How should you go about determining what size monitor to buy? It's simple - go out and purchase the biggest, baddest display you can afford, because really, you only get one shot at this thing called life, so why waste it staring at a 23-inch panel? If you're still not convinced, consider that, more than any other component in your entire build, it's the monitor you'll use to its fullest 100 percent of the time. You can't say that about your dual-videocards, six-core processor, or even your keyboard, but it certainly applies to your display, the one piece of hardware that brings the entire build together.
Suffice it to say, when HP asked if we were interested in evaluating their new ZR30w display, we answered 'yes' before they were finished giving us their pitch. We didn't need to hear the rest - the fact that this is a ginormous 30-inch display built around a sexy S-IPS panel is all we needed to know. S-IPS, or Super In-Plane Switching, is the Rolls Royce of display panels and almost always offers significantly better color reproduction and far wider viewing angles than the much more common (and cheaper to produce) Twisted Nematic (TN) panels. S-IPS displays also tend to tap deeper into your gold reserve than TN-based monitors, and when you're talking about 30 inches of screen real estate, things can get expensive awfully quick. Or at least that used to be the case.
HP's ZR30w carries an MSRP of $1,300, and depending on your perspective, that's either a king's bounty compared to what lower end 23- and 24-inch monitors run, or a veritable bargain considering you could have spent three or four times as much for the same size display not all that long ago. Pitted against other 30-inch displays on the market, the ZR30w is one of the least expensive models around. And unlike your other components, it's probably not going to become obsolete in 6-12 months, so we tend to view the price point as a positive in this case. Barring any manufacturing defects or unfortunate acts of God, a quality monitor can potentially last several years without being any worse for wear.
But is the ZR30w a worthy way to spend $1,300? Let's find out.
Right off the bat we have to give HP kudos for listing the ZR30w's typical contrast ratio rather than the dynamic one. Contrast ratios measure the range between the brightest and darkest points a display can produce, and the higher the contrast ratio, the deeper the blacks, resulting in better detail in low light scenes. In an attempt to one-up the competition, monitor makers have begun listing dynamic contrast ratios. These are measurements of the brightest whites and darkest blacks a display can possibly produce, just never at the same time, so it's not as useful as a typical contrast ratio. So why use it? Dynamic contrast ratios are much higher than typical ones -- some as high as 12,000,000:1 -- and manufacturers are banking on consumers not knowing the difference between these two types. And for the most part, they're right.
The rest of the spec sheet is pretty typical of a 30-inch monitor, save for the 30-bit panel. According to HP, the ZR30w comes capable of delivering 4.1 million pixels and a staggering 1.07 billion displayable colors, enough to cover up to 100 percent of the sRGB and 99 percent of the Adobe RGB color ranges. It's clear HP is targeting graphics professionals and anyone else who values color accuracy above all else.
HP breaks its monitors down into three different categories, including Essential, Advantage, and Performance. All of HP's Performance series displays come with a higher-end IPS/VA panel and four integrated USB ports. These are the highest end displays HP produces, and the ZR30w is the largest monitor in the Performance lineup (and out of all three categories).
HP includes a height adjustable stand, another staple of the company's Performance line (as well as the Advantage series). There aren't any complicated setup steps involved, you simply slide the back of the panel onto the stand and flip the lever to lock it in place, if it doesn't lock in automatically. To remove the panel, all you need to do is move the lever to either side to unlock the panel and lift. Slick.
Once the monitor is in place, it's incredibly easy to maneuver it however you see fit. You're able to tilt and swivel with just the right amount of resistance, and by pressing a button on the back of the base, you can adjust the height by up to four inches with surprisingly little effort.
On the bottom of the stand's cylinder sits a U-shaped plastic clip that pops out with a little force. The purpose of this is to help route the monitor's power and display cords, though you can also fish your keyboard and monitor cables through the opening to de-clutter your desktop. The entire assembly is well constructed, missing only a pivot function to flip the monitor from landscape to portrait mode.
Simple, serious, and really freakin' big. That's the ZR30w summed up in five words, though we'll expend a few more than that. HP was shooting for an "industrial design" to compliment the company's Z Workstations, which is helped in part by the inclusion of a brushed aluminum strip that runs throughout the outer bezel. Even the black plastic portion of the bezel looks metallic, sort of a welcome throwback to a time before glossy and reflective finishes moved to the forefront of modern design.
The bezel is thinner than some measuring around 7/8 of an inch, which isn't so thin that you wouldn't notice it if you were to cram multiple displays against each other. With 30 inches of screen real estate to play with, multiple displays might seem like a silly concept, but it's not as far fetched when you consider what ATI is doing with its Eyefinity technology and Nvidia with its 3D Surround. And at $1,300 MSRP, it's not inconceivable that someone would plunk down for two or three of these and laugh at those who spent the same amount on a just a single monitor earlier this decade. Decadent? Sure, and even a little obscene. But for graphics professionals who pull in paychecks based on their designs, it can also be practical.
Power Switch, DC Power, DisplayPort, DVI, USB
Flipping the ZR30w over on its belly reveals one of the ways HP was able to keep costs down. Connectivity options only consist of a DisplayPort and a DVI port, both of which are HDCP compliant, but nothing else. If either of these work for you, then the lack of more connectivity options will be a non-issue, but if you have any aspirations of hooking up your gaming system or cable box to this display to use a high-res television, prepare to be disappointed. There are no component or composite connections to be found, but probably most egregious is the lack of an HDMI port, the modern day wonder connector found all over the place in the electronics world.
In keeping with the no-nonsense approach, the ZR30w also omits a speaker bar or integrated speakers of any sort (not surprising or even missed). It's all work and no play with HP's monster sized panel, and towards that end you'll find four USB ports (two on the bottom, two on the left side).
|Calibration & Controls|
There's a good reason why we're not going over the ZR30w's OSD (On Screen Display) controls, and that's because there simply aren't any. Say what? It seems odd that a modern day monitor would ship without OSD controls, but in reality, HP's isn't the only 30-inch panel to omit this feature. The lack of an OSD isn't such a bad thing for the average user who's likely to end up making the monitor look worse anyway, but for graphics professionals with a keen eye, this is definitely something to consider. Why did HP do it? That's a good question, so we presented it straight to HP.
As HP explains it, the benefits of omitting OSD controls are four-fold, including lower power (versus models with front end processors), less components and thus less chance of a failure, lower latency from the graphics card to the LCD, and lower costs for the consumer.
"What allows HP to achieve these four points (and in turn, forgo the OSD) is a technology called Direct Drive. Direct Drive connects the ZR30w to the workstation graphics card directly without an intervening front end processor, which is what ordinarily displays the OSD menu. The ZR30w does not have a front end processor. Many heavily-used options of the OSD (color, brightness, contrast, etc.) are accessible through the graphics card's own control panel, anyway."
HP also explained that the ZR30w uses the scalar engine in the graphics cards to push pixels on the panel's native 2560x1600 resolution, and because all graphics card come with a scalar engine, HP feels this to be a more efficient use of resources. And finally, HP pointed out that they aren't the only ones to take this approach - Dell's 3007WFP and Apple's Cinema 24-inch and 30-inch displays all use a Direct Drive architecture as well.
The bottom right portion of the panel houses four physical buttons rather than the backlit touch controls found on so many monitors today, another throwback to the pre-glossy era. There's the power button on the far right, a Source button on the far left for switching between DVI and DisplayPort inputs, and + and - buttons sandwiched in between. The + and - buttons adjust the screen's brightness, and without an OSD to guide you along, you're shooting in the dark, so to speak. To keep you from guessing when you reach the minimum or maximum brightness levels, the blue LED in the bottom right corner will flash three times when you've reached either limit.
In addition to brightness, pressing both the + and - buttons at the same time toggles the ZR30w's Dynamic Contrast Ratio (DCR) mode, which is disabled by default. As we explained earlier, a dynamic contrast ratio measures the absolute brightest and darkest levels a monitor is capable of producing, just never at the same time. With DCR enabled, the ZR30w will, for example, dim or turn off the backlight to produce a darker black in scenes that require it. If you ever get confused which mode you're in, hold both buttons and take note of the flashing LED - four flashes means you just enabled DCR mode, and a single flash means you've turned it back off.
Windows Menu Options
Without any OSD controls to play with, you're left to your own devices to calibrate the ZR30w. Your options run the gamut from pricey software packages, like Spyder 3 Studio SR, to Windows 7's built-in calibration tools, as shown above. Running the built-in tools won't cost you a dime, but you are given the following warning:
If you choose to proceed anyway, you'll gain access a set of four basic tools for adjusting the display's gamma, brightness, contrast, and color balance. For giggles, we fired up the menus to see if anything needed tweaking, and as it turns out, there wasn't.
|Everest Image Quality Testing|
We put the HP ZR30w through an assortment of monitor diagnostics using Everest Ultimate Edition from Lavalys. These tests provide key patterns that allow us to evaluate various aspects, such as color accuracy, and uniformity. The tests are really designed to help you calibrate your monitor, but in our case, we used them the gauge image quality from the ZR30w as it ships from the factory.
Everest provides several tests to help you calibrate and check your monitor for imperfections, and we ran the ZR30w through all of them. With few exceptions, HP's display strutted through the tests with confidence. It was difficult to find any weak spots, with the ZR30w performing exceptionally well in the geometry tests. Colors transitioned well, as they should on a high end display, and did so at a variety of viewing angles, which is one of the strengths of an S-IPS panel.
In terms of dead pixels, we didn't find any with our test sample. For monitors produced after May 2009, HP's warranty allows for the following:
For more information on HP's Pixel Policy, as well as expanded explanations about the various types of defects listed above, see here.
Test patterns and color benchmarks are one thing, but monitors are one of the few components where a subjective analysis truly comes into play. This is especially true when you consider that the tech specs on most displays represent more of an arms race between monitor makers to one-up each other rather than to truly inform the consumer what a particular monitor is capable of. With this in mind, we spent considerable time conducting real-world tests on the ZR30w.
To kick off our subjective analysis, we loaded up various HD content, including HD movie trailers and Blu-ray movies. While not necessarily reflected in our photos, movies looked absolutely gorgeous on the ZR30w. Colors popped, and both bright and dark scenes played back exceptionally well. It's a shame that HP didn't include an HDMI port, because even though the ZR30w is geared towards work instead of play, it excels at both.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Where IPS panels have traditionally suffered is in gaming. TN panels typically sport better response times than IPS panels, putting the latter at a disadvantage in fast moving scenes. As S-IPS panels have improved, however, this has become less of an issue, and if there was any ghosting or blurring, it slipped past our testing undetected. Again, the ZR30w isn't intended for gaming, but it handles the 'job' just fine nonetheless.
Summary: HP's new ZR30w offered exceptional performance in both our task-specific Everest image quality tests, as well as our subjective testing. Color uniformity was spot on, along with brightness and contrast that we've come to expect from a high-end S-IPS panel. Suffice to say, the ZR30w runs laps around your typical TN panel, like the Asus VH242H that's so popular among home users, most of which have probably never laid eyes on an IPS screen. And thanks in part to the high color gamut, the ZR30w is able to hang with the best 30-inch models on the market, sometimes at a fraction of the price. Those who already own an HP 3065 -- an excellent monitor in its own right -- won't see much difference, but for those stepping up from a smaller display, it should be noted that the ZR30w boasts a few feel-good features compared to the 3065, including a lower power panel and PSU HP claims is 85 percent efficient, as well as a minimum of 25 percent post-consumer recycled resin. In other words. HP is pitching Green for not a whole lot of green, if you're into that sort of thing.
One thing we haven't yet addressed in this review is given the cost of a 30-inch panel, why not pick up an HDTV instead? After all, $1,300 these days buys you 52 inches of 120Hz bliss, so it seems foolish to pay the same amount for substantially less screen estate. But here's the thing - HDTVs max out at 1920x1080 (or 1920x1200), so even though the physical panel is larger, you're actually losing quite bit of actual on-screen real estate. In contrast, a 30-inch panel like the ZR30w offers a native resolution of 2560x1600, and that makes all the difference in the world when trying to work with multiple windows or manipulate gargantuan images.
While on the topic of cost, the ZR30w is one of the least expensive 30-inch panels around. The comparative savings don't come without some drawbacks, however, and HP had to cut a few corners to keep the cost down. There isn't an OSD to fiddle with, nor are there any integrated speakers. Perhaps the biggest drawback is the lack of input connectors, primarily a second DVI port or even a single HDMI port. The only two connections are a DVI port and a DisplayPort.
Built for the graphics professional, we like the simplified aesthetics and brushed aluminum strip that runs on top of the bezel. We also dig the flexible stand, which makes easy work out of manipulating the ZR30w's position, but it's the S-IPS panel that we're most in love with. The high end panel didn't disappoint, boasting superb color reproduction, excellent uniformity, and even proved adept at playing games. If you can live with the few drawbacks, the ZR30w will serve as an all around workhorse built for business but equally suited for play.