Have you ever gotten prints back from the lab only to be disappointed that the colors don’t seem to match up with how things look on your display? Maybe the color temperature is a bit off, or the prints don’t have the right level of contrast. Welcome to the wonderful world of color management!
Trying to keep colors accurate from capture to print can be a frustrating process if you’re not using the right tools.
Today we’re going to look at the NEC MultiSync PA271W, a 27inch proofing grade display that will ensure what you see on your screen is what you’ll see in print.
The NEC MultiSync PA271W. Just what the Photo Robot ordered!
- NEC was kind enough to send me a display for the purpose of this review. I’ve been given the option to purchase the reviewed display at a discounted price—an option I’ll probably be taking advantage of!
- I have never owned a professional proofing grade display before and I don’t have much technical knowledge about monitors. Despite that I’ll do my best to share with you what I’ve learned so far and to provide my honest opinion of the display.
- I’m testing this monitor on a MacBook Pro. I’m using the supplied display port cable along with a 3rd party DisplayPort-to-Mini DisplayPort adapter
Why Photographers Need Professional Displays
Here’s the big question. How important is it for you to have total control over the look of your photos? If you’re just getting started, it probably doesn’t matter too much. But as you progress you’ll find you become more and more obsessed with details. With a pro-level display you get complete control over the details. Let’s break it down.
Better results for prints
With a proofing grade display you can be pretty much certain that what you see on the screen is how things will look when printed.
Now, a screen that transmits light will be a little different than a paper print that reflects light. What creates the difference is mainly the color temperature of the light that you view prints under. What you can actually do is calibrate your display to different color temperatures in order to simulate what paper would look like under different color temperature lights! Total control.
The big point: If you want your prints to look like they do on your screen then a proofing grade display is a necessary investment.
Better results for screens
If you’re not planning on printing your images then a pro display might be even more important. These days a lot of photos don’t actually end up as prints, and are only seen on screens. Because the display is essentially your final output, having a good one ensures the final look of your images is the way you intended.
The display arrived in a sturdy, well packaged, box. Inside the box was:
- The display
- Power cable
- USB cable (to connect the monitor’s USB ports to the computer)
- DVI cable
- Displayport cable
- SpectraView II software
- SpectraSensor Pro display calibrator
- CD w/manual
The display model I’m reviewing is the PA271W-BK-SV which includes the SpectraView calibration system. You can also purchase a version of the display without the calibrator.
About The Display
- 27 inches diagonally
- Resolution: 2560×1440 pixels
- 97.1% coverage of the AdobeRGB colorspace
- 3 USB ports
- 2 x DVI ports
- 1 x DisplayPort
- Retail price w/ SpectraView Calibrator US$1649
- Retail price w/o Calibrator US$1399
- Comes with a 4 year limited warranty
- Compatible with Mac and PC
Setting Things Up
The monitor was really easy to setup. The handle on the top of the display made it easy to carry the monitor to my office and position it on my desk. The power cable and DisplayPort cable were easy to connect. I used a 3rd party DisplayPort-to-Mini DisplayPort adapter to plug into my MacBook Pro. It’s important what kind of cable / adapter you use as not all are compatible. (Read more about this under the Tips section later on!)
I installed the SpectraView Software, waited the required 30 minutes to warm up the monitor, and then used the supplied sensor to calibrate the display. Calibration went smoothly. You simply plug in the calibrator to a USB port on your compter, open the SpectraView II software and click calibrate. The sensor has a protector that you flip off before placing on the screen. I’ve read of people mistakenly leaving the cover on, but the instructions are pretty clear.
The PA271W is being calibrated on the left hand side, and my Dell 24inch Ultrasharp is on the right hand side.
When the calibration was complete the color of the display looked way better! I had a freshly calibrated 24in Dell Ultrasharp setup right beside the PA271. I brought up a couple test images up on both screens. The difference was pretty remarkable—way more than I expected. The color of the PA271W was way closer to what I could see in print. The PA271W also showed better detail in dark shadows. Way more detail could also be seen in highlight areas. I was shocked to see what I had obviously been missing with the Dell Ultrasharp.
Another thing that really impressed me was the size and resolution of the display. Text is crisp and easy to read. And photos obviously look fantastic!
Testing the Display
I’ve used the display for about 80 hours so far (the software tracks usage) and it’s been a pleasure to use! My testing has been pretty casual, and more about typical usage than scientific analysis.
I looked at prints from our album manufacturer along with lustre prints I’ve done myself on an Epson 3880. Under my office lighting the color and contrast from print to screen looked quite accurate.
Comparison to the Dell 24in Ultrasharp
As mentioned this monitor was mainly compared to a 24in Dell Ultrasharp (calibrated with a Spyder3Pro). Both were calibrated to the same the same color settings. The PA271W was calibrated
a bit brighter than the Dell but close enough to make some ballpark comparisons.
As mentioned the PA271W showed better detail in highlights and shadows. The color also seemed more accurate when compared to prints. Colors (in particular skin tones) seemed more realistic. A huge difference between the two monitors was how color looked at different viewing angles. The PA271W looks fantastic from a fairly wide viewing angle. The Ultrasharp quickly changes colours as you move away from a central viewing point.
The PA271W on the left, and the Dell 24in Ultrasharp on the right. Obviously photos won’t do either monitor justice but you can still see a noticeable difference, especially in color and shadow detail.
The most noticeable difference comes with viewing angle. This shot was taken at about a 45 deegree angle. The PA271W does an incredible job of showing consistent color at wide viewing angles. The color shift in the Ultrasharp is quite noticeable.
Video looks great on the monitor. I did a bit of video editing work in Premiere Pro, and I also downloaded a couple HD movie trailers from Apple. You can profile the display for broadcast video, but it looked good to me with the Photo Editing profile. Response time for the display seems great. I couldn’t see any noticeable ghosting and 1080p video looks beautiful with the display’s high resolution (even though it only takes up about 2/3rds of the screen!). I don’t play video games but with this display I could be tempted!
What You’ll Love About This Display
The NEC MultiSync PA271W with SpectraView II is basically a turn-key solution for color management. I love that the display, the cables, the calibrator, and the software are all bundled together (and all work well together!). At US$1,649 it’s also quite reasonably priced for such a hassle-free solution. I was pretty doubtful about the value of such a display but after the brief time I’ve spent testing it, I feel foolish for not budgeting for this sooner. I think a monitor like this could help a lot of photographers take the quality of their editing and their prints to a much higher level.
You can swivel the screen using just one hand, which works well for me if I want to show Lauren something I’m working on (the extra wide viewing angle also comes in handy here). You can also move the display up or down and adjust tilt, but you have to use both hands for that.
The display itself also looks great. It’s a bit thicker than you might expect but not in an ugly way.
The bezel is quite low profile. The buttons on the monitor are unobtrusive and the menu is straightforward.
The stand and base are pretty sleek. Photo Robot approves!
One feature I like is that the display features multiple inputs (2 x DVI and 1 x DisplayPort) so you can connect the display to multiple computers and then just switch inputs on the display to switch between computers. It also features two USB inputs so that you can connect a USB cable to both computers. If you plug a keyboard and mouse into the display you can set it up so that when you switch inputs your keyboard and mouse also switch to the active computer. This is great for me because I work between a MacBook Pro and a Mac Pro.
There’s one more DVI input hiding under the stand’s shadow!
One final thing that you’ll love about this display is how easy it is to calibrate! It’s important to regularly calibrate, and because it’s so simple with this monitor I know I’ll actually do it.
- When using the calibrator make sure to slide off the protective ambient light cover.
- If you need to plug the monitor into a Mini DisplayPort like the ones found on MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros then you’ll either need to purchase an approved NEC cable or get an adapter. The problem is that most cables and adapters don’t work properly with the monitor (because most cables aren’t properly manufactured to the DisplayPort spec). I found a StarTech adapter that I’m using with the supplied DisplayPort cable and it’s been functioning perfectly (what’s great about this particular adapater is that it doesn’t block the neighbouring USB port on the MacBook Pro – this is the only DisplayPort adapter I’ve found so far like this).
- DVI vs. DisplayPort: Only the DisplayPort cable will deliver the 10bit signal the display is capable of producing. A DVI cable will only deliver 8bits. The problem is that if you’re using a Mac you’re limited to 8bit anyway. From what I understand only Windows 7 is capable of delivering a 10bit signal. If you have loads of free time or lots of curiosity head to this Wikipedia article to learn more about color depth.
Where to Buy
I would suggest picking up the display/calibrator combo (PA271W-BK-SV). The calibrator works perfectly with the display, and is actually a custom X-Rite i1 Display Pro calibrator.
I decided to review this monitor after a discussion with my printer. I asked him how important he thought a professional monitor was in photography. His reply was typical and poignant; “How much do you value your images?”. After seeing what this display is capable of, I can see that I haven’t been valuing my images enough. While I’m still learning how to use this display, I’m excited about the room it gives me to improve my editing and my prints.
A special thanks to Klyment Tan for suggesting this monitor to me.