In this review I am going to share with you my experience of testing one of the most interesting, also from a purely practical point of view, monitors selling today. By practical I mean that it does not deliver some unique features at a crazy prize but rather that it offers such a mix of characteristics, price and quality as to make it highly appealing for a specific circle of customers.
The monitor is called NEC MultiSync EA231WMi and it is one of the few products based on an e-EPS matrix that has a native resolution of 1920x1080 pixels (often referred to as Full-HD). In fact, this is the single such model widely available in many cities and countries of the globe and it is the combination of IPS technology with its wide viewing angles (and, consequently, high color accuracy) with the high resolution and reasonable price that make the EA231WMi such an appealing choice for people who are not satisfied with the image quality of mainstream TN-based monitors.
I already wrote about e-IPS panels and will give you some basic facts here. For all its advantages (the most important of which is the lack of color distortions when you don’t look directly at the screen), the well-known IPS technology has one grave downside. It is expensive. One cause for that is the low transparency of S-IPS matrixes. In order to reach an acceptable brightness, they increase the intensity of the backlight, which means more backlight lamps, a more sophisticated power circuit, etc. Alas, monitors with S-IPS panels are only competitive in the small market niche of models for professional color-processing applications where the price factor is often of secondary importance. And this targeting even makes S-IPS monitors more expensive because that market niche has a number of special requirements that increase the manufacturing cost. For example, professional monitors have to be accurately set up and offer a broad range of user-defined settings. Producing “simplified” S-IPS monitors for the mainstream market segment has proved to be of no commercial benefit because such monitors are too expensive for amateurs but not serious enough for professionals.
The main maker of IPS panels LG has developed a solution in the way of e-IPS technology. In an e-IPS matrix, the pixel structure is changed in such a way as to make the LCD panel more transparent and lower the intensity and manufacturing cost of the backlight. LG claims that new e-IPS panels are comparable to TN ones in price. E-IPS-based monitors are still 30-50% more expensive than TN-based ones, yet this difference is negligible compared to S-IPS monitors. For example, the MultiSync EA231WMi sells in retail for less than $600 whereas the 20-inch NEC MultiSync LCD2090UXi, a professional-class monitor with an S-IPS matrix, costs over $1000!
I must confess that the simplification of S-IPS to e-IPS has affected not only price but also image quality. To be specific, the viewing angles of e-IPS matrixes are narrower. When viewed from a side, the picture on such a matrix quickly loses its contrast, becoming whitish. This does not mean that e-IPS is no good for color-processing applications, though. An e-IPS matrix loses only contrast when viewed from a side whereas the competing PVA (both S-PVA and C-PVA) and TN matrixes display a noticeable tonal shift, i.e. a change in image colors. The reduced contrast is something you can put up with when working with images but the tonal shift may be a serious problem. Besides, black becomes slightly violet on S-IPS matrixes when viewed sideways while the e-IPS technology is free from this defect.
The reduction of contrast on e-IPS matrixes can be avoided by means of special correcting film but, unfortunately, this film makes the LCD panel more expensive and is not used often as the consequence. The NEC MultiSync EA231WMi does not have such film, either.