We always fret when a company brings in a stylish monitor — the trend has been that the design is great, and the performance hideous as the manufacturer focuses on the pretty, and not the functional.
Hence when the rather attractive Asus Designo MS246H crossed our desks, we were ... apprehensive. The 23.6-inch, 1920x1080 recalls a panel PC — the type that sits on your desk, with no neck to speak of. The style in this case is due to the stand that props up the screen, a hollow circle that pivots so the screen has tilt adjustment. The mechanism works quite well, giving a surprising amount of granularity to the adjustments. If you find the circle isn't giving you enough support on the surface you've put the MS246H on, a clear plastic wedge can be attached to keep things a bit more stable.
While the back of the screen is a pearl white, the front is glossy black, with a white strip under the monitor itself. A big, concave button is featured on the right which is touch sensitive. When touched, it lights up with a power icon and the screen powers on. There are five unmarked circles to the left of this, which are revealed as touch buttons when the labels light up as you turn the screen on.
Problem is, they shortly disappear, leaving the user to guess which is which. There's no way to light the labels up again without hitting a button, and this doesn't just light up the labels for that first press; it treats it as a legitimate press of that button, resulting in the user accidentally changing settings just to see labels. Not very clever.
In the OSD, Asus' Splendid profiles are here as always — we've never been fans of preset image profiles, but it offers Standard, Theater, Game, Night View and Scenery Modes. Colour temperature is offered in Cool, Normal, Warm, sRGB and User modes, while the usual brightness and contrast settings are your remaining image manipulation options over a digital connection. Dynamic contrast ratio (which Asus calls ASCR, or Asus Smart Contrast Ratio) is turned off by default in standard, as is sharpness and saturation over a digital connection. Asus also allows tweaking to its Trace Free feature, essentially its response time accelerator, at five different increments should you run into any troubles. Aspect ratio control is also present, but there's no 1:1 mapping: only Full (stretch), 4:3 and Overscan.
The monitor accepts HDMI and VGA inputs, and has a 3.5mm out jack for sound that's transferred over HDMI — there are otherwise no other inputs apart from power, which a small external power brick is plugged into. Accessories-wise, Asus bundles a VGA cable and DVI to HDMI cable.
Being a TN-based panel, viewing angles aren't the greatest, with colours shifting to brown on the horizontal at around 45 degrees off from centre, and verticals shifting even more rapidly. Fast motion games and movies proved to be fine, while DisplayMate showed some surprisingly good gradients both in greyscale and colour. Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 worked fine; however, the monitor was unable to play back Blu-ray movies on the PS3 when 24Hz output was enabled.
Ultimately, the MS246H works well if you're trying to reach a certain design aesthetic, and unlike other "designer" monitors it doesn't command a ridiculous price — just be aware that with this aesthetic comes a lack of adjustability options and frustrating menu buttons.