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Monitors for Professional Graphics

Often overlooked when buying a new workstation, the monitor is the only component that you interact with continuously, so it really is worth buying something good for your eyes to look at.

There are many factors to consider such as resolution, size and refresh rate. Put simply, the higher the resolution, the sharper graphics will appear, although on the downside you'll need a more powerful NVIDIA Quadro graphics cards to render applications smoothly. Size is pretty obvious, with bigger monitors enabling you to view more at once and so be more productive, although beware large monitors with a low resolution as these will make games look grainy and stretched.

There are three panel technologies to choose from. Twisted Nematic (TN), In-Plane Switching (IPS) and Vertical Alignment (VA) - all of which exhibit different characteristics making some panel types better suited for specific uses. Here's a brief summary of the principle characteristics of these panel types.

Panel Type
TN IPS VA
Pros High refresh rate, low price Huge colour depth, best viewing angles High colour depth, good viewing angles
Cons Narrow viewing angles, limited colour depth High price, older panels have a low refresh rate Limited availability, older panels have a low refresh rate

TN Professional Monitors

TN panels monitors are the most common on the market due to their low cost. TN panel technology is usually found in monitors between 19" and 28" in size, sporting 16:9 aspect ratios at popular resolutions such as 1920 x 1080 (Full HD), 2560 x 1440 (QHD) and 3840 x 2160 (4K).

The most advantageous trait of TN panels, aside from being the lowest-cost option, is that they are the most responsive and have the lowest levels of display lag - the time taken to transfer a video output from the computer's graphics to an image that is displayed on the monitor.

There are two crucial components of display lag - the signal processing time and the response time. Signal processing is primarily affected by the type of display scaler used and any monitor effects applied, such as colour adjustments or simulated motion blur. Signal processing time is related to the panel technology used since display scalers are often specific to one particular technology. The response time is the how long it takes for a pixel to change colour and this is usually measured through grey-to-grey colour transitions; response time is directly related to the type of panel technology used.

TN panels are often used in gaming monitors as their low display lag makes them well-suited for fast-paced first-person shooter (FPS) titles where responsiveness is crucial. The ability to achieve high refresh rates is another characteristic of TN panels that makes them ideal for gaming.

TN panels do, however, have two notable weakness, firstly that their viewing angles are typically limited to about 170-degrees horizontally and 160-degrees vertically. Since the first generation of TN panels the technology has improved greatly with respect to viewing angles but TN is still notably behind IPS in this regard.

In addition, TN panels can exhibit colour and contrast shift in both vertical and horizontal directions. This isn't necessarily an issue for users who view their monitor straight-on but even the slightest off-centre viewing can cause colour or contrast shift.

Finally TN panels have the most limited colour depth of the three panel types, meaning that colours often appear muted, with colour banding evident in darker scenes. This makes them a poor choice for professional graphics workstations.

IPS Professional Monitors

IPS-based monitors have become an increasingly popular alternative to cheaper TN monitors as the technology has matured and become more established in the marketplace. IPS panel technology was initially created to improve the weak viewing angles of TN panels and to further improve colour reproduction and image quality.

A typical IPS display offers viewing angles of 178-degrees horizontal and 178-degrees vertical and is significantly less likely to exhibit any colour or contrast shifts when viewed from off-centre. Furthermore, IPS panels are usually more colour accurate and capable of displaying more colours since they predominantly make use of true 8-bit colour depth panels compared to 6-bit panels on most TN monitors, which often use a technique called dithering and frame-rate control (FRC) to simulate deeper 8-bit colour depth.

IPS panels, in their early years, struggled to achieve reasonable response times though modern IPS panels have improved a lot on this. While TN panels typically offer 2-to-4-millisecond response times, many IPS panels only reach 5-to-10 milliseconds, making them unsuitable for twitch gaming.

IPS panels are available under many different brand names and marketing labels including PLS (Samsung), AH-IPS (LG Display) and AHVA (AU Optronics), but essentially these are all still a variation of an IPS panel. IPS monitors tend to be more frequently available in larger size categories, such as 28in to 40in, and with the unique ultrawide 21:9 aspect ratio in addition to conventional 16:9 and 16:10 offerings.

The target audience of IPS panels tends to be high-end consumers and professionals who are more appreciative of image quality and viewing angles for varied usage scenarios and are the ideal choice for a graphics workstation.

VA Professional Monitors

IPS and TN panels differ markedly in terms of viewing angles, refresh rates, responsiveness and colour depth. VA-type panels were developed as an attempt to find a middle ground, meaning a panel with a balance of characteristics of IPS and TN technologies.

The VA-type panel is usually sorted into two main categories - Multi-Domain Vertical Alignment (MVA) and Patterned Vertical Alignment (PVA), although the two are broadly similar and PVA has declined in popularity as display manufacturers have turned more towards IPS. VA-type panels are the least common display type on the market.

VA-type panels have wider viewing angles than TN-type panels, though they do exhibit some off-centre colour and contrast shifts, something IPS panels do not generally have. VA panels are also unique in that the VA technology allows for drastically higher contrast ratios than IPS or TN equivalents: 3000 to 5000:1 is commonplace. Colour depth is typically 8-bit, making VA panels more accurate and vibrant than TN equivalents and quite similar to IPS.

While there are some monitors able to deliver refresh rates up to 120Hz, most VA-type panels have similar refresh rates to IPS counterparts. Similarly, with regards to response times the VA-type panel is closer to IPS, if not a little slower.

Multiple Monitors

Scan Pro Graphics workstations support multiple monitors, as research from companies such as Microsoft have shown that adding more monitors to your PC can increase productivity by as much as 50%. Another study by the University of Utah showed that adding a second monitor boosts productivity by between 18% and 25%.

Productivity is increased because you can move the toolbars onto the extra screens, giving you more screen real estate on the primary display to view the model you are working. In addition you can view more than one document or application at a time, allowing you to compare products and data more easily and giving you better insights into trends.