Big screen TV owners tend to fall into two categories - Plasma fans or Liquid Crysal Display (LCD) fans. Despite having played with numerous LCD TVs over the years I've been disappointed by many aspects of LCD technology and had believed that Plasma technology was superior to LCD for large screen panels despite many LCD manufacturers trying to claim otherwise.
LCD TVs have always struggled with poor contrast ratios, colour reproduction, black levels (blacks that display gray rather than true black), viewing angles and lag caused by the refresh rate of the panels. Manufacturers have done a lot to work on these over recent times and Samsung's recent 6 series TVs have been well received by the market and the new 7 series TVs take another step forward with some great new features. 40", 46" and 52" models are available in the New Zealand market.
On paper the TV has some impressive specs. It is a Full HD 1920x1080 1080p panel with built in DVB-T Freeview|HD tuner, a 70000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, 4ms refresh rate, a 178 degree viewing angle, 4 HDMI ports, VGA, component, ethernet and USB connectivity. It includes 100Hz Motion Plus, InfoLive, as well and its own built in content library with a photo gallery, recipes, children's games and fitness programmes.
Manufacturers these days can invest huge amounts of money into product aesthetics and the current Samsung TVs are no different. Samsung call their styling “Crystal Design." The TV has stunning glossy black finish and features a semi transparent bezel surrounding the panel that is infused with a red trim.
On the bottom right hand corner of the TV are soft touch buttons for the main controls. Simply touch the bottom left side of the TV and red LEDs glow from behind for power, channel, source and volume. They then gradually dim after use.
The screen features an anti-reflective coating that certainly does a very good job of minimizing reflections in a bright room however this was let down slightly by some reflections off the glossy bezel while viewing some bright content in a darkened room.
Most people will be aware that Freeview is the new Digital Free-To-Air (FTA) platform for TV in New Zealand. Analogue TV will eventually be shut down in New Zealand so a Freeview box or TV with a Freeview tuner will be required to view regular FTA TV.
This TV features a Freevew|HD tuner built in, meaning that if you're in an area that has Freeview|HD broadcasts (which currently covers 75% of the population) and have a suitable UHF aerial you will be able to watch Freeview|HD in all its glory with no need for a separate standalone set top box.
The TV does also feature a regular VHF/UHF analogue tuner but with all analogue broadcasts in New Zealand not being in widescreen and of inferior quality to the digital broadcasts you will not be doing the TV justice watching analogue TV on it!
Setting the TV up was very straight forward. Take it out of the box and plug in a suitable UHF aerial,and select Menu > Channel > Auto Store > Digital. In under a minute all the Freeview channels will be tuned in and be ready to go. Things don't get any simpler than tha… Also included, as part of the built in Freeview support, is a full 8 day Electronic Program Guide (EPG) for all Freeview channels which shows details of all current and upcoming shows.
Samsung have been heavily pushing the DNIe and 100Hz Motion Plus features in their current model TVs. Digital Natural Image Engine claims to “bring you a more detailed image with 3D noise reduction, detail enhancement, contract and white enhancement. New image compensation algorithm gives brighter, clearer, more detailed image to you".
Does it really do this? The set features a demo split screen demo mode that will show the picture with and without DNIe so you can easily decide for yourself. I found that with some content it made a visible difference, however, it also seemed to set the brightness of some material higher than I would personally watch it. The option is easy switched on and off so it's really a matter of personal preference.
Samsung's 100Hz Motion Plus technology also falls into the same category. The technology aims to double the refresh rate of content to by interpolating (adding) frames to eliminate motion blur on fast moving scenes. Does it work? Yes and no. It seems to be a much hyped feature of many new LCD TVs and with some fast action sport it certainly does do a good job. On the other hand it seemed to make some content look like it was sped up and looked very artificial. Again it's not a feature that I found compelling and it does come down to personal preference. It certainly pays to experiment with this feature to decide whether you like the feature or not and it can be easily changed depending on the content you are viewing.
The TV features a large number of imagine processing features allowing you to calibrate the black settings, dynamic contrast, gamma, colour space, white balance, flesh tone, edge enhancement and xvYCC. This panel does a great job of displaying blacks with very good black levels and colour separation. With so many settings many users would find the menu options mind boggling so would probably steer clear of these and select from one of the 3 preset modes for sport, cinema and games. The options are there however for those who want to precisely calibrate their TVs.
Many people these days are hooking up their PCs to their TVs. For those planning on buying a TV to do this you'll be happy to know the TV supports 1:1 pixel mapping via HDMI at various resolutions right up to 1920 x 1080 at 60Hz. I was unable to get 1:1 pixel mapping at 1920 x 1080 at 50Hz but didn't notice any noticeable judder playing 50Hz content using the 60Hz setting. 1:1 pixel mapping means that each pixel output from your PC video card maps directly to each pixel on the TV.
Up until recently many TVs didn't support 1:1 pixel mapping via HDMI which meant you would get some blurriness around the edges of text and graphics due to the TV scaling the input to fit the the panel. The TV also has a VGA connector and does support up to 1920x1080 at 60Hz via VGA if you prefer to use VGA rather than HDMI.
One of the most exciting new features of the new Samsung TVs is Wiselink Pro – an upgrade of the Wiselink feature on earlier Samsung products. Wiselink Pro enables playback of images, music and video from either a USB drive plugged into the TV or via the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) support that is accessible via the ethernet port when the TV is hooked up to your home network. Samsung have made a big deal about the TV supporting DLNA and it is one of the first TVs to appear on the market in this part of the world that has Ethernet and DLNA capabilities.
The USB connector only supports the USB Mass Storage Class devices. This means while USB drives will work USB HDDs or USB HUB devices are not supported. Samsung include their own DLNA server software on CD with the TV which is very easy to configure and works well. I spent some time testing other DLNA software and found that some compatibility issues still exist between DLNA devices. TVersity, for example, has some issues with the Samsung DLNA support. There were discussions about this on the TVersity site which should hopefully be able to be resolved.
Once you have installed the Samsung DLNA software on a PC on your home network it's a simple matter of selecting the directories on your PC that contain media and you'll instantly be able to view content on your TV screen.
Supported video formats include AVI, MPG, DiVX/Xvid, .PS (MPEG2) and .TS (MPEG2 and MPEG4/H.264). There is no support for files such as MKV which are technically MPEG4 files but contained with a custom (MKV) file wrapper. By default the TV obtains an IP address via DHCP but also allows manual configuration of all IP address settings.
The user interface for Wiselink Pro is identical whether accessing media via DLNA or USB and the same file formats are supported. The user interface is very straight forward but can be a bit sluggish browsing through large directories as it creates thumbnails for video and photos. Numerous options were available to sort files including by name and time/date.
One feature that I was unable to test is Samsung's InfoLive service. With your TV connected to the internet you will be able to view a selection of live news and information via RSS feeds. This feature has launched in other countries in conjunction with Yahoo! however it is currently not available in New Zealand but is due to be launched this year.
Also included in Samsung's built in content library which has a large range of clipart, recipes, fitness programmes and children's clips. This feature may be of use for some users but was a feature that didn't inspire me.
The TV remote control is well laid out and features a jog dial feature for scrolling through menus options. It also features additional buttons for the AnyNet+ feature which can control other Samsung Home Theatre equipment if it is hooked up via HDMI. The remote also feature a handy backlight which can be turned on or off using the backlight button on the remote.
Picture quality was very good and Full HD 1080p content from a BluRay source looks absolutely stunning on this TV. The biggest downside however is that most content that people are currently viewing is in standard definition which means that upscaling has to occur so that the picture will fill a full HD panel. Overall it did a good job of doing this and picture quality using the built in DVB-T tuner was great. Some low bitrate SD content however did look quite average with noticeable artifacts and blockiness on some content, particularly onscreen graphics. This isn't a fault of the TV however, it's simply a result of the upscaling and the Samsung TV did do a better job of this upscaling than some other large screen LCD TV's that I have looked at lately.
Audio from the TV was good with clear audio even at high levels. The speakers are mounted at the bottom of the TV and fire downwards rather than facing forwards as is normal on many TVs. One glaring oversight with this TV is the inability to switch between audio formats for Freeview|HD broadcasts.
All Freeview|HD channels in New Zealand are broadcast in regular 2ch stereo using the AAC-LATM audio format. TV3 also broadcast an AC3 Dolby Digital audio stream that is full 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound for selected shows.
Unlike the Freeview|HD set top boxes on the market there is no way to select the AC3 audio stream while watching TV3 - the significance of this is that the TV has an optical audio output on the back which can be hooked up to an amplifier. It means that even if you have your TV hooked up to an amplifier with a digital cable there is no way of hearing 5.1 Dolby Digital audio with this TV. Hopefully this is something Samsung will look at improving with future software updates as it's a rather glaring omission for such a great TV.
So does the TV live up to the hype? In most cases it did. Black levels were very good for an LCD TV and the brightness level and viewing angles of the panel was fantastic. Wiselink is a fantastic feature especially with the DLNA support and the built in Freeview|HD tuner means you're able to watch FTA digital TV without needing a standalone set top box or a Sky or TelstraClear TV box.
The menu structure was reasonably straight forward and overall I was extremely happy with the TV. Currently the Series 7 model TVs do sell for for a significant premium over the Series 6 LCD's which have virtually identical specifications but lack WiseLink Pro, DLNA and the Content Library. Anybody looking at buying a Samsung LCD does need to weight up the benefits of both models.
This TV may not have quite swayed me away from being a Plasma fan as I still prefer the slighty softer look of a Plasma picture but anybody in the market for an LCD would certainly not be disappointed buying a Samsung, whether it be this Series 7 or the slightly cheaper Series 6.
- Plenty of inputs
- Built in Freeview|HD tuner
- Fantastic brightness and colour levels.
- Wiselink USB & DLNA support works well.
- Great looking TV
- Lack of 5.1 AC3 digital output a serious oversight.
- Upscaling of some SD content does create some artifacts and blockiness.
- Reflection of bezel could be annoying with some bright content.
- Significant price premium over 6 series.