Samsung S27A950D

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The SA950 and TA950 line of PC monitors and hybrids turned an awful lot of heads after their unveiling at CES back in January 2011. The impossibly thin screens, almost invisible bezels and copious lashings of brushed metal were combined with a unique asymmetric stand design. The design looked a bit like some kind of far-fetched prototype rather than a real product but after several months and continuous delays it was released to market. Having reviewed the T27A950 and S27A750D already we have a fair idea of what to expect from the S27A950D. But experience has told us that seemingly similar monitor models can actually behave rather differently in practice – so testing, testing and more testing is what’s required. We will be looking at the rather intriguing design of the monitor, its features and then putting it through its paces in a range of applications, games and movies. We will be focussing not only on aesthetics and the image the monitor produces but also the responsiveness and ‘3D’ experience; a monitor brimming with potential, but can it deliver?

Specifications

The S27A950D’s specifications showcase its entertainment orientation, with a 27” 1920 x 1080 resolution Twisted Nematic (TN) panel, W-LED backlight and of course 120Hz refresh rate (over DVI Dual Link). Samsung also lists a 2ms grey to grey response time which should drive that refresh rate well if it has been implemented well. The price is certainly a ‘standout’ feature as it is rather on the high side but hopefully the performance can go some way to justifying this.

The basic specifications are shown below with positive standout features highlighted in blue.

Screen size: 27 inches
Panel type: Twisted Nematic (TN) LCD
Native resolution: 1920 x 1080
Colour support: 16.7 million (6-bits per pixel plus dithering)
Response time (G2G): 2ms
Refresh rate:120Hz
Weight: 5.9kg
Contrast ratio: 1000:1 (plus ‘MEGA’ Dynamic Contrast)
Viewing angles: 170º horizontal, 160º vertical
Power consumption:56W typical
Backlight: W-LED (edge-lit)
Typical RRP as reviewed: £580 ($699 USD)

Features and aesthetics

The Samsung S27A950D boasts one of the most adventurous monitor designs of recent times. The front features a large ‘foot’ of a base with a decentralised and undetachable neck to the right. This connects the monitor to the base and acts as the interface between man or woman and machine as we explore later. Although the bottom bezel and neck area of the monitor is wide the bezel at the top and sides is exceptionally thin at a mere 10mm. The bezel and neck features the rather usual glossy ‘piano black’ plastic whereas the stand features matte black plastic at the bottom and a generous helping of crushed aluminium at the top. From a normal seating position the brushed aluminium is dominant and gives a nice high-quality visual feel to the overall package.

You will not fail to notice in the picture above that the screen surface is of the glossy variety. This is the Samsung ‘Ultra Clear Panel’ treatment which is smooth and designed to provide a clear and vibrant image without diffusion. Silver nanoparticles are also layered on as part of this screen surface which helps slightly reduce ambient reflection and reduces bleaching in bright light. The reflectivity of the screen when switched on and in comparison to a typical anti-reflective glossy surface is explored in the ‘Features and aesthetics’ sections of the T27A950 and S27A750D reviews.

As we alluded to earlier the front of the S27A950D’s neck isn’t just a large and vacant area of glossy plastic. This is where you will find the controls of the monitor’s OSD (On Screen Display), the power button and the ‘Eco’ sensors. When the monitor is turned on this area becomes illuminated by a mild white glow. After 30 seconds the level of illumination drops to an undistractingly dim level until a button is activated by touch and full brightness returns. The controls were fairly responsive and we found the layout fairly intuitive – particularly the navigation arrows.

The OSD of the S27A950D follows the now usual Samsung style, allowing basic tuning of the image with contrast, brightness and colour channel adjustments. You can also adjust the gamma by setting the monitor to one of three preset modes or (as proved invaluable in our testing) further refine this using the ‘MagicAngle’ feature. You can also activate a ‘MagicBright’ image preset (disables ‘MagicAngle’) or enable ‘MagicColor’ for a full-on and heavily saturated experience. The ‘Eco’ sensors can also be activated and configured via the OSD. One of these is the ambient light sensor which adjusts the screen luminance according to ambient brightness and the other is a motion sensor which causes the screen to dim or enter standby if movement is not detected for a set period of time. Both of these sensors can be useful, although the motion sensor is low down and forward facing – it didn’t seem as sensitive to slight movement as the angled SA750 sensor, causing the monitor to shut off unexpectedly when the feature was active.

At 12mm thick the monitor is exceptionally thin as you can see from the side. The generous helpings of brushed metal are evident from this angle as is the hinged design of the monitor neck. This restricts the adjustability of the monitor to around 20° of backwards tilt so certainly style over substance in that sense.

If you like brushed aluminium then you’re in for a real treat at the back of the monitor as that’s about all you can see. This is easily one of the most stylish monitors out there at this angle so it makes a great centrepiece if your desk isn’t up against a wall.

Other notable features from this angle include the information lable (our review sample has another label above this), the Samsung logo and of course the ports at the rear; DisplayPort and DVI Dual Link for 120Hz output on the PC, HDMI for consoles and other external devices, a headphone output and a DC input for power (using the supplied AC-DC adaptor). A Kensington lock socket is also featured to the left. The large base of the monitor houses the majority of the monitor’s electronics which is partly why it’s so large and why the screen is so thin. This also makes the monitor stand irremovable and coupled with the thin nature of the screen means that VESA mounting is not possible.

Calibration

We connected the S27A950D up using DisplayPort for our testing – with a small miniDP-DP adaptor at the GPU end. We found the image very similar when connecting the monitor up using the supplied DVI Dual Link cable, too, so don’t worry if you don’t want to or can’t use DisplayPort. Under default settings the image appeared washed out with bleached, overpowering whites and faded colours. There were also noticeable gradation issues with areas of banding on solid colour blocks and mid-grey gradients in particular which were rather unsightly. We got to work adjusting the contrast, brightness, colour balance and gamma settings of the monitor using the Lagom LCD tests, familiar photographs and desktop icons and the Spyder3Elite colorimeter as a guide. Having previously tested the S27A750D we had a bit of an insight into the depth of setting adjustments that may be required. Using these settings as a base we were able to massively improve the image at every level. Some slight but interesting differences became apparent in the way our two the SA750 and SA950 test samples handled gamma. On the SA750D the gamma was some way off the desired 2.2 target by default (1.8) but this could be improved (2.0) by activating gamma ‘Mode 3’. On the SA950D the gamma was completely out of whack by default at 1.6 with a bit of an improvement but still undershooting on gamma mode 3 at 1.9. Once again activating the ‘Group View’ MagicAngle setting really was magic and brought the gamma up to 2.2 (central average) with a whitepoint of around 6500K and considerably improved the image. The following settings were settled on in the end. Note that each individual unit will differ slightly so these settings may not prove optimal in all cases.

Brightness= 45 (according to preferences and lighting conditions or use Eco light sensor if preferred)

Contrast= 75

‘MagicAngle’= Group View (becomes ‘custom’ once colour channels are altered)

Red= 43

Green= 50

Blue= 51

These settings are remarkably similar to (and just as bizarre as) those used on the SA750. The image now satisfied both the colorimeter and the eye with a good vibrant look that is free from oversaturation. Some initial gradation caused by what seems to be massively ‘off’ gamma and colours was as good as eliminated. Even sat beside the Samsung S27A850D PLS monitor the image from the S27A950D was rather pleasing. It almost seems as though the monitor was meant to run in the ‘Group View’ mode natively but Samsung forgot to flick the switch at the factory.

Contrast and brightness

Using a Konica Minolta CS-200 ‘Chroma Meter’ we measured the white luminance, black luminance and resulting contrast ration under a range of settings as shown in the table below. The peak white luminance, minimum black luminance and maximum contrast ratio yielded under non-dynamic modes is highlighted in black and the results of our ‘test settings’ highlighted in blue. The ‘Custom’ readings were taken using default settings (contrast ‘75’, RGB ‘50’ per channel and gamma ‘Mode 1’). These values will vary under our test settings and MagicBright presets.

Monitor Profile White luminance (cd/m2) Black luminance (cd/m2) Contrast ratio (x:1)
‘Custom’, 100% brightness 343 0.39 879
‘Custom’, 80% brightness 292 0.32 913
‘Custom’, 60% brightness 239 0.27 885
‘Custom’, 40% brightness 187 0.21 890
‘Custom’, 20% brightness 135 0.15 900
‘Custom’, 0% brightness 80 0.09 889
Test settings, 45% brightness, 75% contrast (custom RGB and MagicAngle) 191 0.23 830
‘Standard’ 172 0.2 860
‘Game’ 343 0.39 879
‘Cinema’ 342 0.39 877
Dynamic Contrast (‘Gaming’ mode) 341 <0.01 >34,100

A fairly good average contrast ratio of 893:1 was measured under ‘Custom’ settings. The gamma and colour was all over the place under the default settings so some changes were made to correct this. The ‘test settings’ reflect these changes with a slight drop in contrast as a result – at 830:1 things were still quite respectable in this department. At 100% brightness and under the ‘game’ preset the S27A950 pumped out a searing 343 cd/m2 luminance which comfortably trumps the rated 300 cd/m2. At a brightness of 0% the white luminance dropped to 80 cd/m2, giving the monitor a pleasing 263 cd/m2 adjustment range.

As with most (if not all) modern entertainment and gaming monitors Samsung includes a ‘Dynamic Contrast’ mode. Under this mode the monitor reacted rapidly in the artificial test scenario (all black scene to all white scene) and produced a dynamic contrast ratio exceeding 341,000:1. This was restricted by the minimum luminance reading (0.01 cd/m2) of our luminance meter so the actual figure would be much higher. As the entire backlight outputs a fixed luminance which is spread across the screen this dynamic contrast mode cannot selectively dim bright sections and brighten light sections of a mixed image. This mode is therefore not really practical in many situations and is often best left off – these practicalities have been explored more thoroughly in our previous reviews and there’s no need to repeat this.

Under usable settings on an LCD monitor there is always some degree of ‘backlight bleed’ (if there wasn’t then contrast ratios would always be practically infinite). Areas of excess backlight bleed are also common, particularly in the peripheral sections of the monitor, due to imperfections and stresses during and post manufacture. On our S27A950D there was moderate excess backlight bleed-through which was particularly evident in the bottom right corner in the form of white clouding extending around 4 inches up the screen – this remained visible when displaying blacks in a reasonably well lit room. There was also a blue strip at the bottom edge which was most severe towards the right size which was generally only visible when displaying ‘pure black’ in a darkened room. Some less pronounced bleed was also apparent at the bottom left and some hints in the top two corners as well but this was relatively subtle and only visible when displaying black in a dark room. This was similar to what was observed on the T27A950D (but not S27A750D) and appears to be caused by the stress placed on the screen by the tight ‘bolted’ fastening at the stand neck. The SA750 series in contrast has more of a ‘floating’ design with an attachment at the back of the monitor.

Luminance variation is also common when displaying other colours and is best illustrated by measuring the white luminance at different areas of the screen. Measurements were taken at 9 equidistant ‘pure white quadrants’ using the Spyder3Elite, running across the screen from top left to bottom right. The results are shown in the table below.

The luminance uniformity of the S27A950D was moderate overall with a notable weakness at the top of the screen. The luminance here was 19% lower (‘quadrant 1’, top left), 22% lower (‘quadrant 2’, top centre) and 21% lower (‘quadrant 3’, top right) than the 185.4 cd/m2 in the centre. In practice this didn’t cause any major issues; the ‘dulling’ of this region that is common due to restrictive viewing angles on TN panel monitors of this size was too slight to really exacerbate the problem during our testing. Having said that the monitor was noticeably brighter at the bottom third – which is due in part to the viewing angle but also the recorded luminance in this section. The luminance was 8% greater (‘quadrant 7’, bottom left), 12% greater (‘quadrant 8’, bottom centre) and 4% greater (‘quadrant 9’, bottom right) than centre. The bottom central region of the screen was therefore 43% brighter than the top central region – a 62 cd/m2 difference under our test settings which is quite considerable.

The uniformity of the monitor is represented visually by the contour map below. This uses a bit of artistic license by combining actual recorded values with extrapolated data to predict the luminance in areas that were not measured. The variation considered here (and in the above table) relates only to variation in luminance and not colour or gamma shifts across the screen – this is covered in the ‘Colour reproduction’ section of the review.

We also tested out the contrast performance of the monitor on two game titles. First up was Battlefield 3 which makes use of excellent lighting models on the Frostbite 2 engine and is therefore a good test at both the high and low end. The experience at the high end was great – a bright, brilliant and spectacular show of lights. Fires, explosions, sparks, tracers, the sun, flares and other light sources contrasted brilliantly with their surroundings. This was especially true at night on ‘Tehran Highway’ and on underground sections where the light sources had a pure and lifelike quality to them. Perhaps most impressive was the engineer repair tool that lit up like a sparkler and showed, as with other light sources, showed a clarity to it that is rarely captured on a monitor. The luminance was also quite pleasing at the low end with no noticeable loss of detail for the most part. There was a slight detail loss in the right corner and bottom of the S27A950D’s screen which corresponded with areas affected by the excess backlight bleed referred to earlier. This was relatively minor and not exactly game-breaking but some people may be understandably sensitive to such issues. Most of the time (due in part to perception on the glossy screen) blacks appeared deep and solid.

Dirt 3 also dazzled at the high end with impressively bright, pure and realistic-looking light streaming from the dazzling sun during the day and car headlights, camera flashes and fireworks during the night. The fireworks and camera flashes can often go unnoticed but were certainly in your face on this monitor which is nice to see. At the low end there was minor loss of detail on some of the dashboard elements but a good level of detail in the background. The bottom right corner and bottom edge of the screen was the exception as details such as cracks in rocks and vegetation structures became indistinct here when driving at night.

The contrast performance of the SA950 was also assessed using the Lagom LCD tests and Internet Explorer 9. These tests are useful for highlighting particular contrast issues which may not present themselves in obvious ways during other testing.

  • Contrast gradients were very good on the S27A950D. The darkest blue band blended into the background making it difficult to distinguish but distinctive brightness steps were observed elsewhere.
  • Performance in the black level test was reasonable with all but the first 3 blocks distinguishable from the black background. It was possible to reveal the second last block by scrolling up so that the black was towards the bottom of the screen (a vertical viewing angle limitation) but the final 2 blocks were always invisible. There was no noticeable dithering on any of the blocks, even medium greys, which is very good to see.
  • The white saturation test results were good with all but the final block having a distinct checkerboard pattern. It was possible to reveal the last block by viewing the monitor from but this defeats the purpose of the test and merely reveals the influence of vertical viewing angle once again.
  • The greyscale gradient was good. There was some minor banding at the low end but a smooth transition elsewhere without noticeable dithering. The banding was a little more pronounced here than on the S27A750D but this wasn’t an issue during other testing. Either way the gradation issues were much improved from the rather out of whack default settings.

 

Colour reproduction

The S27A950D ’s colour gamut (red triangle) was compared to the sRGB reference (green triangle) using our test settings and the reporting functionality of the Spyder3Elite.

The colour gamut roughly corresponds with sRGB as you would expect from a WLED backlight and actually extends slightly beyond this particularly in the greens. The colour gamut, and in particular this 2D representation, really just gives an indication of the potential range of colours a monitor can display. In practice there are many other factors at work when it comes to colour reproduction and we will be exploring the end result of these in this section.

The clear and vibrant colours which shone through the ‘Ultra Clear Panel’ surface of the S27A950D were very impressive during our testing. In our first title, Battlefield 3, the image produced complimented the intended aesthetics of the game very well; it was rich, vibrant and lively-looking. Everything looked well balance with well-handled neutral colours (e.g. greys and dusty browns) alongside some impressively deep and full greens. Vegetation showed a good variety of more muted green tones, too, and as with other colours they appeared pretty much spot on in terms of saturation. Standout elements included; rich and warming reds and oranges from fires and explosions and the fluorescent and rather neon looking greens, blues and reds of the in-game markers and text. Undoubtedly the most eye-piercingly brilliant colour came from the cyan of the engineer repair tool which was like staring at some kind of firework.

Dirt 3 was also given the aesthetic it craved with a pleasing range of colours including rich natural shades and some rather vivacious ones. The car paintjobs, advertising around the track and game menu system were all given lashings of fantastically smooth and vibrant colour. Particularly impressive shades included; brilliant cyan, electric blues, highlighter greens and yellows and bright reds and oranges. The environments were also handled appropriately with some pleasingly deep greens and some paler more ‘dusty’ greens and browns depending on the location. Everything looked very much as it should making for an impressive performance on this title.

We also saw this performance carried over to our Blu-ray film titles. The first title we was Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder. This is an animation featuring an eclectic mix of bright neon colours and pastel shades. Shocking pinks, deep purples, neon greens and yellows were all handled brilliantly. The more subtle shades were also handled well with an excellent variety – even skin tones of various human characters showed individual traits rather than appearing a similar pinkish shade. This title is a particularly good test of colour consistency at different areas of the screen due to the large solid blocks of individual colours – any variation here is down to the monitor rather than the film itself and this is a very common weakness of TN panel monitors. This effect was actually relatively slight given the panel technology and size of the screen and was generally only noticeable on large areas of colour which really filled most of the screen (such as a close-up of a character). These large areas of solid coloured tended to appear increasingly light towards the bottom of the screen – but never to the extent of looking washed out. This was slightly more noticeable on our S27A950D than on the SA750m we tested, which is undoubtedly due to the relatively poor uniformity and high luminance at the bottom vs. top of the screen. The second film title we tested was also handled very well; the Blu-ray of ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’. Again colours showed good subtle variation, giving characters and environments their own identity. Skin tones, vegetation and other environmental elements all looked natural and in place whilst fires and artificial lights appeared pure, vivid and brilliant.

Viewing angles

The influence of viewing angle on the colours and contrast of the screen is particularly pronounced on TN panel monitors of this size and even when sat in front of the monitor this is evident, as we have explored. This is particularly important for its effect on colour accuracy and as such we would never recommend any TN panel monitor for colour-critical work. We can explore the nature of these shifts and the extent of variation using the Lagom Viewing angle tests. We observed the following on the S27A950D:

  • The purple block appeared purple in the centre, particularly towards the top. Flashes of pink were evident at the bottom and to the sides with a noticeable transition between purple and pink as you move your head.
  • The red block appeared a nice deep crimson towards the top which gradually turned pinkish towards the bottom. The results here were rather impressive for a TN panel monitor, especially one of this size.
  • The green block appeared an impressively solid and quite deep-looking green in most places with slight yellowing at the bottom and the far right edge.
  • The blue block looked nice and solid – no complaints here.
  • The Lagom ‘text test’ confirmed that the S27A950D’s gamma curve is influenced by viewing angle to a large degree. Rather than appearing a blended grey throughout it appeared green at the top, orange centrally and red towards the bottom.

The following video shows the results of the ‘text test’ and a mixed desktop background from both centralised and decentralised viewing positions. On the text you will notice a shift between red, green and orange depending on viewing angle. For the mixed desktop image you should see some degree of contrast colour shift horizontally and relatively strong shifts vertically with colour inversion after a certain point.

3D performance

The S27A950D includes a pair of custom SyncMaster SSG-3150GB glasses, which are modified from the more common SSG-3100GB models and designed specifically for Samsung’s new 3D monitors. The glasses are relatively light and comfortable, powered by a single CR2025 cell (coin) battery and connecting to the monitor via integrated Bluetooth. You can expect around 70 hours of continuous usage from a single battery – the batteries are non-rechargeable but cheap and easy to replace. A chargeable solution would add unwanted weight to the product.

Once activated by the push of a small rubber bottom at the top right you are greeted with a small green power symbol and, once you wear them, a noticeable flickering. This becomes more difficult to notice once you are actually staring at 3D content but is something you will notice initially – some people are more sensitive to this than others. The image on the monitor and indeed your immediate environment will also become duller – the picture will lose much of its vivid brilliance that is so charming during normal viewing.

Overall the 3D experience was very similar to that delivered by the S27A750D. Rather than repeating our experiences on various game and film titles including Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Dirt 3 and Futurama we would politely nudge you over to the ‘3D performance’ section of the S27A750D review instead. We did have another title at our disposal this time around which wasn’t released at the time of the previous test – Battlefield 3. We had hoped to run this title in Frame Sequential 3D using the TriDef software which is included with the monitor but at time of writing this game was not officially supported by TriDef. Some user-created profiles could be used but they had many underlying issues which led to a poor experience. We were therefore left to test this title using the SA950D’s 3D HyperReal engine 2D-3D conversion.

In-line with our previous testing this generally gave a reasonably weak depth effect which didn’t entirely outweigh the minor visual discomfort (flickering and slight dizzying sensation) or dulling of the image caused by the glasses. Because the processing for this is done by the monitor rather than the GPU you didn’t get the same kind of frame rate hit that accompanies the TriDef 3D – so that’s a definite plus. Certain scenes did actually work surprisingly well with the S27A950D’s conversion solution on Battlefield 3 – most notably on the mission ‘Going Hunting’ where you are inside an F/A-18 fighter jet. The canopy, HMD (head-mounted display) and flight instruments all had decent displacement. Buildings during the ground attack portions of the mission and debris from destroyed aircraft all seemed to occupy an appropriate place in ‘3D space’ giving a good depth effect. Unfortunately the majority of the action was on-foot where the extra depth of the TriDef solution would have been appreciated. We would expect a similar experience here to Battlefield: Bad Company 2 using the TriDef software as experienced on the S27A750D.

Response times

Using PixPerAn (Pixel Persistence Analyser) we were able to assess the pixel response performance characteristics of the S27A950D using a range of settings, at both 60Hz and 120Hz. The ‘tempo’ was set to 16 for these tests, which is the maximum possible value, and a camera was used at high shutter speed to capture the action. The images below show the results at 60Hz with the monitor response time setting at ‘Normal’, ‘Faster’ and ‘Fastest’, respectively.

A fairly pronounced secondary trail can be seen in the first picture. This indicates that pixel overdrive is disabled under the ‘Normal’ setting as this is typical of a non-overdriven TN panel monitor. The second picture shows a slight reduction in the secondary trail, indicating that the ‘Faster’ mode enables grey to grey acceleration (pixel overdrive). The trailing appears perhaps a touch reduced in the ‘Fastest’ mode and this result is about as good as you could hope for from a 60Hz LCD monitor.

But this is a 120Hz monitor – and by doubling the refresh rate you double the frame rate of this test. The cars in the test whiz past twice as quickly and the motion is extremely rapid. The results are shown for the three respective ‘response time’ modes, at 120Hz, below.

The ‘Normal’ response time setting on the S27A950D doesn’t seem to keep up with the transition speeds required for this test, as shown in the first image. You can see not only a bold secondary trail but also signs of a tertiary trail. The ‘Faster’ response time setting improves this greatly by leaving only a very faint secondary trail. The ‘Fastest’ response time removes this secondary trail but in its place you can see the introduction of some minor overdrive artifacts in the form of inverted trailing and a very slight halo trail. This shot is an extremely good representation of the overdrive artifacts which seemed just a touch stronger than on the S27A750D. Having said that they very rarely presented any issues during gameplay – but a decrease in conventional trailing compared to the ‘Faster’ mode was certainly noticeable. The only time that the tiniest hint of overdrive trailing was evident under the ‘Fastest’ operating mode was when you were specifically looking out for it and observing the jets in Battlefield 3 moving rapidly against the light blue sky. The pixel transitions here are between two very similar colours and it is understandable that the voltage of the overdrive may ‘overshoot’ in such circumstances. Needless to say we found this the preferred response time setting for our game testing on the SA950D.

The overall performance on Battlefield 3 was exceptionally smooth. You were able to run and strafe about without worrying about textures losing sharpness and enemies escaping your notice as a result. Fast-moving targets such as jets and helicopters were also easy to track because of this and even the individual passengers on jeeps were just that bit easier to take out as a result. The experience when flying or driving these vehicles was also excellent, allowing for good mobile engagements. There was perhaps just a minutia of trailing when turning particularly sharply; you really had to concentrate very hard to even see this, making yourself dizzy in the process, so it really wasn’t a problem at all. The general response of the characters and vehicle turrets to movement of the mouse was also exceptional giving you a really ‘connected’ feeling with the game and just adding to the overall fluidity of the experience.

This ‘connected’ feeling you get with a 120Hz monitor is due to screen updating the mouse input twice as often as it would on a 60Hz monitor. This is separate from ‘input lag’ and ‘trailing’ although all of these factors combine to give you the fluid feeling during gameplay. It should be noted that Battlefield 3 and the other games we tested were set up to run at 120fps which gave this excellently low level of trailing. Trailing will be more pronounced at lower frame rates (but still much improved over the majority of 60Hz monitors) as observed during the 60Hz PixPerAn tests which run at 60fps.

We also tested out the monitor on Dirt 3, which is a fast-paced driving game that is good at exploiting weaknesses in a monitor’s response times. Even when whizzing past spectators and the surrounding environment at high speed during Trailblazers the textures remained sharp without any noticeable trailing. The same can be said for turning even rather sharply – the Gymkhana game mode features all sorts of spins and tight turns but was extremely playable and smooth on the S27A950D. The game does add some motion blur to simulate what your visual system would have to cope with in reality but you didn’t get any additional trailing on top.

The 120Hz refresh rate certainly added a good deal to the gameplay experience over a 60Hz monitor, but the same can’t really be said for the film titles we tested (the Blu rays of Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder and The Girl Who Played with Fire). Whilst there was a slight reduction in trailing during particularly fast-paced scenes the films were both limited to the low frame-rate at which they were produced (under 30fps). There was a slight juddering that occurs during camera pans in particular that which seemed to remain even at 120Hz. The only 120Hz technology we’ve really seen make a good go at reducing this are TV-based interpolation and frame-insertion methods. The PC technology works extremely well when the source material is at a high frame rate and can be interacted with – but this doesn’t apply to films.

Input lag

Input lag is basically a delay between the GPU sending frame to the monitor and the monitor displaying this frame. Internal processing done by the monitor before it outputs the image is the usual cause for this latency and is one of numerous factors influencing how responsive a monitor ‘feels’ in practice. We have already explored some of the additional factors contributing to this smooth feeling – namely the pixel transitions themselves and the delay between frames. Some additional reading on these factors is provided by this article. We measured the input lag using a similar method to that described in the for the S27A750D – we still lack the specialist equipment, knowledge and testing environment to provide precise measurements using an oscilloscope or photodiode measurement method but are able to make the most of what was available to us. To try to get an average value that is as representative as possible using the ‘stop watch method’ we got together 3 individuals who were familiar with this testing procedure to take 40 input lag readings each, giving a total of 120 readings. We must stress that this test gives a representative rather than precise figure for the input lag of a monitor. Given this and the fact that we don’t want people to stress unnecessarily over a few milliseconds we won’t be going into explicit detail but will instead say that the average input lag on the S27A950D was measured at around half a frame at 120Hz (~4ms). This is a very low value and helps form the highly responsive experience that the SA950D gives during gameplay.

Conclusion

The first thing that strikes you about the S27A950D is the aesthetics of the monitor. With its super thin bezels, glossy screen, asymmetric neck design and lashings of brushed metal it certainly has a unique charm and appeal. When you first switch the monitor on, using its default settings, you are greeted with an overly bright and washed out image. Thankfully this is correctable using the monitors reasonably feature-rich OSD – and the image produced is transformed from beast to beauty. The ‘Ultra Clear Panel’ screen surface is something that Samsung hasn’t employed on their PC monitors thus far and has instead been restricted to their modern TVs. The glossy screen surface is a notable improvement over traditional anti-reflective technologies (and certainly over untreated glass) when it comes to reducing bleaching and handling moderately bright light but it certainly requires tighter control of the lighting environment than a matte screen surface would. If you are able to facilitate this then the clear and vibrant image produced when the monitor is correctly set up is rather spectacular. The colours really pop out but are well balanced without noticeable oversaturation. Some shades show a piercing vivid intensity whilst others appear more muted with some impressively slight distinctions being shown.

When it comes to contrast the colorimeter may not have been entirely satisfied but things work out quite well in practice. At the high-end you get some brilliantly pure and bright whites and light colours which give a realistic visual feel to any light sources in games and movies. At the low end blacks appeared perceptually solid and deep whilst some quite subtle details could be picked out. Due in part to the design of the monitor (its attachment to the stand in particular) the uniformity and measured contrast was not quite as strong as on the more conventionally styled SA750D. There were some issues with blacks in the bottom right corner in particular which certainly seemed to be caused by stress from the stand neck. Obviously it would be better if this wasn’t the case but it’s easy enough to ignore once you’re enjoying the overall experience or staring lustfully at the brushed metal.

Another important aspect of the S27A950D is its 120Hz capabilities and integrated 3D functionality. The overall responsiveness of the monitor was excellent during 2D gameplay with a level of fluidity that puts most LCD monitors to shame. The 3D experience was a little mixed but this was largely due to wider limitations in the technology – the reduction in frame rates, extra strain on the visual system and dulling and flickering are just some of the limitations of active 3D technology. The 2D-3D conversion is also a nice feature to have and in certain scenes (particularly inside the fighter jet on Battlefield 3) it worked remarkably well. It’s nice to have the option of playing in 3D for some alternative entertainment but really it’s the 2D performance of the monitor that shone through for us in the end. Given the price of the monitor (particularly in the UK where it retails for around £580 at time of writing) it is certainly quite an investment and it would be nice to see a slightly cheaper alternative without the 3D frills which for some people are surplus to requirement.

Positives Negatives
Good contrast in practice with deep-looking blacks, bright and pure whites and good distinction between Luminance uniformity less than perfect on our review sample
Exceptionally thin bezels, a super-thin screen and a unique aesthetic appeal with original styling and brushed metal elements Some people will find the aethetics too bold and the design limits adjustability and alternative mounting options
‘Ultra Clear Panel’ allows light emission from the monitor without diffusion, giving superior clarity and vibrancy ‘Ultra Clear Panel’ causes unwanted reflection at times and calls for tighter regulation of the lighting environment
Exceptionally vibrant colours without oversaturation and a impressive shade variation for a TN panel
Under default settings the gamma was way off, gradation issues were evident and colours were washed out
A highly fluid 2D experience with integrated 3D functionality and 120Hz refresh rate
3D experience is not without its problems and 2D-3D conversion is a bit hit and miss
Efficient LED backlight and some useful additional features including ‘Eco’ motion and brightness sensors Price is high for a TN panel monitor – viewing angles and colour consistency is limited by this technology