XXL Monitors in Action: LCD Giants from Dell and Samsung Reviewed

Today we are going to look at three solutions from Dell and Samsung with 27” and 30” diagonal. 27” monitors may be interesting for people who often watch movies on their PC and who need a large screen with a resolution sufficient for HDTV. 30” models may make a good work monitor for people who process complex design drawings and schematics or have to work with multiple documents at once. So, let’s see how good out today’s testing participants are!

by Oleg Artamonov
04/06/2007 | 11:38 AM

Innumerable CRT vs. LCD discussions touch upon a lot of different aspects of PC monitors such as response time, contract ratio, color reproduction, weight and dimensions, but tend to omit the factor of screen size.

 

When the CRT technology ruled the computer world, mainstream models used to have screen diagonals of 19 to 22 inches. And we should keep it in mind that it was the diagonal of the cathode-ray tube rather than of the displayed image that was specified. The diagonal of the displayed image varied from 18” to 20” for the mentioned models. Although there existed larger monitors like the Sony GDM-FW900, a widescreen CRT monitor with a specified diagonal of 24” and an image diagonal of 22.5”, they were not really popular due to their weight. The FW900 used to weigh as much as 42kg!

CRT monitors with larger diagonals were produced as single samples (for example, I heard about 29” CRTs but never saw them alive). They were not selling freely due to unacceptable weight/size parameters. It was not possible to reduce the weight of CRT monitors and it grew up more quickly than the screen diagonal: the larger the tube (which contains vacuum), the larger and thicker its glass must be made to withstand the atmospheric pressure. The developers of CRTs for TV-sets began to make them shorter by means of a bigger deflection of the electronic beam, but this method does not work with PC monitors: the bigger this deflection is, the more difficult it is to set up the geometry and convergence correctly, with the ensuing consequences for the image quality. And anyway, TV-sets aren’t light. 29” models, even with short CRTs, are as heavy as 45-50kg.

Thus, the absence of CRT monitors with a picture size of 24” even in the best years of that technology was not due to their price or excessively large resolution or anything, but due to unreasonable weight of such products for both home users and a majority of corporate ones. Just imagine yourself using a monitor that weighs over 50 kilos and has two carry handles on the sides of the case! At a certain moment, the further increase in size would produce not a heavy monitor, but an unacceptably heavy monitor.

LCD monitors are free from the heaviest detail which was the huge and thick glass casing of the CRT. An LCD panel is in fact a very delicate arrangement made out of numerous thin films (filters, polarizers, liquid crystals, and a glass wafer), a few fluorescent lamps, and a thin metallic casing. It does not have massive parts, especially such parts whose weight would increase rapidly along with their size. I mean that making the screen diagonal longer requires enlarging the area of the employed parts, but not their thickness or robustness. They do not have to withstand the atmospheric pressure or their own heavy weight as it was the case with the cathode-ray tube.

As a result, the industry is now limited not by technology but only by market factors, i.e. by the balance between price and demand. The market will be offering ever larger monitors as long as the manufacturing cost of LCD panels is going down (which depends upon setting up new fabs capable of processing larger parts and upon developing other accompanying technologies). And this will continue until a further increase in size is meaningless. How large can LCD panels be, anyway? Just take a look at LCD TV-sets: 40” models have long become common among them.

To be more specific, a 19” monitor is regarded as a common inexpensive device today. 22” models are popular, and 24” ones are going to catch the spotlight soon because there have appeared rather inexpensive 24” TN matrixes – although with poor viewing angles in comparison with S-IPS or *VA, TN technology enjoys stable demand due to its low price. And if you need an even bigger screen and can afford spending an appropriate sum of money, you are offered models with diagonals up to 30”, and not even as single samples but as a choice from among quite a lot of different models. A few of such extra large products are going to be discussed in this review.

I’ll talk about two classes of LCD monitors, to be exact. About monitors with a diagonal of 30 inches which have been around for a long time already. And about 27” monitors that have appeared just recently. The latter are meant to fill in the gap between 24” and 30” models. This gap amounts to $600-1000 depending on particular models, which allows introducing an intermediary solution that splits this gap in two. 27” monitors are accompanied with 26” models as a consequence of different approaches of the matrix manufacturers: LG and AU Optronics developed 26” matrixes using S-IPS and A-MVA technologies, respectively, whereas Samsung introduced 27-inchers made with S-PVA technology. I can’t say that 27” models are definitely better – I’ll mention their drawbacks below.

Quite naturally, each of the monitors to be discussed is widescreen. As I wrote in my previous articles, the human eye is designed in such a way that a wide screen is more agreeable to it than a tall screen. The eye muscles get less strained when moving horizontally. Moreover, when you are long looking at the top of the screen, your eyes are not covered with the lids and get dry quickly (the eye is moistened by regular blinking, but we blink less frequently at work than in a relaxed state, hence the drying of the eyes). But when your glance is cast downwards, the eyes are always half-covered with the lids and do not tire that much. This had not been a problem with smaller screen diagonals, but monitors with an aspect ratio of 4:3 and 5:4 and a diagonal of 21” proved to be too tall for most users. A horizontally stretched Desktop is better to work with. Moreover, many users play games and watch movies on their PC and the wide screen ensures fuller immersion into the atmosphere of the game or movie whereas a bigger height of the screen does not affect the perception so much.

The monitors to be reviewed in this article have different native resolutions, though. 27-inchers have the same resolution as 24” models, i.e. 1920x1200 pixels, while 30-inchers moved up to 2560x1600 pixels. This is the reason why these seemingly similar monitors have one very important difference. Their pixel pitch differs by 20%. As a matter of fact, the pixel pitch of 27” monitors is among the largest of all LCD monitors ever produced while the pixel pitch of 30” ones is among the smallest.

The diagram above shows the pixel pitch of most LCD monitors ever produced. As you can see, the average – and currently the most comfortable – value is within 0.270-0.280 millimeters. 19” matrixes with native resolutions of 1600x1200 and 1280x768 pixels are at the ends of the range. No wonder such models did not ever really take off.

While the downside of a too large pixel is obvious (lines look rude and thick, fonts become angular, and there is less information on the screen than you may want from a monitor with a given diagonal), it is not so definite about small pixels. On one hand, the smaller the pixel is, the more detailed and smoother the onscreen picture can be (if you want an example, you can compare printouts made on a printer at 150, 300 and 600dpi, especially using some elegant fanciful font). Historically, however, the user interface of OSes and applications has been bound not to “normal” physical measurement units (i.e. millimeters or inches), but to pixels. That was not a problem for a CRT monitor, which did not have a strict correlation between the display resolution and the number of phosphor dots. You could just select a resolution that would be more comfortable for your eyes.

For an LCD monitor, there is one native resolution determined by its matrix. On one hand, it ensures an ideally sharp image. On the other hand, it does not allow setting the monitor’s resolution up flexibly.

Thus, if software uses pixels, rather than physical measurement units, to output to the monitor, the size of the output is directly proportional to the pixel pitch. In other words, if you replace your 27” monitor with a 30” one, the real size of fonts, buttons, windows, icons, etc. will diminish by 20%. And this 20% difference is very obvious to the eye.

Software developers realize this problem and try to address it, although not too quickly. Ideally, the user interface must not be bound to pixels at all. It should strive to achieve the same size of each element in millimeters, not in pixels, irrespective of the monitor (provided that the OS receives information about the monitor’s resolution and screen size either automatically via DDC or through user-defined settings). Unfortunately, there is yet only one OS from Microsoft that has a more or less developed means to scale the user interface up and down, which is Windows Vista. The currently most popular Windows 2000 and Windows XP allow changing the scale of fonts and some interface elements only.

A bigger problem is about applications, though. It’s no secret many users do not use Windows’ font scaling because interfaces of many applications get spoiled on activating this feature: captions go out beyond buttons, some lines leave the visibility area altogether, etc. Moreover, there is no automatic scaling of such elements as pictures in the Web-browser, for example. Well, talking about the Web, web-pages themselves often describe the position and size of their elements in pixels. So, this is overall a highly complicated problem that can only be solved when software developers realize the necessity to develop easily scalable interfaces and employ appropriate programming technologies.

Besides that, there is a fundamental problem: any scaling provides good results only if the pixel pitch is small enough. This scaling may produce artifacts that worsen image quality on monitors with a pixel pitch close to the average value.

So, image scaling depending on the monitor’s resolutions is not developed well currently and it is still important to take the monitor’s pixel pitch into account while making your shopping choice. As I said above, 27” and 30” monitors are in fact at the opposite ends of the line in this respect. This is especially conspicuous with 30” models: the picture looks too small at the default size of fonts and interface elements, making you involuntarily move closer to the screen. The large size of the screen, however, makes you move away from it if you want to take in all the workspace at a glance.

It is somewhat better with 27” models: the size of the screen makes it comfortable to sit at a large distance from it, which conceals the too large pixel pitch. At least, the image on a standard 19” monitor with a resolution of 1280x1024 pixels at a comfortable distance to the screen looks grainier than on a 27-incher notwithstanding the larger pixel pitch of the latter.

It is here that the advantage of 26” matrixes shows up. They have the same resolution of 1920x1200 pixels but a smaller screen and, accordingly, a smaller pixel pitch. So, if the picture on 27” monitors look to grainy to you, and 24” and 30” models are unacceptable in terms of screen size or price, you may want to consider 26” models.

Besides the greatly varying pixel pitch, there is another, purely technical, issue with large-resolution monitors. The bandwidth of the DVI interface is limited by a max frequency of 165MHz, so it can only transfer about 35 frames per second at a resolution of 2560x1600 pixels. But PC monitors have a typical refresh rate of 60fps. A so-called Dual-Link DVI interface is used to ensure the necessary refresh rate then. This interface is made up of two 165MHz DVI channels working simultaneously. Dual-Link DVI needs a single signal cable (although Single-Link and Dual-Link DVI cables differ: the former lacks some wires and, accordingly, some pins in the connector) and one DVI connector on the graphics card, but the graphics card must have at least two TMDS transmitters to output signal.

Not all graphics cards meet this requirement. Our Sapphire Radeon X600 XT that used to be installed into our testbed refused to work with 30” monitors at all. That card had only one TMDS transmitter. We tried to install a Sapphire Radeon X1300 Pro that formally supported Dual-Link DVI, but the picture lacked quality – white streaks of noise were running along the top and bottom parts of the screen. It was only with a Sapphire Radeon X1650 Pro that we were successful: the picture was ideal. So, if you want to buy a 30” monitor, you will need a good graphics card based on a modern GPU. Notwithstanding their formal support for Dual-Link DVI, cheap low-end cards not always provide an acceptable signal quality. This is indirectly confirmed by Samsung’s website which doesn’t list entry-level products like Radeon X1300 or GeForce 7300 among graphics cards recommended for use with the SyncMaster 305T.

The DVI cable I had used for a long time proved to be inadequate, too. Although its connectors have all the pins necessary, the pins for the second DVI channel are just not connected. So, if you want to buy a new cable for your 30” monitor, make sure it does support Dual-Link DVI. Cable manufacturers usually write this on the packaging (if there is no explicit indication, the cable is mostly likely Single-Link DVI).

The picture above shows two DVI connectors: the right one can work with either one or two DVI channels while the left one can only work with one DVI channel. The missing group of pins for a second channel is marked with red. But as I’ve written above, the presence of a connector with a full set of pins does not guarantee that the whole cable supports Dual-Link DVI.

I’m not talking about analog connection here. On a 24” monitor its quality depends on the particular graphics card, cable and monitor, but you can’t achieve any quality at a resolution of 2560x1600. As a matter of fact, 30” monitors are not equipped with an analog connector at all.

It is simple with 1920x1200 monitors. They can work with Single-Link DVI, utilizing a trick called reduced blanking. In a CRT monitor (the DVI interface is universal and supports any monitor type if the monitor has an appropriate input) there are beam blanking intervals between the lines of one frame and between two adjacent frames. During this interval the beam is returned from the end of the previous line to the beginning of the next one or from the end of one frame to the beginning of the next one, and no data is transferred to the monitor during this interval. There is no electronic beam in LCD monitors and there is no need for the beam blanking. Thus, data can be transferred in a denser stream than onto a CRT monitor. That is why Single-Link DVI cannot support the resolution of 1920x1200 pixels on CRT monitors at a scan rate of 60MHz, but it does support the 1920x1200@60Hz display mode on LCD monitors. In this case you won’t need a graphics card with support of Dual-Link DVI and a Dual-Link DVI cable.

27” monitors come with an analog input, too, but its usefulness is questionable. Even with best graphics cards you’ll have to run the auto-adjustment manually each time you turn the monitor on at 1920x1200. In the worst case you won’t be able to achieve a sharp picture at all.

Quite a reasonable remark when discussing large monitors, why do you need this screen size? Among everything else, the answer helps draw another separating line between 27” and 30” monitors: the former have the same resolution as 24” models and display the same amount of information. That is why 27” monitors are mainly interesting for people who often watch movies on the PC. The screen can never be too large for that purpose while the resolution can even be 1920x1080 (HDTV movies with this resolution have appeared but recently).

However, there are a lot of applications where a large display resolution, i.e. the ability of the display to show a lot of information at once, would come in handy. I mean engineers (a complex schematic is often easier to work with when you can view it all rather than in parts), architects, and the printing industry (when the large resolution allows to have a whole broadside in full on the screen). It comes in handy when you have to work with a few documents simultaneously – you can place them on a large monitor next to each other without overlapping. In the latter case one 30” monitors can be replaced with a couple of 20-21” ones which are going to be cheaper, but splitting the workspace in two parts is going to be inconvenient for working with design drawings.

Thus, 27” and 30” models can be viewed as having strictly different applications. 27” monitors may be interesting for people who often watch movies on their PC and who need a large screen with a resolution sufficient for HDTV. As opposed to them, 30” models may make a good work monitor for people who process complex design drawings and schematics or have to work with multiple documents at once.

Samsung SyncMaster 275T

The SyncMaster 275T is one of the first 27” monitors. It was officially announced early this year and competes with such models as Dell 2707WFP (based on the same 27” S-PVA matrix) and the 26-inchers NEC MultiSync LCD2690WUXi and Acer AL2623W. These monitors have all been announced quite recently and are not yet selling freely.

The specification table shows two contrast ratios: common (static) and dynamic. As I wrote in my earlier reviews, the term dynamic contrast means that the monitor can adjust the brightness of the backlight lamps depending on the current onscreen picture. The brighter the picture, the higher the backlight brightness is set. Here, 3000:1 means that the backlight brightness can be increased threefold and the dynamic contrast ratio is thrice as high as the static one.

The dynamic contrast mode is virtually useless for any work. It is only meant for watching movies. This feature is enabled manually on the SyncMaster 275T, being a separate line among the MagicBright modes.

The 275T resembles Samsung’s smaller monitors like SyncMaster 215TW and 225BW, yet it is considerably larger and thicker.

The stand allows adjusting the height of the screen (from 11 to 19cm from the desk to the bottom edge of the picture; the stand can be fixed in the bottom position with a wire pin if necessary), tilting it, and rotating it around the vertical axis. Portrait mode is not supported.

The monitor can be equipped with speakers which are removable, like on the 225BW. You can attach them to the bottom of the case if you want:

I guess when the 275T comes to shops it will be available in two versions, with and without speakers. At least, the 225BW is currently selling in such versions with a price difference of $20 between them.

The attached speakers don’t affect the monitor’s magnificent and restrained appearance. They are sunken backward relative to the front panel of the case and are not conspicuous at all. The speakers are powered from a special connector on the monitor, but have their own volume control. The onscreen menu doesn’t even offer a volume adjustment option. This is quite convenient, though.

Most of the connectors are placed at the back: power (the power adapter in integrated into the case), analog and digital inputs, two video inputs (composite and S-Video), a connector for the above-mentioned speakers, a integrated USB hub input, and two of the hub’s four ports.

The second group of connectors is on the left side: a component (YPbPr) video input and two more ports of the integrated USB hub. The only thing that is missing here is a HDMI connector, but it is electrically compatible with the ordinary DVI, so one can be attached to the other via a simple adapter. The monitor’s DVI input supports HDCP security which is becoming ever more popular (among manufacturers, not among users).

And finally, the detachable speakers carry a traditional set of audio inputs and outputs including those for your headphones and microphone (the signal is just transferred to the appropriate input of your audio card, of course). The audio connectors are 3.5” mini-jacks, so you’ll have to use an adapter if you’ve got a DVD-player or a cable TV decoder with RCA connectors. Well, it would be best to use standalone speakers then because the speakers included with the monitor are low quality, as usual.

The monitor’s controls are in the bottom right of the front panel. They are designed and placed just like on the 215TW and 225BW models except for the Power button which is larger and embellished with a cute-looking chrome metallic ring.

Quick access is provided to switching between the MagicBright modes (one user-defined mode, five modes with preset brightness/contrast values, and a dynamic contrast mode), adjusting brightness, switching between the inputs, enabling/disabling Picture-in-Picture mode, and to the auto-adjustment feature. It is good Samsung does not try to squeeze all the control functions into four buttons. Most of frequently accessed features are available with a press of a button without your having to enter the onscreen menu.

Unfortunately, the menu is not very user-friendly. It would suit a TV-set better than a PC monitor. Selecting the input is the first menu item, but you will hardly use it from the menu just because it’s easier to press the Source button than to select the input from the list, especially as the 275T can identify which inputs have signal sources connected and does not browse through unconnected inputs when you are pressing the Source button. Thus, if you’ve got only two sources, a PC via DVI and a cable TV decoder via S-Video, each press of this button will switch between these two inputs rather than through all the inputs the monitor has.

Among other settings, I can mention gamma adjustment (with a step of 0.1), saturation and hue adjustment by 6 color coordinates, selecting the position and size of the secondary window in PiP mode (there are two possible sizes and four possible positions – in the four corners of the screen). You can also configure how a 4:3 picture is going to be displayed. Unfortunately, the monitor cannot automatically recognize the aspect ratio (4:3 or widescreen) and you have to switch it over manually. The monitor remembers settings for different inputs independently.

Well, if you are not satisfied with the 275T’s onscreen menu, you can control it by means of the MagicTune program which runs under Windows (including Vista) and MacOS.

The monitor’s Power button is highlighted with a blue LED. Its brightness is reduced over previous models and the LED is not distracting in darkness. Anyway, the option of disabling it altogether wouldn’t be redundant here.

By default, the monitor has 65% contrast and 59% brightness. To achieve a 100nit white brightness I selected 22% brightness and 25% contrast. I want to remind you that I use the 100nit settings only as a reference point for comparing different monitors at roughly similar settings. In reality, the comfortable settings will depend on your personal preferences and on the intensity of lighting in your room (100 nits is the normal screen brightness for working with text in a well-lit room).

Judging subjectively, I could find no fault with the monitor’s setup quality. Color gradients are reproduced superbly regardless of the contrast setting (gradients look striped on many monitors as soon as you choose settings other than the default ones).

The SyncMaster 275T uses new backlight lamps with improved phosphors which are commonly referred to as Wide Gamut Cold-Cathode Fluorescent Lamps (WG-CCFL). This endows the monitor with a color gamut much larger than the standard sRGB that a majority of LCD and virtually all CRT monitors offer. The influence of the radiation spectrum of phosphors in the backlight lamps on the color gamut was described in our earlier article called Contemporary LCD Monitor Parameters: Objective and Subjective Analysis.

I used calibrator data to build a color gamut diagram for the 275T. You can see that this gamut differs greatly from sRGB in the green area and coincides with it on red and blue. Note also that the 275T cannot match the color gamut of the SyncMaster XL20 with LED-based backlighting: the XL20 renders both green and red colors better.

So if you put the 275T next to a monitor with ordinary backlight lamps, you’ll see that the former displays a purer green whereas the latter displays green with a tincture of yellow.

This raises two theoretical problems. First, most images, both photos and videos, are currently adapted to sRGB monitors. It means that if the original image has a color that corresponds to the green dot in the sRGB space (the green dot is a vertex of the color gamut triangle as in the picture above; it is the purest green the monitor with the given color gamut can reproduce) and a color that is higher than the green dot, the latter color will be changed to be the same as the former after the adaptation. Thus, both colors will look the same on an sRGB monitor.

Now suppose this adapted picture is reproduced on a monitor with an extended color gamut. It can reproduce the different colors mentioned above differently, but those colors are now identical in the picture adapted to sRGB! Both colors will still look the same, but more saturated than on an sRGB monitor.

Alas, this problem will be resolved no sooner than monitors with an extended color gamut have become mass products. It is only then that pictures will be originally adapted for such monitors rather than for sRGB. As a matter of fact, many graphics formats allow embedding color profiles so that the user application could adapt the picture to the particular monitor (and the picture will be displayed just as correctly as it is possible, on any monitor). Unfortunately, most programs cannot work with such profiles, except for advanced image-editing software.

Anyway, I guess that many users, and myself among them, will prefer monitors with incorrect but pure colors, i.e. the 275T, to monitors with incorrect and muddy colors, i.e. older sRGB models.

The second problem is that the enlarged color gamut is still described with 8 bits per channel (24-bit color; in 32-bit color each of the three channels is actually described with 8 bits, too). In other words, there is a larger gap between two adjacent color values than on monitors with a smaller color gamut. By the way, you can output a color gradient from black to red, blue or green even on an sRGB monitor and notice narrow uniform stripes in this gradient. This is not a defect of the monitor. It is a defect of the 8-bit color representation. If you divide the monitor’s screen width by the width of one stripe, you’ll have exactly 256 stripes (but if you see wider stripes in the gradient – then this is the monitor’s defect).

As opposed to the previous problem, this ones has both hardware and software constituents. On one hand, it would be good to transfer the monitor’s and graphics card’s interfaces to 10-bit color. On the other hand, software must be able to process this 10-bit color and graphics formats must use it, too. I don’t think this transition will take place anytime soon just because it involves so many changes, although there have already appeared graphics cards that support 10-bit color (e.g. ATI/AMD’s X1000 series GPUs) and professional monitors with a 10-bit DVI input (e.g. NEC SpectraView Reference 21).

The SyncMaster 275T is mainly intended for home use, though, and doesn’t suffer much from that problem. You don’t expect a precise reproduction of color from a monitor that is not actually meant for working with images professionally.

Summing it all, the extension of the color gamut of PC monitors brings about certain problems which are, however, not significant outside the narrow circle of professionals for whom other monitor models are actually intended. For a home monitor, the extended color gamut is always good without any reservations. It allows the monitor to display purer and more saturated colors.

The monitor’s picture looks somewhat pale at the default settings, but there are no other defects (like a loss of detail in darks or lights). The menu offers a gamma adjustment option, so I entered the menu and set it at +0.2.

As you can see, the picture is virtually ideal now. The measured curves almost coincide with the theoretical ones. This is not the result of some calibration – I just changed the default gamma setting in the monitor’s onscreen menu by two steps!

The monitor offers seven color temperature modes (plus a user-defined mode): four cold modes, two warm and one neutral. The setup quality is not perfect, but acceptable for this monitor class. The difference between temperatures of different levels of gray is about 500K. Most home users will prefer the Normal mode (it is selected by default) or the warmer but not yet yellowish Warm1 mode.

The monitor has a good response time, for an S-PVA matrix: 9.8 milliseconds GtG on average with a maximum of 13.9 milliseconds. As opposed to TN matrixes that achieve a small average response time by means of a quick black-white transition and rather slow other transitions, the S-PVA matrix in the 275T does not differ much from the average (GtG) on neither transition. In other words, it is equally fast on almost every color. What is especially good, it does not have a big response on dark tones (up to tens of milliseconds as is common for many *VA matrixes).

The response time compensation mechanism works with minor errors: 1.2% on average with a maximum of 14%. This is just barely noticeable. You will notice this error if you are looking for it specifically, but it won’t be annoying at everyday work or in games.

The monitor’s maximum brightness is very high, about 400 nits (but doesn’t reach the declared 500 nits). This makes it suitable for watching movies and playing games even under bright daylight. If you are working in a dim room, you should reduce the brightness setting to zero and the contrast one to about 20-30%.

So, the SyncMaster 275T is a very good monitor for people who want a large screen but do not need the large resolution of 30” models. It is accurately set up (but you should adjust the too low default gamma in the monitor’s menu), has an excellent response time with a small RTC error, offers a good contrast ratio, a large color gamut, and a variety of video inputs. The monitor is obviously intended for movies and games – it has a larger screen but the same resolution as 24” models. And its high max brightness and dynamic contrast mode are mainly needed for the mentioned applications, too. But if you need a large monitor for work, you may want to consider the following two models instead.

Samsung SyncMaster 305T

30” LCD monitors have been round for a few years (Apple introduced its first 30-incher back in 2004, for example), but they used to be rather unaffordable for common users. The prices have moved down lately (well, a price of $1800-2000 is still quite high, but the 30” Apple Cinema HD cost over $3000 when it was released) and such models have begun to receive more attention from users as well as manufacturers. More 30” models are available now: the mentioned Cinema HD, the Dell 3007WFP, and the new SyncMaster 305T…

As opposed to the 27” SyncMaster 275T with its large pixels, the 305T has a pixel pitch of only 0.251 millimeters at a resolution of 2560x1600. Only 19” monitors with a resolution of 1600x1200 (like the Iiyama AU4831D) had smaller pixels, but they never became popular due to high price as well as to the too small pixel size. The huge size of the 305T screen implies that the user is going to sit farther from it than from a rather small 19” monitor and the pixel pitch will have an even bigger effect.

Besides making you enable the scaling of fonts and interface elements of the OS and applications, the large resolution of the 305T imposes restrictions as to what graphics card you can use with it. As I wrote at the beginning of the article, this monitor only worked normally with a Sapphire Radeon X1650 while the Radeon X1300, despite its declared support for Dual-Link DVI and 2560x1600 resolution, could not work with it.

With a huge screen (to remind you, there have never existed CRT monitors of that size!) it weighs only 12kg which is not much for such a long diagonal. The monitor’s appearance resembles the above-described 275T except for the control buttons – I’ll talk about them shortly.

The monitor is made of matte black plastic except for a gray insert between the front and rear halves of the case. The stand allows to change the height (from 80 to 155 millimeters) and tilt of the screen and to rotate it around the vertical axis. You can replace the native stand if necessary, but a lot of stands and mounts for monitors won’t do in terms of maximum weight and fastening plate size. You’ll have to choose from among mounts intended for LCD TV-sets and plasma panels.

The monitor’s controls are a surprise. It has only three buttons: Power (designed like on the 275T), Brightness Up and Brightness Down. That’s all. The monitor does not have any other settings. It lacks an onscreen menu and even lacks an onscreen brightness adjustment slider. It does not support MagicTune.

This is similar to Apple’s monitors for which this set of buttons is long common. I guess there is a technical reason here. Available processors for monitors cannot handle the huge data stream (the resolution of 2560x1200 pixels at 60fps and 24 bits per pixel amounts to 5.5Gbps!). The brightness adjustment is implemented through the backlight lamps and does not load the monitor’s processor at all.

Is it good or not? Well, the lack of settings is not good. Just refer to the previous section of the review where I managed to correct the gamma curves of the SyncMaster 275T using one of its settings. Of course, these settings – contrast, color temperature, gamma compensation – can all be specified on the graphics card level, but this generally leads to a less precise representation of colors than when you use the monitor’s own settings. Moreover, it is just easier to use the monitor’s buttons or a special-purpose program (MagicTune) than to browse through the graphics card’s settings which have become so profuse in the current drivers from both AMD/ATI and Nvidia.

Another question is if the brightness adjustment range is wide enough for comfortable work under different lighting. Or will you have to lower the excessive brightness of the screen with the graphics card’s settings? Theoretically, if the brightness setting can reduce the screen brightness to comfortable level even for working in a dim room, the contrast setting becomes unnecessary (it would only reduce the monitor’s dynamic range), but most of today’s monitors are so bright that you can’t do with the brightness setting only.

A very scanty set of inputs is another remarkable feature of this monitor. It has neither an analog D-Sub nor video inputs, offering only a digital DVI-D and a USB hub. The hub’s four ports are all placed at the back and are only convenient for connecting permanent peripherals like a mouse or keyboard, but not for removable flash drives. The lack of an analog input is not a problem, though. No graphics card would handle the resolution of 2560x1600 pixels with an acceptable image quality.

The monitor does not have a menu or some numerical indication of the selected brightness value, so I tested it at the minimum and maximum brightness. A handy feature, the LED in the Power button begins to blink on your reaching a brightness adjustment limit, thus showing you that there is no sense in pressing the button any longer.

Brightness is controlled through pulse-width modulation of the power supply of the backlight lamps at a frequency of 240Hz. The modulation is performed even at the maximum brightness.

Subjectively, the image quality is good. The backlighting is uniform. Color gradients are reproduced flawlessly.

The SyncMaster 305T uses ordinary backlight lamps and its color gamut is just a little better than the standard sRGB: the red dot is located differently and green is reproduced better. This is good, but the color gamut triangle is still much smaller than with the above-described 275T. Samsung has promised to release an updated version of the monitor in the second half of this year with WG-CCFLs and an extended gamut.

The gamma curves are acceptable. Red and green are close to the ideal curves, but blue is too low.

Color temperature is set up quite accurately. The monitor deflects much from the standard 6500K on darkest tones only.

The monitor’s average response time is 9.5 milliseconds, and the matrix is slow on dark transitions, almost to 50 milliseconds, which is a rather typical thing with *VA technologies. The fastest transition takes only 4 milliseconds.

Alas, the good response comes at a cost. The RTC error is 5.6% on average with a maximum of 47.2%. This is not very much. For example, the average error may amount to 15% with TN matrixes and the artifacts are indeed conspicuous then. On the other hand, the above-described 275T has almost the same response (and without the increase on darks) but its RTC artifacts are five times smaller.

Contrary to my apprehensions, the 305T’s brightness adjustment range is selected very appropriately: from 74 to 256 nits. The bottom limit suits for work even in a dim room without your having to reduce the screen brightness further by means of the graphics card. The top limit is more than enough for work under bright sunlight.

Curiously, the calibrator could not even measure the level of black at the minimum brightness, always showing zero.

Thus, the SyncMaster 305T is not an ideal product. It has its drawbacks, in functionality (only one input; no user settings and the lack of the MagicBright feature; inconvenient placement of the USB hub ports) as well as in setup quality (inaccurate gamma curves, a growth of the response time on darks). On the other hand, none of the drawbacks is a real problem. Most users won’t even notice them. The brightness adjustment range is wide enough to adapt the monitor to any reasonable conditions.

Although the 305T is mainly intended for work that requires a large screen and a large display resolution, its parameters make it suitable for use as a home monitor, for playing games and watching movies. It offers enough brightness and speed for such applications, too.

Dell 3007WFP

With all the similarity in their parameters, capabilities and even, partially, external design that can be seen between the Samsung 305T and the Dell 3007WFP, there is one significant difference. The former employs an S-PVA matrix manufactured by Samsung while the latter has an S-IPS matrix from LG.Philips LCD.

Strangely enough, the practical differences proved to be negligible. I had been mainly concerned with the traditional defect of S-IPS technology when black acquires a violet hue when viewed at an angle. The larger the monitor, the stronger this effect should have been. Fortunately, I noticed no serious problems with how the 3007WFP displayed black. Yes, there is a violet hue if you are looking for it, but it is not disturbing at all at everyday work. The monitor’s having a lager inter-pixel grid in comparison with S-PVA is not annoying, either. Thanks to the small pixel pitch it is not as conspicuous as on 19” monitors, for example (well, this only annoys a small percent of users even on 19” models, too).

And conversely, although S-IPS technology is said to provide somewhat larger viewing angles than *VA technologies, I can’t say the difference is big. S-PVA matrixes have become much better in this respect than older PVA ones, so there is going to be no practical difference between S-PVA and S-IPS for a majority of users.

The Dell 3007WFP looks somewhat better overall than the Samsung 305T mostly due to its more graceful silvery stand and the shape of the case that conceals its thickness, although the Dell is not any more compact than the Samsung and is even heavier at almost 16kg.

The stand allows adjusting the tilt of the screen, rotating it around the vertical axis (the bottom of the stand remains motionless at that), and adjusting the height of the screen (the monitor is fixed automatically in the bottommost position; to unblock it, you should press a button at the back of the stand and pull the screen up; to fix the monitor again you just push it down to a click).

The stand can be replaced with a standard VESA mount. Make sure the mount can support the weight of this monitor because many mounts are meant for 8-10kg at most.

The monitor has just as many connectors as the 305T: one DVI-D for digital connection and a 4-port USB hub. Two of the hub’s ports are located on the monitor’s back panel.

Two more ports are on the left side of the case for USB flash drives and other such peripherals. Moreover, there is a multi-format card-reader here. It supports SmartMedia, Secure Digital, Memory Stick, MultiMedia Card, and Compact Flash. The monitor cannot work with it directly, though. I mean it cannot display photos from memory cards, for example. The card-reader is an ordinary USB device that will be identified by the PC as a set of removable disks when you connect the USB cord to the monitor.

You can also connect optional speakers, which are to be hung under the case. Their quality is rather low as usual (but Dell honestly specifies the bottom limit of the frequency response: 95Hz, -10dB). So, you may only want to purchase them if you value your desk space more than the quality of sound.

Like the 305T, and obviously due to the same reasons, the monitor is controlled with only three buttons: Power and brightness adjustment. And I guess the design of the buttons is the only drawback in the overall appearance of this monitor. They are just painted in white on the front panel. The Power button is highlighted with a blue LED at work and with an amber one in sleep mode. The buttons are all touch-sensitive and react sharply to a soft touch of a finger.

A minor shortcoming in comparison with the SyncMaster 305T, the LED in the Samsung monitor begins to blink on reaching the minimum or maximum brightness limit, showing that there’s no use pressing the button any more. The 3007FW lacks this kind of indication, which is not a big problem, though.

Subjectively, the image quality is high. The viewing angles are excellent. The characteristic violet hue of S-IPS matrixes is inconspicuous. Color gradients are reproduced flawlessly.

Despite the different matrix types, the color gamuts of the 305T and 3007WFP are almost identical. No wonder, as the color gamut depends on the backlight lamps and RGB filters employed rather than on the matrix type. By the way, Dell has already announced the 3007WFP-HC model with new lamps and an extended color gamut, but the older version of the monitor still prevails in shops.

The gamma-curves look good. Green and red colors are set up ideally, blue is just somewhat too intensive. The monitor has no problems reproducing details in darks or lights.

The color temperature is set up superbly. Taking 6500K as the reference point, the monitor deflects by no more than 350K from it, which is very good.

The Dell 3007WFP uses an S-IPS matrix without response time compensation. It is not slow, however, having an average response of 13.5 milliseconds GtG with a maximum of 22.3 milliseconds. So, it is just a little slower than the SyncMaster 305T but is free from any RTC artifacts, of course.

It’s worse with the brightness adjustment range. It is shifted up by about 30 nits in comparison with the 305T, and the minimum brightness limit is over 100 nits. This is enough to work in a brightly lit office room, but may be too much for home use. You can reduce brightness further using graphics card settings.

In full accordance with theory that says that S-IPS matrixes have lower contrast than S-PVA, the level of black is always higher than that of the SyncMaster 305T.

Conclusion

Anyway, with all the minor discrepancies between them, the Dell 3007WFP and the Samsung 305T are two very similar monitors when it comes to their practical characteristics. The Dell looks somewhat more elegant, has an integrated card-reader and conveniently placed USB ports, offers a slightly more accurate color reproduction setup, and lacks any RTC artifacts. The Samsung has a faster and higher-contrast matrix and offers a better brightness adjustment range, which is important as neither of these monitors has a contrast setting.

So, again, these two monitors are very good from a technical standpoint. Choosing between them is a matter of personal taste.