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Zephyr SD monitor


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#1 Mark Schlicher

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Posted 03 April 2011 - 11:26 PM

I’ve spent time with my new Zephyr monitor and run some tests and comparisons. Here are my results and conclusions. I shot some photos which I hope to upload after I resize and label them.

Summary:
The new Steadicam Zephyr is a big advance in many ways from the Flyer LE that it, along with the Scout, replaces. But the “new” SD monitor disappoints, even compared to the 5-year-old Flyer monitor it replaces. Brightness, resolution, and viewing angles all suffer compared to the old Flyer monitor, and there are no new features or other advances offered. A plethora of inexpensive LCD monitors from Lilliput and other OEM’s demonstrate that an improved monitor (higher resolution, improved brightness, underscan, etc.) need not be expensive, even though it may not have the features that are considered “must-have” on a big rig. For some it’s a moot point, as any monitor that is not a dedicated Steadicam offering by Transvideo, Marshall, TV Logic or Nebtek aren’t even worth considering. For others, particularly those for whom rigs like the Zephyr are targeted, some features can be sacrificed as long as brightness, viewing angles, and resolution meet a minimum threshold. The Flyer monitor was good enough to meet that threshold for many. The Zephyr monitor, not so much.

Introduction:
Why did I spend a lot of effort in testing and describing the Zephyr monitor, instead of simply replacing it with a “real” monitor and moving on? First, because Tiffen has not released detailed specs on this monitor (nor, as far as I know, the HD version), except for a claim of 500 nits on the Zephyr web page. This does not appear to be accurate. Like me, another buyer may be taken by surprise by an unexpected need to upgrade the monitor right away. Second, it turns out it really is an inferior monitor to the Flyer. If you are hoping for advances or even status quo, you will be disappointed. I wanted to find out for myself just how much of a backward step it is and pass it along for others’ benefit.

Late last year, the first production Zephyrs started coming off the factory line, with an “all-new” monitor (the prototype had a Flyer monitor). LCD monitor technology has advanced dramatically in five years, with inexpensive higher-resolution panels, advancements in firmware, etc. The market is rich with choices in LCD monitors with price/performance ratios far exceeding those of just a few years ago. It would be natural to assume that Tiffen would tap into these new possibilities. Although I didn’t expect a monitor with big-rig performance and features, I was curious and hopeful that five years would have brought at least a few improvements to the SD monitor, or perhaps even a lower-cost HD monitor option. No such luck.

I had a brief time with an SD rig at the Eastern Classic Workshop in December but no time to evaluate the monitor. I began asking for monitor specs in December. Continued in January, February. Was told “still no specs available.” Ordered my own SD Zephyr rig and received it in early March. When it arrived, there was no monitor documentation of any kind. The Zephyr monitor, side-by-side with a Flyer monitor, is clearly not as bright. With access to a Zephyr monitor, my old Flyer monitor, and a Lilliput 668GL-70NP/H/Y monitor (an inexpensive, 450nit LCD with a 800x480 screen), I decided to try to quantify the differences between them. The main focus is between the Zephyr and Flyer monitors,

Resolution and scaling:
Flyer screen is listed at 640x234 and shows the sub-SD look you would expect. No specs published for the Zephyr monitor, but it appears to be the same resolution. Even so, the Flyer monitor seems to have more “real” resolution, perhaps due to a better scaler. On the Flyer monitor, viewfinder readouts from the camera were crisper with less anti-aliasing “blurring”. Lilliput is an 800x480 screen. Composite input is not the sharpest that this monitor can deliver, but exceeds either the Zephyr or Flyer monitor. As expected, a 720P component signal fed to the Lilliput is sharper still, owing to what looks like a good scaler, and the fact that it’s component. Lilliput could not sync up a 480i component signal.

Crop:

Both the Zephyr and Flyer monitors overscan. However, the Zephyr monitor is cropped more severely at the top, cropping the time code readout and basically obscuring the 95% TV safe on top. It is not a bezel issue, as flipping the image puts the same behavior on the bottom of the screen.

Brightness
I don’t have the tools to measure the brightness of each monitor in nits, so I used the tools that I have to compare and rank the three monitors. I measured with a Sekonic L-398 meter with lumidisc. Measured in a dark room, 2” from screen surface, directly above the center of a screen displaying SMPTE color bars.

Based on my tests, the Flyer and Lilliput monitors perform consistent with their claimed brightness relative to each other (500nits for the Flyer, 450nits for the Lilliput.) Relatively speaking, I would expect the Zephyr monitor to have a brightness of 250-300 nits, as it significantly lagged behind the other two monitors.

Because each monitor responds differently to the combination of contrast and brightness controls, I chose three subjective levels to test at.

Default is the setting out of the box for brightness and contrast. All three monitors displayed reasonable contrast and brightness on color bars.

Max practical: is a setting I subjectively chose for each monitor to represent the combination of brightness and contrast settings for each monitor that was as bright as possible without seeingserious degradation of contrast, in other words, the picture was not washed out or lacking in detail, but still looked pretty “normal”.

Max: Both contrast and brightness settings to their maximum settings, regardless of how much the picture was degraded. The Lilliput in particular was very washed out at that setting, which probably explains how it surpassed the Flyer at least “by the numbers”.

Default: Zephyr monitor B=50 C=50. Flyer B=0 C=0. Lilliput B=50 C=73
Max Practical: Zephyr B=50 C=90. Flyer B=0 C=+7 Lilliput B=60 C=73
Max:(all three monitors at maximum brightness and contrast settings).

Results, Default:
Brightest was the Flyer monitor, which showed 21FC. Lilliput measured 16FC and Zephyr came in at 11FC. The Flyer was about a full stop brighter than the Zephyr, and the Lilliput only 1/3 stop under the Flyer.

Results, Max Practical:

Brightest was the Flyer at 27FC. Then Lilliput at 24FC and Zephyr at 16FC. The Flyer was 2/3 stop brighter than the Zephyr and less than 1/3 of a stop brighter than the Lilliput.

Results, Max:
Lilliput at 48FC. Flyer at 27FC and Zephyr at 24FC. The Lilliput surpassed the others at full brightness/contrast but it should be emphasized that the picture was so washed out as to be unuseable. The Flyer was second, and was much more viewable (less washed out). It also was no brighter than it was on my “max practical” setting. The Zephyr monitor was just a little under the Flyer, but was also quite washed-out.

Viewing angle:

The Zephyr lagged behind both the Lilliput and Flyer monitors for off-axis brightness, especially in the vertical axis. At least the Zephyr LCD panel is oriented so that the picture stays bright when viewed from below the monitor (when looking “up” at it, such as when the sled is boomed up and tilted down). The Lilliput panel holds viewability when viewed from above and sacrifices viewability from below, which could be a problem. Subjectively, the Zephyr monitor seems to lack compared to the Flyer in side-to-side viewing angles, but I did not spend a lot of time with that.

Conclusion
Zephyr monitor is a very low-end LCD monitor that does not match or exceed the Flyer monitor in any important way. It is dimmer by roughly an f-stop compared to the Flyer, a real step backward. It is a missed opportunity by Tiffen for improvement, but more importantly, in my opinion it falls below a minimum threshold for brightness and off-axis viewability. It will disappoint those who rely on the apparently incorrect information on Tiffen’s website. It is surprisingly under-spec’d for a rig as innovative and well-engineered as the Zephyr. As I’ve said elsewhere, it is unworthy of an otherwise excellent rig. Will it work okay in most non-demanding situations if you don’t expect too much? Sure. Should you shell out $3500 for the HD option? With no features or specs announced, that’s a lot of money without knowing what you are getting. If you’re in the market for a Zephyr, probably better to buy the SD version, make do with it for now, and budget for an upgraded monitor after the new 3rd party offerings are unveiled at NAB.
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#2 Eric Fletcher S.O.C.

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Posted 03 April 2011 - 11:50 PM

if you're seriously thinking about spending something north of $3500 for a HD monitor from Tiffen that is of unknown quality and specs I suggest holding off and wandering over to see what Robert Starling is flying on his XCS Ultimate over at the Angeniux booth....


Let's just say it's the same monitor I'm using and I'm not flying my TB-6 anymore....
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#3 Dave Wowchuk

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Posted 04 April 2011 - 07:24 AM

OK guys, so what would be your recommendation for a monitor between $1500-$2500 as an "upgrade" for the Zephyr? (That's all I've got in the budget for now.)

Dave
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#4 Andrew Stone

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Posted 04 April 2011 - 08:04 AM

if you're seriously thinking about spending something north of $3500 for a HD monitor from Tiffen that is of unknown quality and specs I suggest holding off and wandering over to see what Robert Starling is flying on his XCS Ultimate over at the Angeniux booth....


Let's just say it's the same monitor I'm using and I'm not flying my TB-6 anymore....


The only extant monitor known through here in that price range is the Nebtek. Hoping this monitor you speak of Eric has scopes in it and provision for a leveler.

Not flying your TB-6. Hell has officially frozen over. Thanks for the heads up Eric. I'll be going by the Angenieux booth.

-Andrew
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#5 James Davis

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Posted 04 April 2011 - 08:31 AM

if you're seriously thinking about spending something north of $3500 for a HD monitor from Tiffen that is of unknown quality and specs I suggest holding off and wandering over to see what Robert Starling is flying on his XCS Ultimate over at the Angeniux booth....


Let's just say it's the same monitor I'm using and I'm not flying my TB-6 anymore....


The only extant monitor known through here in that price range is the Nebtek. Hoping this monitor you speak of Eric has scopes in it and provision for a leveler.

Not flying your TB-6. Hell has officially frozen over. Thanks for the heads up Eric. I'll be going by the Angenieux booth.

-Andrew


Since I won't be going to NAB, i'd be very interested to know whether you are flying the New Nebtek too, or what monitor it is that has drawn you away from the TB-6, as it must be something special.
A second rig will be on the cards for me in the near future, so soon it will be time to start collecting parts.

Cheers in advance

James.
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#6 Eric Fletcher S.O.C.

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Posted 04 April 2011 - 08:49 AM

It's not a nebtek, borland or transvideo. None of those three can touch it
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#7 Dave Wowchuk

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Posted 04 April 2011 - 08:57 AM

So what is it?

It's not a nebtek, borland or transvideo. None of those three can touch it


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#8 Lee Dashiell

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Posted 02 November 2012 - 07:25 AM

So….Does it make financial sense to buy the Zephyr with the SD monitor and buy the Marshall 7" 800nit monitor separately? I'm getting ready to place my order but want to make sure I'm not making a mistake. I could use the SD monitor with our Cinestar 8 Heli so it would actually get some use. Any suggestions are helpful.

Will the Marshall 7" HD monitor mount with the smae bracket that Tiffen provides?
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#9 Mark Schlicher

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Posted 02 November 2012 - 09:34 PM

Yes, it is cheaper to by a Marshall separately. You may have to buy an XLR to lemo power cable (custom or from Tiffen) and SDI cable.

The bracket is not the same, but is a standard 1/4-20 threaded hole. I bought a simple neoprene washer to help add a little friction. A "star" lock washer would work too. Maybe not quite as sturdy as the Tiffen bracket but so far no problems here. I "table" the monitor against the horizontal tube most of the time anyway.
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#10 Lee Dashiell

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Posted 04 November 2012 - 07:32 AM

Thanks for the help Mark. Much appreciated.
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