Test Drive: Samsung’s SyncMaster 765MB

In a classic scene in 1984’s This Is Spinal Tap (since copied or paid homage in everything from Toy Story 2 to “The Powerpuff Girls”), rock guitarist Nigel Tufnel boasts that the dials on his custom-made amplifier aren’t numbered from 1 to 10: “These go to 11.” If you find yourself forever turning up the brightness on your PC screen for a better view of games or DVD movies, Samsung Electronics America now has a monitor that goes to 11.

A 17-inch CRT is the baseline of PC displays, easier on the eyes than a dinky 15-inch tube and easier on the wallet than a 15-inch LCD. Pricewise, Samsung’s 17-inch diagonal (16-inch viewable) SyncMaster 765MB is at the high end of the baseline at $229 – even discounted to $190 or $200, it competes with bargain 19-inch monitors. But such screens aren’t likely to match the 765MB’s curvature- and distortion-free DynaFlat face, or beat its crisp focus and vivid colors. And they don’t have a MagicBright button.

Pressing the MagicBright button cycles through three brightness settings or modes, indicated by a menu that temporarily pops onto the screen. Text mode is the default for everyday word processing, e-mail, and spreadsheet work – at a luminance level of about 150 nits (candelas per square meter), Samsung says, it’s averagely bright for a desktop CRT, and indeed looked average – not dim, but nothing we’d comment on.

The middle Internet mode, supposedly optimized for viewing Web pages with images and streaming video windows as well as text, bumps up the brightness noticeably (to about 200 nits), but not high enough to risk fuzzy or washed-out text or menus. Press the button again, and the monitor glows in Entertain mode – approximately 300 nits, or a lot closer to what we’re used to from the differently designed cathode-ray tubes of TV sets, to shine a bright light on 3D game catacombs, DVD movies, and image-editing applications.

This mode achieves the distinction of being too bright for regular Windows work – not blinding, but definitely text-blurring and squint-inducing when we tried it with Office and Outlook. But, Samsung insists, it won’t burn out or shorten the CRT’s operating life, thanks to a larger-diameter electron gun and sturdier shadow mask (the perforated plate that ensures the gun’s beam hits only the targeted phosphor dots).

And it really does make details more visible in game screens. And when we tried it with a couple of DVDs, the improvement was impressive – oddly, it didn’t make the movies look merely brighter so much as sharper, with more contrast and clearer backgrounds. After a while, we found ourselves enjoying the brightness of Internet mode for office chores as well as Web surfing, switching to Entertain mode for recreation, and spending as little time in Text mode as possible.

(Geek disclaimer: Perceived brightness varies logarithmically, so Entertain mode isn’t twice as bright as Text mode, and CRT candelas can’t be compared directly to the 200- to 300-nit ratings you see for LCD monitors – which are transmissive displays, with circuitry layers coming between you and their backlights. But suffice it to say the SyncMaster is one of the brightest monitors we’ve tested.)

The three brightness modes are a clever refinement of a feature seen on earlier SyncMaster CRTs and also present on the 765MB: an adjustable “highlight zone” that boosts the brightness – as well as letting you adjust contrast, sharpness, and color settings – for a rectangular area that you can size and place anywhere on screen (but that gets fuzzy fast if expanded to the whole display).

We’re convinced the secret to the extra contrast is that the highlight button both brightens one rectangular area and dims or grays the rest of the screen slightly, but with some tweaking it’s a nice option for at least one small segment – owners of TV tuner cards who keep an ESPN, CNN, or Weather Channel window in one corner of the screen – and occasionally helpful for other jobs, such as closeup image-editing work (zooming in on a small area to fix a scratch on a scanned photo, say).

Physically, the generic-ivory-cased Samsung isn’t a short-neck design but still reasonably compact (a cube about 16 inches on a side); it weighs 35 pounds and has a fairly smooth-sliding tilt-and-swivel base. Setup is as simple as connecting the supplied power cord and VGA cable (the monitor’s sole video input); the display draws 90 watts of power, but meets Energy Star standards when idle.

Besides the highlight and MagicBright buttons (the latter of which doubles as an Exit or Escape key to back out of menus), the front panel offers a compass of four buttons to increase or decrease brightness and contrast; the compass also navigates the onscreen controls summoned by a menu button.

You won’t find custom color temperature or white-balance settings (though Samsung supplies a color-matching software utility), but the menus give otherwise ample control at the expense of some complex button-pushing – we were annoyed, for instance, that the highlight-zone button isn’t a toggle; if you accidentally turn the highlight rectangle on, it takes four presses of three buttons to turn it off.

In addition to brightness and contrast, settings include horizontal and vertical image size and position (centering); parallel/rotation, pincushion/trapezoid, pin balance, and linearity adjustments; a choice of bright 9,300K or muddy 6,500K color palette; moiri effect controls; and options to change the language, appearance, and persistence of the onscreen menu.

Great, If Not High, Resolution
Like some other monitor makers, Samsung cheats a bit by advertising an 0.20mm dot pitch for the SyncMaster 765MB, using the closest-adjacent-dots horizontal measurement instead of the more accurate diagonal pitch. Realistically, the monitor is sharp enough to compare with 0.24mm to 0.26mm shadow-mask CRTs we’ve seen.

The flat screen surface and antiglare coating did a good job of fighting reflections, and lines were crisp and colors were bright in our DisplayMate test patterns – as long as we stuck to the 1,024 by 768 (XGA) resolution that we think is the best match for 17-inch CRTs, and which the Samsung can show at refresh rates up to a rock-steady 100Hz.

The SyncMaster also looked good at 1,280 by 1,024 resolution, where its refresh rate peaks at 85Hz (though we had to uncheck Windows’ Display Properties’ “Hide modes that this monitor cannot display” box to get the option even with our far-from-entry-level 128MB ATI Radeon 8500 graphics adapter).

At the display’s maximum 1,600 by 1,200 setting, refresh is limited to a fairly flickery 65Hz and distortions crept into resolution test patterns, but we don’t believe you can work at that resolution without eyestrain on any 16-inch viewable display – indeed, we recommend using 1,280 by 1,024 only occasionally. If you know you’ll be content to stop at XGA, you might want to consider Samsung’s $40-cheaper model 763MB, which also has the MagicBright function but whose narrower total bandwidth (110MHz versus 185MHz) limits it to a perfectly acceptable 85Hz at that resolution and a flickery maximum of 1,280 by 1,024.

Overall, we think the SyncMaster 765MB fills a nifty niche: its price nudges it into competition with value-priced 19-inch CRTs that are easier on the eyes at high resolutions, but its brightness and clarity make a surprisingly compelling argument to settle for 17 inches, especially if you’re into games and DVDs.

Pros: Terrific turbo-brightness modes for Web browsing and entertainment; exemplary color and clarity

Cons: Fussy, complex control menus; maximum 1,600 by 1,200 resolution not really usable

Reprinted from Hardwarecentral.com.

Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing Staff
Small Business Computing addresses the technology needs of small businesses, which are defined as businesses with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7 million in annual sales.

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