Dual-Display Monitor: Samsung SyncMaster 2263DX Review

The idea to use two monitors on a single computer system is not that new. However, this article will represent its very unique implementation: a set including a regular 22-inch monitor and an additional 7-inch one. Read about a new Samsung solution in our detailed review!

by Oleg Artamonov
05/05/2008 | 02:13 PM

There is nothing new about the idea of using two monitors with one computer. Many people already use such configurations especially as nearly each modern graphics card offers two video outputs. A dual-monitor configuration may be handy in many situations: when you must have some additional information within your eyesight (documentation, auxiliary documents, images, etc), work with two or three overlapping documents, keep track of changes introduced into some system in real-time mode, etc.

 

Two monitors have one obvious drawback, though. They take more space. Even if you find a special mount to install both monitors on the same stand, they still need quite a lot of space in width. At the same time, it’s rather unwise to use a second large monitor for displaying low-res information such as a server log, some system messages or now-popular widgets (small programs showing information in small windows outside the main workspace).

Here I would like to remember two earlier reviews, about the Logitech G15 keyboard and the Samsung SPF-83V photo frame. Discussing the G15’s small display we noted that it might be used for displaying auxiliary information not only in games but in other applications as well. However, the keyboard’s display is functionality limited, barely coping with displaying ICQ messages. As for the SPF-83V frame, we noted that it could be connected to a PC via USB and used as an ordinary, small monitor. This small photo frame is far larger than the G15 display in terms of resolution, though.

Many readers asked us after that review about this specific usage of the frame, particularly if Samsung was planning to introduce such mini-monitors in cheaper versions, without the ability to work autonomously as a photo-frame.

And this review is the answer: I will discuss a kit consisting of an ordinary 22-inch monitor and a small additional 7-inch monitor with a USB interface. The kit comes under the name of SyncMaster 2263DX although the mini-monitor has a proper name. It is called UbiSync 7.

I’ll first discuss the full-size monitor as the main part of the kit.

Testing Methodology

Click the following link for a description of our testing methodology, the equipment we use, and a brief explanation of what the specified and tested parameters of LCD monitors mean: the article is called Xbit Labs Presents: LCD Monitors Testing Methodology Indepth. If you feel overwhelmed with the numbers and terms this article abounds in, check out an appropriate section of the mentioned Description for an explanation.

Samsung SyncMaster 2263DX

According to the specs, the SyncMaster 2263 is an ordinary modern monitor based on a TN matrix.

Well, after I read through the specs closely, including the small print, I found one interesting thing: the viewing angles are measured for a contrast ratio of 10:1 rather than 5:1 as is usual for TN matrixes.

To remind you, the viewing angles of LCD matrixes were originally measured as the angle to the normal at which the contrast ratio in the center of the matrix is as low as 10:1. The method was not perfect because the result depended on the matrix’s specified contrast ratio (the higher it was, the wider the viewing angles), did not account for color distortions possible if you looked at the screen at an angle, did not specify what changes the image went through at viewing angles from zero to the specified one, did not count in possible changes in the corners of the screen (the diagonal viewing angles are usually worse than both horizontal and vertical ones). However, the method was the same for all matrixes, and that was good.

Eventually, as TN technology was rapidly developing, the manufacturers decided to pull up the characteristics of this matrix type to those of the more expensive S-IPS, PVA and MVA technologies at least on paper and introduced a new measurement method specifically for TN matrixes: the viewing angles were measured for a contrast ratio of 5:1. Of course, this relaxed measurement led to better numbers in the specs: the angles improved from 140 to 160 degrees in a moment! The matrixes proper didn’t change, though. It’s like, “You’ve bought our monitor and are not satisfied with its viewing angles? Don’t worry – you can download a new user manual and learn that the angles have become wider by 20 degrees!”

So, it is not surprising to see a TN matrix with specified viewing angles of 160 degrees. It is also not surprising that such a matrix still gets darker on your looking at it from below and lighter if you look at it from above. It’s just different angles, not like with *VA or IPS. It’s like a kilo of apples and a kilo of oranges. You’ve got a kilo of both, but the taste is different. Just don’t compare them.

Now you understand why the SyncMaster 2263DX specs are somewhat odd. The number of 160 degrees is okay, but the mark “CR>10” is unusual.

Does it mean TN matrixes have improved to the level of *VA and S-IPS in this respect? Unfortunately, not. First, *VA and S-IPS already come with specified viewing angles of 178/178 degrees. Second, the difference is obvious to the eye. The matrix type of the SyncMaster 2263DX can be told easily by the darkening of the image on your looking at the screen from below. There has been some progress since previous generations of TN matrixes – both the viewing angles (the real, not specified, angles) and the contrast ratio have improved – but TN technology is still a long way to compare to the other matrix types.

The other specs are typical enough. The contrast ratio is 1000:1. This number is normal for the current generation of TN matrixes. Our measurements show that the new monitors have an ever-deeper black. I used to regard contrast ratios of 200:1, 300:1 and 400:1 as normal, good and excellent when talking about TN matrixes, but now these numbers have increased by a hundred. The maximum brightness is the same as 90% of monitors have.

The response time of 5 milliseconds (ISO) is quite normal, too. And it indicates a rather slow matrix, by the way. Like with the viewing angle measurement, the manufacturers use two methods to measure the response time, ISO13406-2 and Gray-to-Gray. The latter method counts in all transitions between all possible halftones in all possible directions while the former measures the black-white-black transition only, which is the fastest transition on matrixes without Response Time Compensation. The ISO method is used for RTC-less matrixes to ensure a lower specified response time.

For TN technology, the divide is at 5 milliseconds. If you see this number specified, you can be sure the matrix doesn’t have RTC and its real speed is rather low. If the specified response is 4 milliseconds, the matrix has RTC and is likely to be fast indeed. As our tests show, the difference in real response time between 4ms and 5ms matrixes may be three- or even fourfold.

The monitor has a glossy plastic case but the LCD matrix has a matte coating. This compromise is quite logical: many people are attracted to the black gloss of the case but there are also many users who don’t like glossy screens producing lots of glares. If you’ve got a light source or a brightly lit object behind your back, a matte matrix will only produce a barely visible halo whereas a glossy one will act like a regular mirror.

Well, Samsung has been noted to produce pairs of models to suit everyone’s taste, e.g. SyncMaster 961BW with a matte matrix and its glossy-matrix mate 961GW. Perhaps, we’ll soon see an all-glossy version of the 2263DX, too.

The stand allows adjusting the tilt of the screen only. Moreover, the screen cannot be tilted forward, but only backward. So, if you are going to watch movies on your monitor, the 2263DX won’t be very convenient: the poor vertical viewing angles of the TN matrix are added up with the lack of tilt control.

The monitor can be installed on a standard VESA mount, but the fasteners are used for the mini-monitor’s mount by default.

The stand features an original design. It is detachable, but is fastened using a special clip rather than screws. When you assemble the monitor, the top steel plate is inserted into the monitor’s case to a click. Be careful: the 2263DX must not be carried with the screen down, you holding it at its stand.

The monitor has built-in speakers. They are rather large but don’t spoil the exterior: you have to look at the monitor from below to see them.

In the top part of the front panel, above the screen, there is a web-camera. Two stereo-microphones are on both sides of it, behind barely visible holes. The camera is fixed in the case, always facing forward.

Alas, the quality is awful. Putting an emphasis on the number of megapixels, both manufacturers and consumers forget that the quality depends on the lens rather than on resolution. If the lens is tiny, you can’t have sharp shots. You can do a simple experiment to check this out: take any digital camera, make a shot, and scale it down in your image editor to a resolution of 640x480 pixels, for example. It’s only 0.3 megapixels, but the quality is far higher than what you can get from most web-cameras, cell phones, and other such devices.

The 2263DX offers a generous selection of connectors: digital DVI-D and analog D-Sub inputs, HDMI, an integrated 2-port USB hub, headphones and microphone connectors. There is no line audio input because the 2263DX features an integrated audio card with a USB interface. As a result, the web-camera, headphones, microphone and, running a little ahead, the UbiSync 7 monitor can all be connected to the computer with a single cord. The 2263DX will still need a separate video cable, though. It cannot work via USB itself.

The control buttons are touch-sensitive. You only have to touch the necessary label with your finger. The buttons respond perfectly, I had no problems with false response or with the need to find the exact place to apply my finger to. The implementation is superb, no less convenient than traditional buttons. The monitor emits a squeak on your touching its buttons.

The Power indicator is located nearby. It is blue, small, and not very bright. It is not distracting. When in sleep mode, the indicator is blinking. The menu doesn’t allow to turn the indicator off although this option was available in some previous monitors from Samsung.

The monitor has Samsung’s traditional onscreen menu, which is user-friendly and intuitive. Its navigation is handy and its sections are logically organized. It’s good that the menu remembers the last changed option – when you open it up, you find yourself in the section you were in the last time you worked with the menu.

The button that usually switches between the MagicBright modes (a few combinations of specific brightness and contrast values) can now be redefined to enable MagicColor (automatic boost of color saturation) or to switch between image interpolation variants. There are two variants of the latter: the 4:3 image can be stretched to full screen or scaled up/down with unchanged proportions.

The monitor has 100% brightness and 75% contrast by default. I selected 40% brightness and 44% contrast to achieve a 100nit white. The contrast value is somewhat too high by default. You should not set it higher than 70% as it makes light halftones indistinguishable from white.

To remind you, the 100nit white is not some sacred number for me. It is just a reference point, the same for all monitors we test in our labs. The brightness of 100 nits is usually suitable for working with text under good office lighting. In a home environment, when the ambient lighting is less intensive, you may want to lower the screen brightness to 50-80 nits. In other words, you should set up your monitor depending on your specific conditions. Moreover, as a general rule, when you need a low screen brightness, it is wiser to reduce the brightness setting to its minimum and then to lower the contrast setting until you reach the desired level of white. So, it is quite normal if you have a near-zero brightness in the monitor’s menu while the contrast setting is but slightly lower than the default one (whereas I change both settings roughly in sync).

The 2263DX regulates its brightness by means of backlight modulation at a frequency of 317Hz.

Color gradients are reproduced well. There appears barely visible banding at lower values of contrast, but it is really hard to discern even in the special test image.

The monitor’s color gamut is typical for a model with old backlight lamps: it coincides with the sRGB triangle in blues, smaller in reds and larger in greens. There are monitors with new backlight lamps that use improved phosphors and ensure a larger color gamut in greens. Red and blue remain unchanged, though.

I want to remind you that the monitor’s color gamut is not a measure of the precision of its color reproduction. It only indicates how pure its colors are. On a majority of modern monitors (excepting those with LED-based backlight), red has a slightly yellowish tincture. They just cannot display a truly deep red.

As for color reproduction in general, the monitor’s ability to combine the three basic colors into halftones is more important than the basic colors proper. Particularly, this ability is described by the so-called gamma curves: the graphs that show the dependence between the real screen brightness and the numeric value at the graphics card’s output. For a correctly set-up monitor this graph is a power function with an exponent of 2.2. A distortion in the shape of the gamma curve means that the monitor displays some halftones brighter or darker than they should be. A difference between the curves of the different basic colors means that some halftones have an undesired tonal coloring.

The gamma curves of the 2263DX are only good. The blue curve is lower than necessary, and blue halftones are displayed darker and with more contrast than they should be. The red and green curves are closer to the ideal one, but have a small bend in the top right part of the diagram. It indicates that the lightest halftones of these colors won’t be distinguishable from each other. These drawbacks aren’t conspicuous, though.

The curves improve at the reduced brightness and contrast and now go close to the ideal curve. It’s rather typical of many monitors: they have a slightly higher value of contrast than necessary at the default settings, which leads to color distortions. Well, modern monitors are usually so bright that no one works with them at the default settings anyway.

Our calibrator records the curves of different colors and normalizes them (so that they go from point {0, 0} to point {255, 255} of the diagram) individually and the resulting diagram does not accurately represent the deviation of the curves from each other, which results in the above-mentioned toning of certain halftones. The diagram gives you a qualitative but not quantitative representation. To get the latter, we measure the color temperature of gray in four points, from dark gray to pure white, and compare the results. Ideally, if there is no parasitic toning of halftones, gray looks gray (but not reddish or bluish) irrespective of its brightness. That is, all the four measurements must yield the same result for every setup variant.

The SyncMaster 2263DX is somewhat below average level in this respect. In every mode available in its menu there is a 1000K and higher difference between the temperatures of different grays. For TN-based monitors, I consider a temperature dispersion of 1000K and lower as average and within 500K as good.

This ends our tests of color reproduction. As I have found out, the SyncMaster 2263DX is average in its class: a standard color gamut, good but not ideal gamma curves, and an acceptable quality of color temperature setup.

Our next test measures the most popular parameter of an LCD monitor, its response time. We use the GtG method (see the beginning of this section), calculating the average of all possible transitions between different levels of gray from 0 (black) to 255 (white) stepping 32. The switching of the pixel’s state is recorded by an oscilloscope connected to a photo-sensor attached to the monitor’s screen. Below is the diagram that shows the duration of each transition.

The response time average (for all the columns of the diagram) is 15.2 milliseconds (GtG). It is three times as high as the specified value of 5 milliseconds. Why? Because the measurement methods differ. The official 5 milliseconds is the sum of two transitions, from black to white and back into black. As you can see in the diagram above, the columns corresponding to the transitions into white (the farthest row, painted yellow) and into black (the nearest, red, row) are the lowest, i.e. the fastest.

Of course, counting in all the possible transitions in the GtG method is closer to reality than the black-white-black measurement in the ISO method. Do you often play games whose picture consists of black and white pixels only? Thus, the 2263DX is not actually a fast monitor, just like the other models with a specified response time of 5 milliseconds we have tested so far.

There is an opinion that any response time below 16.7 milliseconds is enough for a refresh rate of 60Hz. This is not true. Response time and refresh rate are completely different parameters. It doesn’t matter if the monitor has changed the picture before the arrival of the next frame – this has no effect on the fact that the pictures from two adjacent frames will be displayed both together during the time determined by the matrix speed. If the response time is higher than 16.7 milliseconds, there will be three, not two, pictures displayed at the same time with the arrival of the next frame, and this won’t make the ghosting effect look any better.

Another important parameter of each LCD monitor is the uniformity of its brightness. It may be different for white and for black, so we measure it two times using a photo-sensor whose position relative to the screen is changed with a step of 3 centimeters. The sensor’s reading in each point is entered into a table. The table is used to build a diagram that shows how the monitor’s screen looks in reality. Take note that it is a picture, not a photograph! Its colors are not the real colors of the monitor.

 

The 2263DX doesn’t have obvious bright spots on black: there are darker bands along the sides of the screen and a rather uniform middle. To be specific, the average difference between the levels of black is 5.6%. The maximum difference is 16.8%, which is quite a good result.

On white, there are darker areas along the edges of the screen, especially on the right, but the rest of the screen is uniform. Thus, the average uniformity is rather low at 5.1% while the maximum deflection is high at 22.8% (it is obviously due to the top right corner of the screen).

The next step of our testing program is measuring the monitor’s max brightness and contrast ratio in three modes: at the default settings, at the maximum brightness and contrast settings, and at the settings that produce a 100nit white.

These are rather average results. The max brightness is above 200nits, which is more than enough for gaming and for watching movies even under bright ambient lighting. The contrast ratio is 300:1, which is an average result, too. To remind you, you should not compare the measured contrast ratio with the specified one because we use a ColorVision Spyder Pro calibrator, which is not very accurate on darks but provides a correct qualitative picture. So, the different monitors can be compared in terms of contrast ratio only within our reviews. We are going to transition to a more precise calibrator in near future – Spyder 3 Elite.

Besides the ordinary user-defined brightness and contrast settings, the SyncMaster 2263DX offers Samsung’s traditional MagicBright technology, a set of predefined modes you can switch between by pressing one button on the monitor’s front panel. Each mode is meant for a specific usage scenario. It is handy. For example, you usually need a brighter screen for games and movies than for text applications, but it takes time to enter the menu and change the brightness setting. It is much easier to press one button once or twice and get the desired level of screen brightness. After you’ve finished watching the movie, you can get back to the previous level by pressing the same button again.

The question is if these modes are set up properly. What’s the purpose of a quickly selectable mode if it distorts colors, for example? That’s not a theoretical apprehension – such modes are available in monitors of many brands (LG’s f-Engine, ASUS’ Splendid, NEC’s DV Mode, etc) but our tests prove that their setup is often sloppy or even downright bad.

I’ll check out MagicBright technology in two steps. First, you’ll see the level of brightness in each mode. Then, the gamma curves will show us if there are any color distortions.

Well, I have no gripes about brightness: the Text mode is bright enough for ordinary office lighting (you may want to set the monitor up manually for the mild evening lighting at home). The Internet mode is brighter, and the others modes are brighter still. By the way, Game, Sport and Movie differ in color temperature, too. It’s normal in the first mode, cold in the second mode, and warm in the third mode.

The gamma curves in the Text mode are roughly the same as at the monitor’s default settings. There are no serious distortions of color reproduction. The Internet mode is no different from this.

The contrast setting is higher in the Game mode as is indicated by the characteristic bend of the curves in the top right of the diagram. The distortions will be barely noticeable in practice – you can only spot them in a special test rather than in a dynamic game.

The Movie mode doesn’t distort colors at all – the curves are shaped properly and go close to each other.

Thus, the MagicBright modes are quite useful in the SyncMaster 2263DX: they are just bright enough for their intended applications and do not provoke serious color distortions. If you buy this monitor, try using the MagicBright button – it is quicker and handier than the manual setup in the onscreen menu.

Thus, the SyncMaster 2263DX – I have been discussing it separately from the additional 7” display so far – is an ordinary modern 22” monitor with a TN matrix. It is beautiful and ergonomic and free from both serious drawbacks and notable advantages in terms of color reproduction.

Highs:

Lows:

Recommended usage:

But of course, it is the additional 7-inch mini-monitor UbiSync7 that makes the SyncMaster 2263DX special. I’ll discuss this accessory in the next section.

Samsung UbiSync 7

Coming together with the SyncMaster 2263DX, the UbiSync 7 is actually a standalone solution. It can be used in pair with any other monitor or even without a second monitor at all. Hopefully, the UbiSync 7 will soon be selling apart from the 2263DX. I’m sure there’ll be interest to this solution on the user’s part if there is appropriate informational and advertising support.

The specs are not impressive in comparison with larger models, but you’ll see shortly how good this monitor is in reality.

 

The mini-monitor resembles a photo-frame except that it has a minimum of controls and lacks a connector for flash cards or USB drives.

 

The stand is fastened on a hinge so you can change the angle of its tilt and inclination to orient the UbiSync7 just as you please in portrait or landscape mode. Yes, although Samsung’s promo-materials and photographs always show the mini-monitor attached to the large monitor, it can actually be just placed on the desk all alone.

The single connector the UbiSync 7 needs is a standard mini-USB port (the engineering connector you see next to it in the photo is not utilized in practice). The monitor receives both power and signal via USB.

The UbiSync 7 is not the first USB-interfaced monitor to visit our labs, actually. We once reviewed the 19-inch Samsung SyncMaster 940UX. The UbiSync 7 follows the same design. It has a DisplayLink chip that receives compressed video stream from the PC, uncompresses it and displays on the screen. For this to work, you have to install a driver to create a virtual graphics card.

The mini-monitor doesn’t need any special hardware support. The only requirements are a free USB port and an OS supported by the driver. Currently, the driver works under Windows 2000, XP and Vista (32-bit version only) as well as under MacOS X (beta-version). The system identifies the UbiSync 7 as an ordinary monitor connected to a DisplayLink Graphics Adapter. The latter is not real hardware but a software emulation on the driver level. So, you can do everything with the mini-monitor as with any other monitor.

The Samsung SPF-83V photo frame wasn’t quite stable in our tests, but the UbiSync 7 is different in this respect. I started it up at the first attempt under Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP2 and ran it without a single failure for a few days.

The drawback of the USB connection is the need for a rather advanced CPU. The CPU load would be a few tens of percent when the monitor’s screen was updated. On the other hand, this is hardly a real problem considering that junior models of dual-core CPUs are quite cheap nowadays, single-core CPUs quickly becoming obsolete.

The mini-monitor has its own controls even. It lacks an onscreen menu, so these are just touch-sensitive buttons for turning the device on and adjusting its brightness. A blue Power indicator is placed near the Power button. It shines at work, starting to blink when you reach the top or bottom limit of the brightness adjustment range but you are still pressing the appropriate button.

If you don’t want to leave the UbiSync 7 standing on your desk, you can fasten it on the above-described SyncMaster 2263DX. In fact, you can fasten it on any monitor that has fasteners for a VESA mount. The UbiSync 7 comes with an appropriate accessory:

 

The central spot is screwed up to the large monitor whereas the pole allows flexibly adjusting the position of the mini-monitor in space.

 

The mount has a turntable joint at the place of fastening to the large monitor, a cylindrical hinge where it’s fastened to the mini-monitor’s stand, and can also be adjusted in length.

 

As a result, the UbiSync 7 can be easily placed on any side of the full-size monitor: to the left or right or above it, in portrait or landscape orientation.

  

The only downside is the hanging interface cable – the mount doesn’t offer anything for fastening it. By the way, the mini-monitor can be easily connected via the 2263DX’ integrated USB-hub and work simultaneously with its web-camera.

The mini-monitor is a pleasure at work. It delivers adequate colors, a good brightness adjustment range, and a low response time. You may feel its vertical viewing angle to be narrow but this is compensated by the opportunity to orient the whole mini-monitor in space. Thanks to the small pixel pitch (the UbiSync 7 has a native resolution of 800x480 pixels) the picture looks sharp and detailed. The screen accommodates quite a lot of information.

Of course, I couldn’t help testing the monitor with our tools although some of them could barely fit its screen as you can see above.

The mini-monitor’s color gamut is small, much smaller than the standard sRGB color space. The two coincide more or less in blues, but greens and reds look faded on the UbiSync 7. That’s not a surprise for me as I’ve seen similar results in our tests of photo frames which seem to use the same matrix type.

You can easily imagine how red and green look on the UbiSync 7 because matrixes of a majority of modern notebooks have about the same color gamut.

You shouldn’t worry about the reproduction of halftones: the gamma curves lie close to each other and to the theoretical curve. Take note that the monitor has no problems reproducing the entire range of halftones, from darkest to lightest.

The main drawback in the monitor’s color reproduction is that it yields very cold colors. The color temperature is above 10,000K, the UbiSync 7 producing a bluish picture in comparison with the companion monitor. Many users prefer a color temperature of 6500-7000K, after all. Unfortunately, it is impossible to correct the color temperature of the mini-monitor’s image.

Interestingly, the UbiSync 7 has a higher specified response time (30 milliseconds) but a lower real response time than the 2263DX! Its response time average is 13.3 milliseconds (GtG) with a maximum of 25.9 milliseconds. This only shows how distant the ISO measurement method is from reality. The mini-monitor is formally slower only because its matrix is not fast on the black-white-black transition although it performs the other transitions just as fast as full-size modern monitors do.

The screen brightness varies from 14 to over 160nits. This is lower than with full-size monitors but more than enough to display some information under normal ambient lighting. You are not going to watch movies under sunlight on this 7” screen, are you?

Thus, the UbiSync 7 is not inferior to full-size monitors in most parameters except for the size of the screen. It has a good resolution (sufficient for its screen diagonal), high brightness and adequate color reproduction. So, the UbiSync 7 can be used to display not only text, but also graphical information, even photographs and video. The flexible fastening system allows placing the mini-monitor in any place convenient to you. You can place it on your desk or attach to your full-size monitor. Finally, the mini-monitor doesn’t need a graphics card – one USB port is all that it needs.

Conclusion

The idea is lucky, and the implementation is a success. The pair of a 22” and a 7” monitor was flawless in my tests, proving to be an ergonomic, functional and stable solution. This solution is interesting from a practical point of view while its possible applications are numerous. Besides those mentioned at the beginning of the review, the 2263DX+UbiSync7 kit can be used in trade halls, hotel counters, at various organizations – everywhere if there is a need to show the customer some information that is larger than one or two lines of text yet doesn’t really call for the installation of a full-size monitor.

So-called widgets have also become popular recently. These are small applications outputting updated information in the dedicated part of the screen: time, calendar, weather report, short notes, news headlines, etc. Windows Vista can display such widgets not only in its Sidebar but also, within the Windows SideShow technology framework, on a separate device. The UbiSync 7 can be that device quite successfully.

And, as another possible application, perhaps the developers of car sims should think about the option of outputting the rear-view mirror to a separate monitor?