The affordable pen display maker adds touch capability and throws in a compute stick for good measure.
No, it's not as good as a Cintiq, but at $400 retail, it's a very good value
Anyone who’s ever made an online purchase from a vendor without a physical store has likely faced this doubt: how to trust the entity on the other side of the transaction? Add to that the risk of purchasing relatively expensive but little-known hardware imported directly from China by an internet reseller. Are your Spider senses tingling yet?
That was certainly how I felt last year, as I plunked down a cool $1K to purchase the Yiynova MVP22U (v2) tablet monitor from their U.S. distributor The Panda City.
At the very least, I was able to take comfort in the fact that The Panda City has an Amazon storefront so worst case I could get a refund from Jeff Bezos if the product failed to show up or work as advertised.
My fears were certainly justified when the first unit I received started acting up within days of the unboxing.
But only a couple of hours after submitting an RMA request, The Panda City’s customer service person Vicki (I wonder if that’s her real name or a catch-all Americanized name for their support team?) arranged to send out a replacement. When it arrived at my door a week later, I just boxed up the defective unit and attached the pre-paid return label.
Fast forward seven months and the second Yiynova monitor developed a similar problem (image flashing on and off).
I gritted my teeth as I completed the RMA request form found on The Panda City website. Surely this time I’d have to send the monitor in for them to diagnose the issue and either fix or replace it.
But within an hour of pressing send on my email, there was a response back from Vicki. She apologized profusely for the problem and told me a new monitor would be shipped via Fedex the following morning.
And a week later, the new unit (sporting updated firmware) arrived at my doorstep. To top it off, inside were a pair of Yiynova artist’s gloves and a new pen as an apology for the down time.
I guess I could be upset that two monitors have failed on me, but that’s an issue with Yiynova. Have any of you experienced similar issues with their products? Let us know in the comments section below.
In the meantime, I choose to focus on the laudatory customer service I received from The Panda City. They and Vicki could have given me a hard time or expected me to send my monitor in first. Instead, they just took my word for it, expedited delivery and sent me a valuable bonus as well.
(Cynics among you may wonder whether they merely offered me special treatment because of my blog’s reach. I don’t think that’s the case. I didn’t identify myself as SurfaceProArtist when I submitted the RMA request and this site’s reach was a tenth of its current size during the first incident late last year).
Needless to say, The Panda City has earned a happy customer who looks forward to shopping from them again. Just imagine how much better our tech lives would be if most major vendors took such proactive care of their clientele?
The sub-$400 Monoprice Interactive Pen Display was probably one of the most anticipated releases of 2013 and the posts I wrote at the time continue to be among my most widely read ever. Everyone loves a bargain, especially starving artists.
In the event you haven’t read those posts, I concluded back in January that the budget 19-inch tablet monitor just wasn’t worth the investment due to terrible viewing angles and very inferior pen drivers.
A couple of months ago, Twitter follower @Drewvis let me know that Monoprice had posted new device drivers on its site. He also mentioned that attaching the pen display via DVI (rather than VGA) had yielded dramatically better viewing angles. Drewvis recently published his own review of the tablet monitor which you can find here: http://astrowagon.tumblr.com/post/89350457697/final-review-monoprice-19-interactive-pen-display.
MAKING THE RIGHT CONNECTION
Somewhat skeptically, I took the Monoprice out of mothballs and attached it to my desktop via DVI. At first I didn’t notice much improvement. In addition to its limited view angles, the pen display’s screen is highly reflective, so I had to be careful to angle it so that it didn’t reflect too much of my white ceilings. Next, I cranked up the brightness of the monitor to cut down on reflections. Reflections are a real problem during the day in my brightly lit office, so I also switched to white user interfaces rather than my preferred dark settings.
And lo and behold, the monitor is indeed more useable. Where once I could only find what seemed to be one angle to view the screen, I now had a wider field of view to work within.
According to this graphic on the Monoprice site, the pen display has a 70-degree view horizontally and vertically. I think they’re being generous (perhaps it’s closer to 50), but anything is better than one degree!
Connected via DVI, it’s now possible to recline the monitor so that I can draw at a more comfortable angle. Previously, I had to stand it almost vertically (at its maximum 80-degrees) to be able to see my drawing clearly. The monitor will recline all the way to 10-degrees, but I’ve found that about a 60-degree incline is sufficient to rest my hand and preserve picture quality.
This is not a choice one should have to make, but you have to expect some sacrifices at this price point. And it certainly beats having to purchase a full-motion monitor desk mount.
SETTING UP THE PEN DRIVERS
I still am unhappy with the Windows drivers Monoprice has posted on its site (the most recent are dated April 29), so as I did the first time around, I checked whether Huion Tablet had published more recent drivers for its compatible GT-190 tablet monitor. Coincidentally, Huion just posted a new set on June 20 here: http://www.huiontablet.com/download/
Getting the drivers to work is not easy. I uninstalled the Monoprice driver and rebooted, also unplugging the USB cable that runs from the computer to the tablet monitor.
I installed the GT-190 drivers and rebooted again. Once I was back on my desktop, I plugged in the USB cable. The tablet driver should have already started up, but in case it hasn’t, the installation leaves an icon on your desktop. Once the driver is running, you’ll need to double click on the tablet driver icon in the system tray to load the control panel.
At the top of the control panel, you can map your two pen buttons and set tip sensitivity. There is a nice visual display that displays how much of an impression you are making as you tap with your pen. This makes it much easier to visualize how lightly you can tap before your pen will register a mark. I could have set my pen pressure all the way to the right, but I didn’t want to have to press so hard to achieve 100% pressure.
To calibrate your monitor, you’ll first need to select the Require Admin button. Even if your pen is recognized, you will always need to start the calibration process with your mouse. The calibration tool has five points, all located toward the center of the display. This is unfortunate because parallax tends to increase as you get toward the edges of your screen.
The pen targets go from red to black as you tap them. When you tap the fifth target in the center of the display, the control panel exits.
As I wrote when I first tested the Monoprice, it’s a delight to finally draw with the pen configured properly. I can achieve a range of line widths in a single stroke that I’m unable to reproduce on either the Wacom Surface Pros or the N-Trig Surface Pro 3. Pressure levels may be a marketing ploy, but there’s a tangible difference in drawing with the two 2048-level devices I’ve used vs. 1024 or 256.
EXTENDING THE DESKTOP
The last reservation I had against recommending the Monoprice was its inability to work in dual monitor mode in Windows. This meant that you either had to connect it by itself or in mirror mode with your system monitor. Due to the pen display’s low resolution (1440x900 max), this probably meant you’d have to run your other monitor in a sub-optimal setting.
With the new driver, it’s now possible to run the pen display in extended mode at its own resolution. This is a huge improvement.
On my puny GeForce GT 630 display, the NVidia driver doesn’t offer 1440x900 as a display option, so I had to set the Monoprice to 1280x800. Not ideal, but this setting doesn’t distort text too badly.
To set up two monitors, I first disconnected my system monitor and ran all of the above set up with the pen display as my sole monitor. Once I was sure the display was calibrated and the pen was running well, I shut down the system and reattached the system monitor.
Upon boot up, I ran the Screen Resolution control panel to extend the displays and set each monitor’s resolution.
So a little over six months after its release, the Monoprice Interactive Pen Display is now much more useable and I can recommend it to anyone willing to put up with its eccentricities in exchange for significant savings vs. competing products. If you’ve got just under $1000 to spend, I’d still recommend the Yiynova MVP22U(v2). Yiynova also sells the MSP19U+ for just over $600 (but I’ve never seen or tested it first hand). The latter’s display specs are very similar to the Monoprice (TFT, 1440x900), so it’s very difficult to justify an additional $200 investment.
The Monoprice certainly compares favorably to a large Intuos Pro Pen & Touch, which lists for $499. And for only $50 more than the Medium sized Intuos, the Interactive Pen Display is an excellent option.
As with all things tech, a better version is probably around the corner, but for the next few months at least, the Monoprice Interactive Pen Display has earned a spot on my crowded desktop.
Is it possible for a screen to be too big?
If you’d asked me that question a year ago, I would have immediately said, “Absolutely not!” But after using a 27-inch monitor with my Windows desktop for a few months and more recently working with the 22-inch Yiynova MVP22U V2 tablet monitor, I’m no longer so sure.
Anyone who runs a graphics program understands the appeal (some might argue necessity) of a large display. Interfaces have so many toolbars and menus and icons that there’s often precious little room left for your canvas.
I’ve tweeted with several artists who refuse to consider the Surface Pro because its screen is just too small. I sympathize with this point of view especially for users of software whose developers keep dragging their feet on publishing Windows 8 tablet friendly versions (I’m looking at you, Adobe!).
But there are advantages to smaller displays as well.
For one, you can hold the Surface Pro right up to your face and not see any jaggies on its 1080p display. Even at 13- or 15-inches, HD resolution is very acceptable for close work. But blow up 1080p to over 20-inches and suddenly aliasing is a serious distraction even at monitor distance.
The second advantage of a small display is that your hand and pen don’t need to cover a lot of ground to hit any point on the screen. The limited real estate will definitely force you to do more panning and zooming with your free hand, but at least your pen arm won’t have to travel as much as two feet to hit the file menu (see the picture above).
And with all the Windows tablets and convertibles on the market, the ability to perform touch gestures with your free hand is a given. But with interactive pen displays like the Yiynova, don’t even think about it (unless you’re willing to spend $2500 for the Wacom Cintiq 22HD Touch).
So am I giving the Yiynova a thumbs down? Not at all. It’s a great device for the price. I merely suggest that any of you considering it or a similar sized alternative think about your workspace, the distance at which you work from your canvas and the dimensions in which you like to work.
Now on to the Yiynova MVP22U itself:
I purchased my device via The Panda City, the US distributor which operates its storefront on Amazon.com. This adds a welcome degree of security in purchasing a relatively unknown product from an even lesser known vendor. And I was able to put that customer service commitment to the test when my first unit developed a power issue almost immediately.
I contacted the vendor via Amazon support. Panda City responded within the day, came back with a suggested fix the next and when the fix didn’t resolve the issue, agreed to send me a replacement immediately. I only shipped back my original once I’d received the new one and confirmed that it was working properly.
The Yiynova inexplicably uses a VGA input via a permanently attached cable. Fortunately, it ships with a VGA to miniDisplay Port adapter which simplifies connection to the Surface Pro. The cable also has a USB breakout which supplies pen control.
Although it’s not exactly ugly, the MVP22U won’t win any design awards. (For pictures, see my unboxing post here.) I’m unsure about the material of the white front. The display must be glass, but it feels more like plastic, reminiscent of the white polycarbonate iMacs of 2004-2006. The rest of the monitor is black, with six small clips holding the front in place. These clips protude slightly higher than the front surface, so they give the monitor a rather homemade feel. And the eight programmable buttons at the top center of the display seem positively retro. They’re also awkwardly placed to be useful. I’m not a button-mashing guy anyway, so I haven’t bothered to test them.
The adjustable stand will support the monitor in a variety of angles from nearly upright (78 degrees) to about 12 degrees. It’s impossible to lie the monitor completely flat, but I find the slight incline very comfortable for working. The Yiynova can be used in portrait mode but only in the upright position. I can’t imagine attempting to draw on it that way. The adjustment mechanism itself is very easy to use and I appreciate that there are no fixed angle settings.
There are four external buttons for power, menu, up and down located behind the lower right side of the monitor. This is an unfortunate location because the power is very difficult to reach while the monitor is reclined.
There’s a clip-on pen holder in the back that’s handy for storing the stylus. The pen itself is larger than any tablet pc stylus. It feels more like a Sharpie with a rubber grip. Unfortunately, the pen buttons are too close to the barrel and are very easy (for me at least) to press accidentally. The buttons also have significant play, which feels very cheap. I spoke to another Yiynova owner, who tells me her pen buttons are stiff, so it might just be a defect in mine. The stylus does not have an eraser tip. The pen nib is hard plastic and is unfortunately not interchangeable with other brands of nibs. The nib is notched and significantly shorter than Wacom’s and I find myself missing the resistance of their softer felt tips.
I’ve read claims that say the Yiynova is a Cintiq killer. Having never used the latter, I can’t say. What I do know is that the UC Logic digitizer powering the MVP22U is very accurate and responsive.
In my previous post, I described my setup with the Surface Pro 2 docking station and the Yiynova. I was concerned that the Wacom feel drivers and the tablet monitor would conflict, but it worked great right out of the box (tested primarily with Clip Studio Paint 1.2.7 set to Tablet PC).
I didn’t want to create potential driver conflicts on the new Surface Pro, so I connected the MVP22U to my Windows 8.1 desktop for testing of the drivers and setup software.
Although the desktop recognized the tablet monitor without any drivers, I was unable to get any pen pressure response in Manga Studio 5.0.3. So it appears that you must install the UC Logic drivers if you plan to use it on a desktop.
I panicked the first time I booted my machine following the driver installation because I suddenly had no pen response at all. After uninstalling the drivers and recovering pen control, I tried running the native Windows calibration tool and found that it didn’t recognize the pen touches.
So I ran the driver installation again and this time, after a brief delay, I could navigate the interface with the pen.
The drivers create a new control panel item called Tablet Setting where you can configure your monitors, program your pen buttons, adjust and test pressure sensitivity, program your express keys and calibrate your screen. The tool offers 4- or 9-point calibration.
Once I went through the tablet settings, I was able to see pressure sensitivity in Manga Studio and Photoshop.
As I wrote at the beginning of this post, aliasing is very evident when you’re working very close to the tablet monitor. I adjusted the pc’s Cleartype settings, which cleaned up the display of small fonts significantly.
When the Yiynova is connected to the Surface Pro, I mirror the display in order to pan, rotate and zoom with my left hand on the Surface’s screen while I draw with the pen in my right. On a traditional desktop, you have to resort to using the onscreen gadgets which is far less interactive.
On the positive side, the large display makes it easy to hit just about any target on even the most cluttered of interfaces.
The screen is so big that I find it difficult to see the whole canvas. I have to lean back or zoom out to take everything in. Without multitouch support, the pen has to do a lot of traveling to get from one side of the screen to the other. Since you’ll be leaning over the monitor to draw, you’ll need to keep your keyboard off to the side, which can be a bit awkward too.
One area where the large screen is vastly superior is during comic book lettering, where a nine point font is virtually unreadable on the Surface Pro. I laid out and lettered nine pages of a comic project yesterday and I was extremely grateful for the Yiynova’s ample screen.
So to get back to my original question: is a big screen always better? It really depends on your needs and understanding the limitations of the form factor.
Is the Yiynova MVP22U V2 worth considering? Absolutely, especially for the relatively low cost vs. comparably sized Wacom hardware.
I personally think that the sweet spot size-wise is somewhere between the Sony Flip’s 15.5 inches and the $400 Monoprice’s 19-inches. Unfortunately both those products are hampered by other limitations (N-Trig digitizer tech for the Sony and 1440x900 resolution for the Monoprice).
So for the time being at least, the MVP 22U is the only game in town.
UPDATE: We've got the unboxing and initial (disappointed) impressions right here.
* * *
The list of products attempting to undercut the premium-priced Wacom Cintiq line of tablet monitors keeps growing.
But those inexpensive products look like luxury items compared to this forthcoming model from Monoprice.com, which lists for only $390.
Thanks to reader Justin Davis who notified me about this new product. Here's what the Monoprice website has to say about its features:
- 1440x900 resolution
- 5080 lines per inch (lpi) resolution
- 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity
- 200 RPS report rate
- 160° horizontal/140° vertical viewing angles
- Rechargeable pen-stylus
- Angle adjustable stand from about 10 ~ 80°
- Compatible with Windows XP and later, Mac OS X 10.4.x and later
Normally I'd be very skeptical of this product, but I've had a lot of success over the years with Monoprice's rock-bottom priced cables and video switchers. Pen tablet expert Ray Frenden has also positively reviewed Monoprice's line of low-cost Huion tablets.
According to Frenden, Huion employs UC Logic digitizer technology, which powers the Yiynova MVP22UHD. I looked on the UC Logic and found this MJP19U model, which offers the same specs as the Monoprice product but features slightly different styling.
We should know how well the tablet monitor performs soon enough. It is scheduled to be available December 9.
Will you be getting one?
Look what just arrived...
The MVP22U(V2) is Yiynova's highest end tablet monitor, featuring a 21.5-inch diagonal 16:9 display with 1920 x 1080 resolution. The pen offers 2048 levels of pressure and ships with two replacement nibs. Most importantly, the tablet monitor retails for $969 plus $30 shipping in the U.S., making it almost exactly half the price of the Wacom Cintiq 22HD.
I'll set it up on a desktop first before testing with both the Surface Pros later this week.
UPDATE November 10: The tablet monitor I unboxed below had an issue where the picture would go dark after 20- or 30-minutes of use. US distributor The Panda City was very helpful and responsive. After trying a couple of long-distance fixes, they agreed to send a replacement monitor which I received Friday.
The Yiynova is now working happily alongside the Surface Pro 2, connected via the Docking Station and the Microsoft mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter. I'll post a full review this week.
More details after I play with it for a while.
When the Surface Pro 2 first went up for pre-order at Microsoft's online store, I was disappointed to see that the new docking station was not scheduled to be available until 2014.
My love affair with docking stations goes back to my days as a corporate road warrior/international man of mystery. There was nothing worse than being thousands of miles away and realizing that the one file I needed was sitting on my desktop somewhere. But once I was back in the office, the thought of living with only my company assigned laptop seemed impossible. And such a nuisance: so many wires to plug in every morning only to unplug them again every evening.
So when the IT department showed up with my first Dell dockable laptop and a nifty docking station, I was a quick convert and for the next couple of years I was in corporate tech heaven. Then I switched jobs and dockable laptops seemed to fall out of fashion at the same time.
Ten years later, with cloud computing options like SkyDrive all the rage, there's no need to drag all your files along with you all the time, but i't still nice to be able to do a quick switch from a portable solution to one more suited to sitting in front of all day long.
When the Surface Docking Station surprisingly went on sale the evening of the Surface Pro 2's release, I quickly ordered one and the device turned up this morning.
During the Surface 2 announcement event, I was unsure of the C-clamp design of the dock. It seemed so large and awkward, but I'm pleased to report it's compact and couldn't be easier to use. You need two hands to pull the clamp apart and away from the Surface Pro's body, but it opens very smoothly. The clamps on either side of the dock are only about half an inch wide.
When the Surface Pro is seated in the dock, a USB connector on the left and a power connector on the right plug into place effortlessly. The dock itself is surprisingly solid and appears to be made of a material similar to the tablet.
Although the dock is pricey at $199, it eliminates the need for other costly attachments like the $40 USB to Ethernet adapter and the $40 mini DisplayPort adapters. The latter is particularly annoying because the Surface Pro's tapered edges require an angled connector. Fortunately, the mini DisplayPort connector on the dock is flat, so you can use generic connectors.
The dock provides a full complement of connections you're accustomed to finding on desktop systems: one USB 3 port, an Ethernet input, headphone jack and mic inputs, three USB 2 ports, mini DisplayPort and power.
In a desktop environment, you may wish to move to a full size keyboard and mouse, but in an art studio, a compact keyboard may be preferable. The dock is ingenious because it allows the Surface Pro to be docked with a keyboard cover in place. You can also easily attach or detach the keyboard cover while the tablet is docked. Very convenient.
As soon as I had my dock connected to power, my wired network, an external hard disk, and a DVD reader, I plugged in the Yiynova MVP22U(V2) and had a bit of a digital art nerdgasm. (More on that experience in another post)
Whether with the original Surface Pro or the latest model, the Surface Docking Station fulfills the vision I first had when the first generation tablet was released: a lightweight, powerful and portable creation station that also works as a no-compromises desktop replacement.
UPDATE October 30: It was too good to last? I've encountered a problem with the video output of the Surface Docking Station, after running perfectly for a while, the tablet monitor will flash a couple of times and eventually settle at about 10 or 20% of normal picture brightness. The problem has already occured three times since last night.
If I connect the monitor directly to the Surface Pro or a desktop, the issue doesn't occur, so it appears to be a problem with the dock's mini DisplayPort or voltage. I've only got one USB 2 peripheral connected in addition to the tablet monitor's pen.
Microsoft support here I come.
UPDATE 2 November 1: The video problem wasn't the dock. Seems I got a defective Yiynova. Their US distributor The Panda City will be sending me a replacement next week.
UPDATE 3 November 10: I received the replacement Yiynova MVP22U (V2) Friday and so far it doesn't exhibit the same issue that the first one had. Full review soon.
Comics artist, illustrator and addon creator Ray Frenden has a blog definitely worth bookmarking. Along with nearly daily updates of his trippy artwork, he also offers useful reviews of graphics hardware.
Recently he began reviewing Chinese alternatives to Wacom tablets from Yiynova. These products, such as the 19-inch MSP-19U which retails for $599, are sold in the U.S. by The Panda City's store on Amazon.com.
Until now, the items Frenden has reviewed have been too crippled for my taste, despite offering significantly lower prices than their closest Wacom competition. But the product listed below, the MVP22U may warrant serious consideration. Offering a 22-inch 1920x1080 screen with pressure sensitivity, this sounds like a serious Cintiq competitor. I would normally be leery of purchasing a "no-name" product but Frenden's experiences with other Yiynova products have been very encouraging.
The MVP22U is due out later this summer and I'll definitely keep an eye out for it.