New LCD Monitors from Samsung. Part II

Today we would like to continue talking about the latest LCD monitors from Samsung. WE will introduce to you the new SyncMaster 173T and 174T models, make a lot of things clear about the already reviewed SyncMaster 172X, and take a really close look at an outstanding SyncMaster 173P model – the first solution with no control buttons. Make the right choice today with the help of our detailed reviews!

by Oleg Artamonov
06/18/2004 | 07:26 PM

In the last article on LCD monitors that we posted on our site we covered a few models from Samsung’s new series that appeared in retail this year. Unfortunately, we omitted the most interesting and popular model then, the SyncMaster 173P, and we also couldn’t clear out the case of the SyncMaster 172X that was claimed to feature 12msec response time, but was actually equipped with a slow 25msec PVA matrix.

 

In our today’s article we will try to make up for our previous omissions and introduce to you two new monitors from Samsung, the 173T and 174T models.

Samsung SyncMaster 173P

The Samsung SyncMaster 173P is among the prettiest and most uncommon monitors I have ever tested. It is designed according to Samsung’s traditional scheme for its top-end models, with connectors placed in the base and two swivels that allow rotating the panel any way you like. The 173P has one advantage over the 172 series monitors which were the first to use this design because it also allows turning the screen into the portrait mode.

The device is compact, thin, elegant, but rather heavy as the front panel and the sole of the base are made of aluminum. They made the face side of the monitor dull and rough, but polished the angles to luster. The back of the device and the pole of the base are made of white and light-gray plastic. As I have mentioned above, the base allows turning the screen into the portrait mode or even upside down. You can also adjust the screen height from zero to about 10cm above the desk surface, change its tilt from vertical to horizontal position, rotate the monitor around the vertical axis and hang it on the wall with the help of the two mounting brackets and screws that you receive with the device. Cutting it short, the SyncMaster 173P has all the functionality you may want.

The monitor features an analog and a digital input as well as an external power adapter (it’s no wonder we have an external power adapter here, considering the dimensions).

The second and the most considerable thing that distinguishes this monitor from the host of competitors is the lack of control buttons. There’s only one sensor Power On button (it is really a sensor one – you just touch it to turn the monitor on or off) next to a dull-blue power-on LED.

Thus, the user has only one way to control the monitor – using special software. On the one hand, there is nothing new about this, as CRT monitors with duplicated controls appeared several years ago, but on the other hand, they had to be attached to a USB port, while their control program, usually integrated into Windows’ Display Properties dialog, in fact copied the screen menu, without adding any new functions.

Samsung tackled the development the controlling software with more responsibility. First, you don’t have to sacrifice a USB port, as the monitor is controlled via the Display Data Channel Command Interface protocol (DDC-CI), which is supported by both analog and digital interfaces of any more or less modern graphics card. That is, you use only one cable – the video cable – to connect the monitor to the computer. Second, the MagicTune utility that you control the monitor with is much easier to use than any onscreen menu (you may click the image below to enlarge it; you can also download a 266KB animation GIF-file to view all the menu items).

The program interface is well-designed, pretty-looking and easy-to-use, especially for inexperienced users, because, unlike an ordinary monitor OSD, each menu item comes with hints and pictures and explanations how these pictures should look on a properly-set-up monitor. Besides the usual settings of brightness, contrast, color temperature and so on, MagicTune features an inbuilt routine for calibrating the monitor, which can adjust the gamma correction, if necessary, and correct the color curves to some extent.

Such full-color pictures for easy setup are available not only during color calibration but also in other modes when you click the Pattern button.

The settings can be memorized as a new profile, which you can quickly switch to from a context menu, for example. Besides that, there is the usual MagicBright technology with three presets of brightness and contrast, but of course it is less powerful than user-defined profiles. First of all, the MagicBright settings only store the values of brightness and contrast. Second, you cannot change the presets, while the profile stores all the available settings and there are more than three profiles. The MagicBright modes as well as the user-defined profiles are available in the context menu as you click with the right mouse button on the Windows Desktop (in the screenshot below, there is only one profile called “100cd”):

MagicTune comes with a Wizard that walks you through all the setup stages – choosing the screen resolution, the phase, the brightness and contrast.

Thus, MagicTune is an excellent tool for setting the monitor up, which is richer in functionality and easier to use than the ordinary onscreen display menu. In other words, you don’t feel in any way discomforted without the traditional control buttons on the front panel. On the other hand, the MagicTune utility is now only available for Windows and I don’t know about Samsung’s plans for porting it for Linux and other alternative OS’s or about third-party software for such systems. The owners of two monitors will also meet the following inconvenience if one of the monitors is not supported by MagicTune: the program refuses to start up if that monitor is turned on during the program initialization stage. This problem is easily solved, though. You can just turn this unsupported monitor off for a few seconds: once running, MagicTune will work normally with any number of monitors.

Besides the SyncMaster 173P, MagicTune supports the rest of the new batch of Samsung’s monitors, including the 172X, 173T and 174T that we will discuss below. So if you own one of these monitors, try installing MagicTune and using it. There is a high chance you will like it. I especially recommend this for inexperienced users who will easily and quickly set up their monitor with MagicTune.

Now, that’s enough about software, let’s turn to hardware.

The viewing angles of the SyncMaster 173P are excellent, like they should be with a PVA matrix. The specification says they have been enlarged from 170° to 178° in this model, mostly by making the screen framing thinner. The viewing angles are really limited by the plastic framing that rises above the screen level if you measure them according to the standard methods. The color reproduction is beyond criticism, too, as smooth color gradients look perfect and there is no trace of “jaggies” or irregular brightness distribution. Moreover, the monitor was shining evenly in dark, without any light spots where the backlight lamps were.

By default, the brightness setting is set to 80%, and the contrast setting to 50%. To reach a screen brightness of 100nit (1 nit = 1 candela per sq. meter), I dropped the brightness control to 38% and the contrast to 30% (I should warn you against taking these values as a reference – they may be different in another sample). You can work with this monitor in a dim room without problems, setting the brightness and contrast settings to their lowest (you should know, though, that it is not recommended to look at the screen in full darkness, because it hurts the eyes – there should always be a light source, however dull, like a desk lamp).

Besides the independent regulation of the RGB settings MagicTune offers three variants of the color temperature: Normal, Reddish and Bluish. The first temperature results in 6070K white and 6290K gray. The second setting corresponds to 4580K white and 5090K gray; the third one to 8350K and 7830K, respectively. As you see, the monitor is originally set up carefully, since there is a small difference between temperatures of different colors. Note also that the color temperature settings are blocked when you switch to the DVI input – the monitor automatically enters the Normal mode.

As we might have expected, the color curves look very good, save for blue, which is slightly lower than should be. This is evident because the temperature in the Normal mode is below the necessary 6500K.

The response time of the SyncMaster 173P turned to be typical for a PVA matrix. It is exactly 25msec on black-white-black transition, but when there is a small difference between the pixel initial and final states (for example, when a gray object is moving on a light-gray background), the response time exceeds 100msec!

The contrast ratio is excellent. It is over 700:1 at low brightness and the luminance of black is practically invisible even in darkness.

The SyncMaster 173P is, beyond doubt, among the best monitors in its class. I had had some apprehensions about the lack of the control buttons, but the program for controlling the monitor proved to be much better than any onscreen menu. The excellent design, aluminum case, portrait mode, the possibility of placing the panel in practically any position you like, very good color reproduction and excellent contrast ratio all make this monitor an excellent choice for both office and home. That is, if you buy a monitor for work, not for games. Regrettably, the low response time of the PVA matrix make the SyncMaster 173P unsuitable for dynamic games. If you need good responsiveness, you’d better take a look at the following model…

Samsung SyncMaster 172X

I already reviewed this monitor in my previous article with a confusing outcome. In spite of the fact that the manufacturer’s website claims 12msec response time and the use of TN+Film matrix, the monitor proved to have a PVA matrix with a response time of 25msec, quite unsuitable for dynamic games. Well, there was info that Samsung sent earlier samples equipped with PVA matrixes to testing laboratories by mistake. For example, Tom’s Hardware Guide was as unlucky as we were – Vincent Alzieu’s tests of the first 172X model produced results typical for PVA matrixes, rather than for fast TN+Film ones.

That’s why we decided to wait for the SyncMaster 172X to appear in shops and take one sample right off the shelf.

The case design of the 172X model resembles that of 173X, but it is somewhat simplified. There is no portrait mode, and the face panel is made of plastic, rather than aluminum. Thus, the monitor looks less attractive, in spite of the strict outline and the original design.

The SyncMaster 172X is equipped with both analog and digital inputs (a rare thing for a model positioned as a gaming monitor) and an external power adapter. All the connectors, like in other monitors with a Dual Hinge base, are taken to the back part of the base for easy installation of the monitor and for lessening the web of cables on the desk.

Contrary to the 173X, the SyncMaster 172X has traditional control buttons, located at the bottom edge of the case, but as I mentioned above, you can use the same MagicTune utility with this monitor, too. The screen menu is typical for all monitors from Samsung, save for models with a TV-tuner.

Having turned on this monitor for the first time, I saw it had a TN+Film matrix. Its viewing angles are no worse than in other modern TN+Film matrixes, but lose to PVA ones. The most noticeable effect is the image getting darker when you deflect your line of sight down from the center.

Of course, I was interested in the color reproduction since TN+Film matrixes (especially their fast versions with 18-bit color) are not very good in this parameter. And really, although the colors are reproduced well enough for that type of the matrix, smooth gradients show three-four stripes perpendicular to the gradient, which are darker than they should be. Again, there is no competition with PVA matrixes – TN+Film ones lose this comparison beforehand.

Then I put the 173P and the 172X on my desk next to each other, had them both show black background in full-screen mode and turned off the light in my room. This is how I found another point of difference: the black color of the 173P looked like an evenly-distributed dark-gray background, while the 172X displayed it much lighter and with visible light spots in the bottom right and left corners of the screen.

These are all subjective impressions, though, let’s get some objective results.

By default, the brightness is set to 80% and the contrast to 50%. To reach a screen brightness of 100nit, I set 40% of both contrast and brightness.

The color curves are well-shaped, although blue is too intensive, and green is also higher than it should be. This is noticeable in the image – the colors are colder than they should be.

The response time didn’t meet the specification: instead of the declared 12msec matrix we have a 16msec one. Well, I doubt you should be really concerned about this difference. Overall, the matrix behaved quite typically, with a maximum pixel rise time of 29msec and a minimum of 12msec. An overwhelming majority of 16msec matrixes work likewise.

The contrast ratio is rather high, deviating from 300:1 to 400:1 depending on the screen brightness. This is just a little below the declared value.

Overall, the SyncMaster 172X is a good device, featuring a nice design, a digital input and good matrix parameters. It will make a good home monitor for gamers. On the other hand, if you choose a monitor for work, you’d better consider a model on a PVA matrix, because devices on TN+Film matrixes, and the 172X is no exception, cannot regrettably provide a wide viewing range, good contrast ratio and color reproduction.

Samsung SyncMaster 173T

The characteristics of this model are practically the same as those of the above-described SyncMaster 173P. Like the 173P, this monitor is based on a PVA matrix. The design of the 173T, however, steps away from the elegant and memorable 173P. We have a neat and compact case without any gaudy decorations – you may know it from the N series models. The base is different, with integrated speakers. Yes, earlier, Samsung used to build speakers into the case, but now they are in the base, or rather in the pole, which is made bigger exactly for that particular purpose. There you also find the amplifier and the volume and timbre controls.

Of course, the sound quality remained principally the same. The super-compact buzzers can only give voice to Windows, ICQ and similar programs, but won’t suite for listening to music. On the other hand, such speakers may be good in an office, plus the monitor has a headphones output.

The monitor features standard controls: a row of buttons in the bottom of the case and a white-and-blue screen menu. Of course, you can use the MagicTune utility, if you wish.

The default brightness and contrast of the SyncMaster 173T stood at 80% and 50%, respectively. By setting them to 30% (brightness) and 33% (contrast), I made the screen shine with a luminosity of 100nit. If you drop these settings to zero, you practically extinguish the screen, but the response time grows considerably at that.

The monitor offers three color temperature presets: “User Adjusted” (5690K white and 6380K gray), “Reddish” (produces a slightly pinkish picture with 4870K temperature of white and 5510K temperature of gray), and “Bluish” (6450K white and 7460K gray).

The viewing angles are perfect; the color reproduction is good, without any artifacts in smooth color gradients. I also couldn’t notice any defects in the distribution of the backlight.

At the same time, the color curves say that the monitor setup is not ideal. First, the gamma value is evidently lower than it should be (and halftones are lighter than necessary), and second, the monitor doesn’t distinguish between some darkest tones, especially dark-blue.

I was very much pleased with the response time of the SyncMaster 173T. The pixel rise time was considerably (twice!) lower than by the 173P and other monitors on PVA matrixes I had reviewed in my previous articles. I think this is an accident, though. I doubt Samsung uses a better matrix in its second model of the 17” series than in the first model (I mean the 173P, of course). Anyway, I will pay more attention to PVA matrixes from Samsung in the future: if this response time reduction is not a mere accident, it means a serious breakthrough in PVA technology, which so far has only one and probably the only one serious drawback – slow response time.

The contrast ratio of the SyncMaster 173T is high, reaching 1000:1 at 100nit screen brightness. This is far above the specification. The maximum brightness was at the same level as with the SyncMaster 173P.

The SyncMaster 173T is quite interesting as a monitor for work – like other devices on PVA matrixes it is badly suited for games, but is an ideal choice for working with text, with vector graphics and so on. Our measurements show that it only loses to its elder mate, the 173P, in the color reproduction, so the 173T may be considered as a low-cost alternative to the 173P. Accordingly, you may want to pay attention to it if you need a monitor for work, but you don’t wish to pay extra money for such decorations as an aluminum case or an elegant design. Both monitors offer practically the same functionality.

Samsung SyncMaster 174T

Users have got accustomed to viewing Samsung’s LCD monitor models with the “T” index as expensive products on PVA matrixes, equipped with a digital input. This time however Samsung has adjusted its naming system somewhat and the 174T does have a DVI input, but is based on an ordinary 25msec TN+Film matrix.

The design of the monitor’s case is fully analogous to the above-described 173T, but the base comes from the N series, without any speakers. This base allows rotating the monitor around the vertical axis, changing the screen height and tilt and turning the screen into the portrait mode.

You control this monitor like the SyncMaster 173T: we have a traditional white-blue menu and a row of buttons in the bottom of the front panel of the case. Of course, like the previous monitors, this one can be controlled from the computer with the MagicTune utility.

The monitor does have a TN+Film matrix and the viewing angles are not very wide: the difference in brightness of the top and bottom of the screen is perceptible, especially if you move down from the center. The horizontal viewing angles have a wider swing and don’t cause any discomfort at work, although they have got still a long way to go to PVA and IPS matrixes.

By default, the brightness control is set to 80%, and the contrast to 50%. To reach a screen brightness of 100nit, I dropped both settings to 30%. The menu offers the usual choice of three color temperatures: “User Adjusted” (by default, it produces 5930K white and 7660K gray colors), “Reddish” (corresponds to 5850K white and 5950K gray, and like with the 173T, the screen becomes pinkish in this mode, although there should be no pink color), and “Bluish” (the temperatures are 6080K for white and 11,510K for gray).

I’ve got no gripes about the color reproduction: smooth gradients are displayed with more precision than on the SyncMaster 172X. This seems to be resulting from a slower, but better from other points of view, 25msec matrix.

Our measurements, however, showed that the color reproduction of the 174T is set up less neatly than in the previous monitors. This model displays dark tones a little darker than they should be, while light tones are somewhat brighter than necessary, especially the blue color.

At lower contrast and brightness settings, at 100nit screen brightness, the situation changes – now all the colors are darker than they should be. In other words, the gamma value is higher than 2.2. Moreover, the monitor doesn’t reproduce some of the dark tones of blue (not many of them, though).

The response time is typical for a 25msec matrix. As I used to note in my previous reviews, such matrixes only differ from 16msex ones in one respect: the pixel rise time of fast 16msec matrixes tends to 12msec in the right part of the graph.

The contrast ratio of the SyncMaster 174T turned to be low. It is slightly better than 250:1 at maximum. At reduced screen brightness, the level of black dropped very little, so the contrast ratio was very small. Thus, in a dim room, you will see that the black color is really dark-gray on the 174T.

In comparison to the other monitors, reviewed above, the SyncMaster 174T is a little weaker, mostly because of the low contrast ratio of its matrix. On the one hand, the digital input and the portrait mode put it above the main stream, but the image quality corresponds to cheaper models. Thus, the purpose of buying the 174T seems questionable: it only differs from better value SyncMasters (172S, 173S, and 173B) by its digital input and the portrait mode. So if these features are not vitally important to you, think about other models. Well, the price of the 174T is low enough, so it will surely find its customer, too.

Conclusion

In fact, Samsung has presented a comprehensive line of LCD monitors for any application. The low price sector, the category of the so-called “office” models, is represented by various models from four series – V, N, S and B – that I reviewed in previous articles.

Until recently, the niche of gaming monitors with a fast matrix has been empty: all LCD monitors from Samsung with a TN+Film matrix had a response time of 25msec, while other manufacturers had long been shipping 16msec models. I have already mentioned it numerous times that the advantages of 16msec matrixes are not so big as they seem at first sight, but the release of such a monitor is of a significant marketing value for the company. Now this niche is filled with the SyncMaster 172X. Moreover, Samsung’s debut in the market of gaming LCD monitors turns to be highly successful. On the one hand, the 172X is relatively expensive, but it is worth this money with its compact design, excellent image quality (for this type of the matrix), digital input and compatibility with MagicTune. Thus, you should consider the 172X if the response time parameter matters a lot for you.

The SyncMaster 173P, the first monitor without control buttons, is an impressive model, too. The lack of control buttons is easily compensated by the MagicTune utility. Otherwise, the 173P is an excellent monitor for work – I have no questions about the image quality, while its design has practically no analogs among third-party models and among Samsung’s own products. Again, this monitor will be good for work, but if you are into computer games, make sure that the responsiveness of its PVA matrix suits you. This model will hardly be a good choice for people who don’t run Microsoft Windows: so far, there is only the Windows version of MagicTune available.

The SyncMaster 173T can be viewed as a cheaper alternative to the 173P if you do not need the elegant design of the 173P. These two models match each other in their functionality and parameters (both: claimed and real), but the 173T comes in a simpler case, typical for inexpensive monitors from Samsung.

The name of the SyncMaster 174T shouldn’t mislead you into thinking that this is a top-end model. The T index used to denote expensive monitors with PVA matrixes, but the 174T, in spite of its digital input and the portrait-mode base, stands on a level of an office monitor. If the price difference between the 174T and the 173T is not important to you, you should consider purchasing a SyncMaster 173T.

Appendix: Chromacity Coordinates of RGB filters (CIE x,y)

The color profiles I created during my tests can be downloaded here, but I’d like to remind you that you should better calibrate the monitor yourself (if you have this opportunity), because monitors of different shipments may have varying characteristics.