A Creative Pro's Guide to LCD Screens!

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by D-rock, Sep 7, 2006.

  1. D-rock macrumors member

    Aug 24, 2006
    City of Angels, Left Coast
    Yes I know, there are already three-and-a-half trillion threads regarding which LCD to chose... why make another?

    A lot of the buying advice I've seen is tailored towards general-use... surfing the web, watching DVD's, playing games, etc. While these types of uses are the majority, there are definitely a fair number of Mac users, like myself, who are in the creative field and have different criteria in mind when purchasing a new monitor.

    So, this thread assumes two things:

    One- you need the image on your screen to look as accurate as possible, but Two- you don't want to spend $2,000-$3,000 on an Eizo or LaCie LCD ;)

    So, whether you're a photographer, graphic designer, 3D artist, video editor, or anything along those lines, I hope this thread can help clear up some questions regarding LCD panels!

    (As a disclaimer... I'm definitely not an expert on any of this crap... I merely present to you the information I've found in my research. So put away those torches if I get something wrong :cool: )

    LCD Misconceptions

    One of the biggest bits of misinformation I've seen floating around is the assumption that all monitors are good at all things. This is simply not the case. LCD technology has a ways to go before it catches up with CRT in terms of versatility. Unless of course you're buying one of those $3,000 LCD's, but then this thread isn't for you :D As such, different panel technologies have different strengths and weaknesses.

    Also... The Dell 2407 (24") and the ACD 23" do not, I repeat x1000 DO NOT use the same type of LCD panel. I'm not going to say which is the better monitor (yet), but I will say that if I hear one more person claim they use the exact same screen I swear they're gonna get a Merom-powered iSmack.

    :D kidding. Moving on!

    LCD Types

    Different kinds of LCD's use different technologies for displaying an image. In the most expensive monitors (like those $2,000 things I keep using as a caveat,) the different panel types aren't as big of a consideration because all the other components (like the backlight) are much higher quality and will compensate for any shortcomings a particular panel type might have. However, for the monitors being considered in this thread, the panel type is the most important factor in determining which monitor best suits your needs.

    The three most popular panel technologies in use are TN, S-PVA, and S-IPS. TN is utter crap (for us graphics pros) and is only used in the cheapest of screens, so I won't waste time explaining it. That leaves us with S-PVA and S-IPS.

    S-PVA vs. S-IPS

    There are several particular characteristics about these two LCD types which are of interest to a creative professional. One such characteristic is the viewing angle. Don't believe marketing numbers... "170 degrees" does not mean the image will look good at 170 degrees. The clear winner in this category is S-IPS, hands down.

    S-PVA screens begin to exhibit an unacceptable gamma shift when only a couple degrees off-center. Yep, a couple degrees. So, if you were viewing or working on an image that had a lot of dark colors, you would begin to see an unnatural gamma boost in the dark areas as you moved your head off center. Basically, your eyes have to be dead-center on the image to see its true colors. What if you are working on a large image that takes up most of the screen? Too bad! You'll get some exercise constantly moving your head around to be centered over the image.

    S-IPS, on the other hand, will retain much more accurate gamma levels even at extreme angles.

    This characteristic is something I've witnessed first-hand... the studio I work for uses Dell 2405's, and every artist complains about this phenomenon. Not such a big deal when you're just surfing the web, but very important when editing images.

    Note... the following characteristics are not ones I can verify firsthand, because I can't do a side-by-side comparison at work. But they are pretty much the consensus among the info I found online.

    Another issue that seems to plague S-PVA screens is inaccurate color. S-PVA screens generally are known for their bright, saturated colors... which is great for selling to the average consumer, but "brighter and more saturated" is not necessarily the best thing for graphics pros! In fact, the 2405's at work have all been calibrated with a hardware Spyder system, and in an effort to force the PVA screen towards more accurate color, the brightness is almost all the way down. S-IPS seems to be regarded as more accurate.

    And finally, despite marketing numbers, many people have also reported better response times with S-IPS screens than with S-PVA. I think this trait is more dependent on the manufacturer, though.

    So what are the weaknesses of S-IPS? The only consequential one (besides a slightly higher price,) is that S-IPS technology is limited in the contrast ratio it can produce. This results in some people claiming they can't get "true" blacks from their screen. However, I think this also has a lot to do with the manufacturer.

    Bottom Line

    I discovered that collecting accurate, unbiased information on LCD screens can be frustrating. However, based on the info I've read, I feel confident saying that if you are a graphics professional and can't spend 3k on your LCD, your best bet is to find an S-IPS monitor. I've included some links below that list which monitors use what screen type. (Sony and Viewsonic in particular seem to get good reviews.)

    Also, notice that I've been using lots of lawyer-happy words like "generally/usually/in general/etc." This is because, like so many things in life, broad generalizations will always have exceptions. For example, the fact that the ACD 23" is an S-IPS screen doesn't automatically make it awesome. There have been reports of backlight bleeding, color problems, etc. I'm not sure whether or not the newest versions of the ACD address these issues, but the point is this-- the above information was intended to give a foundation for LCD shopping, but the buyer should always seek out independent reviews, and if possible, see the screen in person.

    Good luck, and thanks for reading! :cool:


    The Widescreen Gaming Forum - great list of monitors and their panel types, also includes manufacturer's links and reviews!

    http://aryarya.net/wassyoi/lcdmemo.html - Extensive list of LCD's, not just limited to widescreen.

    LCD Tech Guide - more info than you'll ever need regarding the different panel technologies!
  2. BakedBeans macrumors 68040


    May 6, 2004
    What's Your Favorite Posish
    Superb thread that should be stickied immediately

    the 24 inch dell i had was horrific for shifting over a degree or two.
  3. MalcolmJID macrumors 6502a

    Nov 1, 2005
    Nice work! Well done! :D :D

    I learnt a lot from this thread, and agree that it should be stickied

    Thanks a lot! Cheers, Karl.
  4. FFTT macrumors 68030


    Apr 17, 2004
    A Stoned Throw From Ground Zero
    Great article and much appreciated effort.

    I still love my Dell 2405 :rolleyes:
  5. D-rock thread starter macrumors member

    Aug 24, 2006
    City of Angels, Left Coast
    Thanks for the comments, everyone! Glad you liked the write-up :D
  6. ZoomZoomZoom macrumors 6502a


    May 2, 2005
    Good for now, but you'll need a new Rev once Santa Rosa comes out :D

    Nice thread, I learned a lot :)
  7. AdeFowler macrumors 68020


    Aug 27, 2004
    A good read; thanks.

    The ACD 30" kicks serious ass by the way ;)
  8. Dreadnought macrumors 68020


    Jul 22, 2002
    Almere, The Netherlands
    Wow, great thread! I now understand why the ACD are "behind" in specs with a Dell. But the ACD still looks great, in front of it and behind it!! LOL
  9. apfhex macrumors 68030


    Aug 8, 2006
    Northern California
    Awesome info. I'd never heard of S-IPS or S-PVA at all before.

    From your first link, it seems most 23" monitors use S-IPS while most 24" ones use S-PVA. I'm betting Apple is using the later in the 24" iMac, which means it's definitely going to be inferior to the ACDs and maybe an indication that they will keep the 23" ACD in their lineup (unless they can find a 24" panel with S-IPS).
  10. Spanky Deluxe macrumors 601

    Spanky Deluxe

    Mar 17, 2005
    London, UK
    Great guide, thanks! This could be very important for any graphics pros considering the 24" iMac. Apple say that the 24" is the "brightest display" of the three iMac sizes so I'd guess that the 20" iMac uses the same panel as the ACDs whereas the 24" iMac does indeed use the same panel as the Dell 24 inchers which would mean its not pro-quality while the 20" is.
  11. Patch^ macrumors regular

    Mar 11, 2005
    Great Britain
    Great thread, would of been beneficial a month or so ago for me lol. I purchased the Dell 2007wFP. I think it uses that S-PVA panel.

    I think its great still. I agree that the brightness can be an issue when working on graphics, especially when you view the same image on different displays and compare the difference.

    Got any tips, i.e. in relation to that spyder system or something? :confused:

    Overall though the Dell display is great from my experience and highly recommend them :) :cool:
  12. zami macrumors regular

    Dec 19, 2003
    South London
    Thank you for a great informative thread, like other posters I had no idea. Thanks again!:)
  13. suneohair macrumors 68020


    Aug 27, 2006
    Very nice. I had the Dell and I sent it back due to these issues and the gradient banding. I may be getting the Apple, but it seems to have a few issues as well.

    I am in the graphic field and this article is dead on with what I have read.

    Very nice thread. Awesomeness A+++
  14. mrgreen4242 macrumors 601


    Feb 10, 2004
    OK I don't know much about LCDs. I haven't done the research you have. However, your links indicate my Dell 1905 is a SPVA type panel. I just turned it to about 170degrees from my eye and I don't almost any shift in color, and I have a mostly black desktop image on as well.

    I'm not doubting what you are saying, just pointing out that the average user (me) can't see the "defects" you are describing on ALL SPVA panels. I'm sure some are worse than others, and maybe this model (being the "premium" UltraSharp line) has a superior backlight or something that helps, I don't know.
  15. furious macrumors 65816


    Aug 7, 2006
  16. Pressure macrumors 68040


    May 30, 2006
    Knew it all already but glad to see it explained for the masses :)

    Thumbs up!

    <touches his Apple Cinema Display 23"> ...
  17. stevo86 macrumors member

    Mar 20, 2006
    Newfoundland, Canada
    lots of very useful information in this, thanks a lot! just wish i had this about a month ago before i bought my LG 204WT... it's an ok monitor for the price but ou can definitely tell that it doesn't compare to other LCD's. My friend has the Gateway 21" and it looks so much nicer than this one.
  18. Patch^ macrumors regular

    Mar 11, 2005
    Great Britain
    I think thats because it uses a TN panel, well I think the L03WT does. They have great contrast ratios though :)
  19. dmw007 macrumors G4


    May 26, 2005
    Working for MI-6
    Excellent, excellent post D-rock- thanks for such a good and informative read! :)
  20. Rower_CPU Moderator emeritus


    Oct 5, 2001
    San Diego, CA
    Rather than a sticky here in the buying tips forum, I'd encourage D-rock to post it in the MacRumors Guides.
  21. mahonmeister macrumors 6502

    Jun 9, 2006
    Redlands, CA
    That was a very informative and worth-while read. Can anyone with sufficient knowledge give a second opinion? I've read that TN displays are dominating the LCD industry simply because they are cheap and have good response times. But that's, of course, not what you pros are after as you said. If this does become a wiki, I hope someone includes good info on TN LCDs because it sounds like that is what the average person would be happy with.
  22. mmmcheese macrumors 6502a


    Feb 17, 2006
    Well, "inferior" if you're a graphic artist....if you're a consumer who wants a big screen that is nice to look at, the 24" in the iMac is perfect...good blacks, easy to read, big and not costing a small fortune. Most consumers don't care about colour accuracy or gamma. In fact, most consumers prefer exaggerated colour on the screens (which I'll never understand).
  23. apfhex macrumors 68030


    Aug 8, 2006
    Northern California
    Yes, that's what I meant. :D I'll have to see the 24" iMac before I judge it, but if it's anything like the iMac G5's screen (I have no clue what type of panel it uses) it's way worse looking than the ACD. You move your head even slightly and the blacks shift all over the place in brightness/gamma. I can't stand to look at it from a side angle (it actually kind of hurts my eyes). I've only briefly used the Intel iMacs so I can't say if I like their screens any better.
  24. mkrishnan Moderator emeritus


    Jan 9, 2004
    Grand Rapids, MI, USA
    This is a nice thread. Thank you for the information.

    A small suggestion, but if you want the be-all-end-all guide, can you please add in some info about what SIPS and SPVA actually mean? And perhaps also consider addressing issues other than this distinction (backlight quality, the standard set of parameters such as brightness and response time that are reported in specs, certification to a standard such as SWOP, etc).

    Also what technology do Apple notebook computers use?
  25. milozauckerman macrumors 6502

    Jun 25, 2005
    Excellent thread.

    One shorthand for people looking at monitors - check to see if the monitor is SWOP-certified (soft proofing essentially). The 20"/23" ACDs are and the 20" iMac is. The 30" ACD may be, I can't remember. The Dell 24" isn't. 24" iMac, no idea.

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