The LaCie 321 is one of the best-performing LCD monitors we've reviewed. The display's excellent colour fidelity, high brightness and generous viewing angles dazzled us in both our tests and in our real-world evaluation with digital photos. Its features mark it as a monitor designed for graphics professionals or highly demanding enthusiasts. Unfortunately, LaCie skimps in a few areas, such as its stand with very poor screen-tilt adjustment. Technical support is a bit sketchy, as well.
The LaCie 321 is clearly a professional-grade monitor, not only due to its 21-inch wide-aspect panel, but also because of the included hood that shades the top and the sides of the screen from light that can cause glare or subtly alter colours and shading.
The hood works well once it's in position, but assembling and mounting it is tricky. Handling the three interlocking metal plates so close to such an expensive screen can be an anxiety-provoking business. On the other hand, connecting the cables is a simple task because the panel pivots, making the connectors easily accessible.
The minimalist design of the LaCie 321 mirrors its intended use. The bezel is slim enough to fade into the background and not be a distraction. The control panel consists of tiny round buttons on the bottom bezel, and the on-screen menus are subdued. The base and the neck are also dark grey and form a simple and stable L shape. Unfortunately, there's no cable-control system, so the cables simply hang off the back of the panel.
The monitor doesn't include integrated speakers or an audio pass-through for headphones, which emphasises that this screen is for intensive graphics work, not for watching TV or playing games. The lack of flashy design elements allows you to focus on the on-screen image.
The dark grey panel moves smoothly through 110mm of up and down adjustment, and it swivels easily on its lazy-Susan turntable. Tilt adjustment however, is absurdly difficult, requiring a hefty yank to make the screen budge, which rules out fine-grained tilt adjustments. Because of this LCD's very generous vertical viewing angles, however, a slight tilt in either direction won't affect screen images, as it would on a low-end monitor. And although you can pivot the panel smoothly between portrait and landscape modes, the panel tends to tilt to random angles in the process. Once in place, the bundled Pivot Pro software lets you reorient the image.
The LaCie 321 offers plenty of input options. It features two DVI inputs, for sharing the screen between a pair of high-end workstations, plus a standard analogue D-sub port for connecting to a notebook PC or a desktop with low-end graphics. The second DVI port can also accept analogue signals via an included adapter cable. As a result, the 321 can easily serve as a single-screen command centre for several computers.
The on-screen menus are very granular and sophisticated. The colour submenu, for instance, allows individual adjustment of saturation and six colour parameters: red, yellow, green, cyan, blue and magenta. It also offers a choice of six colour-temperature presets, from quite cool to rather warm Kelvin ratings: 9,300, 8,200, 7,500, 6,500 (sRGB) and 5,000. The sixth preset, labelled Native, has a temperature of 6,500, which is identical to the setting designated sRGB and thus redundant.
Other controls include image sharpness and screen centring (up/down and left/right adjustments). If you need further calibration, LaCie sells its Blue Eye Pro hardware calibration and ICC profile tool for £229 (inc. VAT), although it's for use only on Mac OS X 10.1 and above. Blue Eye Pro combines calibration software with a sensor that helps users calibrate the LCD, creates profiles for different colorimetric environments and even helps users ascertain whether they need to recalibrate the monitor.
The menu provides access to some intriguing features. The Expansion mode, for instance, is used for zooming in on images. Auto Brightness automatically adjusts brightness to adapt to the material displayed on-screen (different uses, such as text, photographs or Web graphics, look better at different brightness settings). This may come in handy when switching frequently to new sources during Web browsing or reading documents. However, anyone using this monitor for graphics work should disable the feature to maintain colour consistency, according to LaCie.
Powering up the monitor while holding the Select button on the bezel brings up an advanced menu with additional controls. This menu is required for adjusting the six primary colours in the programmable colour-temperature setting. It also lets you adjust the monitor's gamma -- used for precise colour response to increasing brightness levels -- and tweak settings for improving the quality of images from an analogue source.
Although design frills are nice, the true measure of a professional monitor is its accuracy with colours and shading. And the LaCie 321 is a stunning performer -- one of the best LCDs we have seen.
It nailed various tests for colour consistency in our DisplayMate-based diagnostic software, which translates to strong, accurate colour for graphics -- even for challenging material. One photo we viewed, for instance, shows a bronze statue with parts in very bright sunlight and other parts, such as the face, in shadow. The 321 was able to display clear detail in the dim face, while capturing the brilliant look of metal in sunlight. It also beautifully rendered a picture of a child in a stroller. The little girl's fair skin appears nearly translucent, with just a hint of pink in the cheeks, but not the artificially warm cast that some faces take on with lesser monitors.
Colour and detail benefit from the monitor's brightness, which was quite evenly distributed across the screen. Text was legible at a tiny font size of 6.8 points, but started looking crisp at about 9 points, which should suffice for most documents.
The monitor also impressively maintains colour and brightness consistency through generous horizontal and vertical viewing angles. Our hands-on tests show that even fine gradations are reliably presented through the normal range of motion for someone spending long hours in front of the screen.
Predictably, the LaCie 321 didn't fare too well in DVD viewing -- but again, this display is for working with high-end graphics, not watching video. The company has clearly focused on elements other than fast pixel response time.
One disappointment was a smattering of defective pixels. We counted five that stood out with the wrong hue in various colour patterns. All were at the periphery of the screen, in the upper-right quadrant. This level and location of defects falls within the industry-standard ISO 13406-2 guidelines that LaCie follows and is therefore not designated as defective by LaCie, although we don't usually see LCDs with this many. Unfortunately, the perfect LCD panel is still a rare find, especially in this large screen format.
Service & support
For its high price, the LaCie 321's lack of a printed manual seems skimpy. It does, however, come with a CD containing a PDF version of a handy manual that provides basic setup and adjustment instructions, specifications and troubleshooting advice. LaCie offers a three-year warranty covering parts, labour and the backlight. There is no telephone support, but customers can send a help request via a form on LaCie's Web site and can expect an email response within 24 hours; the Web site also provides FAQs, drivers and project tutorials.
Edited by Charles McLellan
Additional editing by Nick Hide