HP's ZR24w: oh sRGB, let's never fight again

A couple of years ago, I set out to find a 24" display with a non-TN panel, great image quality, and a reasonable price tag. My search initially led me to Dell's UltraSharp 2408WFP, but I had a poor experience with the first revision of that display. In the end, I settled on HP's LP2475w, which had a higher-end IPS panel and, in my opinion, noticeably better image quality.

The LP2475w coexisted with my old 20" Viewsonic VX2025wm in a dual-monitor setup throughout last year. But when the time came to pack my bags and move to Canada, I decided to leave the aging, dimming 20-incher behind and purchase a second 24" panel at my destination. The question, of course, was what to buy.

I had much more choice this time. I could have gotten another LP2475w, but at $659 CAD, that display seemed downright overpriced compared to newer IPS offerings. The Dell U2410 can be had for well under $500 on sale, for example, and NCIX sells HP's own ZR24w for $466.68. If I had waited a little longer, I probably could have snagged that new Dell UltraSharp U2311H, too—a 23", 1920x1080 display with an IPS panel and a sub-$300 price tag (in the States, at least; Dell charges $339 CAD for it here).

After perusing TFT Central's excellent review, I finally chose to go with the ZR24w. One feature in particular compelled me: the sRGB color gamut. The LP2475w that served as my primary monitor for so long had a wide-gamut panel, meaning colors looked visibly oversaturated unless I was using the right color profile and running a color-managed application. Adding more pop to YouTube clips and vacation photos isn't a crime, but the color inaccuracy became bothersome when I tackled real photo editing and design work. Often, I'd simply drag an image over to the 20" Viewsonic to get a glimpse of the "right" colors.

With the ZR24w, I'm happy to say colors simply look right all the time. I did have to spend a couple of hours getting used to the lower saturation and slightly different color temperature, but after waiting and tinkering a little with the controls a little bit, I was overjoyed. Faces in my photos no longer looked flushed. Trees no longer had an unnatural electric green hue. Motherboards looked a little less like holiday-themed neon signs. What a change after all these months!

You can see on the right how the LP2475w gives TR's blue background pattern a purple tinge. 

The ZR24w is a great display independent of the color gamut issue, too. Viewing angles are excellent, input lag and ghosting are actually less than on the LP2475w, HP included both DisplayPort and DVI inputs, and the panel can rotate into portrait mode. Considering the price and the fact that this thing still has an IPS panel, that's no too shabby. Now, as TFT Central's review points out, the ZR24w doesn't quite match the LP2475w's brightness and black depth. I find the difference rather subtle and easy to ignore, though. Besides, slightly higher contrast isn't much use if the colors look off.

I should point out that I'm talking about my second ZR24w. The first one had a speck of dust spanning a few pixels inside the actual panel—what HP refers to as contamination—plus a few stuck sub-pixels. Clearly a lemon. Happily, NCIX gave me no grief and allowed me to exchange it for a new one. The replacement has no flaws that I can see, and it looks to have more uniform backlighting and less backlight bleeding than the first one. I can't really complain, even if the replacement took a little while to arrive.

I can draw two conclusions from this little adventure. First, the HP ZR24w is a really nice display for the price—and a clear recommendation for our next system guide. Second, wide gamuts really aren't a non-issue like I initially thought.

Now, there's nothing wrong with wide gamut displays themselves. Having the ability to display more, brighter colors really shouldn't be a bad thing, especially since the sRGB color space is somewhat limited. The problem stems from software support. Windows 7 is incapable of color managing all displayed output, so even if you spend a fortune on an expensive calibrator and create a perfect ICC profile, your Windows desktop, browser, icons, and videos are still going to look uncalibrated. (Yes, Firefox does have a hidden color management switch, but it doesn't support some color profiles—and it seems to induce a performance hit. I've switched to Chrome, anyway.)

Until Microsoft implements full support for wide-gamut displays, I'm afraid I'll have to stick with sRGB offerings. If the ZR24w is any indication, that course of action shouldn't involve much of a sacrifice.

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