|Introduction and Specification|
For each type of product and in each market, there is usually a specific price segment that will provide the best value proposition for consumers, often known as the 'sweet spot'. For quite some time, the 19" widescreen was the sweet spot of the consumer LCD monitor market. Hovering between the cheaper but aging 17" screens and the expensive but only slightly larger 20" screens, the 19" widescreen LCD provided the best value for a long time. However, in the last 8-10 months, LCD monitor production has increased and the price of LCD panels has fallen dramatically. The 20" screens which once seemed like such a poor value proposition, costing up to $100 more than 19" screens despite only offering one more inch of screen real-estate were now within $20. However, the biggest shift in LCD monitor value came with the introduction and proliferation of new 22" widescreens.
Perhaps introduced to help mitigate the large market gap between 20" and 24" monitors, or more likely because it is simply more efficient to produce 22" sheets of glass at the current batch of LCD panel factories, 22" LCDs came in just above 20" models in cost but offered two more inches of screen real estate. Over the last half year, the price of 22" inch LCDs has creeped lower and ever closer to 20" LCDs to the point where they can regularly be found for nearly the same price. A quick look at the HotHardware price matching system reveals that 22" monitors currently start at $190, with 20" monitors starting at $180 and 19" monitors occupying the $160 area. At around $8.5-$9 per inch, the 22" screen size is one of the current sweet spots in the LCD market. This makes the 22" screen size very attractive and luckily most LCD monitor manufacturers have at least one 22" to offer, so there are plenty of models to choose from. Today we will be looking at one of the latest additions to the 22" market segment, the Samsung 2243BW.
Samsung is one of the worlds largest LCD panel manufacturers and they offer an extensive line of LCD products including one of, if not the biggest catalog of 22" monitors of any LCD manufacturer. Samsung's website displays 8 different 22" models and that is just on their US website. There are literally dozens of 22" models that Samsung offers outside of the US, although many of these are nothing more than localized versions. Part of the reason why Samsung has so many 22" models is because they offer monitors tailored to just about any setting, from sleek multimedia sets to minimalistic business models. The Samsung 2243BW we are looking at today is one of the newest members of the 22" LCD line-up and it appears to be aimed at the business market.
While the Samsung 2243BW may be aimed at business use, its specifications suggest that it should be capable of quite a bit more than just spreadsheets and word documents. With good viewing angles, decent 5ms response time, good brightness and excellent 1000:1 static contrast ratio, the 2243BW should be well equipped to handle any multimedia you may throw its way. The 2243BW is actually slightly better specified than the wildly popular Samsung 226BW, one of the most widely and highly recommended 22" monitors.
One sign that gives away the 2243BW's business orientation is the prominently displayed TCO'03 certification badge. TCO is a series of certifications for office equipment that stipulate requirements for products to help improve the working environment. The requirements for each TCO certification focuses on four main areas; ergonomics, emissions, ecology and energy. The certifications are categorized in years, although this does not mean a TCO certification for one year is necessarily better or more up to date than another. Instead each certification is meant for a different class or group of office product. The TCO group of certifications cover a wide variety of products including computers, mobile phones, printers, furniture and of course, monitors. The TCO'03 certification that the Samsung 2243BW bears, for instance, specifically pertains to monitors. TCO'03 certifies that any monitor bearing its mark meets a minimum level of specification concerning display resolution, brightness, contrast, reflections, color reproduction, ergonomics, electromagnetic emissions, electrical safety, energy usage and environmental impact (ecology). All TCO'03 certified displays manufactured after 2006 are also required to meet the RoHS directive. While the TCO'03 isn't a mark of distinction like a THX certification would be for speakers, it does somewhat guarantee that a certified product will be relatively pleasant to use in an office environment.
The Samsung 2243BW is actually a member of a group of monitors that share the 2243 numerical designation. At this time we can only confirm two other members, the BWX and the WM. However, there are reports that a BWP was spotted at CeBIT which uses a different panel with a rather odd native resolution of 2048x1152. According to the official specifications we have seen, the BW, BWX and WM are functionally identical and differ only in peripheral features. The BW seems to be the business oriented model as it is the only one with TCO'03 certification and it sports flat black paint. The BWX offers a 2-port USB hub built into the stand as well as shiny, gloss black paint. Finally, the WM has built-in stereo speakers. All three models may be offered with either a 4-way adjustable stand or a simple stand with only limited tilt adjustment. Which stand you get seems to depend on where the monitor was purchased. For this evaluation, we will be looking at the basic 2243BW with a 4-way adjustable stand.
|Design, Build Quality & Connectivity|
The Samsung 2243BW has an understated design that is quite typical of workhorse LCD monitors. Covered from top to bottom with a plain, flat black paint, the most exciting visual feature of the 2243BW is the white Samsung logo on the bottom bezel. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, we found the 2243BW to be quite attractive in its own way and we can definitely appreciate the 2243BW's minimalist design. While it isn't as fancy or flashy as some multimedia monitors, the 2243BW's simplistic design will be at home in a wide variety of environments.
The 2243BW features a very thin bezel that is about half an inch all the way around. This means it is an excellent candidate for multi-monitor setups where the thin bezel will minimize the disruptive space between panels. A blue power LED is located at the bottom right corner of the screen, at the end of the row of touch-sensitive buttons (more on those later). There are no other LEDs on the 2243BW. The power LED emits a gentle blue glow when the screen is powered on and flashes when the screen is in a power-saving state. Located at the top right corner of the bezel is a painted-on label touting the screen's 8000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, along with TCO'03 and Energy Star stickers.
The sides and back of the 2243BW are equally plain and simple. The top of the monitor is lined with a row of vents which help the monitor dissipate the heat generated by its back-lights. There are also two other rectangular vent areas at the bottom of the screen, located at each corner. In the bottom-right vent is a standard Kengsington Lock port. The stand is attached to the monitor via a VESA 75mm compatible mount.
The 4-way adjustable stand that came with our 2243BW is quite a robust unit although definitely not the best we have seen. The stand offers tilt and height adjustment, although both of these adjustments have rather limited ranges of movement. The screen can only tilt around 15-20 degrees up or down and the height is only adjustable by about 4 inches. The screen can also be pivoted 90 degrees into portrait mode, however the stand's height adjustment is too limited to allow this without also tilting the screen upwards. Lastly, the base of the stand can rotate 360 degrees.
Overall the base of the stand is very firm and stays planted where you place it, but we found the screen to be free to wobble around. Any time we touched the screen it would wobble on the stand for a moment, although it never seemed like it was in danger of toppling over. We were a little disappointed that the stand didn't have built-in cable management features but it did come with a small cable clip to help tie the various power and input cables neatly together. Overall, we liked the stand and found it to be average in quality. It should be perfectly acceptable except in situations where it will be adjusted frequently.
The 2243 series only offers basic DVI and VGA inputs. This means it is limited to monitor duties since there is no way to hook up component or composite video cables without an adapter. Considering that the 2243BW isn't being sold as a multimedia solution, this is perfectly acceptable. The 2243BW doesn't have a built-in USB hub like some other monitors on the market, but the 2243BWX's stand does. Judging from the diagram in the manual (the 2243BW and 2243BWX share the same manual) the 2-port USB hub is completely contained in the stand so it is theoretically possible for any 2243 series monitor to have a USB hub, however we have only found specifications listing the BWX with a USB hub.
|Controls & OSD Options|
The Samsung 2243BW is controlled by six buttons along the bottom-right edge of the monitor's bezel. At first glance, it appears that these are merely labels and the buttons must be hidden, possibly under the bezel, facing downward towards the desk. However, this isn't the case; the 2243 features touch sensitive button technology.
We were initially quite weary when we found out the buttons were touch sensitive. Our past experience with similar implementations haven't always been positive. Luckily, the buttons on the 2243BW work quite well. The buttons themselves offer no feedback whatsoever. They do not depress, light up or make any sounds to inform you that they have registered your input. However the monitor was quick to respond to commands so the lack of input response from the buttons wasn't an issue. It is worth noting that the touch sensitivity of the buttons is quite high. Sometimes it seemed they would register a button press a moment before our fingers even touched the surface of the bezel.
In practice, the buttons worked quite well and input was a breeze. However there is one major flaw. Like the rest of the text and symbols on the monitor, the buttons were labeled with a dull, gray, non-reflective paint. While this may help the overall aesthetic appeal of the monitor by maintaining the sleek, all-black appearance, it does creates a visibility problem. We found the button labels to be difficult to see, even when the room was relatively well lit. This lack of visibility, combined with the complete lack of tactile feedback, means the buttons are almost impossible to use in dim environments. We wished the buttons had back-lighting that would turn on when any one of them were activated. It is easy enough to stab at the corner of the monitor to activate one of the buttons, but navigating the on-screen menu system without proper lighting proved difficult and frustrating.
A sampling of Samsung 2243BW OSD menus
The Samsung 2243BW's OSD system is quite good. We found it easy to navigate and it offers a lot of options. Pressing the 'Menu' button brings up the OSD main menu. Vertical menu navigation and value adjustment are both achieved with the up and down arrow buttons. Horizontal menu navigation is achieved with the 'Menu' and 'Source' buttons, where the 'Source' button serves as the "right" button while 'Menu' acts as the "left" button.
Besides the usual brightness, contrast, gamma and color adjustments, the 2243BW's OSD menu also offers two menu options unique to Samsung monitors; MagicBright and MagicColor. The MagicBright menu consists of 7 presets for brightness and contrast. Each one is labeled with the presets intended purpose. "Text" for reading and writing text documents, "internet" for surfing the web, "game", "sport" and "movie". The "custom" preset is set at the factory for optimal all-purpose viewing. The last preset activates the screen's Dynamic Contrast capability. All of the presets, except Dynamic Contrast, can be customized and modified by the user. The MagicBright menu can be accessed on the fly by pressing the "down" button when not otherwise viewing the OSD. This will automatically bring up the MagicBright menu and allow you to scroll between presets. The menu automatically disappears after about 3 seconds of inactivity.
The MagicColor menu allows you to preview and active the MagicColor feature of the monitor. MagicColor is a dynamic gamma filter function that aims to enhance the colors displayed on the screen. The MagicColor OSD menu has four options; "Off", "Demo", "Full" and "Intelligent". In Demo mode, the screen applies MagicColor filtering to the left half of the screen while the right half does not have MagicColor activated. Full mode activates MagicColor filter for the whole screen while Intelligent mode offers a more moderate level of filtering. The color and gamma adjustment settings, including the MagicColor menu, are not available when Dynamic Contrast is enabled.
It is clear from Demo mode that MagicColor makes a significant difference in the colors the screen displays. However, we found that Full mode was too strong and it would often bring out colors too much, making certain things appear over-saturated. Intelligent mode was more consistent. Regardless of the mode used, users who care about consistent monitor calibration may want to avoid this feature.
|Everest - Image Quality Testing|
We put the Samsung 2243BW through some color and text reading diagnostics using Everest Ultimate Edition from Lavalys. Everest's Monitor Diagnostics provide a few key test patterns that allow us to evaluate various aspects, such as color accuracy, and uniformity. We ran through all of the screens, and captured a few that had points of interest.
A sample of the screen diagnostics available with Lavalys' Everest Ultimate Edition
We ran the Everest's monitor diagnostics test with the Samsung 2243BW set to factory defaults and the display set to the "custom" preset, which is supposed to be factory calibrated for optimal all-purpose viewing. The 2243BW performed well on all of the tests. It did a wonderful job on all of the grid and text reproduction tests, producing clear, sharp text regardless of the color combinations used. Unsurprisingly, the 2243BW passed all of the grid and pattern tests with flying colors, as all LCDs should.
The 2243BW also did a good job on the color and gradient tests. It managed to pass the red, green and blue solid fill tests without issue but stumbled on the orange solid-fill test. In the orange fill test, where the entire screen is supposed to display a uniform orange color, the top of the screen always looked slightly deeper in hue than the bottom of the screen. This issue was present regardless of our sitting position with respect to the screen, so it was not due to viewing angles. The issue isn't serious, but it is readily noticeable. The 2243BW didn't have any problems on the white and 50% gray solid fill tests but the black fill test revealed very slight back-light bleed along the top and bottom of the monitor. It is actually quite minor and we did not notice it during normal use, but it is present.
The color palette tests weren't an issue for the 2243BW in standard mode. The color palette gradient was relatively uniform and we didn't notice any unusual color grouping. However, we found that enabling MagicColor significantly threw off the color palette test. We noticed odd, non-linear color grouping in both Full and Intelligent mode. We also found that some of the MagicBright presets also created non-linear color grouping, although they weren't as bad. This confirms our suspicion that the MagicColor filter would throw off the monitor's calibration.
Test patterns like those offered by Everest can be extremely useful for gauging a monitor's ability and also for calibration purposes. This is especially useful to people who need their monitor to be perfectly calibrated for work with publishing and photography. However most people don't purchase a monitor exclusively for "work" so we'll look at some real-world tests with high definition video content next, to give you and idea of how well the monitor stands up to "play".
HD Movie Playback: We watched a number of DVDs and HD video clips to see how the monitor would handle video playback. We quickly found the MagicBright presets to be extremely useful. We found the Custom preset to be a bit lacking, especially while viewing darker videos, or dark scenes in a movie. The Custom preset was simply too dark and a lot of detail in darker scenes were lost and indistinguishable. Luckily some of the other presets were quite accommodating.
We found that the Game, Sport and Movie presets were very useful for videos. The Sport preset was bright and vibrant with a slight blue bias, which made watching sports and nature scenes a joy. The Movie preset was darker with a yellowish tint that helped to bring out details in many darker clips. The Game preset falls in somewhere between the two. We also tried the MagicColor filter during our testing and we found it to be hit and miss. The Full mode was too strong and it caused many scenes to over-saturate. The Intelligent mode was much better, although it too would occasionally overdo it.
Overall, viewing videos on the Samsung 2243BW was pleasant. While we were able to comfortably watch videos without fiddling with the MagicBright presets, we found the presets to be extremely useful and they make the 2243BW a very versatile screen for viewing video.
Gaming Test: To see how the Samsung 2243BW handled some fast-paced gaming, we played a few rounds of Call of Duty 4. This game is especially taxing on monitors for three reasons. First, the game involves fast-paced action that often has objects moving very quickly across the screen which tests the monitor's response time. Second, the game has many dark maps where details can easily be lost among the shadows, which could easily cost you your virtual life. Lastly, the dark environments are broken up by bright flashes of gunfire and explosions, which cause high-contrast situations that easily reveal ghosting and blurring.
While the 2243BW isn't a gaming monitor, we were pleased that it performed admirably during our gaming sessions. Despite a 5ms response time, which isn't as good as the 2ms response times that some gaming monitors sport, the 2243BW still proved to be plenty fast enough for FPS gaming. Throughout our testing, we never noticed any ghosting, blurring and other visual oddities caused by a slow monitor.
Like during movie testing, we found the MagicBright presets to be very helpful for gaming. Before joining a game of CoD4, we set the monitor to the Game preset, which increases the monitor's brightness and contrast compared to the Custom preset. We found that this setting performed well in games. With further experimentation, we found that the monitor's Dynamic Contrast feature provided the best results during our rounds of CoD4. We also gave the MagicColor filter another chance and we found that it worked much better, although the Full mode was still too strong for our tastes. In the end, our favored setting was to enable Dynamic Contrast, as it seemed to provide the most vivid images in both dark and well-lit environments.
General Usage: We used the Samsung 2243BW extensively for several weeks. During this time, we performed a wide variety of tasks with it, from browsing the web and spreadsheeting to image manipulation and writing this article. The 2243BW handled all of these tasks perfectly. Once again, the MagicBright presets came in handy. The "Text" and "Internet" presets are perfect for their respective scenarios. The Text preset sets the brightness very low so long hours in front of a word processor won't burn your eyes out of their sockets. The Internet preset increases the brightness and contrast slightly to make viewing images and streaming video more pleasant, but the screen remains dark enough that our eyes remained comfortable after long hours spent browsing high-contrast web pages.
|Summary & Conclusion|
Performance Summary: Throughout our testing we found the Samsung 2243BW to be an excellent display. If we were stuck with a single brightness, contrast and gamma setting for all of our testing, as is the case for most monitors, then we would have found the 2243BW to be quite capable, although slightly lacking in range. Luckily that wasn't the case and the 2243BW allowed us to switch between 7 different customizable presets on the fly which really allowed us to take advantage of the monitor's full capability. We found the 2243BW was capable of providing fairly accurate color reproduction when required and that it was also a 'fun' monitor that could throw accurate calibration in the wind with a few quick presses of a button, and deliver high contrast video and great looking, ghost-free games.
While 22" inch monitors are currently one of the sweet spots of the monitor market, with entry level models starting as low as $190, the Samsung 2243BW is definitely not an entry level model. A quick search on the HotHardware price matching system reveals that owning a 2243BW will currently set you back about $320. While this isn't especially expensive for a quality 22" monitor, it's no where near the entry level price. However, you probably won't find an entry level 22" monitor with this level of performance and features, not to mention a fully adjustable stand.
Overall we think the Samsung 2243BW is a great monitor with only one really notable shortcoming; the difficult to see button labels. Unfortunately, the low visibility of the buttons also takes away much of the utility of one of the monitor's best points, its MagicBright brightness and contrast preset system. While using the MagicBright system does tend to be a little tedious since you need to switch between different presets, it is a downright chore when you can't see the button labels properly. Luckily, the 2243BW is a fine monitor even without using the MagicBright presets, although you will want to use them, to get the most out of your investment.