Our initial impression of NEC’s widescreen 26-inch EA261WM LCD monitor was overwhelmingly positive, primarily due to the thought put into its ergonomics. What puzzles us most about monitor design is why—even with obscenely expensive panels—user comfort is so often overlooked. If you’re planning on shelling out a load of cash for a monitor, something as simple as height adjustment (rather than the default homebrew solution of piles of books) seems like an obvious feature. The EA261WM includes not only height adjustment but pivot, tilt, and swivel adjustments as well, making it easy to share information on your screen with coworkers or even switch to a portrait configuration, should the need arise.
The EA261WM is also one of only 26 monitors to achieve EPEAT’s gold rating, the highest standard for environmental friendliness. To further emphasize its green attributes, the monitor includes an ECO mode, which lowers power consumption, and a carbon-footprint reader tells you just how much you’re doing to save the planet by lowering the brightness on your monitor.
While we’re all for good industrial design and eco-consciousness, we’re not interested in gaining these attributes at the cost of performance, and we continued to be impressed by the EA261WM after we loaded up a collection of high-res images. During our high-def side-by-side image comparisons, we were happy with the panel’s ability to display deeply saturated colors which, while rich, never slipped in to the realm of cartoonish. But while we found the monitor’s color depth top-notch, the EA261WM had serious issues differentiating grayscales at the dark end of the spectrum. We observed a strong loss of detail in both black-and-white and color photos. In portraits, people’s hair lacked detail, looking like a single-colored mass, where other displays showed off more texture and slight changes in color. Similarly, the tree line in a sunset landscape looked like a solid mass rather than the individual tress that appeared on other monitors.
This same issue presented itself in our movie test—some particularly dark scenes in V for Vendetta came across as a mass of black, rather than a range of black and grays. Utilizing the monitor’s video mode helped with this issue by increasing the contrast ratio; however, the preset also ratcheted up the brightness so much as to make some night scenes look as if they were taking place in the daytime.
Our DisplayMate (www.displaymate.com) tests backed up what we saw in our real-world benchmarks. The EA261WM performed admirably at the white end of the suite’s grayscale test, showing good distinctions between colors almost to the end of the scale; however, at the dark end of the spectrum, the monitor failed to shine, showing little differentiation through eight steps in the test.
With its wealth of ergonomic adjustments, we could see the EA261WM being a hit in the workplace, particularly if you need to share what’s on your screen with people close to you; however, while the panel’s rich colors impressed us, we found its trouble with darker shades to be an issue, making it a poor choice for people working with photos or video.