Functional PC monitors can be found for less than £100, and only a little more than that will even buy you a usable IPS panel. But if you need decent build quality, great images and less challenging overall usability, you'll need to turn to a monitor specialist like the Nippon Electric Company – better known as just NEC.
The display division of the Japanese corporation has built a reputation for high-grade displays used in industry, medical applications – and of course by design and video professionals. The NEC MultiSync P242W is a mid-range 24-inch monitor that's equipped for graphic design, CAD and similar industries that demand a robust and dependable high-performance display. It will also appeal to anyone who prizes quality and performance above fashion or the lowest price.
While some high-end monitors are pushing up the pixel count to achieve Retina-class resolution, the MultiSync P242W sticks with the familiar full-HD specification – but extended vertically to provide 1920 x 1200 pixels rather than the more letterboxed 1920 x 1080.
The 16:10 aspect ratio that results from these pixel dimensions means substantially more screen space and it's particularly useful for any work that requires reading down the screen, as less scrolling is required. Regular 16:9 video still works well, with just an extra thin black band top and bottom of the screen.
Pixel pitch here is 0.270 mm, or about 94 ppi. At normal viewing distances of around 60 cm you can discern pixels quite clearly.
The panel itself uses IPS technology, advertised as AH-IPS, or advanced high-performance in-plane switching, which is panel-supplier LG's name for its latest generation of IPS screens.
And relatively new to the MultiSync range is white-LED rear lighting, in contrast to CCFL still found in some professional designs; and a true back light rather than edge-lit as used in cheaper or trendy slim panels. This bodes well for more even brightness levels across the entire screen.
NEC MultiSync P242W: Performance
We tested display performance with a Datacolor Spyder4Elite calibrator, which indicated a maximum contrast ratio of 680:1 (at full brightness), and 540:1 at a more usable 50 percent level. Maximum available brightness was a high 367 cd/m2, even if sensible real-world use will likely be set to 200 cd/m2 or lower.
Colour gamut was very good, slightly exceeding NEC's specification of 75 percent AdobeRGB, here recorded at 81 percent. For sRGB the full 100 percent gamut was met.
Overall colour accuracy as measured by the same colorimeter was superb, at an average of just 1.82 Delta E using 48 spot colours.
The NEC MultiSync P242W could cover 81% of AdobeRBG gamut and 100% of sRGB
Luminance was also found to be consistent across the entire panel at different brightness levels, typically just 2 percent at the higher brightness levels, but with a 5 percent dip in the bottom right corner. Compared to most consumer monitors, which can have 10 to 20 percent variation, this remains a good result.
Thanks to the use of LED backlighting the MultiSync P242W proved surprisingly frugal in power consumption. At 120 cd/m2 brightness setting it consumed just 18 W, and even at full screen brightness this figure rose to only 29 W.
NEC MultiSync P242W review: Build and design
The surface finish of the panel is semi-matt, with effectively no glare found from reflected light sources around our brightly lit lab. There was no apparent over-sharpening to provide false detail either, as found on televisions and some budget PC monitors.
Build quality is excellent, solid feeling in matt black plastic although we found this could easily attract fingerprint marking, for example around the thin 18 mm bezel. A useful carry grip is postioned on the rear at the top, making it very easy to lift and carry when required. Ventilation holes run around all four edges to assist ventilation, passive cooling only with no need for fans as found in some professional displays.
This NEC MultiSync P242W did not run entirely silent though. An annoying high-frequency whistle was clearly audible whenever the monitor was powered up.
Our measurements showed this as resembling a pilot tone at 8.8 kHz, at a level that proved loud enough to make the monitor uncomfortable to be near for long. It was clearly audible at all times but especially from behind the panel, and could be heard from several metres away even in our less-than-silent test lab.
The NEC MultiSync P242W exhibited a fault that was audible as an annoying high-pitched whistle, here indicated by the horizontal line at 8.8 kHz in a 2D spectrogram captured by SignalScope
A second sample was provided by NEC which exhibited the same fault at the same frequency. It would suggest a design fault for this model, or a batch of P242W units with faulty components.
The monitor chassis is not slim at 84 mm thick, but capably supported by the substantial adjustable stand. This allows height adjustment, from 380 to 530 mm, measured from desk to top surface of the monitor. You can swivel left and right on the pillar axis by around 270 degrees, and the face can tilt downwards by 5 degrees, and upward to the ceiling to 28 degrees from the vertical.
There are no speakers built-in but you will find a Kensington lock slot at the rear to shackle the monitor to a desk.
NEC MultiSync P242W review: Ports and I/O
There are four different video inputs set in the usual underside position facing down: DisplayPort v1.1a, HDMI v1.4, DVI-D and D-Sub VGA. NEC does not indicate the version of the first two ports, although its limited resolution will cause less issues with making the right connection to get native resolution and full 60 Hz performance.
To serve as a USB hub, there are also two Type B serving as inputs and two Type A for connecting peripherals, plus another USB on the right edge of the screen. All USB ports are of the older USB 2.0 specification.
Like other NEC displays we've seen recently, this model has a very good on-screen display (OSD) menu system that puts most consumer monitors of the world to shame. There are two pairs of Up/Down rockers, on right and bottom edge of the bezel, make it easy to move around the OSD without having to reuse the same three buttons for everything. Brightness and contrast are adjustable within fractions of a percent for true precision.
A dedicated button on the front bezel also lets you switch in and out of picture-in-picture (PIP) mode, so you can easily view a second video image in the corner of the screen.
The famous NEC carbon-footprint statistics get a complete page entry, with various carbon-stats listed, along with usage time, and cost savings indexed in multiple currencies such as dollar, euros, pounds and rubles.
The NEC MultiSync P242W is well equipped to be a robust and dependable 24-inch PC monitor of very high quality to meet professionals' expectations. Image and build quality were superb, excepting a maddening whistle which could annoy any nearby user enough to welcome its switch off. A final rating is difficult, but assuming you can find a functioning silent sample – and our scores are based on that hope – it would earn a recommendation.