- Review Price: £409.00
I’ve been a fan of Sony’s X-Black screen technology ever since it was introduced on VAIO notebooks, and I’ve always asked myself why Sony didn’t produced desktop monitors using the same process. Well now I can stop asking myself that question, because sitting in front of me right now is the SDM-HS73P, which is a 17in desktop X-Black TFT screen.
In case you don’t know, X-Black screens produce seriously bright and vibrant displays. If you happen to play a lot of games or watch movies on your monitor, you will notice a huge difference with an X-Black screen. The technology doesn’t belong to Sony, since I’ve looked at a notebook from Rock that uses the same screen coating, but Rock calls it X-Glass.
It’s hard to describe how different an X-Black display looks from a standard TFT. I guess the big difference between an LCD screen and a CRT screen is that an LCD is transmissive while a CRT is emissive – this allows the CRT to be much brighter and produce richer and more vibrant colours than an LCD. The best way that I can describe an X-Black screen is that the image it produces is closer to a CRT than a traditional LCD screen.
The downside of the X-Black coating is that it makes the screen more reflective than a standard TFT, which can cause problems in areas of multi-directional ambient light. That said, I’ve used Sony notebooks with X-Black screens in many environments and have not found the increased reflectivity too much of a problem. For me at least, the brightness and vibrancy of the image far outweigh this issue.
Right, that’s X-Black out of the way, so what’s the rest of this monitor like? Well it doesn’t come as a huge surprise that everyone in the office thought this screen looked great when I pulled it out of the box. There’s no denying that the design is pretty impressive, with a glossy black bezel complementing the glossy black screen. The bezel is framed by a thin silver lip, that forms part of the stand, which is also silver. When this monitor is sitting on your desk switched off, it does look very stylish, but I have to say that the design isn’t quite so appealing when you switch the screen on and use it.
Although the shiny black bezel looks great when the screen is off, when you switch it on it soon becomes very distracting – it’s like having a black mirror surrounding the screen area and your eye can’t help but be pulled towards the edge of the monitor. This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if the bezel was slim, but it’s not. In fact this is one of the widest bezels I’ve seen on a TFT screen for some time, and makes the whole unit much larger than it needs to be. For example, I have a 19in Samsung TFT in the office and the Sony is the same physical size as that despite only having a 17in panel.
Also, the stand may look good, but in use it’s quite disappointing. There is no vertical movement whatsoever, and no panning movement either. Strangely, the base looks as though it has a swivel plate mounted in it, but instead it’s just slightly raised on rubber feet, making it difficult, but not impossible, to swivel from side to side. It comes as no surprise that the screen won’t pivot into portrait mode, so if this is important to you, you’re going to have to look elsewhere. In fact the only adjustment that is catered for, is tilting the screen forwards and backwards, and although this helps create a better viewing angle, it’s far from perfect.
All the control buttons are mounted in the underside of the front fascia, so as not to spoil the lines of the monitor. The power button looks particularly cool – it’s a long clear plastic button that lights up green when the monitor is switched on. The rest of the controls are pretty standard, with Menu and OK buttons, along with up and down arrows for OSD navigation. What is a little more unusual is the backlight button, that lets you toggle between brightness settings for the backlight. You can choose between Low, Medium, High or User Defined. With the backlight set to high, this screen is amazingly bright and vibrant, in fact too bright. Much as I love bright displays, I actually found this Sony painful on the eyes at the High brightness setting, much like sitting too close to a CRT. I found the Medium setting pretty close to perfect, but after a little bit of fiddling with the User Defined setting I managed to get it perfect.
As well as the backlight brightness there are also three pre-defined gamma settings which also help you set the screen up exactly how you want it. The rest of the OSD is pretty standard, although I was surprised that the auto adjust setting was only available in the OSD instead of being allocated to its own button.
The rear of the monitor looks as stylish as the front, with a glossy black panel hiding all the cabling and sporting a Sony logo. Removing the panel reveals the power socket and the D-SUB analogue video input. Now, you might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned a DVI port, and the reason for this is that there isn’t one. I really do find it hard to believe that a monitor produced by a company like Sony would ship without a digital DVI input, especially since this isn’t a budget screen and is considered the premium home product in Sony’s range.
Firing up DisplayMate showed some good and bad points with the SDM-HS73P. The most obvious plus point is the vibrancy of the colours – the colour purity test looked amazing, as did the colour scales which all decreased in a uniform fashion right up to the final block. On the down side though, there was a significant amount of banding when viewing the 256 intensity greyscale screen and similar issues with the 256 intensity colour ramp. With this in mind, the SDM-HS73P could have problems resolving delicate tonal graduations, but to be fair, this isn’t the sort of display that you’re going to use for serious image editing, so it’s a problem that’s unlikely to arise in general use.
Because of the analogue-only input, you’re never going to get a perfectly crisp and clear image like you would via DVI. As with all analogue connections, the pixel clock and phase will drift over time, meaning that you’ll have to select auto adjust to get things back into line, and since there is no dedicated button for this it can get a little annoying.
Where this screen really excels is when you’re not constricted by a Windows environment. Fire up a DVD or your favourite game and you’ll really see what makes the X-Black technology special. The image is so bright and vivid that it makes any movie or game environment seem even more real. Put simply, I’d like to have a very large X-Black screen in my living room for watching films and playing games on.
Unfortunately, even though I love the X-Black screen, the design of the stand and lack of digital input take all the shine off this little Sony. Add to this a price of £409 and these short comings becom even more of an issue. Even though the screen itself is excellent, it’s the supporting features that let it down.
The X-Black panel looks great but no 17in TFT display that costs over £400 should come without a DVI input. There’s also a significant lack of adjustability despite the aesthetically pleasing design. Ultimately, the SDM-HS73P looks like an object lesson in style over content.
Score in detail
Image Quality 7