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Samsung SyncMaster 460PN

Jan 1, 2006 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

Network-capable LCD does digital signage management.


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It seems a little funny to say, but the 46in. size of Samsung's largest pro AV SyncMaster LCD monitor, the 460PN, actually doesn't make for very flashy news. LCDs at the 46in. mark have been out for more than a year now, and production models as large as 65in. have left the now diminutive 46-inchers behind. But Samsung's SyncMaster 460PN is now selling in volume, and that makes it one of the largest practical panels out there, size envy aside.

Indeed, being practical and solving real-world needs is where the 46in. SyncMaster does make news. It's actually available in two different configurations — the SyncMaster 460P ($8,159) and the SyncMaster 460PN ($8,949) — and both use the exact same panel. The difference is the “N,” which stands for “networking.” That gives the 460PN (the version I reviewed) a wide range of intriguing functions for digital signage, conference room, and distance learning applications.

PANEL BASICS

Let's start with the basics: The 460PN is a 1366×768 panel that comes in a tidy black-bezel chassis. It's about 62lbs., much lighter than the same-size plasma. Convenient handles sculpted into the upper rear make it easy to move, position, or mount. It has a full range of inputs, including 15-pin, 5xBNC (in and passthrough out), and DVI-D connectors for data inputs, as well as in/out component video, S-Video, and composite. There's ¼in. audio for the data ports and RCA audio in/out for the video inputs, plus digital audio out, optional speakers, and obligatory com ports in and out for looping through to multiple panels.

Samsung rates the panel at 500cd/m2 of brightness. I measured all of that and a little more (550cd/m2). However, my contrast ratio measures of 501:1 came short of Samsung's 800:1 spec, although that sort of differential is not surprising given the lack of an industry standard for measuring full-on/off contrast. I was pleased with Samsung's color reproduction, which had very strong red and green and accurate secondary yellow. Blue is tougher for all displays and the unit was a little weak here. Almost as a matter of course, cyan and magenta leaned heavily toward green and red respectively, although to a similar and balanced degree.

As is often the case with LCDs, the grayscale range was crushed from both the top and bottom. That makes reading text easier, but it dramatically limits the range of luminance and colors in photos and videos. Scaling and support of non-native resolutions was acceptable, although not great. Video quality suffered from the lack of grayscale (which in turn meant a lack of color depth). Overall, however, it's an excellent panel for data-driven digital signage, with video quality that's plenty good enough.

HOOK ME UP

Although the panel stands on its own, it's that “N” in the 460PN that makes this SyncMaster different. In addition to the standard I/O fare, the 460PN version adds two USB ports and an Ethernet connector. Any of them can be used as a source of images or files to be displayed, thanks to a built-in CPU and embedded Windows operating system.

The 460PN is far from the first display product to include an Ethernet port, of course. What's different, though, is that the vast majority of these displays typically use Ethernet for remote administration rather than for sending actual content. Nor is it the first to embed an operating system and processor, although the number of displays that fit that description is a lot smaller. Similar to projectors like Barco's iQ series and Epson's 8150i, the SyncMaster 460PN can run MS Office and Adobe Acrobat (for viewing PDFs), show photos, play MP3 and even MPEG files, or browse the Internet — all without a local computer attached.

There is no Windows desktop on the 460PN, and that means there is no possibility of random installation of other software. That's a big plus for a monitor that targets public spaces.

Samsung has its own simple and intuitive interface for locating specific types of files. It automatically locates readable files from an attached USB drive or files on a networked PC that have been registered with Samsung's MagicNet software. That ease of access from a USB drive should make it very easy for a presenter to load a series of slides in a boardroom or for a store clerk to post important information. The 460PN does support a USB keyboard and mouse for navigation (and web browsing), although you can play files with just the IR remote.

It's the MagicNet software that extends even those abilities. To start with, MagicNet allows the 460PN to read files off a network — interestingly, on either a push or pull basis. Once files are registered or added to the Library, the 460PN can see them just as if they were accessible via one of the panel's USB ports. The OS can pull them off the server and play them. MagicNet, when installed on a networked PC, also has a scheduling function that allows you to set up a playlist that will push content to the monitor, all over the Cat-5 Ethernet cable. Efficiently, video MPEG files, MP3 music files, and photo JPEGs are all sent in compressed form over the network and decoded by the onboard CPU in the panel.

MagicNet's scheduling interface is similar to those of other digital signage scheduling programs in that you can create playlists that can be triggered at specific times, repeated daily, and edited. Playlists can include a mix of all supported file types. Unlike many digital signage applications, however, MagicNet has no ability for overlaying text or graphics, for example, over the bottom third of a video or for creating video-in-a-window beside text or graphics. Those types of looks could, of course, be built within a video editing system, but that's highly inefficient for typical digital signage. This is a shortcoming of the current version of MagicNet. It's likely that Samsung will create an API or some kind of development kit to allow other digital signage software makers to use the 460PN Ethernet and send content over Cat-5, but at this time Samsung's MagicNet is the only way to manage it.

As has always been the case with displays with built-in CPUs and operating systems, one needs to weigh the added cost of the functionality against buying a separate PC that might offer more options, which today can be less than the roughly $800 extra for the “PN” version. On the other hand, PCs aren't that much less, and having everything integrated into a panel, especially a public display panel, offers a clear advantage. Moving content over Cat-5 to a freestanding panel is clearly an advantage.

While experienced digital signage developers will surely be frustrated by the limitations of MagicNet, they should watch Samsung closely for upgrades or plug-ins from other signage software companies. For those looking for a straightforward digital signage or conference panel that can potentially make things very easy now, the SyncMaster 460PN is worth a serious look.


PRODUCT SUMMARY

Company: Samsung
www.samsung.com

Product: 460PN LCD

Pros: Good video quality, load files via USB, move files over Cat-5 Ethernet, create playlists in MagicNet software.

Cons: MagicNet offers no ability to add text or graphics to video.

Applications: Digital signage, conference rooms, and distance learning.

Price: $8,949 estimated street price


SPECIFICATIONS

Panel Type a-si TFT/MVA

Size 46in. diagonal

Native Resolution 1366×768

Pixel Pitch 0.249mm (H)

Brightness 500cd/m2

Contrast Ratio 800:1

Viewing Angle 170/170 (degrees)

Aspect Ratio 16:9

Input Video Signal Analog RGB, BNC, DVI-D, CVBS video, S-Video, component video

Video Level Analog: 0-7VP-P, digital TDMS

Input Connectors D-Sub, DVI-D, S-Video, BNC (video), BNC (component 2X), RS-232C cable

Dimensions (H×W×D) 12"×49"×32"

Weight 61.7lbs.

Special Features PIP, PBP, supports NTSC/PAL/SECAM, wall mounting and pivot, MagicNet, optional speaker

Warranty 3 years parts/labor/backlight



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