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Broadcast Monitor Buyer's Guide

When you are looking to purchase a broadcast monitor, you should first figure out what your needs are. Everybody has different needs and what might be a good choice for somebody else may not necessarily be the right choice for you. Price, image quality, size, weight, viewing angle, graticule generator, inputs, handling of interlaced material, 3-D LUTs, quality of built-in scopes (if any), etc. etc. are all considerations. This guide will try to point you in the right direction in terms of the most promising models in terms of image quality. But image quality is not the only concern so you should pay attention to your own needs.

Get a demo unit if you can

The best way to evaluate a display is to get evaluation units and sit them side by side with whatever your current display is. Events and trade show floors can be terrible places to evaluate displays as the lighting environment can drastically affect the quality of an image. Bright tradeshow lighting will make the black level on a CRT look far worse than a LCD; but in an ideal environment, a CRT will have better blacks than almost every LCDs. As well, manufacturers tend not to show material that will reveal defects in the monitor, though I've seen some displays at NAB where there was banding artifacts in the source material. Also, you can't check the quality of the deinterlacer in a monitor if the manufacturer does not feed it with interlaced material (and most of them don't at tradeshows).

Obsolescence

The new display technologies such as LCD are moving at a very fast rate and the quality of these technologies has improved dramatically. Problems that have plagued LCDs such as black level, viewing angle, and colorimetry have improved a lot in the past few years. Ecinema for example was showing their 15,000:1 contrast ratio monitor at NAB 2008. The flipside of this is that expensive LCD monitors will quickly lose value. Ecinema's DCM23 had a MSRP of $16,500 in 2005 but would now sell for well less than half that price in 2008 (Silverado Systems shows a demo unit on sale for $5K- a third of the original MSRP).

Most promising models

It is worth looking at the list of all broadcast monitor manufacturers (that I know of anyways). These are the models that, in my opinion, are the most promising candidates to purchase. But please do look at the other manufacturers such as Astro, TVLogic, Ikegami, and FrontNiche as I simply am not very familiar with their products.

SD

For SD monitoring, your best bet is to purchase a CRT. They have excellent image quality, very good blacks, and display interlacing correctly . LCDs do not do a good job of displaying SD. I do not have recommendations for any particular model. The CRTs I've seen tend to be priced roughly according to their quality.

If buying used, make sure you inspect the monitor for yourself. Old CRTs (like old shoes) wear out with use and may subtle image defects (e.g. image defocused, geometry problems, worn out phosphors, phosphor burn, etc.).

HD

Blackmagic HDLink, HDLink Pro - Cheapest options with HD-SDI input ($410, $730). Does not deinterlace interlaced signals. Contrast ratio depends on the monitor attached to the Decklink (separate purchase). The latest Apple Cinema displays will do 1,000:1; however, some users report issues with manufacturing defects with the Apple Cinema Display. Excluded from this list is any monitor without at least 1920x1080 pixels as such displays will suffer from reduced resolution and scaling artifacts.

JVC DT-V24L1U - ~$3,500 street price. 1,000:1 contrast ratio, decent viewing angle (but not the best viewing angle). Good price/performance as more expensive models are only marginally better. Supports HDCP. Bit depth of panel not listed on website.

Ecinema FX24 - ~$4,000 street price. 1,000:1 contrast ratio. 10-bit panel should result in less susceptibility to banding artifacts than 8-bit panels, though quality will depend highly on viewing angle, the implementation of dithering used by the panel, and source material. You should get a demo unit to judge this issue for yourself.

Ecinema FX40 - ~$6,000 street price. 1,200:1 contrast ratio. 40" size.

Ecinema PRO24, 40 - Exact same panel as the FX series but with different processing. These monitors support 4:4:4 input and have the capability for 3-D LUTs.

Ecinema DPX24, 40 - $37,500 list for DPX24 including input cards. I've seen this monitor and it does do true black (15,000:1 contrast ratio) and is the only LCD on the market that does so.

Reviews and User Discussions

Editor's Lounge Monitor Shoot results - creativecow.net thread, Avid-L2 thread. TV Logic LVM 240D, Front Niche, JVC DT-V24L1D, Teranex Clearvue, DIT DTS-OR23.NS4, DIT DTS-OR23.NS3, eCinema DPX, Panasonic BTLH2600W, Sony LMD-2450WHD

Terrence Curren reviews the JVC DT-V24L1U for DV magazine. The author has seen a lot of monitoring options on the market.
Still Hot for JVC HD monitor thread on Avid-L2.

JVC DT-V24L1U, TVLogic, Ecinema FX - grading monitor to buy? thread on creativecow.net

MXO - MXO + Color Display Quality? thread on creativecow.net.

Panasonic TH-50PF10UK (50" plasma) - thread on creativecow.net

Ecinema DPX24 - post-NAB08 thread by those who went to the Ecinema demo on creativecow.net

Sony BVM-L230 - How important are built-in scopes? post on creativecow.net by a BVM-L user.
eCinema vs. Sony, the saga continues thread on creativecow.net
eCinema vs. Sony... Sony lost Avid-L2 thread
Sony BVM-L230, What a scam!! creativecow thread

BVM-L230, TVLogic, Panasonic BT-LH2600W, JVC DT-V24L1D - monitor thread on creativecow.net

"Best 24 inch Monitors for Color Correction/Finishing" - thread on creativecow.net

The current state of midrange monitors ($10K-30K)

In my opinion, the models in mid-range pricing don't offer particularly better image quality than JVC's $3,500 LCD. Their LCD actually has slightly better blacks than the Sony BVM-L230 (1000:1 versus 500:1), which is in the $30K price range with input cards. The Barco RHDM-2301, coming in at $27,500, lists a minimum contrast ratio of 800:1. So even if your budget was $30K, I would still definitely consider one of the cheaper monitors especially considering obsolescence (discussed earlier). There's not that big a difference between the cheaper monitors and the mid-range. There is however a big difference between the eCinema DPX and the competition, as it does real black with a contrast ratio of (over) 15,000:1 while the next best LCDs have contrast ratios around 1,200:1. In my opinion, I would find it hard to justify purchasing a mediocre midrange monitor when it is only marginally better than the cheaper options and knowing that it will soon be obsolete (e.g. when the DPX comes down in price, or when competitors figure out how to do the same thing).


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