How graphic professionals can “future-proof” their display investments

Deidre Deacon.
Deidre Deacon.

Here, Deidre Deacon, General Manager of ViewSonic Canada, evaluates the factors that designers and companies should consider when protecting their display technology investments. ViewSonic Canada is a global provider of digital display solutions – including LED monitors, interactive displays, touch displays, projectors, thin clients, zero clients and smart displays – used in business, graphic design, commercial, home and classroom applications.

From AI and augmented reality, to immersive experiences in all walks of life, the graphic design community is undergoing a radical transformation. With the explosive growth in video and interactive content, future-proofing investments in powerful, high-resolution display technology has become a critical concern for graphic designers. The demand for video content alone is growing at a staggering rate. According to Cisco, almost 17,000 hours of video content will cross global IP networks by 2021. Forbes reports that Internet video traffic will be more than 80% of all consumer Internet traffic, and over 500 million people watch videos on Facebook alone every day! Add growing new applications for virtual and augmented reality to the mix, and it’s clear that content creation requires an entirely new set of tools and capabilities. As such, industry leaders are integrating a number of key features into display technology solutions that are rapidly becoming “must haves” in expanding graphic designers’ capabilities and competitiveness. The latest generation of professional-grade display systems have upped the ante in terms of speed, inputs, colour accuracy, panoramic viewing, multi-display set-ups, and advanced touch features, among others. So where does one start when choosing a digital display?

Higher resolution, bigger screen size and high-speed connectivity should be key factors in driving content.

The foundations: The three pillars driving content creation

While there are a host of new features and functions of note, there are three foundational elements that should always be the key considerations for graphic design professionals.

  1. Higher resolution (4K and beyond). For the longest time, people were comfortable with 1080p resolution. That’s no longer enough as we see the uptake in QHD (2560 X 1440 px) and 4K/Ultra HD (3840 X 2160 px). In fact, 4K dates back to 2013, but since then very little has changed – until now! Today, 4K content has become more readily available, which means design professionals need the right infrastructure to support delivery. Resolution demands will only get higher as conversations are now starting to revolve around 5K. Today, 4K content is essential in showing the details of a designer’s work. The upside is the increased affordability and availability of 4K-capable graphics systems (e.g. the ViewSonic VP3268-4K UHD Monitor), which is making content creation much easier. Even when not running 4K content, these displays will deliver significant image improvement for 1080p aspect ratio content.
  2. Bigger screen size. Higher resolution means that screen sizes for content development will need to be larger. On the flip side, growing the size of a display requires an increase in resolution. Without it, the clarity of an image is reduced. The key is to simultaneously grow resolution and screen size. Ideally, graphic designers should be looking for at least a 27-inch display with a minimum QHD resolution. The move to a higher resolution and/or a larger screen size, brings a third factor into play – which brings us to the next pillar.
  3. High-speed connectivity. Higher resolution and screen size demands infinitely more data. An HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) 1.4 display will no longer be sufficient, as it’s only capable of supporting 30 Hz refresh rates. To ensure glitch-free viewing, an HDMI 2.0 display that can support 60 Hz refresh rates is needed.

The colour factor. One key factor that’s often overlooked is screen-colour accuracy. This is increasingly important in developing digital content, as designers must be as accurate as possible. When evaluating monitors, the first thing to look for is a reputable brand that offers professional grade displays. Second, make sure the screen selected is pre-calibrated. Even with that, bear in mind that monitors do change their behaviours over time, and may need re-calibration after six months up to a year. So it’s best to select a system that supports hardware calibration. Bear in mind that many monitors don’t allow users to open the calibration function, as adjustments need to be carried out within a controlled environment. However, some professional display systems offer an optional calibration set that will allow users to maintain accuracy over the life of the display. From a tech standpoint, the specification for measuring colour should be equal to or lower than a Delta E of 3. (Delta E measures how far removed a user is from the perfect colour, so the smaller the number the better.) Some available calibration kits can bring the Delta E down to below one. One last thing to consider is the sophistication of the Look Up Table (LUT) – aka the colour catalogue. LUTs calculate preview colours to demonstrate how an image will be reproduced on another display device. These can be presented in 2D or 3D models, with the colours measured in bits. Ideally, design professionals should look for a 14-bit (or higher) 3D LUT.

Finally, displays are a vital piece of the digital-content creation process, which is why graphic designers need to ensure that the systems they select can handle the needs of today, and are adaptable enough to handle any changes the future will bring. Whether anticipating the need for even higher resolution content creation, or designing the ultra-high-definition video gaming graphics required today, having the right hardware essentials in place will always be an important competitive differentiator.

Top 10 things graphics professionals should look for in a professional monitor

  1. Premium panel technology for widest available maximum viewing up/down and right/left (e.g. SuperClear IPS)
  2. 4K ready
  3. QHD resolution or higher
  4. HDMI 2 display with 60 Hz refresh
  5. Hardware calibration ready
  6. USB 3.2 Type C or USB 3.0 ports
  7. Powerful 3D Look up Table (LUT)/colour engine
  8. Low Delta E (3 or lower)
  9. Full sRGV/Adobe RGB colour space
  10. Gamma pre-set options

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Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.