The Samsung SyncMaster 204B looks like a business monitor, but its impressive DVD performance, feature set, and handsome styling make it a viable option for the home as well. We also appreciate its ample flexibility and image adjustability. Compared to other 20-inch LCDs in its $699 price range, however, the SyncMaster 204B delivers a bit less than the HP LP2065, which adds a USB hub to the offering, and the Dell UltraSharp 2007FP, which includes a set of built-in speakers. For productivity tasks and gaming, the Samsung SyncMaster 204B is good enough, but there are less expensive alternatives that offer comparable image quality and superior features.
This SyncMaster 204B's attractive, basic design features a 0.5-inch bezel and a well-labeled control panel. Unlike the Envision EN2028 and the Sony SDM-S205FB, the SyncMaster 204B has all of the adjustability features we look for in a 20-inch LCD: the small circular base includes a built-in lazy Susan which makes swiveling the monitor a breeze; the svelte neck supports the panel and offers 3.5 inches of height adjustability; and the panel tilts forward 5 degrees and backward 15 degrees, and it pivots between portrait and landscape. All of the adjustments are easy to make; even tilting the panel, which requires two hands on most monitors, is simple, thanks to the stable base.
On the back of the monitor, there's a power switch, as well as DVI-D and D-Sub ports (both types of cable are included). Otherwise, we're disappointed with the SyncMaster 204B's basic level of connectivity; the HP LP2065 offers four built-in USB ports, and the Gateway FDP2185W includes component composite and S-Video connections. On the upside, the 204B does have a single plastic loop at the back of the neck for corralling the cables; it's better than nothing, but it's inferior to the ViewSonic VP930b's cable management system.
The included paper quick-setup guide outlines the simple installation process for the SyncMaster 204B, and Samsung throws in a complete user guide on a CD, along with drivers and four software programs: Natural Color, MagicTune, MagicRotation, and MagicBright. Natural Color, a color management tool, lets you calibrate colors for uniformity between your monitor, printer, and scanner. MagicRotation lets you reorient your desktop after you pivot the panel. The MagicTune desktop utility lets you adjust brightness, contrast, resolution, and other settings. MagicBright offers six preset viewing modes: Text, Internet, Game, Sport, Movie, and Custom. You can switch between these presets by navigating through the onscreen menu (OSM) or via a dedicated button on the control panel. We appreciate that Samsung makes the presets easy to access, unlike the NEC MultiSync LCD1970VX, which buries them in the OSM. The 204B's other control-panel buttons launch the OSM, adjust brightness, switch between analog and digital mode, automatically restore image settings (analog only), and power the screen on and off.
The SyncMaster 204B performed reasonably well on CNET Labs' DisplayMate-based tests. Tested at its 1,600x1,200 native resolution, text looked dark and was easily legible even at a small, 6.8-point font size. Despite some grayscale inaccuracies, colors looked bright and vivid. The SyncMaster 204B's uniformity performance was not as impressive; we saw a dark patch along the top of the screen and a bright spot in the lower-left corner.
Samsung rates the 204B with a relatively fast 5-millisecond response time, and we were impressed by the 204B's DVD-playback performance; we saw only a few flaws, with skin tones and a nominal amount of ghosting. Gaming performance was near perfect, with sharp images, vivid colors, and clean movement.