4K monitors are ideal for production control rooms. This is the monitor wall in a Game Creek mobile production unit.
4K, OLED, 1080p―whatever happened to the good old days when a monitor was just a high-quality analog TV set, and the only resolution available was NTSC?
Well, those days are gone: Digital television, with its many resolution and technology options, is here to stay.
The good news: With careful planning and the right advice, it is possible for government video producers to buy the exact quality of monitor they really need. That advice comes from the manufacturers that make professional-quality broadcast monitors. Here’s what they told us.
BUY THE RIGHT MONITOR FOR THE JOB
The term “government video” covers an incredibly wide range of functions. At the high-end, it can describe military and surveillance applications where ultra-high resolution is critically important. But government video encompasses many lower-resolution applications such as educational and training videos, community broadcasting, webcasting and a whole lot of other things as well.
Panasonic BT-4LH310 4K LCD monitor
When it comes to selecting monitors, it is the specific nature of each government video production unit’s work that dictates how much―or how little―image quality is required from its production monitors.
“If you are doing military visuals or high-priority surveillance, then it makes sense to buy the highest-resolution, highest-quality monitors that you can,” said Craig Yanagi, JVC Professional Products’ manager of marketing and brand strategy. “But if you are doing community access television, a lower monitor resolution can do the job quite nicely, while keeping your costs down.”
Before shopping for a monitor, government video producers should first enumerate the kinds of video work they are doing; not just today, but as projected for the next two-three years. If a facility is due to be upgraded to 4K for whatever reason down the road, then it may make sense to buy top-quality 4K monitors now. If 1080p is going to be the resolution of choice for the foreseeable future, then it makes no sense to buy 4K. However, it may be sensible to buy at least one OLED monitor, which costs more than a conventional LCD display.
“Today, despite the introduction of newer technologies, 1,920 x 1,080-pixel LCD panels are still the dominant resolution and technology,” said Wes Donahue, director of channel sales and marketing for TVLogic USA. “OLED has been slow to emerge due to manufacturing limitations, leaving large panel sizes out of reach. And 4K LCDs in the professional market have been priced relatively high. So whether or not you invest in the latest technology becomes a question of what do you really need to get the job done?”
Planar EP4K Touch 4K interactive display
4K, OLED, AND WHY YOUR HEAD HURTS
Okay; time to define some terms.
We’re using 4K to define monitors that have at least 3,840 x 2,160-pixel resolution. That’s four times more resolution than a 1080p monitor.
“With four times the resolution in the same size display, the result is much greater pixel density and stunning image quality,” said Steve Seminario, Planar’s senior director of product marketing. “The largest 4K monitors can be used to replace two-by-two 1080p monitor video walls, delivering the same resolution but without the distracting bezel dividing lines.”
OLED refers to monitors that use “organic light-emitting diodes” to generate color. This doesn’t mean that the LEDs were grown without the use of chemical pesticides; rather, an OLED relies on a thin film of organic compounds that emit light when they are excited by electricity. (Editor’s note: Manufacturers of mobile devices, such as tablets and cell phones, often refer to OLED technology as AMOLED: active matrix organic light emitting diode. AMOLED and OLED refer to the same thing.)
The big plus to OLED monitors is that they do not require backlighting the way LCD monitors do.
“This results in OLED monitors delivering richer, darker blacks, and generally a full spectrum of accurate colors,” said Gary Mandle, Sony Electronics’ senior product manager for monitors. “When you need to see exactly what’s going out from your feed, you need to be seeing it on an OLED.”
Sony BVM-E250a family of displays
On the flipside, monitors that are not visually mission-critical, such as those used at editing stations, can be less-expensive LCDs. Keep in mind that there are two backlighting technologies used in LCD displays. Less expensive LCD displays use cold-cathode fluorescent light to supply the necessary illumination, while pricier LCD displays use LED backlights. LED backlit displays are thinner and can supply deep, rich blacks similar to OLED displays; CCFL-backlit displays often have gray creep into black areas on screen.
One other technology to note is called “in-plane switching,” which gives LCD monitors a wider angle of view. An LCD display with LED backlighting and IPS technology can give a viewing experience close to that on an OLED display.
Note to budget-minded producers: Professional OLEDs are built using a more precise, more color-accurate architecture than lower-cost consumer OLEDs. So don’t be tempted to save money by going the consumer OLED route: You won’t get the same quality.
Now for the head-hurting aspect: A 4K monitor does not have to be OLED, and an OLED monitor does not have to be 4K. This is because 4K―like 1080p, 1080i and 720p―refers to the monitor’s resolution (number of vertical and horizontal lines). OLED, like LED and LCD, refers to the specific technology being used to display those lines.
JVC DT-V21G11Z monitor
4K OR NOT 4K
Having lived through the “HD or Not HD” monitor debate during the SD days, government video producers can be forgiven for not wanting to tackle the “4K or Not 4K” debate today. However, the issue needs to be addressed when buying new monitors; especially if buying 1080p today could end up being a short-term Band-Aid solution, rather than a long-term monitor fix.
As we touched upon earlier, deciding whether to go the 4K route or not right now is dependent on your unit’s specific workload.
“There’s not a whole lot of content for 4K monitors to show,” said Gary Litwin, Boland Communications’ national sales director. “If you are going to invest in high-end equipment, then it might make more sense to get a 1080p OLED monitor for inspecting your final video product, because this level of precision can really help.”
“Since 4K tends to be used by people shooting with high-end RED cameras and the like, it is not something that I would expect would be needed by many government video producers,” noted Devan Cress, Marshall Electronics’ director of sales. “At the same time, it is possible to do a 1080p quad-split on a 4K monitor; resulting in one display showing four different video windows at full 1080p resolution. So there are times when 4K makes sense in a 1080p surveillance environment.”
As well, 4K monitors―plus 4K cameras and production equipment―can be incredibly useful in “digital zoom” scenarios. For instance, Fox Sports is experimenting with 4K cameras to shoot NASCAR racing. When something happens on the track, the network can digitally zoom in on the shot; ending up with a 1080p close-up that still looks great on-air.
MORE INFO Boland: www.bolandcom.com
“Windows applications can natively support beyond 4K resolution,” said Steve Seminario. “Any Windows application can take full advantage of a 4K display. So if your displays are used for a lot of Windows presentations, 4K may be an excellent choice. Showing 1080p videos on these displays isn't a problem: We have excellent scaling capabilities in our displays that can upscale 1080 or lower-res sources up to 4K.”
RULES OF THUMB
We touched upon the fundamental issues of selecting the right monitors in today’s multi-resolution, multi-display technology market. Here’s what the experts have taught us:
1) Choose the monitor that meets the precise needs of your work, now and into the next two to three years.
2) When deciding whether or not to buy 4K and OLED, examine your needs; not the specs that people are throwing at you.
3) Just because it makes sense to buy one mission-critical 4K and/or OLED monitor, does not mean that all monitors need to be at this level of quality.
4) There are roles today for 4K monitors; specifically those where resolution is key. Your task is to ascertain whether your mission requires this level of resolution―or not!