If, like many live event shooters, you just need to confirm a camera is working and get a basic sense of the shot it is delivering, then a used TV, an older CRT display, or even a portable LCD screen can work. Each will present a reasonable image—one that can be used to judge the basic composition of the shot, but not much more.
As good as they are getting nowadays, most LCDs are still not the best devices for evaluating camera exposure, color, or focus.
If you're looking for a location monitor that will provide technical information as well as camera composition, you really need a professional CRT-type display. One that lets you control color temperature and display set-up; accurately evaluate camera color balance and exposure; as well as keep an eye on potentially make-it-or-break-it production parameters like multi-camera sync, phase, and H/V intervals.
In short, it's the difference between a "confidence" monitor and a "reference" monitor. Both are good reasons to use a location monitor, but deciding which one is your primary purpose for bringing one along will go a long way toward determining what you need and what you'll buy.
LCDs On Location
Whether your goal is confidence or reference, the liquid crystal display (LCD) is a relatively new alternative, and a reasonable price performer in terms of location monitors for event videography production. They are significantly lighter to transport, much cooler to power, and usually far cheaper to buy than their equivalent-size cathode ray tube (CRT) counterparts.
"Cheap LCD monitors" is not only a popular Internet search term, it is a Web site unto itself. Consumers love LCDs at home, in the car, at the cottage—and while they can be used as location monitors, you will want to make sure they have the right type of connections, mounting options, and power supplies for more professional uses.
The XN 700V 7" TFT-LCD from Go Electronics, for example, is priced around $260. It is configured as a widescreen display, for 16:9 imagery, but is built around the standard 800x600 display resolution. It features two AV inputs and a 9V DC power supply, and weighs less than a pound and a half.
Companies like Casio, Saka, and Citizen, among many others, offer small portable LCD TVs, which can double as location monitors in a real pinch. With only a 2.2" (diagonal) viewing area, Citizen's color screen offers a minimal viewing experience, but it takes composite video, runs for hours on three "AA" batteries, and costs less than $100. Saka offers a 7" widescreen (switchable between 16:9, 4:3, and a zoom mode). Powered via AC, car battery adapter, or "AA" batteries, the unit comes with a selection of connectors and mounts for around $300.
With a more professionally capable line-up, Totevision offers portable LCD monitors ranging in size from four to forty inches. The company offers rackmounted triple displays such as the 500X3, which features three 5" LCD monitors in one unit, all with BNC I/O for composite NTSC/PAL signals. The Totevision monitors are rated for brightness, contrast, and resolution, so they can be effectively compared and evaluated in the more demanding professional environments they are designed for. Totevision's three-way unit is priced at $1,555.
Individual screens are also available, such as the battery-powered model 562, a 5.6" LCD field monitor for composite NTSC/PAL signals. Priced at $525, it does have optional AC power supply, and is compatible with rechargeable NiCad batteries (not included).
But don't take the LCD too lightly. While it does have its limitations, professional LCDs are being manufactured to meet more demanding video applications. Sony offers three-screen rackmountable combo packages for confidence monitoring. The LMD-440 is a quad-screen 4" (viewable area, measured diagonally) panel. The LMD-530 is a triple-screen 5.6" model in a 3 RU package, and the LMD-720W is a dual 7" widescreen model.
Each unit comes with analog composite inputs and, interestingly enough, optional SDI input adapters. Designed to save space, power consumption, and weight, these monitors are suitable for event production vehicles as program and camera monitors. DC operation is supported, and values for contrast, chroma, phase, and brightness can be adjusted by knobs on the front control panel.
The double (LMD-720W), triple (LMD-530), and quad (LMD-440) monitors are priced around $2,299, $1,899, and $1,799, respectively. The LMD-170WS and LMD-230WS multi-format monitors are $3,200 and $3,850 MSRP.
Panasonic offers fine color LCD location monitors, too, including the 7" TC-7WMS1. With its optional camera or VCR connection kit, the display can be used for live event or single-camera monitoring. It offers switchable aspect ratios and a high-brightness anti-glare screen for good outdoor image reproduction.
Panasonic's BT-LH900 is a $6,000, 8.4" color LCD designed for high-end, high-definition production environments. (At $6,000, it should be high-end!) It's only 2.5" deep, and weighs just 4.4 pounds, but it's packed with features and functions such as two SDI inputs with SD/HD auto-detect, one component (Y/Pb/Pr or RGBS) and one composite input. Built-in waveform monitor functions, along with new Video/CineGamma controls, make the display very suitable for shoots with the company's VariCam HD Cinema Camera. ERG Ventures has a portable LCD monitor specifically designed for the new Sony HDV camcorders. Measuring 8.3" (W) x 2.55" (D) x 6.96" (H) and weighing 3.7 pounds, the HDM-EV85 HD analog input enables it to connect directly to Sony's HDR-FX1. The monitor's power unit is compatible with the FX1's 7.2V battery. ERG says that each LCD is shipped only after color adjustment optimization to reduce the incompatibility between CRT and LCD monitors; some additional user image controls are available. The MSRP is $2,980.
The Pro CRT
Set Like most pro CRT monitors, the BT-LH900 LCD comes with underscan and blue-only functions. Underscan, if you are not familiar with it, allows the entire active picture area to be displayed on-screen, so composition parameters and picture edges can be seen clearly. Pulse Cross displays the blanking area and burst signal, so that the sync among multiple cameras can be checked. Blue-only switches between normal picture and monochrome blue (blue gun only) mode; the latter is critical to establishing monitor setup and color fidelity.
Most of the monitors in Sony's PVM line include such pro features, and they have long been a standard in field monitoring. The 8" PVM9L3 Trinitron CRT delivers 450 TV lines. NTSC and PAL signals are accepted, and the monitor is equipped with composite and S-video inputs. Optional input adapters allow direct input of signals such as DV, SDI, or analog component.
The monitor is 4:3/16:9 switchable, and does offer blue-only mode, underscan, degauss, and switchable color temperature. Even at 22 pounds, it is designed for field use, and can be driven using Sony's BP series batteries. It lists at $1,512.
Listing at just over $2,000, the Ikegami TM10-17RA 10" color field monitor may be costly, but it delivers more than 450 lines in its viewable display. The unit is 4:3/16:9 switchable, and AC/DC power options are available.
I/O connections for the Ikegami include BNC composite, 4-pin Y/C, and 3X BNC component. Optional serial digital connections are available, and a reference or sync input is provided for use in multi-camera, multi-equipment productions. Blue-only, underscan, and other pro functions are featured as well.
JVC's TM-L500 is a unique "hybrid" monitor based on a single CRT with a liquid crystal color shutter. This combination provides very good pictures, even in bright sunlight, but the 4.5" screen may be small for some applications. Nevertheless, the field unit does operate with AC or battery power, and weighs in at just over seven pounds. It lists at $1,275.
Whether your needs extend to top-of-the line pro CRT products, or if more economical LCD gear will do, options abound. So keep your eye on the monitor—and your location monitor needs.