Not a week passes without my getting an email that is some variation on the following:
I’m setting up a new computer for color correction, but I don’t know which monitor to buy for grading, and your book recommends broadcast displays that are out of my price range.
Sometimes folks are asking for recommendations of affordable color-critical monitors because they’re trying to set up a budget suite. Other times the request is for a learning workstation that’s good for getting started.
Whatever the reason, there are a bewildering array of monitoring choices currently available, and many of them are incredibly expensive. However, there are some affordably priced solutions that are available (relatively speaking) that will do the job, and here are three of the ones that have risen to the top over the last couple of years
HP DreamColor Monitor—In my opinion, the most economical monitor that can do Rec. 709 accurately is currently the HP DreamColor monitor, connected via HD-SDI (out of whatever video output interface you’re using) using Blackmagic’s HDLink DisplayPort adapter (HD-SDI out of your computer, DisplayPort into the DreamColor). The panel is 10-bit, and if you’ve set it up correctly it’s color-critical with blacks that are decently deep enough (at least for an LCD-based display). You will want to get the optional calibration probe to keep it on the straight and narrow. I know at least one professional colorist who’s using this as the monitor for his home system who quite likes it. Link.
Flanders Scientific LM-2461W—For a couple thousand more, you can also get into a Flanders Scientific broadcast monitor, for even higher quality monitoring. It’s got HD-SDI built in, so no signal conversion is necessary, and these monitors come pre-calibrated from the factory with impeccable settings; it’s the favored monitor of several of my grading colleagues, and I’ve been impressed overall. It also has more settings that make it appropriate for a professional broadcast suite, however it’s still quite affordable. Link.
Added 3/20/11—Just got wind that this model is about to be upgraded to the LM-2461W, with even better calibration from the factory, built-in 3G HD-SDI, remote control software, and other cool enhancements. Check out Walter Biscardi’s interview.
Panasonic Viera TC-P50VT25 (since superseded by the TC-P55VT30 VIERA)—The other possibility is to use a THX-rated Panasonic Plasma display. In fact, externally-calibrated Panasonic plasmas have been appearing in many professional grading suites. While there are many Panasonic models available (and the comparable models are updated every year), the previous year’s model was a recommendation from my colleague Robbie Carman. Forget about this monitor being 3D capable, what’s important is that it has both a THX mode and ISFccc rating for calibration. This just means all the controls are there for accurate calibration to the Rec. 709 HD standard. If you’re on a budget, you can have it calibrated using the services of a qualified THX video calibrator, running a signal to it via an HD-SDI to HDMI convertor (such as the BlackMagic HDlink Pro or the AJA HI5). Make sure the calibrator has references, though, because an unqualified calibrator will simply make a hash of things. You want measured Rec 709, not “uncle joe’s home theater settings.” The more professional solution to calibrating your plasma would be to buy a probe and calibration software to generate a 3D LUT of your own to load into either an HDLink or Cine-Tal Davio (either of which can apply a LUT transform to the video signal for calibration), but that will cost more. Link to the TV. Link to my article about 3D LUT calibration.
So these are the most budget-friendly monitoring options that I can wholeheartedly recommend. Please keep in mind that these aren’t all the options that are available, technology marches on and new monitors appear every year, so I encourage you to continue doing your own research.
Just remember, you get what you pay for. When it comes to color-critical monitoring for color correction and grading for broadcast or cinema, if you can’t accurately see the signal you’re adjusting, you can’t do the job. Do yourself a favor and get a good monitor.
Another Added Note—I’m amazed that folks are still referencing this article, as it’s going on two years old now, which is ancient in the fast-moving world of color critical displays. Check the comments for some interesting updates and back and forth, and check my more recent article about What Display Should I Buy which, while not making more specific recommendations, suggests how you should go about evaluating what type of display is best for your needs.