Samsung’s Flat-Panel Acrobat

If you’re in the market for a good looking, versatile, 19-inch flat-panel display, you won’t have to go much further than Samsung’s practically acrobatic Syncmaster 970P, which lists for $549. You will, however, have to pay about a $100 more than the going rate for a 19-inch desktop LCD. But the Samsung offers a lot more than the usual 1,280 by 1,024 resolution and lower-than-CRT power consumption.

Samsung SyncMaster 970P
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For one thing, the monitor has both VGA analog and DVI digital inputs, with both cables supplied in the box. Either one, along with the notebook-style external AC adapter cable, plugs into a compact dongle — much easier than the usual hard-to-reach or awkward-angle connectors — at the rear of the display.

The Samsung is also strikingly attractive. Besides a bezel just under an inch thin, it sports a handsome silver-gray and white color scheme, with a square white base accented by a glowing blue (when switched on) power button front and center.

And that’s the only button on the monitor. All other controls such as screen brightness, contrast, and centering are handled by Samsung’s MagicTune software (for Windows or Mac, not for Linux), which pops up from a Windows Taskbar icon to present several menus of point-and-click settings, as well as a detailed calibration utility with test-pattern and color-matching screens for fussy desktop publishers.

The software includes a MagicBright menu that lets you choose among preset levels of brightness intended for Web surfing, gaming and so on. We found the Text and Internet modes much too dim (30 and 45 percent brightness, respectively) and the Sport mode oddly bluish, but had no trouble setting our own brightness and contrast preferences.

Shoppers focused on specifications may think the SyncMaster’s advertised 250 nits of brightness a trifle low, but the monitor makes up for it with a formidable 1,000:1 contrast ratio. Not only does it make text and images superbly sharp, it let us leave brightness at 75 or 80 percent and tweak the contrast setting to achieve the washday-white background we like for word processing.

Loading DisplayMate‘s solid-color screens, we were unable to spot any bad pixels in our test unit’s LCD. We also found faultless contrast, except maybe for distinguishing the blackest from next-to-blackest hue at the extreme edge of the color-gradient palette. Ditto for extra-wide viewing angles, though as usual we chuckle a bit as monitor vendors push ever closer to boasting perfect readability at an impossible 180 degrees from head-on (Samsung’s specs claim 178 degrees both horizontally and vertically).

Tilt, Swivel, Flip, Pivot, Somersault
Quibbling over off-to-one-side viewing angles is particularly silly when discussing the SyncMaster 970P, because the display will gladly corkscrew or limbo or play Twister to give any onlooker a clear view: Its triple-hinged, desk-lamp-style base is one of the most flexible on the monitor market.

In its usual pose, the monitor measures about 17 by 20 by 9.5-inches (it weighs just over 16 pounds). But the base lets you swivel the screen 90 degrees left or right; adjust its height over a range of 5.3 inches; and tilt it all the way from quite a bit forward to way, way back — folding the monitor flat so coworkers standing around a conference table can see a presentation on the horizontal LCD, or even tilting it past horizontal for viewing by someone sitting on the opposite side of your desk.

Won’t your across-the-desk audience see the display as upside down, you ask? Not if you install Samsung’s MagicRotation utility, which lets you flip the screen image through two 90-degree rolls by pressing Ctrl-Shift-R a couple of times (or skip directly to a 180-degree inversion by pressing Ctrl-Shift-8).

You can also pivot the 970P from landscape to portrait mode, or vice versa, for your own viewing of a full-size word processing or lengthy Web page. Clicking on a dialog-box checkmark puts the MagicRotation software into automatic mode, redrawing the display a few seconds after you pivot the 970P from landscape to portrait mode or vice versa.

Finally, the last trick up the Samsung’s sleeve is another utility dubbed MagicZone, which launches a special cursor with which you draw a box around a portion of the display — such as a DVD or video playback window, whose brightness, contrast, hue and saturation you can adjust independently of the rest of the screen. Samsung brags that the 970P’s response time is a speedy six milliseconds, so videos and fast-moving game screens are free of ghosting or streaking.

Not Much To Complain About
With such versatility coupled with first-class display quality, the SyncMaster 970P nearly scores a rare five stars on our ratings scale — and probably would take the prize with a slightly lower price.

Stretching to come up with a few more gripes, we can say that MagicZone would probably be more useful on a larger, higher-resolution screen more likely to host multiple application windows, and that Samsung’s Taskbar icons take a bit of practice (you double-click to launch MagicTune, right-click to see the MagicRotation menu, and left- and then right-click to create and adjust the MagicZone).

Also, the monitor is OK but not exceptional at the universal LCD challenge of scaling to screen resolutions below its native 1,280 by 1,024; SVGA and XGA images are predictably a bit pixelated. Scrolling up and down through portrait-mode Web pages brought a slightly annoying right-to-left redraw or flicker.

And twice, while pivoting between portrait and landscape mode, the corner of the screen hit the power button and turned the thing off.

But these are trivialities. The next time a Mac addict tells you that elegant design is exclusive to Apple products, be sure to mention the 970P.

Adapted from

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