Fun Comparison: Which is the Best 4K Monitor for Color Grading?

This is a fun comparison of five 4K monitors available specifically for color grading. How do we know they were designed for grading? Because all of them have the following characteristics:

  • 10-bit
  • 32″ IPS panels with LED backlighting
  • Support for greater than 99% Adobe RGB gamut (makes them wide-gamut)
  • Multiple Displayport and HDMI ports
Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

Before we go on, please read the following:

I have shown earlier why you need at least a 32″ display to start appreciating the benefits of 4K. That explains why most 4K grading monitors are 32″ and above.

NEC 4K

Do you need 10-bit, DCI P3 and wide-gamut?

You really don’t need 10-bit per se, but if you are expecting 10-bit material on a regular basis, and you can justify the price (it’s not just the monitor, you’ll need hardware and GPUs that can deliver 10-bit as well) then it’s good to have. Now that 10-bit monitors have fallen in price (all of the monitors on this list are 10-bit) and you have many choices, there is no reason not to invest in one. Just remember, you need all the bells and whistles to truly see 10-bit.

About wide-gamut, it’s a great feature to have, simply because it gives the monitor ‘breathing room’ to handle various camera sources. Most camera sensors are wide gamut anyway, so if you want to really see what was shot, you need a wide gamut display. However, when you grade, you’re always going to bring it all down to within Rec. 709 and studio swing most of the time so the average end user can see your work the way you intended it to be seen.

DCI P3 is good to have, but I don’t think it’s important. The cinema audience will watch that movie on DCI P3, but not on an IPS/LED panel. They will be watching it on a projector, and it has its own quirks. If you just want to approximate the look, it is easy to do so with a LUT. So, it’s more important to have a monitor with LUT capability, because it frees up your computer from the task of having to calculate color space transformations for each frame.

Do you need OLED?

At this time I don’t recommend OLED for grading work, simply because most end users won’t be seeing it on OLED. Nothing wrong with it, mind you, except that everything’s wrong with it.

Comparison of basic features

The five monitors I’ve chosen for this comparison are:

Here’s a table comparing the basic features of each monitor (click to enlarge):

Basic Features 4K

Notes:

  • Disclaimer: Prices and features might be incorrect or wrong. Please refer to manufacturers’ websites for correct and up to date information. Please do not take any action based on this article!
  • Error: Contrast ratio for the NEC monitor is 1000:1, not 10,000:1
  • To get 5K on the Dell Ultrasharp you need a GPU that can drive that resolution, and one with two Displayport connectors
  • Contrast ratio and response time are two of the most pointless metrics when it comes to monitors. Each manufacturer measures these so they will look good. Most of these monitors have a contrast ratio of 1000:1, which means about 10 stops of DR. The Eizo has a 1500:1 contrast ratio, which is about 10.5 stops of DR. They claim the extra DR is helpful to get better blacks. However, it’s entirely possible all of these panels come from the same factory.
  • The LG draws half the power that everyone else draws, which sounds weird, especially because it has two 5W speakers as well to drive.
  • Most monitors need 30 minutes to warm up from startup. This is normal.  The Eizo claims it can get up to speed in 3 minutes, which is great news.
  • 4096 or 3840? This is an important consideration. If you’re expecting 4K footage for grading, it’s better to have 4096 pixels so you can watch your footage 1:1. However, the choices for 4096 displays are limited, and there won’t be a huge visual difference anyway. UHD monitors will need to perform some kind of downscaling, and it might impact the quality of the output sometimes.
  • Overall, based on the standard features alone, it’s pretty obvious Eizo and LG are above everyone else, with Eizo pulling ahead due to its 3 minute startup time.

Eizo 4K

Comparison of color features

Here’s a table comparing the ‘color’ features of each monitor (click to enlarge):

Color Features 4K

Notes:

  • Note: All panels are 10-bit, and some of them claim to be “true-10-bit” (not 8-bit+FRC). For this comparison, I’m giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t a ‘bad apple’ in this bunch.
  • All monitors have greater than 99% Adobe RGB, which is what qualifies them as wide gamut. You need not be worried about Rec. 709 or sRGB at this point, because both of these are the worst color spaces on earth, so everything covers them.
  • The NEC can be purchased with Spectraview, which is their custom calibration software. It uses a custom X-Rite i1 Display Pro probe that can’t be used on other monitors. It costs about the same to have your own calibration system, so it doesn’t impact the price a lot.
  • The Eizo comes with its own calibration system, From Eizo: “the SelfCalibration sensor … is housed within the monitor’s top bezel and swings down onto the screen only when calibrating. This sensor eliminates the need for a third-party calibration device and works with EIZO’s ColorNavigator 6 and ColorNavigator NX software.” The disadvantage is that when you change monitors, or if you have multiple monitors, you will still need another calibration system.
  • The ability to have LUTs is huge, because it frees up valuable computer resources for other tasks. The NEC and Eizo have internal LUT ability, and this shows they are serious about video work.
  • Both the Eizo and LG claim their panels are flicker-free, which is a huge deal. All the monitors on this list should be able to deliver 4Kp60 without breaking sweat, because Displayport 1.2 allows for 60p in 4K. To get the same with HDMI, you need HDMI 2.0.
  • Both Displayport and HDMI support 10-bit.
  • Based on this quick comparison, the NEC and Eizo pull ahead.

Comparison of connectors and ports

Here’s a table comparing the available ports of each monitor (click to enlarge):

Ports Monitors

Notes:

  • The 5K Dell has no HDMI ports, which I think is a fail. At some point or the other you might want to connect a camera or recorder directly to your monitor.
  • The green squares are extra features – the HP has an HDMI 2.0 port (allowing 60p at 4K) and the NEC has a DVI-D port (if you’re still using it, that is).
  • Based on these numbers alone, I have to give it to the NEC, though the Dreamcolor looks good as well. Some might say having HDMI 2.0 is a way to future-proof your investment. But the problem is, monitor panels are not designed to hold their colors for more than 2-3 years. By the time HDMI 2.0 becomes mainstream, your monitor will need replacing anyway.

Miscellaneous features and price

Here’s a table comparing price and accessories (click to enlarge):

MiscFeatures4K

Notes:

  • Calibration kit is the X-rite i1 Display Pro
  • The fact that LG only offers a limited 1-year warranty is troubling. They do have a premium 3-year warranty extension plan for a lot of their products, but who knows if it’s applicable to this monitor?
  • It’s pretty evident Eizo offers everything you can possibly need, but then the price hits you in the face like a gong. Suddenly the LG looks like an excellent bang for your buck!
  • Update: The LG does come factory calibrated.

Verdict: Which is the best 4K monitor?

Which is the best 4K monitor that gives you greatest bang for your buck? If you’re looking for a serious color grading tool that will work perfectly for years, the Eizo has you covered with these features:

  • Color uniformity across the screen
  • Fast startup
  • LUTs
  • Fast presets like EBU, Rec. 709, SMPTE-C, DCI, etc.
  • Brightness and color are warrantied for up to 10,000 hours from the date of production
  • Confirmed compatibility with many GPUs
  • Safe area marker (via HDMI only)
  • 5-year warranty

If you’re a post facility or colorist with lots of high-end work, then it’s a no-brainer. You need the most professional tool that will make you money and the Eizo is it.

Look at it this way, if you’re a professional colorist who charges $100 an hour, and you need to spend 30 minutes every day 5 days a week waiting for the monitor to warm up, you’ve lost $6,000. Even if you only lost 25% of the time (the rest of the time you made coffee, caught up on your email, etc.), you’ve lost $1,500 over a year. Over three years that’s $4,500. Now start adding the numbers for all the other features the Eizo delivers.

Therefore, if you’re a pro colorist, you need to invest in a pro solution. It’s a no-brainer.

However, for the rest of us mortals who only color once in a while, it makes more sense to utilize your money elsewhere. I’ll be honest, if I can afford an NEC I’ll find some more cash and go for the Eizo, so the NEC is in no man’s land. The Ultrasharps definitely are  good deals but after all is said and done, they are a semi-pro (or let’s call it enthusiast) solution, so in this respect have no leg up over the LG.

So, for part-time colorists, editors or video shooters who need to grade their footage once in a while, the LG 31MU97-B is probably the best deal out there. There are concerns about the uniformity of color and the accuracy of the display. There are also major concerns about poor customer support, but look at things this way:

You can buy 4 LGs, a calibration kit, the extended warranty (if available) and a hood for the price of one Eizo. You can buy 2 LGs, a calibration kit, the extended warranty (if available) and a hood and still have a lot of money left over to:

  • Spar with poor customer service
  • Beef up your computer to handle LUTs on the fly
  • Save money for your primary working monitor
  • Learn color grading from a pro

If you don’t care about the left over money, you can use it to buy one whole NEC 4K monitor! Or a new pro DSLR. Or lenses. Or a Mac Pro.

LGEizo4K

Therefore, at this time, in a desktop environment, unless you are a serious colorist (in which case you might want to save up for a DLP projector), my pick for best 4K monitor for color grading is the LG 31MU97-B.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

28 replies on “Fun Comparison: Which is the Best 4K Monitor for Color Grading?”

  1. Hi all, firstly full disclosure, I am writing under a pseudonym, I am professional film colourist for almost 20 years now and I just wanted to chime in here. I realise creating an article like this requires work and you have gone to the trouble to create something informative.

    Without going into the granular detail, true Grade-1, 10-bit grading displays, OLED, LCD or DLP projectors they will all do the job, anything except Rec709 in a nearfield display is generally overkill (and you will struggle to find one under £20,000 which produces full P3 gamut), in a cinema grading environment P3 is the most accepted colour space. There is nothing rubbish about Rec709, it is merely a standard to which we work which encompasses every consumer HD and UHD TV out there.

    LCD is still a very viable grading display option and in-fact the Dolby PRM 4220 is an HD LCD display and is considered one of, if not the best nearfield grading display on the market and it is in excess of £45,000.

    A few aspects which a professional grading display provide which consumer/ low-cost displays will not give you, which professional environments require:
    True 10-Bit Grade-1 Panel
    Stable Calibration
    Full Calibration control of the Display
    100% Gamut coverage
    Superior Uniformity
    Selectable Gamma
    Backlight Control
    SDI connectivity

    I understand that if you are doing small doc, Wedding Videos and the like, then spending upwards of £20,000 is not really a viable solution, in which case there are options out there. Do not expect a sub £1000 OLED display to come even close to a Grade 1 Grading Display, it just won’t, whether it matters is up to your needs. The fact with OLED displays is that they do have their problems, particularly in the blue OLED, and they feel a little harsh to work on, therefore LCD is a very common near-field option, and a trusted technology, but once you start spending in the 10’s of thousands, then either tech will work very well. I assure you the cost is not a con, it’s unfortunate that it is so expensive, my bank account will attest to that.

    I’ll leave it there, but without trying to shame the author of this article, not I believe on purpose, but most of it is not accurate and is generally misleading.

  2. sinbaddd monitorama,

    i don’t know where to begin. my favorite is: “Ahh, sorry a serious colourist won’t use a DLP projector. You will likely find a different type of projector in that environment …. ”

    just what do you think a serious colourist would use to grade a dcp for an environs overwhelmingly filled with dlp’s? or do you suppose that those dcp’s are graded on laptops?

    westernlight

  3. What a load of disinformation. Don’t buy OLED? WTF??? If you want to grade buy ONLY OLED, the rest is pure bullshit. Get any LG OLED TV and you’ll get such a better idea of what you’re doing, you won’t understand why anyone said LCD ever. You wanna spend a little fortune and look more pro? Go with the Sony OLED monitors (some USD5000 for 25″ 1080).

    And what’s that nonsense that you can’t tell 4k from 2.5k on 27″????

    What a load of disinformation indeed.

    1. Indeed, anyone who dismisses this OLED without providing a single sentence of explanation should not be trusted. This entire article should be taken with a very large grain of salt.

  4. Oh the stupidity that comes from a truly basic understanding of how a monitor actually works and where the actual panels come from. Your comparing packaging and little else, your also seeing value in non existent concepts that are not only incorrect but do not capture a true understanding of calibration and work flow. A correct or well prepared workflow is 100% result. You can use any equipment if you understand its limits and realities, even a tn LCD has a use in an educated methodology. For the most basic misconception here. Guess who makes the actual panels. LG all of them it its IPS its LG Even your dream color AMD beloved Eizo are LG what your paying for is nothing more than reputation and panel batch and grade.

    Inconsistencies in panels and backlighting quality is a function of price, nothing more. Your fundamental lack of understanding on how panels are actually driven and thus the other issues are the root of the reason that people think the extremely low quality panels that someone like say Apple use is the reason people male mistakes. LCD in all of its glorious forms can not be calibrated without massive errors beyond its native state, no matter how desperately you need it to be its not gonna happen even if you cloud this in babble and drivel that makes it seem more interesting, there are real 10 bit actualities. However your pc or even worse mac will barely give you a 10 bit reality. Not to blow the bubble off the believers, almost every single way that you can interpolate an image you will run into dithering and often a 6 bit translation table. The massive mistake people make is zero understanding if files. You can make anything look like it has an endless gradient and make any cheap monitor have a smooth gradient displayed.

    This has absolutely nothing to do with accuracy, even less to do with quality and absolutely nothing to do with the right choice for a workflow that goes beyond iphoto and into the real world of print or video that are vastly different in both requirements and equipment choices.

    To state that you need to be up with a modern color space is utter and total BS to grade 709 footage on a crippled P3 or DCI monitor is not going to give the accuracy of a display that is true 709 like a dreamcolor that alters the color width of the backlight and also the timings of the panel. The dyes in the LCD substrate do not change for your convenience as you want it to. They do not change. The fundamental mistake that is absolutely missed here in all its glory is every time you convert, reconvert and alter a color space that is rubbish in the first place you will have errors. Then add more errors and more errors.

    This really simple thing that a screen is correct if it aligns up with the information on a $300 color meter is pathetic. Even LG uses a real one at the factory, its more likely that a factory calibrated screen is more accurate than your old crappy one you grabbed at the apple store.

    All monitors are calibrated. Even your FSI and other second tier Korean LG panels.. even $100 LG monitors are made this way. Its not the calibration that’s the issue. LCD panels can only work in a native way. Think of this as a reality. The more you play and twerk the screen with extremely useless color models the more errors you will have. You can not even white balance a camera the way a LCD works.. so who cares if you spend 10k on a screen that is capable of monkeys jumping from the screen when your camera works in SRGB or ADOBE space. Where are the DCI cameras here. Or even a native P3 cmos sensor. Well those don’t exist.

    Work out and seek information that is not advertorial BS comparing a bunch of screens that are essentially the same other than $3000 more for customer service or a better probe. Seek a panel that has internal end to end calibration and not use a gpu for this. There is a reason that HP and LG made the WRGB backlights for the dreamcolor screens. It was not for the sake of it. There was also one single configuration that had an actual 10bit gradient, blah blah blah. Even a setup with a NVIDIA at 12bpc hdmi 60p to an LG oled will have errors,

    The last comment here nails the point I am making. Yes you do need proper reference monitors for color grading. However just because it says 10bit does not make it work. Numbers and specifications are meaningless if you do not know what they are.

    So here it goes, if there all LG panels and there all made in the same factory then what are you getting for 6x the price. Especially when at the end of the day every single person will end up seeing what you did on there utter BS low quality poorly made 6bit mac display or dry pad. Apple convinced you there a premium product so you shouted as loud as you can there.

    I was shown the new dual panel eizo monitor a few weeks back and sat with there engineers and we compared it to the current eizo reference and only one other panel.. a Sony OLED.

    That ends the argument. Simple. Oh and it was very good indeed except for a few little simple things like green hue shift and black levels. So nothing important. It was a 20k prototype and was impressive. Then we used a $129 LG IPS monitor and apart from the grey tracking it was also good. It was not a comparison if numbers and mines better than yours crap.

    An actual what can a display do thing. Like intelligent people would look at from a reality perspective.

    Think and argue what you will and you will. However the real thing here to think about is is a $6-10k LCD monitor that is trans missive ever going to be better than a $2k LG OLED TV

    NOPE. your looking at the wrong things ladies. Look forward to new tech, not to 30 year old trickery called LCD. This years is the same as last years and so on. So buy a $2k 55 inch 4k OLED TV and start looking passed and not backwards.

    Oh and to the moron above who makes claims about rec2020 and p3 that you need to work to now. Please ignore that moronic statement, there is a single monitor on the planet that can theoretically achieve nearly 87% of the 2020 color space and has a hybrid laser led backlight. It is capable of creating the elusive yellow cyan hues and cobalt blue. Its not something that any of you will see any time soon nor could any of you afford the $200k + price that it took to make It.. there is three of them that nhk used for a test. Very impressive JDI panel.. numbers not makie a betterie screeenie..

    1. Ahh, sorry a serious colorist won’t use a DLP projector. You will likely find a different type of projector in that environment …. a truly calibrated projector in a light controlled room as to the same as a calibrated monitoring device in a similar light controlled room.

  5. Great article as always. Brilliant stuff.
    Maybe silly question. Are TVs as good as Monitors FOR WEDDING VIDEO EDITING Can You Use A 40″ 4K 60HZ TV As A Computer Monitor? I have a choice of 43 inch Vs 40 inch 4k TV as a monitor.
    Sony Bravia 43XE8005 LED HDR 4K Ultra HD Smart Android TV, 43″

    New in £999.95

    OR Panasonic 40EX700B LED HDR 4K Ultra HD Smart TV, 40″

    New in
    £749.00

    1. They tend to have less dynamic range and colors than monitors. And I’ve found it strains my eyes more.

  6. I do agree on your take for the LG. However in my instance I already have two monitors which are adequate for using as computer GUI monitors for the program itself. I am looking for a monitor that will serve as the playback main screen monitor. A production monitor . A grading monitor is just too expensive. I have seen many use an HP Dreamcolor and sending an HDMI signal from their black magic card. Am I correct that this can be successfully done on the LG as well.

  7. thanks, interesting.
    do you think, all screens of your test are working flawless with the current apple mac pro´s gpu(s)? thats been my doubt until now, to not buy one of your list, i ve heard so much incompatibilities.
    we are also working on 2K eizo screens since years, (high end retouch & photography) and they are really good talking about conformity and reliability. in my separate office i use the NEC spectraview Reference 27″ since 7 years for prof. retouching, its as good as the eizo brand but not as expensive. you pay extra for the EIZO name only. NEC has got an incredible service, (as EIZO might have, too) they swapped the screen after 3 years, as it got very, very slight darker & vertical soft-stripes, hard to recognize for normal eyes, but bad for prof. work. this issue could be the case after a while in use 24/7.

    i wonder how the LG performes, i would buy one, just to see and compare, so i agree with your results – other than you can neglect the warming up time of 30min, as i usually dont start working in a rush at morning, cup of coffee, talk to team (before that, i switch on my screen easily)
    funny thing of 4k screens: i think, 4k could be overrated? i can compare the imac 5k resolution to the NEC or Eizo 2K, standing just besides in my work, and there is only a more or less minimal difference in the overall sharpness, after a while i got used to the 5k res., where is the real benefit at work? anyway i will buy only 4k in the future, its nice to have.

    1. You’re welcome! Regarding the screen size, 4K only works with a screen size greater than 32″. The iMac is only 27″, too small to notice, and really unnecessary. I still work on my 2.5K iMac, and it’s perfect.

      1. I’m just curious, when you say 27″ inch is too small to notice the difference at 4K, do you mean with photography/videography work only?

  8. DCI P3 10 bit is now needed as a minimum, unless we are doing home videos. We need to be working up to the current standards going into the future, not old standards. The current REC2020 consumer standard surpasses the old P3 professional standard, the professional standard above P3 covers the entire visual space, but is mostly aspirational as far as we are concerned. Many new top end TV sets are set against P3 due to limitations in some older display technologies, while the newer technology could be set higher and closely against rec2020 (which may start to be matched 100% in consumer sets next year). New cinsumer display standards support 10 or 12 bits, high end professionals 16 bits. Content will be watched in future on screens with rec2020 12 bit and better standards.

    The reason for doing post work on formats and displays set and calibrated to the latest standards is to establish a firm consistent known basis for the look of the content that allows it to transfer to the end viewer with the closest quality that can be archieved on current and better future screens. One unbalanced graduated monitor and post production tool chain can lead to much more graduated unbalanced images on the viewers TV.

    Now, we may not need a $20k-$30k+ small 16 bit reference monitor, but we should at least take our sub $5k monitor purchases seriously.

      1. No these are the sort of points an ignorant first year film student would make that has no idea what they are talking about but wants to look smart. Looks and transfers to end users. What is this ramble. End users have $300 mva crappy Samsung LCD TVs that have never been adjusted. They sit on dynamic with oversaturated blasted contrast.

        Sorry just because your cheap 4k screen says 2020 on the display with HDR Netflix does not come even close to the 2020 color space. Please don’t wank people into a misunderstanding of post production workflows and your complete lack of understanding them.

        Big post houses often use SRGB as that’s monitor native. P3 does not cover the entire visual space, nor does 2020 as there is not a single display that can replicate this or even further off a camera to capture it. Not even close. P3 is not a color space that was adopted for consumer devices. Its a color model and theory. A translator that professes less model errors. Its actually closer to WGAM gen 3 CFL backlights, not the visual space. That you completely miss when you then follow with rec 2020 one a transmission envelope and the other a film limited digital workflow translation with adjusted white point. Not an actual thing. Consumer panels can support any marketing BS you read. They can’t do this. No there is no 12bit $300 TVs

  9. Great article as always. Ive been tempted to go for that LG for a while now, although 31″ is a bit large for my working space. Any thoughts on the lack of competition in 4k projectors, perhaps the market is still too tiny for the big guys like JVC and Sony to get aggressive?

    1. They never got aggressive even with HD. JVC had great production monitors but most of who I know used either Panasonic or Sony. Sony’s OLEDs are expensive, and the gold standard nowadays. The biggest issue with the LG is customer support, or lack thereof.

    1. yeah, I wonder why FSI stuff is not in here. All these seems to be computer monitors and not real reference monitors. Don’t you need proper reference monitors to do color grading properly?

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