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.

UPDATE 14-09-2010

Check out my first impressions of the new SmallHD DP6

UPDATE 13-02-2011

Read my full review of two new Marshall HDMI monitors plus the SmallHD DP6

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    • Paul Frederick
    • March 31st, 2010 3:58pm

    Thanks again for such an honest review. I’ve heard such good things about the SmallHD I figured it HAD to be the go to model to buy. Like your review of the Zacuto viewfinder, you are getting different results then most and explaining WHY you are getting those results…very refreshing to read! Thanks.

    • Hi Paul, thanks for the feedback. A lot reviewers tend to gloss over any negatives that they discover with products, preferring to focus on the positives. I’ve been disappointed myself when buying products based on those kind of reviews so whenever I review anything I like to describe all my thoughts, good and bad.

    • carlos
    • April 8th, 2010 4:05pm

    I would never consider a smallhd monitor because it has a glossy screen.

    • Eldar
    • April 27th, 2010 8:49am

    Hi Paul! Could you tell please which monitor shall I order and with which bracket to use it along with Sony BP-U60 battery? The currently listed as Sony B,L, M mounts…

    Thanks!
    Eldar

    • Larry Myers
    • July 18th, 2010 6:09am

    I had the same exact experience as you did. I bought the SmallHD, and I couldn’t get passed the colors, and how it rendered the blacks. To an extent it was good for focusing but it always felt like they somehow artificially increased the sharpness.

    When I shoot, I like to see the focus, exposure, colors. I ended up returning the SmallHD ( SmallHD has excellent customer service). And they even gave me the opportunity to get their new monitor at a discount!

    Any case I’m finally purchasing the Marshall LCD70XP

    • Robin Schmidt
    • September 17th, 2010 11:37am

    Amazingly, I think we’ve all had the same experience. I never even got to using my DP1 with a camera after plugging it into my editing system to calibrate, it was just so bad. I’ve used all three of these monitors the DP1, the 70XP (which I own) and the 615st (fantastic in bright sunlight) and basically the 70xp delivers for me every time. I trust it. It’s great that the DP6 is such a smart little design. I’ll be seeing the Marshall guys in a week and will hopefully be able to try out their new 5″ model. Kudos to SmallHD for delivering a genuinely well thought-out product as a follow-up. Competition is good.

    http://www.elskid.com/blog/a-tale-of-three-monitors-some-kind-of-opinion

  1. Hi Paul, can you recommend a good viewing hood to use with the 70XP. I love this monitor and use it all the time but I find it hard to view the image in strong sunlight.

    Brilliant review as always.. thanks.

  2. Great review Paul – I’ll now have to look at Marshall monitors. I’d be really curious to see if Small HD have solved any of these issues in there later models (DP6 etc). I have heard that the screen is still glossy, but with the small hd covering around the screen, that should cut out most of the glare.

    • Carson
    • April 27th, 2013 1:48am

    To each their own, but as someone who shot for over a decade with a black and white Betacam viewfinder, I don’t put much emphasis on a monitor’s “accurate color rendition”. For myself, monitors are for framing and focus- that’s it. I’ve shot video for over 20 years without a waveform, histogram, or color accurate monitor. For me a monitor is simply a way to ‘monitor’ the image without having to look into the viewfinder, AFTER you have set everything up using the viewfinder. Zebra function is all I need to properly set exposure. The ob-board monitor is often simply a way for a Producer to see the image while the camera op is using the viewfinder…or for the Sound Op to see the frame to know it his boom is in the shot.

    Often there is a $4000 Panasonic 17″ monitor on set so the on-camera monitor is just a convenience for the operator.

    If your white balance is off, you correct it in post. I go by the camera’s kelvin temp, not by any monitor. I don’t get this obsession with color-accurate monitors. No two monitors are going to look the same and not two tv’s in viewers homes are going to look the same.

    I went with the smallHD monitor because it is the most compact in shape ( shortest height ) and because of it’s brilliant hood design. The glossy screen isn’t a problem. Besides, they offer a matte screen cover. And while it may not be the most accurate, the OLED image is damn sexy. Clients are blown away by it.

    The smallHD is less than half the weight of the Marshall. That matters when you are carrying the camera around for 14 straight hours. It was also nice to buy American-made for once. And smallHD’s customer service is second to none. Try calling Panasonic or Marshall with a tech question.

    Lastly, Marshall screams pro-sumer / Wedding videographer while smallHD is what is used by Hollywood camera assistants. That matters when clients are paying $2400 a day for camera and 2-man crew. Superficial maybe, but tv production is an industry about images, after all !

  1. October 15th, 2010