Samsung's 173MW won't be available in retail until the spring, so in some ways its inclusion in this comparison is a little ahead of its time. However, Samsung was able to come up with a production 173MW for this comparison, and I'm glad they did. This display has convergence written all over it, and it may very well be the future of consumer-level LCDs.
Of course, the future doesn't come cheap. Samsung expects the street price of the 173MW to dip under $1100 CDN, which would put the screen under $900US. Since the 173MW is only a 17" display, a $900 price tag seems excessive to say the least. However, considering its capabilities, the thing might just be worth every penny.
At first glance, the 173MW is undeniably stylish. The screen's silver finish is certainly unique and would look absolutely stunning next to one of Shuttle's silver XPC systems.
Once you get past the aesthetics, the next thing that leaps out about the 173MW is its 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. Though the display is 17 inches across, its native resolution is 1280x768perfect for watching DVD movies, but perhaps less suitable for games that may not support 16:9 resolutions. Either way, basic desktop applications should have no problem adjusting to widescreen resolutions. The extra horizontal real estate even comes in handy for keeping an eye on IM and media player apps while running applications that prefer 5:4 or 4:3 application windows.
In terms of LCD panel properties, the 173MW's 25 millisecond pixel response time and 500:1 contrast ratio put the screen in the middle of the pack. However, the 173MW's strong 450 cd/m2 brightness level leads the field and makes me wonder if the screen's output might be a little unbalanced.
Although users can't easily adjust the 173MW's height, the screen limbos all the way back. The 173MW's base swivels, too, which should come in handy given the monitor's comparatively weak 150 degree viewing angle.
To ensure that a tangled mess of input cables doesn't prevent one from hanging the 173MW on a wall, Samsung neatly hides most of the screen's input ports under a removable panel. I know what you're thinking: "How much cable clutter can you really generate with an LCD screen?" In the case of the 173MW, a lot. Check out this panel's array of audio and video input ports:
In addition to VGA and DVI inputs, the 173MW features high-definition CVBS, composite, S-video, and coaxial inputs. The monitor is HDTV-ready and also has an integrated TV tuner. Convergence indeed. The 173MW has more video inputs than any other monitor in this comparison, and I'm particularly impressed Samsung managed to squeeze everything into a relatively small 17" form factor. However, I can't help but feel that most of those video inputs are being wasted on such a small screen. 17 inches might be big enough for watching TV or movies in tiny dorm rooms, studio apartments, or offices, but anywhere else you're probably going to want a much bigger screen.
To help users get a handle on all those inputs, Samsung lines the bottom of the 173MW's front panel with a total of ten different buttons. The buttons respond to the slightest touch, which is both slick and annoying, depending on how clumsy your fingers are.
Since front panel buttons aren't that useful if you're watching TV from a distance, Samsung includes a remote control with the 173MW. The remote is pretty simple fare and lacks any sort of fancy Windows functionality, but it gets the job done controlling the 137MW's built-in TV tuner.
While I'm talking about extras, the 173MW is the only monitor in this comparison that uses an external rather than integrated power supply. Given the amount of video input hardware Samsung has squeezed into the relatively small 173MW, it's easy to see why there wasn't any extra room for power circuitry.
Of all the LCDs in this comparison, the 173MW has by far the most impressive on-screen display. The 173MW's OSD is easy to read and simply gorgeous, but it's also loaded with functionality. In addition to controlling basic features like brightness and contrast levels, color temperatures and RGB levels, and position and frequency settings for analog sources, the 173MW's OSD also gives users control over all of the 173MW's plentiful video inputs and its audio output capabilities.
Because the 173MW would make a rather poor TV without any sound, Samsung equips the monitor with a pair of "Virtual Dolby Surround" speakers. The Dolby sticker makes the speakers look a lot more impressive than they actually sound, but what did you expect from integrated monitor speakers? To be fair, the 173MW's speakers sound marginally better than the integrated speakers on other LCD monitors I've used.
Warranty-wise, Samsung covers the 173MW for a full three years, and unlike some of the other manufacturers, Samsung has very detailed dead pixel requirements for warranty replacements. For 17" screens like the 173MW, Samsung considers a screen defective if it suffers from a total of seven or more dark pixels or four or more bright pixels randomly spread over the screen. Samsung will also service a monitor if it suffers from what Samsung calls a 2Dot dead pixel pattern. 2Dot patterns are made up of two dead pixels separated by no more than one pixel in any direction.