History, so they say, repeats itself, and when we took a look at Samsung’s unusual new flat panel display, we wondered whether it might be about to do it again. What makes the Syncmaster 172W stand out from the crowd is its size, or more exactly, its width, hence the telltale ‘W’ suffix. In fact the Syncmaster is to conventional monitors what a wide-screen TV is to your basic, old-style, goggle box, and for exactly the same reasons.
If you regularly use your PC to watch films on DVD, and/or have a TV tuner card, Samsung has you in its sights. You will, it reasons, have come to lament the incompatibility between standard display sizes and the wide-screen formats routinely employed by the film industry and increasingly passed down onto DVD. In order to cope properly, so the thinking goes, the shape of the monitor needs to be changed: enter the Syncmaster 172W.
This is not the first time that Hollywood has influenced the shape of things to come. In fact the ratio of width to height of conventional television screens – and computer monitors – derives directly from the film industry. For the first half of the last century, films were projected onto screens with a width to height ratio of 1.33:1, often expressed as 4 x 3, four units wide for every three high. When television took off in the 1950s, it adopted the same convention (technically known as the aspect ratio) to make life easier when cinematic films were broadcast.
For reasons of manufacturing convenience, and plain old tradition, the computer industry simply adopted the 4 x 3 (1.33:1) aspect ratio from television, and there it sits, on virtually every desk today. And now, perhaps, something similar might be about to happen again. Essentially, what Samsung has done is combine elements of two standard resolutions to produce an extra-wide panel capable of the 16:9 (1.66:1) aspect ratio offered by HDTV. The actual screen resolution is 1280 x 768, which is just a hair over the 720p (1280 x 720) HDTV standard.
The cabinet is held very firmly in place by the stand, which offers a modest degree of height adjustment and as much tilt as you want thanks to its crafty dual-hinge design. The real point of this is that it lets you collapse the stand flat and use it as a wall mount if preferred. The signal inputs and lead from the external power supply all plug in to the base of the stand, so you can’t detach it from the cabinet, hence the trouble taken over its dual-purpose design.
Setup is no more than a matter of cabling up, installing the driver and pressing the Auto Setup button, then sitting back for a couple of seconds while it does its sizing-and-positioning stuff. With Windows running at 1280 x 768 you get a Desktop the standard 1024 x 768 height, but with lots more width to play with. This works fine, and is a definite improvement on straight XGA, but obviously you don’t get as much workspace area as you would on a conventional 17in flat panel running at 1280 x 1024.
Although the aspect ratio is different, the Syncmaster still has a full 17-inch viewable diagonal, which is important as it ensures that the panel is large enough to deliver its native resolution without everything on screen becoming vanishingly small.
The controls are sensibly organised, with direct access to brightness as well as automatic setup. There are several preset levels of brightness which are intended to be appropriate for particular tasks – Text (dull), Internet (middling) and Entertainment (bright). Deeper in the menu system you also get full colour control, with a custom channel allowing individual RGB intensity tuning.
It’s also possible to switch between the monitor’s two signal inputs just by tapping one of the control buttons, so you can have a conventional analogue input via D-Sub and a digital signal coming in through the DVI-D connector.
Samsung gives the range of viewable angles as 140 degrees horizontal and 110 degrees vertical, which is acceptable, but not the widest you can get. We noticed a very slight darkening of the farthest edge of the image if we looked at it from off to one side, but not enough to make a fuss about.
There was some delay in getting the final price out of Samsung, so we were initially working in the dark in this respect. When the answer finally came through, we were both surprised and a bit disappointed to find that the monitor was actually slightly more expensive than the 172T model, which is its standard aspect ratio 1280 x 1024, 17-inch counterpart.
We’d been labouring under the impression that since the Syncmaster offers no advantage over a 1280 x 1024 panel – both have the same horizontal resolution – it would be priced rather lower. This would put it in competition with 1024 x 768 displays, which it can fairly claim to outperform when it comes to handling wide-screen formats. Leaving it head-to-head with standard 17-inch, 1280 x 1024 monitors only serves to remind everybody that in fact the Syncmaster lacks somewhat in the vertical resolution, and you get noticeably more desktop for your money by sticking with a conventional display.
Sadly, this forced us to conclude that while it is of itself a well made piece of kit that delivers decent image quality, it needs to come down in price before it makes sense as a potential purchase.
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