Product Zalman ZM-M2040W 24-inch 3D LCD display
Specifications 24-inch LCD display, 16:9 aspect ratio, 1920x1080 resolution, 300cd/m2, 5ms response time, 1000:1 contrast ratio, 10000:1 dynamic contrast ratio
QUITE HOW the Korean component manufacturer Zalman came to be the first company to market a 3D monitor is anyone's guess. Back in 2007 the company mainly known for cooling components was way ahead of the 3D bandwagon. It launched 22-inch and 19-inch monitors with nifty 3D filters embedded in the displays.
Now Zalman has taken its 3D line to full HD with a bigger 24-inch model, the ZM-M240W. With manufacturers vying to get 3D into homes without asking a fortune for them, the ZM-M240W has a lot going for it. At the moment there simply isn't much in the way of competition, with only Samsung and Acer offering alternatives. However, those monitors are designed to work with Nvidia's 3D Vision active-shutter glasses system, including a refresh rate of 120Hz.
Zalman's M240W is an entirely different kettle of fish. With only a 60Hz refresh rate, it uses passive polarised glasses that cost begger all combined with the filter on the screen to deliver 3D. The fact that replacement glasses cost only about £10 makes Zalman's 3D monitor worthy of attention. But there is one caveat. Quite simply, while 3D playback at a low cost is hard to top, the ZM-M240W's screen is so glossy that you might need to buy another display to work during the day. Given that you can buy a cheap display for £100, that's about the same price as a pair of replacement active shutter glasses.
When we opened the box we were pleasantly surprised to see Zalman hadn't gone LED or logo crazy. There are no shiny lights or ridiculous design aesthetics to appeal to the teenage demographic. If anything, the appearance of the ZM-M240W is, well, plain.
The minimalist design has a gloss-black front bezel with nice rounded edges and slim dimensions. The seven button control panel sits along the horizontal axis underneath Zalman's logo with each button sensibly labelled. There's not a lot to the on-screen menu. The menu button adjusts brightness, contrast and position using the up, down and exit buttons. The middle 3D button is on/off, while scale is an auto-adjust option. You can also switch the aspect ratio from 4:3 to 16:9 using the on-screen display. The last button is Source, which switches between the VGA or DVI connection.
We looked round the back and were disappointed with the connectivity. Aside from an audio jack, VGA and DVI, there's nothing else. No extra DVI, no USB and no HDMI input so we couldn't hook it up to a Playstation 3 or Blu-ray player. But to Quiet PC's credit, it does sell the monitor in the UK with all the required cables out of the box. You also get a pair of 3D glasses plus clip-ons for prescription glasses.
Zalman asks us to do all the hard work when it comes to viewing the 3D and finding a comfortable angle. There's only limited tilt and no swivel so we had to adjust our chair and position to get an optimal angle on the screen. Fortunately, the ZM-M240W feels well put together and can be VESA wall mounted if you buy the brackets. The bezel is rock solid and when we pressed against the side of the screen there was no image degradation around the edges.
The there's the display itself. On paper it is fine but no great shakes. The TN Panel has native 1920x1080 resolution with 300 candelas brightness, 5ms response time and a good dynamic contrast ratio of 10,000:1. We found it absolutely fine for 2D playback, gaming and movies. It also showed no over exposure on bright images and dark scenes were easily discernable.
Colour accuracy is excellent and we found no ghosting issues. The viewing angle is fine for 2D but the vertical viewing angle for 3D almost puts you in a headlock position. We found it way too easy to stray out of the optimal comfort zone for 3D, but what a zone it was.
What we haven't factored in are our viewing conditions. We conducted most of our tests with no natural ambient light sources to maximise performance. In a bright room the glossy screen is really off-putting. It's bearable for viewing applications or webpages with white backgrounds. However, load up anything with a hint of colour and all we could see was the entire room and our mug reflected back.
Giving Zalman some leeway, the ZM-M240W is destined to be used for viewing 3D multi-media entertainment, which it does exquisitely. It is not designed to cope with day-to-day office work in brightly lit rooms.
We wanted the best optimal 3D viewing experience so we contacted a couple of 3D games publishers whose titles were listed as Nvidia 3D Vision ready. While there are thousands of titles that can be retro-engineered to view stereoscopically, only nine make Nvidia's top list. We got Batman Arkham Asylum from Eidos and Resident Evil 5 from Capcom to test the monitor.
The install CD comes with a software stereoscopic player, codec update and some demo films to watch. There's no driver in the bundle as Zalman doesn't make any, but the recommended IZ3D drivers work with ATI as well as Nvidia. They also work in Crossfire or SLI mode so you can make the most of dual GPU cards, which you'll need if your PC is the weakest link.
We opted to try Nvidia's own 3D drivers first. This is much more limited but it automatically installs. In fact, the Nvidia control panel only offers a software slider to increase or decrease the 3D effect.
The IZ3D driver has a fully-fledged manual control panel. Here we tweaked convergence, separation, swapped left and right 3D stereo, and toggled focus and lasersight to get the best viewing experience. We could even tab in game to amend settings, which we couldn't with Nvidia's single 3D slider. If you are happy running full 3D manual configuration, opt for IZ3D. We did have a couple of issues with this, such as crashing out of Batman several times, but that was due to a slightly obtuse install procedure. Once up and running we didn't see any noticeable performance difference between either set of drivers.
Full HD 3D playback on this Zalman monitor will kill a PC not up to task. In effect, it's asking your system to double its number crunching so a decent graphics card at the least is a must. You also can't decide to make it less taxing by dropping the resolution. 3D only works at the native resolution of the monitor so the ZM-M240W can only work in 3D mode at 1920x1080. That is seriously intensive. We tried tweaking the resolution and 3D controls using the IZ3D driver and got nothing but visual dissonance.
To give you an example of how draining it is, we benchmarked Batman Arkham Asylum. Our test PC had dual 756MB Geforce 8800 Ultra cards in SLI mode, 8GB of memory and a 3GHz quad-core Intel Core 2 Extreme CPU. Not bad by half. With everything maxxed on the highest possible settings including hardware accelerated physics on high and 16x QAA and V-synch on, we got a whimpering 16FPS. Turning hardware acceleration to normal and anti-aliasing to 4x, we got 33FPS.
The ZM-M240W was built for one thing only: giving you 3D on a budget. And it does that with flying colours. It might be a 60Hz monitor, but it didn't cause any problems with nausea, headaches or eye-strain, or certainly none more than you would associate with sitting in a dark room watching a screen for three or four hours. We also didn't encounter any flicker issues associated with lower refresh rates.
Before we started this review we were very sceptical about 3D monitors and 3D gaming. The element of faddism was hard to overcome and there are still a lot of factors, like competing standards, that need to be addressed. Granted, this is always the case with a nascent technology, but loading up Batman Arkham Asylum took all of that out of the picture.
Depth perception is incredible and gives the game a feeling of space it never had in 2D. In our view it's also at home as a PC monitor. Once you've found the sweet spot, you are only a couple of feet away from the display and can soak up the detail in full HD glory. We ducked and moved sideways, falling into every 3D cliché you can imagine. That sweet spot has litte room to move on the horizontal or vertical axis; this display is not designed for 3D viewing by more than one person.
The plain ZM-M240W offers standard 2D specificaitons and it is too glossy by half, but 3D playback is excellent and it is relatively affordable. µ
3D playback, robust and minimalist design, affordable price point, replacement glasses cheap.
Too glossy, lack of connectivity options, 2D media playback and specifications are just average.
Passive polarised glasses technology might be yesterday's technology in a year's time. Nintendo has shown that it can deliver glassless 3D now, so it won't be long before other manufacturers follow suit.