Apple makes some really gorgeous-looking flat-panel displays for hooking up to a Power Mac desktop, but when it comes to serious graphic work, looks aren't everything. What most graphics professionals want from a screen is colour neutrality, reasonably high resolution, and physical adjustability in order to avoid RSI. In some of these respects, Apple doesn't manage to come close to what NEC Mitsubishi has to offer with its range of Pro screens, which are designed specifically with the high-end user in mind.

Now NEC Mitsubishi has taken its professional range of LCD monitors a significant step further with the introduction of the new SpectraView 2180 - a 21-inch LCD display that is certified to a certain colour standard, and is supplied with a viewing hood and a copy of NEC's own colour-profiling software. The software can be use in conjunction with just about any colour-profiling device on the market or, if you don't have one, you can choose to buy a device via NEC. The PR people at NEC supplied us with a Gretag MacBeth Eye-One device for our test, but other sensors such as the Monaco Optix are also compatible.

Physically, the SpectraView 2180 looks no different from the regular NEC MultiSync 2180... and that's because it isn't. The SpectraView is simply an NEC 2180 MultiSync that has been rigorously tested and then certified as being within tight colour tolerances. The only other physical difference is the addition of some magnetic strips on the display case

for affixing the supplied viewing hood that helps to shield the screen's surface from extraneous light and reflections. Using the monitor with the hood attached does look kind of dorky and a bit geeky, but the improved viewing conditions are well worth any potential embarrassment or loss of 'coolness' in the office.

The SpectraView 2180 has a native resolution of 1,600x1,200 pixels, and it's simply awesome in terms of the evenness of its illumination and the sharpness on offer. However, when it comes to the software that is shipped with the SpectraView, we have a few issues.

The main problem, is that the software for profiling and calibrating the monitor is NEC's own handiwork and is protected by one of the most convoluted and inefficient online activation and licensing systems. In short, it's a real pain in the neck to get the software working and it's tied into the hardware of a single machine. This makes it a real chore if you have a number of these monitors in a studio and simply want to calibrate them - each one has to be registered separately. We found that it took some time for the licence file to be emailed in order to get the calibration software working. In fact, in one instance it took three days to arrive.

Now, it shouldn't be beyond the wit of a company like NEC to make sure the software only works with NEC monitors by implementing a hardware check instead of this Byzantine registration and activation system. Frankly, the threat of piracy on this sort of software is negligible, so one really is left wondering why NEC has gone to so much trouble.

That small quibble aside, in our view this is the ultimate colour monitor for serious graphics work. If NEC were to free up the software activation, then it would rightfully earn MacFormat's unreserved approval as the number-one colour-accurate display to use with a Mac. It has everything you could possibly need, including a decent amount of height adjustment that Apple's range of Cinema Displays simply doesn't have. It has two DVI inputs and a VGA socket for hooking up to older graphics cards. The monitor even has greyscale look-up tables for supremely accurate monochrome work.

In fact, we love everything about this monitor, and we only knocked off half a mark because of that silly software activation system. Otherwise it's perfect. Mark Sparrow