Samsung SyncMaster T24A550/T24A350
Samsung's SyncMaster T24A550 is the more expensive of the two 24" TN-based LCDs in our round-up. You wind up paying a price premium because this is a multifunction device with a built-in TV tuner. However, a relatively small screen size necessitates using this display from the distances typical of a PC (certainly not from 10 feet away on the couch). Viewing options are even more limited in light of the comparatively poor viewing angles inherent to TN-based panels. This makes the T24A550 a PC monitor that you can use to watch TV on, rather than a product that performs both functions with equal dexterity.
Samsung offers two multifunction monitor/TVs with a 24" screen size: T24A550 and T24A350. The difference between the two is very subtle; the T24A550 is a part of Samsung's Class 550 product line, while the T24A350 hails from Class 350. Physically, there's almost no difference aside from a translucent base stand. So, consider the two models effectively the same. Both boast the same reddish-black thin frame that Samsung dubs Touch Of Color (ToC) Rose Black.
The monitors in Samsung's Class 550 family without tuners include a built-in Pyrolectric Infrared Ray (PIR) sensor that automatically detects your presence in front of the screen, allowing it to automatically dim and power off when you get up. Once it detects a nearby viewer it powers back up, thereby keeping energy use as low as possible. Unfortunately, the line-up's multifunction displays (like the one we're testing), don't include it.
Connectivity is similar to other LED-backlit TVs. On the bottom recessed edge, you get coaxial input for cable or an antenna, a headphone output, Ex-Link for motorized wall mount control, a breakout connector for component/composite output, VGA for PC connectivity, and audio input.
On the right-hand side, you get two HDMI connections, a USB port, and an optical audio output. The USB port is interesting because it facilitates more than just the device's firmware. Samsung includes a feature called ConnectShare, which lets you plug in a USB mass storage device (formatted with FAT16, FAT32, or NTFS) and play videos or view pictures. The capability supports a wide variety of file formats from .AVI to .MKV and most major codecs, such as H.264, Xvid, DivX, MPEG-4, and motion JPEG. A complete list is available on page 123 and 124 of the user manual.
Although the T24A550 sports two 5 W speakers, they're not going to satisfy home theater buffs by any stretch of the imagination. Fortunately, if you're running an HDMI connection into the display, taking advantage of the S/PDIF output is an option. The built-in speakers offer a convenient way to minimize desktop clutter. To Samsung's credit, these speakers are decent, which isn't something we can say for every manufacturer that chooses to include speakers in their designs.
The OSD takes some getting used to because it almost monopolizes the whole screen. That makes perfect sense if you're watching TV, sitting a ways away from the monitor. Similar to older Samsung monitors, the menu is navigated using capacitive touch buttons on the lower edge of display. An included remote makes navigating the full-screen interface much more convenient from a distance.