‘IPS’ or In-Plane Switching is a type of LCD panel that was traditionally praised for excellent colour reproduction by the ‘colour elite’. It was these professionals and enthusiasts to whom the technology was broadly restricted due to cost. With the launch of LG’s Enhanced IPS (‘E-IPS’) panels came a slew of much more affordable IPS panel monitors, such as the Dell U2311H and ViewSonic VP2365WB. These took advantage of the enhanced light transmission characteristics of ‘E-IPS’ panels and made use of much cheaper backlights to reduce end-user cost. These monitors have been a resounding success for both home users and the ‘colour elite’ on a budget but for some people they were missing a trick – LED backlighting.
LED-backlighting is a now ubiquitous way of lighting up the pixels of an LCD monitor. There is still widespread confusion surrounding the technology – many people identify ‘LED’ as being disparate and somehow superior to ‘LCD’. In actuality the underlying LCD technology remains unchanged by the backlight with the only concrete changes being to bloated market figures such as ‘dynamic contrast ratio’. The most common iteration of LED backlight takes the form of WLEDs (White Light Emitting Diodes) which replace the more power hungry and hot-running CCFLs (Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamps) found in other LCD monitors. This is exactly the direction NEC has taken with their new MultiSync EA232WMi – which is the first monitor to market combining a ‘low priced’ IPS panel and LED backlighting. The main selling point for this new backlight is of course energy efficiency, with related secondary advantages such as lower heat output. Because the EA232WMi is designed primarily as an office monitor there is no talk of a super-thin profile and 8 zillion to 1 dynamic contrast ratios. But that’s not to say the monitor isn’t suitable for entertainment uses and, naturally, we are going to test the performance and the monitor for just that purpose. Using our extensive testing suite of games, movies, applications and even the new Spyder3Elite 4.0.2 software we will be putting the EA232WMi through its paces in a home-usage scenario.
The most appealing aspects of the NEC MultiSync EA232WMi include its IPS panel and relatively efficient LED backlight. Because the backlight used here is WLED this should restrict the colour gamut to roughly sRGB – so there is no sign of a broad colour gamut here. NEC have not given a grey-to-grey response time figure (which we would expect to be around 6-8ms) for the EA232WMi and instead state only a 14ms typical response time. Whilst this may seem rather high it would indicate that overdrive technology is not employed by the EA232WMi – which has both its pros on cons. Trailing should at least be ‘consistent’ across most transitions with an absence of overdrive trailing and related artifacts – this will of course be assessed subjectively later on in the review.
We have kindly highlighted the positive standout features of the EA232WMi in blue for your reading convenience.
The NEC EA232WMi has that sensible and smart matte plastic look about it – with a gently curved rectangular bezel and small nobly power and OSD navigation buttons. The monitor is very solidly constructed with a heavy-duty stand. The circular base of the stand has four curved rubber pads at the bottom to create a bit of friction and prevent the monitor sliding about on the desk. Once powered on the status of the monitor is confirmed by a very small and unobtrusive power LED ‘dot’ that glows orange to indicate standby or blue when the monitor is on (shown below).
The stand offers good adjustability including around 30° backwards tilt, minor forwards tilt, around 4.5 inches of height adjustment and 90° rotation into portrait mode (below). What is particularly impressive, though, is that the circular stand base and rubber pads allows the stand to ‘swivel’ to practically any angle you could want. It isn’t restricted to the usual 45° either side.
The side of the monitor once again flaunts the substance over style approach taken by NEC here. At around 3 inches thick (at the thickest point, excluding stand) it is of fairly average thickness for an IPS monitor. You can also see an abundance of ventilation slits all around the edge of the monitor (and continuing towards the back) which ensures optimal cooling. Due in part to the efficient LED backlight the EA232WMi runs noticeably cooler than most other IPS monitors (including its predecessor; the EA231WMi) which can make a perceivable difference to the ambient temperature in a small room. On the left side of the monitor there are two USB 2.0 ports and a headphone jack.
From the rear you can see the EA232WMi’s mighty stand. Should you wish to use an alternative mounting solution the stand can be removed to leave screw holes for a standard (100 x 100mm) VESA mount. Above this there are two additional screw holes, at either side of the NEC logo, for compatibility with alternative mounting solutions.
Tucked away towards of the monitor and conveniently exposed by rotation for photography purposes (below) you can see the various inputs of the monitor.
These inputs include two additional USB 2.0 ports, audio in, D-sub (VGA), DVI-D, DisplayPort and an AC (power) input. There are no HDMI inputs as this monitor is designed purely for PC use.
The OSD (On-Screen Display) of the EA232WMi features an intuitive ‘mini joystick’ that allows complete one-button four-axis control of the OSD. We found using this very natural and a lot less fiddly than multiple small buttons dotted around the bezel. Because the ‘mini joystick’ protruded out more than the surrounding buttons it was easy to operate in the dark – which is certainly a bonus for the non-illuminated control pad. The OSD itself is split into six main sections and as well as the usual contrast, brightness and colour balance controls (above) you are able to control the brightness of the power LED and set the monitor onto an ‘auto brightness’ mode. This settings actually has 3 modes associated with it – one of which adjusts the brightness to suit the ambient light level, one of which adjusts the brightness given the amount of white on the screen (a bit like a more subtle modified dynamic contrast) and the latter of which adjusts for both. We prefer setting the brightness manually although we did quickly try this feature and found the adjustments to be both subtle and suitable.
The image actually looked very well balanced under the ‘standard mode’ default settings. Colours appeared rich and fairly vibrant – it would be safe to say a little ‘too vibrant’ if absolute colour accuracy takes precedence over a well-balanced but pleasing image. We initially used familiar photographs, desktop backgrounds and icons as well as the Lagom website to see if further refinements could be made to the contrast and brightness settings. The default contrast of ‘50’ appeared to be optimal, whilst the default brightness was a little high – we lowered it from the default 98% to 68% but this would depend on ambient lighting and personal preferences. A Spyder3Elite colorimeter (software version 4.0.2) was used to refine colour balance and measure certain performance attributes which are featured later in the review. For the purposes of the review we chose not to test the monitor using colorimeter-modified ICC profiles as the games and movie software we used misinterprets (or outright ignores) this data. We also like to give you an idea of the performance you can expect from the EA232WMi after a few simple OSD tweaks that will stick regardless of the application. We were able to make fairly minor adjustments to the RGB levels within the OSD to achieve the desirable daylight white point of 6500k at the centre of the screen. Although each individual unit (EA232WMi) is different we used the following settings for the review –
- Red: 93.8%
- Green: 91.7%
- Blue: 100%
Our review sample EA232WMi appeared to be relatively weak in blue and relatively strong in green and red under native settings. This was quite interesting as WLED-backlit monitors are usually too strong in blue due to the slight blue hue of the backlight itself. NEC seem to have done a pretty good job with their factory settings, at least for ‘entertainment’ usage – but how is this reflected by the monitors’ performance? This is explored both objectively and subjectively in the proceeding sections of the review.
NEC makes fairly practical claims of a 250 cd/m2 typical luminance and a 1000:1 contrast ratio. Although this mode may seem a little misplaced on a monitor of this calibre and intended usage NEC does include a dynamic contrast mode on the EA232WMi – they claim a relatively modest 25,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio.
We tested the EA232WMi using the settings discussed in the calibration section of the review and compared the luminance of an entirely black scene to an entirely white scene using a highly sensitive luminance meter. Unless otherwise stated assume a contrast level of 100% for the purposes of this table.
|Monitor profile||White luminance (cd/m2)||Black luminance (cd/m2)||Contrast ratio (x:1)|
|Standard, 100% brightness
|Standard, 80% brightness
|Standard, 60% brightness||174||0.22||781|
|Standard, 40% brightness
|Standard, 20% brightness
|Standard, 0% brightness||011
|Test settings (68% brightness, 50% contrast)
|Text, 68% brightness
|Movie, 68% brightness
|Gaming, 68% brightness
|Photo, 68% brightness
In the table above you can see that the peak contrast ratio recorded by the EA232WMi at ‘useable’ settings was 818:1, at 100% brightness. This fell slightly short of the 1000:1 specified by NEC but was by no means poor for an IPS-panel monitor. These settings also gave a peak (white) luminance reading of 281 cd/m2, which slightly exceeded the manufacturer-specified 250 cd/m2. However; this was a peak luminance reading for an entirely white image at 100% contrast and thus represents the absolute upper-end luminance in a fairly artificial scenario. We did actually record a very impressive contrast ratio of 1100:1 at 0% brightness – with a fantastic black depth of 0.01 cd/m2. Unfortunately the accompanying white luminance of 11 cd/m2 meant that the settings were not at all useable as the backlight was practically off. This does give the EA232WMi a rather impressive white luminance range of around 270 cd/m2 which is a lot more flexible than usual given the sub-300 cd/m2 peak luminance. We would have liked to have seen a bit more range in the dynamic contrast– although the black depth was <0.01, giving a contrast ratio of >14,600 (limited by the resolution of our light meter), the peak luminance of an entirely white image was a measly 146 cd/m2. Dynamic contrast isn’t something we are particularly fond of on any monitor but it took a good 10 seconds to ‘fully react’ to a change from complete black to almost complete white; it still didn’t pump out the level of light it should have.
Using our ‘test settings’ of 68% brightness and 50% contrast we were able to achieve a respectable black level of 0.23 and contrast ratio of 809:1. Although the recorded black levels were quite low across the board (excepting the bleached blacks of the ‘gaming’ and ‘photo’ presets) the EA232WMi did suffer from the usual silvery-purple sheen that is common on IPS panels (dubbed ‘IPS glow’). Despite this ‘glow’, that shifts around the screen, there was no noticeable excess backlight bleed-through to speak of. It should be noted at this point that, as with all of the testing featured herein, there may be slight variation between individual EA232WMi units; we can’t guarantee that every unit will provide a similarly low level of backlight bleed-through.
Another thing to consider is the uniformity of ‘pure white’ across the screen. This tends to highlight any variation in luminance that may exist across the screen and is generally a little more exaggerated than what you would notice in a ‘mixed’ image – it is an important measure of screen uniformity nonetheless. Absolute luminance values are given (cd/m2) in the table below, alongside the % difference in luminance from centre. Readings were taken using a Spyder3Elite colorimeter at 9 equidistance ‘pure white’ quadrants – running across the screen from top left to bottom right.
The maximum deviation from the central (‘quadrant 5’) luminance of 171 cd/m2 was measured in ‘quadrant 3’ towards the top right corner of the screen. The luminance here was measured as 144.3 cd/m2, representing a significantly lower peak luminance that differs from the central point by 16%. Towards the top left corner of the screen (‘quadrant 1’) there was a marginally lower deviation of 14%. Elsewhere the recorded luminance was within 1-9% of the central value – which is quite acceptable. You can see a visual contour map of the white luminance uniformity of our EA232WMi below. This combines the recorded values with a bit of artistic license to show both actual and theoretical deviation across the screen. This highlights, once again, the relative weakness at the top two corners of the screen and the top of the screen more generally. We must stress that such deviation is quite normal on any LCD monitor and shouldn’t present a problem for most users. Some high-end solutions from NEC and other manufacturers include special hardware-level control to attempt to even out the uniformity across the screen – but overall contrast does suffer as a result.
Moving onto our slightly more subjective testing now – where the contrast and brightness performance of the NEC MultiSync EA232WMi was quite impressive. On Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising there was no noticeable loss of detail in shadow interiors or other dark/shaded areas. Explosions and raging fires, meanwhile, were nice and bright whilst floodlights in the game had a nice bright and pure quality to them. The performance in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was equally impressive with bright explosions and nice detail at the low end. Snow on the game was nice and bright without appearing bleached – maintaining the grainy texture it should have. Part of this grainy texture was due to the rather aggressive matte anti-glare coating which was quite visible on bright scenes such as this.
We also tested the EA232WMi on Colin McRae: Dirt 2 (or simply ‘Dirt 2’ in some countries) and found the contrast pleasing. There was no noticeable loss of detail in dark or shaded areas whilst artificial lights at night had an impressive pure white glow to them. These positive attributes carried on over to our film testing, where we tested the Blu-ray of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Detail was maintained in dark areas whilst brightness level seemed suitable to any given scene – explosions and fires towards the end of the film, for example, and lights at night were nice and bright and contrasted well with the dark surroundings.
Finally came the Lagom LCD tests. These tests illustrate any weaknesses that are present in a monitor’s performance that may not necessarily be picked up during ‘real world’ tests.
- The EA232WMi did excellently on the contrast test with distinct brightness steps for each coloured bar. The top 2 red bars and bottom 2 blue bars were slightly difficult to distinguish but elsewhere distinct brightness steps were displayed.
- Performance on the black level test was also excellent. All squares were visible, although the first two were quite difficult to distinguish from the background. Dithering was not evident even on the lighter shades.
- White saturation performance was particularly pleasing on the EA232WMi. All but the final checkerboard pattern was visible – this could not be revealed by adjusting the OSD contrast settings but it is rare for even the second last checkerboard pattern to be visible.
- The greyscale gradient was very smooth with no noticeable banding or dithering. Although not a criticism specific to the EA232WMi, this test highlighted the ‘graininess’ associated with the matte anti-glare coating quite nicely. At the upper end the grey at first appeared to ‘eat into’ the whites a bit too much – upon closer inspection it was apparent that this was actually due to the texture of the matte anti-glare coating rather than an error in the gradient.
The EA232WMi’s colour gamut (red triangle) under our test settings was compared to the sRGB reference (green triangle) using the reporting functionality of the Spyder3Elite – this is shown in the image below.
As you can see the EA232WMi conforms roughly to the sRGB colour space. This confirms that it is a standard rather than broad colour gamut screen as you would expect from the WLED backlight. The monitor seems to cover slightly more green than the sRGB colour space and is perhaps missing a few blue shades – but it’s very much in line with overall coverage (red in particular) according to these measurements. We tested out what this all means in practice by firing up some of our notorious game and movie test titles. First up was Dragon Rising – a title which craves good natural colour reproduction. The EA232WMi delivered colours which looked rich and natural with a particularly impressive range of greens. None of the greens appeared oversaturated and they blended smoothly into surrounding earthy browns and greys. Some of the ‘brown greens’ had a nice golden hue to them as well, which was a nice but subtle touch that few monitors display with such panache. The warm orange glow of fires brought a bit of vibrancy to the experience without detracting from the natural look. This vibrancy carried over very nicely to our next game title; Bad Company 2. The overall image was vivid but balanced and although a little more vibrancy wouldn’t go amiss in some places (for example some of the greens) the variety of shades produced was impressive. Equally impressive were the neon orange objective markers that had a nice neon orange glow to them and the red barrels and storage tanks that gleaned with various intensities of red. The most impressive aspect of the EA232WMi’s colour reproduction in this game was the wood to the rear of some of the weapons. The variety of browns shown here gave a beautiful realistic lustre to the wood (although it may have looked a little too perfect) – it’s the small things that count.
Dirt 2 also managed to combine a good amount of vibrancy where it is needed with some more muted natural colours. Dusty browns and greens in Utah, for example, contrasted with the more lush and vibrant greens of the Malaysian rainforests. All of the courses in the game looked natural and featured a good variety of shades within the ‘natural repertoire’. Car paintjobs looked appropriately vivid with equally impressive shade variety – but it was the neon greens and pinks which were particularly impressive here. Similar neon shades were found in abundance on Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder. Although the vibrancy here was not at the level of a broad gamut IPS-panel monitor or some glossy VA-panel monitors it was very impressive for a standard gamut IPS monitor with a matte screen coating. The consistency of shades was also impressive with subtle pastel variations being reproduced very nicely. Skin tones of different characters, for example, were slightly different for each individual but were very consistent throughout the characters body and across the screen. This kind of detail level and consistency is never observed on this film from a TN panel monitor and when coupled with the vibrant neon shades it makes for a very good viewing experience.
We also tested The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Blu-ray to see how the EA232WMi would handle films with a more ‘real world’ appearance. Thankfully but unsurprisingly the film had a very natural look with woods, humans eyes and skin tones appearing as they should. Some elements of vibrancy from raging fires towards the end of the film and other elements intertwined throughout the film were also welcome.
It was evident from our testing thus far that the EA232WMi featured the level of consistency and variety in its colour reproduction that you should expect from a decent IPS monitors. In normal use it appeared to be completely free from the kind of shifting of colours across the screen that plagues TN panels under even direct viewing. The Lagom LCD tests for viewing angles provide a good visual illustration of the kind of colour and brightness variation that can occur across a monitor from both direct and ‘extreme’ off-centre viewing angles. In these tests the EA232WMi performed admirably and far outclassed any TN panel we’ve tested. The purple block appeared mainly a consistent lilac colour, although it did take on a minor pink tinge towards the extreme left and right periphery. The red block appeared a consistent cherry red throughout whilst the green block appeared the usual lime-green throughout. The blue block was a consistent and rich blue colour with no apparent shift in colour or brightness across the image.
The final part of the Lagom viewing angle tests is the ‘text test’, which shows the degree to which a monitor’s gamma curve is viewing angle dependent. This gives an indication of the ‘colour shift’ that occurs throughout the screen and also as a result of an individual’s position relative to the screen. The ‘text test’ confirmed the viewing angle of the MultiSync EA232WMi does not show significant viewing-angle dependency under direct viewing. One issue that was highlighted here was that the light grey background appeared slightly warmer at the top (a mild red tint) than at the bottom. This is also visible on large white spaces, whereby the white appears cooler (blue tinted) at the bottom and slightly ‘dirty’ towards the top. This is a very common issue on the vast majority of LCD monitors of this size or larger; including much more expensive models, but it is worth noting.
The very sight of the EA232WMi’s 14ms typical response time is likely to send shockwaves down the spines of many gamers. As with the EA232WMi (this monitors predecessor), the ViewSonic VP2365wb and Apple’s Cinema Displays this is the typical ISO-rated response time. As is also the case with the EA232WMi, none of these monitors feature response-time compensation (RTC) technology to reduce the grey to grey pixel transition times. We used a little tool called PixPerAn (Pixel Performance Analyser) to illustrate the responsiveness of the EA232WMi. This tool is favoured by professional review websites such as TFT Central – feel free to compare these results to the results featured in their reviews. The below image was taken using a high shutter speed and with the ‘tempo’ on PixPerAn set to the highest settings – consider this to be the ‘worst case scenario’ as far as PixPerAn testing goes.
As you can see in the picture there is fairly palpable trailing both behind and in front of the main image. Whilst this is undesirable there is at least no sign of RTC impulse artifacts such as inverted ‘overdrive trailing’. We also tested the responsiveness of the EA232WMi on our usual testing suite of games and movies. In both Dragon Rising and Bad Company 2 the edges of textures appeared to ‘vibrate’ when strafing or moving quickly. This was actually not much more severe than what you usually get on much more responsive TN panels. What was more difficult to ignore was that this turned into more exaggerated ‘smearing’ when driving about in a jeep or ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle). The level of distraction was quite high in these instances and it makes driving around on these games a bit tricky.
Another game where there was plenty of driving around to be doing was Dirt 2. Trailing on this title was generally fairly tame, for the most part, but at night when the bright lights started blurring into the dark background it became a little too noticeable and distracting. The EA232WMi seemed better suited to slower paced gameplay and also the movie titles we tested – the latter of which seemed more limited by the frame rate at which they were recorded than the response time of the monitor. In both Futurama and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo noticeable trailing was limited to scenes involving fast camera panning and car chases. In Futurama the bold black lines and solid colours moving against one another usually highlight any fluidity issues quite nicely – but trailing here was no more severe than on most other monitors we’ve tested.
The NEC MultiSync EA232WMi is designed to be an efficient but capable monitor. The solid matte appearance, no nonsense fully adjustable stand, IPS panel and lack of any sort of pixel overdrive firmly suggests that this monitor means business. But that’s only the primary use of the monitor – and looking at the EA232WMi from a ‘multifunction’ home user perspective it’s clear that it has a lot to offer. Despite its standard colour gamut and quite full-on no-nonsense matte screen coating, the variety and richness of sumptuous colours that the EA232WMi outputs is very pleasing. There is enough vibrant lustre to breathe life into movies and games whilst the variety of natural shades displayed adds extra depth and enjoyment. Contrast performance was also respectable whilst the level of control that the luminance controls offered by the EA232WMi was nothing short of exceptional. You could set the backlight so it was practically off (without quite being there) or you could have the monitor pumping out bright, crisp and pure whites and bright vivid colours. What’s more the EA232WMi pumps out relatively little heat and uses up relatively little energy to do this – thanks largely to its WLED backlighting solution.
Whilst its price is very reasonable for the quality on offer ($300/£270) the monitor itself is not worlds away from cheaper CCFL-backlit IPS solutions such as the Dell U2311H, the ViewSonic VP2365WB or its predecessor the EA231WMi. Given the almost ritualistic following that the U2311H has received as of late it may be an appropriate comparison to draw here. The EA232WMi may be more energy efficient and have slightly richer out of the box colours that bode well for entertainment usage, but once the action on the screen heats up the cracks start to show. Alongside price, the Dell most certainly has response time in its favour – the NEC visually lags behind on this front. So for those who want a rich and rewarding all-round visual experience from their PC (which may include some light or slower paced gaming and movies) the EA232WMi efficiently delivers. For those who are more serious gamers or for require fast pixel response times for other reasons – you may want to look elsewhere.
|Good contrast with bright whites and excellent luminance adjustment
||‘IPS glow’ apparent in particularly dark images
|Excellent level of stand and screen ergonomic adjustability and top-notch OSD controls
||Aggressive matte anti-glare coating affects the image slightly and leads to a grainy textrue that is quite visible in some circumstances
|Excellent colour reproduction with pleasingly rich out-of-the-box performance
||Standard colour gamut restricts the range and possible vibrancy of colours|
|Efficient LED backlight consumes relatively little power and produces little heat
||Slightly cheaper non-LED backlit IPS alternatives exist
|Good viewing angles (no significant colours shift)
||Slow response time and lack of pixel overdrive leads to fairly significant trailing at times|