Samsung SyncMaster XL30

Using the company’s expertise in large LCD panel design and manufacture, the SyncMaster range comes in 20, 24 and 30in widescreen formats and is currently more or less unique in using LED backlighting, the only LED-based competitor being NEC’s SpectraView Reference 21.

The benefits of LED (light-emitting diode) backlights are that they offer both a wider colour gamut than the CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent lighting) tubes used in most flat-panel displays and a considerably longer life. According to Malcolm Mackenzie of specialist reseller Targetcolour, who is working with Samsung on the introduction of the XL range to the UK, the difference in longevity is substantial.

CFL backlights last about 18 months and you’ll find that most are only guaranteed for a year, he says. In theory, LEDs, which are solid-state, last 100,000 hours, which is 11 and a half years of continuous 24/7 operation. In a print environment, where the monitor is likely to be left on all the time, that makes a big difference.

Another factor in favour of LEDs is the brightness at which they can be run. Mackenzie explains: Some monitor backlight guarantees are invalidated if you run the screen to more than 120cd/m2, but most printers don’t have dimmable viewing booths, so you may need to run at 130 or 140cd/m2 to balance the screen against them.

The only potential negative – other than perhaps cost – levelled against LEDs comes from NEC, which suggests that the arrangement inside the Samsung unit could possibly lead to uneven heating of the LEDs with unknown effects over time. However, Samsung offers a three-year guarantee on its LED backlights, so you should be covered if uneven colour or luminance did manifest themselves. Samsung offers a three-stage support operation, with escalating levels of phone support backed by replacement of the unit if necessary.

So what do you get for nearly three grand? The XL30 is a 30in widescreen format display with a native resolution of 2,560×1,920 pixels, more than big enough to show an A4 spread at actual size, and very close to fitting a tabloid one.

Included in the box are a hood, the various power and signal cables (note you’ll need a dual-link DVI connector to drive this monitor, included in all recent PowerMac/Mac Pro models and some PCs), a rebadged X-Rite EyeOne Display2 calibrator and Samsung’s Natural Color Expert calibration software.

The monitor supports hardware calibration in conjunction with Natural Color Expert, via a 14-bit LUT (look-up table) – pretty much state-of-the-art at the moment.

The LCD panel uses S-PVA technology, which is known for producing high contrast and very dense blacks and this was borne out in testing, with some of the darkest blacks yet seen on a high-end display. For soft-proofing, however, this could actually be a problem as the contrast range and black level exceed what you can achieve in print, even on high quality coated stocks.

Work in progress
The Natural Color Expert software allows you to define a black level, so you could set this higher than minimum to help get a better match to printed blacks, though it would have to be a trial-and-error process. To keep contrast to levels that match print you can also limit the luminance. Targetcolour’s Mackenzie suggests that a figure of around 120–130cd/m2 is appropriate but of course this has to be balanced against your viewing booth and ambient lighting conditions.

Mackenzie is also of the view that Natural Color Expert is something of a work in progress, and recommends that it should be used to perform hardware calibration on the XL30 and then colour profiling carried out using an alternative high-end solution such as basICColor Display or ColorEyes Display. This of course adds to the not inconsiderable cost of the monitor but in testing with basICColor Display, it did yield improved results.

The relative weakness of S-PVA compared to the slightly more expensive S-IPS technology used by some competitors tends to be in colour shifting as the viewer’s angle changes, which can also lead to apparent loss of shadow detail when viewed head-on, but in testing, there were no noticeable effects of this type with the XL30 at normal viewing angles.

In terms of colour gamut, the XL30 exceeds just about anything out there, comfortably encompassing Adobe RGB, which makes saturated and contrasty RGB digital photos look fantastic, but is also important for CMYK because although print can’t hit the saturated red, green and blue primaries of even quite cheap monitors, it often exceeds them in its own primaries, particularly in yellow and cyan. The XL30 scores highly here, covering the entire Fogra 39/ECI ISO coated gamut, which means it can display every colour you can print to the ISO 12647-2 standard. Testing against a verified CMYK proof under D50 lighting demonstrated an extremely good match between screen display and print that was very difficult to fault.

Soft-proofing is going to be an increasingly important tool in the battle to minimise costs and cut job turnaround times without compromising quality; for printers working to ISO 12647 standards it’s an eminently practical proposition right now with the right monitor – and of course the customer’s trust. The Samsung XL30 certainly fits the bill and although expensive, its long-life LED should make it last long enough to pay its way.

Format and size
30in widescreen, 16:10 aspect ratio
Resolution 2,560×1,600 pixels
Display type S-PVA with LED backlight
Processing 14-bit LUT
Contrast ratio 1000:1
Colour support sRGB, Adobe RGB+
Calibration EyeOne Display2 calibrator and Natural Color Expert for hardware calibration, both included in price
Price £2,899
Contact Samsung (UK) 01932 455000

Eizo ColorEdge CG301W

Eizo’s CG series monitors have established a strong reputation in recent years and the CG301W should be a strong performer with Eizo’s five-year backlight guarantee (though subject to maximum luminance settings). It offers landscape/portrait rotation and the ability to connect to and display two inputs at once by splitting the screen area.

Format and size 30in widescreen 16:10 aspect ratio
Resolution 2,560×1,600 pixels
Display type S-PVA with CCFL backlight
Processing 12-bit LUT with 16-bit internal processing
Contrast ratio 850:1
Colour support sRGB, 97% Adobe RGB
Calibration Color Navigator software for hardware calibration, measuring instrument not included, Digital Uniformity Equaliser
Price £2,625
Contact Eizo 01344 355720

Apple 30in Cinema Display
Apple’s 30in monitor is visually striking, but it doesn’t support hardware calibration and you can’t fit a hood to it so ambient light could be an issue. It doesn’t have the most impressive black levels either, but more of an issue is the gamut, which doesn’t cover Fogra 39 ISO Coated in mid-tone cyans, blues and greens.

Format and size
30in widescreen 16:10 aspect ratio
Resolution 2,560×1,600 pixels
Display type S-IPS with CCFL backlight
Processing not specified
Contrast ratio 700:1
Colour support not specified
Calibration hardware calibration not supported, measuring instrument not included
Price £1,199
Contact Apple UK 0800 048 0408

NEC SpectraView 3090
Expected to arrive in July, NEC’s SpectraView 3090 will be the high-end version of its MultiSync LCD-3090WQXi and will share specifications with the existing 26in SpectraView 2690 model which performed extremely well in recent tests, covering all the ISO Coated gamut bar the brightest pure yellows.

Format and size 30in widescreen 16:10 aspect ratio
Resolution 2,560×1,600 pixels
Display type H-IPS with CCFL backlight
Processing 12-bit LUT
Contrast ratio 800:1 (tbc)
Colour support sRGB, 98 % Adobe RGB (tbc)

Calibration hardware calibration via included SpectraView Profiler ; measuring instrument not included

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