Samsung is the world’s leading monitor manufacturer and as such they keep to a fairly regular and aggressive product refresh cycle. They have certainly caught the consumers’ imaginations with the styling of their products and in most cases combine this with good all-round performance. Dubbed ‘Touch of Colour’ (‘Touch of Color’ in the US) Samsung added subtle rose accents to their famed glossy Perspex designs and combined them with various bezel colour accents and stand designs (including chrome-topped and ‘crystal blue’ stands). The overall monitor shape, bezel and stand design would gradually evolve from series to series giving each now monitor a slightly different ‘personality’. The most bold and noteworthy ‘evolution’ from the Samsung designers came with their recent TA/SA750 and TA/SA950 series 3D monitors which feature brushed metals, super thin bezels and screens with a glossy ‘Ultra Clear’ anti-reflective screen coating.
Whilst these 3D monitors have caught much of the media spotlight they are certainly expensive and not in keeping with everyone’s budget or indeed requirements. The SA350 and SA550 series monitors are a little more in keeping with the mainstream market as far as pricing is concerned and whilst not quite as ostentatiously styled as the SA750 or SA950 they still bare the usual visual appeal we’ve come to expect from Samsung monitors. This review will focus on the S27A350H which is Samsung’s most affordable 27 inch monitor from their new line-up. As usual the monitor will be looked at from the outside and then the inside and its performance on a range of games, movies and test applications will be analysed.
The Samsung S27A350H is designed aimed at the home user and designed for entertainment – and perhaps a bit of work on the side. It is an affordable 27 inch TN-panel monitor with an edge-lit white LED backlight. It supports the usual 1920 x 1080 native resolution, 60Hz refresh rate and boasts a 2ms grey to grey response time – indicating the use of response time compensation (RTC).
The official specifications can be found below with positive ‘stand out’ features highlighted in blue.
From the front the monitor employs Samsung’s usual glossy black bezel surrounded by flush Perspex. The inner edge of the Perspex border features translucent dark red; an element of Samsung’s ‘rose black’ colour refinement which is subtle yet characterful. The bezel edges are rounded and the monitor stand has a large ovular base – this is unmistakeably an ‘entertainment monitor’ designed to entice the home user.
The screen surface is of the relatively ‘mild’ (low haze) matte anti-glare variety. This does a good job of minimising reflection by diffusing ambient light but does the same to the light from the monitor’s backlight. This leads to a mild grain that is visible on light colours and whites in particular (regardless of application) and slightly reduces the potential colour vibrancy. Having said that it really is rather mild and therefore the effects of this are less pronounced than on the higher haze value matte surfaces currently favoured by LG and partners.
The menu navigation area features touch-sensitive which are now common to modern Samsung entertainment monitors. These are reasonably responsive but a little hit and miss due to the glossy plastic layer over the sensor itself. The buttons best operated with the fleshy pads of the thumb than the more nimble fingertips. Once activated a simply on-screen labelling system presents itself – but there is no illumination of the button labels themselves. The only light on this monitor, other than the screens backlight, is a small ‘devilish red’ power LED that is similar to that of the FX2490HD. It seems a little dimmer this time around and is in-keeping with the colour scheme of the monitor – it seems a touch more noticeable than most of Samsung’s blue power LEDs. Most people should find it easy enough to ignore, though.
The OSD (On-Screen Display) itself is the usual Samsung layout and is split into 5 sections; ‘Picture’, ‘Color’, ‘Size & Position’, ‘Setup & Reset’ and ‘Information’. The ‘Picture’ menu allows control of brightness, contrast and sharpness as well as cycling through ‘MagicBright’ image presets or ‘MagicAngle’ (explored in the BX2440 review) settings – you can’t activate both at the same time and can map either one to the second menu button as a ‘Customized Key’ in the Setup & Reset menu. You can also adjust the pixel overdrive or level of grey to grey acceleration here as explored later in the review.
The ‘Color’ menu allows the colour channels to be individually controlled or a ‘Color Tone’ preset to be engaged. You can also select one of three preset gamma modes and activate of four MagicColor modes should you desire; ‘Full’, ‘Demo’, ‘Intelligent’ or our preferred setting of ‘Off’. All these really do is alter colour temperature and saturation in a way that it less beneficial than alternating the colour channels individually.
The side of the monitor reveals a fairly slender physique – around 24mm according to our measurements. The LED backlight and external power adaptor contribute to this thinness and also keep the monitor relatively light. At the rear of the stand there is a small gap and plastic ‘hook’ cable tidy. This is nothing revolutionary but is a thoughtful edition provided your cables are thin enough, like our slim-line HDMI cable, to snake through the gap.
The monitor stand is an integrated design – the oval base and thin neck are detachable but there is no way to VESA mount the monitor. This is to keep it thin but does mean that you are stuck with a limited tilt backwards (and even more limited tilt forwards) as the only ergonomic feature.
The rear of the S27A350H features a ridged matte plastic design. The plastic is actually a dark mocha brown here, but is so dark as to appear black in most lights. At the bottom you will find a scant selection of inputs – DC in (power), HDMI and RGB (VGA). For the sake of some fussy Nvidia GPUs (see calibration section) it would have been nice to have seen the current PC staple DVI input here as well. It is also worth noting that the all members of the SA350H series, including this one, only have a VGA cable included in the box. You will probably want to purchase or use your own HDMI cable for digital output from this monitor. Although the VGA signal is handled very well on modern Samsung monitors there is a slight degradation of the image in the form of noise (appears similar to temporal dithering) which can be noticed if you look closely.
The image was too bright out of the box with overpowering whites tending to bleach the surrounding colours slightly. Lowering the brightness from the default ‘100’ to ‘60’ offered some relief but the contrast also needed some tweaking. Using the Lagom website and familiar desktop backgrounds and icons as a guide we reached an optimal contrast of ‘60’, which is slightly lower than the default level of ‘75’. The image was much improved but still appeared a little unbalanced – something that adjusting the gamma and colour channel settings should address.
Using a Spyder3Elite colorimeter (software version 4.0.2) to help refine colour balance and gamma settings on a hardware level we were able to greatly improve the image. Software modification through use of ICC profiling was not used due not only to visually pleasing results without but also due to the misinterpretation or unawareness of this data from games and movie applications. Simply switching the gamma mode to ‘Mode 3’ (default ‘Mode 1’) raised the gamma from 2.0 to spot on the 2.2 target at the centre of the screen. Colours right across the screen appeared richer – it is not unusual for a simple switch in gamma mode to markedly improve colours on Samsung monitors but the optimal mode does seem to vary somewhat between models. There was also an underlying green bias to the image and a relative blue channel weakness which was visible to the naked eye and could be addressed with some relatively minor colour rebalancing (default value= 50) –
- Red: 50
- Green: 48
- Blue: 56
So with a few fairly minor adjustments the image of the S27A350H was nicely balanced and ready for some testing. It should be noted that the values used here should only be used as a guide due to inter-unit and GPU variation. On the latter point; no driver-level changes were required with our AMD Radeon 5850 but there are some known (and correctable) issues with HDMI output on Nvidia GPUs. By default some Nvidia GPUs treat the monitor as an HDTV and send out the wrong colour signal type. To correct this issue the following protocol (correct at time of writing) can be used –
- Update to the latest Nvidia Forceware drivers.
- Navigate to ‘Display’ –> ‘Adjust desktop color settings’.
- Select ‘Desktop programs’ from the ‘content type reported to the display’ dropdown.
Samsung rates the S27A350H’s brightness at 300cd/m2 and claims a static contrast ratio of 1000:1. Samsung don’t officially specify numbers for their dynamic contrast ratio despite the fact that it is ‘MEGA’. The fairly audacious figure (even by modern barmy marketing standards) of 50m:1 is thrown about in some of their marketing literature but not officially specified – needless to say this gives very little insight into the real world performance of a monitor.
Using the ‘test settings’ discussed previously, various additional settings and a KM CS-200 ‘Chroma Meter’ we measured the luminance of ‘pure black’ and ‘pure white’ in the centre of the screen. The resulting contrast ratio was also calculated. For the initial 6 sets of values (where brightness was adjusted from ‘100%’ to ‘0%’ in 20% increments) default settings were used – a contrast level of ‘75’and RGB values of 50 per channel. MagicBright presets may alter these values and they were modified accordingly for the test settings. The highest white luminance, lowest black luminance and highest contrast ratio recorded (excluding dynamic contrast) is highlighted in black and all test settings results are highlighted in blue.
|Monitor Profile||White luminance (cd/m2)||Black luminance (cd/m2)||Contrast ratio (x:1)|
|‘Custom’, 100% brightness||304||0.30||1013|
|‘Custom’, 80% brightness||250||0.25||1000|
|‘Custom’, 60% brightness||196||0.19||1032|
|‘Custom’, 40% brightness||141||0.14||1007
|‘Custom’, 20% brightness||86||0.08||1075|
|‘Custom’, 0% brightness||31
|Test settings, 75% brightness, 60% contrast (RGB adjusted)||179||0.18||994|
|‘Dynamic contrast’ preset||304||<0.01||>30400|
The peak static contrast ratio of the Samsung S27A350H was measured as 1075:1 (20% brightness). Under all settings tested in the review the static contrast ratio was in the region of 1000:1 which is very good and matches Samsung’s specifications. Under the test settings minor adjustments were made to colour balance, contrast and gamma mode. These alterations did little to hinder the contrast performance; a very pleasing contrast ratio of 994:1 was yielded using these modified settings. The highest white luminance was recorded under the ‘Game’ and ‘Cinema’ presets, at 315 cd/m2. This is slightly higher than the 304 cd/m2 measured at 100% brightness due to alterations the presets make to colour and just exceeds the 300 cd/m2 specified by Samsung. The lowest white luminance was measured as 31 cd/m2 at 0% brightness – giving the monitor an excellent white luminance range of 284 cd/m2.
The monitor also features a ‘Dynamic Contrast’ mode that is able to take the black depth below 0.01 cd/m2 and yield a contrast ratio of >30,400 (limited by the 0.01 cd/m2 resolution of the spectral colorimeter). We have made our negative feelings towards the notion of dynamic contrast abundantly clear in previous reviews so there is no need to fan the fire here. In short this mode is of limited practical use as the entire screen is dimmed significantly to accommodate such a deep black in the centre. If a comfortable luminance is maintained for entertainment purposes then the backlight of any LCD monitor will ‘leak through’ the LCD matrix to a certain degree when displaying blacks, as the LCD matrix is never a perfect filter. This will cause black levels to become slightly elevated and they may appear with a slight purple or grey hue which becomes more pronounced at higher brightness settings.
An additional point to consider is that the diffuser rarely does a perfect job at distributing the light from the backlight evenly across the panel and it is common to have areas around of ‘excess backlight bleed-through’ around certain corners or edges of the screen. The S27A350H suffered from slight excess backlight bleed-through near the bottom right corner. This was only noticeable when displaying ‘pure black’ in this region in a completely dark room and wasn’t really bothersome. It should be noted that the severity of such issues can vary due to different stresses during manufacture and distribution and that most people have come to accept some degree of ‘bleed’ as a practical reality of the modern LCD.
The other side of luminance variation across the screen will affect colours other than black and this is best exemplified by the polar opposite shade – white. This variation in luminance is often less pronounced in a mixed image but it is an interesting thing to consider and a good way of identifying potential problems. Absolute luminance values are given (cd/m2) in the table below, alongside the % difference in luminance from centre. Readings for this table were obtained using a Spyder3Elite colorimeter at 9 equidistance ‘pure white’ quadrants which run across the screen (top left to bottom right).
The luminance uniformity of the S27A350H we tested was reasonable. The top edge of the screen showed the highest deviation from the centre; 16% dimmer, 13% dimmer and 14% dimmer for ‘Quadrant 1’ (top left), ‘Quadrant 2’ (top central region) and ‘Quadrant 3’, respectively. The luminance at ‘Quadrant 1’ (most extreme deviation from centre) was recorded as 149.5 cd/m2 compared to the central luminance of 178.4 cd/m2. In practice this doesn’t present a real problem from an entertainment perspective but the viewing angle limitations of such a large TN panel monitor do exacerbate the issue. The top of the screen does tend to appear somewhat darker than the bottom.
The bottom edge of the screen showed a deviation from centre of 9-10% – again, dimmer than the centre. Due to the brightening effect of the viewing angles with respect to this bottom edge of the screen this is actually more than cancelled out and the bottom three quadrants of the screen appear brighter than any other quadrants. These deviations are illustrated by the simple contour map below. This adds a bit of artistic license to the actual recorded values by extrapolating actual recorded data. The data provided in the table and the contour map only take into account white-point luminance variations and do not indicate colour variations across the screen – this is explored later on in the review.
It is easy enough to get blinded by figures but what does all of this mean in practice? We fired up some familiar game and film titles to test the ‘real world’ contrast performance of the S27A350H – and we weren’t disappointed. Our first test title is the infamous Battlefield: Bad Company 2 which is a particularly good test of high end luminance with its mixture of explosions and bright sunshine in desert and snowy environments. The snow and desert sands were impressively bright and brilliant with only minor bleaching causing a slight loss of ‘grainy’ texture and definition in places. Really with the atmosphere and overall contrast that was created these minor niggles were excusable – and fortunately there were no problems to speak of on the low end with everything in the dark appearing appropriately detailed. The lighting models on this game aren’t really complex enough for night to give you that real sense of darkness which would be pierced only by the occasional bright artificial light but explosions were certainly nice and lively and managed to contrast well with their unfortunate surroundings.
Our second game test title, Dirt 3, features an engine that produces a more marked contrast between ‘light’ and ‘dark’. Car headlights pierced into the dead of night to illuminate subtle details in the distance such as rock cracks and the leaf structures of vegetation. During the day the bright sun cast a dazzling glare that was particularly noticeable as it caught white sails and flags around the tracks. A similarly impressive contrast performance was observed on the Bly-ray of The Girl Who Played with Fire. Even at night and on the numerous dark interior shots of the film subtle details were captured. The contrast between this darkness and light from raging fires and electric lamps was very good and in that sense the Samsung makes an accomplished monitor for film lovers as well as gamers.
To conclude this section of the review we analysed the performance of the S27A350H on Lagom’s LCD tests. These tend to highlight even slight weaknesses in a monitor’s performance which don’t necessarily manifest themselves during ordinary use.
- Contrast gradients were handled very well. Distinct brightness steps were observed in all cases except for the upper 2 reds which were difficult (but not impossible) to distinguish.
- Performance on the black level test was also very good but influenced by the poor vertical viewing angles inherent to TN panel monitors. From a normal centralised position in front of the monitor all but the final two blocks were visible. These blocks could be revealed by scrolling up so that the first row of squares appear at the bottom of the screen and raising your head and looking down at the monitor – effectively ‘cheating’ but highlighting the viewing angle limitations nonetheless . Minor temporal and static dithering was also evident but reasonably well hidden by Samsung’s algorithms.
- The white saturation test results were reasonable. The final three squares were not visible from a centralised position, regardless of settings. These were only visible if you look up at the monitor – defeating the main purpose of the test but once again highlighting the effect of viewing angles.
- The greyscale gradient was very smooth with some minor banding at the low-end. Temporal (and to a lesser extent static) dithering was also observed and this was not masked quite as well as on Samsung’s premium TN panel monitors (such as the ‘750’ series). This shouldn’t cause any problems for the vast majority of users who as it does not really manifest itself outside of colour-critical applications.
So in both the quantitative and qualitative sense the SA350 put in an admirable contrast performance. It is worth bringing up, once again, the matte screen surface of the monitor at this point which was explored in the ‘Features and Aesthetics’ section of the review. This did cause a slight graininess to whites and light colours during our testing but was relatively mild and not something that should concern the majority of users – and the whites were certainly eye catching on this monitor for all the right reasons.
The S27A350H’s colour gamut (red triangle) was compared to the sRGB reference (green triangle) under the test settings using the Spyder3Elite. This is shown in the image below:
The colour gamut closely follows the sRGB space for blue and red but extends a little further in the yellow-green space. Colour gamut doesn’t tell us an awful lot about how a monitor will perform when it comes to actual perceived colour output – so for this we subjectively assessed some familiar game and movie titles. The first game title we tested was Bad Company 2 – featuring a good variety of landscapes from snow covered mountains to tropical and volcanic islands. The monitor handled these colours pretty nicely with a good natural and fairly vivid look. Although shade variety was not up to IPS or PLS standards the range of green, red and brown shades was still impressive. Standout colours included some fairly deep greens and blues as well as some luscious golden browns.
The second game title in our line-up, Dirt 3, features a stunning range of different environments and an eclectic mix of car paintjobs. The environments had a good rich and natural look to them with a pleasing range of greens and greens with appropriate levels of saturation. Although car paintjobs didn’t have the arresting vibrancy that can be achieved from glossy screen surfaces (such as Samsung’s Ultra Clear Panels) they were nice to look at with deep reds, light blues and bright yellow elements catching the eye.
Our movie titles both demand particularly different aesthetics – and both were handled equally well by the S27A350H. The Girl Who Played with Fire Blu-ray is based around real-world locations which were rendered very nicely alongside natural looking skin-tones with appropriate levels of saturation. Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder is set in a fictional animated world which is full of glorious glowing colours and some more muted shades, too. The colours were not amazingly dashing but were still fairly vivid and varied. This movie highlights a certain weakness inherent to TN panel monitors, however – colours shifting in shade depending on their position on the screen. A character’s skin tone, for example, should be shown as one shade on Futurama but will instead appear several ‘similar’ shades across (and particularly, up and down) the screen as a sort of mild gradient. This also means that some subtle distinctions between pastel colours are lost – but the SA350 still showed good variety for a TN panel monitor. This ‘phenomenon’ is explored a little more in the following section as it is related to restrictive viewing angles.
The Lagom LCD tests for viewing angles are particularly good at demonstrating the kind of colour and brightness shifts are particularly prevalent on TN panel monitors. The following observations were made:
- The purple block was purple at the top central region but pink elsewhere.
- The red block appeared cherry red at the top third and transitioned to pink further down.
- The green block appeared a reasonably deep green at the very top but a yellowish green elsewhere (a colour commonly observed regardless of panel type).
- The blue block appeared a consistently deep and pure blue.
- The Lagom text made a definite transition from green towards the top to red towards the bottom. This was not a blended grey, indicating that the gamma curve of the monitor is highly dependent on viewing angle.
Although stated response times are poor indicators of real world responsiveness the ‘2ms’ grey to grey stated for the S27A350H indicates the use of response time compensation technology or overdrive to reduce the grey to grey pixel transition times. We used PixPerAn (Pixel Performance Analyser) – a light but useful tool for helping to illustrate how a monitor handles rapid motion is. The images below were captured using a high shutter speed and with PixPerAn’s ‘tempo’ set to maximum so should be considered ‘worst-case’ as far as PixPerAn testing goes. Response time on the monitor was set to ‘normal’, ‘faster’ and ‘fastest’, respectively.
With response time setting set to ‘normal’ a reasonably pronounced secondary trail and somewhat less pronounced tertiary trail is visible. This is typical of a 60Hz TN panel monitor without grey to grey acceleration – a function disabled under the ‘normal’ setting. Setting response time to ‘faster’ (which is actually the default setting) kicks the overdrive into gear. This can be seen in the second picture with the disappearance of the tertiary trail. This is instead replaced by some minor overdrive-induced ‘reverse ghosting’ artifacts – in practice these are rarely observed under this operating mode. Setting the response time to ‘fastest’ kicks the overdrive up a notch. Results of this test are similar to the ‘faster’ operating mode, but during actual moderate to fast-paced gameplay the negative trailing becomes far more widespread and conspicuous. The default ‘faster’ mode is therefore the preferred setting for further testing.
The monitor put in a pleasing and predominantly smooth performance on Bad Company 2, the first of our two current test games titles. Trailing was very minor for the most part and at the ‘on-foot’ action pace was handled well. As usual trailing became more significant during moments of off-road ATV (All-Terrain Vehicle) madness – but even this was a slightly less dizzying sensation than usual. In our second and final game test title, Dirt 3, no distracting trailing was evident under any in-game lighting conditions. Textures on the track retained a good degree of sharpness when moving forwards, even during the high-speed Trailblazer events. Turning sharply (particularly on Gymkhana mode) did reveal the same weaknesses present on any 60Hz LCD monitor.
We will round off our game responsiveness testing of the S27A350H with a quick mention of input lag. We don’t currently possess any accurate measurement instruments or relevant expertise to provide any reliable figures but we would classify the input lag as ‘low’ (comfortably under 10ms). The monitor responded well to our inputs and this translated to some good ‘snappy’ movements on games.
We also tested our film titles for the sake of completeness. The only real issue as far as responsiveness goes came from the usual ‘judder’ that is caused by the low native frame rate at which the films are captured and processed. Despite this, trailing related to the monitor’s pixel responses was never problematic and rarely evident at all. Given the combination of pleasing pixel responsiveness and low input lag this makes for a smooth gaming and film viewing experience and in this sense is really about as good as you get in LCD form at 60Hz.
There is an ever-expanding choice of monitors which are well-suited to general use with some gaming and film watching on the side. Choosing the right monitor has become even more confusing with the emergence of increasingly affordable IPS and 120Hz technologies. For those looking for something with a 27” screen that doesn’t cost a small fortune the choice is a little narrower but for the most part just as puzzling.
With the S27A350H Samsung has produced a very well-rounded product. The price is right, all the usual trademark aesthetic refinements are there and performance is very good on every level. Contrast performance is pleasing both subjectively and objectively whilst the colour reproduction of the monitor lends itself well to an ‘entertainment user’ – surprisingly rich and varied for a TN panel monitor. The monitor doesn’t fall down when it comes to responsiveness, either, offering a smooth performance with low input lag and good pixel responsiveness.
As is usual for a modern PC monitor aimed at the home user stand adjustability is very limited – and in keeping with the ‘slender’ aesthetic that’s apparently all the rage these days VESA mounting is not possible. Inputs are also very limited but include the most versatile of all current inputs (HDMI). It certainly isn’t perfect but it is amongst the best you will find in its rather appealing price bracket – and coupled with the energy efficient LED backlight that’s two important ‘guilt factors’ taken care of.
|Strong contrast performance
||Limited range of inputs – no DVI port
|A refined and well-balanced look that is neither plain nor overly ambitious
||Low level of ergonomic flexibility – only tilt adjustment
|Good colour reproduction with a good levle of vibrancy and shade variety||Some tweaking was required to reach this pleasing level of colour performance|
|LED backlight is energy efficient and produces little heat||Viewing angles and colour uniformity are restricted by TN panel technology|
|Highly responsive with low input lag and low levels of trailing – overdrive pretty well balanced
||Some minor overdrive-related artifacts manifested themselves during PixPerAn testing (difficult to detect otherwise)|
|Attractive price point for a 27″ monitor||Some (more expensive) 27″ models offer higher resolution than 1920 x 1080|