BenQ have released a new entry in their Screenbar line of monitor-mounted lights - the BenQ Screenbar Halo.
The Screenbar lamps are task lamps that are generally mounted directly over your monitor, and used as work area lamps.
This is different to the BenQ WiT e-Reading Designer lamps (a product which we think easily wins the 'worst product name ever' award). The WiT lamps are separate task based lights, and (awful naming aside) - a favourite of ours for inexpensively setting up a print viewing area.
The range is quite wide now, with the original Screenbar, the Screenbar Plus, and the Screenbar Halo.
The basic model is improved by the Plus model, which adds a better control system via a usb connected desktop controller.
The Halo improves things further with a re-design of the light itself, the option for rear 'bias' lighting, and a new wireless controller to keep your desk clutter free. The Halo also offers support for curved monitors (we won't cover that here as curved monitors are, put simply, a terrible option for imaging work and I don't think I've ever come across anyone with even a passing interest in the visual arts who uses a curved monitor...)
First, let's look at the Screenbar in use as just that - a screenbar. This is of course the primary use case - as a task light mounted to your monitor, to light your immediate work area. Before we start, it's worht looking at the BenQ Screenbar Halo product page, which has a lot of useful information and good pictures, to give you a sense of the unit.
Screenbar lighting is great if you want to save space on your desk. In my experience they are most commonly used by people working (or playing) in fairly dimly lit rooms, to create a pool of light in which to work, but are useful for anyone looking for better illumination around their computer work area - and especially so if you don't have a lot of space.
The light is mounted to your monitor by a well-made clamp style system - which will fit just about any monitor, with a bezel thickness from 0.7cm all the way to 6cm. The front of the clip extends down over the front bezel by about 6mm - so should not cover any screen area even with bezel-less 'frame' style monitor designs. Basically, it should fit just about anything nicely and easily. It takes only seconds to mount.
The light itself is powered by USB - I did notice this draws a fair bit of power, so it's best to connect this USB to a dedicated USB power supply, or a port on your computer itself. I plugged the light into a USB port on my monitor initially, and Windows gave me messages about the device drawing too much power almost straight away. There is a note about the power requirements in the Quick Start Guide - the optimal power source offers 1.5A to the light, and a typical USB port is only guaranteed to offer 0.5A I believe, so for best results, a USB power brick is probably the way to go, longer term. Of course the cords can be hidden as they run down the back of the monitor, so the result is an easy, neat install.
One thing of note - the light barrel itself is a silver colour (similar to Apples 'Space Grey') - whereas previous models have been black, which I preferred to this grey.
The new fancy with the BenQ Screenbar Halo is very much the wireless controller. One presumes/hopes that this is the future of BenQ controllers/pucks (as these also come with the SW monitors).
For years the old-school USB cable approach has been a frustration - all of this work has gone into improving the industrial design of BenQ products, but then there was always this dangling cable-to-controller to spoil it all. This new controller is much slicker - using 2.4ghz wireless to connect to the screenbar. It takes 3 AA batteries. It is activated with a simple magical wave over the top - you'll see the power light in the centre turn on.
You do rather have to remember where the controls are, though, as they do not light up by default. There are basically 5 further controls arrange around the central on/off switch. They are activated by tapping, when they will light up. You then rotate the external dial to change the setting, once selected. It takes a couple of goes to get a feel for it, but works well when you do. For example, to adjust the colour temperature, you tap one to the top left of the unit, and you will see a thermometer icon light up. Then rotate the dial and little LEDs around the edge of the device show you the actual level set (as ever, I'd much prefer labels - e.g 6000, 6500K etc - more on this below).
Brightness is adjusted the same way. There's also a switch control for auto brightness, if you want the device to measure your ambient light and adjust itself to a steady 500 lux. And finally there is a 'heart' icon for saving your favourite pre-set (hold for 3 seconds to save the current state - just one preset is on offer, though, unfortunately). You can then return to your preset by simply tapping the heart icon, from any adjustment you may have made.
In all it looks fabulous and works pretty well. I'm personally a bit old fashioned with this sort of thing - I prefer buttons and labels, but I think most folks would really like this controller once they're used to it. I'd love it if there was a software control panel option, too - so no controller at all. And I'd really like to see multiple pre-sets supported, in a perfect world.
Used over a monitor, the lamp lights a surprisingly large area, and does so without too seriously impacting the display on the monitor itself. No direct light really falls on your panel at all, but of course your brightly lit work area will now reflect in to your monitor - especially when displaying deep shadow tones, so it can't really be said it has no impact on the display. (These lamps are great for general purpose work, but for colour accurate work, I don't think they are a great idea - when mounted above the monitor due to the impact on deep shadow display - an area where high quality monitors precisely make the difference). (And of course, you can't use a monitor hood with one of these, either).
For general work, however, the control over colour temperature and brightness offered by the BenQ Screenbar Halo is great - nearly step-less control means you can get things just right where you like them, then save that as your pre-set.
Bias lighting is when you reduce the contrast of your monitors display with the surround area, by projecting light behind the monitor. You've probably seen this used around TVs - it's common in home theatre type scenarios (where the bias lighting can be made to match the on-screen image, thus both reducing the contrast for your eye and making the TV seem larger than it is).
Bias lighting can make monitor use, in dimmer environments, a lot more comfortable. Eizo have their Radilight product (used mainly in the medical field on Radiography monitors) - this is the first time I've seen this on offer on an inexpensive consumer oriented accessory.
The lighting works well, projecting a soft, diffuse light behind the monitor. Even better, it is both brightness and colour temperature matched to your setting for the front light (note the maximum brightness for the front light drops slightly when the rear light is in use).
My monitor is in the centre of my office, with no wall nearby, so I leave the backlight off - but for anyone using the monitor in a more traditional position against a wall, this new opportunity for bias lighting works a treat and can significantly reduce the strain on your eyes over the hours longer working sessions.
As a general purpose screenbar/monitor mounted task light, the BenQ Screenbar Halo ticks all the boxes - it's stylish, very easy to mount and use, and offers excellent light quality. It's even compatible with (boo, hiss, we hates them!)...curved monitors.
Given the quality of the light, and the wireless control system, it's easily the best option in the BenQ Screenbar range, and the price is very reasonable for the quality. It's a class product through and through - and definitely recommended!
But using the Halo only as an excellent Screenbar is underselling its potential rather...it turns out it can be used quite effectively in another role....
For literally years, we've been lobbying all the brands we work with to produce better options for proper print viewing.
A key part of modern colour management for print work is appropriate print viewing. This means looking at your prints - independently of your monitor - under a light of prescribed, repeatable colour and brightness. It is of course impossible to have a monitor simulate how a print will look under any colour and any brightness of light. So of course we must standardise this, so that we have some chance that our monitor will be a sensible predictor of the final print.
'All' that is really needed is a light source with with high colour reproduction fidelity, and with some sensible values/opportunities for colour temperature and brightness.
Of course, there are some fabulous commercial products in this area. This are typically in the 'grey booth' form factor, have extremely high quality lights in them, and typically cost $2000 plus for even an entry level, modestly sized unit.
LEDs have come on so strongly, and increased so markedly in colour reproduction accuracy, there simply must be an opportunity for less expensive print viewing products to be developed. It remains a mystery to us why this hasn't already happened.
However, the BenQ off-the-shelf lighting options are high quality and inexpensive, and can be re-purposed into quite decent print viewing lamps - without the need for a large, unattractive and highly expensive dedicated 'booth'
The perfect light for print viewing is controlled, repeatable, flexible, and high accuracy.
So - how does the BenQ Screenbar do when pressed into service as a print viewing light?
Setting up is really the hardest part...but not that hard.
If you start with a nice, neutral table top - that's a good start. We've used grey Laminex in the past for this context, and it works well. Matte black desk tops are another good option. Avoid white, if you can, as the contrast between the desk white and the paper white can affect your print viewing experience.
The clamp mounting mechanism is pretty flexible, so you can then mount the light to some sort of divider or partition wall. Just about every office supply company in the world sells free standing partitions (and there are usually quite inexpensive second hand options in the office supply world). A partition wall, behind you print viewing table. Ideally the partition would rise about 60 cm above the height of your table.
Clip your light to the partition, and then power it using a USB power brick (that delivers 1.5A, see above). As mentioned above, the touch controls give you excellent control over the brightness and colour temperature - with one (big!) caveat - whilst you have great flexibility to set the light to a specific colour/brightness, you of course have no real idea what the objective, measured value of the light you're seeing actually is.
There are a few ways to solve this fundamental problem - some monitor calibration systems let you take spot readings of light, for example. You might have (or have access to) a studio style light meter. Or you can do it with a spectrophotometer, if you're lucky enough to have one of those around (although you'd then probably not be mucking around with a budget print viewing system like this, I suppose!). With any of those options, you'd measure and adjust the light level till you've got what you want, then save this as the pre-set (and ideally you might repeat his process periodically, every 6 months or so, to compensate for drift over time through use).
(If none of those options are available, you can use your smart phone as a stand in of moderate accuracy. Both Android and Apply app stores offer a wide variety of light meter apps that will report the lux level of the light and the colour temperature too).
The Screenbar Halo, at 60cm off your table, will light (approximately) an A3 area well, and surprisingly evenly, given it's a strip light source. Of course the light will fall off towards the edges, but the central area is big enough and well enough lit for most home studio needs.
Once set to a desired temperature/brightness (5000K is the typical desired whitepoint for print viewing, as printer profiles are built for D50 lighting) - the BenQ Screenbar Halo preset ('My Favourite') system makes it easy to recall this precise setting at any time, should you have adjusted the light for any reason.
The LEDs in the Halo are rated at Ra > 95. Ra is the modern equivalent of the old 'CRI' - Colour Rendering Index. In short, an Ra over 95 indicates a very high quality light that reproduces almost all tones very accurately. In practise, lights over about Ra 80 work quite well as print viewing lamps, so the BenQ light quality is excellent.
Of course, any ambient lighting in your room will still be having an impact - unlike a viewing booth, this system does not block the surrounding ambient light of course. So it's best to use this in a dimly lit environment, where the Screenbar Halo is the primary light source. Here's a very quick mock-up of this in action - here using my own desk, with the BenQ Screenbar Halo simply mounted just using the box it comes in, which just happens to be the right height.
Obviously, it's not a perfect print viewing setup, but for the cost and ease of set up, it's really very good. We've been using the WiT lamp in a similar role for a few years now, and it's proved to be excellent in this role (although it too has unlabelled touch controls, unfortunately). The quality of the light itself from the screenbar is, if anything, even better than the WiT Lamp, so as a cheap and cheerful print viewing setup, the new BenQ Screenbar Halo is hard to beat!
If we were only planning to use a lamp for print viewing (and/or general task lighting) - rather than the specific task of lighting the area immediately around our monitor, then we'd definitely choose the WiT lamp. This is a stylish, flexible and high quality option for a simple print viewing lamp - the one we have in our office has proved to be a very useful device indeed, all the while looking very swish and being very flexible in terms of placement. It's a great product (near perfect if it just had better, more explicit controls!).
But for a monitor area task lamp, and with extra potential secondary use as a simple print viewing lamp, the BenQ Screenbar Halo is a great option. It's clear BenQ have really though about this product and the quality of it is a real credit to them. All in all, it's just a very nice thing, with lots of potential uses. The improvements over the basic and plus models are significant and quite noticeable - with the new wireless controller being a huge improvement in particular.
If you're after a Screenbar, then this is without doubt the benchmark currently. Definitely recommended!
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