At two points earlier this year I got a chance to see the Samsung SyncMaster T27A950 under controlled conditions. Each time the monitor wowed me with its glossy presentation of movies with deep blacks, brilliant color, and a seemingly very high contrast. Controlled demos are one thing, though, and how a device performs in labs tests under a much more discriminating eye can be something else.
Design and features
The design of the 27-inch Samsung SyncMaster T27A950 can be described in just one word: gorgeous and unique. OK, that's two words--or three, if you must be absolutely literal--but in this case one word just isn't enough.
The 27-inch screen sits atop a wide, flat base stand that nearly spans the length of the panel. The panel itself measures 24.5 inches wide and the foot stand is 20.3 inches wide by 7.3 inches in depth. The screen attaches to the right side of the foot stand and the distance from the bottom of the screen to the desktop is 3.6 inches. The razor-thin bezel measures 0.4 inch wide on the sides, making it one of the thinnest monitor bezels we've seen. Also, measuring just 0.25 inch in depth, the panel is incredibly thin, especially for a 27-incher, and is one of the thinnest panels we've yet seen.
The design allows about 20 degrees of back tilt, but no other ergonomic options. The metallic chrome look (it's actually plastic) of the back panel accentuates the monitor's smooth finish, with no ports, connections, or VESA screw holes on it to ruin the aesthetic; however, there is a serial number sticker right smack in the bottom middle that ruins an otherwise pristine look.
The base stand accepts the burden of connections, and on its back are two USB ports, a coaxial in, PC audio in and out, an optical audio port, and a connection for the included composite/component dongle. All face the back and are easy to access.
Unfortunately, no DVI port is included, but Samsung attempts to make up for this by supplying two HDMI ports instead. As an added bonus, each HDMI port can be switched to video or graphics optimization through the onscreen display (OSD).
The T27A950 comes with a very comprehensive-looking remote control that gives you much easier access to the OSD's functions than the actual OSD array does. Aside from its inclusion of Smart Hub, the OSD has several features Samsung HDTV owners are accustomed to. Brightness, contrast, backlight control, and sharpness controls are available from picture options. You'll also have access to RGB gain and offset settings as well as many other detailed picture settings. Sound options ran from equalization settings to auto volume to 3D sound for the built-in speakers. Noticing a trend? We're definitely seeing a new high-water mark in design here.
Smart Hub provides streaming video, games, and apps, including Netflix, Hulu, Facebook, and Twitter, among many others. Also, you can stream video from any AllShare-enabled device, like a Samsung smartphone, directly to the T27A950. Thanks to the monitor's Ethernet port and built-in CPU, this can all be done without the aid of a computer connected to the display. Connection to a wireless router can be achieved through the use of a Samsung USB wireless adapter, but no native Wi-Fi is included.
The version of Smart Hub here looks to be very close to the one Samsung has included in its HDTVs for a while now. Check out our full review of Smart Hub for more info. In our experience, Smart Hub was easy to navigate; apps downloaded quickly and installed themselves without any trouble. Unfortunately, we were unable to get Netflix to activate on the monitor.
Included with the T27A950 is a pair of wireless, Samsung-proprietary, active-shutter 3D glasses. The glasses fit comfortably on the face, but there is a huge gap at the top between the glasses and your forehead where lots of light can come through.
Samsung's 3D glasses have a slightly different shutter pattern than Nvidia's offerings, which results in the shutter being fully open more often than the Nvidia counterpart.
According to Samsung, the shutter lens is open 70 percent of the time, whereas Nvidia's--or "Company N", as its press materials refer to it--is open only 32 percent of the time. This purportedly results in a longer battery life for the glasses and less strain on the eye, due to more ambient light being allowed in.
The monitor's overall build quality is high, with a foot stand that won't budge no matter the force with which we punched it, but while the foot stand feels nice and heavy, the panel, when squeezed, was more malleable than we'd like.
|Design and feature highlights|
|Connectivity:||Coaxial Antenna In, HDMI (DVI), HDMI (ARC), Component|
|Ergonomic options:||20-degree back tilt|
|Audio:||Built-in speakers, headphone jack, digital audio out, DVI audio in|
|VESA wall-mount support:||No|
|Included video cables:||HDMI|
|Number of presets:||5|
|Picture options:||Brightness, Contrast, Backlight, Sharpness|
|Color controls:||RGB offset and gain controls|
We tested the 27-inch Samsung SyncMaster T27A950 through its HDMI (DVI) input, connected to a Windows Vista PC, using the included HDMI cable. The display posted a composite score of 91 on CNET Labs' DisplayMate-based performance tests.
DisplayMate: The T27A659D visibly displayed dark gray down to a low level of 2 and light gray was visible to the not-quite-as-high-as-we're-accustomed-to-but-still-good level of 252. Judging from these findings, the display would likely not have much trouble displaying dark detail or confuse white with light colors.
Color performance overall was good, but was plagued by the nearly impossible-to-escape green hue problem that crops up on many monitors during the color tracking test. Once calibrated, however, the green impression was significantly diminished.
Backlight bleeding was prevalent along the bottom left edge and top right edge.
Text: Black text on white looked clear and crisp down to a level 6.8 font, with no abnormalities or weird color artifacts.
Movies: The T27A950 was made to play movies, plain and simple. Samsung used its highest-quality TN panel for the T27A950 and credits its great movie playback performance to a combination of panel tech, optimizations made by Samsung engineers, and its use of Ultra Clear Panel technology.
According to Samsung, Ultra Clear Panel (used in many of its HDTVs) is a coating added to the front of the screen that both reduces reflections and increases the level of contrast.
Even with the coating, we noticed a high number of reflections in a well-lit room, but the pop of the contrast hit us right square in the eyes, thanks to the deep black levels and the vibrant color that pops from the screen when playing an HD movie.
Games: For color quality and vibrancy in games, we looked at a low-level dungeon in Torchlight. Curiously, the Movie preset actually doubled quite well as a gaming preset, of which surprisingly there isn't one.
In the Movie preset, colors were more balanced than the highly saturated and distracting appearance in the other presets, while still delivering a vibrant look and feel to the visuals.
Photos: Faces had a slight tinge of green in them, as did blonde hair. Overall, however, the green tinting wasn't nearly as prevalent as we've seen on some lower-quality monitors when displaying photos.
Unfortunately, unless you own an AMD HD 5000-series-or-above graphics card, the T27A950 doesn't support full-resolution 3D in games. You can still play them, but we found the quality to be below what we've seen on recent Nvidia 3D vision offerings. Also, if we attempted to play the game at the monitor's native resolution, the game was plagued with periodic pausing, making it unplayable.
The level of ghosting in Call of Duty: Black Ops was unacceptable. While background assets looked fine, the player models moved around with very visible ghost shadows on either side of them.
Also, whenever we went into aiming mode, we'd see two images of the gun model. If we relaxed our eyes for a couple seconds the display adjusted until we saw one image. However, if we looked anywhere else on the screen, and looked back at the gun, we'd see two images again. This isn't something we experienced playing the same game on the Acer GD235HZ, which uses Nvidia 3D Vision tech. We're looking forward to testing the S27A950D from Samsung, which is optimized for 3D gaming.
The T27A950 is optimized for movies, however, and movies in 3D look great. The monitor handled the 3D version of "Avatar" beautifully with no ghosting or perspective problems.
2D-to-3D conversion was also very impressive with subtle added depth and no visible ghosting.
Recommended settings: We used SpectraCal's CalPC to calibrate the Samsung SyncMaster T27A950 for bright-room viewing. The following settings are what the monitor had been adjusted to after calibration. Color temperature is set to about 7,300K, under the Standard preset.
Viewing angle: The optimal viewing angle for a monitor is usually directly in front, about a quarter of the screen's distance down from the top. At this angle, you're viewing colors as the manufacturer intended. Most monitors aren't designed to be viewed at any other angle. Depending on its panel type, picture quality at non-optimal angles varies. Most monitors use TN panels, which get overly bright or overly dark in parts of the screen when not viewed from optimal angles.
The Samsung SyncMaster T27A950 uses a TN panel, so its viewing angle from the sides, top, and especially underneath is narrower than it would be for high-end displays like the Asus PA246Q, which uses IPS panel technology.
As mentioned before, the T27A950 makes use of Samsung's Magic Angle feature. Magic Angle gives the option of changing attributes of the monitor to improve the way it looks from certain angles, affecting clarity of text as well as contrast.
The T27A950 has the best implementation of the technology yet. It includes only Lean Back and Standing Up modes, but the slider for each provides 10 degrees of customization, making each mode much more effective at displaying the viewing angle for which it's optimized.
Our power consumption test gives an indication of each monitor's carbon footprint as well as the yearly cost of said footprint. The results gleaned from the test don't factor into the monitor's overall review score.
Compared with the 27-inch Samsung P2770FH, the T27A950 draws more overall power. With each monitor calibrated to 200cd/m2 the T27A950 drew 7 watts more than the P2770FH, which indicates that more than just the screen brightness of the T27A950 is contributing to its power draw.
In the end, however, the difference in power draw between these two monitors doesn't equate to much difference in annual cost. Based on our formula, the T27A950 would cost $16.06 per year to run, compared with the P2770FH's $14.55 per year.
|Samsung SyncMaster T27A950||Average watts per hour|
|On (default luminance)||50.8|
|On (max luminance)||56.9|
|On (min luminance)||25.6|
|Calibrated (200 cd/m2)||44.8|
|Annual power consumption cost||$16.06|
Find out more about how we test LCD monitors.
Service and support
Samsung backs the SyncMaster T27A950 with a three-year parts-and-labor warranty that covers the backlight. It also offers support through a 24-7 toll-free number, as well as 24- to 48-hour-turnaround e-mail and Web chat support.
With a beautiful design, 3D support, great built-in speakers, and the inclusion of Smart Hub, the T27A950 feels more like a Samsung HDTV than any previous monitor we've reviewed. While we loved its 3D and non-3D performance in movies, its 3D performance in games was disappointing. Also, while many will justifiably balk at the idea of a $750 TN monitor, the sheer number of features included here goes a long way toward making that price pill go down smoothly.
That said, there are cheaper alternatives if you don't need many of the features seen here. And if you want a Samsung monitor optimized for 3D gaming, consider instead the S27A950D or S27A750D. Still, as a small, 1080p-capable HDTV, the T27A950 is worth its somewhat high asking price.
Editors' note: This review was updated April 6, 2012, to correct the model name.