Review: Samsung SyncMaster 205BW

By Eric Grevstad | Posted November 10, 2006

You young whippersnappers won't remember, but back in the CRT days anything bigger than a 15- or at most 17-inch monitor was a big deal. Having a 20-inch-diagonal display on your desk was a status symbol reserved for graphics professionals with big budgets (even though its actual viewable measurement was something under 19 inches). Hoisting such a monitor onto your desk was a 60- or 70-pound exercise.

Today, of course, CRTs are an endangered species, while flat-panel monitor prices are falling so fast that 15-inch LCDs — the first to replace picture tubes as status symbols — have almost disappeared. Last year 17-inch and this year 19-inch desktop LCDs have become affordable enough to flood the mainstream.

The obvious next step is to 20 inches, as was the Samsung SyncMaster 204B monitor we reviewed seven months ago. We liked that 1,600 by 1,200-pixel display, but suggested that readers skip its $630 list price to hunt down online resellers that charged around $500 for it.

The 204B is still a fine monitor, but it's less tempting once you've seen the SyncMaster 205BW. Not only does the new 20-inch model abandon its cousin's traditional 4:3 aspect ratio in favor of a thoroughly modern widescreen display, but it costs 40 percent less — list $350, with an online search readily finding it for $300.

Ready for Hi-Def
While its 1,680 by 1,050 pixels make it suitable for extra-wide spreadsheets, letterboxed DVD movies and side-by-side application windows, the black-framed 205BW lacks one feature of its predecessor — it can't pivot between landscape and portrait mode to show a whole word processing or Web page.

But the display does offer a handy 3.5 inches of height adjustment as well as a tilt-and-swivel base — although swiveling our test unit seemed to involve two-thirds nudging the whole monitor clockwise or counterclockwise and only one-third using the lazy-susan spinner on the underside of the round base. At just 15 pounds, however, it's no chore to place and position the Samsung any way you like (or position two of them, since the bezel is thin enough to encourage side-by-side tiling).

The 205BW's footprint is roughly 19 inches wide by eight inches deep, standing an adjustable 13.5 to 17 inches tall. The 75-watt power supply is built in, with no need for a notebook-PC-style power brick. Attaching the video and power cables is the typical nuisance of either laying the LCD on its face for horizontal or jabbing blindly upward for vertical insertion, but a flexible holder at the rear of the stand helps keep cables tidy.

Speaking of cables, the SyncMaster thoughtfully comes with one apiece for its analog VGA and digital DVI inputs on the flat on a scratchproof surface. The digital connection includes up-to-date HDCP (high definition content protection) support for viewing HD content under Windows Vista or another OS; analog users can take advantage of a one-touch image sizing and centering button on the front bezel.

Four other buttons (joined by a power button) control an on-screen menu of display settings. If you're too lazy to master the buttons for scrolling through and selecting from the various menus, Samsung's MagicTune Windows software lets you click a system-tray icon to access a mouse-based control panel. (Samsung cautions that MagicTune may not work with some of the newest graphics cards and drivers; it proved incompatible with an ATI Radeon X1900 CrossFire setup with a beta Catalyst 6.10 driver, but worked fine on a slightly less bleeding-edge system.)


Samsung SyncMaster 205BW

Bright and Early
One menu setting, dubbed MagicColor, cranks up hue and saturation to make colors noticeably if not spectacularly more vivid — there's a split-screen demo option if you'd like to study the difference. If your family portraits don't agree with MagicColor's full-strength mode, you can try an "intelligent" mode that punches up other colors while leaving skin tones alone.

Fine-tuners can adjust red, green and blue independently; cycle through three gamma settings; or explore a Natural Color software utility that helps calibrate the monitor and shows real-time results as you reshape its gamma curve.

More obvious screen shifts come with MagicBright2 modes that tweak five combinations of contrast and brightness — text, Internet, sports, gaming and movie modes, plus a custom setting of your choice. When we tested theSyncMaster 204B, we found the word processing and Web surfing modes too dark to do either; they're not quite as dim in MagicBright2, but still unattractive (42 and 55 percent brightness, respectively). The sport and movie modes give slightly cooler and warmer hues.

The 205BW is rated at 300 nits of brightness and a 700:1 contrast ratio. As with most LCD monitors we've seen over the past year or so, the high contrast ratio more than makes up for what sounds like a mediocre number of candelas per square meter; we were able to enjoy the washday-white backgrounds we prefer with brightness dialed down to 85 or 90 instead of 100 percent. Text stayed sharp enough to read even when shrunk to seven or maybe six points, while colors were clear and bright.

It's All in the Ratio
Like all flat panels, it looks much the best at its native 1,680 by 1,050 resolution, but like the 204B before it, the 205BW does a decent job of scaling lower resolutions to fill the screen without a pixelated, jaggy hangover — although most popular PC resolutions look a little funhouse-mirrored due to their 4:3 or other aspect ratios instead of 16:10.

If document collaborators crowd around your chair, they'll see the screen clearly at fairly wide viewing angles — maybe a bit less than Samsung's stated spread of 160 degrees, but more than we've seen from some flat panels that advertise a higher spread (179.9 degrees, anyone?).

Except for the lack of a portrait/landscape pivot function, it's hard to gripe about the SyncMaster 205BW. Sure, some monitors let you turn brightness down to 70 rather than 85 percent without dimming white backgrounds, while others' text stays sharp down to five- instead of seven-point size. But those LCDs also cost more. When three C-notes can buy 20 spacious, diagonal inches of screen real estate with today's widescreen style and tomorrow's high-definition support, even young whippersnappers should pay attention.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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