The company rates the 172N's viewing angles at an acceptable 140 degrees horizontal and 125 vertical. The panel does not swivel on its base, though its light weight makes swivel unnecessary, nor does it rotate into Portrait mode, which is inconvenient if you design Web pages or work with legal documents. However, for $20, Samsung sells a pivot stand and Portrait Displays' Pivot software. Multimedia hounds can opt for a stand that sports speakers (1.5 watts each) and audio inputs for an extra $30. You can even detach the VESA-compliant panel from its base and mount it on a wall bracket, available at a nominal cost through third-party companies.
The Mac- and PC-compatible 172N connects with your PC via only an analog connection. The lack of a DVI connection means that the panel cannot display images with a digital-video signal. However, based on tests with competing products, the jury is still out on whether a DVI input significantly improves overall image quality. The 172N's connectors tuck under the back of the panel, whereas other SyncMaster LCDs' power and VGA connectors are located on the back of the supporting base, making for a slightly easier setup. Thankfully, though, the 172N draws power from built-in adapters, which eliminate the need for a hunky power brick that can add to the clutter on your desk. Spanning the middle of the SyncMaster 172N's bottom bezel, five sliver-shaped buttons (Auto Adjust, Exit, Contrast, Brightness, and Menu) make it easy to adjust the screen image. The Auto Adjust button tweaks the clock and phase pixel settings (called Coarse and Fine by Samsung) when errant analog signal noise causes images to shimmy and jitter.
The Brightness and Contrast controls actually let you perform a variety of functions, such as navigating through submenus. One such function, not typically found on LCDs, lets you adjust the screen's color temperature (a color's warmth factor) for several different hues (yellow and cyan, for example) in addition to RGB (red, green, blue). This is invaluable if you need to match display colors to print jobs that rely on color accuracy, such as brochures or presentations. Overall, the onscreen controls are efficient and easy to use, but we have a minor quibble: As you cycle through and make adjustments in each of the submenus, you must press the Exit button at each submenu before finally leaving the onscreen display (OSD)--a tedious process.
The 172N's driver CD also contains a useful, multilanguage user guide with installation and troubleshooting tips, plus a detailed section that helps you wend your way through the onscreen controls. The CD includes Samsung's Natural Color application, which helps synchronize display colors to scanned images or jobs that require color printing. As a result, you don't have to print a bunch of proofs--a potential waste of time and paper. The Samsung SyncMaster 172N isn't just one more LCD with so-so image quality. In CNET Labs' DisplayMate-based tests, the 172N's overall performance edged out that of other 17-inch panels we've tested recently, including the Dell UltraSharp 1702FP and the Sony Deluxe Pro SDM X-72, both of which we tested with a DVI input.
The SyncMaster 172N displayed crisp fonts down to Arial 6.8 sizes--small enough to work comfortably with spreadsheets and word documents without squinting. Our test model maintained sharpness from the center out to each of the screen's four corners, due in part to its tight 0.264mm-pixel pitch. The 172N also scored well with respect to consistent geometry and display of deep blacks. Color saturation looked uniform, and linear progressions of hues on a color-scale test displayed well, for the most part. In the Sencore CP500 test, the panel's brightness (278 nits) rated higher than that of LCDs such as the ViewSonic VG700b but less than that of the Dell UltraSharp 1702FP (292 nits).
Brightness in nits (Longer bars indicate better performance)
17-inch LCD image-quality test (Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Note: 0-50 = Poor 50-60 = Fair 60-70 = Good 70-80 = Very good 80-100 = Excellent|
The 172N also displayed a few trouble spots, however. For example, this LCD suffered from the jitters on pixel-response motion tests, a potential red flag for those who play high-action games and DVD movies with fast cut edits. Though the display offers an acceptable 25ms pixel response rate, we've seen better output from the Formac Gallery 1740 (DVI). Other minor flaws include slight shifts in hue on a grayscale test and subtle streaking on high-contrast screens. So while the 172N can handle everyday business applications, gamers and graphics pros with more rigorous image-quality standards and fatter wallets should consider the Princeton SENergy 981 LCD. Samsung backs the 172N with a standard three-year warranty that also covers the backlight. Its policy on returns for stuck pixels depends on a variety of criteria: the number of defective pixels (10 to 20); the pixels' onscreen location and proximity to one another; and whether they are stuck on, off, or shaded dim. Like most LCD vendors, Samsung expects you to accept the mathematical odds of a faulty pixel here and there.
Finding adequate tech support shouldn't be a problem. The 172N's printed documentation includes a quick-start installation pamphlet, in addition to a warranty card, information on specs, and links to globalwide service centers. The company's Web site is chock-full of FAQs, an extensive glossary of common technology terms, and downloadable manuals, among other goodies. In addition, during the warranty, you have access to 24/7 toll-free tech support. During our late-night test call to tech support, a technician picked up on the first ring and answered our question quickly and correctly. Without prompting, he even volunteered additional helpful information.