Weighing a svelte 10.1 pounds, the SDM-M51's good features include built-in stereo speakers and stereo input, simple height and tilt adjustments (but, alas, no swivel), and an earphone jack. There's even a Kensington-compatible lock system. Setup is easy with the nicely illustrated manual. The SDM-M51 can attach to the VGA port of either a Mac or a PC; just snap off the rear cover, connect the video, audio, and power cables, and close the cover. Unfortunately, the space is a little tight under the cable cover, which kept popping off unless seated just right.
The SDM-M51's display specs and features are typical for its class. Like most other 15-inch LCDs, its native resolution is a comfortable 1,024x768 pixels with a 75Hz refresh rate. Its viewing angles of 140 degrees horizontal and 120 degrees vertical are also within the typical range. Seven tiny buttons sit in the upper right corner of the unit. Three of these control power, contrast, and brightness; the other four activate, navigate, and confirm adjustments via the onscreen menu. Onscreen commands are fairly easy to navigate, but you may want to consult the manual to understand what arcane commands such as phase and pitch stand for. We found, however, that the factory adjustments produced a decent picture without further intervention.
The substance beneath the style
The SDM-M51's merely decent picture is its main problem, if you'd call it that. While the average image quality will serve most users adequately, it fails to live up to the display's stylish presentation--and its price; other, less expensive LCDs, such as the KDS Rad-5 and the NEC MultiSync 1530V, have done noticeably better. In CNET Labs' DisplayMate benchmark tests, text samples looked generally sharp on the Sony SDM-M51, even at small point sizes. Looking at grayscale images, however, we noticed some purplish tones in midrange and dark areas. And although color photos looked vivid, flesh tones seemed a little washed out. Like most good LCD displays, the Sony was essentially free of image distortion. We did notice a slight brightness variation from top to bottom, however, which is something you don't usually see on such a small display.
To Sony's credit, however, the company provides a good service-and-support package for the SDM-M51. The warranty covers parts and labor for three years. You can call Sony's toll-free tech-support line 24/7, but you'll have to navigate through numerous choices before you reach a technician. You can also find plenty of product information and support at Sony's Web site, including driver updates, FAQs, e-mail access to technicians, and an automated fax-on-demand system.
Looks aren't everything
The Sony SDM-M51 gets better points for style than for performance. Fashion-conscious users will find it serves their display needs satisfactorily--and looks good doing it. A $50 rebate good through December 31 also brings the display's price below the magic $500 mark that has made LCDs accessible to mainstream users. With so many 15-inchers crowding the sub-$500 market nowadays, however, you can find the same or better image quality for less money.
| 15-inch LCD image quality test |
Longer bars indicate better performance
|The Sony SDM-M51 posted average marks for image quality. Text samples looked generally sharp, even at small point sizes. Looking at grayscale images, however, we noticed some purplish tones in midrange and dark areas. Color photos looked vivid, but flesh tones seemed a little washed out.|