A couple of months ago, I had a crazy idea, which I thought might just work: get a 1080p HDTV, a really nice one, and use it as my computer monitor. The advantage: cheaper and bigger than 30″ LCD monitors. I also found a model that I thought couldn’t be beat — one that displayed 10-bit color. If you’re unfamiliar with monitor color depth, you might want to have a look at the following:
- Discerning among LCD monitors
- Where Apple hype shows some cracks
- Apple still not transparent about its hardware specs
- Lots to like about new MacBook Pro
Basically, you should have a monitor capable of displaying 8-bit color or better. Why? Because DSLRs capture 12-bit, 14-bit and 16-bit color, and you’re going to miss out on a lot if you can’t see all those colors when you’re editing the photos.
Laptops display only 6-bit color and use dithering to make up for the difference between 6-bit and 8-bit. Normal displays, including Apple Cinema Displays, have 8-bit color. The more expensive computer displays out there have 10-bit, 12-bit and even 14-bit color. LaCie and Eizo seem to be the only companies that build these sorts of high-end monitors.
The prices start around $1,000 for a 21″ or 24″ monitor at 10-bit color, and go up from there, to $2,000 or even $3,000. So you can imagine my delight at finding an HDTV at 40″ that could display 10-bit color and cost only $1,300. Granted, the resolution was only 1920×1080, and at that size, a computer monitor would have been at 2560×1920 or more, but you can’t have everything, right?
The particular HDTV I found is made by Sony and is from their Bravia series. It’s no longer being made — Sony keeps changing models every couple of months. Apparently HDTVs evolve so fast these days there’s a need to do that. I’d give you the model number, but it doesn’t matter any more. The specs were great though:
- Full 1080p
- 24p True Cinema
- 10-bit color processing and 10-bit color display
- Full digital video processor
- Advanced contrast enhancer
- An assortment of ports (HDMI, PC, S-Video, component and composite)
That’s how it looked on my desk. Did it do everything promised in the specs? Yes. Was the quality of the display as I expected? Yes. Editing photos on it was a stunning experience. I was able to see colors like I couldn’t see them before. Believe me, you don’t know what you’re missing until you see your DLSR photos on a high quality display.
So why am I speaking in the past tense about it?! For a single reason: it was much too bright for my eyes. Therein lies the main difference between TVs and monitors. TVs are built to be much brighter, since they’re meant to be viewed from a distance. Monitors are built with a much subtler level of brightness and contrast, since they’re meant to be viewed up close. This didn’t become apparent to me until I had the TV on my desk, about 2 feet from my eyes. I didn’t have a problem with the size of the screen (although it was bigger than expected), but the brightness killed me. Within a half hour, my eyes started to burn and I got a headache. I tried to tune down the brightness and contrast, but I couldn’t get it where it needed to be; I don’t think the TV could go down that low.
After much arguing with myself, and trying all sorts of things, including stepping back from it as much as possible, I had to come to grips with the fact that it wasn’t the fit I needed. Stepping back to an appropriate distance would have defeated the purpose of using it as a monitor, because at that point, it would have become a TV displaying my laptop’s DVI feed. Although it had the display quality I needed — and not a single bad pixel, it was a perfect display — I couldn’t use it.
If you’re in the market for an HDTV, definitely check out the Sonia Bravia line. They’ve got stunning color. They’re amazing TVs. Just don’t try to use them as computer monitors. It won’t work. To their credit, they’re not intended to be monitors. They’re TVs — really good TVs.