Review: Three widescreen HD monitors that pivot from portrait to landscape

At a Glance
  • HP EliteDisplay E231

    PCWorld Rating
  • Generic Company Place Holder MultiSync EA294WMi

    PCWorld Rating
  • Samsung Series 7 Monitor (Model S27C750P)

    PCWorld Rating

Monitors with wide aspect ratios provide plenty of room for viewing browser windows, documents, spreadsheets, photos, and other applications cheek by jowl. There are times, however, when a vertical orientation is more desirable—when you’re editing a digital portrait, reviewing long documents such as contracts or legal briefs), or working on programming code, for example. Unfortunately, most displays stick stubbornly to their landscape orientation.

But some recent monitors can pivot between landscape and portrait modes—a welcome sight indeed. We examined three such models: HP’s 23-inch EliteDisplay E231, Samsung’s 27-inch Series 7 S27C750P, and NEC’s 29-inch MultiSync EA294WMi. Despite their shared promise of pivoting flexibility, however, the monitors vary considerably in their design quality and image quality.

HP EliteDisplay E231

Utilitarian best describes HP’s EliteDisplay E231. This 23-inch, LED-backlit, TN (twisted nematic) display has has a nonreflective screen with a native resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. It connects to your PC via DisplayPort (version 1.1, so you get no support for multistream transport), DVI, or VGA.

Sexy it isn’t. The E231’s sturdy, black-plastic bezel—0.5 inch wide on the sides and 0.75 inch wide along the top and the bottom—calls to mind a set of horn-rimmed glasses. Five physical buttons on the front adjust brightness or contrast and interact with the on-screen menus. A USB 2.0 hub provides one upstream and two downstream ports.

Robert Cardin
HP's EliteDisplay E231 is an acceptable monitor if you work primarily with documents, but this TN panel handles other applications underwhelmingly.

The E231’s stand, however, is much more versatile than most. It can tilt from -5 degrees to +30 degrees, it can swivel 360 degrees, and it can pivot 90 degrees into portrait mode. HP also offers various accessories that will appeal primarily to business users, including the HP Integrated Work Center 2 for Small Form Factor, an $85 device that lets you mount a small PC and essentially create an all-in-one computer.

According to HP, the E231 offers a horizontal viewing angle of 170 degrees and a vertical viewing angle of 160 degrees. In my tests, however, colors shifted when I pivoted the display into portrait mode: A white screen looked white only when my head was directly facing the center of the display. White shifted to green and then to purple as I moved to the left. This effect is an inherent shortcoming of TN displays in all price ranges. Monitors based on the more-expensive IPS (in-plane switching) technology typically deliver good viewing angles across a range of 178 degrees or more and are much better suited to operating in portrait mode.

Robert Cardin
Pivoting to portrait mode is useful for more things than just working with long documents.

The EliteDisplay E231 is acceptable for working with code, long documents, log files, webpages, and the like. In particular it rendered text very legibly. But you wouldn’t want to use it for editing photographs or performing other imaging tasks. Using a mix of our own test screens and DisplayMate tests, I found no stuck or dead pixels. At the monitor’s default color setting of 6500K, whites had a pinkish cast. Changing to a custom setting helped considerably: Whites looked better, grays were more neutral, and colors looked reasonably accurate. The adjustment also helped tone down the monitor’s viewing-angle problems. But blacks were a little blocked-up, and whites were clipped in many of the DisplayMate contrast test screens, no matter which setting we used.

If most of your computer work involves dealing with text, and if you need a monitor that can pivot to portrait mode, HP’s EliteDisplay E231 is an affordably good choice. If you work with photos or need accurate color reproduction for some other reason, consider investing in a pivoting display that uses an IPS panel.

Pros 

  • Stand tilts, swivels, and pivots to portrait mode
  • Nonreflective screen 
  • With an optional accessory, can host a Small Form Factor PC

Cons

  • Twisted nematic LCD panel
  • Poor off-axis viewing
  • Mediocre color fidelity

Bottom line

This monitor is best suited for text and coding work, where its pivoting feature will be welcome. It’s not a good choice for work with applications such critical photo and video editing.

Score: 3 stars

NEC MultiSync EA294WMi

None of the three ultrawide, 29-inch displays I reviewed earlier this year could pivot into portrait mode (some could only tilt). But NEC’s MultiSync EA294WMi is height-adjustable, and it can tilt, swivel, and pivot. Nevertheless, I’m not convinced that portrait mode is a practical feature on a display this large.

Like the three landscape-only widescreen models, the MultiSync EA294WMi uses an IPS display that includes an LED backlight and has native resolution of 2560 by 1080 pixels—for an aspect ratio of 21:9. It can replace two smaller monitors, but it requires just one connection to your computer—a particularly useful feature when you’re connecting to a laptop. And of course, you don’t have bezels meeting in the middle and interrupting your view.

Robert CardinRobert Cardin
NEC's MultiSync EA294WMi is the clear winner in this three-monitor roundup (though NEC missed the boat by failing to support multistream transport, a key feature of DisplayPort 1.2).

The EA294WMi boasts six connection types: DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI, DVI-D dual link, DVI-D single link, VGA, and MHL (Mobile High-definition Link), the last of which allows you to connect your compatible Android device to the display’s HDMI port. The monitor doesn’t support the multistream transport feature that is part of the DisplayPort 1.2 standard (the company says it plans to add this feature to future models), but NEC does provide a ControlSync cable for controlling up to six NEC monitors (with one acting as the master). The monitor also comes with such niceties as a four-port USB 2.0 hub and integrated speakers (which are fine for system alerts, though you’ll want something beefier for music and video).

Robert Cardin
If you really need almost 28 inches of vertical display, NEC's EA294WMi can accommodate.

Using various test images on both Mac and PC systems, I found no stuck or dead pixels on the EA294WMi’s screen. Text was clear and legible, colors looked accurate, and grays appeared neutral. I noticed no problems with color uniformity across the wide display, and it looked great from every viewing angle—left to right and top to bottom—even when I pivoted it into portrait mode. I can’t imagine many few instances where I’d need to view an image that’s roughly 27.8 inches tall (or 29 inches on the diagonal)—but if that’s a feature you need, this display is one of the few that can deliver it.

Pros 

  • IPS panel delivers great off-axis viewing
  • Very good height-adjustable, pivoting stand
  • Lots of input options, including Android MHL support

Cons

No support for DisplayPort multistream transport

Mediocre integrated speakers

Bottom line

This model is among the best ultrawide displays we’ve tested, but it’s also among the most expensive.

Score 4.5 stars

Samsung Series 7 Monitor (Model S27C750P)

Samsung’s S27C750P is a 27-inch display with an LED-backlit MVA panel that delivers excellent viewing from any angle, a feature that’s particularly important for a display that can pivot into portrait mode. However, you can’t adjust this monitor’s height, it doesn’t swivel, and it offers limited connectivity options: two HDMI inputs and one VGA port. There’s no DVI or DisplayPort, and the monitor doesn’t support MHL (a surprising omission considering the number of Android devices Samsung manufactures).

Robert Cardin
Really, Samsung? Just HDMI inputs and VGA?

The S27C750P’s 1920 by 1080 resolution is considerably lower than that of professional-quality 27-inch displays, which boast a native resolution of 2560 by 1440 pixels. At the Samsung monitor’s lower pixel density, fonts and images looked slightly grainy when viewed at close range.

On the bright side, no pun intended, I encountered no color shift when I viewed the S27C750P off-axis, and motion was smooth across the screen when I watched video and played games. Still, viewed side-by-side with other displays, those colors were on the cool side: Grays appeared bluish, and reds were a touch purple. Using the onscreen menus to change the display’s color mode to “Warm” dulled the picture and made the screen look a bit red.

Robert Cardin
It pivots to portrait mode, but the Series 7 might not satisfy professional portrait makers.

The S27C750P lacks such extra features as an integrated USB hub, a media card reader, and speakers (though it does have a line-level audio output, so you can connect a pair of self-powered speakers to reproduce sound from the HDMI inputs).

Samsung bundles a handful of apps that enhance the display’s usability. MultiScreen, for instance, lets you designate the areas to which windows snap. MagicRotate senses when you pivot the screen, and automatically changes the orientation of your Windows desktop.

Pivoting monitors aren’t especially common, and this model is considerably better than HP’s offering, but it’s not a great choice for color pros—both because it’s less accurate than NEC’s EA294WMi and because it has a limited feature set.

Pros

  • MVA panel delivers very good off-axis viewing
  • Pivots to portrait mode 
  • Useful utilities bundled with display

Cons

  • Height isn’t adjustable
  • Limited connectivity options
  • Questionable color fidelity

Bottom line

This stylish display features an MVA panel, and it can pivot to portrait mode, but I wouldn’t recommend using it for applications where color accuracy is paramount.

Score 3.5 stars

Pivoting alone isn’t enough

After evaluating all three of these pivoting displays, I’ve concluded that only one of them excels in portrait mode: Samsung’s 27-inch LS27C750. The ultrawide NEC is the best monitor of the three, but its 27.8 vertical inches of display just doesn’t seem practical. The HP EliteDisplay E231, meanwhile, is fine for documents, but its TN panel is not at all suited to portrait mode.

Editor's note, 7/1/2013: This article was updated to correct the price of and the type of panel used in the Samsung S27C750P display.

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