Samsung SyncMaster 171MP multimedia LCD
Many of my coworkers in New York City tend to sum up flat-panel LCD monitors as "cool," a concise but shallow understatement. Flat panels are the envy of big-ass CRTs (and their owners) everywhere, a sexy combination of performance and space economy in an inspiring "Where's the rest of me?" form. They are also getting better and less expensive by the minute.
Samsung's newest top-of-the-line consumer monitor is the SyncMaster 171MP multimedia LCD. The 171MP is the first HD-ready thin-film transistor (TFT) computer monitor with a modular TV tuner. Its liquid cell structure features Patterned Vertical Alignment (PVA) technology to improve the viewing angle (170 degrees up-and-down and side-to-side), response time (less than 25 microseconds), contrast, and transmittance in the normal black mode. Because of the high manufacturing costs, only 17-inch and larger TFT monitors use PVA (rather than the traditional TN panel structure). Thanks to a 15-pin HDTV input and an HDTV scaler chip, the 171MP is fully HD-ready, with a resolution of up to 1,280 by 1,024 at 76 hertz and an ultrafine pixel pitch of 0.264 millimeters. Since every LCD has a native/fixed resolution, a scaler is necessary to display different resolutions in a full-screen format. The 171MP incorporates a Pixelworks scaler, which identifies the different video-input formats and determines how to display each (including 480p, 720p, and 1080i HDTV) accurately on a full screen without the need for further adjustment.
At just 2.3 inches deep and 10.7 pounds, the snazzy off-silver 171MP can hang on the wall as a more-utilitarian, less-ostentatious alternative to a 42-inch plasma screen. With an aspect ratio of 5:4, it's a little narrower than a standard television but not drastically so (1.25:1 versus 1.33:1), and its actual viewing area utilizes its full 17 inches. It's also portable, with a base that folds into a handle and a 12-volt DC power cable for mobile applications. This multimedia monitor can display two sources at once via picture-in-picture, so its potential functions are almost limitless in a variety of work/home scenarios. A digital zoom function magnifies any area of the screen up to 64 times.
The outboard NTSC tuner, available separately, is compliant with TV formats in the U.S., Mexico, and other countries that use the NTSC system. Once you purchase the monitor, if you decide you want or need this option, you can receive a free tuner by downloading a mail-in coupon from Samsung's Website at www.samsungusa.com/monitor. At press time, the company introduced the slightly more home-theater-friendly LTM1755 ($1,799), which is also HD-ready and has a built-in NTSC tuner. Although Samsung hasn't announced anything specific, they might sell an HDTV tuner in the future. The outboard tuner works perfectly with the 171MP's included remote control, a surprisingly familiar home-theater-style model that helps you navigate the various onscreen menus, such as PIP sizing/placement, TV-signal fine-tuning, and audio controls. The 171MP displayed cable television quite accurately—antenna, cable, and satellite all work—which is to say that all of the interference that plagues my living-room reception was repeated in the home office where I tested the new monitor. (Thank you, Cablevision, for raising my rates while removing channels and delivering inferior quality.) The TV tuner is indeed gravy, however; this monitor makes every input look outstanding.
The 171MP reproduces high-end graphics impressively. Its clarity and versatility also lend themselves to professional applications in the medical and design fields, so the 171MP has been created to work with a wide variety of sturdy VESA-approved mounting options. The monitor's DVD and HDTV input, however, is where the fun begins. Connections are many and varied: 15-pin D-Sub from your PC's video card, the aforementioned HDTV 15-pin connection with analog stereo via RCA, composite video, S-video, and component video via the included RGB-to-15-pin adapter. The 171MP supports analog RGB, composite video (NTSC/PAL/SECAM), and PARA HDTV inputs.
Accompanying the SyncMaster installation disc (version 2.0) is the Natural Color color-management software, which guides you through the process of adjusting the monitor's viewing angle, brightness, contrast, and red, green, and blue levels, as well as addressing the effects of environmental lighting. You can also set your color preferences and use the graphic readout of the gamma curve and before-and-after windows to preview how your changes will look. There's even a group of default settings specifically for DVD display.
The setup procedure was fast and easy, yet it seemed to take an eternity only because I was tallying the seconds until I could connect my Xbox to see what Microsoft's wunderslab can really do when it's set free. This is where the female jacks of Microsoft's HDTV AV Pack actually came in handy, as the necessary Samsung component video adapter is male on both ends. Once I had it properly configured and turned up to its full 1080i widescreen output (the 171MP supports vertical compression for 16:9 display), the Xbox mesmerized me even more than it did in its home theater paces, rivaling even the fastest, sharpest PC game graphics I've ever seen on a computer monitor. The 171MP's image is so clear that it even revealed the Xbox's very minor rendering flaws.
I wanted to check out DVD playback on the 171MP, but I was frustratingly reminded that it does not support Y/Pb/Pr component video output, as on the Xbox. This monitor only supports true RGB, although it does work with both interlaced and progressive-scan video signals. Therefore, I performed my DVD evaluation mostly via DVD-ROM (a Creative drive using PowerDVD software), but the news was all good: At close proximity, the full-screen 16:9 performance was purely filmic and transparent without any distracting lines or pixels, even on the most demanding movie titles. I hope to use this monitor in the future to evaluate DVDs, as any evident picture imperfections were most definitely the fault of the disc. For better or worse, the 171MP hides nothing. Just so I could say that I'd run the gamut, I popped in a handy copy of Infogrames' Survivor, not the most taxing game but one that confirmed my suspicion that this monitor could glean the most from any CD- or DVD-ROM I threw at it. The 171MP effortlessly displays up to 16.7 million colors, limited only by your processor's ability to generate convincing detail.
Handy onscreen readouts volunteer pertinent information, such as a precise listing of sources when accessing the PIP. Front-panel lights to indicate at a glance which input is currently in use would be a welcome complement. The few buttons on the face of the unit are well-organized and provide direct control of most key features. By necessity, the rear-panel connections are somewhat crowded, as so many choices are supplied in so little available real estate. Two plenty-loud 5-watt stereo speakers ably handle the audio duties and can also fake a fairly credible surround effect.
The SyncMaster 171MP's video quality is, not surprisingly, as good as or better than that of any display device I have ever personally reviewed, regardless of size. The picture is richly detailed, colorful beyond all reasonable expectations, and rock-steady. In short, it's a treat for the eyes—one I could happily stare at for hours on end.
• One of the best PC monitors/flat-panel LCDs on the market
• HD-ready with an optional NTSC TV tuner
• Slim, clever design makes it portable and hangable
• Supports almost every available video-input format
• Compact, ergonomic, TV-style IR remote control