Until recently, flat panel monitors larger than 15 inches were outrageously expensive, but Samsung has lowered the price barrier with a new, 17-inch liquid crystal display that offers solid, if not outstanding performance for less than $700.
That's still three times as much as you'll pay for a top-of-the line CRT monitor of the same size, but the SyncMaster 171v occupies only eight inches of front-to-back space - the main virtue of flat panel screens.
The 171v is sharpest at its maximum resolution of 1,280 by 1,024 pixels, but that's a bit too fine for middle-aged eyes like mine. Reducing the resolution to 1,024 by 768 results in text that's larger but a bit fuzzy around the edges, which is typical of entry-level LCDs. I got the best results with Microsoft Word by setting the monitor for its highest resolution and then enlarging the screen display to 120 percent of normal.
The controls on the right vertical side panel includes an auto-adjust button, but it produced an image with too much contrast for my liking. In fact, it took quite a bit of twiddling to find a set of brightness, contrast and color settings that were comfortable.
Fortunately, the SyncMaster 171v is bundled with software that allows you to tweak every possible setting and save your preferences. I particularly liked the color correction system, which matches the screen display with printer output - a plus for digital photography.
The monitor's performance with photographs, video and game animations was better than I expected at this price point. On the down side, the SyncMaster added a slight bluish cast to its gray scales, which I couldn't get rid of. The screen image also faded considerably when viewed from an angle, another shortcoming typical of low-priced flat panels.
The screen tilts to provide the optimal viewing angle, but you can't adjust the height of the screen from the desktop. I thought it was a bit too high, forcing me to look up more than I like to. But this is largely a matter of personal preference.
All things considered, this is a solid monitor that provides an image far more comfortable than its 15-inch cousins. If you're willing to spend the money, it's great for use in cramped spaces, particularly college dorm rooms.
Information: 800-726-7864 or www.samsung.com.