HD Monitoring

Mike McCarthy   November 6, 2007   No Comments on HD Monitoring

There are not too many basic options when it comes to choosing an HD monitoring solution.  There are the old heavy CRTs that many people swear by, newer flat panel LCDs, and projectors of a few varieties.  Prices for all options vary from under $1000 to over $100,000 depending on what level of accuracy and features you need.

The cheapest full resolution solution for viewing HD footage is definitely to use computer LCD monitors, usually 23 or 24 inch models, that have a native resolution of 1920×1200.  This allows 1080p content to be viewed pixel for pixel, but LCDs are inherently progressive, so issues based on interlacing will not always be visible on them.  Consumer LCD displays can be connected via DVI or HDMI, either directly to a computer graphics card, or through a hardware video I/O card, like DVI on an RT.X2 or HDMI on a BMD Intensity card.  DVI signal can also be generated quite efficiently from professional HD-SDI signals, so through the use of an SDI-to-DVI convertor, LCD screens can monitor HD video content without a computer involved.  There are also professional level LCD video monitors that accept SDI signals directly.  Some of the more expensive options can use this to display the full dynamic range available with 10bits per color channel, that would be reduced if converted to an 8bit DVI connection.  The new Sony BVM-L monitor is also supposed to correctly compensate for the display of interlaced content.  Cine-tal, eCinema, Panasonic, and JVC all have professional LCD monitoring solutions that are more affordable than Sony’s new top of the line LCD monitor.

CRTs used to be the gold standard for HD monitoring, but they are becoming harder to find.  They have always been very expensive, but they usually have a much higher contrast ratio than other technologies, due to their deeper blacks.  CRTs have a number of disadvantages, including low power efficiency, susceptibility to magnetic interference, and offer arguably unhealthy levels of electromagnetic radiation to viewers.  Sony has stopped making most CRTs, so people are scrambling to get them through second hand channels before they all disappear.  I for one can see the contrast difference, but appreciate the benefits of newer flat panel technology.

Projectors are becoming more popular for viewing HD material as the prices drop, and new technologies raise the picture quality.  Color grading certified projectors can be even more expensive than the older CRT solutions, but will provide a much larger viewing area, to better simulate the feel of a movie theater experience.  The brightness, color fidelity, and dynamic range are not as good in all but the most expensive products (>$50K), but the resolution and clarity is very high, even in the cheaper solutions. (<$5K).  The varying technologies powering different projectors provide vastly different results, depending on the price level.  Both DLP and LCD projection can have single imagers, using a color wheel or bayer pattern to achieve full color output, or three imaging chips, with one dedicated to each RGB color channel.  Many of the cheap products on the market that advertise 1080p resolution, accomplish this with a single imager, limiting color accuracy.  LCOS projectors always have three imagers, and currently offer some of the best color reproduction in their price range, at the expense of brightness.  Projectors scale all the way to 4K resolution with Sony’s SXRD line, for those with unlimited budgets.

There are also many consumer solutions that can be used to monitor HD footage, including Plasma Panels, rear projection DLP and LCD TVs, and many of them offer 1080p resolution.  The biggest disadvantage of many of these options is the lack of calibration options, as well as support for professional digital inputs.  HDMI has been changing that recently.  The new deep color standard for HDMI 1.3 will push consumer displays past the 8bit barrier, and open up many more affordable options for high quality HD monitoring.

 Until then, my reccommendation would be to use an LCD for most editing work, and only look for a more expensive solution for the shorter period of time that you spend color correcting near the end of the post-production process.  If you really want to dive off the deep end, you can explore solutions that offer 2K or higher resolution, but I don’t intend to go beyond my 30″ LCD in that department, 8bit DVI limit or not.

About Mike McCarthy

Mike McCarthy is a technology consultant, with extensive experience in the film post-production industry. He started posting technology info and analysis at HD4PC in 2007. He broadened his focus with TechWithMikeFirst ten years later.

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