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Conclusion

LCD monitors with LED-based backlight are ambiguous products as yet. Although I have discussed only products from Samsung, the market of relatively inexpensive LED-backlight models is limited to them actually (the ViewSonic VLED221wm is based on a TN matrix whereas the NEC SpectraView Reference 2180WG-LED is too expensive).

So, such monitors do provide an impressive color gamut. I have never seen any other monitor that would deliver such pure and saturated green and red. Monitors with ordinary fluorescent lamps (a color gamut of about 75% NTSC) are far inferior. Monitors with lamps with improved phosphors (97% NTSC) are more or less comparable to LED-backlight monitors in reproducing green but far inferior in reproducing red.

The difference is obvious to the eye if you just put two monitors, one with ordinary and another with LED backlight, next to each other. For you to imagine this difference without having a LED-backlight monitor, take a notebook (a color gamut of 45% NTSC) and a desktop monitor (75% NTSC) and display the same picture with vivid pure colors on both: a LED-backlight monitor is as superior to a fluorescent one as a fluorescent monitor is to a notebook.

Furthermore, the reproduction of turquoise and yellow is improved, too. This should be appreciated by polygraphists who don’t like the pale yellow of ordinary monitors.

However, you should keep it in mind that pure, vivid colors do not mean high color accuracy. Yes, LED-backlight monitors can display colors that are not available on monitors with fluorescent lamps but this is no guarantee of color accuracy. I found a number of problems during my tests, some of which are fundamental and some are SyncMaster XL specific.

First of all, the Natural Color Expert software included with the monitor cannot do one important thing, despite the included Eye-One Display 2 calibrator. It cannot correct the shape of the gamma curves, i.e. the accuracy of halftones. Yes, the calibrator makes it easier to work with the monitor as you can quickly set up its color temperature, brightness, contrast and color gamut to meet any requirements but the option of gamma curve correction would be good because the XL monitors I tested had not been set up ideally at the factory.

Second, one of the biggest problems with LED-based monitors is that color temperature varies on them not only between different levels of gray but also between different pixels of the screen due to the variation in the parameters of LEDs in different triads. Each triad highlights its own zone of the screen, so if the triad’s blue LED is somewhat brighter, the screen is colder. If the red LED is brighter, the screen is warmer. This problem can be corrected by per-pixel calibration of each individual monitor at the factory (this method is currently used to solve the problem of nonuniform white brightness) or by culling or setting up the triads individually. Both methods will increase the manufacturing cost of the monitor, of course. So, my recommendation is that you should scrutinize the monitor’s screen when shopping to avoid buying a poor sample.

Third, the stretching out of the 24-bit color representation to a larger color gamut lowers color accuracy somewhat. This is a general problem, not limited to the XL series. The inaccuracy is small, but you must be aware of it.

Fourth, you must know that most images are oriented at sRGB monitors and get distorted on non-sRGB monitors without color correction. Therefore it is necessary to use applications that support color management and to install a correct ICC profile of the monitor in the system. This problem is solved perfectly with the XL series, though. The included calibrator allows to create such a profile whenever you want it. Besides, the monitor supports hardware emulation of three color gamuts, two of which are standard and one is custom.

Generally speaking, the choice between Samsung’s SyncMaster XL20/XL24/XL30 and professional models with fluorescent backlight (produced by NEC or EIZO, for example) should be based on your personal requirements. If you need highest color accuracy within the ordinary sRGB color gamut, the XL series won’t be the best option. But if you are ready to compromise somewhat in order to be able to work within the AdobeRGB or even larger gamut, you should certainly consider the SyncMaster XL series.

Some people also think about purchasing an XL series monitor for home nonprofessional use as their price is quite affordable. In this case the XL series won’t disappoint you. It delivers vivid, lush colors, a good response time (quite enough for playing games), and hardware emulation of the standard color gamuts, which is very handy for home use because not all applications can work normally with non-sRGB monitors as yet.

 
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