Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/7730/nec-ea294wmi-review



While 21:9 displays have never caught on for TVs, they seem to have found a niche with computers. Now most vendors have at least one 21:9 display, and at CES this year we saw larger, higher resolution 21:9 panels introduced. All of these panels are aimed at consumers so far, with an emphasis on integrated audio, multiple video inputs, MHL, and other consumer features. Because of this it isn't a surprise that the 21:9 display from NEC is also consumer focused, but let's see how it performs.

The EA293WMi is a 21:9 monitor with 2560x1080 resolution. As with all the 21:9 displays so far, the backlight is an edge-lit white LED that provides the sRGB color gamut but not AdobeRGB. I asked NEC what their target audience is with the 21:9 aspect ratio, as figuring that out has been somewhat challenging.

As I expected, their main target is people that want a display that multitasks between computer and movies or games. For people that watch a lot of films that are shot in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio (which is around half of the movies released each year), the 21:9 aspect ratio allows you to watch those films without black bars at the top. As someone that has a 2.40:1 projection system at home, I understand the desire to watch films without any letterboxing.

Another target that I was unaware of is medical imaging. For lots of medical imaging, people are still using a pair of 19", 4:3 displays to view content. A 29" 21:9 monitors provides a near direct drop-in replacement for those two displays as you can't really purchase them anymore. The NEC contains a DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) mode, specifically targeting this use case. This is not a use that I, or most people, would likely be aware of but it does help to explain where 21:9 displays will fit in.

Most of the 21:9 monitors on the market have been more concerned with looks over usability. They have nice, thin profiles but lack height adjustments or VESA mounting holes on the back. They look stylish but if you want them at any other height you'll need to place them on top of something. Additionally if you want to use them in portrait mode, where their extra height can be a useful feature, you are going to need to come up with a complex system of mounting it to something. This lack of adjustments is a pet peeve of mine, so I'm happy to report that NEC doesn't restrict their display in this way.

The stand included with the EA294WMi offers both height adjustments and the ability to rotate into portrait mode. There are also VESA mounting screws on the back so you can use your own stand if you desire as well. Even with their consumer line NEC still keeps more focus on ergonomics and usability than looks, which I admire. It also offers full tilt and swivel ability making the stand very versatile.

The EA294WMi is well stocked with inputs: DisplayPort, HDMI/MHL, Dual DVI (only one is Dual Link), and dual DSub mean that anything you want to connect should be possible. There is a 4-port USB hub that is integrated as well but it is only USB 2.0. Unlike the professional displays you can’t use the EA294WMi as a KVM for two computers.

The on-screen display is reminiscent of the professional line but is more consumer focused. Brightness levels are indicated in percent instead of cd/m^2 and there are fewer preset modes to select from. It still provides more flexibility than most displays but not the granular ability found on professional NEC models. The menus are fairly easy to control as button labels pop up on the screen. I’d prefer a 4-way control, or all the controls to be along the same side of the display, but all the required features are at least present.

NEC provides a few features specific to their displays here. One is a human presence sensor that detects if someone is sitting in front of the display or not. If you are absent for a set time period it can dim the display to conserve energy. Many of us just use the power management in our OS to accomplish this, but in case that fails (and Windows has a habit of just turning back on I find) this is a backup. You can also daisy-chain NEC displays together with a 3.5mm cable and have a master control the other units. If you often make adjustments to brightness or other controls this can be handy, but you need a full array of displays from NEC for it to work.

Before we continue, let's quickly look at the specifications for the EA294WMi:

NEC EA294WMi
Video Inputs HDMI-MHL, DisplayPort, DVI-D, DVI-DL, VGA
Panel Type IPS
Pixel Pitch 0.26mm
Colors 16.7 Million
Brightness 300 cd/m2 typical
Contrast Ratio 1000:1
Response Time 6ms GtG
Viewable Size 29"
Resolution 2560x1080
Viewing Angle (H/V) 178/178
Backlight White LED
Power Consumption (operation) No Spec
Power Consumption (standby) 0.8 W
Screen Treatment Anti-Glare
Height-Adjustable Yes, 5.2"
Tilt Yes
Pivot Yes
Swivel Yes
VESA Wall Mounting 100mm x 100mm
Dimensions w/ Base (WxHxD) 27.8" x 16.2" x 9.1"
Weight 21.2 lbs. with stand
Additional Features USB 2.0 Hub (1 up, 4 down), Picture-by-Picture, Presence Sensor
Limited Warranty 3 Years
Accessories Dsub Cable, DVI-DL Cable, USB Cable, 3.5mm Cable, ControlSync Cable
Price Currently $700 online

 



As mentioned before, NEC consumer displays use a regular percentage for brightness instead of the more precise cd/m^2 numbers in their professional displays. Despite this change, one thing that NEC does offer for both is a wide range of brightness settings.

The EA294WMi only produces 6 cd/m^2 with the brightness control at the minimum setting while still putting out 326 cd/m^2 at the maximum level. I would suggest that 6 is too low and that you could make the minimum 40 cd/m^2 while still allowing more granular control and a better minimum and maximum. That’s being picky and seeing a level that is low enough for anyone is much better than seeing a minimum value of 100 cd/m^2 that would make the ES294WMi too bright for many users.

White Level -  i1Pro and C6

Black levels are also good on the NEC. At maximum brightness we see a black level of 0.330 cd/m^2. With the brightness at minimum it produces 0.0076 cd/m^2 with a pure black screen. Both are good numbers for an IPS panel.

Black Level - 1iPro and C6

The contrast ratio at the maximum light output level is 989:1 but that falls down to 838:1 at minimum brightness. Since the minimum brightness extends so low, that probably influences the contrast ratio at that level. Small errors in reading the black level, or any stray light that might be picked up, can cause a larger shift. Kept at a more commonly used level, like 120 cd/m^2, the contrast ratios will be closer to the 989:1 of the maximum backlight level.

Contrast Ratio -  i1Pro and C6

The NEC does quite well on these initial measurements. The 21:9 IPS panel continues to produce some of the best measurements of any IPS panel out there right now.



All calibration measurements are done using SpectraCal’s CalMAN 5.1.2 software with a custom workflow. Measurements are done using a C6 colorimeter that is first profiled against an i1Pro spectrometer to ensure accurate results. There are two sets of targets we use. Pre-calibration and our first calibration aim for 200 cd/m^2 with an sRGB gamut and a gamma of 2.2. This is a common real-world setting for a display. The final target changes the light level target to 80 cd/m^2 and the gamma curve to the tougher sRGB standard.

The EA294WMi features a number of preset modes. On my sample they all ran a bit warm with the 6500K setting measuring closer to 6100K. Using the 7000K preset gave me a color temperature that was closer to the 6503K ideal value. It still runs a bit warm, at 6413K, but that is very close to 6503K for not being calibrated.

If you look at the charts you’ll see that the color temperature, while having the correct value, is excessively green. There is a large push that grows worse as the intensity increases. This is why just looking at the raw temperature value is really pointless, as you can get to 6503K without having an ideal balance of red, green and blue. Looking at the individual RGB breakdown can show you the actual accuracy of the color temperature.

 

Pre-Calibration

Post-Calibration,
200 cd/m^2
Post-Calibration,
80 cd/m^2
White Level (cd/m^2) 201.85 198.96 82.427
Black Level (cd/m^2) 0.2024 0.2061 0.0867
Contrast Ratio 997:1 965:1 951:1
Gamma (Average) 2.1847 2.1959 2.493
Color Temperature 6419K 6580K 6476K
Grayscale dE2000 5.9004 0.6941 0.922
Color Checker dE2000 4.1192 1.1519 1.2513
Saturations dE2000 3.6287 1.1265 1.1144

The gamma is good overall and tracks close to the 2.2 target value. It has a little bit of a rise at the top and bottom, but the deviation is fairly small overall. As you see in the Grayscale dE2000 values, the incorrect RGB balance shows up as very visible errors with an average dE2000 that approaches 6.0.

Color accuracy is a bit better than the grayscale. The saturations dE2000 average is 3.6 and the color checker average dE2000 is 4.1. However the more saturated reds are over-saturated which leads to skin tones having a slightly sunburnt look. Blue is a bit under-saturated and cyan has an incorrect tint. These overall numbers are good but issues are still visible on screen.

Post-calibration the 200 cd/m^2 target improves a lot. The gamma tracks perfectly and so does the RGB balance. Our average grayscale dE2000 is an invisible 0.69 after calibration. Colors improve with the tint of cyan being correct now. The EA294WMi lacks the internal LUT of NEC's professional monitors but the performance still improves. The main remaining flaw comes from yellow being over-saturated which pushes it and some orange shades above the visible error limit of 3.0 dE2000. Both the color dE2000 averages are very good in the end.

When we target 80 cd/m^2 and the sRGB gamma curve our results are virtually identical. For these tests I bumped up the number of points that CalMAN samples to the maximum possible and will do this on future reviews as well. We see that the RGB response is very level across all measured values and the gamma tracks almost perfectly. The CIE chart for saturations is harder to make out as there are too many targets, but we see that the color error gets higher as the saturation percentage increases. Yellow and Green are the worse offenders here, as we expected from the CIE charts, while the other colors are all close to 2.0 or below.

Overall the post-calibration performance is impressive. The pre-calibration numbers are not great due to the poor white balance and so for ideal viewing you will want to calibrate it. Other displays offer a better out-of-box experience than the NEC.



Where all the 21:9 displays have excelled is with their uniformity. Talking to NEC about this, the shorter vertical height is one of the main reasons for this. Every display has a certain tolerance for panel shifting or twisting when it is produced. By having a shorter height this tolerance level is reduced and it is easier to produce a panel that is more rigid from top to bottom. This leads to more uniform backlighting overall and these better uniformity results.

Looking at the NEC, the white uniformity is good but not great. There is a decent bit of light fall-off at the edges, past the 10% level that I would consider to be good. Additionally the top of the display is a bit bright relative to the center of the display. This is a bit worse than I have come to expect for the 21:9 displays.

Black uniformity exhibits similar issues. The bottom of the screen, especially the corners, is too bright and the sides are darker. The deviation is just far too high for the black levels and it leads to a screen where you can easily see bright areas with a dark background.

Because of this the contrast uniformity varies across the screen. Some areas see contrast ratios of over 1,100:1 while other areas are closer to 500:1 or below. Usually with screens we see more contrast uniformity as if there are bright corners, the whites are brighter as well, but with the NEC we see an overall lack of uniformity here.

The color uniformity has issues as well. The right side of the screen, where the backlight is low, has larger dE2000 errors for color than the rest of the display. Most of the screen has a color dE2000 below 2.0 when compared to the center but there are certain areas that are above that.

The uniformity of the panel here is disappointing. It is almost certainly due to a non-uniform backlight that is then causing errors in the expected brightness of colors. Since the 21:9 panels usually excel at this, I wonder if this sample is on the poor side or if I’ve just gotten lucky with the previous samples. Either way, the uniformity here on the NEC is not as good as I would like it to be.



The NEC EA294WMi encompasses 68.67% of the AdobeRGB colorspace. As sRGB is 68.9% that is within any margin of error for measurements on the primary and secondary colors. So we see full sRGB coverage, but nothing beyond as we are using regular white LED backlights here.

LCD Color Gamut

Input on the NEC is measured using the Leo Bodnar lag tester. Since it is a 1080p display (albeit wider) it should be very accurate when measured with a 1080p source. The average lag for the three measurement positions is 27.16ms, or 1.6 frames with a 60Hz game.

This isn’t fast compared to other displays so the NEC might not be the best monitor for serious gaming, or even the best 21:9 monitor for it. The ASUS MX299Q, with the same aspect ratio and resolution, has only 9 ms of lag and the LG EA93 is under 15ms. Usually I think of the 21:9 displays as good for gaming, with a wider field-of-view, but I’d have to recommend the other models over the NEC for this.

Processing Lag Comparison (By FPS)

Power Use measures at 48 watts at maximum backlight and 18 watts at minimum backlight. Again these numbers are okay but the ASUS and LG both perform better among 21:9 displays. The candelas per watt is very low at minimum brightness but only because the NEC display has such a low minimum light level. I will start to collect data at an additional value, like 80 cd/m2, to make this more accurate. 18W minimum makes the NEC look much worse as it's minimum output is so low; the ASUS uses less power (16W) with 63 cd/m2 instead of NEC's 8 cd/m2.

LCD Power Draw (Kill-A-Watt)

Candelas per Watt



The market for 21:9 aspect ratio displays has grown a lot in the past year and seems poised to grow more. CES this year saw the introduction of 21:9 displays with 1440 lines of vertical resolution as opposed to 1080, making it a more direct replacement for 27” displays. As more people look for a single display to handle a PC as well as movies, TV, and gaming the popularity of them may increase even further.

The NEC EA294WMi offers some unique features compared to other 21:9 displays. The ability to work in Portrait mode and use a VESA mount is long overdue here. Used in Portrait mode working on long documents is made much easier than when it is in Landscape. Their adjustable picture-by-picture, which adjusts the size based on source resolution, is a useful feature for using the display for two sources at once. Some of the other features, like linking multiple units together, are nice in theory but likely to be utilized little in practice. The NEC also has a large selection of inputs that makes it easy to use with any source you want to connect it to.

However, once we move from the ergonomics and features into performance, the EA294WMi suffers in comparison. The pre-calibration numbers are not anything to really marvel over. They’re okay at best though they do improve a lot after calibration. Additionally the input lag is much higher than on other 21:9 displays, which makes it worse as a gaming monitor than the other 21:9 models I have tested.

With its unique feature set, NEC seems to be focusing more on medical imaging (thanks to DICOM compatibility) and people that need a really tall portrait display. This is something that the other 21:9 displays on the market cannot do. For both of these markets the NEC presents a better option than 21:9 models from other vendors. For home use, with more gaming and general use, I don’t see as much of a benefit for the NEC. I’d pick the other models for gaming, and many of the special features on the NEC might be more useful in a professional setting.

If you want a monitor that can work as a large portrait display, the NEC does a very good job here. If you want a 21:9 display for gaming or dual use, I’d look at the options from LG or ASUS first. They offer lower lag times, better contrast ratios, and better pre-calibration numbers. The NEC EA294WMi isn’t bad; it just isn’t as good as those displays are for most people. And it costs more. Sure, the stand is a big part of that, but is it worth $250 more than the ASUS MX299Q or $200 more than the LG 29EA73-P? Probably not for most people.

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