Updated 10/2/2013: Review has been updated to correct an issue with the non-SpectraView data. Please review the sRGB and AdobeRGB pages again if you have read this article before as they have been updated. The conclusions have been updated to match these test results as well.

What separates a professional grade monitor, like the NEC PA242W, from a similarly designed consumer display? You can easily go to Dell and find a 24”, 1920x1200 resolution display with GB-LED backlighting for a few hundred dollars; why are displays like the NEC PA242W worth almost twice the price? Are they just coasting off the reputation they had from their CRT days, or do they engineer their LCD displays in a way that set them apart from everyone else? I set out to examine the PA242W and find what it offers that sets it apart from the competition.

The NEC PA242W is a 24”, GB-LED backlit display with 1920x1200 resolution. I recently saw GB-LED backlighting in the Dell U3014 monitor and it performed well. GB-LED backlighting allows for the full AdobeRGB color gamut while still using LED lighting. Also on the NEC are a full complement of inputs: HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, and VGA, as well as a 3-port USB hub. I would like to see USB 3.0 on the hub for the price of the NEC but we only get USB 2.0. What you do get are dual USB upstream ports, letting you connect the NEC to two computers. Video inputs can be assigned to a USB upstream connection, so when you switch the display from one PC to another, your connected peripherals switch to that PC as well.

You realize the NEC PA242W is different as soon as you open the box. There is no attaching a stand with screws or clicking it in. The whole monitor is fully assembled, ready to be lifted out of the box and put to use. The construction is unlike other displays: solid and thick, with a handle at the top to lift it out. The stand is a nice ergonomic model that allows for a wide range of adjustments and is already set up. The bottom of the display houses all of the inputs and USB outputs.

As soon as you use the OSD you’ll realize the NEC PA242W is unlike conventional monitors as well. Brightness is measured in cd/m^2 instead of a random slider. It is fully adjustable in 1 cd/m^2 increments up to 240 cd/m^2. You can adjust it beyond this but the control turns red indicating that the display uniformity will suffer. There are five monitor presets that you can control with a variety of settings: Colorspace, Brightness, Contrast, Gamma curve, White Point, and more. Moving between sRGB and AdobeRGB can be done at the touch of a button.

The selections for white point and color space go well beyond the usual options. White Point can be set from 3000K up to 15000K in 100K increments. Colorspace offers AdobeRGB, DCI, sRGB, Native (Full), SMPTE, and more. Any photo or video editing you need to do with the NEC PA242W should be covered by these options. The menu system is also very easy to use, with Up/Down and Left/Right arrows, on-screen labels, and a simple design.

All of these options provide supreme control over the NEC PA242W. There's even a standard 4-year warranty with 48-hour replacement. The real question is if the on-screen performance matches up with the controls.

NEC PA242W
Video Inputs DVI-DL, DisplayPort, HDMI, Dsub
Panel Type AH-IPS
Pixel Pitch 0.27mm
Colors 1.07 Billion
Brightness 340 mc/m^2
Contrast Ratio 1000:1
Response Time 8ms
Viewable Size 24.1"
Resolution 1920x1200
Viewing Angle (H/V) 178/178
Backlight GB-R LED (20 kHz PWM)
Power Consumption (operation) 56W
Power Consumption (standby) 0.2W
Screen Treatment Anti-Glare
Height-Adjustable Yes (6")
Tilt Yes
Pivot Yes
Swivel Yes
VESA Wall Mounting Yes, 100mm x 100mm
Dimensions w/ Base (WxHxD) 21.9" x 14.9" x 9"
Weight 23.4 lbs.
Additional Features USB hubs with KVM switch, 3D LUT,
Limited Warranty 4 years with 48-hour replacement
Accessories Power Cord, DP Cable, MiniDP Cable, DVI-D Cable, USB Cable
Price $1,049

 

Brightness and Contrast
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  • risa2000 - Friday, September 27, 2013 - link

    I have some "cheap" Eizo and cannot complain, all my friends who are amateur photographers have Eizos, it is kind of benchmark here (Europe), but I have never seen a review of anything Eizo here. So either they do not sell them in US, or Anand has some itch about them. Reply
  • cheinonen - Saturday, September 28, 2013 - link

    Eizo has never contacted me about a review sample, nor have I heard back from them the times I have tried to contact them. I have nothing against Eizo, and I'd love to review some of them, but they've never provided the opportunity. That's all. Reply
  • foxalopex - Friday, September 27, 2013 - link

    Awesome, I actually own this monitor. I bought it about a week ago as PA242W-BK-SK kit which includes NEC's rebranded X-rite Calibrator. I have to agree with Anandtech's review, it's an absolutely amazing monitor for any colour accurate work. Doing some research according to specifications, it uses the newest developed AH-IPS panels from LG (2011) and brand new backlight technology so it is definitely state of the art.

    I wonder if Anandtech is using the latest updated SpectraView software because there are a few settings which might help. (Didn't try the previous version which came with the monitor) I recall a special check box in the settings for low cadela settings which averages out the readings which helps weaker sensors work better and a slower 52 point setting that is suppose to get better results.

    That said, I agree with their conclusions. It's only major weakness is that the black level isn't as black as it could be. But it more than makes up for it in that you can actually see gradients of grey. It's hard to explain but to the eyes it's a weird thing to see. At first you can't see as much contrast as some high end LCD TVs but at the same time you see tremendously more details in the gradients from the light to dark areas. This is what makes it spectacular as a professional LCD monitor and valuable for photographic work.

    That said, I know some of you mentioning this is too expensive. It isn't for the folks who know what it's used for. After all you wouldn't take an F1 car (which probably be beat by a cheapo truck) to do offroad rally racing with.
    Reply
  • chrnochime - Friday, September 27, 2013 - link

    Agreed. This is a tool for amateur/professional photographers/photo work, not for gaming. And really, it's the same price of a titan, which definitely will depreciate a lot faster in several years while this depreciates a lot less and will still be a great tool to use. Reply
  • hmcindie - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    I disagree. What you are seeing is something you really shouldn't see that well. The problem in color grading with a monitor with very low contrast (such as this) is that you tend to overcompensate your curves and do very contrasty looks. With a display that can actually do good contrast ratios, it will just look quite different. I have no idea why these monitors are billed as professional. I have a couple NECs and EIZOs at work and they are not all that. There is a reason all our serious grading is done with plasmas (though those suck at desktop work). Reply
  • foxalopex - Monday, September 30, 2013 - link

    I guess you don't do much work as a photographer then. A known problem in photography is that the average photographer will over saturate and over contrast pictures compared to what is really there. Someone who's very serious into photography and isn't trying to go for an entirely artistic impression is usually trying to get the the photo to as close to real life as possible. Working with raw photos, one of the problems you realize is that if you over-boost the contrast, it might look visually better to a casual viewer but you end up losing a lot of details in the images. This is something you see all the time with cheaper digicams. They produce vibrant, over contrasted pictures expected by the consumer while a professional digital camera doesn't but has amazing true dynamic range. Monitors can be like that too. NEC's and Eizo's are well loved because they display a large range of colors. Cheap monitors tend to over saturate and over contrast because while they look good, they are not very accurate. When you mean plasma, I assume a TV. A TV is optimized to crank out as much light as possible. You can't do that without sacrificing some of the quality in the image. NEC's and Eizo's are meant to be used in low light environments so they don't need to be super bright. Reply
  • hmcindie - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    I actually do quite a lot of work as a photographer and as a color grader. NEC and Eizo have horrible dynamic range as monitors. They color performance is good, but nothing dramatically different from example my home monitor which is the HP2740w (calibrated). For example the 2grand Eizo I'm using at work has worse light bleed in the corners. So no, I do not agree that these things are worth the money. We use Panasonic Plasmas for grading at work and at home I have the Pioneer Kuro (last model before discontinued) and it blows away any NEC or EIZO. The difference in dynamic range and color fidelity is not even close. It's not about saturation, it's about accuracy. Reply
  • Alan G - Friday, September 27, 2013 - link

    Those of us who are photographers swear by NEC monitors and the Spectraview callibration system (though I sometimes use the ArgyllCMS software which offers more flexibility and has the added feature of being free). The most important thing for us is to get an image on our display that will most closely resemble the print that comes out of our printer so that we can use Soft Proofing in Photoshop or Lightroom to make the necessary corrections. I'm worried that your test settings will misinform those potential users who might be photographers but have never had a monitor like this one. 200 cd/m^2 is really very high. Almost everyone that I know is somewhere in the 110-140 range depending on the lighting of their work room. I drop the contrast down to 250:1 as well. It may be that folks who do video editing work with higher settings because their end display is far different from a photographic print.

    These niggles aside, it's good to see NEC come out with a new display. My P221W is still working well after five years and the color is still faithful. I'll likely be getting this new one next year.
    Reply
  • cheinonen - Saturday, September 28, 2013 - link

    We do everything at 200 cd/m2, as that was a more common setting for general use, and at 80 cd/m2, which is the sRGB standard. Adding 140 cd/m2 would be possible but also add a lot of extra work to the reviews and I feel that 80 and 200 covers it fairly well. Reply
  • birdsoneview - Saturday, September 28, 2013 - link

    Looks great for photo, graphics, and visual effects work, but for film/video editing that input lag is unacceptable. Reply

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