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:
- 32″ IPS panels with LED backlighting
- Support for greater than 99% Adobe RGB gamut (makes them wide-gamut)
- Multiple Displayport and HDMI ports
Before we go on, please read the following:
- What is 4K TV?
- Do you Need a 4K TV or 8K TV in your Home, Office or Studio?
- What is Color Gamut and a Wide Gamut Monitor?
- SDI, Displayport, HDMI or DVI: What’s the best way to Monitor Video?
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.
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:
- NEC PA322UHD-BK-SV
- Eizo ColorEdge CG318-4K
- Dell UP3214Q
- LG 31MU97-B
- HP Dreamcolor Z32x
- Dell UP2715K 27″ UltraSharp 5K Monitor (just for fun)
Here’s a table comparing the basic features of each monitor (click to enlarge):
- 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.
Comparison of color features
Here’s a table comparing the ‘color’ features of each monitor (click to enlarge):
- 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):
- 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):
- 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
- 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.
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.