In September one of my most respected photography mentors contacted me and told me that I needed to review the NEC PA-Series displays because he felt they were almost as good as the Eizo ColorEdge CG221 ($5,034 @ B&H on 12/24/2010) for a fraction of the price (I paid $899.95 for My PA241W-BK on 8/3/2010). I liked my Dell 2407WFPb display and thought that there was no need to replace it. It had served me well for several years and I was actually looking forward to the day when I could buy a monitor for a couple hundred bucks!
Every time I talked to my mentor he would rave about this PA-Series monitor which he had added to his own collection, and during my printing series I was really struggling to get soft proofing results that matched what I was seeing in my GTI light box.
I did a little shopping around and some research and found out that this NEC display might be a wise investment, so I finally put down my own cash for the monitor and hood. I had no contacts with NEC (at that point) and purchased it just as you would. Here was my email to my photography club after I got this display:
So I ended up buying this NEC PA series monitor and calibrated it last night - OMG this thing rocks! I feel like I did when I went from my old TV to a nice LED 1080p HDTV. I thought my old Dell was good, but this thing blows it away. I felt like I could reach in and touch stuff in the photo.
I did the monitor hood too which has helped a lot and was built a lot better than I expected. Its felt lined on the inside and has a trap door for the calibration device, so it’s a lot more complex than one would think. I see why it’s $99 now, and given the cost of hoods I think it’s an okay value for what you get - much better than I thought when I threw it in the cart.
No regrets on this one - it’s a great monitor. I had zero noise with it too - can’t hear anything from it. I was glad to see it had USB ports and multiple input ports too. My pro source below told me that NEC engineers said the best results are only possible with the Display Port, and I have to use DVI so that’s a bummer. However, I can’t see how it could be much better - it’s damn good with DVI.
Since I have a MacBook Pro with a Display Port this sent me on a quest to try this display out with a Display Port to see if I could see the “better” results. Eventually this quest ended up with me talking to NEC directly where I got many of my questions (and probably some of yours too) answered. Here’s what I learned:
- The PA241W came out in February and the PA271W has been released since then. The PA271W has a slight edge in pixel density. Both are great displays, and I haven’t been able to observe any practical differences in everyday use between the 24 & 27 (more on that later).
- One REALLY cool feature is that you can do side-by-side of the same input in two windows on one of these displays and display the windows using different picture modes.
Where this is really cool is that I could have one set for the full color gamut and the other set for a sRGB (for web proofing) or a printer paper profile (for soft proofing). This works best when the monitor is in portrait orientation as over and under looks a lot better than side by side. I find this extremely useful because wide color gamut displays show more of the red portion of the color gamut so it is easy to overcompensate for sunburned looking skin only to have the sRGB image for the web look like crap. Alternatively there are also shortcut buttons on the display to just change picture modes for the whole display so you can edit for the web’s sRGB colorspace and return to the wide colorspace when imaging for print.
- This display has built-in KVM functionality so you plug your mouse and keyboard in and when you switch inputs they will go with you to the other computer – this even works between the Mac & PC. Furthermore, you can stick a USB Flash drive in the display and that device will be available for the active computer so you can use it for situations where file transfer between computers isn’t working well (especially on mac/pc or pc/linux scenarios)
- The SpectraView II calibration device that NEC ships (offered below) is the X-Rite i1Display 2 that has been modified to support the wide color gamut display. Other calibration devices will work too and are shown here – page down. The word on the street is that the i1Pro or the ColorMunki are the preferred calibration devices for the best results.
- Calibration typically works on the display card by creating a profile that acts as a mapping table to render the accurate results on the display. Their SpectraView II software is unique in that it actually programs the look up tables in the display itself for what NEC claims offers OS independent calibration (especially useful if you are switching between computers with the same display – you only need to calibrate once)
- The MultiProfiler software on their web site is worth downloading and you can use it to control the Ambient Light Compensation (recommended off), Response Improve (on – esp, if motion video is important), Metamerism correction (optional and personal preference).
In the end I learned that there is a PC-only configuration that can be done to get the improved 10-bit display output which does require a display port video cable using a video card that has yet to be released and a PC driver configuration that is not for the faint of heart. In short, it’s vaporware now so don’t worry about connecting your NEC display via the DVI port at this time.
Should I buy the NEC Calibration Device or Software?
My recommendation is that if you don't have an i1Pro or ColorMunki spectrophotometer, and you don't intend to generate paper profiles then get the NEC bundle with the calibrator as you'll save yourself a lot of headaches. It is included in bundles when ordering (see below) or you can purchase it after the fact here, but even with it you’ll need to purchase the NEC software separately.
If you have one of the X-Rite products then just get the display and buy the SpectraView software from NEC.
I also found this article to be useful in discussions about calibrating this display.
One very cool feature of these displays for calibration is that you can use the MultiProfiler tool to load your paper profiles as input to get display based softproofing which can effectively bring softproofing to Lightroom – which doesn’t exist today. NEC confirms that Photoshop’s soft proofing of paper profiles is superior, but this method works wonders for those looking to bring soft proofing to well color managed applications that don’t currently support it.
How does the PA241W compare to the PA271W?
My PA271W-BK is configured in Portrait mode at 1440x2560
After I got involved with NEC my contact suggested I try out the 27” display to which I replied – I’d love to if you send it, but I can’t afford it. NEC agreed to let me borrow one for a short time which is kinda like your local crack dealer giving free samples for newbies – some things you shouldn’t sample unless you are prepared to make it a part of your life!
My PA241W-BK with my old Dell 2407WFPb on the right
(NOTE: Colors and lighting way off in photo so make no inferences from this shot)
When I got the 27” I ditched my Dell 2407WFPb and put the PA271W-BK in portrait mode as shown above and configured in my control panel below as follows:
In practical use I’ve not seen any negative aspects of the 27” over the 24”, and in fact I use the 27” to write my blog articles as I’m doing now. I absolutely love this 27” display and it is wonderful when viewing Lightroom 3.3’s 2nd display window in Grid mode as the high resolution allows me to see the details I need yet still view a lot of images from the library.
PA231W-BK – The new addition to the family for much less
NEC has added the PA231W to the line up for a much more friendly price at a slight cost in features. This is effectively the budget minded solution at the expense of not being a wide-gamut display (useful for photo editing – critical for soft proofing/printing).
I have not tested this display, so I only mention it for completeness. It should be suitable for sRGB photo editing and proofing for display, not print, output. it is for this reason why I’m perplexed as to why this monitor is part of the PA series as it seems more suited to a different series of displays.
I am of the opinion that it’s not worth replacing your display unless you are moving up to wide gamut so my advice is for the other PA series displays featured in this article.
A word about switching to wide color gamut displays
When you go from a normal display to a wide color gamut display it takes some getting used to because the colors that you can now see (especially in the reds) can throw you when you edit your photos. This is why when I do my final photo edits before sending them to display output (i.e., web, facebook, flickr, etc…) I like to switch my NEC display to sRGB mode to see how it will look. I still edit with the full color gamut turned on which can burn me sometimes for output to web browsers, but the output on properly color managed devices and print is brilliant. I therefore edit for print and then adjust or remove some Photoshop layers to get my display output – in a separate file (or virtual copy in Lightroom). This is a challenge for moving to ANY wide color gamut display, not just these NEC’s.
I also advise that if you are a business and you are doing color critical work that you should only upgrade your displays until you can afford to move all color management displays up to wide color gamut displays to avoid headaches of switching between color spaces and having two people image the same file differently because of what they see on their display.
UPDATE: Comparison to Eizo FlexScan SX2762W
The 2560 x 1440 resolution makes of the FlexScan SX2762W makes it competitive with the PA271W, so its clear that Eizo is targeting this display to NEC PA Series buyers. The SX2762W seems to have a slight benefit in edge to edge performance, and it has the typical Eizo super fast startup & warm up times (which is critical for accurate calibration). I much prefer the PA Series SpectaView calibration software and hardware and the PA series value is unmatched, so if I were buying a 27” display I’d still go for the NEC. With that said, Eizo loyalists will probably favor the SX2762W for its impressive feature list (click here) and the superior edge to edge performance that make Eizo so popular. However, if I were buying a 27”, I’d go for the NEC.
I love these displays! They’ve been rock solid and a joy to use. I did have one glitch in that my display started to blink, but it turns out that it is known issue if you have your PIP (picture-in-picture) display input set to display port (not the default). If your PIP input is set to anything else then you won’t see this problem.
I also missed my speakers attached to my Dell display, but you can buy the NEC Soundbar to work around that problem.
Now that I have used both I’d want to keep the 27 over the 24 as the extra screen real estate is VERY nice to have, but it is also a no comprise high quality display. The 24 is better on paper, but the 27 is just as good to me and my eyes.
I strongly recommend the hood (27” requires a different model) for those displays in landscape mode, but I find the hood useless and annoying in portrait mode. I had zero issues with glare, so the hood recommendation is based on pure color management advice of avoiding light contamination on your photo editing display.
It’s also a must that you get the SpectraView II Software (sold here) if you wish to properly calibrate this display with non NEC calibration devices. I do suggest buying the NEC calibration device if you already don’t own a supported calibration device). UPDATE: Check out this article for NEW calibration devices by X-Rite which support wide gamut displays like these.
These are a great couple of displays that I can’t recommend highly enough. I will warn you though – once you try them you’ll be hooked, so if you don’t have the budget then run away now! :)
Online Ordering Information
- VGA + DVI-D + DisplayPort
- 1920 x 1200
- 1000:1 Contrast Ratio
- 360cd/m² Brightness
- 178° Viewing Angle
- 8ms ray-to-Gray Response Time
- 98.1% Coverage of AdobeRGB Color Space
- Height Adjustment and 90° Pivot
- Same as above, plus SpectraViewI I Colorimeter and Software
PA271W-BK 27" Widescreen LCD Computer Display
- · DVI-D + DisplayPort
- · 2560 x 1440
- · 1000:1 Contrast Ratio
- · 300cd/m² Brightness
- · 178°/178° Viewing Angle
- · 7ms Response Time
- 97.1% Adobe RGB
- 3-Port USB 2.0 Hub
- Same as above, plus SpectraView II Colorimeter and Software
- VGA + DVI-D + DVI-D + DisplayPort
- 1920 x 1080
- 1000:1 Contrast Ratio
- 270cd/m² Brightness
- 178°/178° Viewing Angle
- 8ms Response Time
- 72% NTSC
- 3-Port USB 2.0 Hub
NEC loaned me a PA271W display, a Spectraview II calibration device and the software, but everything else I owned via my own private party purchase. I may get a link if you purchase using the links in this article, so I would appreciate your support for more articles like this if you come back here when making your purchases.