Choosing an HDMI monitor – Marshall vs SmallHD
I get a lot of questions about HDMI monitors so thought it was about time I posted something on the subject.
Around a year ago I was on the hunt for a monitor in the 7 – 10″ range that I could use with my EX1. After some research I’d narrowed it down to three models, the SmallHD Dp1, and two from Marshall, the V-LCD70P & the V-LCD651ST.
In the UK I found it a real struggle to find any dealers who actually stocked any of these monitors so I didn’t have the ability to test them out for myself. My only option was to make a decision based on specs and owner reviews.
First up the SmallHD DP1, this relative newcomer at the time had sparked a major amount of interest in web forums with quite a few owners raving about them. The DP1 is a full 720p HD monitor, the highest resolution of the bunch and a very nice design to boot. The DP1 is definitely a cool looking monitor, it’s constructed from aluminium and is available with some equally cool accessories. The DP1 retails for around $800.
Next was the two Marshall monitors. I found the choice between these particularly confusing, not helped by the non memorable naming convention! The V-LCD70P (Now replaced by the V-LCD70XP) has an 800×400 pixel display and varies in price depending on what video input and battery mount configuration you go with. I was interested in an HDMI / Component model and wanted it to be powered by Sony BP-U batteries from my Ex1, the price for that model is around $950
Things start to get a bit more complicated with the other Marshall, the V-LCD651ST. Where the LCD70 has a 7″ 16:9 screen the LCD651 has a 6.5″ 4:3 screen which has a higher resolution of 1024×768. I’m not entirely sure why this monitor has an aspect ratio of 4:3 when video has been 16:9 for so long. The 651 has an extra feature up it’s sleeve in the form of a ‘Super Transflective Screen’ which basically means it’s easier to see in daylight. This monitor in the same spec as the LCD70 will set you back $1,650.
So which did I order?
I initially chose the SmallHD DP1, on paper it looked the clear winner with it’s 16:9 high resolution screen, a gorgeous design and a whole slew of sexy accessories. I ordered the whole works directly from smallHD including two of their very slim batteries. With so many favourable reviews in the forums it had to be good… right?
A few days later the package arrived and un-boxing everything reminded me of getting a new MacBook, the packaging is lovely and I was totally convinced I’d made the right decision when I had the DP1 in my hands for the first time, it really is a nice looking design.
In use however I ran into a few issues. Firstly the controls are on the back of the monitor and are incredibly awkward to use, this really was a time when function should have ruled over design. My main problem with the DP1 though was with the way it displayed dark colours. Any area of the image that was dark would show nasty banding and not show colours correctly. In a well lit environment the monitor does a fantastic job, but I really wasn’t happy knowing that it couldn’t render low light situations properly. I held on to the DP1 for a while in the hope that SmallHD would come up with a fix but after a few months they accepted it was a limitation of the hardware so I sent it back.
In the time I owned the DP1 I also ran into problems with the batteries not holding a charge well and eventually not charging at all. SmallHD were extremely helpful throughout this time and have since fixed a known problem with their batteries but in the end the way the monitor displays dark areas just isn’t up to the job in my opinion.
Without this low light handling issue I would have kept the DP1 as in most other respects it’s a great bit of kit, maybe the next model from them will correct these initial problems.
And my final choice was…
So, I needed to make another choice, I decided to opt for the cheaper Marshall, the V-LCD70P. I wanted a 16:9 aspect ratio monitor so without too much hesitation ordered the LCD70 from B&H. I’ve been using this monitor for over six months now and to this day I’ve been really pleased with it. The resolution isn’t quite up there with the DP1 but the image quality is a lot better, it renders colours a lot more accurately and it’s controls are laid out in a fashion that allow it to be used easily.
One of the most important benefits of the Marshall monitors is a set of display modes they provide which help a cameraman to set exposure and focus. The first of those and one which I use all the time is called ‘False Color’. This mode makes the display look a little bit like you’ve connected a thermal imaging camera to it, it’s a bit weird to begin with but after using it for a while it all starts to make sense. What it’s doing is dividing the image up into bands of exposure levels giving you a colour representation of the the exposure levels in your shot.
Another really useful feature is ‘peaking’. Anyone who’s used an EX1 or EX3 will be familiar with this as it works in almost the same way on the Marshall monitors. The Marshall turns the image black and white and then overlays red on any part of the image that’s in focus. It’s not quite as accurate as an EX1 though, I’ve found the area of focus that gets highlighted to be a bit too deep for my liking. With some practise it works really well as a general guide but unlike the EX1 I’m not sure I’d rely on the peaking function alone for critical focusing.
I’d still like to get my hands on a 651ST from Marshall just too see what difference that extra resolution makes. From my experience with the DP1 high resolution alone isn’t nearly as important as good image rendering and usability. To have both in one package though might just make the perfect HD monitor.
If your interested in getting a similar monitor to the one I use marshall have recently updated it to the V-LCD70XP.
View the V-LCD70XP range on B&H.
Check out my first impressions of the new SmallHD DP6
Read my full review of two new Marshall HDMI monitors plus the SmallHD DP6