If you’re used to more modest monitors, the specifications of Eizo's new ColorEdge CG275W and NEC's SpectraView Reference 271 will read like science fiction.

Both are 27-inch, 10-bit colour LCD panels that can generate 1.7 billion colours, with a native resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels. And there’s more. The SpectraView works from a 14-bit Look Up Table (LUT) for an internal palette of 4.3 trillion – so colours signals from your graphics card will be perfectly matched to their screen equivalent, producing smooth gradients and sharpening subtle detail. The CG275W tops this with a 16-bit LUT – though in practice there’s little between them.

Using either for anything less than high-end design would be overkill – and both come with a hefty price tag that matches their professional class. Specifications only tell part of the story, though. It’s worth pointing out, for example, that if you connect one of these monitors over DVI, rather than the DisplayPort, you’ll get a more standard 16.7 million colours.

Baked-in hardware calibration pushes realistic colour reproduction as far as it can go. The NEC’s SpectraView software can be used in conjunction with a spectrophotometer to configure the display’s software and hardware levels, the latter enabling you to program the display’s 3D LUT. The Eizo ColorEdge calibrates itself with no need for additional hardware. It performs this feat using preconfigured software and a built-in meter. The calibration can be scheduled for specific times, whether the monitor is plugged in or not. This gives the ColorEdge a bit of an, er, edge over the SpectraView.

For more control you can use Eizo’s bundled ColorNavigator software, which is compatible with a range of standalone third-party calibration units as well as the display’s built-in sensors.

The SpectraView (above) is a solidly built display with a no-nonsense design, reflecting its industrial applications. That’s not shorthand for ugly, either. As is common for monitors in this class, it ships with a hood designed to reduce reflection and overhead glare.

The ColorEdge (above) is ugly, but thankfully its output quality is so good you’ll probably not notice its looks when it’s switched on. Eizo’s display looks great right as soon as you plug it in – and that’s due in part to Eizo’s policy of calibrating every monitor at the factory. The SpectraView wasn’t as good as the ColorEdge out of the box, but matched it after we used an X-Rite i1 Display Pro calibrator on it.

Both monitors are as rotatable -- the Eizo can be spun through an impressive 344 degrees horizontally, the NEC fractionally less, and both have the ability to rotate 90 degrees into portrait mode.

MacBook Pro owners will be interested to know that in addition to the standard size DisplayPort socket, the ColorEdge has a Mini DisplayPort. The SpectraView, on the other hand, doesn’t even ship with a DisplayPort to Mini conversion cable.

The two displays cost more or less the same, and it’s difficult to say which is better value: either would be an excellent choice in this price bracket. But the small matter of having a built-in hardware calibrator puts the CG275 one up over the SpectraView.

Screen images taken from Rob Shield's tutorial in the November issue of Digital Arts. X-Rite i1 Display Pro supplied by Colour Confidence.