An extra-wide display to solve the problem of multiple monitors
- By John Breeden II
- Jun 13, 2013
Recently I visited the IT department of a government agency. It looked pretty typical for the most part, but I noticed that everyone had multiple monitors on their desks, a set-up that KVM switches were supposed to kill off. I asked around and found that, for a while, they did rely on KVM switches, but now multiple monitors are all the rage again, with different signals going to different displays.
But of course, that approach revives the perennial problems of screens hogging a lot of space, displaying disparate quality, and sometimes presenting too much information to realistically monitor, especially if a cramped cube forces the multiple monitors to circle around the user and run down a second or third wall.
That visit just happened to coincide with the arrival of the NEC MultiSync EA294WMI-BK LED monitor at GCN for review. At first glance, it’s an odd-looking panel. It's technically a 29-inch display, but it’s set up in a 21 by 9 display ratio, so for every 21 inches it goes wide, it only goes down nine, resulting in a very wide screen.
The EA294WMI is designed to specifically address the multi-monitor problem. In those cases, a KVM switch won't cut it, because it can only display one signal at a time, which is the whole point of that technology. The new NEC LCD however, can replace two 19-inch monitors, combining multiple inputs from multiple sources into one display.
The native resolution of the EA294WMI is 2,560 by 1,080. Testing it as a single monitor, I wrote this review on the right side of the screen while looking at testing notes on the left. It seemed odd at first, but after stretching the applications out a bit, I liked it because it boosted my productivity – saving me from having to switch through documents all the time.
However, to truly take advantage of the EA294WMI requires the use of its six inputs, including a DisplayPort, HDMI port, two DVI-D ports and two VGA ports. When we connected multiple sources into the LCD for testing, we used the options to display them in different parts of the screen. For our testing, we used an HDMI signal and a DVI port. We ran the Passmark Performance Monitor Test benchmark on both halves of the screen at the same time -- and then again taking up the entire screen. When using two inputs, the resolution is 1,280 by 1,024 on each half of the screen.
In terms of performance, there was only an 80 lumen difference between the light power at the center of the screen and the light all the way out at the edges of the display. Given that it takes a 100 lumen disparity for the human eye to notice the difference, this was a great performance mark for the EA294WMI to hit. We've seen monitors that are far narrower have much more trouble with that test. The power of the LED backlighting goes a long way toward keeping images homogeneous regardless of the number of input sources the display is using.
Along those same lines, we didn't notice any light bleeding in from the edges of the screen, which is impressive given that images go all the way to the bezel, unless being displayed in dual input mode. This indicates how well the EA294WMI is constructed. The bezel itself is more than a thin piece of plastic, too. The lower right corner is touch sensitive and can be used to control the brightness and contrast, select inputs, change the eco settings and configure how a multiple monitor system will work.
Images on the EA294WMI look good, with accurate greens and blues and passable reds. The slight skewing of the color palette towards the cooler colors (every monitor has to skew some direction) means that the EA294WMI would be good for both still pictures and movie display. There were no artifacts detected in any of our testing, even when running a movie on one side of the screen and typing e-mails on the other.
The stand that supports the EA294WMI has a surprisingly small circular footprint, though it seemed completely sturdy once set up. The stand is height-adjustable and can also pivot, tilt and swivel. Plus, the entire monitor can be rotated into a vertical orientation.
There are two sensors embedded into the panel that help make the EA294WMI more energy efficient. The first is an ambient light sensor that will dim the screen if the area it's sitting in becomes darker and the extra power isn't needed. It can also add more light if needed. So a user whose desk happens to be in an area with changing light conditions, like near a window with sunlight, will find the EA294WMI display readable all day.
The second sensor looks for users and can be configured to suit the working environment. If it does not detect a human sitting in front of it for a set period of time —anywhere from five seconds to five minutes — it will turn the monitor off. Then when it detects that the user has returned, it will turn everything back on. By default this feature was turned off on our test unit, but we activated it and it worked out well, though we would not recommend setting it to the shortest settings because a moment of contemplation can trick the monitor into thinking no one is in front of it. But setting it to three or five minutes of inactivity can be a real energy saver over time. There is also a basic ECO Mode that generally lowers the brightness of the screen across the board, though we are not a big fan of those unless closely allied with an ambient light sensor. And of course, the EA294WMI is Energy Star 5.0 and TCO 5.1 rated, plus it earned EPEAT Gold Compliance.
The EA294WMI sells for $799. When we started testing it out, we thought for sure we would only recommend it for those who need multiple inputs and multiple monitors. And for those users, the EA294WMI is pretty stellar. But almost anyone can make use of its wide panel, which allows certain applications like e-mail to run in full resolution on one side of the screen while the other is reserved for something like a word processor. The more we used the wide screen, the harder it was to think about going back to the more narrow confines of our normal monitors. Whether or not this justifies the $799 cost is up to individual buyers and agencies. But once you go wide, you won't want to back into a skinny monitor again.
John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.