Friday, December 20, 2013

REVIEW: NEC PA302W 30" Backlit Wide Gamut Monitor

NEC 30" Widescreen LED Backlit LCD Wide Gamut Desktop Monitor
NEC 30" Widescreen LED Backlit LCD Wide Gamut Desktop Monitor

I’ve been lucky enough for NEC to let me review their new 30” backlit display, the PA302W for the past month and I’ve got to say that I’ve been loving it! While the PA301W (review) didn’t impress me much, this one seems to address my concerns enough that I’m almost sorry that I agreed to review it! You see, I have to return this display when I’m done reviewing it and I can assure you that this is definitely one that I don’t want to send back! Of course, I can’t really afford the whopper $2389+ price tag (at the time of this writing), but if I could I’d get it in a heartbeat.

Perhaps it’s the backlight, but this display seems to be much more uniform from edge to edge than its predecessor. Instead of feeling like a large misfit in the lineup, it feels like it’s on par with the PA242W and PA271W that I’ve already reviewed.

Now this is a beast of a display to have on your desktop, so for many there’s not really a need to go dual screen. Since I already own a PA241W that purchased myself, I’m using it in portrait orientation as my 2nd display, so I’m digging all of this massive screen real estate.

Plan to upgrade your video card

NEC AMD FirePro W5000 Dual DisplayPort Video Card
NEC AMD FirePro W5000 Dual DisplayPort Video Card

Unless you are already driving a big 30” display, you’ll probably discover as I did that a faster video card is in order. To get the full advantage of all 1.07 billion colors  (Windows only – Mac doesn’t support it), you’ll need to run a DisplayPort cable from the card to the DisplayPort on the PC. None of the other ports will give you this full color mode AND you’ll have to enable this functionality on the driver. The full color support is built into the driver model for Windows, but for some reason Apple hasn’t bothered to add support yet (yes, even in Mavericks).

I updated my video card and things are smoking fast now, but that was over $400 (via Amazon in Nov 2013) that I didn’t expect to have to shell out to try out this display. Keep this in mind if you are upgrading with a lesser video card.

Now to be fair, you don’t need to upgrade your card if you aren’t doing dual monitors or if you don’t care about the 10-bit per color channel color (and for photo editing you don’t really want it). However, my dual display configuration and an aging video card forced me to upgrade my previous model that worked fine with the PA241W and PA301W.

Enabling 10-bit per channel (30-bit total) Color (for 1.07 Billion Colors)

While I don’t recommend this setting for photography (because Lightroom, printers and web browsers don’t support this mode so you might miss banding problems), if you want to see true 10-bit per color channel color then here’s how you do it (Windows only because Apple doesn’t support this feature yet):

FirePro users can enable 10-bit pixel format (to get 1.07 Billion colors) as shown above

Check 30 Bit Display in Photoshop CC Performance Preferences
if you want 1.07 Billion Color Support

WARNING: On both MAC and PC the display will say 30-bit color mode if the video card is enabled for this mode, but it doesn’t work at the OS level on the Mac. On the PC it only works when this functionality is enabled which in some cases is a manual process like shown above for Photoshop CC.

It should be noted that nVidia also has models which support this color mode, but I do not have a screen shot available which shows how to enable it. If you do, please send it to me so I can include it in this article in the future!

Is it worth it to get the 30” instead of the 27”?

As of the time of this writing the PA272W was more than $1000 cheaper than this 30” model, so it begs the question – is the 30” worth the extra bucks?

Consider the following graphic that shows how much of Excel you can show on the 24” (1920x1200), 27” (2560x1440) and 30” (2560x1600):

Excel on Windows - How much can you fit?

The width of what you can show is identical, so the gain is just in the height. Honestly my opinion from the previous generation hasn’t changed in that I don’t see the value in that extra 409,600 pixels you get for the 30”. It’s a bit like exotic sports cars where you might spend an extra $100,000 to get one more mile per hour for the top speed – beyond bragging rights, you really aren’t going to miss those pixels on a daily basis. As a result, if I were putting my hard earned money down I’d go for the PA272W and use that $1000+ to get a PA242W or PA241W as my secondary display. At that point you are getting 2,304,000 pixels (or 1,894,400 more) for your money – or I’d just save the cash. You’ll also save on your electric bill!

Should I upgrade from my PA301W to the PA302W?

Speaking of electricity bills, one of the big advantage of the new models ending with 2 is the backlit display which helps to use up to 40% LESS energy than the predecessors. As a result you get the same great performance but it cost you less to operate. As a result, the environmentalists out there might find this is a great upgrade for that reason alone!

With better performance and less energy consumption, this is the ONLY model in the PA series line up that I can easily say makes a lot of sense to upgrade. For the other models my advice has been to stick with your model and get the new backlit models when you want to upgrade your primary display. However, the performance of this display and the energy savings really make financial sense to sell off your old 30 and upgrade to the new one OR downgrade to the PA272W for the same reasons.

What about 4k UHD?

Check out my review of the NEC PA322UHD – the 32” 4k UHD (3480 x 2160) equivalent of this display if you’ve got a fat wallet, a big desk and want the best photo / video editing display money can buy.


This is a MUCH improved 30” model that I believe blows away the Apple Cinema Display in every way except for the sexiness of the case (Apple is very good at that). With better uniformity of the color from edge to edge over its predecessor and up to 40% less energy consumption it’s an upgrade worthy of replacing its predecessor. While I still think the smart money is on the PA272W instead, I can’t imagine anyone regretting owning this display unless their desk was too small or they threw their back out getting it out of the box – ha, ha!

Where to order

The following links can be used to get the latest NEC displays from B&H (or use the Amazon links in parenthesis if you prefer Amazon):

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Christopher Ehren said...

Hi - I just upgraded to a new Mac Pro. Any tips on the proper settings for the NEC PA302 with the new black cans?


Ron Martinsen said...

Hi Christopher,

In theory things should "just work" with the new Mac Pro the same as anything else, but it's not uncommon to have early-adopter bugs on new hardware like that.

Good luck and let me know how it goes. If you haven't already, check out my calibration article too.