Quest for the Optimal DAW Display

Apr 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Eddie Ciletti



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For an LCD, a brighter light source not only challenges the ability to make black, but it also requires more care to prevent the light from leaking out (most noticeable around the screen's edges). To block or pass the light, an LCD relies on twisting the liquid crystals that are sandwiched between a pair of polarizing filters. On axis, the view is vibrant, but off axis the response is poor. Also known as viewing angle (170 degrees horizontal and vertical for the LG L226), this is good for security but bad if you need to view with a group.

While this idiosyncrasy does not limit the LCD's ability to produce an image, screen sizes are limited to the range that maintains edge-to-edge image consistency for a typical user's range of movement. CRT, DLP (projection technology) and PDP all have good off-axis response. The crossover screen size between LCD and plasma is between 32 and 40 inches, although displays more than twice this size have been made.

For a PDP system, light is generated by a trio of “cells” containing the “noble” (inert) gases of xenon and neon. When electrically tickled, the gases turn into an ultraviolet, photon-emitting plasma that lights its respective colored phosphor. A PDP is, in essence, a massive array of miniature fluorescent lights. The Zenith/LG MU-42PZ90V plasma specs are 852×480 resolution, 1,000 cd/m2 brightness and 1,200:1 contrast ratio.

Early PDP models consumed nearly as much power as a CRT, but efficiency is improving. Both CRT and PDP suffer from “burn-in fatigue” if run for long periods at full brightness and stationary graphics. Solutions include screen-savers, using gray text (instead of white) and image randomizing.

DLP technology was developed and is licensed by Texas Instruments. The system starts with a light source that is bounced onto a chip-sized matrix of mirrors. In a single-matrix system, the color information is broken up into its component parts, each bouncing off the mirrors and through its respective filter on a synchronized rotary wheel. On a three-chip system, the light source is divided into RGB via prism before striking the matrix.


The speed at which data is fed to a monitor is referred to as the “refresh rate.” Higher speeds are better because they are less related to the native frame rate of various sources. In old analog TV terms, the video rate is 30 frames per second, within which separate odd- and even-line fields are “interlaced” at twice the frame rate, or 60 fields per second. (Computer and modern TV monitors are progressive scan.) Typical refresh rates are between 55 and 85 Hz, which can be as high as 120 Hz. Video for Internet use is often converted to 15 frames per second, where either the even or odd fields are dropped.

“Color support” refers to the number or range of colors (gamut), 256 steps each of R, G and B yields 16.7 million colors, a number that might be considered a minimum. Just as most audio converters are not capable of 24 bits of resolution, a video display's ability to reproduce the color spectrum is limited by the purity of the color sources.

A display's “response time” is the period required to turn pixels from one state to another and back again — from black to white to black, for example. And here, faster is better for minimal image distortion. While I could not find the specific spec for the LG MU-42PZ90V plasma, a similar monitor had an 8ms response time. (A video frame is 1/30th of a second or 0.033 seconds or 33 ms.)

For those of us concerned with audio and video sync, you might think response time is critical. From my limited experience, it seems there are more problems with keeping audio and video signals in sync during the distribution and transmission process. (Check out Paul Lehrman's February 2008 “Insider Audio” column on the subject.) I would also speculate that the response time quoted in product literature might be that of the display panel only and not include the DSP required to optimize the image for the screen — just as any audio plug-in has a certain amount of latency.

As most product disclaimers clearly spell out “specifications are subject to change,” this is particularly true for products that are still on a growth curve. Sad to say, my plasma is already old news.

Eddie's refresh rate at is specified in weeks rather than ms.

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