A video reference monitor, in some cases, is a really nice thing to add to your production kit. In fact, it might be an absolute essential.
Not all video monitors are created equal. Each will have positives and negatives, depending on your situation. So, we’ll explain some of the important terms so that you can understand how to compare units and decide which features are right for you at the end of this article. But first, let’s take a look at the best video monitors available today across several categories.
The Editors’ Choice award recognizes exceptional video production equipment, software and services. These products must help videographers be more effective storytellers while being affordable, easy to use and dependable. The products must also deliver a superior user experience.
Best everyday monitor
BenQ 27-inch IPS Monitor
- Patented Eye Care: proprietary brightness Intelligence Adaptive Technology for comfortable viewing
- Lightweight, ultra-slim bezel
- 1000:1 Contrast Ratio
- Speaker quality
For a basic desktop monitor, the BenQ GW2780 is a great pick. It features an edge-to-edge slim bezel design with built-in speakers and a resolution of 1920 x 1080 at 60Hz. Its brightness is rated at 250 cd/m² with a 20,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio. BenQ promises this IPS monitor provides TUV Flicker-free viewing and a wide 178-degree viewing angle. It also offers BenQ Eye-care and adaptive brightness. Connection options include D-Sub, HDMI, DisplayPort.
Best wide-aspect monitor
- Anti-glare coating
- 21:9 aspect ratio
- Not full UHD resolution tall
The HP Z38c is a monitor with a 2300mm radius curved screen incorporating a 37.5 inch In-Plane Switching Panel (IPS) with a 3840 by 1600 at 60 Hz native resolution. The Z38c offers 111 pixels per inch and a 21:9 aspect ratio. Plus, it has a brightness of 300 nit with a 1000:1 static contrast ratio. It supports up to 1.07 billion colors in 10-bit, with the use of FRC technology (8+2). With a 178 degree viewing angle, Z38c has 98 percent sRGB color gamut coverage and an effective anti-glare matte screen.
If you are looking for a monitor that is both impressive to look at and to use, the HP Z38c is for you. The large 21:9 aspect ratio is perfect for video editing and its 37.5 inch wide-curved screen is big without being too big. With a great price, the Z38c is sure to impress. It’s a beast of a monitor and makes for a great work area for a video editor.
Best color-critical monitor
Dell U2720Q UltraSharp 27″ 16:9 HDR 4K IPS Monitor
- 99% Rec. 709
- 8 ms / 5 ms response times
- Refresh rate 60 Hz
- Contrast ratio: 1300:1
- Maximum brightness: 350 cd/m2
- 95% DCI-P3
The Dell U2720Q UltraSharp 27″ 16:9 HDR 4K IPS Monitor delivers impressive color production and wide color gamut coverage. It features a native resolution of 3840 x 2160 with a 60 Hz refresh rate. In addition, the monitor offers coverage for 99% of the sRGB and Rec. 709 color gamuts. However, it does offer 95% of the DCI-P3 color gamut. In total, the monitor supports 1.07 billion colors and VESA DisplayHDR 400 for HDR support.
The Dell U2720Q UltraSharp 27″ 16:9 HDR 4K IPS Monitor also comes with a 16:9 aspect ratio, a static contrast ratio of 1300:1 and a brightness level of 350 cd/m2. In normal mode, the monitor’s response time clocks in at 8 ms. In fast mode, the monitor delivers a 5 ms response time.
What you get with the Dell U2720Q UltraSharp 27″ 16:9 HDR 4K IPS Monitor is exceptional color and color depth at a fantastic 4K UHD resolution with 163 PPI. It’s undeniable this monitor is ahead of the rest of the pack when it comes to color.
Best field monitor
- Bright display
- Comprehensive range of monitoring assistants
- Headphone socket
The 5-inch Atomos Shinobi aims to be a great tool for vloggers and producers working on a budget who don’t need recording functionality. The Shinobi sports a 5.2-inch 1000 nit anti-reflection uni-touch IPS panel allows you to see your images clearly, even in daylight. While it doesn’t support HDMI out, it can receive a 4K signal and display it in full HD through the HDMI input. The Atomos Shinobi has a headphone jack to allow for audio monitoring which is a useful feature when used with cameras that don’t have a built-in socket.
Additionally, the monitor shares the Atomos Ninja V’s HDR 1920 x 1080 display and color processing. Included are monitoring tools for focus, framing and exposure. The Shinobi screen displays over 10 stops of dynamic range in realtime from Log/PQ/HLG signals has unique HDR monitoring features There’s also support for 3D and 1D LUTs and options for anamorphic desqueeze monitoring.
Best HDR monitor
Dell Ultrasharp 32 HDR PremierColor Monitor
- 2,000 mini-LED backlight
- Calman-powered colorimeter
- Lackluster refresh rate of 60Hz
This Dell Ultrasharp HDR monitor packs a punch and competes with similar monitors from Apple and ASUS for a cheaper price. This particular monitor stands out against the rest as Dell packed 2,000 mini-LEDs into the backlight. This is a great feature for editors, as it offers more dynamic contrast. This monitor also features a built-in Calman-powered colorimeter, which allows for better calibration. The HDR features on this monitor do not disappoint either.
How to shop
Your camera, environment, project and even eyesight may warrant adding another screen to your toolset. The rest of the article will help you ask the right questions so you can make the best choice possible.
Who needs to see it?
Most importantly, your first question is going to determine what type and size of monitor you’ll need. Does the camera operator alone need to get a better view? Does a director or producer need to view what’s being shot? Are you a colorist who will be referencing the monitor in the edit bay?
Most importantly, your first question is going to determine what type and size of monitor you’ll need.
If the monitor is just going to be viewed by a single person located close to the camera, a smaller camera-mounted unit would be the first choice. In short, these are generally the least expensive models and many have impressive functions. It’s important to find out what type of hardware will be needed to connect it to your specific camera. Often, monitor mounts will lock into the shoe mount located on the top of the camera. If it’s not being used by the operator, look for hardware that will swivel into the right position.
However, the more people you’ll have viewing the monitor, the larger the screen size needs to be. Think about trying to watch a video on your smartphone with a crowd of people. Larger monitors, referred to as studio monitors, can be placed on a stand or even on a table. They can be located with the camera or at a distance in what’s referred to as a video village, where various crew members can gather to get a view of the shot. In some cases, you will see one large screen and a group of smaller screens labeled with each camera. If you need this type of setup, look for “loop through” connections on the monitor. This allows you to connect one monitor to another.
In the edit suite
You’ll likely also want a larger screen for previewing your working in post-production, but there are almost certainly other factors, such as resolution and color accuracy, that will influence your purchasing decision more drastically in that scenario.
How will it connect?
After deciding on size and form, the next question is about the connections needed. What kind of connections does your camera or workstation have? If only a single camera needs to be connected to a single monitor, the connection question is pretty straightforward. If you need multiple cameras with different connections, things can get tricky. Can you or should you mix connection types? Would a special adaptor be used?
As with cameras, monitors have specific inputs. Most commonly, you will find HDMI or SDI inputs on field monitors. Some studio monitors and color-critical reference monitors used by colorists and other post-production specialists include inputs like HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI and now, Thunderbolt 3. Some monitors give you the ability to connect multiple inputs. You can then switch back and forth between the sources.
HDMI has different connection types, like standard and mini. Plus, there are different configurations of SDI. Depending on the resolution, you may find monitors with 12G-SDI or 3G-SDI. Make sure you have the right cables with the right connections.
Adapters are available, but image quality can be reduced at each exchange.
Ditch the wires
A relatively new feature is the wirelessly connected monitor. Some are small, like a camera mounted unit. Also, some have handles so you can view images without your fingers blocking the screen. The biggest advantage is that you don’t need to be directly tethered to the camera. A small attachment is connected to the camera itself. Like all wireless devices, there is always a chance of interference and a loss of signal.
Where will it be viewed?
Next, you need to know what environment the monitor will used in. Is it for indoor out outdoor use? Will weather be a factor? How much light is going to fall on the screen? These questions will help you determine how rugged the unit needs to be, as well as how bright the screen need to be.
In the elements
As a rule, smaller camera mounted solutions are more rugged than the studio monitors. Similarly, if you need the size of a studio screen and you’re going to be outdoors, you might consider a tent to protect the device. You can get weather and shock resistant cases or consider a more rugged — and more expensive — solution.
As far as brightness goes, manufacturers talk about lumens and nits, but those terms mean two different things. You will see video projectors compared by lumens and that is a good comparison.
In short, a lumen is the amount of light that is projected from a screen onto another surface. Generally speaking, a nit is a measurement of how much light a screen delivers to the eye. The two measurements are calculated differently. For reference, 500 nits is roughly 1713 lumens. A standard laptop screen is about 200-300 nits. This is not a measurement of screen quality, just of brightness. You want a very bright screen if it is to be viewed in direct sunlight. A screen that is considered daylight viewable will come in at around 1000 nits.
Additionally, to better evaluate image quality, look at the pixels. The greater the number of pixels, the better the image quality. This is expressed in pixel density or pixels per inch (PPI). Another comparison is screen resolution. Ideally, you want a resolution that is the same as your camera’s highest resolution, especially for post-production work. For field monitors, resolution is less important. If color reproduction is also a factor, look for monitors that coverage a wider color gamut or offer a higher bit-depth.
The choice between LCD and OLED will also have an impact on the quality and brightness of your monitor. LCD stands for liquid crystal display, and it’s the most common type of display when it comes to video monitors. LCD monitors are fine for most situations, but some shooting scenarios may call for a brighter screen or richer colors than LCD technology can offer. This is when you might look at OLED displays instead.
OLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. OLED displays are considered superior in both quality and illumination. With OLED technology, each pixel is a unique light source. OLED means a brighter screen but the technology comes with a higher price tag.
Why do they need to view it?
We have the questions of form, size, connections and brightness answered. Now we need to get to the question of function. What is the purpose in having that additional screen? Is it simply so that an additional person can view the shot? Do you need any additional reference tools on the screen? How important is accurate color? Is there a need for an additional recording?
Shot assist tools
Most video production monitors come with a host of reference tools built-in. Some of the most common are frame and action safe guides. You may also find guides that cut the frame into thirds or even smaller grids. This is to help with framing things properly and to keep continuity from shot to shot.
Plus, most field monitors also offer features that allow you to zoom in on a particular area of the screen. This is great for checking focus or looking at tiny details that you might normally miss. You may also find tools like focus peaking–another way to make sure your image is in focus.
Some monitors go even deeper with tools to make sure your color is correct or the exposure is properly set. One of these tools is zebra striping. This is a helpful function that highlights areas of the shot that are overly bright with a striping effect. Other features you may find include waveform, histogram or vectorscope monitoring tools. These help with monitoring exposure and give you much more information about your image, allowing you to make better creative choices.
Bit-depth, contrast ratio and HDR compatibility will also factor in if you’re looking for the best and most accurate image quality — especially if your camera captures at those higher bit-depths or in an HDR format. Likewise, LUT previewing capabilities will come in handy when you’re shooting in log formats. Being able to see what an image will look like once graded helps tame the impulse to continue adjusting a flat log image after exposure has been set.
Additionally, when using a reference monitor in the edit bay, color accuracy is likely to be even more important. As you shop, you’ll see color accuracy expressed as the percentage of the gamuts covered or number of colors reproduced. Moreover, professional colorists may need a calibrated monitor, or one that features calibration tools.
Finally, there are some monitors that also serve as recorders. These will often come with a higher price tag, but can greatly expand the capabilities of your camera.
Making the choice
Answering the above questions will help you navigate through the selection process. While you shop, consider where and how the monitor will be used, why you need one and what extra tools will come in handy on set or in the edit suite. Armed with that knowledge, you’ll be ready to find the perfect monitor to add to your production toolkit.
Contributors to this article include Jeff Chaves and the Videomaker Editorial staff.