Using Multiple Video Displays in your Home Studio
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Using Multiple Video Displays
 in your Home Studio

Take control of your music with double the viewing pleasure.

by Tweak

Tweak: Prices are dropping on the LCD monitors. 

 

 

 

 

 

2009 monitor setup

Tweak's 2009 four monitor Mac pro setup.  The Mac Pro can take up to 4 video cards and use up to 8 monitors.

 

 

 

 

It was only a few years ago when if you wanted to have a dual monitor system on a PC you had to buy some expensive hardware or find two compatible video cards.  Having two cards, however, was a major drain on CPU resources and in the balance, it was barely worth the effort.  To multitask one simply used 2 computers, two monitors, two mice.  New advancements in CPU horsepower and memory, as well as developments with inexpensive video cards, has led to a breakthrough audio and midi composers are only now starting to exploit.

 

 

Tweak's first PC-only Dual Monitor Setup with
two 19" Samsung 955DFs

 

One cool thing about adding a second monitor for your DAW is that it's not expensive, in fact, less than you'd pay for a couple of sample cds.  And, it not only enhances your music making experience, but your entire computing life. 

 

It's Cheap, if..

If you have an old duff VGA compatible monitor around, even that old 14" that you had with your 1st PC, you can put it to use.  There are now many video cards that allow you to plug two monitors into a single video card.  The one I use, the ATI Radeon VE, only cost me about a hundred bucks.  I started running a 19" Samsung 955 df and an old Generic 17". Then I got another 955 DF.  The two 19" monitors, working together, is better, much better, than a single monitor, even the larger 22" monitors.  Of course you could use two 22" monitors for a very large high resolution workspace, but you will dig most of the benefits by adding even a small monitor.

How it works..

With your dual video card configured, the right edge of your screen becomes the right edge of monitor #2.  The left edge, naturally, remains the left edge of monitor#1.  If you run both monitors at the same resolution, you will have a continuous workspace from one monitor to the next.  But it is not necessary to run both at the same resolution.  My main monitor is at 1280 X 1024, while my second monitor runs at 1024x768.  In my case the top edge is aligned across both screens, and I can't view the bottom right of the large rectangle.  It's not a problem though.  I just don't put anything down there.  Because I use logic, i can save my screensets to match this expanded workspace perfectly.  Yes, when you save a screenset, it saves the entire workspace for both monitors.  Heh, this has dramatically improved my sequencing.  Typically, I will devote all of monitor 2 to the Logic Mixer and all of monitor 1 for a really big arrange screen.  Yet there are many ways to work that open up. 

Tweak's first 3 monitor 2 computer system: Apple 17", Samsung 21"and a leftover 19" analog. 

2 computers to 3 monitors

I really liked this a lot. The Middle monitor, a 21" Samsung 213T,  can switch between Mac and PC. No switch box is required, there is a front panel button that switches from analog to digital displays.  The Digital input is from the Mac's DV connector and the analog connector goes to the PC's standard VGA out. My main Mac monitor is a 23" Cinema and it is awesome for sequencer use.  So both computer's have their "home" monitor and either can be expanded to the center big screen, which is perfect for me.  Using all analog monitors you can get a switchbox for about 30 bucks to switch computers.  Easy and effective. 

3 Monitors on a Mac?  I tried--and failed.  This was using an ATI Radeon 9200 Mac Edition PCI card for the 3rd monitor, along with an ATI 9800 Pro Special Mac edition for Monitors 1 and 2.   The 3rd monitor worked fine but made the audio cut out as soon as the mouse touched the 3rd screen.  Must be a driver issue.

Just to give you an idea, here's two 23" Logic screens side by side

Are Big Displays better?

You bet.  The more screen real estate the better you can control your sequencer.  Make sure your computer is using an AGP video card and not a PCI card.  You don't want all that video activity competing with your audio on the PCI bus.  With a 21" monitor you can run in 1600x1200 resolution. A 23" monitor like the Apple 23" Cinema, has a 1920 X 1200 resolution.  The monster Apple 30" Cinema sports a whopping 2560 x 1600 resolution.  Perhaps that is finally enough room to display all of Logic's mixer?  Nah, gotta go wall-sized for that. 

 

Tweak's next 3 Monitor setup
Apple 23" (Mac dedicated)
Samsung 213T (Switches between Mac and PC)
Samsung 955df (Pc dedicated)

Tweaks 4 monitor setup

Tweak's 2007 4 monitor setup:  Samsung 24" and Apple 23" for the Mac; Samsung 21" and Viewsonic 22" for the PC

 

Are LCD Flat Screens Better?

Yep. Even with an analog input, the LCD screen will be sharper and brighter when sequencing. You'll be able to read the small fonts better and recent music software is notorious for using ridiculously small fonts, particularly in plugins. The LCD monitors are also lighter. Many will allow you to use Vesa mounting arms which is another advantage. This allows you to move the monitor into the exact position you need it.

Is it better to have two of the same type monitors?

Probably is.  As you see I don't.  Having a Mac these days means you have to find something that will work with an ADC port if you already have your DV port tied up. Or get a sometimes costly adapter or suffer with analog conversion.  Yet getting an apple display poses problems with a multi monitor setup.  Notice how wide the border area is on the 17" apple studio display above, compared to the narrow border of the Samsung.  Two Samsung's would only have a short distance from monitor to monitor screen and they would appear more like 1 unit to the brain.  Something to keep in mind.  Of course you can always get the big 30" Apple Studio display, but they cost a lot more for less screen estate than you see above. 

What about 3 or 4 monitors?

Well, I have 4.  I admit, its a lot, but I like to triple task with TweakHeadz, studio-central and Logic all running at the same time.  When the 32" mons get cheaper you can bet I'll be there.

Using HDTV monitors

Definitely, this is an interesting way to go.  You can have your sequencer running at 1920x1080 resolution at 42", 56" whatever.  That is just shy of the equivalent, pixel wise, of a 24" 1920x1200 computer monitor--definitely enough real estate to work.  Perfect for the band situation or recording situation where you want everyone to see the screen.  Not any HDTV will work.  It has to be a 1080p.  Those are the most expensive.  But there are good deals if you look!

 

The 30 inch monitors

I have the Apple 30", which is a fantastic, but expensive monitor.  One thing you should know about 30" monitors that do 2560x1600 resolution is that the dot pitch or pixel size is roughly the same as a 23-24" monitor doing 1920x1200.  As long as you can keep the monitor reasonably close this works fine.  However, if you have to put some monitors farther out it makes sense to get one of the newer 25.5, 26" or 28" monitors that max out at 1920x1200. The fonts appear larger on these monitors because the pixel size is larger.  Persons who are visually impaired may benefit from larger pixel sizes as well as from larger screen sizes.  Those who use a screen magnifier might be able to see more of the screen. 

That said, few things are as satisfying as a 30" monitor in a music production environment.  You get to see more tracks, more mixer channels, more plugins.  Is it necessary?  No.  Heh.  When I started out the 11" screen was standard. 

Some advantages of multi-monitor setups

Making a new song...  Advantage is I can use other programs to generate ideas and sounds as a new idea takes form.  When i get something cool, I save to wave and import to Logic

Screen 1:  Logic

Screen 2: Take your pick, Recycle, SoundForge, Reason, Rebirth, SoundDiver, Acid, algorithmic composers...

The Mix...  Advantage is having the Mixer spread out over both screens so every fader is shown.  You can quickly see where you are peaking and adjust faders quickly and efficiently

Screen 1  Logic Mixer (audio tracks)

Screen 2 Logic Mixer (exs and soft synth faders as well as master levels)

 

Detailed editing...

How do you like to edit?  On staves? In the event editor?  Hyperedit? The Matrix editor?  Well, with 2 screens you can have all these editors open in a useful way.  Touch a track in the arrange and watch all the editors go to the exact spot your song position line is at.  Looking at your melody line with such multiple views helps, and you can pick the editor you want to use. 

To Conclude:

Of all the stuff I have done for my home studio, the multi monitor solution has been extremely worthwhile.  The downsides of doing so are minor.  One might argue it takes too much studio space and generates too much heat.  But with the new emergence of lower cost flat LCD monitors, space, and heat are becoming non-issues. 

Enjoy the view!

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revised Nov 2009

Tweak's Articles on Essential Studio Concepts

Hooking Up Audio
MIDI Basics
The Many Functions of MIDI Data
The Audio Interface
Signal Flow Computer-based Studio
Signal Flow of an MPC Hip Hop Studio
Signal Flow of a MultiTrack Studio
Assembling Your Studio Rig
Studio setup in a Nutshell
5 Hot Tips
Building a Quiet Room
Understanding MIDI Interfaces
The War on Hum
Multiple Video Displays
Latency and how to Deal
Word Clock
TimeCode
Everything About Cables
Digital Audio Converters
Bit Depth and Sample Rate
Studio Monitors
Impedance for Musicicans
How to setup a Patchbay
Room Acoustics Basics
Studio Monitors Price List
Acoustic Products
Catalog of MIDI Interfaces

 

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