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NEC MultiSync LCD2190UXi and LCD2190UXp

NEC is currently producing a few models of professional monitors varying in the screen diagonal (19, 20 or 21 inches) and in capabilities. There is a sharply defined hierarchy when it comes to the 21” line-up:

  1. The MultiSync LCD2190UXi and LCD2190UXp models are the basic models of the series and I will discuss them in this review. They differ from each other in the type of the matrix: the former uses an S-IPS matrix manufactured by NEC and the latter, an S-PVA matrix from Samsung. They cost about $1500 and $1200, respectively.
  2. The next level is represented by the SpectraView 2190 which differs from the MultiSync models in offering a hardware calibration option. What’s funny, this monitor is actually the same LCD2190UXi, but with a calibrator and appropriate software (which can be bought separately, though). The price of the SpectraView 2190 is $2000-2300.
  3. The premium sector is occupied by the SpectraView Reference 21 model (the model number, LCD2180WG-LED, indicates that it is based on the previous LCD2180 series). It differs from ordinary SpectraView monitors in using LED-based backlighting instead of cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL). This type of backlighting provides a broader color gamut: 103% NTSC as opposed to 72% NTSC of monitors with CCFL-based backlighting. The recommended price of the Reference 21 is $4999, but the real one varies between the dealers. This monitor isn’t selling in every shop, of course.

Now that I am going to compare the Samsung XL20, equipped with LED-based backlighting too, with products from NEC, it may seem logical to take the Reference 21 with the same type of backlight. Well, I just took the price factor into consideration: the XL20 will come out this spring at a price of about $2000, which is comparable to the SpectraView 2190 models with ordinary CCFL-based backlighting and much cheaper than the Reference 21.

The MultiSync models are produced in two versions that have different types of the matrix. The LCD2190UXi has an S-IPS matrix from NEC (NEC calls this technology SA-SFT, but it’s just a proprietary variation of S-IPS), and the LCD2190UXp uses an S-PVA matrix from Samsung.

Many people associate different quality of color reproduction with different matrix types: the best quality with S-IPS, the worst with TN, and MVA and PVA are somewhere in between. This is not quite correct. The quality of color reproduction is formally described with the dE parameter which shows how much the displayed color differs from the etalon one. Not an integral parameter, dE must be calculated separately for each of those 16.7 million colors the modern monitor can show. The smaller dE is, the more accurately the color is reproduced.

It is accepted that the average person can easily see the difference between two colors at dE>3. For working with color seriously, the monitor must provide dE<1 after calibration. But theoretically, monitors on each matrix type can be calibrated to this accuracy. Moreover, the actual result of calibration depends on the monitor’s electronics and the calibrator you use, so if you take two specific monitors on TN and S-IPS matrixes and calibrate them, the dE parameter of the former may prove to be smaller than of the latter, and there would be nothing wrong about that.

However, no one tries to use TN matrixes for processing color. Why? It’s because the dE parameter describes the color reproduction accuracy as it is perceived with the line of sight being strictly perpendicular to the screen. Colors on modern S-IPS matrixes with viewing angles of 178 degrees suffer almost no distortion when the user moves his head to a side. On TN matrixes with their narrow viewing angles you don’t even have to move your head: colors look different just because you see different areas of the screen at different angles. Try to display a solid-gray background on a TN matrix and you’ll find it next to impossible to find a position for your head at which the background would really look the same on the entire screen. You move your head up – and the bottom gets brighter, you move your head down – and the top becomes darker…

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