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Samsung S27B970 WQHD LED Monitor

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Can sleek, gorgeous, modern style and functional efficiency combine harmoniously with superb video performance? They do in Samsung’s current top model, a super high 2560×1440 resolution 27″ PLS LED monitor.

Samsung S27B970D 27″ LED Monitor

Product
Series 9 LED Monitor S27B970D
Manufacturer

Samsung

Street Price
US$950~1,100

When monitors were last reviewed at SPCR several years ago, we noted that they
generally make very little noise, which is why we tend not to cover them often.
The incidence of electronic whine at less than 100% brightness remains an audible
problem with at least some LCD monitors; this has been a
topic of ongoing forum discussion for years
, but there is less concern in
the tech community at large. Of course, that last comment extends to virtually
everything related to noise and computers: SPCR has always attracted the most
noise-sensitive folks.

Samsung markets most of its monitors to the consumer and office market, offering
a wide array of models at many price points. They have also made professional
image processing models for quite some time. The SyncMaster
XL20 reviewed here
five years ago fell into that category. It was Samsung
first LED display, remarkably accurate with a very wide color gamut. It is still
in the Samsung catalog, although no one other than an imaging pro would be interested,
given its modest 20" size and 1680 x 1200 resolution, austere style, and
dearth of connectivity.

The Samsung Series 9 LED Monitor S27B970D is a different animal. It
offers 2560×1440 Wide Quad HD resolution, PLS (Plane to Line Switching) LED
screen (an IPS derivative), individual precalibration at the factory, built-in
color calbration engine, 100% sRGB color gamut, and a fully adjustable integated
stand. Stylistically, it’s also one of the most stunning monitors around.

The 27" Series 9 at around $1,000 market price, is under the price range
of monitors for image professionals dominated by NEC and EIZO, but it is meant
to appeal to a much broader consumer audience, like that targeted by the $999
Apple Thunderbolt 27" display.

The photo below is a vanity shot from Samsung. It’s hard to take photos of
monitors with all their shiny reflective surfaces unless you have a serious
photo studio… or want to spend lots of time in Photoshop.


The Series 9 model S27B970D looks like a modern classic.
Samsung Series 9 27" LED Monitor Specifications
Model
S27B970D
Panel Size
27"
Aspect Ratio
16:9
Resolution
2560 x 1440 (Wide Quad-HD)
Brightness
285 cd/m² (High Bright ) or 220 cd/m² (Standard
)
Contrast Ratio
Mega 8 DCR (Static 1000 : 1) on High Bright / Cinema
Mode
View Angle
(H/V)
178° / 178°
Response Time
5 ms (GTG)
Panel Type
PLS LED
Power
53W typical, 63W max, 0.5W sleep
Interface
HDMI (1.4 Ver) x 1
Dual Link DVI x 1
DisplayPort (v1.1) x 1
Speaker 7W x 2 ch
USB Hub (v2.0 – 1 Up, 2 Down)
Certifications
Energy Star 5.0, TCO 5.0, Environment Mark
Tilt
-2° back, +13° front (measured)
Verticle Lift
100 mm
VESA Mount
N.A.
In the Box
65W AC/DC Adapter
DisplayPort cable
MHL cable (HDMI to micro 5pin)
DVI-Dual-Link cable
USB 2.0 Cable
E-manual
Install CD
Quick Setup Guide
Natural Color Expert Data Sheet
Dimensions (WxDxH)
645 x 467-567 x 247 mm w/ Stand
645 x 402 x 23.2(29.2) mm w/o Stand
Weight
7.9 kg w/ Stand
5.7 kg w/o Stand
10.7 kg Package

S27B970D DETAILS

This monitor uses a new technology called Super PLS (Plane to Line Switching),
Samsung’s twist on the IPS panel technology mostly produced by LG, said to offer
geat viewing angles and good color gamut. The 970 offers a substantial jump
in resolution for the current 1920 x 1080 defacto standard for 24" monitors.
This is the same 2560 x 1440 WQHD resolution as the Apple Thunderbolt 27"
and other high end 27" displays from NEC, Dell, ASUS, and HP. Samsung has
at least one other WQHD on offer, another 27" LED monitor
model S27A850D
with a somewhat different mix of features.

The factory pre-calibration is unusual in a consumer monitor, but not unique
for professional monitors. Samsung provides a data sheet with the calibration
data unique to each monitor. To extract maximum marketing value, Samsung has
even created an
official video of the SB970 calibration process
. (Link to YouTube video)


The S27B970D comes in quite a large carton for a flat panel monitor,
partly because it comes fully assembled.



Accessories box includes three video input connectors, a USB hub cable,
a 65W 14V AC/DC adapter of class "V" efficiency and individual
factory calibration test report for this sample.



The S27B970D in my living room, reflecting the couch. The base looks like
aluminum, the perimeter of the main screen frame is aluminum, and the
glass surface extend outs to the very edge, like an infinity pool.



The integral stand allows 10cm vertical up/down sliding adjustment on
the post, and tilts -2° ~ 13°. The back panel feels like anodized
brushed aluminum, right down to the tactile feel of fine grooves similar
to that caused by the brushing process, but I suspect it is a clever plastic
facimile. This is probably true of the metallic-looking surface of the
circular base. Perhaps only the silver portion of the vertical post is
really metal.



The main I/O panel is on the back of the base: A USB 2.0 hub jack, DisplayPort,
DVI, HDMI, and DC power in. On the right side are two USB 2.0 ports.



This top-down shot shows off the sleek thin screen.



The touch sensitive on-screen menu buttons are above the main power button
on the curved portion of the rear post where it meets the circular base.
They light up when the PC is powered up or brought out of sleep, and fade
to black when not used… until you touch any of them. Very nice.

USER EXPERIENCE

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:

OBTAINING WQHD RESOLUTION

It’s helpful that Samsung included three different video cables with the S27B970D.
To achieve the native 2560 x 1440 resolution requires a bit of care, however,
and perhaps some Plug & Pray luck. This holds true for all WQHD monitors,
AFAIK. It was enough of a challenge that I felt a rundown of the options that
worked and those that didn’t will prove helpful to readers.

DisplayPort: On paper, DisplayPort to DisplayPort should allow WQHD
screen resolution without fail. In reality it depends on which version of DP
is implemented in the video card, and whether the latest spec cable is used.

1. Fail was what happened when using DP between this monitor and an Intel
Pentium G2120 CPU on an Intel DQ77KB mini-ITX board running Windows 7-64.
That is, the combination failed to provide WQHD resolution, topping out at
HD. The Intel board apparently has DP v1.1a, which should support WQHD but
its specifications promise support only up to 1080p.

2. An ASUS P8Z77-V Pro board running a Sandy Bridge CPU was tried next, and
2560 x 1440 resolution was achieved with onboard graphics using the included
DisplayPort cable. The ASUS board uses DP 1.1a, and its maximum resolution
is stated to be WQHD.

3. On another recent PC, DisplayPort to an ASUS HD7870 graphics card allowed
2560 x 1440 resolution without issues. The HD7870 employs DisplayPort 1.2
with max resolution of 4096 x 2160 per display.

Mini-DisplayPort: It should allow WQHD screen resolution, like DP.

1. Mini-DisplayPort from an AMD HD6850 video card in a modern system worked
fine. The Radeon HD6850 employs DisplayPort 1.2 with max resolution of 2560
x 1600 per display.

2. Mini-DisplayPort from the integrated graphics in the recently reviewed
Intel NUC super-SFF
computer sample worked fine. The Mini-DP port on the NUC is also a Thunderbolt
interface, but its video details are not detailed by Intel. The Intel HD 4000
graphics is simply described as providing "High-Definition content at
up to 1080p resolution.

Dual-link DVI: Standard DVI provides a maximum resolution of 1915 ×
1436. Dual-link DVI-D is a variant that doubles the effective bandwidth, which
allows WQHD resolution. A cable using Dual-link DVI-D connectors, which differ
by having 24 main pins instead of the usual 18 pins, is included with the monitor.

1. DVI-D Dual-link was tried with a recent system running an AMD HD6850
video card, and WQHD resolution was achieved without issue.

2. DVI-D Dual-link on the ASUS P8Z77-V Pro system (mentioned above) failed
to achieve WQHD, giving us just HD resolution. A close look at the ASUS board
specs revealed that its DVI port supports only up to 1920 x 1200 @ 60 Hz.
As noted above, on DP, WQHD was achieved with this board.

3. DVI-D Dual-link on an ASUS HD7870 graphics card allowed 2560 x 1440 resolution
without issues.

Summary: Achieving WQHD
PC / Graphics Card Video Out Monitor WQHD
ASUS P8Z77-V Pro

DVI-D Dual Link

DVI-D Dual Link 1080p
AMD HD6850 DVI-D Dual Link DVI-D Dual Link yes
ASUS HD7870 DVI-D Dual Link DVI-D Dual Link yes
AMD HD6850 mini-DP DP yes
Intel NUC mini-DP DP yes
Intel DQ77KB DP DP 1080p
ASUS P8Z77-V Pro DP DP yes
ASUS HD7870 DP DP yes

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Samsung Syncmaster S27B970D 27" LED Monitor is very much a high end
product, but rather than appeal to just imaging professionals, Samsung has targeted
a broader market: The well-heeled tech consumer who is into digital photography,
all the umpteen video entertainment that streams into computers these days,
and/or gaming as well. The sleek modern style has broad appeal, and the beauty
is much more than skin deep; its overall performance is excellent.

The factory calibration assures good color accuracy for the non-professional,
while the built-in calibration engine gives imaging pros a tool for tweaking
and maintaining accuracy. Straight out of the box, the monitor provides excellent
performance, with vibrant colors, high contrast, great uniformity, sharp text,
and great viewing angles. The ergonomics and physical adjustment capabilities
are well integrated into the attractive design. The energy efficiency in normal
use is very good at 34~36W, and the total absence of electronic noise is delightful!

For quibbles, I’d ask why only two USB 2.0 ports and no USB 3.0? (The cheaper
Samsung
S27A850D 27" LED Monitor
, also WQHD, offers USB 3.0.) Also, since there
are built in speakers, how hard would it have been to offer a built-in headphone
jack? Some will also bemoan the absence of a built-in web cam. None of these
are serious issues, in my view, but the thousand dollar price is a bit on the
steep side. Samsung would probably point out that similarly spec’d NEC and Eizo
monitors run 15~30% higher, but these are more firmly in the pro imaging camp…
without the Samsung’s decor-friendly style. The $999
Apple IPS 27" Thunderbolt
has more connectivity, and there are a handful
of competing WQHD IPS and PLS 27" monitors between $700 and $1,000 from
Dell, HP, ASUS, and the aforementioned Samsung S27A850D.

The Samsung S27B970D deserves a recommendation for its excellent performance
and style, and they’ll have to work hard to pry this loaner sample off my desktop,
but there’s a fair bit of competition out there.

Our thanks to Samsung
Canada
for the sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Low Power Monitors from Samsung
and Lenovo

Samsung
SyncMaster XL20 LED-backlight monitor

* * *

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