Samsung SyncMaster 173P – 17in TFT monitor Review
- Review Price: £351.00
Fresh from claiming the top accolade in our large screen LCD group test, Samsung has submitted another monitor for me to scrutinise – the 17in SyncMaster 173P. Now, as far as screens of this size go, the 173P is not the cheapest TFT monitor you can buy and at just over £350 at the time of writing, many users may find that their budgets fall a little short. However, the old adage of ‘you get what you pay for’ is definitely one you can apply here.
First up, I’m of the opinion that many consumers are not only looking for IT equipment that performs well, but also stuff that looks the part. Just look at the way the old beige-coloured PC case has pretty much been superseded by fancily designed ones and how Apple’s iPod has taken the portable music player market by storm. Aesthetics clearly play an important part in the success of a product and Samsung has certainly taken this into account when it’s designers sat down to draw up the plans for the 173P.
Clearly Samsung has taken a leaf out of Apple’s book and clad the 173P in a very attractive white lacquered chassis. This is heavily evident when you view the monitor from the rear as opposed to the front where the bezel has been finished in matt silver. The top of the almost circular base gets the same silver finish, and also shares the metal bezel’s highly polished bevelled edge – a small design feature, but one that really adds to the overall quality that the 173P exudes.
Now the design and functionality do not stop there, as the 173P also comes with dual connectivity in the shape of a DVI port and a D-SUB one, both neatly mounted into the rear of the base next to the power input. In that respect you have the option of choosing between an analogue signal and a clean and crisp digital one, so no limitations are placed on the end user there. In fact, Samsung includes both cable types in the box and if you wish you could simultaneously hook up these ports to your graphics card if it sports both connectors, or to two PCs as long they have the appropriate ports too. Of course, the 173P will have to be told which port the signal is being fed to, but this can be done with ease using the clever button-less OSD, which I’ll come back to later.
I mentioned functionality earlier because the 173P also offers a great range of movement and a variety of options that won’t limit you to using it in the typical way. For instance, the panel can be pivoted not just through 90 degrees for a portrait view, but also all the way around through 178 degrees.
The 173P’s base also has a swivelling turntable and a dual hinged neck that allows the panel to be folded flat, which when used in conjunction with the supplied 75 x 75mm VESA mounting brackets, can be fitted flush against a wall with the signal connectors pointing downwards – ideal if you want to give yourself more room on your desk and don’t want to fork out extra cash for an extending arm. And because the 173P has a very slim panel profile, once folded and mounted it only juts out around 10 centimetres from the wall.
(Image:movement)””’The Samsung SyncMaster 173P has an impressive range of movement, allowing for multiple positions that should suit many individual preferences.””’
The fact that it has such a slim profile is largely down to the lack of speakers and Samsung’s decision to keep the power supply external. Now, as you may know from my other reviews, I am not usually a fan of external power bricks as they usually end up kicking about your feet or taking up room on your desk. However, in this case I am willing to make an exception because I don’t think the 173P would have looked quite as elegant or been able to offer its great range of movement if the power supply was built in.
Another reason why the 173P looks the part is the complete lack of any controls mounted on the fascia. The only control present is the touch-sensitive power button mounted to the right of the lower part of the bezel. As I hinted at before, the OSD isn’t your normal run of the mill multi-button affair, but is instead completely software based and entirely controlled by using your PC’s mouse which sends the appropriate cues over the signal cable and Display Data Channel Command Interface, or DDC-CI for short.
The software is termed MagicTune and it must be installed before you can make any screen adjustments. Needless to say the software has been designed for Windows-based machines so those using other operating systems could well be disappointed. That said, once installed from the CD the range of options and features are quite impressive. For instance you have options for geometry, colour, personalising unlimited presets, and a help/support menu for downloading MagicTune upgrades and getting technical support.
In addition, what I really like about this set-up software is the added bonus of integrated test screens to help you fine tune the image. Normally the end user is left high and dry in this respect, but here the software throws up test patterns for geometry, clock and phase, resolution, and RGB colour levels (the first two are only available under an analogue connection). The brightness and contrast can be adjusted with the help of test screens too, thereby limiting the chance of getting washed out colours or losing detail in images where contrast is low. In the colour menu the white point can also be set precisely using a test image where a variety of skin tones are displayed for judging the changes you make.
Furthermore, I can’t forget to mention the colour calibration tutorial and the wizard, which both guide the user through a comprehensive step-by-step procedure for setting the colour and the majority of these settings respectively. There’s also the MagicBright menu that offers three brightness modes for ‘Text’, ‘Internet’, and for ‘Entertain’. Briefly, in ‘Text’ mode the brightness level is pretty much typical of most standard LCDs. ‘Internet’ mode offers increased luminescence for viewing images and downloaded movies, and ‘Entertain’ mode, the brightest of the three, offers television-like luminescence for gaming and movies. Last but not least, Samsung includes Natural Colour software for creating a colour profile for the 173P, and Pivot Pro for rotating the desktop when the panel is pivoted.
All these options add up to monitor that should ensure that you or I will not be using a display that is ill-set, which believe me is something I come across on a regular basis. I can only applaud Samsung for making colour calibration an easy process rather than a daunting or confusing one.
Of course, all these screen settings are redundant if the panel itself isn’t up to the job, so as usual I ran the 173P through DisplayMate’s test screens plus our test images and DVD movie. First, I would like to point out that the 173P’s panel relies on temporal dithering to produce a 16.2 million-colour gamut, so I was half expecting the colour scales to be a little rough around the edges. Despite this, the colour separation up and down the scales was pretty impressive with clearly defined steps and no signs of changing tints with intensity. Colours looked very pure, rich and vibrant too, and all faded uniformly to black.
As for the greyscales, these were smooth and linear although I could notice a touch of compression at the dim ends of the scales, which was a little surprising considering the 173P’s impressive 700:1 contrast ratio. That said, I had this display set up next to an aperture grille CRT noted for its bright and punchy picture, and I have to say the 173P was performing on an almost equal footing. In Displaymate’s white-level saturation test, grey level 252 was discernable, which is pretty good for an LCD – especially one that employs a 6-bit panel. Our test images also looked as fresh as the day I shot them, and the colour balance was spot on. Large areas of a similar colour were smooth too, whereas flesh tones looked realistic.
As for the test movie, there was little evidence of motion smearing, but I was a little concerned by the loss of detail in dark sequences. However, I then remembered the ‘Entertain’ setting in the MagicBright menu. By selecting this a little more detail was brought out and when viewed from a sensible distance the 173P demonstrated that it was capable of producing a televisual experience, albeit one with a relatively small 1,280 x 1,024 pixel picture. What’s more, if you have a group of friends huddled around the display, those on the outer edges shouldn’t feel too left out, as the viewing angles both vertically and horizontally are amongst the widest I‘ve seen at around 85 degrees from centre. This is a virtue of the 173P’s Patterned Vertical Alignment (PVA) panel, where the liquid crystals are orientated vertically in a symmetrical pattern. Without going into too much detail, this arrangement allows light to pass through from wider angles as well as offering faster pixel switching, which to some extent explains why motion smearing was minimal in our test movie.
All in all, I’m convinced that the SyncMaster 173P will be a very popular choice for those looking for a solid panel with a bit of flare. There are some slight niggles, but I would consider purchasing one on the basis that Samsung has successfully married together the key attributes of image performance and aesthetics that make a 17in panel desirable – and that’s coming from a hardened CRT advocate.
Overall I’ve found very little at fault with the SyncMaster 173P. It offers more or less everything you can wish for in a 17in TFT screen. Granted, there are no speakers, it’s a 6-bit panel, and it’s a little more expensive than other LCDs of the same size, but it makes up for these points with a decent set of test results, a novel way of controlling screen adjustments, as well as offering a whole host of screen positions and even a wall mounting option. Oh, and did I mention how sexy it looks? A Recommended choice.
Score in detail
Image Quality 9