Earlier today, I ragged a bit on the ViewSonic VX2253mh-LED monitor in a separate post. Poor volume, clunky (and noisy) power adapter, and a number of other issues that made it a less-than-ideal monitor for content over HDMI.
I did some further research to see if other monitors looked more promising in those areas. Turns out, volume is a key issue – you just can’t find anything good (in the 21-24″ area anyway). Even if you get decent volume, the controls to get at it will suck. Perhaps one day the manufacturers will wake up and realize that recycling the same user interface we’ve had in monitors since the 90’s isn’t going to cut it any more.
So I looked at TV’s. If nobody can make a great monitor for HDMI content, maybe someone makes a good TV (which are inherently good at handling HDMI content & sound) that’ll jive with a PC. I settled on the Samsung UN22D5003 – a 22″ 1080p LED monitor.
Now there are a few key issues that a TV has to resolve to work well as a computer monitor, including:
1) They must have the ability to *not* overscan. Overscanning cuts off all the edges of your screen – you need it for analogue TV – you don’t want it when plugged into a computer. Many newer TV’s have a “PC mode” of sorts to deal with this (I read the Samsung UN22D5003 manual before buying, and it did).
2) 4:4:4 Chroma capability – this is a tough thing to explain, so I’ll just say it’s something you’d typically want when a TV is being used as your computer monitor. You can read a thorough explanation here if you’re interested: http://www.avsforum.com/forum/166-lcd-flat-panel-displays/1381724-official-4-4-4-chroma-subsampling-thread.html . Manufacturers don’t mention whether their TV supports it or not.
3) Low “input lag” – Particularly important for games. When your video card spits out an image, it never appears on the screen instantly. Computer monitors generally keep this low, but TV’s don’t have a big reason to place an emphasis here. If you’re interested in the concept of “input lag”, Anandtech has a detailed (but rather technical) write-up here: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2803/1 . Note that manufacturers don’t publish this number, so it’s a bit of a crap-shoot.
4) Quick response time – when a black dot becomes a white dot (or vice-versa), you want it to happen pretty quickly so it doesn’t look blurry or cause “ghosting”. TV shows and movies are pretty forgiving, but using a PC often isn’t, and a poor response time tends to show. Manufacturers each devise their own methods for calculating this (ie you can’t necessarily trust it or use it to compare), but Samsung gave the UN22D5003 a “6ms” rating here which is pretty quick.
The important news
I’ll mention this first because it’s 100% critical, and those who don’t know about it (and don’t do it) end up with a terrible display when their computer’s plugged into the TV.
On the TV, you must “Edit Name” for the HDMI source, and set it to PC. This will ditch the overscan and give you 4:4:4 Chroma. You can either do this in the main menu (Menu/Input/EditName), or while selecting your input source (SourceButton/HDMI1/ToolsButton/EditName). If you don’t do this, the display sent from your computer will look blurry, awful, and the edges of your screen will generally be cut off.
The good news
4:4:4 Chroma – To my knowledge, nobody had yet tested this monitor for 4:4:4 Chroma. So I did. And it worked! This was in Mac OS X – I doubt that the Windows side would have any reason to be different, but there you go. The images I used for the testing are these:
(click for larger versions, or right-click-save-as to download)
The chroma thread on avsforum has the details for using these images to test (what to look for, etc).
Not only did 4:4:4 Chroma work, but I also had audio going over HDMI which has been known to stop 4:4:4 Chroma on some TV’s.
It doesn’t get any better than this. In any case, I was thrilled.
Power Consumption – one very positive thing the Viewsonic I mentioned earlier had going for it was power consumption. It capped at 20 watts. And if you dropped the brightness (and were willing to deal with it’s power brick squealing even louder), you could get that down to 13-14 watts pretty easily. Even the other ASUS monitors I’d considered were rated at 25 watts.
I hooked the Samsung UN22D5003 up to the power meter after I’d set it all up, and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was pulling only 23 watts in the “Movie Mode” I’d picked. Just to check, I played around and found that normal mode was 25, and some dynamic mode it has brought it to 27 watts. I tried lowering the brightness while in “Movie Mode”, but to no effect.
23 watts is pretty pleasant – with all the extra “guts” in a TV (vs a monitor like the ViewSonic/ASUS which don’t have a tuner or all the extra software to contend with) I had assumed I’d be hitting 30+.
Touch-button controls and a remote! – You don’t appreciate having a volume control on the display until you try adjusting the volume on a computer monitor & have to use a menu instead.
Obviously being a TV, Samsung thought to put a volume control on it. And you just touch it – no buttons to press in. While I’m not a big fan of 39-button remotes, it’s an added bonus over a monitor. And the volume/channel buttons on the remote are unique enough that I wouldn’t have an issue fumbling for the volume in the dark.
Nice display, color, etc – I’ll start by mentioning it’s a matte display (in case you were wondering). I just watched a Star Trek DVD, and I’m looking at the Mac OS X desktop right now. Movie looked great. Colors on the desktop seem rich. As for the text, it seems to be the same crispness as the Samsung laptop I’m writing this on (which means crisp-enough, but nowhere near say… my iPad 3).
That said, I’m not an enthusiast in this area. I’m pretty accepting of everything ranging from terrible to fantastic, so keep that in mind (in other words, look at the display in a store before you take my word for it).
The power plug – I’d disliked the “brick” in the ViewSonic for more than just the squeal. The size was an issue.
On the Samsung, it’s a nice, normal-sized 2-prong plug. However, it’s not perfect – instead of the cord sticking straight-out, it’s L-shaped on the outlet-end. So on a typical power bar, it’ll either have to be on the bottom slot, or the cord will suck up space on the 2nd slot. The saving grace here is that it’s a standard 2-prong AC power cord (sometimes referred to also as a “figure 8”). We’ve had other devices with the same cord, and they’re only a buck or so at monoprice. Had I wanted to replace the cord on the ViewSonic, I’d have had to spring for an entire AC/DC adapter.
No VGA/DVI ports – you get 2xHDMI, the composites, and the coax. You can pump DVI to the HDMI if you use an adapter, but that seems to be where your PC-related options end.
Because it’s a TV, I’m willing to overlook the lack of DVI/VGA. But that lack of flexibility keeps me from calling it the “perfect” PC monitor.
No instant-sleep – to be fair here, it’s not possible. I only mention it because I’ve focused on the TV as a PC monitor in this review, and this is one thing you’ll miss. Fact is, if it dumped into standby instantly the moment there was “no signal”, TV users would have it shut off on them the moment they choose the “wrong” input.
However, it does drop to 15 watts power consumption while on the “no input” screen, and automatically powers off after 10-15 minutes of “no signal”, dropping to under 1 watt according to my meter (which is reading “0”). Keep in mind that while that’s good for power consumption, it also means that the TV is completely off and won’t automatically “wake” the way a monitor does either. You’ll have to hit the power button and wait 5-6 seconds for your desktop to display.
Again, not faulting Samsung for this – since it’s primary function is as a TV, there’s no way to make it work like a monitor in this respect without causing headaches for actual TV users.
Price – the Samsung UN22D5003 was roughly $100 more than the ViewSonic I’ve been poo-poo-ing on. And they’re the same size & both 1080p. So let’s keep some perspective here – this thing’s much better at being a monitor, but it came at a cost.
I see the Samsung as a much better deal, mind you. Sure it’s $100 more, but it’s also got a TV tuner in there. And built-in SRS (ViewSonic had broken OSX software). And the sound is actually useful – you can adjust it easily and it goes many times louder than the ViewSonic’s speakers.
The Samsung UN22D5003 makes for a fantastic PC monitor, particularly when it comes to using sound over HDMI. It’s power-efficient, quiet (no bad sounds/squeals), has great volume (way better than current monitors), and the only thing you’re guaranteed to lose is the way sleep normally works. And I think that’s easily a trade-off worth making.
It’s a bit pricey though, and if you don’t do sound-over-HDMI it’s probably not a good buy unless you’re grabbing it for other reasons (to double as a TV for instance). If you don’t need sound, grab a monitor. If you need sound-over-HDMI, I think you’ll find regular monitors currently disappoint, and that this Samsung is worth a serious look.