NEC PA272W: Unparalleled Accuracy And Flexibility
We can't review a Quad HD display without talking about value. These are still high-end products, and not everyone has the budget to spend as much on a monitor as they dropped on the rest of their rig. Vendors know prices are high, and each one offers something different to set its products apart. We try to uncover whatever that is each time a new display lands in the lab. Yes, the PA272W costs more than most of the already-expensive QHD monitors out there. But it also comes armed with more features and abilities than any screen we've reviewed previously.
NEC has always included a fairly complete set of calibration adjustments in its products, but this panel sets a new standard in our experience. We’re impressed by the vast array of color gamut, white point, and gamma options available, and we love that every picture mode is fully adjustable.
After spending a long afternoon exploring and working with the OSD, I was able to create three highly accurate picture modes meeting the Adobe RGB, sRGB, and DCI specifications. Then I did the same thing again in about 60 minutes with NEC’s excellent SpectraView software. It's unfortunate that the company charges an extra $99 for something that'd make a great value-add. Once you use it, though, the cost becomes secondary. I've used a few other auto-calibration solutions, and SpectraView is by far the best one.
Performance-wise, the PA272W comes out on top or close in every metric. Color, grayscale, and gamma accuracy are beyond reproach. Contrast, while never stellar on any LCD monitor, is better than most of the screens we’ve tested. Response time and input lag are on par with other IPS monitors (even if that's obviously not the intent).
What really sets this display apart is its unparalleled flexibility and adjustability. We’ve never seen such a complete set of calibration controls outside of a commercial projector. The color management system allowed us to create custom gamuts that measured within a whisker of perfect. Grayscale controls did the same and offered presets we haven’t seen on other screens. And the gamma control easily has the largest range of any display we’ve worked with of any type.
The fact that the PA272W can duplicate and even exceed most of the abilities of a $40,000 Dolby reference monitor speaks volumes about the progress of LCD flat panel technology. Evolution may seem slow compared to the pace at which graphics processors and CPUs move, but strides are being taken.
For those still waiting for IPS screens with accurate color, high contrast, and a sub-$300 selling point, we advise patience. Prices seem pretty stable for the time being. It looks to us like manufacturers are placing a higher priority on features and better performance rather than moving quickly to cut costs.
We’ve said before that a truly professional-quality monitor needs to combine accuracy with full adjustability. No display we’ve tested, at any price, can do what this one does. The Tom's Hardware Elite award is typically recognition we reserve for the best of the best, regardless of price. We feel that it's appropriate to recognize this particular screen for its reference-level performance and superb flexibility. Although you'll pay a premium, there are tasks that require excellence, and the PA272W delivers.