Monday, June 6, 2011

REVIEW: Eizo ColorEdge CG243W 24” IPS 1.07 billion color LCD Display

*** This display has been replaced by the Eizo CG246-BK ***

The Eizo ColorEdge CG243W is a high quality display that is made in Japan by Eizo employees. It is not outsourced to China like the competition, and built to the highest standards. Eizo is so confident that this differentiation results in a superior build quality that this display comes with a 5-year warranty.

Eizo is so committed to superior quality that each unit is inspected and measured at 25 intersection points to ensure perfect uniformity from edge to edge before it leaves the factory. Here’s the report that came with my evaluation display:

From this report you can quickly see how meticulous they are in their quality control, but read on to realize that there’s so much more when you dive into the details.

Features Deep Dive

In this section I’ll dig into some of the advanced features that make this a fantastic monitor, but I’ll try to break the geeky terminology down into concepts that most people can understand. Hopefully I can help you to see why these things make a difference. 

Go Beyond TrueColor with 10-bit Color (1.07 billion simultaneous colors)

You can get 10-bit per color channel via the DisplayPort (when paired with a 10-bit per channel video card). What this means is that you get over 1 billion colors shown simultaneously (versus 16.7 million with traditional 8-bit per channel, 24-bit displays).

In plain English this means that instead of 256 shades of Red, Green and Blue you typically sein in Photoshop, you now get 1021 shades of Red, Green and Blue each. The practical application of this is that you won’t see any banding of any type when viewing even the most complex gradients on the screen.

It should also be noted that few PC’s and currently no Apple computers (as of 3/22/2011) come with 10-bit per channel (30-bits total) video cards. What this means is that it will require most users to get a new video card for the best possible results.

I didn’t have access to a 30-bit video card so I used a DisplayPort to my MacBook Pro and DVI for my PC for 24-bit color (8 bits per channel). I have seen 30-bit video and it is amazing, so I wish I could have tested this. I can say that despite this fact, I was still very impressed with what I saw with only 8-bits. The banding was non-existent in practical applications and very difficult to notice on the most complex test patterns.

My advice is that if you can get a 10-bit video card (shipping with some computers and Lenovo laptops these days), then do it. You can find some of the available choices in this whitepaper, but I’m sure there are more by now. Ironically, some can be found for as little as $100, but I won’t list any here as I can not comment on the quality of the cards available.

It is confusing when searching for these cards because they are 10-bit per channel but referenced typically as 30-bits (10-bits each for the Red, Green & Blue channels). ATI calls this technology 30-bit Display Pipeline and nVidia calls it 30-bit Color Technology. Geeks can learn more about this technology in this whitepaper from nVidia.

Brightness & Color Uniformity

Eizo ColorEdge Digital Uniformity Equalizer (DUE)

Eizo has a technology they call Digital Uniformity Equalizer (DUE) (whitepaper) that was introduced back in 2006 with the CG221 and is present in the CG243W. Put simply, this technology ensures edge to edge color uniformity and based on my experience with Eizo and other monitors, I can tell you that this is one feature that I couldn’t live without now.

Eizo ColorEdge Digital Uniformity Equalizer (DUE) 

If you are looking for reasons to justify Eizo’s premium price, this is certainly one of them. Just like you would pay more for a lens with great edge to edge sharpness, this feature is valuable in your photo editing to have edge to edge color uniformity.

16-bit 3D LUT (Advanced Print Soft Proofing Support)

This display features a programmable 16-bit 3D LUT (whitepaper) which put simply means it is suitable for highly accurate soft proofing for prints. These 3D LUT’s do hardware calibration instead of software calibration (which is what X-Rite or DataColor software does). This calibration process bypass the software calibration in the operating system (i.e., the color curves in your graphics card are just zeroed out via the ICC profile) and the actual calibration occurs in the display itself. The advantage to this is that you can calibrate it on one system (i.e., a Windows 7 system like my desktop) and use it on another system (like my MacBook Pro) and the display is still calibrated perfectly for both systems.

It should be noted that to properly calibrate a display like this you must have a compatible calibration device plugged into the display and a cable going from your computer to the display during calibration. Some other products have this feature, but require software purchased separately – Eizo’s come with ColorNavigator at no extra charge to do this for you.

Paper Mode

Eizo ColorEdge Paper Mode Measurement

Eizo feature a technology called Paper Mode (whitepaper) which sounded really cool when I read about it because it is suppose to help you do more accurate soft proofing. When I tested it out (which wasn’t easy as it expects you to have three hands), I found it to be less than useful. I tried it with both Epson Exhibition Fiber and Hot Press Natural papers and both times it came back suggesting I use 4000 K as my white point and 30 cd/m2 as my brightness which would result in a horrible viewing experience. While cool in theory, I didn’t find this feature to be useful at all, but read about it and decide for yourself. Perhaps there was user error on my part since I am not an octopus or perhaps my Solux lights caused the results to be skewed.

On-Screen Button Guide

It’s funny how sometimes the little things make a big difference, but what really surprised me is how easy and intuitive I found the Eizo On-Screen Button Guide to be in every day use. While the other displays I have owned have power buttons that are hard to find in the dark and are easily mistaken for other buttons, the Eizo lights up a guide on the display when you push a button that makes it easy to find the button of your choice. Since I used this display with a MacBook Pro I found the location and easy of use of the Signal button (shown as S above on the left) to be exceptionally helpful).

Hood Design

This display comes with a very high quality hood that has a thick felt interior lining to prevent reflections or light contamination. It attaches securely to the display, but has two limitations that were very disappointing to me:

  1. When calibrating you can’t close the top hatch which introduces light contamination. To remedy this I would put a piece of cardboard over the hatch. I prefer other designs which have a trap door much better.
  2. This model only supports the hood in landscape orientation, and I was using it portrait orientation for the first half of my review. I much prefer the CG245W hood design which works in either orientation.

Calibrating with ColorNavigator 5.4.2

ColorNavigator is the free calibration software included with this display that is free for life. Unlike most free software that comes with hardware, this is a good one that is excellent for getting the best results from your display. It not only helps with calibration and validation, but it also monitors your system so if something changes the video card gamma it will (based on your preferences) change the settings back to ensure that your display stays calibrated. I found little touches like this and the fact that it played nice with other calibration software on the system to be a welcome surprise!

At first I found the calibration process to be a little confusing because the default target in the software for printing is for a brightness of 80 cd/m2, a white point of 5000 K and a gamma of 1.8.  While that may be good for some people, for my eyes it sucks, so I created a target for 100 cd/m2, a white point of 6500 K and a gamma of 2.2 (all of which are pretty common defaults for most).  Once I got a target suitable for my preferences I was in business, and this is where the Eizo displays really shine.

I’ve calibrated with my ColorMunki and i1XTreme (an i1Pro) and both worked without any problems with ColorNavigator 5.4.2.

Validation

Honestly, I didn’t know jack about validation before I got this display to review. However, after speaking with the gurus at Eizo I was able to learn that other models of this caliber have this feature. Validation allows you to compare your current monitor settings against its calibrated settings to see how much your monitors colors have shifted since you last calibrated. This is pretty cool because it goes beyond that annoying reminder you get from calibration software that mindlessly tells you to calibrate your display every X weeks.

This feature actually measures the colors against the last calibration to come up with a delta-E of all of the measured colors for a quick report to see if your display is holding its color accurately over time. You can also use it to measure what your display is doing right after you turn it on like I did in the 2nd test above that shows an uncharacteristic (for Eizo) 4.1 Max delta-E. This anomaly occurred because I ran the validation on a cold display after it had been turned on for only one minute, but despite this fact those values aren’t too bad compared to others I’ve tested at even up to 40 minutes after startup!

Validation seems to be quicker than calibration, but both require a calibration device and similar process so I found it more useful to validate than calibrate if you want that sanity check that  your monitor really is calibrated accurately.

Here’s a link to my last validation report that was done 35 minutes after the display had been turned on.

Fine Tuning with Manual Adjustments

For those who want the ultimately control you can calibrate and then tweak to your hearts content with the manual adjustments shown in the dialog above.

Performance is where this display shines

One of the things I instantly noticed was the fact that this display turns on and shows an image that looks to be mostly accurate in just 3 seconds (compared to 6 to 7 seconds for competing monitors – and their colors look very bad at that point). However, this display even in as little as 1 minute after being turned on had reasonably good results in its validation report thanks to its patented backlight sensor (see below). Sure it wasn’t perfect after a minute, but shortly after it was spot on. Similar tests done with other monitors even after 35 minutes still had maximum gray scale Delta E’s of over 4 and white points of nearly 2.

What this means in the real world is that when you turn this display on that by the time you can start Photoshop and load your first file your display will be ready to do reasonably accurate complex photo editing, whereas other displays really require 40 minutes or more to get to that same point. Most people don’t realize this so the net result of failing to recognize this issue is that you could end up wasting a lot of time editing your image only to realize the results are oversaturated or the gray scales are off after your display has reached its proper operating temperature. THIS IS SIGNIFICANT!

I don’t know about you, but I typically just come up to my display, turn it on, and get to work. In fact, since I never turn my computer off I typically have Photoshop running and just resume from where I left off. This partially explains how I get myself in trouble with shots like this, because I edited it before my other display was displaying colors as it had been calibrated to do.

If your monitor has a 3D-LUT and your its software supports validation, it can be very useful to do a validation after 1 minute, 15 minutes, 30 minutes and an hour just to see how much things can change while your display heats up. Since most displays do not have a technology like Eizo’s DUE, then this I can be extremely problematic at the edges where the color is already inconsistent.

Auto Brightness Stabilization (Patented Backlight Sensor)

A sensor is placed in the backside panel of the monitor with a hole for light transmission which helps to maintain brightness stabilization. More importantly it helps it to stabilize the brightness soon after you turn the display on for consistency over time.

Built-in Thermometer for Temperature Control

Another cool feature that helps the Eizo have an edge uniform color stabilization is its built-in thermometer that measures ambient temperatures. By making adjustments it can prevent unanticipated heat that can impact the color hue.

High temperature and /or brightness can cause the tone curve characteristics of an LCD to change as well as brightness and color stability. The tempo sensor controls the tone curve characteristics  as well as brightness and color. This feature isn’t mentioned on the website for the CG243W, but it exists. It is mentioned on the CG245W web page under the topic Brightness and Color Temperature stability, but the CG243W has this feature too.

UPDATE from Eizo

There is a firmware update for this display that adds support for connecting your HDSLR directly to the display to play 1080i via HDMI to DVI adapter.

Ordering

*** This display has been replaced by the Eizo CG246-BK available at B&H***

Conclusion

The Eizo CG243W is an outstanding display with excellent color depth and superior performance. Its designed to meet the strict standards of medical imaging where accuracy is essential, and the complex requirements of accurate soft proofing.

While there are cheaper alternatives like the NEC PA Series that perform extremely well, there are little details that explain why Eizo’s are still the standard by which all other displays are judged. It isn’t obvious at first and it took me over two months to full appreciate, but they are there and they do make a difference.

I’m a car guy and I like to speak in analogies, so the best one I can think of (for those who know this one) is that this display is like a Porsche 911. Sure statistically there may be others displays that are like the Corvette that stack up well on paper (and even in some cases exceed) the performance of the 911, the devil is in the details. When you use and experience the two you can immediately quantify the difference that is hard to put on paper but is easily experienced in your hands and your butt. For the people who appreciate these types of differences, the Eizo will satisfy your highest standards of quality. For the bargain hunters that would defend the Corvette, then there are other choices which will save you a significant amount of money.

My advice is that if your wallet can handle it, get the Eizo – it’s still the best product on the market when it comes to image quality and performance. It’s build quality and warranty will also ensure that it will be the last display you need to buy for at least the next 5 years and probably much more.

For more information, brochures and videos visit http://www.eizo.com/global/products/coloredge/cg243w/index.html.

P.S. Yes, it is a sad day that I’m boxing this up and sending it back to Eizo. Despite what you might think, the donations to the blog and sales don’t quite cut it to buy nice toys like this so I had to part with this one. I do appreciate your reading this blog though so I can enjoy testing cool products like this for you!

Disclosure

I was provided with a loaner Eizo CG243W for review for about 60 days. I may also get a commission if you make a purchase using the links in this article. Thanks for supporting the blog by using my links!

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2 comments:

Rick Hatmaker said...

This is a great review Ron. Well done!

It might be helpful to have CHROMiX contact information listed. Questions invariably arise. Probably the best number to call CHROMiX Sales is:
(866) CHROMiX Ext 1 / (866) 247-6649 Ext 1, or you can email at

We are happy to talk with you at length about your needs whether shopping for a new monitor, matching your printer or just needing general color management help. Our staff is professional, courteous and technically competent. And you will find our prices competitive aggressive.

Harry HarryL said...

Hi Ron , as you recommend color munkie display with color navigator 6 They are not compatible. You won't be able
To calibrate trough color navigator 6. Only as stand alone works fine.