Samsung SyncMaster XL20 LED-backlight monitor

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Even with the first viewing of just the black background desktop I prefer, the XL20 looked dramatic. Colors on little icons just jumped, especially the reds. When I looked at the photos taken the day before on a Nikon D80, I knew this was no ordinary monitor. The colors were stunningly vivid, better than any of my unretouched photos had ever looked on any monitor before. Colors and images fairly jumped off the screen, and the details under magnification were amazing. Moving a bit off-center to view the screen at an angle made no change in perceived colors. Now I began to understand the significance of Samsung's claim that the XL20 can produce a color gamut of 114% of the NTSC standard, while standard monitors can only reach 82%.

I became distracted quickly and spent much time going through my archive of personal photographs, which often get forgotten now that so few of them get printed up. I had selected the best photos from a wedding in August, then optimized those photos with Photoshop to look balanced on my main monitor, which I'd adjusted to give a reasonable color balance. There was also a folder of digital photos at the same wedding taken and processed by a professional photographer with a Nikon D200 digital SLR one step above my D80. Comparing the photos was revealing. My own retouched photos looked oversaturated, especially the reds, on the XL20; the professional photos were much better balanced, very natural looking. The differences were so big that I went back to the RAW files of the shots from the Nikon D80... and discovered that on the XL20, they looked closer to the pro's work, and more natural than my "corrected" versions.

When I viewed all these photos on my own monitor, the pro pics and my RAW pics both looked a bit washed out, while my "corrected" pics looked better saturated, though not as natural or balanced as the pro pics on the XL20.

All this made me pause. An aside:

If I want my photos to be color correct, then I need accuracy all the way down the production line, from camera to printing. If the monitor is inaccurate, there's no point making color corrections with it. On the other hand, if the photos are mostly seen online (on the web), then they are subject to the huge variances among the millions of monitors used out there. Still, the more serious photographers would probably be using monitors that have better than average color accuracy — or so one would hope. I've read that lots of image professionals still hang on to their CRT monitors because they generally offer better color accuracy. Professional quality LCD monitors like the Eizo ColorEdge or the NEC SpectraView series run into the thousands, so they're probably out of reach for all but pros. This probably means that most people viewing most photos on most computer screens don't have the right colors. Hmmmm....

Back to the XL20...

All kinds of high definition video were played at full screen, and they all came off very nicely. Let's face it, I've never seen better on any computer monitor. In fact, that's the biggest difficulty of writing this review: I have nothing to compare against the XL20, it's that much better than any other monitor I've ever had a chance to use. This is not just my opinion. The half dozen or so people who saw the XL20 in operation all had to stop, look and ask about it. Its superior image and color quality is that arresting and obvious.

There's no way to do justice to any image on the XL20 with a photo of the screen; the best I can do is just show you one of the wedding photos, at 550px width. If you saw the original 4368x2912 image full-screen on the XL20 you'd swear the three girls were standing right in front of you. ;-)

One of the wedding photos.

My main monitor is a BenQ FP991 manufactured in Dec 2003. It is an average monitor from its era. I chose it after carefully viewing at least half a dozen monitors in a store, and based my choice on perceived sharpness (for text clarity) and natural color rendition. I prefer it with the brightness and contrast turned down, as it's easier on my eyes. Going back to it after the XL20 was difficult; not for ordinary usage, but for viewing photographs.

For general use, I found the XL20 a little too vivid and wanted to reduce the brightness. But setting the huey x-rite calibration software to automatically compensate for room lighting actually helped quite a lot, whether the room was at the slightly dim level I prefer when writing or the bright level it's on when all the white-CFL lights are turned on for taking photos of products. The red LEDs on the huey wand flicker ever few minutes when it scans the ambient lighting; it's quick enough not to be distracting, and you can set the scan frequency from 10 seconds to four hours.

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