Closer Look at 17” LCD Monitor Features. Part III

We tested another bunch of 17-inch LCD monitors. This time we would like to take a closer look at the features, response time, color temperatures and performance of 14 LCD monitors from such well-known makers as Acer, NEC, CTX, Samsung (we tested 8 models!), Sony and Hansol. If you haven’t yet made up your mind about the monitor, then you have to check this article first!

by Oleg Artamonov
02/03/2004 | 10:57 PM

This article is the third installment of our detailed coverage of modern 17” LCD monitors. The testing methodology hasn’t changed since the second part, so feel free to check out this article for more details.

 

I wish we had equipment to measure the viewing angles of the monitors as this is the only serious parameter that’s “out of my sight” now. The problem is it’s not enough to measure the angles as the manufacturers do. According to current standards, the viewing angles are measured when the contrast ratio goes down to 10:1. Such measurements are relatively easy to perform, as you only need a photodiode with an objective lens. You set it at different degrees to the screen and measure the ratio of levels of white and black, i.e. the contrast ratio. That is exactly the way the manufacturers specify something like 160° for TN+Film matrixes, while you see it in practice that the white color becomes yellowish when you deflect by 45° from the center of the screen to a side, or the top of the screen becomes much darker than the bottom when you view it from below at an angle of 30°. This is the outcome of the standard method measuring just the contrast ratio, rather than the color precision. Moreover, the measurements are performed on the center of the screen only.

So, there is the following piece of advice for those who are looking for a monitor: don’t trust the specifications too much, as the approaches to creating those specifications do not necessarily correspond to what your eyes actually see.

After this short interlude, let’s pass over to our testing participants.

Acer AL1713

The monitor of a modest exterior (plain white color and silver rounded buttons) has a compact case, which is hardly typical of inexpensive models. The functionality is minimal: the base allows only changing the tilt of the screen, and there is only one (analog) input.

The settings menu is easy to navigate, but it is very slow. You press a button to enter some submenu, and it takes about a second for this submenu to appear. There is the bare minimum of image-related options: brightness, contrast, phase control, image position adjustment, and three variants of color temperature. One quick button provides access to the auto-adjustment feature, while the arrow buttons (“>” and “<”) do not work outside the menu.

The horizontal viewing angles are good, although the image starts getting yellow when you deflect from the center too much. It’s all as usual with the vertical angle: the image becomes lighter when viewed from above and darker when viewed from below.

The auto-adjustment feature works all right; the color reproduction is good enough, too.

The default color temperature (the “User” mode) corresponded to 5340K for white and 8010K for gray. When I chose the “Cool” option, the white color was 7490K hot, while gray became audaciously bluish, so that our calibrator couldn’t measure its temperature (it must have been high above 16,000K). With the “Warm” setting, the calibrator gave out 5460K for white and 7820K for gray.

By default, the monitor’s brightness control was set to its maximum, the contrast – to 50%. Regrettably, I couldn’t make the screen shine with a luminosity of 100nit (1 nit = 1 candela per square meter), even by dropping both: brightness and contrast controls to zero. If you prefer to work in a dim room, you’d better be aware of this fact. Brightness of the screen is regulated by power modulation of the backlight lamps with a frequency of 200Hz.

The color curves look good enough (by the way, I took the measurements in the “User” mode, rather than “Cool” with its unnatural color temperature). The monitor represents the colors quite accurately, without evident losses in dark as well as in light tones.

The response time turned to be surprisingly high – 10msec higher than the manufacturer claims. Moreover, it grows significantly on black-to-gray transitions to reach 40msec (the pixel rise time is 37msec as shown in the graph).

This monitor is of an average contrast ratio, as it is only higher than 200:1 at the maximum settings. On the other hand, if you reduce the screen brightness below the default, the level of black goes down considerably.

Overall, Acer AL1713 is a typical representative of the middle class. Its functionality is barely sufficient, its response time is high (35-40msec, which makes it a poor choice for playing dynamic games), and its high minimum brightness doesn’t allow using it in a dimly lit room. With all its deficiencies, this monitor is all right if you view it as an inexpensive office model.

Acer AL1721

This monitor looks unpretentious, save for the cute dark panel with highlighted buttons. The designers didn’t paint or print the designations of the buttons on the buttons themselves, but inserted a transparent plastic plate into the monitor’s front panel. The back side of the plate is painted black, and symbols are cut out in the paint. When you turn the monitor on, every symbol is highlighted with its own LED. This doesn’t have any deep meaning, as the characters are static and shine with the same colors when the monitor is on. Anyway, this is a smart variation of the LCD monitor design concept, and it’s easier to hit the buttons if you work in a dark room. The control buttons are placed along the lower edge of the case. The base is small and only allows changing the screen tilt (the screen doesn’t readily tilt back, though, only by a few degrees).

Unlike the previous model, this one features both: DVI and analog inputs.

The Acer AL1721 is a multimedia product, but you don’t see the speakers easily as they are on the bottom edge of the case, looking downwards. In theory, this should affect negatively the sound quality, but the overall quality of any integrated speakers is low, so their position hardly makes it any worse.

The settings menu resembles the one of the AL1731, but works much faster. Quick access is only for auto-adjustment and for controlling the sound volume – you have to enter the menu even to switch between the inputs (by the way, the menu can’t memorize, which item the cursor stood on the last time).

By default, the brightness control is set to 80%, the contrast – to 60%. The choice of color temperature is limited with three variants: “Cool” (it is default, corresponds to 7110K white and 9250K gray), “Warm” (corresponds to 6200K and 7500K) and “User” (manual adjustment; by default it corresponds to 5650K white and 8840K gray). To achieve a screen brightness of 100nit, I moved the brightness control to 20% and the contrast – to 26%. Thus, the AL1721 allows reducing the screen brightness lower, than the Acer AL1731.

The viewing angles are average: the irregular distribution of brightness along the vertical is visible, however slightly. When you look at the screen sideways, it appears yellowish. The auto-adjustment feature works well, but you’d better use it on a one-pixel-wide black-white tessellation rather than on a page with text. Auto-adjustment works much worse in the latter case.

The color reproduction is set up neatly, only the blue color is out of order. Well, we should have guessed it from the measured color temperatures.

The monitor’s responsiveness on black-to-white pixel transitions fits into the specified 16msec, so there is no problem with this parameter. Of course, the response time grows on black-gray transitions, as this is a common problem of all tested monitors, but Acer AL1721 put on a sparkling performance here – only 24msec!

But to tell the truth it was the contrast ratio that pleased me much. The level of black was unusually low for a model with a fast 16msec matrix, never going above 0.6nit. So the contrast ratio varied from 300:1 to 400:1, and that’s just a little lower than the specs say.

AL1721 LCD monitor surpasses the earlier-described AL1731 in every respect: a truly fast matrix, good viewing angles and color reproduction (for a matrix of this type), an excellent level of black (twice or three times better than by the competitor products we discussed in our previous reviews). Thus, this monitor suits perfectly for both home and office use if you don’t put any specific demands on the viewing angles or color reproduction.

CTX S730

The case of this monitor is well-designed, with the framing painted light-beige with a tincture of gold like anodized aluminum, but that’s of course plastic. The buttons are metallic, joined in twos (save for the power button – it is single, but elongated to maintain the uniformity of style).

The framing around the screen is wide, but the monitor doesn’t look clumsy on the desk. The base is small, low-profile, made of black plastic and weighted with a steel plate in the sole. Only the screen tilt is adjustable.

CTX S730 is equipped with an analog input only and the signal cable is not removable: there is no D-Sub input in the case.

I can’t omit the fact that CTX offers unique warranty service. You can exchange the monitor in 101 days since the purchase day if there appeared just a single bad pixel in the matrix. After this term, the monitor can be exchanged according to the warranty (it lasts 36 months now) only if it has as many as 7 dead pixels.

The menu resembles other monitors from CTX, starting from classic CRT models. It is of average user-friendliness and beauty. You can quick-access auto-adjustment (by double-pressing the menu button) as well as brightness and contrast controls.

You are offered three variants of color temperature: user-defined (by default, it means 6250K white and 9620K gray), “6500K” (corresponds to 5670K white and 7800K gray; I tested the monitor with this setting), and “9300” (this setting produces 7040K white and 10,060 gray).

The viewing angles are good enough. The white color is into yellowish at an angle of 45° already, but the vertical angles are larger than in monitors on now-fashionable 16msec TN+Film matrixes (CTX claims this monitor to have such a matrix, too, but this is not so, as we will see shortly). When you look at the screen from above, there is a dark stripe across the screen, and the top becomes dark when the screen is viewed from below. You may want to sit behind this monitor so that your eyes were at a level with the upper edge of the screen, while the screen itself is strictly or nearly vertical. This way, you won’t notice the deficiencies of the viewing angles.

Auto-adjustment takes about 5 seconds, and I don’t have any complaints about the quality of the final result it provides.

By default, both brightness and contrast controls are on their maximums. To achieve a screen brightness of 100nit, I dropped the brightness control to 50% and the contrast to 80%.

The color curves don’t look as neat as they were with the two monitors we have just discussed. The monitor is non-linear at reproducing light tones. What’s harder to see, it is also bad at reproducing the darkest tones. Moreover, the blue color is too intensive in the middle of the range, and too weak on the ends (in light and dark tones).

It’s all practically the same at 100nit screen brightness.

Although the specified response time is 16msec, my measurements showed 39msec! This monitor resembles the above-described Acer AL1713 rather than modern “fast” matrixes in this parameter.

The contrast ratio is not that bad. Yes, the monitor is no record-breaker, but the level of black never goes above 0.73nit, providing a contrast ratio of 200:1…300:1. That’s average, considering the relatively low maximum level of white.

Unfortunately, the retail price of CTX S730 is not that low: it costs $10-20 more than Acer AL1721 that I have just discussed above. Meanwhile, the Acer solution is better in all parameters: response time, color reproduction setup, level of black, functionality (digital input + integrated speakers). While this situation remains, I can’t honestly recommend you the CTX S730. If it cost just a little lower, it would be a good monitor for home or office use and for people who are not very fastidious about the matrix speed and the color reproduction setup.

Hansol H750

This monitor also belongs to inexpensive models. The case is quite large, and so is the base that resembles the one of older monitor series from Samsung. Unlike the base from Samsung, though, this one allows only adjusting the screen tilt – no height adjustment or portrait mode. The case is thick, but the framing around the screen is narrow. The production quality is not impeccable as you can find some minor defects. For example, the case lacks robustness around the screen: if you press it with your finger, there appear dark stains on the matrix.

Hansol H750 comes equipped with an analog video input, an audio input and a headphones output, located at the backside, next to the inputs.

The menu offers just the basic set of options. There are 6 control buttons (without the power button), but two of them don’t work in the main menu and serve only to mute the sound (“Mute”) and set up the sound volume (“VOL”). You can quick-access auto-adjustment, brightness and contrast controls.

The menu offers three color temperatures: “User Color” (default, it corresponds to 7180K white and 9050K gray), “6500K” (it means 7040K white and 8430K gray), and “9300” (this one sets the color temperatures of white and gray to 11,500K and 14,980K, respectively).

The viewing angles are good enough, although this monitor is quite far from the ideal. White becomes yellowish at a sideways look, while black has a tincture of silver in itself. When viewed from below, the top of the screen seems dark, and when viewed from above – the bottom gets bright. So, I can’t say there is no discomfort at work, but you can get along with it.

Auto-adjustment works fine, but the process itself takes a lot of time, most of all our today’s testing participants: 10 seconds. Even the monitors from Samsung, which are often criticized for slow self-adjustment, do it in about 5 seconds.

By default, the contrast and brightness settings are both set to 80%. Screen brightness of 100nit is achieved by setting 63% brightness and 60% contrast. Brightness is regulated by power modulation of the backlight lamp with a frequency of around 190Hz.

The color reproduction is well set up. Only the dark tones are brighter than they should be.

The total response time of Hansol H750 is a little lower than the specified 25msec, but only on black-white-black transitions. If white is replaced with dark-gray, the response time grows up as usual. Anyway, it never exceeded 25-27msec, which was comparable to the allegedly faster 16msec matrixes. As I showed you in my previous article, such matrixes can be as slow as 30msec on some transitions, which is worse than “slow” 25msec matrixes can do.

Hansol H750 was rather average in terms of its contrast ratio. The level of black never went higher than 1nit, but also never plunged below 0.7nit. That’s not the worst result, but it is not the best, either.

The combination of low price and good characteristics makes Hansol H750 a good budget option. You can hardly expect any miracles from a budget model: the color temperature might be more precise, the auto-adjustment might work faster, and the level of black might be lower… Anyway, Hansol H750 deserves you attention in its price sector.

NEC AccuSync LCD71VM

The case of AccuSync LCD71VM is designed in the traditional “square” style from NEC, but the face view differs: the front panel is silver-colored, the buttons have been moved from the bottom rib of the case to the framing, and the two speakers are located on both.

The framing around the screen is thin, but you can’t call the case compact: it’s really larger than usual. The low-profile wide base makes the box very steady, but only allows changing the screen tilt.

The settings menu is far from being user-friendly. First, you can see the current settings (like brightness or contrast) only after you have entered the corresponding submenu as the main menu page informs you about the resolution and refresh rate and that’s all. Second, you can leave the menu either as a result of time-out or by scrolling to the “EXIT” item: there is no separate button for this. Third, the monitor cannot memorize the position of the cursor when you leave the menu. Fourth, I couldn’t find an option for changing the menu position on the screen. Among the advantages of the menu, I should point out the possibility to reset each of the settings independently rather than all together. You can quick-access the brightness (the “-” button) and the speakers volume settings (the “+” button).

Four color temperatures are available: user-defined (default, it means 6170K for white and 7880K for gray), “6500K” (corresponds to 6240K and 7920K; as you see, this doesn’t differ much from the default user-defined setting), “7500K” (the temperatures are 7480K and 10,580K), and “9300K” (this sets the temperature of white to 9110K and of gray to 14,320K).

The horizontal viewing angles are average. White becomes yellowish at an angle of 45-50°, but the image loses its contrast at a larger angle, so the manufacturer can honestly write 140° in the specifications. As usual, it’s worse with the vertical angles: whatever your position is, the top of the screen will be a little darker than the middle, while the bottom will appear too light. This effect shows itself in its full beauty when you’ve got a gray background. However, it is also perfectly seen in an ordinary text processor: the toolbar above is darker than Windows’ Taskbar below.

The monitor is good at auto-adjustment (it takes only about 2 seconds, by the way). The color reproduction is beyond criticism: a smooth color gradient is reproduced excellently.

The default brightness and contrast are 100% and 50% correspondingly. To make the screen shine with a luminosity of 100nit, I dropped the brightness control to 21%. It means that you can just reduce the brightness to work comfortably in a dim room. Brightness is regulated by power modulation of the backlight lamp with a frequency of about 280Hz.

Note also that when the contrast is the highest (and that’s the settings I used when measuring the response time), the monitor reproduces about 10-15% of light-gray tones as a pure white.

However, at the default settings and at 100nit screen brightness, the color reproduction is close to perfect. The measured color curves are merging with the reference one.

The response time doesn’t exceed the specified 16msec on black-to-white transitions, but it goes as high as 30msec and more on black-to-gray transitions. This is one more proof to my point that 25msec matrixes remain strong competitors to newer 16msec matrixes.

From level of gray = 192, there is a sudden slump of the pixel rise time. This is due to the above-mentioned fact that the monitor cannot distinguish between light-gray tones at the maximum contrast and reproduces them as white. So, in practice, when the contrast is lower, this small response time will only be achieved on transitions from black to white and very close to white tones.

The contrast ratio is not that bad as it seems from the table below. As you see, the level of black at 100nit screen brightness is very low and only exceeds 1nit when the brightness is close to its maximum. A screen brightness of 250nit is too much for many situations, and the user is likely to reduce it below the default value, thus reducing the level of black and increasing the contrast ratio.

AccuSync LCD71VM is an inexpensive model from NEC, which cannot be considered an advantage. The menu is pretty clumsy, the case is designed as very “square” and harsh, and color temperature setup is simply horrible. The 16msec matrix used in this model cannot give it any advantage over slower 25msec matrixes from other manufacturers. The price of AccuSync LCD71VM may become an appealing factor for you to buy it, but take a look at other options first.

Samtron 72V

“Samtron” is the trademark for inexpensive monitors from Samsung Electronics – both CRT and LCD ones. Almost all Samtrons have SyncMaster counterparts, close to them in characteristics, but not every SyncMaster has a corresponding relative among Samtrons: top models don’t go under the Samtron brand.

The model number of this monitor suggests its affinity to the SyncMaster 172V. We will check it out later as the SyncMaster 172V is also included into our today’s roundup.

Samtron 72V comes in a simple case, in one of Samsung’s standard modifications: the buttons are on the front panel, below the screen. The monitor is completely white, without any embellishments. The small base only allows changing the screen tilt. The monitor is equipped with one analog input.

The menu is Samsung’s standard, rather convenient creation. Brightness and auto-adjustment options are assigned special quick buttons. By default, the brightness control sits on 80%, the contrast on 50%. To reach 100nit screen brightness, I reduced both controls to 13%. Brightness of the screen is regulated by pulse-width modulation of the backlight lamp with a frequency of 1kHz.

Auto-adjustment takes about 6 seconds, and its results are quite satisfactory. You don’t see any noise on a one-pixel tessellation, but it becomes apparent when you look at the screen from above or below or from a 1 meter distance. Anyway, this defect won’t cause you any discomfort.

There are three color temperature settings: “User Adjusted” (by default, it corresponds to 6000K white and 8520K gray), “Reddish” (5740K and 7520K), and “Bluish” (6150K white and 10,160K gray). The onscreen image is likely to be slightly bluish as the temperature of the gray color is too high in every setting.

The color curves show that all three colors are too low in the middle of the range (in other words, the gamma of this monitor is really higher than the standard value of 2.2), but blue is still higher than the other two colors, that’s why the color temperature is too high.

The response time measurements don’t bring any surprises as we already discussed TN+Film matrixes from Samsung in our previous roundups: the full response time is about 25msec on black-white transitions and goes up to 35msec on black-gray transitions. Well, the inexpensive matrixes from Samsung Electronics (the expensive matrixes are made with the PVA technology) are known to be good mainstream products, and Samtron 72V is another confirmation of this fact: the response time is neither good nor bad, it’s average.

The contrast ratio is average, too. The level of black is low at the minimum screen brightness, but is quick to exceed 1nit when the brightness is higher.

We will see later whether Samtron 72V has anything to do with SyncMaster 172V from the same manufacturer. So far, here’s my resume: Samtron is an inexpensive LCD monitor for office use. It is better than Acer AL1713, which belongs to the same category, in the contrast ratio and in the response time. Samtron features an easy-to-use menu and a nice case. So if you are looking for a low-cost 17” LCD monitor, but don’t want to turn to obscure manufacturers, take a look at Samtron 72V from the respectable Samsung.

Samsung SyncMaster 171B (SSN)

This is an example of the ordinary appearance of older models from Samsung: a big case with a wide framing, and a tall and bulky base that allows adjusting the tilt and height of the screen and rotating it around the vertical axis. The portrait mode is unavailable as the marking tells you – only SAN-rated models feature it.

The case of the monitor I’ve got for my tests has a small drawback: the case parts don’t fit tight together in the control buttons area. If you grasp the edge of the monitor when pressing a button, you hear a click. I hope this is only a defect of this particular monitor, though.

Note that SyncMaster 171B is connected with a cable featuring a non-standard connector, so if you lose it or need to connect the monitor through the UPS, you may find it difficult to find the necessary cable.

The excellent viewing angles indicate that the monitor uses a PVA matrix. The matrix is really a treat for the eyes – your line of sight can be nearly parallel to the screen, which is a real pleasure after those popular 16msec TN+Film matrixes with their classical problem of the dark top and light bottom.

The menu follows the Samsung menu-making standards. It offers three color temperatures: “User Adjusted” (default, it corresponds to 5370K white and 5830K gray), “Reddish” (5270K white and 5470K gray) and “Bluish” (5420K white and 6100K gray). So, the range of the color temperature is rather limited: there is no mention of 9300K or even 7500K. On the other hand, the small difference between the temperatures of white and gray is really good. The color reproduction has a visual drawback of having too much of green (the image has a strong greenish tincture), but this is easily amended by simple adjustment of the monitor settings, without any color calibration.

By default, the brightness and contrast controls are set to 80% and 50%, respectively. By setting them to 25% and 20%, I achieved a screen brightness of 100nit. Brightness is regulated by power modulation of the backlight lamp with a frequency of 530Hz or thereabouts.

The color curves are nearly perfect, with one reservation: the level of green is really too high as my eyes told me beforehand. The same curves also suggest that green is high along the entire range proportionally to the signal level. It means you can correct this deficiency by simply reducing the level of green in the monitor menu; there is no need for color calibration here.

The response time is typical for a PVA matrix: it easily goes above 50msec as the difference between the initial and final states of the pixel diminishes.

The contrast ratio is good, although SyncMaster 171B couldn’t break the record set by its predecessor (I reviewed a SyncMaster 171T in my previous article and it showed a fantastic contrast ratio of 900:1! See our roundup called Closer Look at 17” LCD Monitors Features. Part II). Brightness couldn’t make it to the specs, too. It was about 200nit, while the specs said it should have been 240nit.

SyncMaster 171B is an illustration of all advantages and shortcomings of the PVA technology. It suits excellently for working with text or in CAD/CAM applications thanks to its widest viewing angles: if its clumsy case doesn’t bother you. But if you are a hardcore gamer, the PVA matrix is absolutely not for you. The high response time on transitions between halftones would make your favorite scene in Counter Strike into a gray smudge, spoiling all the fun. On the other hand, practice suggests that such matrixes are all right for less dynamic games or for watching movies, so SyncMaster 171B can become your home LCD monitor, especially if wide viewing angles matter much to you.

Samsung SyncMaster 172S (SDS)

This was the first model from Samsung to use the original “folding” design with a Z-shaped (side view) base. It was actually one of the first 17” models I tested, but our testing methodology has changed since then, so I decided to give it another try.

I discussed the advantages and shortcomings of the “folding” case many times. On the one hand, we have an original and artistic exterior, we can change the height and tilt of the screen and the position of the connectors in the base, and we can hang the monitor on the wall, or fold the base up altogether. On the other hand, such monitors cannot work in the portrait mode, so the second letter in the marking (Z or D) now stands for availability or absence of base-integrated speakers.

Unlike the above-described 171B, this monitor features a 25msec TN+Film matrix. So its viewing angles are just normal: they have nothing in common with the 170° of PVA matrixes. In other words, the screen is dark when viewed from below, and the colors are distorted when you look at the screen from aside.

The menu offers four color temperature settings: “User Adjusted” (corresponds to 5850K white and 7840K gray), “Reddish” (5740K white and 7280K gray), “Bluish” (6360K white and 9800K gray), and sRGB (this should mean 6500K, but in reality corresponds to 5870K white and 7920K gray).

By default, the brightness control is set to 90%, the contrast to 50%. Screen brightness of 100nit is achieved by setting 10% brightness and 25% contrast. By the way, 172S doesn’t have the MagicBright feature (quick switching between different brightness presets), which has now become standard in monitors from Samsung.

The color curves are far from the theoretical ideal. There is too much green in light tones, and too much blue in dark tones and in the middle of the range. The dark tones are reproduced incorrectly – they are much brighter than should be.

At 100nit screen brightness, the curves get smoother, although blue is still too intensive in the middle of the range.

The full response time of this monitor is 25msec, exactly like the specifications say. The pixel rise time grows on black-to-gray transitions, but never goes above 30msec. This matrix behaves better than PVA ones on black – dark-gray transitions: the response time doesn’t grow up, but rather falls down to 18msec.

It’s all very bad with the contrast ratio. The level of black fluctuated around 2nit and never made it to 1nit. It means that whatever the operational mode is, this monitor displays dark-gray instead of the regular black. So, the contrast ratio was only 135:1 at best.

SyncMaster 172S seems to be using a relatively old matrix: I can’t find another explanation for the low contrast ratio. If you fancy the original and functional design and like the responsiveness of this monitor, you should be aware that the too high level of black may be discomforting when you set low screen brightness and work in a dim room.

Samsung SyncMaster 172N (SHN)

I guess you see the traits of the N series in this monitor: very thin framing, elegant case and relatively massive base. Well, SyncMaster 172N uses a different base than 171N I reviewed in my previous articles. It is smaller, it allows changing the height and tilt of the screen as well as rotating it around the vertical axis. The portrait mode is also available.

SyncMaster 172N comes with one analog input as it belongs to the inexpensive series from Samsung. It uses a TN+Film matrix, so the viewing angles are normal.

By default, we have 80% brightness and 50% contrast. The MagicBright feature is available, you enable it by pressing the “-“ button. There are three modes: Text (45% brightness, 50% contrast), Internet (65% brightness, 55% contrast), Entertain (75% and 65%). You cannot change these presets: the monitor leaves the MagicBright mode when you try to move the brightness control.

The menu offers three color temperature settings: “User Adjusted” (by default, it corresponds to 5820K for white and 7720K for gray), “Reddish” (5210K and 6780K), and “Bluish” (6210K and 9140K). As you see, there is a considerable difference between the temperatures of white and gray. In fact, the color temperature is controlled at the expense of gray in this monitor, while the temperature of white never reaches 6500K.

Auto-adjustment works well, but not perfectly well, so you can always resort to manual adjustment (“Fine”) in order to create an ideal image quality, so that’s not a problem.

By setting 32% brightness and 40% contrast, I achieved a screen brightness of 100nit. Power of the backlight lamps is modulated at a frequency of about 310Hz.

The color curves are smooth, as the measurements of the color temperature have suggested, and the blue color is too intensive. But the overall shape of the curves looks as if the monitor was calibrated for gamma 2.7, rather than 2.2 (which is the industry standard sRGB). So, if you care about correct color reproduction, you should calibrate this monitor. Otherwise, a big portion of color tones will be darker than they should actually be.

The response time coincides with that of the previous monitor, the SyncMaster 172S. That’s good enough for a 25msec matrix.

The contrast ratio has grown since the 172S: it’s twice higher, although the maximum brightness is even higher than in the previous model.

So SyncMaster 172N is a good representative of the middle class with its good response time, acceptable contrast ratio, and adequate color reproduction. I can’t say it would make an ideal monitor for working with photographic images, but if you are a home or office user without any specific requirements, SyncMaster 172N may suit you well. The portrait mode deserves another mention, since it is very useful when you are working with text.

Samsung SyncMaster 172V

The V series is the cheapest monitor series from Samsung Electronics. It is somewhat similar to the above-described Samtron 72V, but the case design differs: the control buttons are on the lower edge of the framing, rather than on the front panel. The base is the same that the one Samtron has; it is compact, low-profile, allows changing the screen tilt only. The input port is only one, analog.

“Thanks” to the TN+Film matrix, we have worse viewing angles than PVA matrixes provide. The image is yellowish when you deflect along the horizontal by 50-60°. The vertical angles are acceptable, but still share the common defects: when viewed from below, the image gets dark, and when viewed from above, the white color appears somewhat bluish and dark, too. Overall, I couldn’t find a position for my eyes so that black and white could be evenly distributed along the vertical axis of the screen.

The menu offers three color temperature settings: “User Adjusted” (be default, 6040K white and 8300K gray), “Reddish” (5860K and 7320K), and “Bluish” (6090K white and 9710K gray).

The remarkable thing about this monitor is that I couldn’t set SyncMaster 172V to catch the signal: depending on the position of the “Fine” slider, there appeared artifacts (such as heavy ripples on a single-pixel tessellation) either in the center or along the borders of the image.

By default, the brightness control is set to 50%, and the contrast to 80%. A screen brightness of 100nit is achieved by setting 10% brightness and 20% contrast. Brightness is regulated by power modulation of the backlight lamp with a frequency of 1kHz.

The color curves look good, although the contrast is too high at default settings.

When the contrast control is down, this defect vanishes, but red is low and that’s why the color temperature of gray is much higher than of white.

The response time is surprisingly good – 18msec at the maximum settings, while the specified value is 25msec. It is also much lower on black-to-gray transitions than in the above-described monitors from Samsung.

The contrast ratio is good: the level of black is 0.5nit at the minimum brightness. When the brightness grew up, it was about 1nit, which is normal for a monitor of this class.

Although SyncMaster 172V is way too cheap compared with other models from Samsung, it is a worthy rival to some of its costlier brothers. However, this is the case when the electronics suffered most from the cost cut, which resulted in a poor setup of the signal: I couldn’t make this monitor produce a stable image. Thus, 172V is an alternative to cheap LCD monitors from less known manufacturers: the quality from Samsung is usually better. On the other hand, if you have some money in your pocket, you’d better skip this monitor over. Besides that, I wouldn’t recommend SyncMaster 172V to integrated graphics users: since the graphics quality is worse in case of integrated solutions, the shortcomings of the monitor may really be visible only on special adjustment tessellation pics.

I also promised to compare SyncMaster 172V to Samtron 72V. They have similar-sounding names, but SyncMaster has a faster matrix, while Samtron provides a better signal setup. Otherwise, the two monitors are really very similar.

Samsung SyncMaster 173S (LSHS)

The case of the first model of the new 173 series is a full analog to the above-described 172V: the control buttons are placed at the bottom edge of the case, and the power button is in the middle. The base is the same as we saw in 172N (that is, more functional): it allows rotating the screen around the vertical axis, tilting the screen and turning it into the portrait mode.

The viewing angles are typical for a TN+Film matrix: a horizontal deflection of 50° makes the onscreen image appear yellowish and lose contrast. White gets darker and somewhat bluish when the screen is viewed from above; when you look at it from below, all colors seem dark and blue transforms into green to some extent. This is not that dramatic in reality, as you may think after reading my description. Of course, you notice these color defects at work, but they don’t cause any serious discomfort.

SyncMaster 173S comes with one (analog) video input. This is the last similarity between our hero and 172V, because the quality of auto-adjustment was impeccable.

The menu includes four color temperature settings, but the traditional “sRGB” option is now replaced with “3D Color”. So, the “User Adjusted” option by default produces a color temperature of 5990K for white and 8290K for gray. “Bluish” means 6030K white and 8880K gray. “Reddish” means 6010K white and 7710K gray. The new “3D Color” option gave out 6060K white and 8290K gray. I chose the “Reddish” setting for my tests, as other settings have a too high temperature of gray.

By default, we have 80% brightness and 50% contrast. By setting these controls to 15% brightness and 16% contrast, we achieve a screen brightness of 100nit.

The color curves at default settings show that there is too much red in light tones (the monitor doesn’t distinguish between some lightest red tones), while blue is high in the middle of the range.

When the screen brightness is reduced to 100nit, these deficiencies vanish, but I still cannot say the color curves have an ideal shape. Some tones from the middle of the range are reproduced darker than they should be.

The response time is average: lower than specified on black-to-white transitions. At maximum, the pixel rise time is 30msec.

The contrast ratio is a little lower than of the 172V, but higher than of the 172S. The level of black floated around 1nit, going somewhat down at the minimum brightness only.

So, the first monitor of the new series brings nothing interesting to us. All its parameters are similar to what we saw in its predecessors. Comparing it to 172S, I’d say the engineers managed to improve the contrast ratio considerably. SyncMaster 173S can be also compared with 172N as they have similar characteristics and functionality. They show very similar results in the tests, so you can regard 173S as a 172N in a different case.

Samsung SyncMaster 173B

The integrated speakers distinguish this box from 173S one, which we have just discussed. Otherwise, we’ve got a similar case on the same base. Recalling 172S and 172B models, I had hoped for this monitor to have a PVA matrix, but it comes with an ordinary TN+Film one.

Anyway, the viewing angles are better in SyncMaster 173B than in 173S: at least you can look at the screen from above without serious image worsening. The onscreen image is still dark when viewed from below (although not very much so), while looking from aside you will notice that the white color is somewhat yellowish. On the other hand, the image is perfectly seen even when your line of sight is parallel to the screen.

SyncMaster 173B is a multimedia monitor, with the audio input and headphones output placed in a row with the control buttons on the bottom edge of the case. The buttons you used to control the brightness with now serve for adjusting the sound volume.

The color temperature is selected from four settings: “User Adjusted” (by default, it means 5560K white and 7570K gray), “Reddish” (5540K white and 7050K gray), “Bluish” (5580K and 8110K), and “3D Color” (5560K white and 7480K gray).

SyncMaster 173B comes with the brightness control set to 80% and the contrast set to 50%. By setting them to 30% and 27%, respectively, we get a screen brightness of 100nit. Somehow this monitor doesn’t have the option of quick switching between “Magic Bright” modes.

The color curves are rather shabby: there is too little red, so the monitor doesn’t distinguish between some dark tones of red. Blue is, on the contrary, too high, and irregularly so: the ratio of blue and red depends on the particular stretch of the dynamic range.

The measured response time was formally higher than the value specified by the manufacturer. However, you can see from the graph below that there is no clearly defined slump of the response time on bright tones, which is a characteristic trait of modern matrixes. Overall, the pixel response time by this monitor equaled 30msec, and that’s quite a good performance.

Can’t say anything new about the contrast ratio. It’s like with the previous SyncMasters, deviating between 150…200:1 (the level of black is about 1nit).

SyncMaster 173B is not the much-anticipated replacement for the 172 series models on PVA matrixes, but rather a slightly improved 173S, with better viewing angles and integrated speakers. It’s quite probable, though, that 173S will use a matrix like 173B in the future (maybe some batches of 173S come with such matrixes already), and the two monitors will only differ by those integrated speakers available in the 173B.

Samsung SyncMaster 173V (SSS)

If it were not for the label, I would think this is a 172V. The case is an exact copy with the control buttons on the bottom, while the same base allows only adjusting the tilt of the screen.

Regrettably, SyncMaster 173V took over another peculiarity of 172V: I couldn’t set it up right either by auto-adjustment or manually. The best I managed to take from the thing is driving the noise to the margins of the screen (and the center was clear and sharp) or to the center (and the margins were sharp in this case). I couldn’t find any serious difference between this monitor and 172V, so let’s get straight to the tests.

The default color temperature of the “User Adjusted” option was 5620K white and 7270K gray. The “Reddish” option gave out 5470K white and 6320K gray. The “Bluish” item warmed the white color up to 5670K and gray to 8260K.

The default brightness is 80%, contrast – 50%. When the brightness control is on 12% and the contrast on 15%, the screen brightness equals 100nit. The backlight lamp is modulated with a frequency of 1kHz (like in 172V model).

The color curves have a good shape, but there is the common problem of many LCD monitors – the blue color is too intensive.

The response time of SyncMaster 173V was higher than that of 172V, but the graphs were very much alike.

The levels of black and white as measured by the calibrator nearly coincided for 173V and 172V: the level of black is the same to a few hundredths, and of white – to a few candelas per square meter.

Yes, SyncMaster 173V gave me a great deal of confusion. I just can’t see the difference between this monitor and SyncMaster 172V: identical exterior, very close results in every test, even the same problems! So, everything I have said about 172V refers to 173V, too. I wouldn’t recommend this monitor if you have a low-cost graphics card or an integrated graphics solution. If you do and want something from Samsung, you’d better consider models from the N or S series, which don’t have evident problems with signal setup. Otherwise, if you are not afraid of this problem, you can consider the V series as one of the most affordable, but anyway decent LCD monitors.

Sony SDM-HX73

Let me introduce to you the top model from the 17” LCD monitor series manufactured by Sony. It is beautiful, but large. The screen is rather high, and the framing might have been narrower. The base allows changing the screen tilt and rotating it along the vertical axis.

There are three video inputs available: two analog and one digital, you switch between them using a single button. Regrettably, there is a small hitch in the monitor firmware. When you switch between the inputs, the color temperature settings get reset to the default 9300K.

Every video input is paired with an audio input, so you switch the audio source along with the video source. I don’t think this approach is useful in all situations. It’s often the computer alone that serves as the audio signal source, so it could be better to offer the user the choice: whether the audio inputs should be switched together with the video ones, or independently.

The technology of adding the third dimension to the stereo sound, SRS WOW, is emphasized in the user manual, on the box and the monitor itself. The speakers are quite ordinary, 1” tweeters, and they can’t possibly reproduce any sound with an acceptable quality and volume, so I doubt the efficiency of SRS WOW. If you prefer headphones, there is an appropriate connector on the left panel of the monitor.

The monitor comes with all the necessary cables (power, D-Sub, DVI, and audio) and with three CDs: a disc from Sony with the driver and user manual (you don’t receive a hard copy), a disc with the video-editing program called Pinnacle Studio 8 SE, and a disc with Pinnacle Instant CD/DVD 7 SE for burning CD and DVD discs (I am really at a loss thinking of a reason for Sony to include the second program with a monitor!).

The menu is the same as you see in every Sony monitor, but now it is not divided into two submenus – they expanded the structure of each item instead. You can quickly access the volume setting and switch between the inputs and between the brightness presets. Thanks to the presets you don’t need access to brightness and contrast controls.

So, SDM-HX73 offers four presets (Game, Movie, PC and Auto), for each of which you can set up the backlight brightness, matrix brightness and contrast, gamma correction, color temperature and even the sound parameters. The remarkable thing about the Auto mode is the brightness of the backlight lamp, which is set up automatically. By default, the Game preset corresponds to the maximum screen brightness, the Movie mode – to a slightly darker screen, while PC and Auto presets are close to each other and correspond to the minimum brightness, for working with text. Once again, you can change each preset manually, which makes the user’s life much easier.

The monitor performs auto-adjustment automatically when you change the video mode, but you can start it up manually from the menu, if necessary. The entire process takes about 2-3 seconds, and I can’t find any problems with the results.

For some mysterious reason, Sony sets the default color temperature to 9300K. However, the image is not bluish as it should be with such a high temperature: my measurements told that this setting corresponded to 5930K white and 7950K gray. Let me remind you that we saw this situation with nearly every LCD monitor from Sony. The “6500K” setting corresponds to 5440K white and 6480K gray, while the “User” setting by default means 5680K white and 8260K gray.

The horizontal viewing angles are good: you should deflect far away from the center of the screen for the white color to become yellowish. The vertical angles are somewhat worse, but anyway better than average TN+Film matrixes provide: the difference in brightness between the top and bottom of the screen is practically unperceivable. On the other hand, the specifications claim the viewing angles to be 170°/170°, but SDM-HX73 cannot even be compared with the models from Samsung on PVA matrixes which specs also say 170°/170°. So, the PVA technology remains the absolute leader as far as viewing angles are concerned.

I tested SDM-HX73 in the PC mode (70% backlight brightness, 50% matrix brightness, 70% contrast), but with 6500K color temperature. I measured the response time on black-gray transitions at a matrix brightness of 70%, rather than maximum, since further increase of the brightness transformed black into gray, which hindered my measurements. To reach a screen brightness of 100nit, you can reduce the backlight brightness to 27%; it is regulated by power modulation of the lamp with a frequency of about 850Hz.

The color curves are good, save for a too-intensive blue. However, I have already got used to this, having tested a number of LCD monitors.

The declared response time is 16msec, but it turned to be 26msec at the maximum settings and 32msec at the default settings. There is one particular thing about the results: the pixel rise time nearly equals the pixel fall time at the maximum settings, while at the default settings the pixel rise time is higher, which leads to a more visible ghosting effect in moving objects. For example, a white line moving against the black background seems gray when the rise and fall times are equal, but when the rise and fall times differ much, the very width of the line changes. In average, the pixel rise time is about 25msec on black-gray transitions, which is rather good.

It’s not all well with the contrast ratio provided by this monitor. The level of black is much lower than 1nit when the screen brightness is low (although it cannot match the records set by PVA matrixes), but the specified maximum brightness of 400nit is a tricky thing. Well, the monitor can reach this brightness, but the level of black becomes too high so you can’t use such settings: black becomes light-gray. 

 

This one is good, very good. There is only one factor which can scare away a potential buyer: the price! LCD monitors of the HX series from Sony are among the most expensive products now available. I can’t say they are stars in the market – they are very good, but not unique. Add also the negative factors like the relatively massive case, no portrait mode and no height adjustment, the strange color temperature settings and minor flaws in the firmware. The declared brightness of 400nit has nothing to do with reality: it is not supported by the contrast ratio, and is of no practical value.

Anyway, if you don’t bother about the price, Sony SDM-HX73 would become a good choice. Otherwise, consider competitor models that sometimes offer the same quality at a lower price.

Conclusion

As you may have already understood, there is no “ideal” monitor in this roundup, either. Each of the tested models has strong and weak points, which make it suitable for tasks of one type, and absolutely incompatible with tasks of another type.

The monitors from Acer, especially AL1721, pleased me once again. AL1721 can fit nicely into an office or home environment due to its characteristics and exterior.

Samsung upset me, on the contrary. The new models from the 173 series have brought nothing really new. The product list from Samsung is very long and variegated now, and sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between two models. All this only makes shopping a hard task. However, it is clear that 172N, 172V and 173S models can find their buyers, since they are well-done mainstream models many customers are looking for. Unfortunately, the models on PVA matrixes have disappeared from the market, only the old 171B and 171T rarely emerge, while new 173P and 173T haven’t yet reached the shops. There is also a strong shortage of models on new 16msec TN+Film matrixes – SyncMaster 172X. As I have shown you with my measurements, the 16msec matrix doesn’t provide a considerable speed boost, but I’d like to see top-end monitors from Samsung, rather than mainstream and value ones. After all, it is the price that affects the response time, the functionality and the setup quality, which are absent by the models we have seen today.

I’d like to single out Sony SDM-HX73 once again. It is an excellent product, but its price is overstated compared to the competitor products, and it is the price that often becomes the crucial factor when you are shopping for a new LCD monitor.

Color Coordinates of RGB Filters (CIE x, y)

If you want to use the color profiles I created during my tests, feel free to download them from here.