by Oleg Artamonov
04/16/2009 | 11:18 AM
It is not exactly true that LCD monitors with matrixes other than TN+Film are dying out. They just live a strange sort of life. Although almost unavailable from retailers, new models are announced from time to time. And each time users who are interested in high-quality monitors are waiting for even more new products to come – there must be new models if such matrixes are still being manufactured! – but don’t see them.
For instance, last year I reviewed the Lenovo L220x. Although not without downsides, it was quite an interesting product thanks to its PVA matrix as well as high native resolution. But where are any other 22-inch PVA-based monitors with a resolution of 1920x1200? There are none of them on the market, and the L220x is not easily available, either. Instead, there have appeared 22-inch TN-based monitors with native resolutions of 1920x1200 and 1920x1080.
Anyway, I’ve got a 22-inch PVA matrix for you today. This time the monitor has a native resolution of 1680x1050 which is standard for its screen diagonal.
Use the following link for a description of our testing methodology and the equipment we use, and for a brief explanation of what the specified and tested parameters of LCD monitors mean: X-bit Labs Presents: LCD Monitors Testing Methodology In Depth. If you feel overwhelmed with the numbers and terms this article abounds in, check out an appropriate section of the mentioned article for an explanation.
You can also check out the Monitors section of our site if this review doesn’t cover the model you are interested in.
This model has intrigued many users even with its name. NEC traditionally releases professional products in its UX or SX series like the 2090UXi, 2190UXp, 2690WUXi, etc, but the MultiSync P221W is named according to some new naming scheme. This raised suspicions that the P221W might be an ordinary consumer product based on a PVA matrix and inferior to the UX series.
These suspicions seem to have no ground, though. The specifications of the P221W are up to the professional monitor class. Particularly, it allows to hardware-calibrate the internal 10-bit LUT by means of an optional SpectraView II kit (but I must admit that the 21-inch MultiSync LCD2190UXp had a 12-bit LUT).
NEC has also released a rather low-end MultiSync E221W that has nearly nothing in common with the P221W apart from the similarity of names. The E221W is based on a TN matrix with a response time of 5 milliseconds.
The specs are standard enough for a PVA matrix. The response time of 16 milliseconds is rather typical of RTC-less matrixes and would mean a very slow PVA matrix. Fortunately, the P221W has RTC technology and the full product description at the manufacturer’s website says that it has a GtG response time of 6 milliseconds only.
The viewing angles are measured according to the “honest” method (for a contrast ratio reduction to 10:1). In fact, 178 degrees is the maximum possible value – 89 degrees into either side. You just cannot achieve a specified viewing angle of 90 degrees whatever you do with the matrix. So, I guess the manufacturers should think about introducing some new and better measurement method, though I doubt they will adopt it in near future.
The monitor’s DVI input is of the universal DVI-I variety that allows to connect both digital (DVI-D) and analog (DVI-A) sources. The P221W also has an analog D-Sub connector.
The P221W uses the typical design of NEC’s top-end models. It has a massive angular case of pure white or black, without any trace of chrome or gloss. The screen bezel is rather narrow, so you can easily put two or three such monitors next to each other.
The stand allows to adjust the height of the screen in a wide range: from 10 to 25 centimeters (counting from the desk to the bottom edge of the screen). The stand is not fixed in the bottommost position and stretches out to full length as soon as you take the monitor off the desk.
The portrait mode is available even though its usefulness for a 22-inch monitor is dubious. As opposed to TN matrixes, the vertical and horizontal viewing angles of a PVA matrix do not differ much, so you can turn the screen around just as you wish.
The monitor’s profile looks solid, especially in comparison with modern super-slim models. On the other hand, the P221W is obviously not meant for a secretary’s desk and does not have to look elegant. The thickness of the monitor is not a problem because the occupied space depends on the footprint of the stand. And the size of the stand is determined by the necessity to keep the monitor steady.
There are standard VESA fasteners under the monitor’s native stand. So, the latter can be replaced with a desktop or wall mount.
The MultiSync P221W is equipped with digital and two analog inputs. One of the latter is combined with the digital input thanks to the universal DIV-I connector. You can use a DVI → D-Sub adapter (like those included with graphics cards) to connect an analog video source to it.
The control buttons can be found in the bottom right of the face panel. When you press any of them, there appear labels indicating the purpose of each button. These labels are necessary because the controls change functions when in portrait mode. For example, the double button Left-Right is always horizontal while the Up-Down is vertical.
There is an ambient lighting sensor to the left of the Power button. The monitor can use it to adjust the brightness of the screen automatically.
The P221W has a neat and handy menu of NEC’s latest monitor generations. The menu does not remember what tab you were in last, however.
The first tab offers the Brightness and Contrast settings as well as:
The second tab is for choosing color temperature. There are five preset modes, four of which (excepting sRGB) are editable, Native mode (the matrix’s native color temperature without additional correction), programmable mode (the color temperature value is set from the computer with a special utility), and two additional modes OP1 and OP2 that are necessary for working with the DICOM gamma curve.
The opportunity to edit four different color temperature modes is a special trait of NEC’s top-end monitors. Other models usually have only one user-defined mode and a few fixed presets that cannot be edited.
The third tab contains system settings:
The fourth tab contains menu-related settings such as position, language, etc.
The fifth tab provides information about the monitor in general and the current operation mode. The ecological parameter is marked in green: how much carbon (as carbon dioxide) has not been thrown out into the atmosphere by the power plants thanks to the increased power efficiency of this monitor. The user manual doesn’t tell explicitly how this amount is calculated, though.
As you can see, the P221W has a settings-rich menu with a few unique items you can but rarely see in other monitors. Besides the main menu, the P221W also offers an extended one with a few more settings. To evoke it, you must turn the monitor on while pressing the Input button. To get back to the ordinary menu, you must turn the monitor off and on again.
The extended menu looks modest. There are two new items in it that were not available in the main menu. You can manually set the brightness limit for the Eco Mode and switch the monitor to low brightness (which is in fact the same as Eco Mode). These settings have little practical value.
The second and third tabs are only available for analog connection. You can set the monitor up for processing poor signal better, but this option will only be necessary in a shop hall or some other location where the monitor is connected to the video source with a long cable.
The fourth tab is about color temperature. It differs from the appropriate tab of the main menu in the opportunity to set the value of gamma at 2.2 or 1.8.
The fifth tab contains system settings. Besides what you could see in the main menu, there are the following options here:
Well, the single question I had after examining the extended menu was why it had been made at all? In fact, all these options could be added into the main menu, without making most of its sections much larger. It is especially odd that the extended menu contains such cosmetic features as the adjustment of brightness and color of the Power indicator.
To sum up, the P221W offers a rich selection of settings, including those that are missing in most other monitors. I mean the adjustment of the black level, automatic adjustment of brightness with user-defined top and bottom limits, manual adjustment of multiple color temperature modes.
The main advantage of PVA-based monitors over TN-based ones is in the viewing angles, especially the vertical one. Even the newest TN-based monitors are far from ideal in this respect: the monitor’s colors distort as soon as you lean back in your chair. This is hardly necessary for home or office work but TN won’t do if you need high color accuracy.
S-PVA matrixes take an in-between position in terms of viewing angles. They are better than TN but worse than S-IPS.
Talking about the specific model, the P221W’s viewing angles are wide enough for comfortable work. The image distorts noticeably (fades out in the first place) only when you deflect your head far from the center of the screen. The vertical and horizontal viewing angles are almost identical, so you can use the monitor in landscape and portrait mode with equal comfort.
The classic drawback of PVA technology is that when you are looking at the screen directly (i.e. your sight is perpendicular to the screen), dark halftones merge into black and reappear when you look at the screen a little from a side. This problem is solved in the P221W by means of factory calibration which raises the brightness of darks a little. As a result, every tone of gray, starting from the darkest ones, can be discerned in test images. Darks get brighter when you deflect your head left or right.
Interestingly, the brightness of darks was reduced after calibration with a Spyder 3 Elite and the above-mentioned problem of vanishing darks reappeared but I could solve it again by adjusting the level of black in the monitor’s menu (the Black Level option in the first tab).
Otherwise, I have no complaints about the monitor’s color reproduction as perceived subjectively. The temperature is set up accurately, the image does not look bluish or reddish. Color gradients are reproduced with barely visible banding.
The response time is very good subjectively, with barely noticeable RTC-provoked artifacts (there are light trails behind the letters when you are moving about windows with text).
When the Expansion parameter is set at Aspect, the monitor works correctly with popular resolutions that have an aspect ratio of 4:3 (e.g. 1024x768) or 16:9 (e.g. 1280x720). When you choose some odd resolution, the picture is displayed with distorted proportions or smaller than the size of the screen.
The monitor has 100% Brightness and 50% Contrast by default. I selected 20% Brightness and 21% Contrast to achieve a 100nit level of white.
The P221W controls its brightness by means of modulation of the power of the backlight lamps at a frequency of 212Hz. Some users had reported a noticeable flicker at low brightness, but I didn’t observe this with my sample. To remind you, it is advisable to avoid single daylight lamps with electromagnetic ballast as the means of illuminating your workplace (such lamps are employed in inexpensive desk lamps, for example) because they flicker at the double frequency of the power mains (100Hz in my region). Coupled with the monitor’s backlight flicker at about 200Hz, this may lead to low-frequency brightness pulsation the eye can see. You should use ordinary incandescent lamps or fluorescent lamps with electronic ballast, like the popular energy-saving lamps, from respected firms such as Philips, OSRAM, General Electric, Wolta, etc.
At the default settings the monitor is 300 nits bright. This is too much for work, so you should lower it to comfortable level. The specific level is determined by the lighting of your workplace. You should lower the screen brightness smoothly, giving your eyes 15-30 minutes to get used to the specific level before judging if it suits you. A normal brightness is going to look too dim after you switch from the monitor’s default settings, but your eyes will soon adapt.
You can use the following method: the brightness of white on the monitor’s screen should be comparable to the brightness of a sheet of good white paper if you place it near the monitor.
The contrast ratio is very good at 1000:1 and higher.
The pictures based on the measurement results show that the monitor’s backlight brightness is quite uniform. There are no conspicuous dark or bright spots except for the darker band at the right of the screen.
As for specific numbers, the average uniformity of white brightness is 5.2% with a maximum deflection of 18.9%. For black, the average and maximum are 4.3% and 17.0%, respectively.
The monitor’s color gamut coincides with the standard sRGB color space in blues only. The P221W is much better than sRGB in reds and greens. The monitor uses backlight lamps with improved phosphors, hence the result.
Thus, in order to ensure accurate color reproduction, you should install the monitor’s ICC profile (you can find one on the included disc or create with a calibrator) and use ICC-supporting software.
The monitor’s sRGB mode (available in the color temperature settings) is expected to bring the color gamut into compliance with the sRGB standard:
As you can see, this option affects greens but leaves reds as saturated as before.
The gamma curves are somewhat higher than the theoretical curve for gamma 2.2, making the image somewhat brighter than necessary.
The gamma value gets even lower when the Brightness and Contrast settings are reduced.
The sRGB mode is not set up neatly, either. The value of gamma is too low, and the image is somewhat whitish. Moreover, the green curve has a distorted shape in the right part of the diagram. As has been shown above, it is the green point that is shifted in the monitor’s color gamut when in sRGB mode.
Thus, the P221W has good but not ideal gamma setup. It makes sense to calibrate the monitor additionally with a colorimeter. If you don’t distinguish between darkest halftones when looking directly at the screen after such calibration, try increasing the level of black a little in the monitor’s menu.
The P221W is set up quite well in terms of color temperature. The average values correspond to the names of the modes and there is a small dispersion of temperature between the levels of gray.
The CIE diagram shows that there is no deflection towards pink or green in any mode, save for Native.
Equipped with response time compensation, the monitor is quite fast. Its response time average is 8.6 milliseconds (GtG) with a maximum of 19 milliseconds. Fastidious gamers may find this rather slow, but most users are going to be satisfied with the P221W even when playing dynamic games.
RTC technology leads to visuals artifacts that show up as white or rainbow trails behind moving objects. Fortunately, these artifacts are low on the MultiSync P221W. The RTC error average is 3.7% with a maximum of about 24%. You can see the artifacts only if you are looking for them. They are not disturbing at all in typical applications and games.
There are no additional image modes – quickly selectable presets of brightness and contrast or enhanced-color modes – in the P221W.
Without a doubt the NEC MultiSync P221W is an interesting product for users who want to have a monitor with good color reproduction. It is interesting not even for its combination of a PVA matrix and 22-inch format, but with the PVA matrix alone. Alas, LCD technologies other than TN have become too rare.
When it comes to image quality, the MultiSync P221W takes a midway position between TN-based models with their poor vertical viewing angles and (often) sloppy setup and expensive S-IPS-based professional products. For example, the classic NEC MultiSync LCD2190UXi costs about 50% more than the P221W.
Good color accuracy, excellent ergonomics, and an abundance of setup options are added to the good viewing angles and high contrast ratio of the PVA matrix. The P221W is going to be a good choice if you need accurate colors but cannot afford a professional S-IPS model.
As for the downside, the P221 has good, but not perfect, factory setup, a 10-bit LUT instead of the 12-bit one in the UX series monitors. It also has the problem of vanishing darks when the screen is looked directly at (this can partially be solved by adjusting the level of black). Well, all of this only matters if you work with images seriously. The P221W is going to be a good option if you just want a high-quality monitor.
It suits for home use, too. With an average response time of less than 10 milliseconds, you are not going to have any problems in games or movies.