Walk into an electronics retailer to buy a $1,500+ LCD television and you’ll soon learn about the benefits of 120Hz scanning. It minimizes the artifacts that can plague LCD panels when they display fast-moving video. Look for that same feature in a broadcast- or production-quality monitor, and you may be asked to spend $20,000 or more.

Fortunately, that situation is beginning to change. At NAB last year, Panasonic previewed 120Hz scanning in a new 17-inch model of its BT-series of professional monitors. Priced at $4,500, the BT-LH1760 has a native 1280 x 768 pixel (WXGA) resolution. It can accept 1080i or 1080p video, however the video will be resized to match the screen. In addition to the double-speed scanning (either 120Hz or 100Hz), the BT-LH1760 improves on the previous BT-series 17-inch model (the BT-LH1700W) with a new 10-bit image-processing engine and color look-up table. Though the LCD is an 8-bit color panel, the image processing is carried out at a more precise 10 bits.

That’s a key difference with the recently introduced $3,499 HP DreamColor LP2480zx monitor. The 24-inch DreamColor has a 10-bit LCD panel and LED-backlight system that can display more than a billion colors, while the BT-LH1760 can display 16.77 million colors. The DreamColor doesn’t have 120Hz scanning. In a nutshell, the BT-LH1760 is optimized for displaying fast movement, while the DreamColor is optimized for the broadest range of colors.

Versatile Performer

The BT-LH1760 is well-suited for both studio and location work. An AC/DC power supply is built in, and the monitor is encased in a strong aluminum die-cast frame. The panel also has a wide 176-degree viewing angle for both horizontal and vertical viewing. I saw only a slight drop-off in color accuracy when viewing the display from an extreme angle. At 15.7 pounds with the supplied metal stand, the BT-LH1760 is relatively heavy for a 17-inch model. That’s a big plus for durability, but could be a minus if you’re constantly moving it around while on location. It doesn’t have handles, so it’s a bit awkward to move. The BT-LH1760 is built like a tank and should be able to withstand a significant amount of abuse. Another plus is the monitor’s quiet operation. Because of the unit’s low power consumption, it doesn’t require a cooling fan.

There’s a good complement of video inputs, including SDI (via BNC connectors), composite (BNC), Y/Pb/Pr component (BNC), and DVI-D. The DVI-D is HDCP compatible, so – in theory – you’ll be able to use this monitor with copy-protected Blu-ray discs. There’s no HDMI input, however, so you may have to search for a HDMI-to-DVI adapter that can pass through the HDCP signal.

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The front-mounted controls are surprisingly sturdy. They’re recessed to prevent you from inadvertently moving them or accidently breaking them off when in transit. Among the menu options is a pixel-to-pixel mode, which could prove handy if you need to evaluate a 1080i signal and don’t want to resize the video. Using the split-screen mode, you could compare a live camera feed with a previously recorded shot. You could use the 80-dot cross hatch overlay to check the tilt of your camera. And you can place the vectorscope and waveform-monitoring functions into any of the four onscreen corners.

Sharp and Steady

How does the BT-LH1760 stand up to other professional monitors? And can you really compare its motion handling to a CRT? I ran all kinds of video through this display, and it held up very well. The images were consistently sharp and steady. Colors were accurate and well-saturated. There were minimal motion artifacts, even with fast moving objects. Is it as good as a CRT? No LCD monitor has the response time we’ve come to expect with a quality CRT, though the BT-LH1760 comes close.

While it excelled in almost every way, the BT-LH1760 fell a bit short with the contrast levels. The contrast is improved over previous BT ‘ series monitors, yet the blacks aren’t quite as dark as the blacks on the DreamColor monitor. This shouldn’t be an issue if you edit for broadcast, where content is usually presented on less-than-optimal displays, but it could be important if you edit theatrical films or digital cinema, where deeper blacks are available to the audience.

For motion-critical work, you should consider a monitor with 120Hz scanning. It helps overcome the biggest problem with LCD displays – image blurring. The blurring can be especially noticeable with diagonal movements. The BT-LH1760 is one of the first professional monitors under $5,000 to offer 120Hz scanning. If you don’t need the full 1080p resolution or true 10-bit color gamut, it’s an excellent choice. If you need 1080p, 10-bit color and 120Hz scanning in a professional monitor – and don’t want to pay more than $5,000 – then you’ll have to wait. At press time, no such animal exists.