The launch of the 3D film Avatar and announcement of the ‘Blu-ray 3D’ video standard are both hallmarks that 3D is making its return to the entertainment industry. Further to this, GPU manufacturer Nvidia reignited this passion for 3D in PC users by launching their 3D vision shutter glasses. With a compatible GPU and PC monitor, such as the 120Hz Samsung SyncMaster 2233RZ, you are able to view existing and future games and movies in stereoscopic 3D glory. Increasing the refresh-rate from 60Hz to 120Hz is not only adventageous when you’re wearing 3D shutter glasses, either. Does this support for 120Hz 3D mean the Samsung 2233RZ has compromised quality in other areas? The PC Monitors team takes a look.
The Samsung SyncMaster 2233RZ has fairly standard specifications for a modern 22” consumer CCFL-backlit monitor, with the notable exception of its 120Hz refresh rate. In this review, PC Monitors looks at how doubling the refresh rate from 60 to 120Hz plays out in our brutal testing scenarios , and how we expect such changes to shape the PC monitors of the future.
Although undoubtedly kind to the eye, there is nothing extraordinary about the 2233RZ, visually, that distinguishes it from other Samsung monitors launched recently. It is fair to say that Samsung has found an overall design which is aesthetically pleasing – and as we find out; this is a design they’ve stuck to with the 2233RZ.
The first thing to notice when you look at the SyncMaster 2233RZ is that like most Samsung monitors, it is gently curved, and makes heavy use of glossy plastics on the bezel; as you can see below.
This is typical of modern Samsung PC monitors and is aesthetically pleasing– provided you keep it clean and free of scratches. A plastic border is also present at the bottom of the monitor, which soaks up the lighting in the room and from the blue power LED ‘strip’, tucked away behind the bezel of the 2233RZ. Unlike with the XL2370 reviewed earlier, however, this is only found at the bottom edge of the 2233RZ’s bezel (shown below) and does not border the entire screen.
The glossy plastic stand is another standard feature of the modern Samsung PC monitor, and offers a minimum of adjustability – merely allowing you to tilt the monitor forwards and backwards. We feel that although the stand of the 2233RZ is aesthetically pleasing; with its persistent wobbling and lack of adjustability it is really a case of style over substance. It is worth noting that the stand is attached to the monitor in a kind of ball-and-socket joint fashion, so if adjustability is an issue you can always replace it. The 2233RZ’s stand, although by no means unattractive, is just not quite as stylish as it could be for a PC monitor of this price; it does not share the appeal of the XL2370’s glass stand.
Another visually endearing feature of the XL2370, lacking in the 2233RZ, is the glowing blue-white touchscreen control panel flush with the bottom of the monitor. The controls of the SyncMaster 2233RZ are, instead, located to the right side of the monitor. This doesn’t have the same ‘techy’ feel as the glowing touch-sensitive control panel, and seeing the button labels can be a potential problem if there is little room surrounding your monitor. Still – you shouldn’t have to access these buttons too often once you’ve got everything set up to your liking, and you’ll likely memorise the position of the frequently used power button and MagicBright preset button, right? Well the Samsung engineers have already considered this situation with their SyncMaster 2233RZ; a nifty little set of button labels is bought up on-screen beside the buttons (as shown below). Obviously this works pretty well – unless of course you accidentally press the power button, which is laid indiscreetly beside the 2233RZ’s other buttons. One minor niggle with the Samsung 2233RZ is that, strangely, it lacks the one-push MagicBright menu found on many other Samsung monitors. Instead, the 2233RZ integrates it with the brightness and contrast settings menu; the relatively frequent MagicBright preset change requires a couple of buttons to be used in sequence.
The Samsung SyncMaster 2233RZ is not a particularly svelte machine when compared to the XL2370 and other LED-backlit monitors, but this small bulge is to be expected due to the presence of a CCFL-backlight. At 132mm thick, it is certainly thin enough for comfortable sitting on most desks, and is vastly thinner than any CRT monitor of yesteryear.
We are very impressed with the 3D performance of the Samsung SyncMaster 2233RZ, due largely to the high refresh rate of the monitor. Running at a refresh rate of 120Hz allows Nvidia 3D vision glasses (below) to be used to display the monitor’s output in glorious ‘pop-out-of-the-screen’ stereoscopic 3D. Basically, the glasses contain two shutters; one for the left and one for the right eye. The Samsung 2233RZ rapidly flicks between displaying a frame intended for one eye, then a frame intended for the other eye – so that each eye perceives a fluid 60fps moving image. A 60Hz refresh rate would only allow a less-than-ideal 30fps moving image to be perceived by each eye; a noticeable stuttering amplified in full 3D glory.
A 120Hz refresh rate can also improve the frame rate of a game or other 3D application, as v-sync can be enabled and 120fps (rather than the regular 60fps) content outputted without any distracting tearing or other visual artifacts. Some more demanding games and 3D applications naturally run at a higher framerate when v-sync is disabled. With the 2233RZ, you can disable v-sync and, assuming the frame rate doesn’t exceed 120fps, have a particularly fluid and artifact-free 3D experience.
To give you an idea of the ‘smoothness’ you can gain from 120Hz PC monitors, set your mouse cursor to the Windows default and move it fairly rapidly from side to side across a dark grey (charcoal) background. Even if your PC is fast and your monitor has a rapid response time, for example 2ms; you should notice a monitor trail or lag (perhaps even multiple instances of the mouse cursor) if it is a 60Hz LCD screen. This effect is largely reduced on 120Hz monitors such as the 2233RZ – obviously in a fast paced 3D scene, such as those found on Call of Duty MW2, the difference is even more pronounced. The smoothness of this experience is of course augmented by an increase in frame-rate. Even with a potent overclocked Radeon 5850 powering the PC Monitors test-system, we were able to increase the frame rate of several new games including Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising, by disabling v-sync. This increase in frame rate was at times profound, for example in Colin McRae Dirt 2 it nearly doubled the frame rate from 35 to around 60fps. This could partly be a fault with the engine on this particular game, but either way an increase in frame rate is welcome.
But with all this talk of 120Hz 3D magnificence comes a word of warning; if you buy the Samsung SyncMaster 2233RZ from some retailers, you will not be provided with the “dual link” DVI-D cable required to support the 120Hz refresh rate. Be sure to purchase a separate “dual link” DVI-D cable, or buy from a reputable retailer that includes the DVI-D cable in the box; the monitor shop, for example.
Usually PC Monitors would discuss image quality attributes – such as the brightness, contrast and colour reproduction at length. After all, these are extremely important factors to consider when choosing a PC monitor. Unfortunately, whilst the 3D performance may be a talking point of the 2233RZ; the image quality does not separate it from the crowd. When testing the monitor on our usual three games; Colin McRae Dirt 2, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 the image produced had good contrast, was bright and colours were vivid. Despite the slightly worrying 5ms “2D” gray-to-gray response time given to us on paper by Samsung, no noticeable ghosting occurred during gameplay or when watching full screen 1080p HD movies. Perhaps this was in part due to the 120Hz refresh rate counteracting the pixel response time, but it is the overall impression that matters.
In short; the overall quality of the image displayed by the Samsung SyncMaster 2233RZ is fairly standard for a 22 inch LCD monitor of today, and it was exactly as we expected from a CCFL-lit Samsung. Perhaps we are just spoilt by the superior colour, brightness and contrast offered by the LED-backlit XL2370, but we feel that for around £250 a 22-inch screen should really offer you something exceptional in the way of image quality.
This is an interesting and exciting time for PC monitor technology. With manufacturers pressing ahead with the release of LED-backlit monitors to replace their ageing CCFL lamps and also investing in the research and development of OLED monitors; image quality is really under the spotlight. Sitting in the shadow of this spotlight is the Samsung SyncMaster 2233RZ. Compared to the LED-backlit XL2370, under normal viewing; the vibrancy, contrast and colour gamut outputted by the 2233RZ is simply lacklustre. Compared to PC monitors sharing its CCFL backlighting technology, however, the XL2370 is every bit as good as the competition. The ace up the sleeve of the 2233RZ is not image quality in the conventional sense – it is the smoothness of the image in both 2D and stereoscopic 3D, thanks to the 120Hz refresh rate.
If you have a compatible Nvidia graphics card and can stretch your budget past this already expensive monitor; the 3D experience provided by the Samsung 2233RZ and a pair of Nvidia 3D Vision glasses is nothing short of breath-taking. If 3D isn’t your thing, then the fluidity of the image displayed by the 120Hz in normal ‘2D’ viewing may still impress. But don’t just take our word for it – you can read all you like about our experiences with 120Hz here at PC Monitors and elsewhere, but it is only by seeing it first-hand that you can truly appreciate the difference it makes.
Looking ahead, as we do, we can see that 120Hz is likely to become the standard refresh rate for the LCD monitor. With renewed interest in 3D in the television and film industry, and with the performance benefits gained by ‘freeing up’ the graphics card (disabling v-sync); 120Hz is here to stay. Running parallel to this is the development of LED-backlighting and OLED monitor technology – but it is only a matter of time before these enhanced-contrast screens merge with a 120Hz refresh rate. It is likely that these technologies will merge before OLEDs hit the mainstream. Once OLED display technology does becomes viable – things really start to heat up, with response times of under 0.01ms and refresh rates possibly exceeding 1KHz.
As with most ‘breakthrough’ technology products; the Samsung SyncMaster 2233RZ is exciting and refreshingly different (no pun intended). Although visually unremarkable amongst Samsung PC monitors – the 2233RZ offers an unparalleled smooth viewing experience, with and without stereoscopic 3D shutter glasses. At this price point, however, you can’t help but compare the 2233RZ to its’ LED-backlit cousins, such as the beautiful SyncMaster XL2370. It is a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ Samsung and other manufacturers will launch ‘3D LED’ monitors, but if you don’t like waiting; you could buy the Samsung SyncMaster 2233RZ today and be anything but disappointed.