Panasonic BT-LH910 9 inch Broadcast Monitor
The world is full of broadcast monitors these days, but Panasonic’s new BT-LH910 9" monitor is a standout. It's got a stunning picture, an extreme viewing angle, and a form factor that’s small enough to still work in the field, but big enough to still work in a studio. It’s also got some very unique features that 3D shooters will find helpful.
I'm a fan of Panasonic broadcast monitors, thanks to their color rendition and extra features, and I know a lot of other people feel the same way because I see more Panasonic monitors on sets than any other brand. Personally, I owned Panasonic's popular BT-LH80 7.9" field monitor (about $2300) for a couple of years, and found it to be a great option for my field work. I was quite happy with it until June 2011, when I got my hands on an early review unit of Panasonic's new BT-LH910 9" monitor
($3500), which replaces the LH80. WOW. What a difference!
The 910 cleaned the LH80's clock in just about every department. Shortly after, I posted my trusty LH80 on eBay, and gave Panasonic my credit card to buy the 910.
Of course, the 910's $3,500 price is considerably steeper than the BT-LH80 -- and plenty of other field monitors from Marshall, TV Logic, and others. To my regret, that's often the case with Panasonic pro gear. But while I'm sure you pay some tax for the Panasonic name, you're also getting a far better display with far more versatility than cheaper alternatives. That won't matter to some shooters, but I'm betting the 910 becomes a regular on plenty of sets and studio floors. Here's why:
That's the first thing I noticed when I did side-by-side image comparisons with my formerly beloved BT-LH80: the 910's image, thanks to a new IPS LCD panel, just looked so much better. The display was bright, like the LH-80's, but its contrast was hands-down superior, making video look far richer and dramatic than it ever did on the LH80. I also had a quick opportunity to compare the 910 to a popular Marshall V-LCD70XHB, and that, too, looked a little washed out by comparison. Finally, I set the 910 up next to a 25" Flanders Scientific broadcast monitor, which has plenty of accolades for its picture quality, and found the two monitors looked pretty much identical. To have the picture of an edit-bay-quality broadcast monitor in a 9" package is impressive.
Besides contrast, the 910's image looks great because of its 1280x768 pixel resolution (that's about the same resolution as Panasonic's popular 17" monitors). Most small monitors, like the older LH80 or models from Marshall, etc, have lower resolutions in the neighborhood of 800x450 pixels. The lower resolution can be a problem when you're trying to get precise focus on an HD camera, so companies have added various features to help -- for instance, using red pixels to show edges that are in focus, or a feature called Pixel-to-Pixel which scales up the screen image to show each native pixel coming from the camera, but requiring you to scroll the image around to see everything. Anyway, the 910 has these same focus-assist options, but I haven't needed them yet. The screen is sharp enough to judge focus without help.
Perfect Blend of Size and Weight
I love the 910's 9-inch screen because it's huge as far as field monitors go -- easily big for a camera operator to spot subtle issues with composition, or for a client to feel confident in what they're getting. Really, going from my LH80's 7.9 inches -- or especially the 7 inch dimension common on other field monitors -- to the 910's 9" screen felt like upgrading from a Holiday Inn to the Waldorf. It's just an inch or two, but that makes a very big difference in smaller monitors.
And yet, the 910 is still very portable and lightweight. It weighs 3.75 pounds (without battery), which is .45 pounds heavier than the BT-LH80, but still light enough to mount on top of a camera, or give to a producer to carry around all day. I held the LH80 and the 910 in each hand, and really couldn't tell a difference. The 910 is not appreciably bulkier, either.
And on a stage or studio, 9" is definitely on the smaller side of typical monitors, but still big enough to appreciate your image (especially displayed in 720p).
The 910's image is noticeably bigger than what you get from many field monitors like my old LH80. It feels like a luxury to have with you in the field. By the way, the quality of this still photo doesn't convey the dramatic difference in contrast between my old LH80 and the 910. But it's there. Click image for larger view.
The 910 is bulkier than my old LH80, but doesn't weigh noticeably more (.45 pound). My Zacuto arm, mounted on top of a Varicam, still supports the 910 just fine, and the monitor also fits in the same small Pelican hard case that took my LH80.
Wide Viewing Angle
Viewing angle is something a lot of people forget about when shopping or renting a monitor. And viewing angle was a problem with the BT-LH80 (and others). For instance, if your eye-line was not dead-on, the image could look slightly over or under-exposed. That becomes an issue when you're in a hurry and forget to adjust the monitor height just right
, or when clients of different heights crowd around to see what they're getting. Fortunately, the 910's IPS screen has the best viewing angle I've personally seen in a monitor. Panasonic says it's 176 degrees (vs the BT-LH80's 110-120 degrees), and the result is that everyone can look at the monitor from very different angles and still see a good image.
Twin 3G-SDI-inputs along with a bunch of 3D-oriented tools make the 910 a good match for 3D rigs. That doesn't mean it's a 3D monitor. It's a 2D monitor with tools for shooting better 3D. Anyway, I'm not a 3D shooter myself, and wasn't able to test these tools, but productions using 3D rigs should find them useful.
For instance, you can show left and right eye images side-by-side, and flip images horizontally and vertically, which is useful for mirrored rigs. You can check for misalignment problems by shifting the position of the right-eye image horizontally or vertically while comparing it to the static left image. A series of grid and line-counting functions help you determine exactly how differently your left and right images are aligned. And you can set the 910 to automatically or manually toggle between left and right images to give you a quasi-3D preview. 3D guys can read up on some of the other features here: ftp://ftp.panasonic.com/pub/Panasonic/Drivers/PBTS/manuals/BT-LH910%20Brochure.pdf
A nice touch is that you can make one menu selection and automatically toggle the 910's 3 physical function buttons between its standard 2D tools (like waveform, focus-in-red & pixel-to-pixel) or a customizable 3D tools mentioned above. It's a nice way to quickly get access to your 2D or 3D tools without having to manually remap each function button.
- Panasonic built a plastic screen protector into the 910, which is attached with four screws. That's a nice touch, making the screen protector feel like it's part of the unit instead of a clumsy Velcro add-on like my last two monitors used. If the 910's protector gets too beat up, you can order a replacement and install it yourself.
- I was happy to see Panasonic include a vectorscope, which means you probably won't need a more expensive monitor or scope around to fine-tune your camera. It's weird and inconvenient, though, that Panasonic didn't put labels on the scope's 6 targets (r, mg, cy, b, etc.)
Click image for larger view.
- Besides the dual SDI inputs/outputs, the 910 also has a component input, and an HDMI input. That's helpful to have in with some much DSLR shooting going on, and you can use the waveform, focus-in-red, and pixel-to-pixel scaling features with DSLR video, but not the vectorscope (it works only with SDI inputs).
- Here's something close to what I've always wanted: a feature called "Sub Window" lets you freeze a frame of video from a recorded or live source, and then display it in a split-screen next to live video so you can match the two shots' color/lighting/composition. Sub Window has two different settings: "full" mode shows you both images side by side, but scaled down considerably so they fit together on the 910's screen, and "part" mode shows the center part of the images side by side at normal size, with the edges cropped. Personally, I wish there was a toggle that let me flip back and forth between two full-sized images, but I can live without it.
- The 910 can show four-channel audio meters, and also comes with a headphones jack. That jack is definitely helpful for handing the monitor to a producer, and letting them monitor audio without hooking their headphones into your camera or some other audio gear.
- The monitor ships with a beefy, tiltable viewing stand, which is perfect for setting on a desk or table if you want to set it on a desk or table. You can take the stand off with a screw driver, and will probably want to do that for weight/mobility in the field. But it's a handy option to have around.
- You can use the 910 as a viewfinder with other Panasonic pro-level cameras like the HPX2700/3100/2000 or HDX900. You'll just need a Panasonic viewfinder cable to connect the camera and monitor.
- The monitor ships with one of its three buttons programmed to trigger its waveform and vectorscope tools (which appear in a user-set corner of the screen). The problem is that there are four different waveform settings (Y, red, green, blue) and then a vectorscope to cycle through. So you could end up pressing that button four or five times to get to the tool you want, or to turn off the tool altogether. That's a pain, especially when you're in a hurry. It'd be nice if Panasonic let you customize which tools the button cycles through. Personally, I doubt I'd ever need separate red, green & blue waveforms.
- The 910's power draw seems to be about 10-15% higher than the old BT-LH80 (based on my very un-scientific tests...Panasonic doesn't print how many watts the monitor uses). Higher battery drain makes sense given the 910 uses a bigger, higher-res screen. But if battery life in the field is a top priority, you should weigh that against the 910's other features.
- Finally, I wish Panasonic could indeed get a little more aggressive on the 910's price. As I've said a number of times before, having the highest priced gear pays off when you take big orders from networks, but it also means missing sales to a lot of smaller operators. Apple used to have appreciably higher-priced laptops and desktops than the PC world, but was eventually able to get its prices down and sold a lot more gear. I think Panasonic could benefit from taking the same tact.
Overall, though, I think the 910 is a fantastic monitor. Beautiful picture. Great size/weight balance. Industry-leading viewing angle. Good exposure, color and focus tools. Plenty of inputs and outputs (for pass-through). Lots of specialty features for 3D, along with other features such as the frame-grab Sub Window, audio meters and a headphones jack. If you don't mind spending a little extra, you'll get a monitor that can do just about anything.
About Helmut Kobler
Helmut Kobler is a Los Angeles-based documentary cameraman and producer. He's also written three editions of Final Cut Pro for Dummies. For more info, go to http://www.losangelescameraman.com
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