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How to choose your monitor ?

 


What is the purpose of the 10-bit display? - 7/7
Published on April 21, 2015 / Updated on November 06, 2018

 

Let's finish with the criteria for choosing a screen by asking a question that many photographers are dying to know : do you have to work in 10-bit display and therefore buy a NVidia Quadro or 10-bit compatible card ?


Grail for some photo retouchers, enigma for others, it is time to look at the case of the 10-bit display. What is it about? Why should we display our images in 10 bits instead of 8 bits ? What does it bring to the display of our images ? Why does it improve the display of some special gradients and how is it an advantage for photographers, retouchers... or not ?

   
 
 

Buying guide monitors by Arnaud Frich

 
   
 



10-bit display: what are we talking about ?

10-bit view options in PhotoshopIn some very special cases that we will identify below, we can technically end up with tone breaks that a 10-bit display can smooth if we have a 10-bit compatible graphics card (in addition to a recent operating system, a compatible screen, etc.).

Key point ! The 10-bit display is only of real interest in a particular case that is clearly identified and of great interest to professional retouchers. It was created for this purpose. Not to be the miraculous answer to all our shade breaks that would turn into beautiful gradients with this magic trick, so except in this particular case, you may never see its value. So don't rush into it...

But what exactly and concretely is this about ?

Usually, when you make a grayscale in Photoshop like below (600 pixels on the side like here), you get a very nice and very progressive color chart, even in 8 bits. Obviously, this will depend a lot on your screen (and not on your graphics card).

Important ! It is not necessary to have a 10-bit graphics card to get a nice gradient in Photoshop as below. I made it in 8 bits and it displays perfectly smooth with my 8 bits card. The 10-bit display does not always tighten (the 8-bit display is sufficient) but is there to solve a particular case that professional retouchers are well aware of and that we will study below.

   
Grayscale created in Photoshop
 

Beautiful grayscale realized in a document of 600 pixels side in Photoshop. ATTENTION ! This image has been compressed during its recording and its display in your home will depend a lot on your equipment. The easiest way : make your own file in Photoshop !

 

Importante note ! What follows is illustrated by images that allow the demonstration if you are in an 8-bit configuration without which, the above image will obviously be smoothed, without tonal breakage, since precisely the 10-bit is made for that !

To highlight the interest of a 10-bit display with a compatible graphics card like the famous Quadro NVidia cards (below), we will have to use a special image file but only it can explain what is happening with pedagogy. This special file is no longer made up of a progressive gradient not too wide (600 pixels) as in the image above but of a 16-bit file made up of multiple vertical bands whose each band must have a minimum width - say at least 42 pixels as in the example below - to better see what is happening and the particularity of each band is to have just one level (1) of brightness more or less than its neighbor. So you end up with a band of 42 pixels at RGB=47 (for example), then the next one of 42 pixels at RGB=48 and so on... "Logically", each band is expected to be very slightly darker and lighter than its two neighbors since they have 1 level of brightness difference each time with an 8-bit display. With this type of "current" graphics card, this file should look like this:

   
Breaks of tones in a gradient of gray
 

If you do not see this file correctly, it is a succession of strips of 42 pixels wide each with a brightness of only 1 level (out of 256) compared to its neighbor. Run your eyedropper over it in Photoshop to see.

 

So you have a succession of bands, barely distinct from their neighbours, a little as if you had a posterization - tonal breaks - but this makes sense. Thus, if your file displays a succession of 256 bands from black to white it would therefore be 256 x 42 = 10752 pixels wide and you could distinguish each band from its neighbours thanks to this difference of only one brightness level. By displaying this very large image at only 10% in Photoshop, it would regain a "classic" look without any shade breakage. Imagine now that you take this same file but reduce it to 256 pixels wide then you would have a new file with a perfect gradient because a screen pixel would have only one level of difference with its neighbour. Each 42 pixel band would be reduced to a single pixel.

Finally, create a new 256 pixel side file in Photoshop then apply a grayscale and then display it at 3200% and you will get again these famous strips of several pixels with the same levels (still in 8-bit display of course) !

   
 

Gradient of grey very enlarged and contrasted voluntarily for readability on a white background. The gradient is so large here that many pixels in a vertical band have the same level of brightness.

So what is the 10-bit display for and what does it smooth?

Well, it only serves to smooth "despite all" the display of this "false" gradient! The purpose of the 10-bit display - which no longer works on 256 levels but 1024 (4 times more) - is to make sure that the first ten pixels of the RGB=47 band in this example are actually displayed at RGB =188 in 10 bits - the equivalent of something like 47,00 in decimal value - then the next ten (always from the same band at 47 in 8 bits) but at 189 in 10 bits - the equivalent of something like 47.25 in decimal value - and so on up to 191 - or the equivalent of something like 47.75 in decimal value - for the last ten always from the same band RGB at 47. 
In decimal value or in 10 bits, these bands would magically become "different" whereas in 8 bits they are supposed to be identical. This is not very "logical" since the last pixels at RGB = 47 (191 in 10 bits) will be displayed almost like the first pixels at 48 (192) while the value of one was RGB = 47 and the following RGB = 48 but we will indeed have the impression that this "false gradient" becomes perfectly progressive without tonal breakage. It therefore looks like a kind of display trick that smoothes out some special, special gradients because they are strongly enlarged.

But when do we find ourselves faced with these special gradients ?

This special file can therefore be made in Photoshop but it can also be obtained by enlarging a file a lot as we have seen from the 256 pixel gradient displayed at 3200%. So imagine if you were a professional retoucher. You need to work on a skin. You enlarge your image a lot in a region to be retouched (let's imagine 500%) so where there was a beautiful 100% progressive gradient you see its famous 5 pixel wide bands appear (in 8 bit display). It therefore becomes difficult to make a "progressive" touch-up because you see bands on which you cannot act because the difference in brightness between two bands is minimal since only 1 level. The 10-bit display comes to your rescue by "artificially" smoothing these strips anyway and makes your work more pleasant. That said, where there will now be a progressive gradient displayed, your eye dropper will see the same brightness level on several pixels in a row because for Photoshop there is no decimal brightness value (e. g. 47.75) !

For large sensors ! More and more photos are taken with huge sensors as the latest PhaseOne sensors rise to 100 million pixels. The files are therefore 11600 x 8700. Even at 100% of the display can be found in the above-mentioned case, so the increase in the size of the sensors will surely go more and more in tandem with the 10-bit display.

Any other more unfortunate consequences ?

That being said, for another photographer it could be misleading because it makes you believe, always if you magnify an image a lot - a sine qua non condition - that you have to deal with pixels of different RGB values when this is not really the case. So it's up to you to appreciate if it will make the retouching more pleasant or not.

My advice ! Don't necessarily worry about the 10 bits of a graphics card, the 16-bit LUT table on a screen unless of course you are a professional retoucher where the interest is obvious. It is very expensive, very limited as an interest for everyday use. Because, no, you can't see it all the time. You need very large files or more common but very enlarged files to see it. On the other hand, if you want to have beautiful gradients without oversizing your file (start by not damaging your files by undermining them and over-processing them!), prefer screens with 10-bit internal LUT table and recognized brands like Eizo or Nec. It is no longer necessary to spend a lot of money to buy one. An Eizo CS2420 a screen - absolutely magnificent - "only" costs 685 euros when a Quato 21 from eight years ago cost more than 2000 euros!!!! This puts in perspective even if it still represents a lot of money I agree - But, I repeat, I have seen very beautiful gradients on screens with 8-bit LUT and if recent iMacs didn't have so many reflections, I would recommend them without reservation because I find their gradients superb once calibrated with the excellent i1Display Pro sensor.

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10-bit display with which hardware ?

To enjoy the 10-bit display you must, as you will have understood :

  • a compatible graphics card,
  • an operating system that is also compatible,
  • obviously a compatible editing software
  • and, because it is better to specify it, a compatible screen !

This promises nice investments but which seem justified to me in the case of professional retouchers obviously or photographers who work with the largest sensors today (100 million pixels).

Important note ! The 10-bit display in Photoshop is therefore only accessible if all these parameters are combined together because the entire graphic chain will reflect your weakest link.

10-bit display and operating systems

Windows from Seven and Mac OS from 10.11.9 (Yosemite in the last update) support 10-bit display (if you have a compatible graphics card). On Macs, for example, you need a recent Mac - Mac Pro 2013 and later or iMac 5K and MacBook Pro 2015/2016 - because we don't really have a choice in the graphics card installed. On my old Mac Pro 2010, I couldn't access 10-bit for example even if I installed the latest operating system.

   
Windows 10 et MacOS sont compatibles avec l'affichage 10 bits
 


The 10-bit display in photo editing software

This option can be enabled if Photoshop detects that it is technically possible on your machine. To do this, go to the "Preferences > Performance/parameters of the graphics processor/30-bit display" menu in Photoshop :

 

30-bit display options in Photoshop to enable 10-bit display
 

If the "30-bit display" menu is greyed out, your machine does not give you access to the 10-bit display (10 bits per layer, so 30 bits in RGB) because your graphics card is too old.


Note ! This option can be activated even on an Asus N752VX laptop with a GTX 950M graphics card.

Which graphics cards for 10-bit display: NVidia QUADRO or ATI FirePro cards ?

Beyond hardware acceleration, NVidia Quadro or Ati FirePro graphics cards are therefore also interesting for some photographers because they offer the possibility of encoding the color signal sent to the screen in 10 bits in order to smooth even more certain particular gradients (very strongly enlarged) in order to make retouching more pleasant.

Several comments ! If today (mid-2018) you want to invest in an NVidia card with optimized CUDA technology - the famous QUADRO cards -, whether for hardware acceleration because you have checked compatibility with your software or 10-bit display, you will have to switch to PC because these cards are not part of Apple's options.
The AMD FirePro or AMD VEGA cards have been installed in Mac Pro since 2013 and provide 10-bit access from Mac OS 10.11.9 if you have a compatible display.
Finally, many forums, particularly in the United States, mention the superiority of Quadro vs Ati FirePro card drivers. The best graphics cards to enjoy the pleasures of 10-bit PC display are therefore the NVidia Quadro at the moment...


1 - NVidia Quadro 2018 card lists :

NVidia Quadro 2018 Graphics Cards
 

 

2 - List of AMD ATI FirePro 2018 graphics cards :

ATI RADEON PRO 2018 Graphics Cards

 

Which screens display 10 bits ?

All EIZO displays in the ColorEdge range will give you access to the 10-bit display :

  • Eizo CS240/CS270 replaced by the CS2420 (tested on this site)
  • Eizo CX241/CX271 replaced by the CG2420 (tested on this site)
  • Eizo CG247X and Eizo CG277 (tested on this site).
  • And their equivalents in 27''.

As well as the BenQ displays of the SW or PV range :

And finally the DELL Ultrasharp displays.

   
 
 

 
     
 
 
Through these 7 pages I will share with you my advices to choose your photo editing or video editing monitor...
 
- General advices
- What screen size to choose ?
- Switch to 4K... or not yet?
- Technology, gamut, homogeneity...
- Which graphics and connector card ?
- Hardware acceleration and table LUT ?
- What is the purpose of the 10-bit display ? 7/7
  - What are we talking about ?
- 10-bit display with which hardware?
 

- 2018 monitors buying guide !
- My 13 full monitor reviews !
- How to calibrate your monitor ?


 

Calibrate your monitor with the best
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