Some LCDs wow you with their stunning design. Others, such as the Samsung SyncMaster 711t, are so quietly classy they leave you with a sense of calm and order similar to what you feel when you encounter a well-tailored suit. The 711t may cost more than most 17-inch LCDs, but in return you get the kind of performance, adjustability, and features rarely found in bargain-basement displays.
What's immediately noticeable about the SyncMaster 711t is how well it fades into the background. The matte-black, half-inch bezel is slim enough to showcase the screen, and the six adjustment buttons are unobtrusively set flush with the bezel's bottom edge. The neck design is unusual--like an upside-down Y attached to a sturdy, trapezoidal base--but it's elegant and highly adjustable. The stem of the Y telescopes 2.25 inches up and down, and the articulation between the panel and the neck allows the panel to tilt back and forth about 25 degrees. A lazy Susan embedded in the base lets you swivel the display left and right. The panel pivots smoothly between Portrait and Landscape modes (PivotPro software is included), and the display is compatible with VESA mounts. The SyncMaster 711t works with analog and digital signals (both cables are included), and you can neatly feed the cables around the neck and through a rubber cable-feed ring so that they're almost out of sight.
In fact, the SyncMaster 711t's adjustment buttons are so unobtrusive that they create a learning curve. Most of them are marked only with etched symbols that we at first found nearly impossible to decipher. The only button clearly marked with small, white letters is the one that toggles between analog and digital inputs. Apparently this is because it is placed right where one tends to grip the bezel when tilting the panel. It took a few tries to learn where to position our hands. Another dedicated button brings up Samsung's MagicBright feature, which provides three brightness and contrast presets--Entertainment, Text, and Internet--and one custom setting. The Entertainment setting, which was extremely bright, looked good, but the other two were a bit dim for our taste. The onscreen menu is generally easy to navigate once you get the hang of the buttons.
Fortunately, you can almost entirely bypass the SyncMaster 711t's onscreen menu with Samsung's included MagicTune software, which lets you perform the same adjustments with your mouse. No drilling down through submenus here. If you want to adjust individual color levels, just click and drag a slider bar. MagicTune also includes a color-calibration program that lets you save settings for different users.
The SyncMaster 711t performed quite well when we tested it at its native resolution of 1,280x1,024 with a 60Hz refresh rate. The display has an unusually high contrast ratio of 1,000:1. To the naked eye, this doesn't make a substantial improvement, though text is a bit sharper and more readable, and blacks are nice and dark. The extreme-grayscale screens in CNET's DisplayMate-based tests reveal that the 711t does a great job creating discrete, linear steps from dark gray to black and from very light gray to white, with very little color tinting. But on other screens that show a wider range of grays, the midrange grays are less clearly delineated, and at the extreme ends the display tends to drop very quickly to black and white. The screen is uniformly dark, with little backlight leaking through. Web graphics are bright and crisp but have the slightly artificial look common to LCDs. (If you need accurate color representation, try a high-end CRT such as the Sony GDM-C520K.) Video playback yields smooth, vibrantly colored images, though scenes with largely monochrome backgrounds produce some digital noise.
The SyncMaster 711t comes with a three-year warranty on parts, labor, and backlight. Samsung offers toll-free 24/7 tech support by phone. It also provides FAQs, driver downloads, live chat, and e-mail support via its Web site.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)