.
We used Chromix ColorThink Pro to create graphs, based on each of these calibrated profiles, providing a simple, at-a-glance guide to the colour gamut of each display. These graphs represent all the colours that the human eye is capable of seeing (the outer shape). Within this is a map of the colours each monitor can output (the inner shape).
A larger inner shape generally means a better monitor. However, it doesn’t indicate how accurately these colours are rendered, which is why each monitor’s output is best judged by eye.
Regular calibration is important for maintaining colour accuracy across mediums. Most creatives should invest in a pro-level calibration system, such as the Eye-One Display 2 (£125 plus VAT) or Datacolor’s Spyder3Elite (£134 plus VAT). Designers should also think about a printer calibration system such as the Colour Confidence Print Profiler.