Articles: Monitors

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Another peculiar feature, related to the problem of cooling the LEDs, is that the monitor has a small fan you can see through the rear-panel grid. This is perhaps the reason why the monitor is smaller than the SpectraView Reference 21 – the latter is cooled passively. I should confess I only found the fan on a very close inspection of the monitor – it works absolutely noiselessly.

The monitor has two DVI connectors, a digital DVI-D and a universal DVI-I (you can connect a graphics card’s analog output to this input via an appropriate adapter), and an integrated two-port USB hub on the side panel. This hub is mainly intended for the calibrator which has a rather short cable.

The XL20’s controls resemble those of Samsung’s modern home models, but the order of buttons is somewhat different (by the way, they should have made the button labels gray instead of a contrasting white). The Up and Down buttons provide quick access to the brightness and contrast settings (in home monitors the former provides access to the MagicBright feature), and the Menu button has moved to the left. Its place is now occupied by the Mode button, which does not switch between MagicBright modes as you might have supposed. Its function is different:

One problem the enhanced-gamut monitors are bringing about is how to make them correctly reproduce images prepared for older, sRGB, monitors. Widespread graphics file formats encode color not with some absolute values (e.g. with CIE diagram coordinates), but with some relative units. It means such files are going to be displayed differently on monitors with different color gamuts. For example, a pixel with a color of RGB:{0;256;0} corresponds to pure green, but one glance at the color diagrams is enough to realize that the notion of “pure green” means different things for monitors with different color gamuts! Thus, the pure green of a standard sRGB monitor corresponds to the CIE color of {0.3;0.6}, but on the XL20 it corresponds to the CIE color of {0.210;0.698}!

So, a picture prepared for an ordinary sRGB monitor is going to have extremely saturated colors on the screen of the XL20. It can be said that its color gamut is forcibly stretched out from its native sRGB (72% NTSC) to the XL20’s color gamut (114% NTSC).

There are two ways to solve this problem. First, an ICC profile is created after calibration and each program that has color management options can learn the monitor’s color gamut from it and correct images appropriately. Second, the XL20 monitor can emulate any color gamut smaller than the monitor’s own color gamut. This is offered by the Color Mode option. When you press that button, a menu with five modes opens up:

  • Custom: the user has access to all of the monitor’s settings and the color gamut is not limited at all
  • sRGB: the monitor emulates the sRGB color gamut and the user-defined settings are blocked
  • AdobeRGB: the monitor emulates the AdobeRGB gamut and the user-defined settings are blocked
  • Emulation: the emulation set up in the corresponding mode of the Natural Color Expert utility is enabled. The monitor offers full-featured hardware calibration with the results being written into the monitor’s rather than the graphics card’s LUT and this mode will work irrespectively of the software you use
  • Calibration: the monitor’s calibration results are enabled. Like with the emulation, the results are written into the monitor’s LUT and do not depend on whether Natural Color Expert is running or not

I should note here that the above-mentioned NEC SpectraView Reference 21 offers the same operation modes, too.

The selected operation mode is indicated on the panel under the buttons. If this distracts you, you can disable all the illumination (the current mode and the LED in the Power button) in the monitor’s menu.

Otherwise the SyncMaster XL20’s menu isn’t impressive, especially after the settings-rich menu of the NEC monitors. It looks like the menu of an ordinary home monitor with its typical settings like brightness, contrast and color temperature…

The monitor offers 12 preset color temperature values, but they are all denoted like Warm2 or Cool3 rather than by specific numbers as in NEC’s 2190 series. I’ll get back to the color temperature later.

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