LCD viewing angle and calibration
November 2, 2008 3:31 PM   Subscribe

The LCD displays I have for my desktop and laptop are both very sensitive to viewing angle, especially up/down. Viewing angle seems to affect brightness and gamma. Are all LCD monitors this way? If so, does it do any good at all to try to calibrate them? Which LCD monitors, if any, are good for photo editing? Or does everyone still just use CRTs?

Specifics: My laptop is a year-old Toshiba. My desktop monitor is a 2 year old Westinghouse 22" LCD.
posted by DarkForest to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have used Monaco Optix to calibrate the LCD on my Thinkpad R50 and then done a comparison against a similarly calibrated Barco CRT, and found that the results were surprisingly good.

Calibration is worth doing and does yield results, IMHO, though the viewing angle thing is always going to be a bit of a pain - I have to discipline myself to sit correctly and consistently(!)

Natural light is also very important. I try not to do any colour correcting under electric light as the contrast gets really screwy.
posted by Chairboy at 3:42 PM on November 2, 2008

I use a Dell Ultra Sharp LCD and viewing angle is a non-issue, however my wife uses a HP monitor and the viewing angle is very restricted on it. Note that my monitor was a top of the line model when I bought it in 2004, whereas hers is a of-the-shelf at Costco. So, from my limited experience viewing angle greatly depends on quality of the monitor.
posted by Vindaloo at 3:48 PM on November 2, 2008

Viewing angle seems to affect brightness and gamma. Are all LCD monitors this way?

Yes, to some extent. It's inherent in the technology.

For each sub-pixel, an LCD has a transparent electrode at the front of a sheet of the liquid crystal material. The brightness of the sub-pixel depends on the voltage applied to that electrode, which in turn changes the extent to which the underlying LC material twists polarized light. It's the absolute amount of resulting polarization twist, combined with the effects of polarizing sheets behind and in front of the display, that controls each sub-pixel's brightness and therefore the whole pixel's brightness and colour.

The actual amount of polarization twist depends on the thickness of the LC sheet as well as on the applied voltage. The further off centre you view the display from, the greater the effective thickness of LC material you're looking through, and the further away from best-available color balance and contrast you will get.

That said, some displays are much better at off-centre viewing than others, and newer ones tend to be better (though I'll happily pit my 2001 Dell Inspiron laptop, which has one of Dell's Ultrasharp displays in it, against anything available today).
posted by flabdablet at 4:13 PM on November 2, 2008

A lot of people still use CRTs; the LCDs that are used for photo editing by professionals are generally not the same set of Dells and HPs and Samsungs everyone else buys - they're very pricey gadgets that offer very good angle of view and have precise color reproduction.

Calibrating a carefully selected consumer-grade LCD is generally enough for amateur work; I have a Dell whose brightness does go up and down with viewing angle, but not by very much from the angle I actually view it at, so it's perfectly acceptable. By contrast, my father - who used to do professional photo work, though he doesn't any longer - kept his very expensive and huge 21" CRT until six months ago.

The short answer: yes, all LCDs are going to have some drop-off on viewing angles, but on some it's horrible (colors are distorted horrifically as soon as you twitch your head to the side), one some it's okay (subtleties of brightness gets iffy if you try to move around) and some are accurate enough that non-professionals/serious amateurs won't even really see a difference if it's not carefully pointed out to them. The worse ones aren't really worth calibrating; the better ones absolutely are.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:15 PM on November 2, 2008

Are all LCD monitors this way?

Yes. All LCDs will be this way, even the nicer LCDs that use white LEDs for the backlighting. This is just the nature of the beast.

If so, does it do any good at all to try to calibrate them?

Sure. The matrix isn't perfectly stable for ever-and-ever. It degrades, like any component, which means your colors will start to drift. It's much less of an issue than with CRTs, with the additional benefit that you won't have to fuss with all kinds of annoying, archaic settings like pincushion.

That said, I still use a CRT.

Which LCD monitors, if any, are good for photo editing?

The only LCDs you should be using when editing your photographs are S-IPS derivision monitors. Don't use TFT panels to edit photos--most can only show something like ~277k colors and use dithering for the rest.

If my beloved CRT died tomorrow and I had to replace it with an LCD, it would most likely be the NEC LCD3090WQXi.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:32 PM on November 2, 2008

If you're looking for pro-grade LCDs that exhibit very little to almost none of this effect at moderate viewing angles, I would recommend LCDs from LaCie, Formac, Apple (their DVI models will work just fine with a PC), or some in Sony and Panasonic's pro lines. Those can really do the job of giving you accurate color once calibrated, and the best come with their own calibration tool that is specifically designed for the monitor in question. Others can be calibrated to a slightly lesser degree with a 3rd-party calibration tool, such as the ones from X-rite or Datacolor. Of course, these high-performance displays have a commensurate price.

That said; as Tomorrowful mentioned, if you're not doing critical prepress work, you can get quite good results with a consumer-grade LCD if you pay close attention to specs such as viewing angle (wider is better) and contrast ratio (higher is better, and LED backlights offer impressive improvements in contrast), then calibrate it with one of the 3rd-party tools (perhaps you can borrow a colorimeter instead of buying). Just be careful in your selection, as specs tend to vary wildly across brands, and monitors that look similar can perform very differently. If you can, it may help to demo a unit in the store, and simply move your head around and see how well the viewing angle matches the written specs.
posted by mboszko at 4:44 PM on November 2, 2008

There are lots of different LCD technologies out there. By far the cheapest and most common is the TN type, which also has the poorest viewing angles. Almost all 22" LCDs are TN, so you need to move to a different bracket/tier if you want better quality.

I suggest x-bit labs' reviews of monitors. Their 2007 2007 buying guide is a little dated but still has useful info. Part of the problem with LCD shopping is that the usual marketing figures like response time or contrast ratio don't really tell you anything useful and are gamed. So you need to read technical reviews like the ones at x-bit labs to find out the real specs.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:53 PM on November 2, 2008

Yes. All LCDs will be this way, even the nicer LCDs that use white LEDs for the backlighting. This is just the nature of the beast.

AFAICT there are two kinds of LCD technology -- shitty and not-shitty. The former gets its brightness and contrast in the center of the vertical field of view at the cost of the edges.

This was most evident with the 17" iMacs Apple was selling some time ago. Their vertical viewing angle really sucked. lists the Viewing Angle for most of its LCD displays (eg. here) so you can make a good purchasing decision there.
posted by troy at 5:26 PM on November 2, 2008

Some of the newer LCD technologies have much wider useful viewing angles, but it comes at a price. The NEC LCD2490WUXI is pretty decent, for example. But that display, last I checked, costs over a grand.
posted by kindall at 5:30 PM on November 2, 2008

Listen to Civil_Disobedient and Rhomboid. For a detailed answer to your question, check out the LCD thread maintained by the monitor nerds at AnandTech.

The first post describes all of the technology involved with LCD's (panel types, calibration, etc). The second post gives a ranked list of monitors for different uses, including photo editing, print work, gaming, etc. It's updated frequently and is an absolutely invaluable reference if you are ever looking to buy a new monitor.

Brand names, for the most part, don't mean anything when it comes to LCD's. What you are looking for is the type of panel used in the monitor, which varies across models from any given manufacturer, and can be difficult to determine. Sometimes a specific model of monitor will even ship with different types of panels, and you won't know what type you got until you open the box ("panel lottery").

The general pecking order of panel types (for photo editing) is IPS > VA > TN. For accurate color reproduction, IPS is what you want. That is what the professional grade monitors from NEC etc. use. Some of the lower end monitors from HP, Planar, and Doublesight also use IPS panels, and can be found much cheaper than the pro stuff.

FWIW, I'm typing this on a pair of (legendary but discontinued) Doublesight DS-263N's with IPS panels. The color is fantastic and there is very little color distortion unless you look at the screens from very extreme angles.
posted by doowod at 7:05 PM on November 2, 2008

You might find the research done at digital versus helpful.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 11:10 PM on November 2, 2008

As for a cheaper version of the NEC I linked above... Dell UltraSharps like this one are very pretty.

Note: you'll need dual DVI connectors for that Dell. That 2560x1600 native resolution don't come cheap. :)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:40 AM on November 3, 2008

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