By: Corey Beaulieu (Neoscape)
Over the past month I have had the chance to review the NEC MultiSync EX341R, (1800mm radius) curved monitor. I was excited for the opportunity as my typical workflow includes a 34-inch curved monitor from Dell and I wanted to see how the two compared. As this model is from the EX class, “E” for Enterprise and “X” for Specialty Series, it may not have been designed for the visualisation world, but overall the monitor performed very well in my testing and proved to be very competitive as a daily driver.
The NEC EX341R is a feature rich display designed to create an immersive environment for any user. It incorporates the DisplayPort 1.2 and NEC ControlSync technologies allowing it to be daisy-chained with a second monitor and controlled through a single settings panel. While this display did not arrive with a calibrator, I used the Xrite i1 Display Pro to create a color profile and was amazed at both the overall contrast ratio and out-of-the-box calibration achieved by this SVA panel by Samsung.
If you are unfamiliar with the SVA panel type as I was, it is designed to be a high contrast, higher than average maximum brightness level, with both better viewing angles and better color representation than an IPS panel type. Refresh rates can be slower than other panels, but as I was not attempting any high speed footage review or gaming applications, I was unphased by the 59hz refresh rates.
Other features to note before delving into the pros and cons are: the Human Sensor, Ambient Brightness Sensor, Monitor controlled KVM features, and Picture in Picture modes. This last feature that I am compelled to mention, but admittedly am out of my depth in describing is the TUV Rheinland rating for flicker-free quality and the display meeting the low blue light standard.
Now, with much of the facts behind us, on to the subjective….
Out of the very well designed shipping box, this monitor was ready to go within seconds of cutting the tape. My work being largely defined by its color representation, my first move was to calibrate the color using my i1 Display Pro (highly recommend) and while this SVA panel type can handle higher than average brightness, I lean towards lower brightness for better print matching. Here, however, the 3000:1 contrast ratio was highly effective in reinstating that range of color that is very sensitive to our industry.
My initial excitement in testing this display was in comparing it to my curved Dell and so my next steps were to settle in to the ordinary of the monitor. How do I feel about the more extreme curve? How is the angle of viewing? What superficial details am I noticing in my first few minutes of use?
Answers: I could not be more in love with the matte finish display. Our studio has 8 or more feet of windows along one side and the glare created is tremendously distracting. This matte screen not only solves this issue, it also gives me that feeling of a more true representation as overly glossy displays can have that spit-shine quality normally seen on a used car lot. The additional radius to the display is meant to enhance the immersive experience, but I have to admit, I don’t care for it much. While it didn’t jump out at me at every moment of use, I have never liked the more subtle radius of my Dell so the tighter curve was only more distracting. It distorts my image verticals in a way that I find distracting and if given the choice I think I’d rather do without-- not the end of the world. And finally, the viewing angle, while not an issue at first as I sit pretty flush with my monitor, I did notice while reviewing work with colleagues that the less perpendicular I was to the screen center the less contrast and color accuracy I could see and in our business this is a real draw back. We often paint by committee when balancing an image set for final color and it can be hard to discuss with a group when not all parties see the image in the same way.
Since my last review, I have become a major fan of the human sensor and the ambient light sensor. Why are these features not ubiquitous across all displays? They offer a maximum in privacy within an office environment and the ambient light sensor makes sure your eyes receive a consistent level of brightness throughout the day which makes long hours all the more comfortable. One note on the Human Sensor is that I must move around in my chair too much, getting closer and farther away at random and the sensor gets tripped up by my chair when I walk away. The distance I use to sense my personal presence seems to be too far and if I don’t turn my chair as I leave, the monitor doesn’t always know I have stepped away.
The KVM feature and the Picture-in-Picture feature both intrigued me greatly at first, but I soon realized that these features were not for my normal workflow. I think that this was my shortcoming as any monitor that can save you the extra hardware and allow you to maximize your reach, say you run both a Mac and a PC or a Surface and a Workstation, is the greatest thing ever invented. I realized through my trial that my needs were more simple and my tendency was more towards using Remote Desktop to gain access to a machine in our render farm rather than access a more local machine. I think these features, however, would prove extremely useful in a much smaller, at-home farm setup where you may only have a machine or two extra for rendering.
About two days ago the time had come. I had to pack my NEC EX341R up back in the box and reconnect my Dell. It was at this point that I noticed the most interesting difference of all. While both monitors produce the same or at least an extremely comparable number of pixels, and both are curved, when I re-connected my Dell display I had a sudden feeling of having switch from HD back to SD. There was a very noticeable soft blur to the image I was seeing and a sort of glowy spill from one pixel to the next. Thankfully my eyes have made the adjustment on short order, but in that moment I realized how much of a difference there was in the 2 options.
At only $200 of separation between the $799 Dell and the $999 NEC display I can easily say that if you have the money, the NEC display is well worth your extra cash. These are not the same quality though on the surface they may seem comparable. NEC, for the second time has far exceeded my expectations in testing and they are clearly listening to an audience larger than the rest. The features provided by NEC are not what I would have gone in search of, but once they were made available to me I saw their usefulness in a way that has me questioning other brands.
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