Samsung S27B970 WQHD LED Monitor

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Setup - Setting up the S27B970D monitor was a matter of a single driver installation. The last step of the driver installation, curiously, asked which port was to be used: DVI, DisplayPort or HDMI.

Physically, the 10cm up/down adjustment range is probably just enough, like the degree of tilt adjustment. The controls for the on-screen menu worked well enough, despite there being just four buttons.

The USB 2.0 hub worked OK. Some quick timed file transfers using an external USB SSD showed no significant slowdown going through the monitor's hub compared to directly into the USB 2.0 port on the computer. They're mainly for convenience, for a USB keyboard perhaps, or quick access to a USB flash drive. Most PC users know to use eSATA, USB 3.0 or better when doing large transfers like file backups.

WQHD Resolution, Built-in Speakers - I got the monitor up and running at its native 2560 x 1440 resolution using the included DVI-D Dual-Link cable on an Intel Sandy Bridge 1155 system with an AMD HD 6850 video card. A mini-DisplayPort to DP cable, acquired just for this purpose, was also tried successfully; this cable provided access to the monitor's built in speakers, which Windows 7 recognized. For the sake of the review, the little internal speakers were made default, and they surprised me by sounding reasonable, certainly no worse than the cheap mini-speakers bundled as multimedia accessories for PCs. Clear enough, loud enough, with a surprising level of bass — just don't listen to them all day or at high volume.

The speakers, built into the underside of the 1.5cm wide bezel which wraps around the screen. They sound surprising.

Visual Quality - The S27B970D proved to be easily the best monitor I've worked with. Even before the monitor is turned on, its smooth, stylish look is so easy on the eye. Once turned on, the rich colors and image detail is marvelous. Reflections in the glossy screen can become a bit distracting with lights behind the user, which are best turned off, but adjusting the tilt angle can help make them less visible. The high transparency of the glass most likely contributes to the vivid, sharp performance; a matte screen always involves some small reduction in contrast, colour vibrancy and sharpness.

WQHD resolution on a 27" monitor makes the text on a Windows desktop just a bit too small for me; adjusting it to 125% size makes it perfect. With ClearType turned on and adjusted, the sharpness control at 60% brings the text to astonishing sharpness and clarity. In standard mode, which is a bit on the bright side in the subdued lighting of my workspace, the screen is very sharp and pleasant to view, whether scanning long lists in Windows Explorer or tiny text on pretentious web sites. Both photos and videos are rendered with great sharpness and enough color accuracy for the amateur photographer, especially in sRGB mode.

Viewed off center, whether from vertical or horizontal angles, color and sharpness do not change. Even 50° off axis, there is very little perceptible contrast or colour tone shifts. The distorting effect of perspective itself ends up being the limiting usability factor, not any inherent quality in the screen. After a week's familiarity, even from an acute angle, I could take a quick look at a photo taken for a review and know whether it was good enough to use without moving back to center for a better view.

Using this simple LCD screen color test, there are no visible backlight bleeding with an all-black page, and the screen is very uniform across the entire surface with all the colors. Traces of shadow can be seen in one corner near the bottom horizontal edge of the screen when viewing the cyan, white and gray color test screens, but the effect is so slight and off to the edge that is negligible.

HD Vimeo and YouTube clips can look fantastic on the S27B970D. Some 1080p movies were also tried from Bluray and files on the networked media server, with great results. Motion in general is well delineated, without judder (although that is often dependent on the source files).

SmartPhone: MHL-to-HDMI - The included cable was tried with a couple of recent Samsung smartphones, a Nexus Galaxy and a Galaxy SIII. You must use the input selector on Manual mode for this; in Auto input mode, the monitor will switch to another input before the handshaking with the phone is complete. It was not a successful feature, at least not with these phones (which being Samsung, you'd think would be more likely to work than other brands). The monitor refused to recognize any video signal from the phones, even though the phones beeped confirmation of the plug-in. The monitor connected successfully just once to the Nexus Galaxy phone, which automatically switched to horizontal mode. It was fine to use, but something I could easily live without. The feature does not make or break the monitor.

No Noise - There is no electronic noise, no buzz or high pitched whine, not from the panel itself, and not from the AC/DC adapter, either. This is true at every brightness level not just 100%, but 82%, 67% or even 0%. It is always silent. Earlier this year, the monitor-dedicated site TFT Central ran an article on how pulse-width modulation (PWM) is used to control the brightness of LED and CFL lights in most LCD monitors. Screen flickering is the main unwanted side-effect of PWM discussed in that article, but I suspect strongly that it is also the cause of the high pitched whine which develops in so many monitors when brightness is reduced. It's likely that Samsung is not using PWM to control LED brightness in the S27B970D but some form of current control.

Power - sRGB mode was assumed to be the most color-accurate, and it was my default most of the time. The power consumption in this mode is modest, typically 34~36W. The maximum power at the brightest setting is 49W, a bit less than the 53W typical Samsung specifies. Certainly, if the USB ports were both filled with devices that were actively working, the specified 63W maximum might be reached.

Samsung S27B970D AC Power
Setting Power
Sleep <1W
Min brightness 23W
Max brightness 49W
Typical, sRGB mode 34~36W

The measured power consumption is quite modest compared to some of the other, smaller, and admittedly older LCD monitors in the lab. An ASUS 24" HD monitor maxes out at 88W, and because it starts whining when dimmed by more than 10%, the typical use power is ~78W. The 24" BenQ 1920 x 1200 monitor that usually sits on my desk pulls 42~45W at normal settings, though it is considerably less bright and contrasty compared to the Samsung. A fairly new, cheap-and-cheerful ASUS VE228 21.5" LED monitor does much better for energy than either of the above, pulling just 15W from the wall at the normal 50% brightness setting, and just 18W at full brightness.

Color Calibration - My original intent was to calibrate this monitor using a ColorVision Sypder2 colorimeter and software, which I have admittedly not used in a couple of years. The Spyder2 software turned out to be incompatible with Windows 7. It also turns out that the hardware calibration for the S27B970D can be done only using Samsung's own Natural Color Expert 2 (NCE) software, with a compatible calibration tool, which is not included, unlike the professional Samsung XL20 reviewed years ago, which came complete with a calibration kit. My Spyder2 colorimeter is not on the compatible caibrator list.

Monitor calibrators compatible with Samsung's NCE software.

Other calibrators can be used, but not with NCE, which is the only way to calibrate the monitor at a hardware Look Up Table (LUT) level. This provides more precise adjustment for image quality and accuracy.

I managed to get my hands on a Color Munki Display colorimeter (not the same as the NCE-compatible Color Munki Design or Photo, unfortunately), and used it to create a software profile for the S970. When applied, the result provided very slightly better color rendition in my rather dimly lit office, most likely because the factory calibration was done under brighter conditions. When all the lights in the office were turned on, the different between the factory calibration setting and the software profile setting achieved using the Color Munki colorimeter was very subtle, at least to my eyes. With either the factory default sRGB or the Color Munki Display software profile applied, this monitor was never less than great to work with.

On-Screen Controls - There is a wide array of on-screen adjustments, but many of them are usable only in certain Color Modes.

1. Standard color mode gives you access to virtually all the color adjustments such as Red, Green and Blue tint sliders, color temperature from 4000K to 10000K in 500K steps, Gamma from 1.6 to 2.7. Under the Picture tab, Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness and Response time are available but not HDMI response time, which is naturally grayed out if you're not using the HDMI connection nor Dynamic Contrast.

2. High Bright color mode disables Color Temperature and Gamma controls, while in the Picture tab, Dynamic Contrast becomes an option. Turn Dynamic Contrast on within the Picture tab in High Bright mode, however, and manual control of Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness and Response time are disabled; the Color tab also becomes completely inacessible. These are now all automatically controlled by Dynamic Contrast.

3. Cinema color mode disables Color Temperature and Gamma controls, too, but all the Picture tab settings are available, except for Dynamic Contrast.

4. sRGB color mode predictably turns all color options off, and leaves Brightness, Sharpness and Response time in the Picture tab.

5. Calibration color mode turns off all options except Response time. This is expected, as all parameters are controlled by the built in Natural Color Expert 2 (NCE) software with a compatible calibration tool.

For a more complete technical review of the S27B970D, I suggest two excellent monitor-only specialist review sites:

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