A Closer Look
A Closer Look
TVs have gotten pretty good lately: no glitches, no off colors, no video issues at all. Sounds great, doesn't it? That's just the stuff video producers don't want.
That's right. Glitches, bad color and video issues are exactly the things producers want to see, and TVs simply filter, correct and eliminate these issues as they enter the box. Producers use a video monitor to eliminate problems before the final version of their project hits the airwaves, by using the unchanged video images to correct these pesky issues as they come up, long before they ever get to a TV, so that the circuits, filters and processors don't change the desired picture too much.
A few years ago, monitors could be a bit pricey and limited in number and choices available to the video enthusiast. However, in recent years, there has been a huge increase in the variety of monitors available, and the prices have dropped a great deal as well.
As with most purchases in life, it's important to consider your wants and needs when buying a video monitor.
You may want a 42" LCD flatscreen monitor, but you may need only a 20" model on your editing desk. Write down your desires for a monitor, and see if they meet your true needs. It might be surprising to know you can realize more use out of a monitor of the correct size at the proper distance than one that's too large and too close. Most editors work with video monitors no more than a foot or so from the face. A too-large monitor can be overwhelming and give the viewer a front-row-of-the-theater feel. So, think carefully about your current and future uses for a video monitor, and address your criteria accordingly.
That oh-so-desirable 42" monitor may be ideal for display or for showing clients or family the end result of a project across a large room. The cost of such monitors can run deep into the thousands of dollars. For those of us of more modest means, smaller may be better. The big premiere can be saved for the home TV in the living room.
There's no set formula for determining the ideal distance of monitor to the eyeball. Simply set the monitor at the distance you want and, if it's comfortable for you, then that's the perfect distance.
But what makes a monitor a monitor and not just a fancy TV? The answer is more involved than it was a few years ago. Back then, a monitor was simply a precisely-manufactured TV without a channel tuner or speakers. No tuner meant no correction circuits or algorithms to "correct" video flaws. Sometimes, a TV may correct that flaw so that the resulting image is drastically different from the original, pristine version. Thus, with no tuner, the pure signal passes cleanly to the screen.
As the tastes of television buyers have grown more sophisticated, demands for a tighter, cleaner signal increased. And what the market wants, the market gets. Factories started building TVs with some of the same connections as video monitors, and the line between TV and video monitor began to blur. Today, it's common to see all but the most budget-priced TV sport some connectors other than the standard 75-ohm cable plug.
Monitors come in all sizes and range in screen size from 3" to more than 150" (the larger screens are generally LCD or plasma). Despite the surge of flat-panel monitors on the video production scene, quite a few people still prefer a glass tube to a plastic screen. Some feel a glass screen delivers a more precise picture with subtler gradations of color and line. Those with that opinion say the image difference is most obvious at some of the closer ranges an editor would use - about 12-24" from the eye of a sitting editor.
That difference of opinion doesn't mean that flat panels are inferior - far from it. Perception can often determine reality and, truth is, there are some pretty nice flat-panel monitors out there that are every bit as nice as any glass screen on the market. The best way to determine what kind is right for you is to sit down and place them at the same distance as you would at home, run video through them and compare the quality of each. Try a variety of video images. If possible, bring a DVD with a variety of your work to sample, including bright colors, quick action, dark scenes, pans and zooms, etc. A few minutes of viewing is all that's needed to determine which kind of screen is best for you.
SD or HD...Hmm...Indeed...
Obviously, if you're shooting standard definition (SD), a high-definition (HD) monitor is a bit of overkill, as the high-definition features will go to waste and will display only really nice standard-definition video. (However, this strategy might eventually pay off for you, if HD equipment is in your future.)
On the other hand, an SD monitor will display only SD images. While HD video on these monitors will look great, you will never get anything other than a strong SD signal.
So, which to choose? It depends on your needs, your equipment and your wallet. As a rule, SD glass monitors are less expensive than plastic flat-panel monitors of the same resolution, but the difference is quickly narrowing. Glass monitors are slowly fading away, as LCD, plasma and OLED emerge as the monitors of choice.
Also, the 4:3 aspect ratio in monitors is going the way of the dinosaur and Beta tape players. Now, 16:9 widescreen is the standard ratio, allowing for the pseudo-Cinemascope feel of a real movie screen. Most monitors actually give a choice of 4:3 or 16:9, via electronic menu selections or a physical switch on a remote or on the side of the monitor. If you have a variety of both videos, make sure your monitor supports this feature.
One measurement that many manufacturers tout is the contrast resolution of the monitor. This is NOT the measurement of the sharpness of a given image and does not directly determine the "high-definition" quality of an image. Rather, it's the measure of the difference of light intensity between the brightest white and the deepest black portions of the screen.
Generally, the larger the difference in contrast (i.e., 1000:1), the brighter an image may appear. And it's that difference in brightness that may create the illusion of a higher-clarity image. An LCD monitor is actually limited to its "native resolution," depending on the screen size (for instance, 1680x1050 for a 20" widescreen monitor), and it can get no better. Although you can specify a lower resolution, you cannot make it higher than its native resolution.
A Last Look
Most monitors are of fairly high quality and will deliver a strong, bright, crisp image all along the line. Once you determine the size you require and the budget you must work within, the ultimate tool to measure and determine the right monitor for you has been with you all your life: a good set of eyeballs. After all, only you choose which monitor looks best to you... and isn't that the most important measurement of all?
Randy Hansen is a television news chief photographer who uses monitors in edit bays, live trucks and at home.
Side Bar: Home Theater, Professional Features
With the advent of high-end home theater systems in the past few years, the line between the professional video monitor and the home video screen has blurred. As the demand for truer images and sound has increased, high-end manufacturers have looked toward the professional video industry for high-quality video and audio connections to satisfy the call for better and better results.
Like most electronics, over the course of time, the technologies that enabled professional-level features on only the most expensive electronics started to find their way into more mainstream products. As a result, there are monitors that can double as TVs, and there are TVs that can double as monitors. Theres little doubt that time and a changing marketplace will ensure that, at some future point, all TVs will be monitors and the need for either will be satisfied by one product.
The winners in this battle of the marketplace are the customers who look for these once-expensive options to be standard on their low-buck purchases. Namely, people like you and me. We win!
To download PDF of Manufacturer's list, CLICK HERE.