If you are taking the time to produce a video masterpiece, whether for fun or fame and fortune, you depend on your monitors to provide you with true, high-quality images. Whether you are considering a VGA computer monitor or NTSC production monitor, there are several characteristics to think about.Anyone who has worked with video for any length of time has probably heard the quip that NTSC means "Never Twice the Same Color." While this is not the real expansion of NTSC (National Television System Committee), which is the television standard used in the United States and elsewhere, it may as well be. NTSC television monitors are notorious for providing a rainbow of colors from which we can choose. Go to any electronics store and you will see that its banks of TVs all have slightly different color representations of the same image. Because the color of a video production will appear to differ depending on which monitor it is played on, it’s important to make sure that your original color is as true as possible. And that is where a good monitor is essential.
As a videographer, if you broadcast or mass-duplicate your productions, you must have a good NTSC monitor on which you can check the finished product. If you do graphics work on your computer and/or edit with a nonlinear editor, you must have a good computer monitor for each. Bear in mind, televisions, production monitors and computer monitors are not the same things.
TV Sets and Production Monitors
Many of today’s TV sets are really receiver/monitor combinations. On the back of a television are a series of inputs. The RF input is what you screw your cable or antenna connector onto. This connector feeds the signal to the receiver or tuner section of the television, where it is separated into the video and audio sections of the channel it receives, a process called demodulation. Once the signal is demodulated, it is sent to the audio and video portions of the television section and decoded into a signal you can see and hear on the screen. Your television also has RCA video and audio jacks for your camcorder or VCR. These jacks bypass the receiver section of the television and take the clean signal directly to the audio and video sections of the television. Because of this direct connection, the quality of the video and audio is much better.
A true production monitor has no RF jack on the back and has only BNC or RCA video jacks and XLR or RCA audio jacks. This is because production monitors do not have a receiver or tuner inside. Production monitors provide clean, precise images with which you can analyze your projects. NTSC production monitors usually cost significantly more than home televisions and are sometimes described as industrial, professional or broadcast monitors. While you don’t necessarily need a production monitor in every situation, we emphatically recommend you preview your video on an NTSC monitor somewhere in your production chain.
When buying an NTSC video monitor, consider the following features: resolution, inputs and outputs, audio capability, masking, tuner capability and power capability. The number of lines of horizontal resolution the unit displays determines a monitor’s resolution. The higher the number, the greater the resolution of the picture.
The types of inputs and outputs will determine whether the monitor will fit in your system and whether it will grow with you. Composite and S-video connectors are found on many monitors, while more expensive production monitors may also have component and RGB inputs. It is important to know if the monitor has audio connections and perhaps a headphone jack. When dealing with connectors, it’s also good practice to see if the monitor will take multiple connectors for more adaptability.
The audio capabilities of a monitor are also important. If you do not have internal speakers built in to your monitor, you have to have other speakers available for your system. It is very important that you listen to your production through regular TV speakers before you distribute it, to make sure the audio translates evenly and with the right dynamics. It is also strongly recommended that you make sure your project will sound just as good through a single mono speaker as it does on a stereo system.
Computer monitors are completely different from NTSC television monitors. While there are important technical differences, for our purposes, computer monitors are not suitable for judging your video’s quality since they do not represent color and frames the same way your TV does. With computer monitors, your concerns lie with the following features: maximum resolution; dot pitch and maximum vertical refresh rate.
The number of pixels that the monitor is capable of displaying (horizontal times vertical) determines the maximum resolution of a computer monitor. The higher the numbers, the higher the resolution. A 1600×1280 monitor is considered high-resolution.
The size of each pixel, in millimeters, determines the monitor’s dot pitch. The smaller the number, the higher the resolution. A .25 dot pitch is very good.
The maximum number of vertical scans per second that the monitor is capable of displaying determines the maximum vertical refresh rate. This number may range from 73 to 180, depending on the model. The refresh rate is an indication of how fast the monitor is capable of refreshing, or changing pictures. The higher the number, usually, the less flicker and smoother image.
Monitors in General
In general, when you look at a monitor, you also have to take into account its screen size and the type of display. Screen size is easily determined. The screen is measured in inches diagonally, from corner to corner. A typical computer screen is 17 inches.
Not long ago, you had a single choice when it came to types of displays – the cathode ray tube (CRT). Now, you have a number of choices, including CRTs and liquid crystal displays (LCD). A CRT is the standard type of monitor we have grown to love over the years. These bigger, bulkier monitors have picture tubes that display the image and, for the most part, are the most precise kind of monitors. LCD monitors use a liquid film to display images. These monitors have improved greatly over the past few years and have become a major player in the monitor market. The LCD is lighter weight and you can use them in the field with little effort. They are also great for an editing system that must fit into a tight space. The new flat-panel LCD computer monitors are precise, slim and as of yet, expensive, but they certainly are worth a look. CRTs are currently better at displaying colors than LCDs, but this does not absolve you from checking your final video on an NTSC monitor.
[Sidebar: The Bottom Line]
As you consider a monitor purchase, keep in mind your production needs as well as your pocketbook. When it comes to a monitor, if you plan to use it to check a production intended for broadcast or distribution, get the best NTSC monitor you possibly can afford. It will save you from having to second guess whether your production will look good when played somewhere else.