Archive for April, 2012

The little Monoprice graphics tablet that could

Posted by Ray Frenden, April 27th, 2012 | Filed under Syndicated | No Comments

Monoprice makes graphics tablets? I thought they were just an outlet for cheap cables. It was news to me that they sell all sorts of audio, video, and computer accessories.

Their studio monitor headphones are highly rated by customers. As are their monitor arms. And their capacitive iPad styli. Hell, they even have USB-rechargeable portable speakers that are far better than they have any right to be given the price. I’ve bought, and liked, all of the above. And Monoprice’s fans are justifiably earned. They make good stuff, cheap, including graphics tablets. But, on those, I never bit.

When reviewing the Yiynova Cintiq alternative, I researched all of Wacom’s competition, learning that Yiynova uses a Waltop digitizer (digitizers being the flat hardware panel that interprets pen movement and translates it onscreen). I decided to buy a Monoprice stylus to see if it would work on a Waltop digitizer. It didn’t. This roused my curiosity. If the Monoprice wasn’t a Waltop based tablet, what was it?

My guess then was the Monoprice tablets used a Hanvon digitizer. Hanvon creates a full range of graphics tablets, most of which claim feature parity with their Wacom equivalents. Prices also tend to match their Wacom counterparts closely, so I see little reason most would take the leap of faith required to spend money on the less known brand, opting instead for known quantity of Wacom tablets.

The Monoprice tablets are the easiest Hanvon-based tablets for someone Stateside to buy at a price that doesn’t scare one away. Less than $50 nets you a 6.25“x10” tablet and around $80 will get you a larger 9“x12”. With those prices, and my inclination to try any tools I can, I ordered the 6.25“x10” tablet with low expectations. Something so cheap can’t possibly be good, right?

This is a question asked of, and rebutted by, Monoprice every time I’ve received a product from them. The tablet is no different. After spending a week with the 6.25“x10” Monoprice, my Yiynova and Cintiq remain unplugged and I gave my Intuos away to a friend. The Monoprice tracks subtle pressure variances and small movements with less lag and more crisp fidelity than any of the others. It is, put crudely, fucking awesome, in both OSX Lion and Windows 7 x64.

It holds accuracy at obscenely small levels even when zoomed way out, which is where most tablets falter. The following screen recording in OSX shows how stable the Monoprice tablet is in both pressure variance and fine detail.

The Monoprice performed flawlessly in OSX. This is welcome news. With most tablets, Wacom included, OSX has long felt a second class citizen with slightly less accuracy and more lag present in the drivers.

In the product description, on some of the tablets, the following is stated, “Note that the included software is not compatible with Mac OSX at all, while some are only compatible with Windows 2000/XP.” That statement is misleading. That text applies to the bonus software, not the drivers. You don’t want their Windows-only handwriting recognition shovelware anyhow. The drivers included on the CD installed without a hitch and the process to get the tablet running in OSX and Windows was painless. I suspect the above verbiage has scared off a few prospective purchasers and it’s a shame it’s worded so murkily on their site.

Hardware-wise, the stylus is a bit shorter and narrower than Wacom’s and is about the same weight. It rests comfortably in my oversized meat-paw. The pen requires a battery, but has no on-off switch. It turns on when you use it and off when idle. The battery has lasted over a week with constant use and shows no signs of giving up. The battery slot inside of the pen feels a bit cheap, but is soon forgotten after closing the pen back up and represents the singular negative aspect of the hardware. An aftermarket stylus is available for around $8. I found myself using the pack-in stylus more. Ten replacement nib packs are available for less than a dollar.

The tablet has a slightly textured surface and drawing feels tactile and a bit toothy. The hardware buttons worked fine and were fully customizable. Eight buttons is a lot to keep track of and I found myself using my keyboard more often than not when jamming on hot keys.

All the following images were drawn on the Monoprice. Included is a short video, sped up 2x, showing drawing in OSX.

MMA-Site-Tile-Pattern BiB Screen Shot 2012-04-20 at 3.07.41 PM Screen Shot 2012-04-25 at 3.41.30 PM Screen Shot 2012-04-25 at 4.16.06 PM Screen Shot 2012-04-25 at 11.40.15 AM Screen Shot 2012-04-25 at 12.16.51 PM Screen Shot 2012-04-25 at 12.19.45 PM Screen Shot 2012-04-26 at 2.33.48 PM Screen Shot 2012-04-26 at 2.36.53 PM Screen Shot 2012-04-26 at 5.32.21 PM Screen Shot 2012-04-26 at 6.11.37 PM Screen Shot 2012-04-26 at 8.58.27 AM Screen Shot 2012-04-26 at 8.58.41 AM

I was afraid revealing my secret love for the Monoprice to you jackals would lead to a run on them and, subsequently, an inability to buy one. I bought a second 6.25“x10” for home before writing this review. I suspect the 9“x12” is a future purchase.

Drawing on the Monoprice leaves me feeling a bit punk rock. It’s better than it has any right to be – better than any of the other hardware I own. Its drivers outperform Wacom’s in OSX and I found myself making excuses to sit down and draw with it.

An off-brand graphics tablet by Monoprice out-performs tablets ten times more costly and replaced my Cintiq and Intuos tablets for daily use. Who would’a thunk it?

Yiynova – budget Cintiq alternative?

Posted by Ray Frenden, April 4th, 2012 | Filed under Syndicated | No Comments

Surely Wacom has to have some competition? If not, why not? Is the art market so small that no one sees profit in trying? Wacom’s earnings reports suggest there’s money to be made. Doesn’t the success of apps like Draw Something drag digital art into the mainstream at least peripherally? Why, in this dawning, post-pc age of touch-everything, can’t I find an easy, accurate way to draw digitally? Digital drawing tools have made sluggish, incremental, trivial leaps generationally. There’s no impetus for prices to drop or technology to get better. Wacom has the whole market. And Apple doesn’t seem to care about artists much. I don’t want to use a dead stylus with a rubber duplo-block ball-end and lack of pressure sensitivity and like it.

First, some tough-talk about Cintiqs. The last generation of Cintiqs based on Intuos 3 tech had some significant issues with display quality. They used cheap TN panels. They looked muddy and washed out. An anti-glare coating on the back of the plastic screens worsened an already low contrast ratio and robbed the colors of what little vibrancy they had. The newer Cintiqs, like the 24HD, have IPS panels similar to the Apple Cinema Displays. Others have said the display quality is a vast improvement over the last-gen models. That said, the new 24HD has a lower PPI than even my older 20WSX, so I’m healthily skeptical.

There’s cursor parallax caused by the gap between the drawing surface and the LCD screen and lag no matter which generation of Cintiq you buy. If you expect where the tip of your stylus meets your screen to be where a line will be drawn, you’re going to be disappointed. An old Nintendo DS has a truer 1:1 ratio of pen input to line result. You’re going to be watching a cursor trail behind your pen, you’re going to be less accurate than if you were drawing with analog materials because of parallax, and you’ll be several thousand dollars poorer in the process. In many ways, drawing with an Intuos tablet was a more satisfying experience. The cognitive disonnance of drawing down on the tablet while looking up at a monitor shielded you from the flaws and limitations inherent to Wacom’s digitizer technology. You notice input lag less when a cursor isn’t chasing after your pen in front of you. The Cintiq brings that flaw into sharp relief. Your pen tip is just pulling the cursor along, trailing like a fat kid chasing an ice cream truck.

I’d be less harsh on the Cintiqs if Wacom weren’t demanding such a hefty price for what amounts to little more than an Intuos digitizer with a cheap LCD slapped atop. I didn’t want to spend $3200 on the 24HD after having spent $2500 on the 20WSX only to be disappointed by the value again. I felt I should at least look into other options when buying a new tablet monitor for a second machine.

There are a few overseas manufacturers. Bosto makes tablet monitors, but few have bought them stateside and even fewer offered their thoughts on the experience. Ordering direct from China seems the only option for purchase and shipping drastically increases the cost, making the risk to reward on higher than I’d feel comfortable.

Yiynova offers several different displays and sizes. These tablet monitors are available on Amazon via their U.S. distributor, The Panda City.

The Yiynova 10.1“ DP10 has a battery-driven pen with 1024 levels of pressure, an LED backlit 10.1” display, and uses only two USB ports for operation for $299.

The barrier of entry was low enough that I ordered it out of intellectual curiosity if nothing else. It arrived a few days later.

The drivers supplied with the DP10 were out of date. A bit of research showed that Waltop makes the tablet digitizer and that DisplayLink provides the tech for the USB powered display. I downloaded the newest drivers but had some issues with OS X Lion. The DP10 only worked in Mirror Mode and lacked the calibration button that the driver settings should have offered. Panda City says others have gotten the display running fine in Lion and that it may be an issue specific to my MacPro, but I was unable to verify those claims.

In Windows, everything ran fine. The LED-backlit display quality was superior to the TFT display of the Cintiq 20WSX and Cintiq 12WX. The USB only conncection was super portable and convenient, and, were I pairing it with a laptop, a better alternative than a Cintiq which requires a USB, DVI, and separate power source for operation. I did experience some viewing angle annoyances, but the low price of $299 softened the hard edges.

The issues I was having in Lion made the display less useable for me, so I contacted Panda City and asked if I could exchange the DP10 towards their 19″ monitor, the MSP19. They complied, even offering to send me the MSP19 before the DP10 had arrived back.

Even if the MSP19 had to be run as a single monitor, it was large enough to be a primary display whereas the 10.1″ as an only display felt restrictive.

The 19″ MSP19 arrived and was much lighter than my Cintiq. I was surprised with the quality of the fit and finish. The build quality got my hopes up.

The MSP19’s LED backlit display was a welcome relief after the soupy, muddy TN panel of the Cintiq, but the good news ended there. It had significant issues in OSX. Drawing straight lines proved difficult. There was large cursor jitter. The pen dropped connection after a few minutes requiring the system to be rebooted. The color temperature of the monitor wavered between warm and cool, flickering at random intervals.

Panda City’s support offered to send me a second MSP19 while I held on to the first. If I didn’t like either, they would ship them both back at no charge. If the Yiynova displays weren’t meeting my expectations, Panda City was exceeding them. They were helpful and kind throughout the process.

The replacement monitor arrived. The pen stopped dropping its connection. The color flickering disappeared. The jittery cursor remained. Browsing Waltop’s digitizer support site and searching on the topic lead me to believe OSX was a secondary concern for the company. OSX and the Yiynova didn’t want to cooperate and I was getting tired with trying to force them to cohabitate.

I’d been planning on putting together a Windows box for a few 3D apps with no Mac equivalent, so I gave the MSP19 a shot on Win7x64.

Performance was night and day. There was still some jitter, but nothing like when it was used in OSX. At one third the price of my Cintiq, with a better display and lighter form factor, I’ve decided to keep the MSP19 for use on my second machine.

I can’t recommend it for OSX users just yet. But, if you’re running Windows and are looking for a cheap tablet monitor, the Yiynova is a competitive alternative. I’m glad Yiynova is in the market, competing. Lack of competition breeds complacency and the value proposition on Cintiqs is way out of whack.