Samsung SyncMaster 244T LCD Monitor
Video editor Geoffrey Morrison is a car guy. Me, I drive a Camry. It's 10 years old, and it does everything I need it to do. But I certainly appreciate the difference when I sit behind the wheel of, say, a BMW. That's kind of how I felt when I test drove Samsung's latest SyncMaster LCD monitor, the 244T.
The SyncMaster 244T specs out more impressively than any computer display I've tried. It's HD ready with a 16:10 aspect ratio—more common in the computer realm than home theater's 16:9 rectangle. It has a maximum resolution of 1,920 by 1,200 and is easily capable of displaying high-definition resolutions, including 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p. Just as importantly, it supports HDCP to allow playback of protected HD content. Samsung claims it has a quick 6-millisecond response time, a 1,000:1 contrast ratio, and an extremely wide 178-degree horizontal/vertical viewing angle.
The array of video inputs is more akin to a digital television than a computer monitor, led by the DVI I used most extensively. Also provided are ports for VGA, component video, S-video, and composite video. Unlike some previous Samsung monitors I've reviewed, this one offers no audio options whatsoever. The back end of the monitor is a good deal thicker than other LCD flat panels I've seen, likely owing to the new aesthetic of an integrated AC power adapter. It requires only a standard cord out the back, versus an external brick. The SyncMaster 244T's slim bezel means that the image truly dominates: Buy several and sync your SyncMasters to form a video wall! Tiny, distinct buttons along the lower-right edge allow access to the onscreen menus and picture-in-picture functions. Somewhat surprisingly compared with SyncMasters past, the 244T does not include a remote control. The elegance of this new monitor combined with the many menu options made this a very noticeable omission. Switching between the numerous inputs also demands a remote control, in my opinion.
Convenience features include a built-in USB 2.0 hub, two downstream ports for connecting external devices, and a third upstream port for connecting the monitor to the computer. Both of the high-powered downstream ports are capable of charging an iPod. The left-side placement of the ports is handy for quick connects and disconnects, but all of those cables dangling for any length of time defeat the display's style intent. As it will surely be a source of envy, the SyncMaster 244T supports the security of the optional Kensington Lock with a small rear-side hole. A sturdy, simple stand with integrated cable management arrives pre-affixed, but you can detach it by removing four screws. A standard VESA-compliant wall-mounting interface is also available separately.
Adjust My Monitor? What, the Height?
Most people I know spend exactly zero seconds tweaking their computer monitors' image quality, so Samsung's extensive calibration tools stand in stark defiance of the mainstream. Onscreen menus put a wealth of information and control at your fingertips, and you can navigate via the up, down, and select buttons along the lower-right edge. In addition to reporting statistics like current resolution and any custom picture settings, the menus invite you to choose handy names for the various inputs from a drop-down list: DVD, D-VHS, VCR, and so on. Here, you can also make the most of the PIP window, specifying source, size, and position. There is also a nifty split-screen configuration, made possible by the screen's 16:10 canvas. While the extent of the possible customization is really inspiring, I also longed for a remote control, especially on features such as PIP, which are familiar from, and much easier in, the living room.
A suite of nifty new software on the bundled CD is all about tweaking the monitor to the user's specific needs, be they work, play, or a combination. MagicTune 4.0 provides basic tabs for picture, color, and more, with sliders to adjust brightness, contrast, color tone (aka temperature), gamma, and the saturation of six different colors. There is also a five-step color-calibration tool, although it lacks any sort of onscreen instructions and is therefore difficult to use. Even so, MagicTune 4.0 was where I spent most of my time, as it is the most comprehensive of the tools and is typically more friendly and interactive than most TV calibration menus. MagicColor and MagicColor Pro are also accessible via the onscreen menus. They offer further options, such as Color Weakness for those with special viewing concerns. The now-streamlined Natural Color 2.0 color-management system is much easier to use. It helped me perfectly balance my reds, greens, and blues in less than two minutes, compensating for factors such as room light and eye-to-screen distance. Happily, after you've installed the software, you don't need the actual disc to perform any of these setups. The MagicBright function provides one-button access to the four brightness and contrast presets: Entertain (high brightness for DVD and video playback), Internet (a medium boost to brightness), and the Normal and Custom options. Should Samsung's engineers' idea of the proper brightness and contrast not match yours, you can quickly tweak both via the onscreen display.
Many of the settings have automatically suggested values, such as the automatic Dynamic, Standard, and Movie picture presets. The Standard preset delivers a sharp image under brighter circumstances, Dynamic is sharper still, and Movie assumes darker surroundings and provides a warmer color tone. Again, a Custom option is also here, and it can save and recall personal preferences. MagicColor can run in Intelligent mode, enhancing most colors but preserving skin tones. Or it can run in Full mode, enhancing everything. It can also display an on-the-fly demo, showing the left side of the screen with MagicColor and the right side without, which makes a pretty persuasive case.
Let the Games Begin
With the SyncMaster 244T properly tuned, it was time to fire up my HTPC rig—tricked out around a 3.6-gigahertz Intel Pentium 4 processor with Hyper-Threading and the new ATI All-in-Wonder X1900 multimedia video card (see sidebar). I relish any opportunity to scrutinize the Windows Media Video HD version of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, found on disc two of the T2 Extreme DVD. The short answer is that the SyncMaster 244T's rendition of the HD image's precise details was nothing short of magnificent, but this level of quality is a double-edged sword. Yes, I noticed minutiae I never saw before, like the pattern of the screen door when the T-1000 stops by John Connor's house. But I was simultaneously more aware of imperfections suddenly exposed, like the sometimes-serious occasions of film grain. The range and subtlety of colors were also a striking revelation. I could directly patch in an outboard DVD deck via standard component video cables and watch that in PIP while the HD version played, for the ultimate A/B comparison. As often happens with high-end gear, you are limited by the source material, so traditional applications and the streaming of smaller windows of compressed video looked fine.
Gamewise, the SyncMaster 244T took everything I threw at it, including some of the most demanding recent games set at their highest resolutions. The monitor also delivered the textures and light/shadow details my ATI graphics card rendered in all of their glory. I saw only the most minimal instances of ghosting, even during fast-action scenarios, and I saw virtually no streaking of images, regardless of content. There was nothing my HTPC could throw up on the screen that the SyncMaster 244T couldn't handle with grace. The width and overall surface area also ably fill the field of vision in a near-field desktop environment.
Of course, a drastic step-up product does take a little getting used to. When a predominately white Word document like this article is open, the SyncMaster 244T tended to light up half my office like a lamp. Mousing also took on a new cadence, as I now need to cover a larger area and a different shape. The SyncMaster 244T also takes a little longer to warm up than some LCDs, but such minuses are almost negligible, while the benefits are substantial. Priced lower than Samsung's big flat panels of years past and better-featured to boot, the SyncMaster 244T is certainly an investment, but one you can feel good about.
• Large, widescreen monitor for serious computer entertainment (and work, I suppose)
• Supports a variety of high-definition standards: 1080p resolution, DVI input, HDCP
• Gorgeous to look at, especially after calibration