Three 27-in. displays prove bigger is better

If you want to use a single display for both work and entertainment, one of these might suit.

Admittedly, while "bigger is better" may be the general rule, context has a lot to do with it. (Have you ever shopped in one of those big-box discount stores with their 50-gallon drums of peanut butter?)

However, most of us will agree that, when talking about monitors, one big display is better than several small ones.

I'm not talking about monsters like the 46-inch, 86-lb. NEC M46-AV I reviewed last year. I'm talking about displays like the three 27-inch models in this roundup. They're a reasonable size to use with a computer, but they're also large enough to give you the space you need to keep a variety of applications on your desktop -- or to enjoy a streaming movie full-screen.

For this roundup, I looked at the Dell UltraSharp U2711, the Samsung P2770HD and the Sceptre X270W-1080P. They range in price from $269 (for the Sceptre) to just over $1,000 (for the Dell).

How we tested

I connected each display to a MaxForce Javelin P55 computer with ATI Radeon HD 5870 and HD 5850 graphics cards using an ATI CrossFire connector to produce fast frame rates.

The PC was also equipped with a Blu-ray optical drive to let me observe HD video. I also tried out the Far Cry 2 video game (with its plentiful explosions and action scenes) to check for motion blur and streaking.

One of the drawbacks to bigger monitors is that you need to sit farther away from the screen than you would with a smaller display. As a result, bigger monitors must be able to present a quality image in terms of brightness, contrast and refresh rate at that enhanced distance. As I worked with these monitors, I kept these factors in mind.

Three 27-in. displays

Dell UltraSharp U2711

Samsung P2770HD

Sceptre X270W-1080P

Price

$1,099

$400

$360

Display size

27 in.

27 in.

27 in.

Aspect ratio

16:9

16:9

16:9

Max. Resolution

(at 60 Hz)

2560 x 1440

2560 x 1440

1920 x 1080

Contrast ratio (typical)

1,000:1

1,000:1

1,000:1

Dynamic contrast ratio (maximum)

80,000:1

50,000:1

60,000:1

Brightness

350 cd/m2

350 cd/m2

400 cd/m2

Response time

6ms

6ms

2ms

Viewing angle (degrees)

178 vertical /

178 horizontal

160 vertical /

170 horizontal

160 vertical /

170 horizontal

Colors

1.07 billion

16.7 million

16.7 million

Dimensions (with stand)

25.5 x 7.9 x 16.8

26.3 x 19.3 x 9.4

25.5 x 17.9 x 9.4

Dell UltraSharp U2711

With black becoming the new beige, the UltraSharp's black-on-black motif doesn't distinguish it from the crowd. No larger and with the same basic display specs as the other two monitors reviewed here, Dell's UltraSharp U2711 at first stands out for a simple reason: It costs $1,099, considerably more than the other two.

There is justification for this, however -- starting with a maximum resolution of 2560 by 1440 pixels. Dell's host of input options is also impressive: The back of the display is well equipped with an RCA composite video jack, component display connections, two DVI connectors, a VGA port, a DisplayPort port and an HDMI connector. The monitor can auto-sense what's connected where; you can also switch among them using the on-screen display (OSD).

As if that weren't enough, the monitor also doubles as a USB 2.0 hub, offering four additional USB ports along the left side, along with an eight-in-one card reader. It does not, however, come with any speakers.

The UltraSharp's creature comforts include tilt, swivel, rotate, and height adjustment. On the surprising side, the panel enclosing the LCD has a depth of about three inches, which is thicker than usual for an LCD display.

Out of the box, the UltraSharp was much too cool for my tastes. I don't mean that in a lifestyle sense -- I mean that the on-screen image had too much blue to it, making everything look a bit frosty. (In other words, it looks like there's a very light frost starting to overlay the image.) I headed for the on-screen menu buttons located at the lower, right side of the display.

Dell has done something interesting there. As your hand approaches the general area of the capacitive-touch buttons -- which are inlaid black-on-black in the bezel -- the menu button begins to blink blue. Once you press that button, all of the buttons light up similarly and a small on-screen display appears, indicating which functions are attributed to which of those buttons at any particular menu level. It's an elegant approach to OSD operation.

The UltraSharp U2711 has preset viewing modes plus an additional mode that allows you to customize the view. I found that switching to the "Warm" preset was an easy general fix. Then I backed out one level of menus, went into the brightness and contrast option, and fiddled a bit until the picture looked perfect. All told, I spent about three minutes on the adjustments.

All in all, the UltraSharp's response to graphics was excellent, with great color differentiation. There was absolutely no blur or streaking. Watching a Blu-ray DVD was equally as uneventful, with no problems to report.

In fact, at about 89 degrees of deflection from center (which is just about looking at the side of the panel), there was no color shift and no loss of detail. It was a perfect picture at that extreme angle -- and that's not routine for your average LCD monitor.

Bottom line

While the UltraSharp costs a bit more than I'd like to spend, its outstanding color quality and plethora of ports means it can be used for anything from a professional graphics or video monitor to a replacement television anchored to a set-top box.

Samsung P2770HD

More and more, the Internet is becoming a source for entertainment, to the point that some of us are wondering whether we need both a computer display and a TV set. If you want both in one package, you may want to consider the Samsung P2770HD, which works well as a monitor but includes analog/digital tuners as well.

The last Samsung display I looked at, the 23-inch Samsung P2370, garners accolades not only for its overall performance but also for its slimness. The 27-inch Samsung P2770HD may be larger, but at 2.6 inches, it's only about an inch thicker than its smaller counterpart.

To set up the Samsung, I had to assemble the base and the stand, and then snap the display panel onto that assembly. It took about a minute. The arrangement allows for only front-to-back tilt, with no swivel.

But all of that was forgiven and forgotten once I got a gander at the back of the Samsung. It wasn't just the gaggle of external connections (VGA, DVI, HDMI, AV, component, PC audio in, digital audio out, headphone out and antenna) -- it was that some smart technician at Samsung decided that the connectors should be at a 90-degree angle from the back panel. That means you don't have to twist yourself into odd and unnatural positions to plug anything into it.

It's not easy to find the black-on-black menu buttons on the right side of the bezel -- but don't worry, you'll never have to go near them. Samsung has included a remote control that can be used to access those functions, and can also be used to handle the built-in analog/ digital tuners for HD television.

The Samsung comes out of the box in video mode and will prompt you to scan for channels -- it took about 15 minutes to scan my cable signal and log all of the available analog and digital channels it could find. If you're not using it as a TV, you can switch over to computer input with the remote control.

The display comes with built-in speakers that have better fidelity than the Sceptre's. Even so, you still might want to buy a good speaker setup for your PC to better match the capability of the P2770HD.

I didn't need to do any video adjustments the first time I powered it up. Color, brightness and contrast were spot-on. The Samsung can be adjusted via presets or manually via the remote control.

Image quality with graphics and video was excellent. The colors were vivid, with no streaking or motion blur, but the picture did start to look frosty at about 70 degrees from dead center, more pronounced than with Dell's UltraSharp or Sceptre's X27.

The quality of the image using a Blu-ray disc was quite good.

Bottom line

If you shop around a bit, you can get this monitor for about $400, which isn't bad. Having a monitor and TV in one package -- plus the variety of inputs and a remote control -- makes the P2770HD a great media center candidate.

Sceptre X270W-1080P

These days, finding a 27-inch monitor for $360 -- less if you do some shopping -- isn't such a big deal. The question is how much value do you get for that $360 in the Sceptre X270W-1080P monitor.

Some assembly is required out of the box, but it's only a matter of snapping the base over the post that extends down from the back of the display. There's not a great deal of movement capability: The Sceptre does tilt forward or back slightly, but there's no swivel (unless you move the base from side to side) and no height control. That may leave the monitor a little short if you've placed it on a standard desk (depending on your own height).

The image quality (the monitor has a maximum resolution of 1920 by 1080) was acceptable using the Sceptre's default setting. If you need to change it, you can use the display's on-screen menus, which are accessed using black buttons at the center of the lower black bezel -- with black raised legends telling you what the buttons do. Because it's so difficult to read, you'll need to keep a flashlight and a magnifying glass at the ready for those few times that you do need to access the options.

Display quality can be switched among four options beyond the default standard: Game, Cinema, Scenery and Text. Each varies the color-mix temperature just slightly -- Cinema is hottest and Text is the coolest mode. You can manually adjust the brightness and contrast.

Inputs on the back of the Sceptre are limited to DVI, VGA, HDMI and audio in, which should cover most basic situations. Once you've connected a device to it, you can either manually select which port you're attached to (via the OSD) if you're using multiple PCs or leave it on "auto select" to let the monitor make the choice of the port it should use for a single PC scenario.

There are also speakers embedded in the back of the monitor. As a result, depending on where you mount the display, the speakers could be almost flush against the wall. You can adjust the volume from the OSD controls.

Image quality was excellent when looking head-on at the Sceptre. Colors were bright and vivid with no ghosting, streaking or blur. That carried through to both graphics and video out to about 45 degrees from center. Just before you hit 90 degrees, the colors begin to frost just a bit. There's no glazing or smearing that obscures the on-screen images, just lackluster color.

Bottom line

Would I buy this Sceptre monitor? In a New York minute, especially if I had a smaller display and wanted a larger replacement at a low cost. Sceptre's X270W-1080P is an excellent mainstream LCD that will handle gaming and video without breaking the bank.

Conclusions

Of the three 27-inch monitors reviewed here, my personal choice would be Dell's UltraSharp U2711 -- largely because of the built-in HDTV tuner, which would work nicely for an office display that could also be used for occasional entertainment.

On the other hand, if I wanted a monitor that would be used predominantly for watching DVDs and other video -- and if I couldn't quite stretch my budget to handle the Dell -- the Samsung P2770HD's excellent video quality would be a tie-breaker.

And finally, if I had any kids going off to college, they'd be packing Sceptre's X270W-1080P in the back of the eco-friendly car. It's more than adequate for the typical dorm room gaming and work scenario while being inexpensive enough to easily replace should an errant beer can contact the screen.

Bill O'Brien has written a half-dozen books on computers and technology. He has also written articles on topics ranging from Apple computers to PCs to Linux to commentary on IT hardware decisions.

This story, "Three 27-in. displays prove bigger is better" was originally published by Computerworld.

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