Closer Look at 20" and 21" LCD Monitor Features. Part III

We continue our yesterday’s discussion of 20" and 21" monitors and their features. Today we will add another 8 models to the batch. These will be solutions from Samsung, Sony and Viewsonic. Find out what solution is the best out of 19 models tested!

by Oleg Artamonov
10/25/2006 | 03:53 PM

We continue testing 20” and 21” monitors. If you missed the first part of our test session, where we discussed monitors from Acer, NEC and BenQ, please feel free to check out our article called Closer Look at 20" and 21" LCD Monitor Features. Part II.

 

And now welcome our today’s testing participants!

Samsung SyncMaster 203B

We are again descending from the sky to the earth as after one of the most expensive 21” monitors I’m now going to talk about recently released entry-level 20” models on TN+Film matrixes. The SyncMaster 203B is an immediate market opponent to the Acer AL2017 (see it tested at the beginning of this review). Both have the reduced resolution of 1400x1050 pixels and differ but very little in price (what’s curious, the Samsung is cheaper at $400-410 while the Acer costs $20 more). Samsung presents the reduced resolution as an advantage, saying that the larger pixel size makes text more readable.

The viewing angles in the official specification are measured by a contrast drop to 5:1.

The 203B looks like a very typical monitor from Samsung. This design has already become a standard for that manufacturer. It doesn’t try to impress you with its exterior, but it looks neat and appropriate on a home desk as well as in office.

The pole of the monitor’s stand is rather large because not only the tilt but also the height of the screen can be adjusted, the latter within a range of 10 to 18 centimeters from the desk surface. The portrait screen orientation is also available, which is quite a surprise for a product from that price category. The screen can also be turned around its vertical axis – the rotation circle is in the base of the stand.

The stand can be fixed with a wire pin. To be able to adjust the height, you need to take the pin out. To block it, you lower the screen into the bottommost position and put the pin back again. This is less convenient than a lock button because the pin is likely to get lost (but you can make your own lock out of an ordinary paperclip.

The monitor has analog and digital (DVI-D) inputs, and an integrated power adapter.

I hold the design of the control buttons on Samsung’s new monitors as an example for many other manufacturers (particularly, for BenQ). There’s nothing superfluous here, no senseless decorations and no designer’s play at the expense of ergonomics. It’s all simple and elegant and very convenient: a row of round cute buttons on the front panel with easily readable and clear labels. A blue LED is built into the Power button. I guess no user is going to have any difficulties setting this monitor up.

This is a typical menu from Samsung, quite user-friendly, which offers typical settings for that class of monitors, without any extras. Quick access is provided to the auto-adjustment feature, to switching between the inputs, to the brightness setting and to the MagicBright modes (preset brightness/contrast combinations).

By default, the monitor’s brightness and contrast are set at 100% and 75%, respectively. Brightness is controlled by means of pulse-width modulation of the power of the backlight lamps at a frequency of 330Hz. The monitor displays color gradients without even a slightest defect.

The gamma curves look well at the default settings, except for the blue curve which bottoms out too much.

The curves get closer to the theoretical ones at the reduced brightness/contrast, but there is a new problem with the blue curve: the monitor doesn’t differentiate between the darkest tones of blue, about 10-15% of the entire range, reproducing them all as black. So, the gamma compensation setup can be viewed as good, but not perfect.

As opposed to that, the color temperature setup is blameless. The monitor can’t match the NEC LCD2190UXi, but is set up just perfectly for its own class. Even in the Cool mode, traditionally problematic for LCD monitors, the different levels of gray differ by an acceptable 400K (a difference of 1000K and more can often be seen on many other monitors).

The monitor doesn’t have response time compensation, yet I measured its gray-to-gray transitions so that we could better compare it with other models. The average response is 15.3 milliseconds with a maximum of 36.0 milliseconds. It means that the monitor is fast in its class (but only in its own class because it can’t stand a comparison with RTC-enabled matrixes).

There is no RTC, so there can’t be RTC artifacts. That’s why there’s only one diagram here.

The contrast ratio is surprisingly high at 360:1. This is better not only than other monitors on TN+Film but even than MVA matrixes offer. Samsung’s monitors have always featured a high contrast ratio, but those were mostly PVA matrixes where you could indeed expect it. Here, a very good contrast ratio is provided by an ordinary TN+Film matrix.

So, the SyncMaster 203B can be characterized as an inexpensive yet very nice monitor. Very nice for its price, I’d say. Its disadvantages are only due to its matrix type: TN+Film technology still cannot provide really good viewing angles and its speed is not very high without response time compensation. Otherwise it is a well set-up, neatly designed and easy-to-use monitor offering all the functionality you may require, from digital input to portrait mode. The competing Acer AL2017 just stands no chance against the SyncMaster 203B, which also costs less money! If viewed as it is, without any comparisons, the 203B will suit nicely for office work as well as for not-very-demanding home users, especially if you want to read text easily thanks to its increased pixel size.

Samsung SyncMaster 204B

Samsung must have decided to squeeze everything out of the variety of 20” LCD matrixes (standard, with reduced resolution, widescreen) that have appeared recently and has released a series of monitors with different matrixes but very similar in other parameters. The SyncMaster 204B is in fact the same 203B but with a full 1600x1200resolution. Besides the native resolution, the 204B has a different specified contrast ratio and response time. The latter has a strange value of 5 milliseconds – I haven’t yet met monitors with a specified response time of less than 8 milliseconds measured according to the ISO methodology.

The monitor looks exactly like the 203B on the outside, having exactly the same black-and-silver case.

The stand allows adjusting the height and tilt of the screen, pivoting the screen into portrait orientation and rotating it around its vertical axis. The stand can be fixed with a wire pin in the bottommost position.

The 204B has analog and digital inputs and an integrated power adapter.

The monitor is controlled exactly like the 203B is. The buttons are designed and placed in the same way; the menu offers the same setup options; quick access is provided to the same settings (MagicBright, contrast, input selection, auto adjustment).

The monitor’s brightness and contrast settings are set at 100% and 80% by default. I dropped them both to 50% to achieve a 100nit brightness of white. Color gradients are reproduced without a flaw at any brightness/contrast settings.

The monitor’s contrast is too high at the default settings as is indicated by the sudden bend of the gamma curves in the top part of the graph. Light image tones are reproduced incorrectly with this setup, so I don’t recommend you to raise the contrast setting above 70% (it is 80% by default).

It’s better at the reduced contrast: the curves look well, without serious defects, and the monitor reproduces the entire range of color tones. There is no problem with the bottoming-out of the blue curve which we have seen on the SyncMaster 203B.

The color temperature is set up somewhat worse here than in the previous model, but well enough for this monitor’s class (to remind you, I’m talking now about one of the cheapest 20” monitors). These minor defects won’t become a problem at everyday use.

I measured the response time of this monitor on black to gray transitions only, but it’s clear even from this 2D diagram that the monitor has an ordinary, even though not the slowest in its class, TN+Film matrix without response time compensation. The full response time is 7.2 milliseconds on a black-white transition, i.e. a little higher than the promised 5 milliseconds. So, the monitor isn’t exactly fast, but it will satisfy an undemanding user, especially since it has no worthy competitors in its price category and the above-described 20” models on TN+Film aren’t any faster.

The 204B beats the record of its predecessor, delivering a contrast ratio of over 400:1. That’s an excellent result for a TN+Film matrix.

In fact, the SyncMaster 204B doesn’t differ much from the SyncMaster 203B except for the resolution of the matrix. Otherwise, the two monitors have similar parameters and an identical design, so the choice depends on what native resolution you prefer: 1600x1200 with small pixels or 1400x1050 with large pixels. Speaking in general, the SyncMaster 204B deserves my praises as it is one of the best models in its class and is quite capable of satisfying not-very-demanding office or home users. If you seek for a higher image quality, consider monitors on other types of the matrix.

Samsung SyncMaster 205BW

This is the third and last, as of today, model in Samsung’s new monitor series. It differs from the other two mainly with its matrix. This time, however, the different matrix – a widescreen one with a native resolution of 1680x1050 pixels – made it necessary to use a different case.

The monitor specs declare viewing angles as measured by a contrast drop to 5:1 and a response time as measured on gray-to-gray transitions. The latter thing usually implies that the monitor supports response time compensation, but I know from my earlier tests that TN+Film matrixes with RTC yield a GtG response time of 4 milliseconds or less. Here, the speed is 6 milliseconds. It may be a “mild” version of RTC (like in the NEC LCD2190UXi with its relatively small acceleration) or another of manufacturers’ little tricks. Let’s check it out.

The SyncMaster 205BW looks like the two previous models, except for the proportions of the screen.

The massive base permits to change the tilt and height of the screen, but doesn’t support the portrait mode. The height can be adjusted from 65mm to 145mm, so you can easily adapt the monitor to any desk.

The SyncMaster 205BW has analog and digital interfaces and an integrated power adapter. The digital interface is declared to support HDCP, the new technology to protect video stream against unauthorized copying that is planned to be used with Blu-ray and HD DVD media (most music studios do not implement this protection yet because there is a lot of equipment still in use that does not support HDCP).

The monitor is controlled in the same way as the 203B and 204B: cute buttons, exactly the same menu and setup options. The MagicBright button offers five presets, besides the user-defined settings: Text, Internet, Game, Sport and Movie. A color saturation enhancement feature called MagicColor is available, and you can also choose from among three variants of gamma. I tested the monitor with disabled MagicColor and in Gamma Mode 1.

By default, the monitor’s brightness and contrast are set at 100% and 75%, respectively. To achieve a 100nit brightness of white I lowered them both to 55%. Color gradients are reproduced perfectly at any settings.

The gamma curves look neat at the default settings, except for the small bend in the top right of the graph. This bend disappears on your lowering the contrast setting by just a few percent in the monitor’s menu. The monitor reproduces all color tones at any settings that are not higher than the factory ones.

The color temperature is set up not very accurately, but satisfactorily. White is a little too warm. However, this won’t be a serious problem for most of users.

My measurements show that there is no RTC in the SyncMaster 205BW. It uses a rather fast (for its class), yet quite ordinary TN+Film matrix. The average response time on gray-to-gray transitions is 13.3 milliseconds, with a maximum of 23.8 milliseconds. The full response time on a black-white-black transition is 7.3 milliseconds. So, the 205BW’s matrix is generally good, but cannot match the speed of modern models with response time compensation.

The contrast ratio isn’t poor, but looks somewhat disappointing after the results of the 203B and 204B.

So, the SyncMaster 205BW is the last model in the new series of inexpensive 20” monitors from Samsung that consists of three models which are almost identical in their characteristics but differ in their native resolution and screen aspect ratio. To my mind, it’s good to have an opportunity to choose the resolution you need while the other parameters would be the same.

The 205BW itself is quite a good product for its class. It is accurately set up and neatly assembled. Its parameters are going to satisfy a majority of office and not-very-demanding home users. The 205BW competes with the BenQ FP202W and the NEC LCD2070WNX and beats them both. It is also considerably cheaper than the latter. The FP202W costs about the same money, but is worse in terms of ergonomics and image quality.

Samsung SyncMaster 214T

The previous three monitors occupy the bottom price niche, but the SyncMaster 214T is quite the opposite. It is a rather expensive monitor on a 21” PVA matrix with response time compensation.

Although the case of the 214T isn’t large as 21” monitors normally go, its massive and tall stand makes it look rather bulky. The monitor is made of silvery plastic and is designed differently than the models with smaller screen diagonals.

With that stand you can adjust the tilt and height of the screen and to pivot it into the portrait mode. The screen can also be turned around the vertical axis, the bottom part of the stand remains still at that. The height can be varied from 12.5 to 23 centimeters above the desk. Coupled with a 4:3 matrix, this makes the monitor rather tall.

You can unfasten four screws to replace the standard stand with a VESA-compatible mount.

The button at the bottom of the stand locks it so that you could carry the monitor about. The circle above it is intended for fastening the cables attached to the monitor.

The SyncMaster 214T has analog and digital inputs and two video inputs (composite and S-Video). It lacks built-in speakers, so there are no audio inputs. If you want to connect the monitor to a DVD player or some other video source, you’ll have to use external speakers (this is not a disaster considering the traditionally low quality of monitor speakers). The power adapter is internal.

The square-shaped monitor’s controls are located in the bottom left of the case. Quick access (without your having to enter the main menu) is provided to switching between the MagicBright modes (three in total: Text, Internet and Entertain), to switching between the inputs, to the brightness setting and to the auto-adjustment feature.

The menu is greatly different from the menus of Samsung’s junior models. It would fit an LCD TV-set better than a PC monitor. It is large, almost half the screen, and not easy to use. The first option is the input selection, and it takes some time before you reach the image-related settings. For example, you have to make as many as six presses if you want to adjust the contrast (not counting in the changing of the setting proper). The monitor doesn’t remember the last adjusted position and you have to make the six presses each time you want to change the contrast setting. The point of placing the input selection as the first menu option evades me because the Source button can do that without your having to enter the main menu. The size of the menu makes no sense, too. It would do if the 214T were equipped with a remote control, but it is not, and you have to come up to the monitor to access its menu.

Fortunately, the monitor can be controlled with the Windows-based MagicTune utility. It proves to be handier than the onscreen menu if you want to quickly adjust some settings.

Picture-in-Picture and Picture-beside-Picture modes are available for the video inputs. In PiP mode you can specify the size of the window (by choosing one of two possibilities) and its position (four variants).

Curiously enough, the menu offers the option of adjusting the tone and saturation by six coordinates. It’s not clear to me why a home monitor needs this, but anyway. You can also adjust the gamma compensation value with a step of 0.1 and use the MagicColor feature (it increases color saturation).

By default, the monitor’s brightness and contrast are set at 100% and 65%, respectively. To achieve a 100nit brightness of white, I chose 48% brightness and 50% contrast. Brightness is regulated by the backlight lamps.

Color gradients are reproduced without a flaw.

The gamma compensation value is set too low at the default settings, resulting in a pale image. To correct this issue, enter the menu and increase the gamma by about +0.2.

Otherwise, there are no serious defects. The monitor reproduces all the tones it should reproduce, also when the contrast setting is lowered.

The user is offered seven color temperature modes with a step of a few hundred degrees. You can’t make it look cold, however, as the maximum temperature is even below 7500K. This is not a great problem since most users choose a temperature within a range of 6500-7500K. Considering the rather small difference in temperature between different levels of gray, the quality of this setup is good.

Unfortunately, the backlight lamps flicker even at the maximum brightness (as I wrote above, brightness is regulated with the lamps, by means of pulse-width modulation). This affects the precision of response time measurements. I was altogether unable to measure the speed of the matrix on gray-to-gray transitions, and the precision was lacking even on black-to-gray ones.

Anyway, the diagram is still indicative of the matrix speed, which is rather high. What’s interesting, the monitor is based on a PVA matrix, and with that matrix type there is usually an upwards-bound tail in the left part of the diagram that is 50-70 milliseconds high. Here, we’ve got a small and low tail and this cannot be due to the low measurement accuracy. No flickering of the backlight lamps can distort the result by tens of milliseconds. Moreover, the higher the response time is, the lower the influence of the flickering on the measurement accuracy. Can it be then that Samsung has solved the eternal problem of PVA? Running a little ahead, I should say they did it! The new SyncMaster 215TW and the SyncMaster 940Fn do not have a big response on dark tones. The latter doesn’t have the flickering of the lamps, so nothing affected my measurements.

And subjectively – although I don’t like making statements based on subjective impressions – the 214T is indeed fast. I couldn’t see any fuzziness on it.

The RTC error is small, not higher than 5% on black-gray transitions. I couldn’t measure it on gray-to-gray transitions due to the above-mentioned reasons, but the error seems to be negligibly small on them, too.

The monitor has a superb contrast ratio even at the low brightness. The PVA matrix shows its best here.

To sum it up, the SyncMaster 214T is a very well-made product. The single drawback of this monitor is its very awkward menu designed in a TV-set style (despite its video inputs, the 214T is a PC monitor, but not a TV-set) and optimized for a remote control which the 214T lacks. You have the option of using the MagicTune program, though. I just had no choice but to use it, although I never launched MagicTune to control the above-described 20” models with their classic Samsung menu.

Otherwise, the monitor is very good, with good viewing angles, excellent contrast ratio, accurate color reproduction (the too-low gamma can be corrected in the monitor’s settings). It also has a superb response time in comparison with other PVA matrixes. The SyncMaster 214T is going to be a good choice for home as well as for work even for demanding users.

Samsung SyncMaster 215TW

A good but not exceptional widescreen model in its specs, this monitor was hot news since its first announcement in the spring because Samsung voiced the expected price for the 215TW, a mere $570. It was an incredible number for a 21” monitor on a PVA matrix considering that even good 20” models cost over $700 then. So, where’s the catch?

As opposed to the previous model, the 215TW resembles the inexpensive 20” monitors described above in this review, but with some differences. The control buttons are not bulging now but flat – this seemingly small thing has had a great effect on the monitor’s appearance. There are integrated speakers under the screen. Samsung’s designers found a lucky solution for them: the speakers are sunken one centimeter relative to the monitor’s face panel and do not make it look bulky as is the case with many other models. There is a headphones output on the panel with the speakers.

The SyncMaster 215TW comes in two color schemes: black and silver-and-black.

The monitor’s native stand allows to change the height and tilt of the screen, to turn it around the vertical axis (the rotation circle is in the base of the stand, so the monitor turns around as a single whole) and to pivot the screen into the portrait mode, although a widescreen 21” monitor becomes too tall in that mode, to my mind.

The height can be adjusted from 8 to 18 centimeters above the desk surface, so the monitor can be adapted even to tall computer desks (like the one I have myself). The stand can be locked with a wire pin for transportation. The native base can be replaced with a standard VESA-compatible mount.

The monitor’s inputs are divided in two groups: one group includes an analog D-Sub, a digital DVI-D, a component YPbPr and two audio inputs (one for the computer inputs and the other for the component video).

The power adapter is internal.

A few more connectors can be found on the left panel: an S-Video, a composite video input with an accompanying audio input. So, the monitor lacks a SCART connector, but it is one of the few models with a component input.

The control buttons are located in the bottom left of the case. Quick access is provided to the MagicTune modes (five in total plus a user-defined one), to the brightness setting, to switching between the inputs, to the auto-adjustment feature and to turn on the Picture-in-Picture mode. There is an average-brightness blue LED in the Power button. Unfortunately, this button starts to blink when the monitor is “asleep” which may be irritating. I think it would be better if it just changed its color into the traditional yellow.

Alas, the only difference in the menu design in comparison with the 214T is that the menu is smaller and doesn’t take up half the screen as before. The structure of the menu is the same. It is not confusing like the menus of the Acer monitors I have described earlier, but requires your pressing buttons too many times to access most of the options.

As opposed to the 214T, the 215TW lacks the MagicColor feature (increased color saturation), offers only three color temperature options (plus a user-defined mode), doesn’t allow to adjust the color tone by six coordinates. In other words, its setup options have been cut down to the standard selection any regular home monitor provides.

You can enable interpolation to work with resolutions that have an aspect ratio of 4:3. The image is always stretched to the full vertically while the horizontal size can be adjusted. Unfortunately, the monitor squeezes all images, even with a resolution of 1680x1050, to 4:3 format after you select the appropriate option in its menu. This setting works separately for the PC and video inputs.

The monitor can detect which of its inputs video sources are connected to and switches only between them on your pressing the Source button. Otherwise, with the five available sources of input signal, the switching would take a considerable time.

Picture-in-Picture and Picture-beside-Picture modes are available for the video inputs. You can specify the size and position of the window (by choosing from two and four variants, respectively) and adjust its brightness and contrast. There is a separate set of three MagicBright modes (plus a user-defined mode) for the video inputs. To access them, you should switch into full-screen video and press the appropriate button. When you switch back into Picture-in-Picture mode, the settings for the video window are saved. The menu also allows to choose which audio source will be reproduced in Picture-in-Picture mode.

There is one problem with MagicTune. The current version of the program (MagicTune 4.0) can’t synchronize hardware and its own settings correctly, so the changes that you make to the parameters of the Picture-in-Picture window in the onscreen menu are often reset as MagicTune starts up. Those settings are also reset when the monitor is unplugged from the wall socket (but not when it goes into Sleep mode).

By default, the monitor’s brightness and contrast are set at 100% and 68%, respectively. To achieve a 100nit brightness of white, it is necessary to choose 39% brightness and 40% contrast. Brightness is regulated with the backlight lamps in this monitor.

Color gradients are reproduced perfectly at any brightness/contrast settings, but the backlighting isn’t very uniform. You can see light spots in every corner of the screen in darkness. This is not a problem at work, but this non-uniformity becomes apparent in dark movies, especially if the monitor’s brightness is set high in its menu.

An interesting fact, the 215TW is almost free from the common problem of VA matrixes, the loss of dark tones when your line of sight is strictly perpendicular to the screen.

The gamma curves look good, except for the small hunch in the right part of the graph. It doesn’t affect the visual impression much, though. There’s hardly any difference in the onscreen picture before and after the calibration. The shape of the graphs remains the same at the reduced contrast. The monitor reproduces all the color tones in full in every case.

As opposed to the previous model, the 215TW offers only three color temperature modes (plus a user-defined mode). The setup quality is high. The temperature difference is big only on the darkest tones, which is insignificant, and only when you choose a cold white. It’s all perfect in the Normal mode that will suit a majority of users.

Alas, there was the same problem as with the 214T when I tried to measure the speed of this matrix. The backlight lamps would flicker even at the maximum brightness, so I couldn’t perform accurate measurements on gray-to-gray transitions. However, the diagram shows that the 215TW uses a very fast PVA matrix with response time compensation, and the problem with the growth of the response on dark tones has been successfully solved.

Like the 214T, this monitor has a very small RTC error. You can see RTC-provoked artifacts only at certain combinations of settings. In most cases the artifacts don’t show up at all.

The 215TW proved to be the best monitor among all included in this review in terms of contrast ratio, notching 500:1 at the maximum. The max brightness is 230 nits at that, which is quite enough for most applications.

So, where’s the catch? There isn’t. The SyncMaster 215TW is an excellent monitor that suits perfectly for work as well as for entertainment. With its neat design, accurate setup, an abundance of video inputs (including a component one), a matrix with a fast response, high contrast ratio and good viewing angles, and with a price of about $600, the 215TW is surely a leader of this test session and should be the first entry in your shopping list as you go out after a large monitor. On the downside are its rather inconvenient onscreen menu, which is somewhat compensated by the MagicTune program, and the certain non-uniformity of backlighting. But I’ve often met such drawbacks in much more expensive models.

Among the monitors included into this review, the NEC 20WGX2 is the main competitor to the 215TW. But the NEC costs more, lacks video inputs and screen height adjustment, not to mention its one-inch-smaller screen. A slightly faster matrix is in fact the single advantage of the 20WGX2 over the SyncMaster 215TW.

Sony MFM-HT205

MVA was written down as the matrix type in the official announcement of this monitor, yet I wrote S-IPS into the table above. This is not a mistake. The sample we got for our tests was indeed based on an S-IPS matrix, without any doubt. The violet hue of black, characteristic of S-IPS technology, could be seen quite clearly when you deflected your light of sight sideways from the center of the screen. The monitor uses exactly the same matrix as is employed in the NEC MultiSync 20WGX2, a 20” widescreen S-IPS matrix manufactured by LG.Philips LCD, with a glossy surface and response time compensation.

However, I tested a presale sample Sony gave us, so it is possible that off-the-shelf samples of the monitor will have a different matrix. You should check this out at the shop.

Besides, two contrast ratios, 1600:1 and 700:1, are declared for the monitor. The first number is fantastically high, contradicting all established notions about S-IPS technology. This is actually the so-called dynamic contrast I wrote about above when describing the NEC 20WGX2. When reproducing video, the monitor can perform an automatic on-the-fly adjustment of the backlight brightness depending on the displayed image. The brighter the picture, the higher the brightness is. To arrive at the mentioned value, the levels of white and black are measured at the highest and lowest backlight brightness, respectively. So, if the contrast ratio of the matrix itself is 700:1, and the auto-adjustment system can vary the brightness within a two times broader range, we get a ratio of 1600:1. This technique may be useful for movies and games, but you should realize that it’s nothing else but a crutch that serves to make up for the narrow dynamic range of today’s monitors. It doesn’t work always whereas the real “absolute” contrast ratio of the matrix is much lower (I will measure it below).

Why is the absolute contrast so important for us? Because it is a basic characteristic of an LCD matrix that is indicative of how comfortable it is to work with the monitor in darkness. If the absolute contrast is low, then black (a Desktop background, dark scenes in movies and games, etc) will always seem dark gray under dim external lighting. And the dynamic contrast can’t do anything about that whatever number they write in the monitor’s specs. I have nothing against dynamic contrast. It is a good technology, especially if you can turn it off when you wish, but it can’t replace a good absolute contrast.

The monitor is designed in a single-chunk case that doesn’t have a stand proper. Sony came up with this design some time ago. It looks fine, but is low-functional and suits a TV-set better than a PC monitor. Well, the MFM-HT205 can be viewed as a TV-set since it has a TV-tuner.

The plastic case is painted silver, but the two-centimeter band with the Power button at the bottom is made of aluminum.

The monitor has a folding support at the back. It prevents the monitor from toppling over and allows to adjust the tilt of the screen in a small range. The case is large. It is one of the heaviest monitors we’ve ever tested in our labs. Holes for VESA-compatible mounts are located at the back panel, but I’m afraid this monitor will look awkward on a wall mount.

There are three groups of connectors here. The first group, located at the bottom and rear of the case, includes analog and digital video inputs, two audio inputs (monitors usually have a single common audio input for all PC connectors, but here you can switch the monitor between two computers, changing the audio source simultaneously), and an antenna input of the TV-tuner.

The second group is placed on a side panel and includes an S-Video connector, a composite video input with an accompanying audio input, and a headphones output.

The third group includes a component video input and a SCART connector.

Thus, the MFM-HT205 boasts the biggest number of inputs among all the monitors included into this review. Acer’s models lack a component input (which is going to be more and more demanded as HDTV formats spread out); Samsung’s models don’t have a TV-tuner and a SCART connector.

The monitor’s controls are located on its right side, but are labeled on the front panel, so there are no problems like with BenQ’s models. You also get a remote control with this monitor which duplicates all the buttons. You can use the remote control to change any of the monitor’s settings, not only TV-related ones as is often the case.

The Power button is at the bottom of the case. A LED indicator is beside it.

The monitor’s menu looks good and is handy to deal with. Traditionally for Sony’s monitors, brightness can be regulated with the matrix or the backlight lamps separately, and the color temperature is set at 9300K by default. Take note of this fact if the image on the screen of the MFM-HT205 looks too cold to you in comparison with other monitors standing in a shop window.

The monitor offers four brightness/contrast presets, each of which can be adjusted independently from the others: Game (backlight brightness = 100, contrast = 100, matrix brightness = 60), Movie (this mode is enabled by default; backlight brightness = 100, contrast = 85, matrix brightness = 50), PC (backlight brightness = 70, contrast = 70, matrix brightness = 50), and Auto (backlight brightness is adjusted automatically, contrast = 70, matrix brightness = 50). Gamma compensation settings also vary in the different modes. There are four of them in total, numbered from Gamma1 to Gamma4, without specific values.

When the color temperature option is set at sRGB, the matrix brightness, contrast and gamma settings become disabled.

The monitor supports Picture-in-Picture and Picture-beside-Picture modes. For the former mode you can adjust the size (three variants from a tiny size to a quarter of the screen) and position (four variants in the four corners of the screen) of the additional window.

To achieve a 100nit brightness of white I selected the following settings: backlight brightness = 50, matrix brightness = 25, and contrast ratio = 69.

Color gradients look striped on this monitor, some stripes being quite conspicuous.

It’s all right at the default settings, i.e. in the Movie mode. The curves have a neat shape but deflect somewhat from the theoretical ones. But as soon as you reduce the matrix brightness you’ll see the following:

This diagram was constructed for a matrix brightness of 25 instead of the default 50. It’s not so well now: about a quarter of the dynamic range has been lost in the left part of the diagram. The monitor doesn’t differentiate between dark tones, displaying them all as pure black.

When the matrix brightness is increased, light tones vanish, merging into pure white. This is why I don’t recommend that you try to control the monitor’s brightness with the matrix. You should use the backlight brightness setting instead (it’s called Backlight in the menu).

The different levels of gray have similar color temperatures, but the offered modes are not exactly what most users need. Most of us prefer a color temperature of 6500K or, if possible, a little higher. This generally depends on the lighting in the room. But the MFM-HT205 just doesn’t offer preset modes within a range of 5800-8000K. In its 6500K and sRGB modes (the latter should also set the temperature at 6500K) the real color temperature proves to be below the nominal, less than 6000K. In the 9300K mode the temperature is higher than 8000K. As a result, the onscreen image will look either too warm or too cold, depending on the selected settings, and you can only reach the optimum temperature by manually adjusting the red, blue and green components.

The monitor uses the same matrix as is installed in the NEC 20WGX2, but my measurements yielded somewhat worse results: an average response time of 7.1 milliseconds with a maximum of 10.0 milliseconds. This is a good speed, anyway.

The RTC error is bigger than with the NEC monitor. It is 8.7% on average with a maximum of 66.5%. This error will show up as visual artifacts in certain cases, yet I hold an average error of less than 10% as acceptable and not preventing you from comfortably using the monitor. The MFM-HT205 meets this criterion.

The monitor’s contrast ratio is very low. It is just a little higher than 150:1 at best or by 50% worse than with the 20WGX2. If the matrix brightness is increased, the picture soon becomes whitish, making it impossible to use the monitor normally. So again, you should control the monitor’s brightness with the Backlight setting rather than with the Brightness option.

I can’t say the MFM-HT205 is a very good product. Having a very high price (about $1000 at the moment), it has a bunch of drawbacks, too. Its case would suit a TV-set better than a PC monitor because it is large, occupies a lot of space on the desk, but only allows to adjust the tilt of the screen, and in a very narrow range, too. The adjustment of brightness with the matrix is implemented poorly. The contrast ratio is low.

The MFM-HT205 is not bad, either. But you can spend two thirds of its price to buy a much more interesting model like the NEC 20WGX2 or the Samsung 215TW, taking only those monitors that are described in this review. The TV-tuner these models lack can’t cover the price difference between them and the MFM-HT205.

The new monitor from Sony seems to be more interesting as a TV-set that can occasionally be connected to a computer. But on this field it meets competition with LCD TV-sets that have a similar price, a small resolution, but a 26” screen. Like the Acer Ferrari F-20, the MFM-HT205 will probably find its customer, but I can’t call it a technically optimal solution anyway.

Sony SDM-S205K

As opposed to the luxurious and fanciful MFM-HT205, the SDM-S205 is an example of a moderate and simple design. This workhorse has good declared parameters. It is based on an S-IPS matrix without response time compensation and this time there is no discrepancy between the manufacturer’s words and reality. The monitor does have an S-IPS matrix inside.

The SDM-S205K has a simple, neat and elegant black-painted case. We’ve got the classic design solution here where the case and the stand are separated.

The stand allows to adjust the height and tilt of the screen, to turn it into the portrait mode and to rotate around the vertical axis (the rotation circle is built into the bottom of the stand, so the monitor turns around as a single whole). The stand is fixed with a wire clip in the bottommost position for transportation.

The SDM-S205K has analog and digital inputs, two audio inputs, and two inputs for the USB hub. Yes, two USB inputs because it has four USB ports. Checking this thing out, I found that the monitor can serve as a full-featured KVM switch, i.e. it can work with two computers at once.

How do you usually connect two computers? You’ve got a monitor with two inputs, one of each of the computers. But what do you do about the keyboard and mouse? You either buy two keyboard and mouse kits or buy a separate KVM switch that would connect a keyboard, mouse and monitor to the necessary computer on your pressing a button on it (by the way, KVM stands for Keyboard, Video, Mouse).

How do you do this with a SDM-S205K? One computer is attached to the monitor’s DVI input, first audio input and first USB input. The second computer is connected to the D-Sub input, to the second audio input and to the second USB input. Then you connect your keyboard and mouse (both with a USB interface) to the monitor’s USB hub. After that, the SDM-S205K will not only switch between the video inputs, but also between the audio and USB ones on your pressing the input selection button. As a result, the sound, mouse and keyboard will be automatically switched between the two computers along with the monitor and without any additional KVM switches. I think that’s a brilliant idea!

The monitor’s controls are located to the left of the screen. They are painted black and have pressed-out labels. In other words, you’ll have to hit them blindly and at random even under normal lighting. The designers must have tried to avoid contrasting elements in the monitor appearance, so this is a deliberate solution rather than a whim as is the case with BenQ’s monitors.

The monitor’s menu should be familiar to you if you’ve ever dealt with Sony’s earlier monitors. It is typical of the firm. I wouldn’t say it is exceptionally user-friendly, yet it provokes no problems at work. Everything is quite logical in there. But still, it might be better.

The monitor has three presets that you can switch through with the ECO button: High, Middle and Low. It’s convenient that all the three modes can be defined by the user and are independent of each other. To my mind, this is better than, for example, in Samsung’s monitors where the MagicBright feature allows the user to define only one mode while the others cannot be changed.

By default, the High mode gives you 100% backlight brightness, 50% matrix brightness and 90% contrast. The Middle mode gives you 50% backlight brightness, 50% matrix brightness and 70% contrast. The backlight brightness is reduced to 15% in the Low mode. The backlight brightness is controlled by means of pulse-width modulation at a frequency of about 200Hz.

Color gradients are reproduced well at 90% contrast, but become striped at lower contrast values (especially below 50%). This effect isn’t too conspicuous, though, at everyday work, yet it is present here.

I measured the response time of the matrix at 50% matrix brightness; the backlight brightness and contrast were set at 100%.

The gamma curves look very well. They are very close to the theoretical ones, and the monitor carefully reproduces the entire color range. This doesn’t change at reduced contrast values, but when you reduce the matrix brightness (the Brightness option in the monitor’s menu), the monitor stops to distinguish between dark tones.

The monitor’s color temperature is set up well. It is a little above the nominal value in the warm modes (ideally, it should be 6500K), but coincides with it quite precisely in the cold mode. The difference between the temperatures of different levels of gray is small.

The monitor uses an ordinary S-IPS matrix without RTC. The full response time on a black-white-black transition is 20.5 milliseconds. The matrix isn’t very fast on average, especially as today’s matrixes go, but will satisfy a user who’s not very fastidious about that parameter. It suits quite well for watching movies and will suit for most games, too.

The contrast ratio is about 250:1 which is quite acceptable for an S-IPS matrix and much better than that of the MFM-HT205. I performed the measurements not by our standard methodology (at a 100nit brightness of white, at the factory settings, and at the max settings) but for the three Eco modes at their defaults. Measuring at the max brightness/contrast makes no sense with Sony monitors, as we’ve seen with the MFM-HT205, because the monitor just cannot be used at such settings.

On one hand, the SDM-S205K left me with nice impressions. It is free from serious defects. It suits well for a work place and is quite acceptable as a home monitor. Moreover, the SDM-S205K will be appreciated by people who work with two system cases at once because it allows doing that without a KVM switch. The only thing that may worry you is the traditionally high price, like that of any Sony monitor. If the price is not a problem, the SDM-S205K will be a good choice.

ViewSonic VA2012w

We’ll get back to the bottom price range to wind this review up. The ViewSonic VA2012w has a widescreen TN+Film matrix without response time compensation. Costs a mere $430.

The monitor doesn’t have eye-catching looks. It rivals the Acer AL2017 in design and not more: a silver case with rather wide margins around the screen, a simple stand, integrated speakers that make the case larger, but not any more beautiful (the simple design solution implemented in the Samsung 215TW – the speakers are sunken into the case by one centimeter – looks dramatically better).

The stand allows adjusting the tilt of the screen only. It can be replaced with a VESA-compatible mount.

The monitor has analog and digital inputs (the latter is a definite plus for the native resolution of 1680x1050!), a line input for the integrated speakers and a built-in power adapter.

The monitor’s controls are placed in a row beneath the screen and are designed rather inconveniently: small, shiny, with pressed-out labels that are rather hard to read. Moreover, ViewSonic uses numbers (1 and 2) to label buttons that are elsewhere, i.e. in other monitors, referred to as Menu and Select – perhaps to fit the labels into the buttons. To my mind, it would be handier for the user to have the labels painted in black above the corresponding buttons.

The quick access buttons control the integrated speakers (three buttons in total: Volume Up, Volume Down and Mute), adjust the brightness and contrast settings and switch between the inputs.

This is the standard menu of a ViewSonic monitor. It is not exactly pretty or options-rich, but offers all the settings necessary for a product of that class.

The monitor’s brightness is set at 100% and contrast at 70% by default. I set them both at 43% to achieve a 100nit brightness of white. Brightness is controlled by means of modulation of the backlighting at a frequency of 250Hz.

Color gradients are reproduced well at any brightness/contrast settings.

At the default settings the gamma curves for the red and green colors go lower than necessary.

When the contrast setting is set below its default value in the monitor’s menu, all the three curves go up: red and green now match the theoretical curves more or less well, but blue is a little higher than necessary. Still, this color setup is quite satisfactory for a monitor of that price category. At least, it reproduces all the tones, without losing darks or lights, at any settings.

Of course, the color temperature can’t be too accurate with such gamma curves. White is considerably warmer than gray. The difference is over 1000K in the most demanded 6500K mode.

As I said above, the VA2012w is based on a TN+Film matrix without response time compensation. The average response time on gray-to-gray transitions turned to be 16.0 milliseconds in my tests, which is an ordinary result for that matrix type. In other words, the VA2012w isn’t very fast and will only suit an undemanding user when it comes to playing games. Other users will easily see the difference between this model and monitors with RTC-enabled matrixes.

The contrast ratio isn’t exceptional, either. It is a little over 150:1 which is below average even for entry-level monitors.

So, the VA2012w can boast nothing in the end. It competes with the BenQ FP202W and the Samsung 205BW and is somewhat worse in parameters but a little cheaper than the former. The gap between the VA2012w and the 205BW is wider in price and is downright catastrophic in terms of setup quality and functionality. The VA2012w will do well as an inexpensive big-resolution office monitor or even as a home monitor for an undemanding user, but there is no reason why it should be distinguished among the competitors.

Conclusion

To sum up Part II and Part III, I will divide the monitors into different price groups (they have been presented in alphabetic order in the article) and compare them within each group.

The bottommost market segment is occupied by 20” models on different variations of TN+Film matrixes, with resolutions of 1400x1050, 1600x1200 and 1680x1050 pixels. There is no use to split them further into subgroups because they are all rather close to each other in parameters, which is well illustrated by Samsung that has released three models differing in the native resolution only.

The Acer AL2017 and the ViewSonic VA2012w are obviously two outsiders. They have an unassuming design and mediocre characteristics but are not much cheaper than the more decent models (at the time of my writing this the Samsung 203B costs even less than the AL2017, but I don’t suppose this unnatural situation will last for long).

The BenQ FP202W and the NEC LCD2070WNX look somewhat better, but the latter isn’t quite worth its rather high price.

Samsung’s three models, SyncMaster 203B, 204B and widescreen 205BW, are the leaders in this category. Very neatly assembled, easy to use and well set up, these monitors have only one disadvantage. They are built around TN+Film matrixes with all the consequences like small vertical viewing angles and a rather high response time. However, these monitors can make a good alternative for people who don’t have money to spend on a more expensive 20” model on an S-IPS or MVA matrix, but do not want to buy a 19” monitor. After all, the transition to 20 inches is a big step forward not only in terms of the sheer size of the display but also in the native resolution.

The next price category comprises home-oriented 20” and 21” monitors. There is actually only one 21” model here so far – Samsung’s 215TW – but I guess other manufacturers will soon follow suit. The Samsung 214T, also reviewed in this article, is considerably more expensive as yet.

So, we’ve got the following competitors in this price category: Acer AL2032WA, BenQ FP2091 and FP2092, NEC 20WGX2 and Samsung 215TW. They are all good in their own ways, but the 215TW looks a definite leader to me. Having a surprisingly low price (Samsung must have decided to give the market a shake), it is a superb product with cute looks, a fast and high-contrast matrix with good viewing angles, accurate setup, and a selection of video inputs for all your needs. The only gross disadvantage I can find in the 215TW is the inconvenient way you have to control it in. For some reason its menu is designed in a TV menu style and is inferior to the junior models’ menus in usability. I had to use the MagicTune program instead.

The NEC MultiSync 20WGX2 and the Acer AL2032WA are very good, too, but they can’t surpass the 215TW and should cost less. The NEC model boasts a very fast matrix that also has very wide viewing angles; it is one of the first monitors on an S-IPS matrix with response time compensation and is an excellent choice as a home monitor. The AL2032WA is interesting for its selection of video inputs and a rather fast MVA matrix.

Both models from BenQ are rather average-quality products. They do not differ much from each other and aren’t brilliant with their parameters in comparison with the other monitors (alas, color gradients are much more striped on them than on the 20WGX2 – the use of an S-IPS matrix doesn’t guarantee high-quality color reproduction). And again, having a price comparable with that of the Samsung 215TW, these monitors have a chance only in the eyes of people who are keen on buying a monitor with a screen aspect ratio of 4:3.

In a higher price category there are Sony SDM-S205K and Samsung 214T. The SDM-S205K is a good monitor for work that has one special feature – it can serve as a KVM switch for two computers. But I fear its high price is going to repel quite a lot of potential customers.

The SyncMaster 214T is an ambiguous product. Compared with the 215TW, it offers more setup options, but loses in terms of price. After all, it is just an ordinary home monitor for which accurate color reproduction setup isn’t too important. So, the 215TW looks better in every respect except in one case: you should consider the 214T if you want to buy a good 21” monitor with an aspect ratio of 4:3 rather than 16:10. I doubt there will be many such users because widescreen models are generally better for work as well as for movies and games.

Next go monitors with integrated TV-tuners, Acer Ferrari F-20 и Sony MFM-HT205. Both are narrowly-targeted and not very well-made models: you want to have a monitor without obvious defects for that sum of money, yet the F-20 and the MFM-HT205 both have them (the latter has fewer defects than the former but costs more). So, you should better buy a better-quality monitor for much less money and a separate TV-tuner unless you just can’t live without a TV-tuner in your monitor.

It is the NEC MultiSync LCD2190UXi that resides on the top of the podium. It is a semi-professional monitor, just a step lower than SpectraView series models. This is an excellent monitor with a huge number of setup options, all the functionality you might ever need, and with a very accurate factory setup. Moreover, you can enable response time compensation in your LCD2190UXi to have a rather high response time in games. Still, you should think twice before purchasing this very expensive product. If you need just a good monitor for home use, you may want to consider other models because most of the options offered by the LCD2190UXi will remain uncalled for.