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NEC MultiSync PA272W 27" Professional Monitor Review

AkG

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The all-new 27-inch PA272W is NEC’s most recent addition to their venerable MultiSync line and like previous generations it has been designed from the ground-up with professionals in mind. With this in mind, no expense has been spared to create the most color accurate, easy to use tool that goes out of its way to help professionals get the job done and done right.

Creating displays which may cost more upfront but are as accurate years later as the day they left the factory is what NEC have built their reputation on. It is this time saving, ultra high quality which separates true professional monitors from those marketed to so-called “prosumers”.

To attain its goals, NEC has decked out the 1440P PA272W with some of the best technologies around. There’s a 10-bit AH-IPS panel with a true 14bit internal Look Up Table, 340nits output using the newly developed GB-R LED backlighting, color saturation which scales perfectly with brightness output and supposedly some of the best panel uniformity around. Further adding to its long list of its features a four year warranty instead of the typical three years found with the competition. The end result is a monitor which should have all the building blocks for creating the perfect force multiplier tool that all professionals crave.


Some of the building blocks that NEC has used may sound familiar since some competing products also use similar components, but NEC’s implementation is second to none and a step above the rest. For example, Green-Blue-Red LED backlighting technology is being offered on many prosumer grade monitors, and everyone from Asus to Dell to Samsung make use of these purpose-built LEDs. Unlike typical white LEDs which use blue diodes coated in a yellow pigment, GB-R LEDs combine blue diodes and green diodes with a red phosphor to create a light source which boasts distinct Red, Green and Blue spectrum colors. The end result is much wider color gamut than even CCFL backlights but without the heat output, short lifespan or high energy requirements.

Using a 10-bit panel with 14-bit LUT is also not new as other higher end monitors utilize it. What differentiates NEC is their hand-selection of only the highest grade panels, combined with a true 14-bit Look Up Table which is then combined both industrial-spec components. The benefit to having higher quality components quite straightforward: like some other professional monitors, the PA272W boasts a DeltaE of under 2 but in real world scenarios, its color accuracy will actually beat similarly spec’d panels.

To make sure you can actually make use of this high color fidelity panel, NEC have taken a page from other AH-IPS monitors by upgrading to a new anti-glare coating. Even the monitor’s processing engine has been upgraded, reducing ‘ghosting’ by increasing the panel’s responsiveness by 16% over the PA271’s 7ms response time to a more reasonable 6ms.

Even with this rather long list of things in the PA272W’s favor, it is not without a potential roadblock: price. With an MSRP of $1299 – or $300 more than a Dell U2713H and only $200 less than a Dell U3014 – these features do come at quite a premium. For home consumers and even semi-pro consumers this is a rather steep uptick in cost between a “good enough” monitor and a unit of the MultiSync’s stature but for the true professionals NEC is catering, to this is only an additional $1.92 per month over 3 years. More importantly, these selfsame premium characteristics are what NEC is counting on to persuade professional's that the PA272W is not only worth the extra upfront cost but is a wise long term investment.

 
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AkG

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A Closer Look at the NEC PA272W

A Closer Look at the NEC PA272W



The NEC PA272W is first and foremost a monitor meant for professionals in a business setting and the overall appearance tends to reflect this conservative, somewhat utilitarian philosophy. To this new MultiSync has NEC’s classic styling, so while some may consider its charcoal gray and black aesthetics to be a touch outdated when compared against the ASUS ProArt or Apple Cinema Displays of the world, the overall design caters to a workspace workplace environment.


Before we continue lets deal with the white elephant in the room: the sheer size of this monitor. Anyone interested in an ultra slim panel will be disappointed as NEC has once again opted to ignore the 'thinness' craze sweeping the marketplace. Even compared against most other business grade IPS monitors, this 28.4lb monster will dwarf them with a panel chassis that is a full 85mm thick. As an added benefit, the excess housing depth has allowed NEC to include an impressive number of ventilation slits to let hot air passively escape. This should keep the robust internals cooler and reduce the chances of heat related damage.

One thing we should mention that that NEC’s industrial-grade component selection has necessitated the PA272W’s upsizing. This is actually a good thing since it points towards an unyielding focus on quality instead of prettiness.


Of course overheating is much less likely with this PA272W compared to previous generations as NEC have opted for a cool running - but high performance - GBr-LED backlighting design. While this may have changed NEC has not cut any corners on the overall quality of the internals to try and trim the weight down to a more acceptable level. Instead, this monitor uses a 10-bit AH-IPS panel which not only boasts over 1 billion colors and has an amazing DeltaE of less than 2 but it represents only the best, most perfect AH-IPS panels coming off the assembly line from LG.

To put DeltaE into layman’s terms, if a program calls for a specific color to be displayed but the monitor is unable to do so, the average monitor would be within 5 shades of the desired color and an above average panel would be within 3. Five is the industry standard whereas three actually reflects the older PA271W's rating. On the other hand, the new PA272W will be within 2 shades and in all likelihood will be only a single color shade off. For the average consumer this will mean very little (besides getting accurate colors) but a minimal DeltaE could be a game changer if your job depends on color accuracy.


Even with enviable color reproduction, GBr-LED backlighting and a 6ms grey to grey response time, this is still a very expensive monitor. As such it comes as no surprise that NEC offers true hardware calibration capabilities. Instead of just software options, consumers can actually modify the monitor’s internal 14 bit Look Up Table. This results in a higher level of color accuracy which software calibration simply cannot match.

Hardware color calibration is one of the main reasons many professionals have traditionally opted for ultra-expensive NECs. However, the SpectraView II Color Calibration Kit is an optional upgrade and further boosts the price to $1549. On the positive side, you do not need to purchase the SpectraView II kit, nor do you even have to use an X-Rite i1Display 2 Professional colorimeter it is based upon. Nearly any professional grade colorimeter will work with this monitor which puts the NEC PA272W in a class all its own.

Further helping to make the cost of upgrading from the previous generation MultiSync PA271W to a PA272W even more appealing, NEC has also upgraded the anti-glare coating. This matte AG finish is noticeably better and less harsh than the coating found on Dell's or ASUS' latest offerings which will ensure those accurate colors are a lot easier to see regardless of environmental lighting conditions. If you are truly concerned about reflections NEC also offers the optional HDPA27 hood which mounts directly to the chassis.


NEC has included physical navigation buttons on the bezel instead of capacitive touch 'buttons' found on other models. In testing these provided great tactile feedback and were easy to use without being prone to erroneous input from accidental touches. More impressive, NEC has included many more than usual and there is both horizontal and vertical 'scroll' buttons and a dedicated Picture In Picture button.


In keeping with the workman-like philosophy, the included stand may not win any beauty pageant awards but it is functional and quite adaptable. Just like the Dell U2713H it offers height, swivel and tilt options as well as a portrait mode option but instead of 115mm of height adjustment the PA272W boasts 150mm and instead of 25° of tilt (+4° to – 21°) it covers approximately 35° of tilt with (+5° to –30°).

With that being said this monitor - much like all other 27-inch models we have reviewed in the past - the PA272W does have a tendency to scratch the base when moved into portrait mode unless the panel is first tilted back.


The included I/O options are also more than acceptable as NEC includes one dual-link DVI, one HDMI, one DisplayPort and one Mini-DisplayPort. The mini DisplayPort is of particular interest since it will effectively eliminate the need for secondary adapters when using many current video cards.


There are also two USB 2.0 downstream and two USB 2.0 upstream ports located on the I/O panel with a third downstream USB 2.0 port on the side bezel.

The secondary connectors have been included so you can use the PA272W in conjunction with NEC's free DisplaySync Pro software in a two system KVM. Simply connect your keyboard and mouse and with a button press switch between two physical systems. This makes viewing and testing images or video on radically different operating systems as easy as the press of a button.

Sadly there is no included card reader and it is also a bit disappointing to see there is a USB 2.0 compliant hub rather than once with USB 3.0 capabilities. Such features are slated to be included on future models but due to the extensive testing NEC does before a product release, such a feature was not ready in time.
 
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AkG

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Menu Layout & Observations

Menu Layout & Observations



For anyone who has used a professional orientated NEC monitor in the past decade, using this OSD will feel like visiting an old friend since it is classic NEC: intuitive and easy to use with a layout that has not changed in a long while. While it is deceptively compact this it holds a wealth of possibilities oriented towards the professional. As such everything is laid out in a simple and straightforward manner with most features being accessible within a few button presses.


By the same token this small footprint OSD is starting to show its age and, while NEC has upgraded it in some minor areas, what was once best in class is now merely above average. For example, to change something as basic as the predefined mode, or even just the brightness level you will need to use the main menu as –unlike Dell - no true quick access options are included.


NEC has however upgraded a few portions of the OSD so a secondary information box appears explaining which button controls what action. Even in a darkened environment this makes using the OSD a lot more manageable than most.

The PA272W also includes an ECO section that monitors real time electricity consumption and how much this monitor costs based on local electricity rates. For example if your business is only charged 6 cents per Kilowatt hour instead of the default of 11 cents, it is child's play to correct. This section may not be as intuitive as Dell's energy meter, but it certainly is more advanced and more powerful.


As one might expect this monitor includes nearly every advanced feature a professional could need and most are readily accessible via a top level domain. For example unlike some monitors which bury their three-level 'Red, Blue, Green' color correction abilities fairly deep, this monitor's 6 axis color correction is directly accessible via the 'RGB' section. Since NEC factory calibrates their panels most of these advanced features shouldn’t be needed initially.


Higher level features are hidden in the Advanced options which brings up its own OSD when accessed via the 'RGB' section. This advanced section is not for the faint of heart though as it will allow you fine grain control of the monitor and is very similar to some manufactures hidden 'service OSD'.


Also unlike most OSD's this one allows you to change the color scheme between Red, Green, Blue or Gray. What was really noteworthy was the elegant and rather unique way in which this NEC’s PA272W handles brightness adjustment. Instead of the typical slider with settings marked in percentages it actually takes the time to list nits. It is a shame this is not entirely accurate but it is fairly close and is an ingenious way of roughly translating backlight level to brightness output levels. Hopefully in future revisions NEC actually calibrates this section as they do color levels and makes the default 160cd/m2 setting actually equal 160cd/m2.
 
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AkG

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Image Quality (Uniformity / Panel Perf. & Gamma)

Image Quality



Calibrated Settings

Please remember that the settings below have been calibrated for our specific environment and your viewing conditions may differ from ours.

Mode Used: Factory Default "AdobeRGB" w/ Metamerism set to 'Off' and Response Improve set to 'On'
Brightness: '125'cd/m2 setting (which resulted in a 120cd/m2 output)

Notes:
- All tests done at default settings at 120 cd/m2.
- Unless otherwise noted, the tests were carried out via DVI

With so many years of experience in creating high end professional grade monitors we had very, very high hopes for this new MultiSync monitor and without fail it blew past most of our expectations. As you will see, no matter what test or scenario the PA272W set the bar for excellence even higher.

With the exception of power consumption and fast paced gaming scnearios this monitor is simply in a different league than anything we have reviewed before and that includes the Dell UltraSharp U2713H. Being able to easily outclass such competition just underscores exactly how well NEC has designed their flagship.

As impressive as its overall performance was, what impressed us even more was the lack of required tweaking or coaxing to get optimal results. Painstakingly accurate factory calibration backstopped with such phenomenal internals makes for an out of the box performance level which represents a new gold standard. Simply turn down the brightness to a more acceptable level (based on your working environment that is) and get to work.

The default brightness setting is the only issue we had and much like most monitors we have reviewed it is set a touch higher than we would want at a default of 155cm/m2. This certainly is within tolerance levels for the professional environment but the On Screen Display's brightness settings are slightly innacurate.

NEC has gone through the trouble of listing the OSD's brightness settings in cd/m2 (which is a great idea) but has not tied this to the backlight's true output. This means most settings are off by ~3.9%. For instance the 120cd/m2 setting results in a luminance output of 115.53cd/m2, while the default '160' results in a 153.97cd/m2 real-world output. On the positive side, the maximum output of 384cd/m2 is excellent since NEC rates their panel for 340cd/m2.


Panel Uniformity


In a perfect world a screen’s brightness output would be equal throughout the entire panel. This is not a perfect world, but the lower the variation the less chances you will notice overly bright or dark sections on the screen. For the consumer LCD marketplace a variance of 10% is our gold standard but anything below 15% can be considered excellent as we doubt anyone will notice a -7.5 to +7.5 variation. A variation above 15% but below 24% can be considered adequate, but anything above this does not meet our basic minimum standards.


Amazing is the only way we can describe the NEC PA272W since it has a panel variance of only 6%. This is so jaw-dropping good it bears repeating: this is a 27-inch panel with a total variance of only 6% from edge to edge. More importantly, all of it is positive variance with no negative variance to be found.


Panel Performance


In a perfect world a screen’s real world response rate would be so high that motion blur, ‘ghosting’, ‘reverse-ghosting’ would be a thing of the past. No matter how fast the action on screen all images would be represented in pristine condition similar in quality to a static image. This is not a perfect world, but the less amounts of blurring which occurs the less chances you will notice the issue in real world scenarios. While the panels response rate (ms) and and frame rate (Hz) can give a fairly rough idea of how much blurring to expect it is not the end all and be all.


To this end we have taken PRAD’s Pixel Persistence Analyser ‘Streaky Pictures’ program and using a high speed camera captured exactly how much and what kind of motion blur you can expect from a given monitor.



NEC PA272W


Dell UltraSharp U2713H

While this may be a business / professional orientated monitor the NEC PA272W actually does a reasonable job at limiting image degradation. While not exactly crystal clear, the zooming car and the "I need more socks" speech bubble was legible to the naked eye. With that being said, the amount of ghosting was slightly worse than what a previous 10-bit panel / 14-bit LUT equipped Dell UltraSharp U2713H could accomplish.

The internal electronics NEC has opted for does limit ghosting to minimal levels and does so without being too aggressive and creating precursor or pre-ghosting images. For most people - professional and non-professional alike - this type of 'reverse' ghost is much more jarring and noticeable. It is also an issue which plagues many IPS panels as they try to compensate for a slower response rate. Seeing NEC get this delicate balancing act this close to perfect is impressive to say the least.


Gamma Performance


Gamma correction is one of the hardest terms to explain. However, for our purposes the gamma correction of any electronics device is how bright or dark an image will be displayed on a screen.

All PC devices now use 2.20 gamma as the default. Any variance from this will result in an image being either underexposed which will create black crush and underexposed shadow detail or washed out with too little black level detail (aka being over-exposed).

While 2.20 is the gold standard, a minor deviation of 0.10 will in all likelihood never be noticed by anyone other than professional photographers. Higher levels of deflection however will be noticed by just about everyone.



Anything less than perfection would have been disappointing but -as befitting its premium price tag and professional heritage- the new MultiSync PA272W comes factory calibrated to a perfect 2.20.
 
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AkG

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Colour Saturation Levels / Default RGB Levels

Colour Saturation Levels


While there are numerous colors the human eye can’t “see”, the human color space confined to three primary colors and combinations thereof. To make things easier for manufactures (and not waste resources displaying colors we can’t see) a color space was mathematically described and while various models do exist, the CIE RGB color space is the de facto standard.

In the below image, the dark triangle which isn’t highlighted is the sRGB color space while the overall CIE color space is displayed as the background colors. Meanwhile, the white triangle with highlighted color represents the results of what a given monitor can display. No monitor can display the entire CIE color spectrum but a good monitor should be able to display the sRGB spectrum of possible colors as this is usually used as the standard for image encoding.

A monitor which uses the “wide color gamut” moniker can display more than the sRGB spectrum and is considered primarily for professional use. If a monitor cannot cover off the entire sRGB triangle, the resulting image will appear “off” to an observer. The end result is a picture displayed on the panel which won’t be as rich, vibrant or as correct as it should be.


<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Monitor/PA272W/cie.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
Metamerism ON (default)</div>
<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Monitor/PA272W/cie2.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
Metamerism OFF</div>

Why have we included two CIE diagrams and why do they differ so radically? Simply put, the default setting has Metamerism set to 'On' which can will create false readings with colorimeters. Metamerism compensation is an advanced feature that is only found on few professional grade monitors. It is designed to compensate for the differences between what a device sees and what the human eye sees.

By compensating for our inherent visual limitations, the PA272W can give the most accurate colors possible as seen by the human eye. The problem is that when people use the display with an external color sensor, the combination can result in bad readings and settings as the sensor reads the compensated value, not what it is intended to be.

It is only by digging down to the advanced menu, clicking on 'tab 2' and turning Metamerism to Off that you will be able to properly calibrate this monitor via software. Considering most will do hardware calibration this is a non-issue but for people who do not know about it, or simply need to do software level calibration you will not get accurate results with the default settings.

As you can see, once the colorimeter was being fed the actual value the end result is the most accurate, widest color gamut you are likely to find in a LCD panel.


Default RGB Levels


An LCD or LCD LED backlit panel relies on accurately blending Red, Green and Blue pixel clusters to create an overall image so closer to each of these colours is to a “perfect” 100 output, the better and more accurate the default colors will be.

In this case, we have a low tolerance for anything less than perfection since any color shift can be noticeable even to untrained eyes and will require a color correction be applied at the software level to overcome a monitor’s stock output. We do however consider a minor variation of only a few points per color to be acceptable.


<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Monitor/PA272W/rgb.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Perfection is once again the name of the game here. This is particularly important since it shows this monitor's factory calibration is hitting the bulls-eye.
 
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AkG

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Viewing Angles / Contrast Ratio / Power Consumption

Viewing Angles


Unlike CRT displays, the manner in which LCD panels create an image can result in one large weakness: the image can lose contrast when viewed off angle. While we do not recommend watching an LCD at anything besides perfectly straight on, the reality is this cannot always be done.

To help give you a glimpse of what a panel will look like when seen from either above the horizontal or vertical plane we have taken pictures at fairly extreme angles.



Like nearly every other aspect of this monitor, the viewing angles are nothing short of spectacular easily meeting the levels set by our previous gold standard, the Dell UltraSharp U2713H.

Only at extreme angles will you see any noticeable amounts of image degradation and even then the amount of brightness or contrast loss is minimal. Color shifting was as close to non-existent as well.


Maximum Contrast Ratio


While manufactures love to throw around “maximum” contrast ratios in the millions, the fact of the matter is that to get these high numbers they have to use "dynamic contrast" which—at best—results in overly optimistic specs. With DC turned off, the number of shades between purest white and blackest black a given monitor can display is usually in the low hundreds rather than the thousands.

The higher the contrast ratio, the better the monitor will display shades of dark and light. For IPS monitors, anything below 450:1 is unacceptable, with 500:1 or above considered optimal. For TN anything above 120:1 will be considered “good enough” for most consumers.




Once again the MultiSync PA272W delivers premium performance to back up its price tag. These results are in a completely different league from anything we have tested before and the reason for this is simple: NEC have combined a 14-bit internal LUT with a top of the line 10-bit panel and then used extremely high performance electronics to take advantage of the abilities such features have to offer. As you can see the end result is phenomenal contrast ratios even at lower brightness levels.


Power Consumption


To obtain the maximum number we set the monitors brightness to 100% and the contrast to 100%. The Calibrated results are taken at 120 cd/m2 with the contrast set to the default level.


Power consumption may not be a huge selling point for anyone looking for a ‘professional’ grade monitor, but these results are still more than acceptable. Using higher performance internals means higher power consumption.

While the new GB-r LED backlight does help keep requirements within reason, NEC's MultiSync series have always used more power than most. However, with such stellar performance it is doubtful many of the intended consumer base will care one way or the other.
 
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AkG

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Gaming & Movie Perforamnce

Gaming Performance



Gaming on a NEC PA272W is a very unique experience and while we were mainly ambivalent over the results, the experience is one that will evoke very strong emotions in most consumers. Either people will love the ultra-rich color pallet, deep blacks and generally awe inspiring visuals it can create, and consider it money well spent. Or, they will be unable to get over the fact that this is a 6ms, 60 frames per second monitor which lacks the clarity of a 120+Hz TN panel.


This is a common divisive issue with IPS monitors in general, but it has been compounded almost exponentially in NEC’s latest addition. The reason for this is rather simple: NEC have built the PA272W with professionals in mind and have done everything they can to dissuade non-professionals from purchasing this particular model. Literally every single piece of the electronics and its firmware has been refined to a razors edge for professionals - even if it comes at the expense of mass appeal. Simply put, this monitor lacks a 'gaming' orientated mode and even lacks a 'multimedia' mode, either of which would have gone a long ways towards minimizing ghosting.


Since the NEC PA272W is strictly targeted towards professionals, this is where we will wrap up this section. While it can pull double duty as a competent gaming monitor, the PA272W is more expensive than other, more capable monitors in this discipline so make sure you think twice before judging it on this section alone.


Movie Performance



Not every professional uses Photoshop and not every professional is interested in static image performance. While the PA272W is not absolutely perfect for fast past gaming scenarios it was downright amazing for multimedia environments such as movie editing, reviewing and even simply sitting back and enjoying a Hollywood blockbuster.


Anything less than an excellent, immersive experience would have been disappointing and that’s exactly what NEC has achieved. This monitor is designed to cater to professionals in color-critical jobs and multimedia does make up a large portion of this market niche. The richness and almost lifelike clarity this monitor offers has to be seen to be believed; our photography skills do not do it justice.


With high definition, high bit-rate source material we doubt the average consumers likely won’t see the difference between the PA272W and some of its closest competitors. However, NEC’s monitor is able to greatly enhance lower definition sources as it does an excellent job with real-time upscaling. The clarity is obviously reduced over 1080P sources but it is a lot closer than we have seen other 27" 2560x1440 monitors come.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


The NEC PA272W isn’t your typical 27” monitor and it is not designed with the average consumer in mind. Rather, professionals are the primary focus here and in that respect, NEC has designed a product which is truly a cut above the rest. For those who care about image quality, color reproduction and a strict adherence to absolute perfection, the PA272W is the one you’ll want to get, despite a stratospheric price.

NEC dodged a bit of a bullet here and with good reason. The MultiSync series has a long a storied past of being elite products for professionals and the PA272W’s predecessor was widely regarded as one of the best monitors of its generation. There was a very real risk that changing the underlying technology in adherence with more modern standards would cause a falloff in image quality, panel uniformity and a number of other areas. Competing solutions have been presented with this same challenge and eventually fell short of expectations. That didn’t happen with the PA272W which, even with its backlit LED panel, proved to be the best professional-oriented monitor we’ve ever reviewed. Everything else - including Dell’s top of the line UltraSharp U2713H and ASUS’ ProArt series - comes up woefully short in comparison.

Even the most demanding of professionals will find little to dislike with the PA272W's color fidelity, effective anti-glare coating, best in class static image output and general lack of noticeable ghosting. It even includes a host of configuration options backstopped by a highly refined - if somewhat old - OSD. For the professional who requires and demands the very best the PA272W is one of only a handful of monitors even worth considering.

It is only when you look beyond NEC’s intended consumer niche that things are not quite as cut and dry. There are better choices if you’re looking for a monitor to pull double duty in areas other than image processing and multimedia editing.

No matter where you fall on the IPS vs. TN debate, and no matter what your intended usage, there is no denying that all this performance comes at quite the price premium. With an asking price of $1299 consumers who are not as concerned about color fidelity can easily find suitable 27" monitors for a lot less.

In the world of professional-grade monitors, the NEC PA272W is literally head and shoulders above the competition. While typical users won’t see much difference between it and the alternatives, anyone counting color reproduction and image clarity as part of their livelihoods will find the PA272W paying for itself in short order.

 
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