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What monitor is best for you?

What display is best for my needs?


Twisted Nematic (TN TFT LCDs)TN TFT LCD Style

TN refers to Twisted Nematic and from here on, we will refer to a TN TFT LCD simply as a TN display. TN displays are the most common consumer LCD display simply because they in essence offer "the most bang for the buck.”

TN displays have evolved to the point of having an incredibly fast response time, which is one area where an IPS display suffers. This means that a TN display would be better for entertainment, since it will not show as much ghosting when watching sports, or playing your favorite video game.

In regards to viewing angles, TN displays suffer (particularly in the vertical direction which is what you saw in the illustration above). In fact, if you have ever tried to watch a movie on your laptop while laying down, you may have even noticed the colors inverting at extreme angles.

Most TN panels can only represent 70% of the 24-bit color available from graphics cards as they only display 6-bits per RGB color (i.e. 6-bits Red + 6-bits Green + 6-bits Blue = 18-bits). So, instead they display interpolated 24-bit color using dithering. Think of dithering as smudging two colors on a palette two create a desired shade, only instead of paint it is combining surrounding pixels to create the desired shade. If you have a high quality TN display, this generally isn’t going to be noticeable. However, poor quality TN displays may only show as little as 10%-30% of NTSC, Adobe RGB and sRGB color gamuts.

Indeed, when it comes to creative professionals using TN panels for their work, choosing a high quality TN panel is extremely important. 

In Plane Switching (IPS TFT LCDs)IPS Display Style

IPS technology has been around for quite a while.

IPS displays were designed to improve on the flaws of TN technology, primarily in regards to the poor viewing angles and color reproduction. They do this by simply altering the direction of the pixels within the display (parallel instead of perpendicular pixels).

As with any display technology, they improve over time. IPS displays now have great contrast and black levels (a problem they previously suffered from). However, their response times still don’t compare to standard TN displays. While response times have improved over time, they IPS displays still lag in this feature.

These features make IPS displays far better when it comes to professional creative applications than casual consumer entertainment uses.

Conclusion

IPS is indeed a better display technology for creative professionals. If you are considering a long-term career as a creative professional, then a high quality wide gamut IPS LCD is an absolute must have. 

However, high quality TN displays shouldn’t be ruled out completely. When calibrated, high quality TN displays can be used by creative professionals when cost is major factor,  a calibrated TN display will still work very well.

Remember that when it comes to each type of display technology, quality will vary. A high quality TN display can perform better than a low quality IPS display.

High Gamut LCDs

Color gamut refers to the various levels of colors that can potentially be displayed by a device. There are actually two types of color gamuts, additive and subtractive. Additive refers to color that is generate by mixing together colored light to generate a final color. This is the style used by computers, televisions and other devices. It is more often referred to as RGB based on the red, green and blue colors used to generate the colors. Subtractive color is that used by mixing together dyes that prevent reflection of light that then produce a color. This is the style used for all printed media such as photos, magazines and books. It is also generally referred to as CMYK based on the cyan, magenta, yellow and black colors used.

sRGB, AdobeRGB and NTSC

In order to quantify how much color a device can handle, it uses one of the standardized color gamuts that define a particular range of color. The most common of the RGB based color gamuts is sRGB. This is the typical color gamut used for all computer displays, TVs, cameras, video recorders and other consumer electronics. It is one of the oldest and therefore narrowest of the color gamuts that is used in reference for computer and consumer electronics.

AdobeRGB was developed by Adobe as a color gamut to provide a wider range of colors than sRGB. They developed this to be used with their various graphics programs including Photoshop as a means to give professionals a greater level of color when they work on graphics and photos before converting for print. CMYK has a much greater color range compared to RGB gamuts, thus the wider AdobeRGB gamut gives a better translation of colors to print than sRGB.

NTSC was the color space developed for the widest range of colors that can be represented to the human eye. Many may think that this has to do with the television standard group that it is named after, but it is not. Most real world devices to date do not have the ability to actually reach this level of color in a display.

So, to quantify the various color gamuts in terms of their relative range of color of narrowest to widest would be: sRGB < AdobeRGB < NTSC. In general, displays are generally referred to compared to the NTSC color standard unless they state a different standard.

What is the Typical Color Gamut of a Display?

Monitors are generally rated on their color by the percentage of colors out of a color gamut that are possible. Thus, a monitor that is rated at 100% NTSC can display all of the colors within the NTSC color gamut. A screen with a 50% NTSC color gamut can only represent half of those colors.

The average computer monitor will display around 70 to 75% of the NTSC color gamut. This is fine for most people as they are used to the color they have seen over the years from television and video sources. (72% of NTSC is roughly equivalent to 100% of the sRGB color gamut.) The CRTs used in most televisions and color monitors also produced roughly a 70% color gamut.

Those that are looking to use a display for graphical work for either a hobby or profession will probably want something that has a greater range of color. This is where many of the newer high color or wide gamut displays have come into play. In order for a display to be listed as a wide gamut, it generally needs to produce at least a 92% NTSC color gamut.

An LCD monitor's backlight is the key factor in determining its overall color gamut. The most common backlight used in an LCD is a CCFL (Cold-Cathode Fluorescent Light). These can generally produce around the 75% NTSC color gamut. Improved CCFL lights can be used to generate roughly 100% NTSC. Newer white LED backlighting has been able to actually generate greater than 100% NTSC color gamuts.

Summary

If an LCD monitor's color is an important feature for your computer, it is important to find out how much color it can actually represent. Manufacturer specs that list the number of colors are generally not useful and typically inaccurate when it comes to what they actually display versus what they theoretically can display. Because of this, consumers should really learn what the monitors color gamut is. This will give consumers a much better representation of what the monitor is capable in terms of color. Be sure to know what the percentage is as well as the color gamut that percentage is based off of.

Here is a quick list of the common ranges for different levels of displays:

  • Average LCD: 70 to 75% of NTSC
  • Professional non-Wide Gamut LCD: 80 to 90% of NTSC