technology blog

Monday, 6 September 2010

NovelQuest/MWELab Emperor 1510 review

Here's the only full length review of the NovelQuest's Emperor 1510 chair as far as I know. Most of 1510 buyers are enterprises or institutions but this chair is also useful for professionals and the review is focused on that point of view. I had the chance to be an early adopter. I got this chair in December 2009 so this review is done after extensive use of the Emperor 1510 for more than 8 months. The chair I'm reviewing has these options:
  • British Charcoal
  • Recaro blue leather seat (see note below)
  • 2.1 Bose sound system
  • Custom monitor support, monitors weren't included
  • USB hub under the armrest
  • Blue LEDs package
  • 110 volts
This chair is heavy and high. You're not buying cheap plastic here. It is almost 6' feet tall when "boxed". Most parts are screwed so it can be split into smaller pieces to move it in more confined spaces, it just takes much more time to disassemble and reassemble. The seat itself is removable but there are more than 20 screws to remove first. With flaps and monitors removed, the chair is 27" wide so it fits even smaller doors. It's on the heavy side, around 275lbs so you need to plan in advance for the move.

Weight and Size
Once unpacked, the chair fits low ceilings since it's merely 6'6" high. The main concern I had when it was delivered was that the bottom didn't have polyester padding, the type of padding you often see on Ikea furniture. I was afraid the wood floor would be scratched by the direct metal contact coupled to the sheer weight of the structure. After many months of use, I can say this is not an issue. As with any furniture, dust tends to accumulate under the chair so it needs to be moved to clean the floor properly.

There is 2 electrical cylinders on the seat. One to raise the arm holding the monitors and the other to tilt the whole chair. The control panel is on the left arm rest. The fifth control is for the LEDs.

I have a custom configuration and was told it will be a unique item, so please don't try to order this configuration. The Emperor 1510 was replacing my desk of three 24" Dell 2407wfp and one 17" Dell 1707fp. I tried to have the old 17" monitor above the right-most 24" but that didn't work out so I just left the monitor on a table on the side of the chair. The main issue is weight asymmetry on the arm, causing it to oscillate significantly. So in the end, you want to have your monitor configuration to be symmetrical unlike mine. If you want to go with the Matrox TripleHead2Go you will be limited to three 1680 * 1050 monitors. The default 19" monitors setup is made of 1280*1024 monitors. Three HDMI -> DVI cables are now provided inside the tubes so you shouldn’t have to strap cables as I’ve done.

Monitor weight is also an issue. Dell 2407wfp's aren't on the light side and putting 50lbs of monitors on it is apparent since the arm speed had to be slowed down. Everything is as new after 6 months of use. Cheaper monitors are usually lighter so that may be a saner choice. Mine have CCLF backlight, newer LED backlight monitors may be lighter, check the specs first. If you can sustain the high dpi of a 30" monitor, it's probably the way to go since you have more pixels than three 19".

I own a nvidia Quadro NVS 450 but many options are available: use one of the triple output card from ATI, nvidia or Matrox or use two video cards. If you use a Matrox TripleHead2Go, the operating system thinks you have only one monitor so it has side effects like putting the taskbar across all monitors instead of only the one of your choice and you cannot rotate them. At the same time, configuration is easier and you can use cheaper video card since you don't need 3 separate outputs.

If you use your own monitor(s), be sure to have a VESA mount on them and to not have them be too deep. As a reference, a 2407wfp is the absolute maximum deepness you can have as I've lost all possibility to do vertical orientation alignment. I highly recommend using 16:10 monitors and not 16:9 ones. If you can, 4:3 or even 5:4 monitors definitely make sense.
This setup is perfect for doing code reviews, coding, monitoring build status and chatting on irc all at once

I am impressed by the Bose 2.1 sound system. I had really low expectation about it as I dislike 2.1 sound system in general. I prefer old style extended range speakers with dual tweeters and one woofer per speaker box. Pop and techno music reproduction on the Bose system is really good and I assume it'd be the same for gaming, you wouldn't want to have headphones on this chair. Since the subwoofer is confined under the chair, the bass level is really high. I had to reduce its level so I would be comfortable while working! Gamers may prefer the 5.1 to have better spacial reproduction to know where that grenade blast came from.

If you have more than 4995$ to put in a chair, plus a powerful workstation and monitors, you probably have a professional life to pay these gadgets. This probably means you stopped gaming a long time ago as I did. I'd personally prefer to have a high dpi monitor like a 30" but some models tend to suffer input lag. If you want to have surround gaming, three 19" is the way to go, at the cost of having less precise snipper shots since the center monitor doesn’t have that many pixels. The only thing you want to make sure is to not have a low end video card.

For the video card, many options are available: ATI with Eyefinity, nvidia with 2D Surround or a Matrox TripleHead. You will want to use monitors that don't have LCD panel input delay, which means using the LCD in its native resolution when gaming or using the video card to do the scaling instead.

I was tempted to try the new nvidia surround and ATI Eyefinity gaming support. I’d be running 3600x1920 if I were to rotate the third monitor in portrait as I don’t think there’s any way to put 3x 1920x1200 monitors in landscape on the Emperor 1510. The 3600x1920 setup only slightly wider than a 16:9 configuration so it’s not “surround” in its truest sense but you still get significantly more pixels than a 30” monitor and a wider view than a 1920x1080. Great for these sniper shots. Both nvidia and ATI support portrait monitors. A (slightly crazy) colleague told me his ATI Radeon HD 5970 can drive three 30’ in most games fine enough so it should blast with three 24’. He now uses two HD 5970  in CrossFireX so most games can be played at max settings.

Since the seat is different from what you'll get, I won't make a full review of it here. In short this is a real racing car seat so it has many settings but not all of them are relevant like sides hardening. The Recaro is also a very firm seat. It's comfortable even at very high temperature, tested at 35°C without A/C on. When raising the seat, it also advances so it is a bit harder to find the sweet spot. If you can attend one of the trade show that NovelQuest presents, I'd recommend you to try the seat first to get an idea.

USB hub option and wireless
The USB hub is now a powered type so you should be able to charge your cellphone on it. Keep in mind this chair is a lot of metal so it acts as an antenna with regard to wireless devices. There is no issue with Wifi but there is with Bluetooth and wireless mice and keyboards since their emission power is relatively low. This means you'll need to keep the USB receiver near the device to have it working at all. Cabled devices don't have any issue except that I tend to drop them on the floor, I already broke one keyboard. So putting the receiver on the USB hub just below the armrest makes sense here.

The leg rest is now larger than this one
The seat itself has a fair number of adjustment but not much for the chair. I have long arms and I'm the kind of guy to remove the armrest on all the chairs I've been using as they were always too high. The armrests on the Emperor are soldered and the seat is screwed on the metal base. I am also farsighted. So in my case, the seat was too close to the monitors and the armrest too high. It took my a while to convince myself to bring on the drill and to put new holes on the base metal frame to move the seat backwards about 2". This worked great and the seat is comfortable now. As for the keyboard holder, I don't use it for the same reason but for "normal" people it should fits well. The whole chair can lean back which makes it quite comfortable but you are limited by how much friction your mouse has since it will start gliding by itself. Gaming-style mice are much more affected by that since they usually glide more. You'll also notice I removed the right side arm padding to remove an additional 1" for my right arm, making mouse movement easier to reduce the likelihood of having carpal tunnel syndrome. The chair also has a leg rest which is helpful, the newer model is slightly larger than the one I have. The seat is also extensible.

Related to input devices, the USB hub’s placement is perfect for use with a Mac Pro’s keyboard. I’m specifically referring to the full length wired keyboard, not their small wireless one. I coupled this with a Logitech G3 “gaming mouse”. That’s what I’ve been using for a while and it gives me the best efficiency.

If you are left-handed or ambidextrous, you are out of luck. I used to switch the mouse to reduce CTS but I can’t anymore. It is a small issue I can live with.

Using a laptop in addition to the computer is slightly cumbersome. I do that occasionally but I try to not do that for extended period of time because of the awkward position. I use the keyboard holder to hold the laptop for light use.

The whole chair tilt to the point where the keyboard will fall on the ground by itself. It's great to just sit back and watch a movie, depending on your monitor setup. The pictures below may not look like it tilts a lot but it sure does.

I bought three cheap dual-link DVI 25' cables at 30$ each plus USB cables. Look for 24 AWG cables if you choose this length, 28 AWG may not be of enough quality to push the signal at 1920x1200. Since my video card has display ports, I had to use the included passive DisplayPort -> single-link DVI adaptors which reduces the DVI signal strength. Having dual-link DVI cable still makes sense as it reduces internal cross-wire EMI. I strapped the USB and DVI cables on the arms with velcros. If you plan to do this, be sure to use black cables with black metal coating since if you choose the red metal frame option, the cables will be hard to hide. In the end, that works out very well and there is no video signal loss. I use a USB cable to plug my own webcam since I'm using a Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000. The one included by default wasn't high quality enough for videoconferencing. Note that now three video cables are passed inside the arm so it may be sufficient for you. It's also nicer to not have wires visible.

The chair has a power cable for a computer if you want to keep it on one of the flap but I chose to keep the computer in the wardrobe, literally. This explains the long cables since 15' cables are long enough to connect anything from the monitors to a computer on the side. Keeping the computer in the wardrobe make the whole look much cleaner.

Working in a team environment
One issue with this chair is that paired programming is not practical since the chair is designed for single person use and there isn't much place to let someone else look a the screens correctly. This is mainly because of the angle of each monitors. If only a single monitor is attached to the arm, the issue is much less important because there isn't monitor curvature.

Getting in and out
It is slower than a normal chair. It is even slower in my configuration because the arm had to be slowed down due to heavy monitor weight. At the beginning I was a little annoyed by that but I got used to this. The only complain I still have is that the arm's control still don't have an 'auto' mode like electric car windows for full up/down movement.

WOW factor and LED lighting
I have the base LED lighting with the LED packages. Once you've got monitors, computer and sound hooked up, you'll see the wow factor and you have to see it to understand what I mean. That works out pretty well with friends. The LEDs are not strictly useful but it increases the 'wow' effect significantly so it's a good option.

It is especially useful for home worker since it reduces the space your desk takes but it is not convenient for people managing even a small amount of paper. It's also smaller than a conventional cubicle so it's a space saver in offices. It definitely has the wow factor. If you put a large enough monitor, you don't need a personal cinema room. So in the end, if I have to buy it again, I'll do.

Even though I work for Google, I bought the chair on my own. No, Google doesn't have these, yet.

Copyright 2010 Marc-Antoine Ruel. All rights reserved. Reproduction can only be done with the consent of the author.

Edit 2012-11-06

I spent all my workdays in it for the past 2 years. The seating is really good and I can stay focused for many hours in a row. A setup of 3 monitors in portrait is hard to beat for a programmer, and the immersion is really good, I totally forget what's around me.

Note that my chair has a standard Recaro Topline seat which is now discontinued. This is a car seat so that's why it looks a bit tick on the pictures, it is tick. I don't know which seat is used in the new revision. It seems a bit thinner but that shouldn't change anything comfort-wise, you are not in a car after all. If seating concerns you, I'd recommend to inquire the company directly or better, visit one of the trade show where they present the chair so you can try it yourself. The chair itself is now sold by MWE Lab (mwelab.com). They are nice guys and they list the trade shows where you can try it. That's how I made the first contact.

The overall structure doesn't seem to have changed much and I can vouch for the solidity of the steel structure, even if using professional 24" monitors is a tad on the heavy side of what it can support. Using consumer grade LED 24" monitors should be fine. I replaced my Dell 2407wfp with Lenovo 4420MB2 (which feels like paperweight compared to the Dells) and it went fine even if the spacing are not exactly the same.

The new revision of the chair now has a proper laptop holder which I do not have. So I use the keyboard holder as a laptop holder. It seems to have a fair number of small improvements like the sound knob and the power buttons are better placed. It now has a proper cup holder. And the overall look is a bit more polished too. So I think the new revision is worth trying out.