Monitors are getting sharper and can handle higher resolutions than ever before. And prices are reasonable. What do you need your next monitor to be able to do? As video producers, we use monitors as the tools to display the critical visual information we live to see.
Monitors are getting sharper and can handle higher resolutions than ever before. And prices are reasonable. What do you need your next monitor to be able to do?
As video producers, we use monitors as the tools to display the critical visual information we live to see. A monitor is a blank canvas on which we can show our art. Choosing this canvas is an important decision that will greatly affect how our video looks. This is not a decision to take lightly.
Field, Studio and Workstation
There are many places that monitors come in handy. One of the best ways you can improve your shooting in the field is to add a field production monitor to your equipment list. Whenever you are shooting in the field, you are typically relying on your camcorder's small LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) viewfinder to make critical shot decisions. A field production monitor can help in these situations by enhancing your view of what the camcorder sees. Framing, exposure, color balance, depth of field and more become easier to gauge with a field production monitor.
Typically, field production monitors are small enough to move quickly with a crew. You'll find the 8" LCD is commonplace and can usually mount on the camcorder itself. With your monitor mounted on the camcorder, it's easy to make setup changes, but it does add a bit of weight to your rig. Otherwise, heavier 8"-13" CRTs (cathode ray tubes) work very well off-camera, and so do laptops that can connect to your camcorder via FireWire and display the output using special software.
Field production monitors typically use battery power and need additional accessories for enduring poor weather conditions and for protection from a rough life in the field. Standard-definition 8" LCD monitors, such as Lilliput 889GL ($240), are intended for your car, but you can rig them guerilla-style for field production. Also, iKan offers a variety of camcorder-mounted monitors for SD and HD shooting. High-definition field-ready monitors are much more pricey. Panasonic's BT-LH900A ($4,890) has a 1024x768 native resolution and superior video processing. This higher price tag is common for professional monitors that deliver more accurate control over color and luminance.
Many field production monitors can double their responsibilities to meet your needs in the studio. However, because weight, power supply and weather are not important factors in the studio, your studio monitor can be much bigger. Typical studio monitors have a screen size of 8" to 22" and draw power from a wall outlet. Because mobility is not an issue, many video producers use consumer-level television sets as their studio monitor. This is a great way to save money. Professional studio production monitors are preferred when accuracy of color and luminance is most important. Both LCD and CRT monitors exist; however, manufacturers are slowly phasing out CRTs. Sony's LUMA LMD2030W 20" Professional HD LCD monitor ($1,550) supports a wide variety of HD resolutions and professional features for the budding filmmaker.
Historically, studio monitors have always been a part of the post-production process. A good studio monitor should also have the ability to connect to your video-editing workstation and act as a video monitor. Although professional video monitors have rarely been used as the primary computer monitor that displays your computer's graphical user interface, it's common to have a studio monitor for full-frame video playback of your timeline. This makes it a more useful device. All this is changing, however, as computer monitors are increasingly more powerful and accurate, and professional video monitors are becoming less expensive. HP's DreamColor LP2480zx 24" Professional LCD monitor ($2,499) is a first in delivering super-high-quality features at a reasonable prosumer price.
No matter where you intend to put a monitor to use, you need to consider whether or not the display will meet your quality-control needs. Professional production monitors have brightness and chroma (color) controls that allow you to quickly and accurately calibrate the monitor. Consumer TV and computer monitors have the same controls, although they're typically buried within the menu and are challenging to fine-tune. If your work calls for the highest level of precision, a professional production monitor will be well worth the extra money.
Screen Size and Resolution
The physical size of the screen is measured diagonally in inches. Screen size is usually dependent upon the use. If you work very close to the monitor, a smaller screen size is perfectly fine. If you are several feet away from the monitor, a larger size of 24" to 30" inches is better.
Screen resolution determines the amount of visual information represented on the monitor's screen. It's one of the most important specifications. Resolution of CRTs is measured in vertical lines: the more vertical lines of resolution, the better the monitor. For standard definition, 450 vertical lines is a good starting point. Resolution of LCDs is measured in pixels. What resolution you choose will depend upon the video format you shoot and whether or not you will be using the monitor as your primary computer monitor. Standard-definition LCD production monitors should ideally be at least 720x480 pixels. High-definition LCD production monitors should ideally be at least 1280x720 pixels for shooting 720p footage or 1920x1080 pixels for shooting 1080i footage. If you're using this monitor as a primary computer monitor, consider 1920x1080 pixels a starting point for your search, if you'd like a monitor that can work with multiple HD formats. Make sure your computer's video card will support the resolution you choose.
Contrast Ratio and Color Reproduction
Contrast ratio and color reproduction have been strengths of the CRT monitor, but LCD monitor technology has made big gains. Contrast ratio is an important feature for an LCD monitor: the greater the ratio, the more subtle differences in luminance you'll see. This means better representation of different shades, from deep black tones to bright highlights. In this category, a 1000:1 contrast ratio is ideal.
Color is also an important consideration. If you're choosing a professional video monitor, the color space will be consistent with the video format the monitor supports. For video applications, the monitor's color gamut must be big enough to support the ITU-R Recommendation BT.601 (aka Rec. 601) standard-definition color space and/or the Rec. 709 high-definition color space. As a general rule, a wider color gamut is better, although you don't necessarily need all those colors for video. Again, if you use this monitor with your computer, check your video card to see what color spaces it supports.
A monitor is no good if it can't connect and display what you'd like, so supported connections are a big deal. The current king of connections is HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface). An HDMI connection is digital and can pass along much more video and audio data than any other consumer-based connection. HDMI is not uncommon on HD camcorders and HDTV monitors. We're even seeing this connection supported by some video card manufacturers, such as the Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro ($349). This connection can also be easily adapted to DVI, a more common computer monitor input. If you're using an HD camcorder or HD source footage, you can also connect via component connectors. Most, if not all, HD camcorders have component output. Either HDMI or component will enable you to send an HD signal to your monitor. On the high end of professional HD connections is HD SDI (High Definition Serial Digital Interface). It's most common on high-end HD camcorders and strictly found on professional production monitors. The HD SDI connection sends video, audio and additional data (e.g., timecode), making it a preferred professional connection.
If you are working in standard definition, S-Video and composite connections are typical among consumer and professional devices. On the high end of professional equipment, you'll find SDI (Serial Digital Interface) connections, which are much like HD SDI, except they are working only in standard-definition video signals.
Working strictly with your video-editing workstation, a DVI (Digital Video Interface) port is ideal. If you are editing HD content, you may also need to figure out how you'll get the footage to a production monitor for full-frame video. There are several different solutions, but you might need a "go-between" device that will output from your video card to this device and then onto your production monitor. Manufacturers like Matrox Electronic Systems, AJA Video and Blackmagic Design offer a variety of solutions.
No matter what your aim is, a good monitor can make the difference between a good shot and a bad shot. It can make a difference between color correction that is accurate or colors that seem unnatural. As a video producer, you want to make sure you get it right. Having a production monitor on hand will give you that second opinion that helps guide your creative decisions.
Contributing editor Mark Montgomery is an independent video producer and editor.
Click here to download a PDF Manufacturer's list of Videomaker's Monitor Buyer's Guide for Editors.