NEC EA294WMi Reviewby Chris Heinonen on February 10, 2014 6:00 AM EST
While 21:9 displays have never caught on for TVs, they seem to have found a niche with computers. Now most vendors have at least one 21:9 display, and at CES this year we saw larger, higher resolution 21:9 panels introduced. All of these panels are aimed at consumers so far, with an emphasis on integrated audio, multiple video inputs, MHL, and other consumer features. Because of this it isn't a surprise that the 21:9 display from NEC is also consumer focused, but let's see how it performs.
The EA293WMi is a 21:9 monitor with 2560x1080 resolution. As with all the 21:9 displays so far, the backlight is an edge-lit white LED that provides the sRGB color gamut but not AdobeRGB. I asked NEC what their target audience is with the 21:9 aspect ratio, as figuring that out has been somewhat challenging.
As I expected, their main target is people that want a display that multitasks between computer and movies or games. For people that watch a lot of films that are shot in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio (which is around half of the movies released each year), the 21:9 aspect ratio allows you to watch those films without black bars at the top. As someone that has a 2.40:1 projection system at home, I understand the desire to watch films without any letterboxing.
Another target that I was unaware of is medical imaging. For lots of medical imaging, people are still using a pair of 19", 4:3 displays to view content. A 29" 21:9 monitors provides a near direct drop-in replacement for those two displays as you can't really purchase them anymore. The NEC contains a DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) mode, specifically targeting this use case. This is not a use that I, or most people, would likely be aware of but it does help to explain where 21:9 displays will fit in.
Most of the 21:9 monitors on the market have been more concerned with looks over usability. They have nice, thin profiles but lack height adjustments or VESA mounting holes on the back. They look stylish but if you want them at any other height you'll need to place them on top of something. Additionally if you want to use them in portrait mode, where their extra height can be a useful feature, you are going to need to come up with a complex system of mounting it to something. This lack of adjustments is a pet peeve of mine, so I'm happy to report that NEC doesn't restrict their display in this way.
The stand included with the EA294WMi offers both height adjustments and the ability to rotate into portrait mode. There are also VESA mounting screws on the back so you can use your own stand if you desire as well. Even with their consumer line NEC still keeps more focus on ergonomics and usability than looks, which I admire. It also offers full tilt and swivel ability making the stand very versatile.
The EA294WMi is well stocked with inputs: DisplayPort, HDMI/MHL, Dual DVI (only one is Dual Link), and dual DSub mean that anything you want to connect should be possible. There is a 4-port USB hub that is integrated as well but it is only USB 2.0. Unlike the professional displays you can’t use the EA294WMi as a KVM for two computers.
The on-screen display is reminiscent of the professional line but is more consumer focused. Brightness levels are indicated in percent instead of cd/m^2 and there are fewer preset modes to select from. It still provides more flexibility than most displays but not the granular ability found on professional NEC models. The menus are fairly easy to control as button labels pop up on the screen. I’d prefer a 4-way control, or all the controls to be along the same side of the display, but all the required features are at least present.
NEC provides a few features specific to their displays here. One is a human presence sensor that detects if someone is sitting in front of the display or not. If you are absent for a set time period it can dim the display to conserve energy. Many of us just use the power management in our OS to accomplish this, but in case that fails (and Windows has a habit of just turning back on I find) this is a backup. You can also daisy-chain NEC displays together with a 3.5mm cable and have a master control the other units. If you often make adjustments to brightness or other controls this can be handy, but you need a full array of displays from NEC for it to work.
Before we continue, let's quickly look at the specifications for the EA294WMi:
|HDMI-MHL, DisplayPort, DVI-D, DVI-DL, VGA
|300 cd/m2 typical
|Viewing Angle (H/V)
|Power Consumption (operation)
|Power Consumption (standby)
|VESA Wall Mounting
|100mm x 100mm
|Dimensions w/ Base (WxHxD)
|27.8" x 16.2" x 9.1"
|21.2 lbs. with stand
|USB 2.0 Hub (1 up, 4 down), Picture-by-Picture, Presence Sensor
|Dsub Cable, DVI-DL Cable, USB Cable, 3.5mm Cable, ControlSync Cable
|Currently $700 online