Screen estate and colour are very important to a cartographer. Maps can be any size from A6 to more than 5m×5m square. Either way, a large crisp display would make small text, fine line-work and textures more legible. This goes a long way to increasing confidence in the decision-making and processes involved in map-making.
The first requirement is resolution! Only a few years ago, I thought a full-HD (1920×1080 pixels) screen was perfectly fine for my needs. Recently, I was more than happy with a 27-inch QHD (2560×1440 pixels) Iiyama monitor. Having seen first hand the gorgeous 5K (5120×2880 pixels) iMac screen, where you really cannot perceive the pixels, QHD no longer seemed good enough. Let’s not be too greedy, UHD (3840×2160 pixels) would be nice. This seems to be the new ‘sweet spot’ of desirability in professional screens. That brings me to the second requirement, colour accuracy.
Colour management is a subject that seems to sit in the ‘dark arts’ for most, and understandably so. Day after day, professionals make decisions on colour based upon what they see on the screen in front of them. But, do they know what they are looking at? If a monitor is not calibrated, it can be next to useless for colour-accurate work. And that’s before you get in to software and application colour management. Too often, you have to negotiate around reviews of work based upon what a client sees on some poor and uncalibrated laptop or desktop screen.
Today, screen-based reviews and proofing are becoming a little more consistent and easier as most new screens achieve the full sRGB colour gamut. This is often regarded as the default model for on-screen work and is a default colour space on cameras. For me, a screen that has 100% sRGB gamut covers most situations and requirements adequately. I generalise, but as a colour gamut, it covers enough of a typical CMYK profile used in the UK (i.e. FOGRA39) that most of the time what you see is what you’ll get.
Some users, particularly photographers, like to work in Adobe RGB. This has a much wider gamut (especially in the green spectrum) than sRGB. The image to the right by, by Mbearnstein37 (own work, CC BY-SA 3.0), indicates the difference in the gamuts; the colour is only a visual suggestion, not the actual colour differences (see below). Professional cameras often default to capturing images in Adobe RGB, and high-end inkjet printers with their multiple ink cartridges, can reproduce this expanded gamut. However, editing images captured in Adobe RGB is almost pointless unless your monitor is also capable of resolving and displaying this colour gamut. At best you are only seeing an sRGB conversion (by the monitor) of that image. Your image will not look correct and your editing choices will be wrong. This seems like common sense, but I’ve read many web articles trying to show how the gamuts vary with actual colour samples—I don’t think the author has quite grabbed the essence of the subject! Colour management is complicated, but if you recognise that every device (camera, screen or printer) interprets/translates the colours in an image¹ differently, and that by working through that process from capture to reproduction, you are on the way to working smarter.
There are a limited number of professional monitors available that manage to display the full gamut of Adobe RGB, with the cheapest starting at around £600 for a 27-inch QHD specification. However, you can readily pay more than double that! For me, there is merit in this gamut as I often use Pantone colours for specifying colour, and the Adobe RGB gamut captures most of Pantone’s offer. If you work with Pantone colours end-to-end, you can be working with colour beyond the reproduction capabilities of a typical CMYK press/printer, or screen sRGB profile. On a traditional litho-press, Pantone colours are specially mixed spots colours. It’s not unknown maps to be printed in excess of 10 spot colours. Working with (topographic) maps, green can be a rather commonly used colour, so being able to work with fine variations of (Pantone) hue on-screen can help enormously, though I always double-check against my Pantone reference cards.
With all this mind, I ventured to purchase a new screen, within a budget, to satisfy as far as I could the above considerations. After on-and-off research over a couple of months, I came across a review for a Philips Brilliance 328P6VJEB UltraClear 32-inch UHD monitor (image above). It’s is actively recommended for colour work, with an advanced multi-domain vertical alignment (AMVA) LED panel rather than an in-plane switching (IPS) panel. Some consider this inferior technology, and I really wasn’t sure for the first 30 minutes. However, once I set it to the factory calibrated sRGB mode, everything snapped in to place. That mode is somewhat deceiving as in fact it achieves 91% of Adobe RGB, far in excess of sRGB, with an average Delta-E score 0.84². That’s very good! A monitor with a Delta-E score of less than three (3.0) is considered necessary for colour-accurate work. I carried out a display calibration check with my Spyder Pro, which confirmed the 91% coverage of the Adobe RGB gamut, and actually looked no different to the preset sRGB setting. Luminance uniformity varies within the range of 97–102% and the gamma is set at 2.2. It’s a true 10-bit monitor, with 12-bit internal processing, so displays 1.074 billion colours rather than the 16.7 million colours of a typical 8-bit display. This type of panel also has exceptional contrast, with deep blacks and bright whites. This isn’t the whole story with monitors, but good are indicators nevertheless. So, out-of-the-box, the sRGB preset is spot on and you are good to go.
After a week of use, I’m happy with my purchase, with three minor observations. Firstly, the viewing angles are nowhere near the claimed 178°, looking pretty washed out at those extreme angles. In practice, this is irrelevant to me as this isn’t a public display monitor. Secondly, you also see what looks like quite a bit of LED bleed at the left and right edges of the screen. This may be to do with this type of panel, and it’s size, as when you look straight on at the edges, this is not visible. It’s really only visible against a dark background. This kind of thing seems to really bother a lot of people, but I’ve yet to use a screen without a hint of it. It may upset those who edit ‘dark’ films, but for me, it simply doesn’t affect everyday working, even on colour-critical files. Thirdly, the interface is a little clumsy and it’s easy to activate the touch-sensitive adjustment controls, but at other times they seem to need a couple of presses. Still, most monitors are rather clumsy in this regard. It’s a UHD monitor, so across that 32-inch screen are 3840×2160 pixels, equating to a crisp 140dpi. Software interfaces are smaller, but still clear and sharp. The additional clarity and substantial extra screen estate is excellent for mapping. An A3 sheet at 100% scale fits easily on the screen and looks sharp. I find this screen size and resolution combination perfect for now. The monitor, overall, is relatively ‘standard’ in design. I prefer the understated look as I do not want to to be distracted by anything around the screen. It seems well made and stable has a good range of adjustment options, even allowing the screen to rotate 90° should you wish to work or review in portrait mode. There is also a USB hub, though that isn’t something I need. Visit Philip’s website if you need to geek out on specs. For the time being, I’m a happy owner of a Philips Brilliance 328P6VJEB UltraClear 32-inch UHD monitor. I’m not sure how you could better it at the price.
- By ‘image’, I mean any kind graphic or image rendered to a screen; all pixel or vector-based work is rasterised for visual display.
- Every monitor is factory checked and calibrated, so the results will vary slightly monitor to monitor, but within specification.