It's a noble thought to be sure — to see what we're actually doing. For shooters, one would think this should be a given in a business where seeing is everything. However, that apparently isn't the case these days. We will discuss to no end the relative merits of shooting 2K, 4K or even 6K resolution, but ask about something practical like the quality of a camera's viewfinder or monitor, and our eyes grow dim. Often it seems the fantasy of capturing great images is more appealing than actually capturing great images.
The truth is that when it comes to setting critical focus and back-focus, color accuracy, white balance and contrast, most of us are flying blind. Perhaps it is self-evident that accurate focusing of HD images requires an HD display, and the larger the better. After all, the shooter is at a major disadvantage peering at a 1.5in viewfinder or tiny swing-out LCD screen; audiences are likely seeing the same images on a large plasma display or otherwise projected at high magnification. It is truly troubling to think that our audiences have a clearer view of focus and color accuracy than we do.
Seeing what we're doing
Panasonic's BT-LH1760 is one of the first reasonably priced LCD monitor to offer CRT-level performance. For years, many of us have used and appreciated the BT-LH1700; its ruggedness and good performance has earned a hallowed place in our daily toil and trusty travel kits.
The new 1760 exhibits noticeably better images overall than its lower-cost sibling, with much improved blacks especially apparent in challenging shadow areas. Achieving solid black has been the traditional bête-noire of LCD monitors, as the fluorescent backlight projected through a liquid film panel produced a murkiness that made accurate color and contrast assessment difficult, if not impossible, in the field.
The monitor reduces the blue cast in the shadows and murkiness by inserting a moment of black in the refresh cycle. This is a key advantage to doubling the panel's drive speed to 120Hz.
The improved blacks and pronounced reduction in motion blur are particularly evident when compared with traditional LCD displays using a frame creation strategy. For shooters, it is important to note that the picture hold in the 1760 is half that of the 1700, so the rendering of fast action, especially in sports, is considerably smoother.
The monitor uses advanced In-Plane Switching (IPS) to improve the viewing angle and a 3-D LUT for each RGB color to improve color accuracy. This accuracy is enhanced by the monitor's 10-bit processing engine, which infuses additional detail into the LCD panel's 8-bit gamut. This detail can help represent scenes with very bright highlights, as may be the case when shooting interiors with hot exterior windows.
So many new goodies
The improvements in the 1760 are considerable. The little used Y/C jacks have been eliminated, and in their place a headphone jack has (finally) been fitted. I would prefer a front-mounted headphone jack, but real estate is obviously tight in these units.
However, real estate is not too tight to preclude adding a DVI-D input for computer applications. This means a simple HDMI to DVI-D adapter cable makes this monitor accessible to the growing number of AVCHD cameras. Again, I would prefer a direct HDMI input, and I suspect this will be an added feature in the future.
Embedded audio is now standard in the monitor, simplifying output to powered speakers via a single BNC (HD-SDI) connection. Such a workflow enhancement may seem small at first glance but then seems suddenly more significant on a set where simplicity and fewer cables is often the key to successful coping.
Speaking of simplicity, the cooling fan has been eliminated, reducing potential noise and power consumption. Film_Rec gamma, pixel-to-pixel and split screen modes are easily accessed from the front panel's five function buttons, and eight channels of audio are now supported via an array of on-screen level meters.
Seeing what we're doing shouldn't be the stuff of intrigue. Like driving a car on a busy thoroughfare, we shooters need to see clearly and accurately where we're going. With the advent of HD and higher resolution cameras, it's never been more critical to see precise focus and color.
High-definition magnifies everything we do. Along with the greater desired picture detail comes also greater visibility of our images' shortcomings. With focus, color balance, exposure and chromatic aberration in our lenses, we need an increasingly sophisticated monitor like the BT-LH1760 to see it all — or at least see as much as our viewers are seeing.
Barry Braverman is a veteran cinematographer. His latest book, “Video Shooter,” is available from Focal Press/Elsevier.