Controls and OSD
The S27B970D has one of the best touch-control systems around. Rather than being located on the bezel (where it would have been tiring to use and visually distracting) or even on the base, they’re in the ideal spot: on a raised cut-out in the leg. Resting your hand comfortably on the base, this leaves them within ideal reach of an index finger.
Each of the four well-spaced, sensitive controls has been given a handy shortcut, and using them to navigate through Samsung’s OSD is a pleasure. It’s especially clever how the volume shortcut changes to control brightness/contrast when on a source without audio capabilities. You’ll never miss the controls in the dark either; where most monitors’ LED indicators require a touch to light up, the ones on this Series 9 stay subtly lit while it’s on. If only all touch systems were as carefully thought out... Our only complaint is that on a large, entertainment-oriented display at this price point, it would have been nice to see a remote control, as found with the NEC MultiSync LCD24WMGX3.
The OSD itself is the classic monochrome affair found on most Samsung monitors. It’s logically laid out and offers all the options one might want on a semi-professional display.
The stereo speakers integrated beautifully into the bezel’s base are, quite frankly, astonishing by monitor standards. They’re the loudest and bassiest of any display we’ve yet encountered, matching many a portable speaker and managing adequate volume to fill a small room – which is an impressive feat of engineering, if nothing else.
However, this does come at a price, as there’s a slightly harsh quality to anything that leaves the mid-range. Meanwhile, distortion creeps in at the top and bottom of the scale even at modest volumes. As such, a set of external speakers is still recommended to complete the S27B970D’s entertainment experience.
Things are off to a pretty good start for the S27B970D by using a 27in PLS panel with a 2560 x 1440 resolution – the highest available in an affordable consumer display below 30 inches. Better yet, this monitor comes factory pre-calibrated, and while Samsung is hardly the only manufacturer to offer this service on a high-end display, it’s still enough of a rarity in consumer devices to make it a premium touch. It’s great for those who might not be tech-savvy enough to use colorimeters or other professional calibration equipment (though this is usually a painless process) yet still need a display for colour-sensitive work like advanced photo-editing or visual design. Samsung provides a data sheet with all the calibration information unique to each monitor.
The use of a high-quality, high-resolution, 10-bit (1.07 billion colour) panel with good viewing angles and its colour calibration is all part of the process Samsung refers to as Natural Color Expert (NCE). These are features of a monitor suited to semi-professional graphics work. In fact, the only missing element on paper is an extended colour gamut, which would require RGB-LED backlighting. Samsung only quotes full coverage of the sRGB colour space, where it would have been more meaningful to give AdobeRGB or at least NTSC figures.
In practice, image quality was even more impressive than on Samsung’s first PLS monitor, the S27A850, and makes for stiff competition with LED-backlit IPS rivals. Backlighting is very even with hardly any sign of bleed. Contrast is excellent, with even the subtlest dark gradations visible alongside pure and detailed whites. Despite causing annoying reflections when dark material is being displayed, the glass front also aids perceived black depth and adds extra punch to the already vivid colours, making for a very dynamic display.
As you would expect given the panel technology, viewing angles are nearly flawless, though a hint of contrast shift does creep in at extremes. Like on its predecessor, there are no annoying artefacts and colour scales are beautifully smooth with not even a suggestion of banding. Overdriven to 5ms, all but the most hard-core gamers will be happy with the experience the S27B970D provides, and playing at the monitor’s native resolution (for those with video cards that can handle it) is a joy.
The out-of-box calibration is very good, and means you can get down to photo editing without messing with any settings. Unfortunately, many of the Samsung presets don’t let you alter any settings when activated, including the sRGB and Calibrated modes. Naturally this helps to protect their integrity, but it would have been much nicer to be able to use them as a base template for other modes – for example, using the calibrated settings with lower brightness to alleviate eye fatigue.
At £799, the S27B970D significantly more expensive than most competitors using similar panels, not least Samsung’s own £580 S27A850. Admittedly this Series 9 offers a 10-bit colour range, scaling, and far more connectivity, but then so does the £520 Dell UltraSharp U2711. On the other hand, that’s a relatively bulky and industrial-looking CCFL-backlit display, and while it’s more flexible in practically every way, it’s not individually colour calibrated, doesn’t look nearly as attractive, nor is it as easy on your electricity bill.
The S27B970D’s real competition is Apple’s £900 27in Thunderbolt Display. Looks are comparable,
with preference being down to individual taste. The Apple has better build quality but doesn’t
offer adjustability. The Samsung gives you more connectivity options while the Thunderbolt Display includes an integrated webcam and can act as a dock. However, even if it weren’t £100 cheaper the S27B970D would come out on top due to its calibration and height adjustability, making it the superior choice for imaging use.
Samsung’s Series 9 S27B970D successfully merges designer looks with multimedia features and the kind of quality to satisfy imaging enthusiasts. It’s easily one of the most attractive monitors available, yet manages to maintain the most essential adjustability that is so often sacrificed on this type of display. Connectivity, usability and image quality are generally a cut above, making for a superb high-end display that’s equally suitable for work or play. It lacks any kind of audio output, with the speakers not up to the task of matching the visual quality they’re meant to accompany. However, overall the S27B970D’s good points outweigh the bad enough to make it worth its rather high asking price for those after a no-compromise designer monitor, especially given the lack of competition.