Samsung 960BF LCD

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Product: Samsung SyncMaster 960BF 19" LCD
Provided By: Samsung Canada
Price: ~ $560 CDN (Pricegrabber.ca)

Introduction:

Samsung is one of the definite leaders of LCD technology.  They are not always the first to come out with a new product, but their products are generally high quality.  This Korean based company manufacturers their own LCD panels and by doing this has greater control over quality.  The LCD we have on the bench this time around is a higher-end model that features a resolution of 1280x1024 and refreshes at 4ms (grey to grey).  It has a unique design with a foldable base and can also rotate 90° for your viewing pleasure.  This LCD features a plethora of Samsung's new features like MagicSpeed, MagicBright2, MagicColor, MagicTune, MagicZone and MagicRotation along with a software based OSD (On Screen Display).   Keep on reading to find out if this monitor is worth you hard earned coin.

First Look:

The Budle - DVI + VGA
 The Bundle - DVI + VGA

Pivot Feature = Nice
 Pivot Feature = Nice

Back Side
 Back Side

The 960BF comes with everything you need to hook a digital monitor up to any computer - whether DVI or standard D-Sub.  Samsung includes a DVI-DVI cable to keep everything digital, as well as a D-Sub to DVI cable for hooking up to older graphics cards.  Either of these connections provide a good quality picture and work fine.  If you don't have a DVI connector on your computer don't worry.  This unit can get the job done.

Also included in the bundle is a software CD that includes drivers for the display as well as software that allows you to make adjustments to the picture.  Also included is Pivot software which will automatically adjust your screen resolution when you pivot the monitor 90° as show in the middle picture above.  Lastly, the package includes a DC Power Supply that you will need to get this monitor fired up.  Some LCD's have a built in power supply and thereby take a regular power cord.  Samsung has opted to keep things thin and sleek, and move the PSU to an external AC/DC converter.

Closer Look:

If you clicked any of the pictures above you may have already noticed that the 960BF only has a single button on the front.  In fact, that is the only button on this whole unit.  There are no menu, auto, or adjustment buttons located anywhere on this glossy white unit.  It makes it look nice, but that's about all.

The 960BF's Only Button
 The 960BF's Only Button

Crooked Logo On Base
 Crooked Logo On Base

DVI & Power Connectors
 DVI & Power Connectors

When I first took the 960BF out of the box, I closely inspected it for damage, defects or flaws.  I noticed that the "SyncMaster 960BF" logo on the base was not straight with the LCD panel.  It sits off about 4° and once you notice it, it will bug you.  It bugged me.  I can't solely fault the monitor based on the orientation of it's decals, but to me it shows that this particular unit was slapped together quickly instead of carefully.

All of the input's are on the bottom of the base.  As mentioned previously, there is a single solitary DVI input and Samsung uses a pair of cables for compatibility.  This way they only have to pony up and find a place to put one connector.  Not a bad idea.

 

Samsung uses a unique hinge mechanism on this unit that leaves the base attacted during shipping.  A lot of LCD's require that you assemble the base once you setup the display, but the 960BF requires only that you unfold the LCD to it's upright position.

Hinge Action When Folded
 Hinge Action When Folded

Widely Adjustable Hinge
Widely Adjustable Hinge

Specs & Features:

Before we plug this unit in and see how many dead pixels it has (hopefully none), we'll take a look at the specs and features as claimed from Samung.

 
 Panel  Type  a-si TFT/LCD

 Viewable Area  19"

 Pixel Pitch  0.294

 Brightness(Typ.) / Luminosité (typ.)  300 cd/m2

 Contrast Ratio(Typ. )  700:1

 Viewing Angle(H/V)  160/160 (CR>5)

 Response Time(Typ. )  4ms (Gray-to-Gray)

 Interface  Analog/Digital

 Frequency  Horizontal Frequency  30-81khz

 Vertical Frequency  56-75hz


 Maximum Resolution  1280x1024

 Colour Supported  16.2 million

 Signal Input  Input Video Signal  Analog RGB, DVI Digital Link

 Video Level  Analog : 0.7VP-P, Digital: TMDS tm

 Sync. Type  Separate H/V, Composite H/V, SOG

 Input Connectors  DVI-I

 Included Signal Cable  DVI-D Cable, DVI-I Cable

 DDC  DDC 2B

 On Mode  38 Watts (Max.)

 DPMS Mode  <1 Watt



 Available Colours  White

 Mac Compatibility  Yes

 Dimensions  Set with stand(WxHxD)  423 x 427.5 x 232.5 (mm)

 Packing(WxHxD)  504 x 187 x 437 (mm)

 Weight  Net  5.4 kg

 Gross  6.9 kg

 Regulation  Energy  Energy star

 Emissions  TCO'03

 Stand  Magic Stand: Height Adjustable, Pivot, Foldable
 

 

Please head on over to the next page to find out how we tested this unit and how it fared during testing.


Test Setup & Info:

Magic Tune Error - x64
Magic Tune Error - x64

Normally in a LCD Monitor review it isn't really all that important what machine you test it on.  With the Samsung SyncMaster 960BF however, this was not the case.  Samsung has sought to make this monitor sleek, cool and nifty without any buttons, but in fact has stumbled into one of the largest blunders I personally can see.  Here is the reason: I originally intended to test this monitor on my main system.  I use it more than our test system and that way I can gain more experience with it.  The software that controls the 960BF (MagicTune and PivotPro) doesn't work on Windows XP x64.  The requires a user to be bound to Windows 98/2K/XP in order to use any of the MagicBright, MagicTune, MagicColor, MagicRotation or any of the Software based OSD.  If you are running 64-bit Windows or Linux, you are out of luck.  You must control the monitor's brightness through your graphics card driver.  Not ideal at all.

The picture at the top of this page shows the error I get every time I try and run MagicTune on Windows XP x64.  I reboot, install the right drivers, and only use a single display and it shows the error.  Windows XP Pro works fine.

MagicTune & More:

Since this display is controlled entirely without buttons, it is really only fitting that we take a look at the software and what it has to offer.  Even with powerful software like MagicTune, you still have no way of turning up the brightness in a game quickly like you used to be able to do with the built in "MagicBright" button on earlier Samsung LCD's.  To me this is more than a pet peeve.  This is a flaw.  Granted most of the people in cubicles around the world do not mess with their monitor buttons - they plug it in and it works - done.  However, most of my friends, associates, and readers probably use their monitor buttons.  Enough of my rant, let's take a look.

This first group of pictures shows the "Magic_x" part of the software.  We have a look at the MagicTune main page, the MagicColor settings, and finally the MagicBright profiles.  It's these MagicBright profiles that used to be accessible via a button the the LCD.  This allowed you to change the brightness setting with a simple push of a button when you're in-game, in-movie or on the web to either lighten or darken the screen.

Magic Tune Software
 MagicTune Software

MagicColor
 MagicColor

MagicBright
MagicBright

As you can see in the above screenshots, MagicTune gives you the ability to customize, tweak and modify all of the adjustments that you would normally make using menu buttons. The key difference is that the software allows you to use your mouse.  The MagicColor section allows you to tweak the color saturation among other things quickly and easily.  A monitor that's built properly really should need much tweaking in this regard.  Color should be sharp, true and lifelike out of the box - especially if your using a DVI cable.  The last picture above shows the MagicBright section which allows you to choose from 5 custom profiles as well as a custom profile.  Text and Internet profiles are darker that other profiles due to the content of web pages and text documents being brighter.  These profiles darken the screen to reduce eye strain.  Overall these profiles are accurate, but you have to remember to load up MagicTune, select the profile you will be using, close MagicTune and then run the application.  With buttons, you would be able to change these profiles on-the-fly.

 

This next series of pictures shows more color, resolution and gamma controls found in the MagicTune software.  Keep in mind that these controls can also be found in your graphics card control panel which are really more useful and give a wider range of adjustment.

Color Controls
 Color Controls

Resolution Controls
 Resolution Controls

Three Gamma Controls
 Three Gamma Controls

The MagicTune software gives you basic color, resolution and gamma control, but if you are fine-tuning your settings on this display you will likely make all of these adjustments in your graphics driver control panel.  Regardless, the software does indeed allow you to make some basic changes.

Performance - Text:

Most of what I do at a computer anymore is look at text.  Whether it is reading news online, writing articles or surfing the web, I do more work that gaming.  To fill this role a monitor must be sharp, clear and easy on the eyes.  The Samsung 960BF comes with the default brightness set at 80 and is much too high for my taste.  I adjusted this monitor down to 40 brightness to make it comfortable - either that or choose the MagicBright profile of Text or Internet.  This brought down the brightness as well.  The LCD produced very crisp text that was readable down to a very small font even at 1280x1024.  The monitor scaled fairly well at different resolutions, and produced an acceptable image at 1024x768.  However, at it's native resolution, it was much better than scaled down.

Performance - Video:

When it comes to viewing or editing video, the Samsung 960BF does very well.  The display is rated at 4ms, and showed no signs of "ghosting" or blurry action images on any of the DivX or DVD's that I watched.  I played back some high action movies as well as some movies with vibrant color and the picture always looked sharp, clean and beautiful.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get a good picture of the monitor showcasing the excellent video quality.

Performance - Gaming:

When it comes to gaming, the monitor shows itself quite well.  It is rated at 4ms gray-to-gray, and I didn't notice any ghosting at all.  I played some UT2004, BF2, Serious Sam 2, and even a little Quake 4.  All games looked very nice.  There was a day when I wouldn't game on an LCD, but those days are now over.  Even though this monitor scores well in the gaming department.  Running two displays - one 960BF and one 955DF CRT cloned - showed that there is still a major difference in CRT vs LCD.  The CRT has a cleaner picture when gaming and doesn't "tear" quite as much on vertical lines when panning sideways.

Performance - Montest 2.1:

To test some of my above observations more objectively, I ran the MonTest 2.1 utility to get an idea of how this monitor stacks up to other LCD's and my trusty 19" 955DF CRT.  I'll run through some of the applicable tests quite quickly.

  • Black To Color Scales: When scaling from black to red, green and blue, there were noticeable vertical bands of color where the 960BF couldn't blend colors properly.  Instead of a continuous smooth transition, there were noticeable "steps" where the color changed.  This is not the case on a CRT.
  • Convergence: The Convergence dots looked fine on the LCD, but the Convergence Lines show the limitations of the stacked matrix of LCD pixels.  They are stacked directly on top of each other - not staggered like a CRT.  The convergence lines showed a lot of "stair stepping" when drawing circles.  Much more than a CRT or even my wifes 17" Acer LCD.
  • Gamma Tests: These tests shows viewing angle limitations and that the corners of the screen were not lit evenly.  The gamma test bands changed brightness dramatically if you view the 960BF more than 10° up and down.  The picture is still viewable, but the color become inaccurate.
  • Full Black: Displaying a full black screen shows some bottom bleeding from the LCD backlight.  The top and middle of the screen is very black, but the bottom is a little lighter.
  • LCD Pixel Persistence: Moving a white box across a black background at different speeds shows how much "ghosting" there actually is and how fast the response time is in an white-to-black scenario instead of simply gray-to-gray.  The 960BF displayed clearly up until about 600 pixels per second and at that point the leading edge on the moving block appeared blurry.  At 800 pixels per second both the leading and the trailing edge were blurry indicating response time limitations.  A CRT has none of these issues at 800 pixels per second.

Conclusion:

I have to say that I was quite disappointed with this monitor.  Don't get me wrong, it performs quite well once you have the color profiles set, but you cannot currently use it as it's meant under Windows XP x64 or Linux.  To change the brightness of the monitor in a game or during movie playback requires that you either minimize or shut down the application, start MagicTune, change the setting and then maximize or restart the application.  I've got to say that this is disappointing.  The PivotPro software also doesn't work under Windows x64, so if you want to use the pivot feature, you'd better go set up some profiles and hotkeys in your graphics card drivers.

Another thing that has been brought to my attention recently is the HDCP issue.  When Windows Vista launches later this year you will need an HDCP enabled monitor to play back Blue-Ray or HD-DVD video.  If you are dropping close to $600 CDN on a 19" display, it would be nice to be able to use it in 6 months when you upgrade Windows.  Unfortunately, you'll need to get a new display as well.  Samsung does make some HDCP capable displays, but the $0.05 chip was left out of this one.  It's true that you will also need a new graphics card that plays back HDCP content, but the hardware upgrading has to end somewhere.  You can read more on the HDCP issue over here.

In Samsung's effor to make a monitor sleek, simple and nifty, they stripped out what functionality there was left.  Maybe I'm too nit-picky, but that's how I see it.

Here's how the whole deal breaks down.

Pros:

  • Fast 4ms Response Time
  • Lot's of software menu options.
  • DVI & Analog capable.

Cons:

  • Cannot use software under Windows XP x64.
  • Cannot use software under Linux.
  • No buttons make in-game adjustments impossible.
  • No HDCP support.

 

 

BensCustomCases.com Rating
Quality:
9/10
Performance:
7/10
Software Pack:
4/10
Stability:
8/10
Features:
5/10
Value:
7/10
Total Score 6.7

 

I'd like to thanks Samsung Canada for letting me take a look at this display, but please, oh please, bring back some buttons!!  If nothing else, then just the MagicBright button.

If you have any questions, comments or feedback, please drop a line in our forum at the comments link below.