Recently, a lot of people have been discussing the idea of using affordable, color-accurate computer monitors for grading in place of a more expensive SDI broadcast monitor. I wanted to mention some of the things I’ve discovered about the new ColorEdge CX271 display from Eizo. I’ve recently had the chance to use one while working with Lustre, Resolve, and Premiere, and it’s been a really nice experience so far.
The CX271 is a 27-inch 2560×1440 display that’s nearly identical to the Eizo CG277 ColorEdge display. They both use the same 27-inch LED-Backlit IPS panel, case design, input options (DVI, DisplayPort, HDMI), Continuity Equalization, 16-bit internal look up table, etc. However, for around $1500 the CX271 is almost $1000 cheaper than the CG277 mostly because of differences in the back-end electronics that are largely calibration and scaling related. The good thing is you have a choice; if you need those features you can choose the CG277, but if you don’t, you can save money while getting the same hi-performance IPS panel and 90% of the options that are included in the CG277.
Both monitors include:
– New LED-Backlit IPS Panel with improved black levels
– 16-Bit Internal Look Up Table
– 10-Bit DisplayPort, 10-Bit HDMI w/ Deep Color, 8-Bit Dual Link DVI
– 1 Billion Color Support (8-Bit + FRC)
– 1 Year Dead Pixel Warranty
– Eizo ColorNavigator (Free with any CG-Series, and the CX271)
– Nice external enclosure with a very stable, highly adjustable stand.
The CG277 adds:
– 4K Input and Scaling to 2K
– External 3D LUT Capabilities
– Monitor Hood
– Full calibration using built-in sensor (Luminance + White Point only on the CX271).
Eizo puts a lot of energy into building their displays. They hand-pick all of their panels, QC the heck out of each one, use things like Uniformity Equalization to improve them, calibrate them at the factory before they go out, and then add a 5 Year warranty in case anything happens. As far as desktop displays go, a ColorEdge monitor is very difficult to beat, and they are routinely specified on everything from Autodesk Flame/ Lustre installations to high-end medical imaging tasks.
Computer Displays as Grading Monitors
In the past, using a computer monitor in lieu of a legitimate SDI broadcast display was not a good idea. The panel performance wasn’t there, and other than DisplayPort, there was no easy way to get a high-quality reference video signal into them. However, we may have finally turned a corner, and the CX271 (or CG277) could both offer an affordable alternative to using a tried and true SDI reference monitor for two main reasons:
First, Eizo’s new LED IPS panel has very good black levels even by reference monitor standards. On my 24-inch CG243W, the minimum black level usually hovered around .16-.14, but on the CX271 I’ve gotten readings as low as .06 depending on the peak white point used. That’s not as deep a black as a Plasma or OLED will generate, but it’s a great improvement over their earlier CFL-backlit IPS panels, and similar to popular LCD broadcast monitors released in recent years.
Second, the HDMI input now includes 10-Bit support. This is an important new feature, since earlier Eizos only inluded 8-Bit HDMI. Many video I/O cards like the AJA Kona 3G and Blackmagic Decklink 4K offer 10-bit HDMI interfaces, so you can now send a reference video signal without the additional cost and compromise of using a converter like you often had to with DisplayPort.
There are a lot of ways to tackle this, but if you are just getting started, Eizo includes a free license of ColorNavigator with the CX271. Unlike the CG277, the CX271 doesn’t come with a number of post-production centric presets from the factory, but that’s no problem since ColorNaviagator will allow you to calibrate the display to sRGB, Rec709, or DCI-P3 with an external probe. I use a retail X-Rite i1 Display Pro that I bought for $250, which works really well. ColorNavigator itself takes about 10 minutes to learn and about half that time to actually complete a calibration. Compared to other options, it’s a simple, pain-free way to get your display into alignment. ColorNavigator communicates with the Eizo through a USB cable, and modifies the internal settings and 16-Bit Look Up Table directly. The calibration is stored internally, so once a given input (DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort) has been calibrated, you can use the display with a another machine knowing the calibration on that port is still valid.
The CX271 also comes with an internal, bezel mounted “correction sensor”, but this isn’t a fully featured calibration probe. It’s primarily intended for automated, luminance and white point-only touch-ups on a set schedule that help to maintain the calibration over time. On the other hand, the sensor on the CG277 is capable of full calibration, and the engineers at Eizo describe it as being highly accurate and optimized specifically for the CG277 panel. If you decide to go with the CX271, you will need to purchase a probe separately, but even though, there is still a real benefit to buying a good external probe you can use as a common reference, and with all of the monitors or projectors you may own.
One additional note is that ColorNavigator’s capabilities don’t end with calibration; it also gives you options for profile validation, and full manual control of parameters like Brightness, RGB Whitepoint, and 6-Color control over Hue, Saturation, and Lightness. Another interesting feature is display emulation, where ColorNavigator is able to profile screens on other devices such as laptops, tablets, or smart phones, allowing the CX271 to emulate its color and gamma profile. In post-production this could be useful if you’re grading a project that will primarily be viewed on a device like an iPad or iPhone, allowing you to check your grade in the context of your target device’s display characteristics.
If you ever decide to upgrade to a higher-quality calibration solution, one of the advantages of going with a CX271 is the money you’ve saved over purchasing a CG277 could possibly be put toward an external LUT box and calibration software that gives you more complete control over your panel’s performance. Three popular calibration options are LightSpace CMS, SpectraCal Calman, and Argyle/ DispCalGUI. Each of these can interface with, or create calibration LUTs for, an external video processor like an eeColor, Fuji IS-Mini, or Lumagen Radiance.
To be fair, one of the great features of the CG277 is its integrated support for 3D LUTs using third party calibration software. If you have the budget for the CG277, and know ahead of time that you’ll use the internal 3D LUT capabilities, along with possibly the 4K signal and scaling support, definitely consider it. However, an important point is that if you don’t have the budget initially, you can buy the CX271, and postpone the expense of high-end calibration for later.
A Few Caveats
Before you decide to buy an Eizo ColorEdge, or any other high-performance computer display to use in place of a reference monitor, there are a few important points to consider:
Progressive Only: Computer monitors do not display interlaced signals. Many better displays, like the ColorEdge-series, support interlaced input, but will convert it to progressive which means you can’t use them to diagnose issues with cadence or field dominance.
No SDI: True broadcast monitors always include SDI, which offers a more rugged connection, and is capable of carrying a wider variety of signals over longer distances. This can be overcome with an SDI-HDMI converter, but given that converters usually cost $300 or more that’s an expense you’ll want to include as you weigh your options.
No Waveform Monitoring: Most broadcast monitors include a variety of video and audio analysis tools like Waveform, Parade, Vector, Histogram, and multi-channel audio monitoring, but a computer display won’t include these. Make sure to incorporate the additional cost of external scopes if you think you’ll need them while working with outboard devices like tape machines, or while on-set.
Durability: If you move between locations a lot, or work on-set, true video reference displays often come in heavy duty, stamped steel enclosures built for that sort of use. If handled carefully, computer monitors will generally be fine, but if you see yourself working in more difficult shoots or remote locations, a real video reference monitor will probably be a more rugged option.
I have owned a number of great monitors, from Apple to HP, Samsung, Dell, and NEC. Many of them have been very good, but all of them included at least one major compromise. I loved my Apple Cinema display for it’s great design and beautiful image, however the downside was it’s limited feature set. The HP ZR24w I’ve owned since 2010 has been flawless, and I have thousands of hours on it, but it’s not a color accurate display. The NEC had a great feature set, was color accurate and very affordable, but you could see in a number of places where they cut corners on build quality and ultimately I ended up getting rid of it.
The Eizo, by comparison, has no weaknesses. It’s meticulously built, has a gorgeous, color-accurate image, and a deeper feature set than all five of my prior monitors put together, while still being really easy to use. Products this well rounded are hard to come by, but easy to spot in that they are so nice to use, they basically disappear into the background as you work. And what makes the CX271 in particular so great, is that it does all of this at a price point that’s within reach for many users, while still performing at a world class level in every category.
If you have any questions or would like to learn more, check out the CX271 discussion on Lift Gamma Gain.