First up lets explain what a LED TV is. All LCD panels whether they be for a TV, a cellphone or even your camera require backlighting to make the display visible. In the past all LCD TVs typically used a Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamp (CCFL) as the backlight. LED TVís use Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) in the place of the CCFL backlight.
The TV panel itself is still an LCD Ė it is only the backlight that is different. The LED backlight has advantages of using significantly less power, delivering a far brighter picture, better colours and significantly better blacks than a standard LCD TV with a CCFL backlight.
Upon unboxing the TV the most striking features is how thin the TV is Ė at 29.9mm itís one of the thinnest TVís on the market. The design follows the same Crystal Rose design that has been a feature of all recent Samsung TVís, with a semi translucent black surround thatís infused with a tinge of red.
In terms of technical specifications Samsung have left nothing out. The TV features a Full HD 1920 x 1080 panel, 4 HDMI ports, 2 USB ports, VGA, a single component, and a single composite input. It also has an Ethernet port for hooking up to your LAN to access the internet and DLNA functions and a SPDIF connector for digital audio out.
Due to the compact design of the TV it does not actually feature RCA connectors for the composite and component inputs, instead it has adapters that plug into the back of the set and your RCA plugs for composite, compontent and RCA audio connect to these.
The TV features a built in Freeview|HD tuner and within a few minutes of plugging in a UHF aerial I had automatically tuned in all of the Freeview|HD digital channels and was happily watching TV. Like all Freeview certified products this TV has MHEG5 support and offers a full 8 day onscreen EPG allowing you to see all shows screening on all channels in the week ahead.
Most TVs these days offer a selection of predefined picture settings as well as a custom setting. The Samsung lacks a custom setting so any changes you make will have to be done to one of the three predefined settings. I found all of the settings to be quite harsh on the eyes and had to reduce the contrast significantly. I also found the sharpness and edge enhancement settings did add some graininess to the picture so adjusted these accordingly.
Black levels were great but benefited from adjusting brightness down from the maximum level. I would certainly recommend a calibration DVD such as Video Essentials to correctly calibrate the picture settings to really get the best results as there are such a huge number of settings available.
In terms of picture quality the TV certainly didnít disappoint. I played a range of High Definition 1080p Blu Ray content and the picture looks truly stunning. The black levels of the TV are certainly a big step up from earlier LCD TVís and the colours looked fantastic. I tested a range of standard definition content and found the TV to deliver some mixed results however.
The TV did a good job of upscaling standard definition content however the reality is that any SD content fed into a Full HD panel has to be scaled quite significantly to fill the screen and depending on the quality of the source material results can vary.
The built in USB and Ethernet ports enable viewing video or pictures or listening to music from a USB drive or USB HDD plugged into the USB ports on the TV or a PC running a DLNA compatible server application on your home network. The TV supports a large number of different video formats including Divx, XviD, MPEG2, MPEG4 (including H.264 content and content within a .MKV wrapper), 3GPP, WMV, ASF and standalone MPEG .TS files
DLNA support is still not without issues. Despite a number of home consumer products now supporting the standard itís still early days and issues with compatibility are still very common. Samsung have their own PC Share software which can be installed on any PC and allows you to select directories containing content which can be viewed on the TV. Compatibility issues with other DLNA server applications have been reported online however the Samsung software works fine.
Also present on the TV is Samsungís Internet@TV function that allows widgets to be downloaded and installed on the TV from your remote. These widgets allow a variety of applications to be run on the TV to access the internet. The TV includes widgets for news, weather and YouTube.
The YouTube widget allows viewing of content from your remote control and itís quite as easy as browsing from a PC but works very well. There are only a handful of widgets current available and some of these are market specific. The TV also features a built in content library with recipes, photos and games.
Like the majority of TVs on the market these days it also supports a 100Hz Motion Plus mode. PAL TV broadcasts are 50Hz so the TV doubles this by using interpolation and ďcreatingĒ additional frames. The idea behind 100Hz mode is that it improves the picture quality in fast moving scenes, however the downside of the enhancement is that it can sometimes give the impression that the video looks like itís been sped up. Iím not a huge fan of the technology on LCD TVís but the option can easily be turned on or off so itís really a matter of personal preference.
If youíre wanting to hook your PC up to one of these TVís is a breeze. The TV supports either VGA or DVI/HDMI inputs and has separate analogue inputs for audio if a DVI or VGA PC output is used. 1:1 pixel mapping is supported at 1920x1080 using a 60Hz refresh rate over HDMI and this which is the recommended resolution for a PC input.
Overall I was extremely impressed by the TV. The brightness levels of the LED backlight are certainly very noticeable and in a bright room the impact is still very bright. The screen also features an anti-reflective coating that does do a very good job of minimising reflections. The menu structure is also very straight forward and the remote is well laid out.
There are two negative aspects to the TV that I feel deserve mention however. Firstly the TV suffers from poor off axis performance - if youíre watching TV and are positioned directly in front of the TV and move any more than around 30 degrees youíll start to see colour loss occur, something thatís particularly noticeable with human skin. This is an issue thatís always affected LCD technology but from my observations was slightly worse on these new LED models than previous CCFL backlights. For most people this issue would never be noticed if you watch TV from the front, however if your TV is set up so that you end up watching it from an off axis position then it may well be noticeable.
The second is an issue that has existed with many earlier Samsung TV models is the lack of AC3 audio support using the internal Freeview tuner. All Freeview channels broadcast here in New Zealand use the HE-AAC audio format. TV3 also transmit using AC3 Dolby Digital and transmit most of their HD programming in 5.1 Surround Sound. The TV does not permit switching between HE-AAC and AC3 while viewing TV3 which means that even if you hook your TV up to an external amplifier using the SPDIF output you canít hear the AC3 5.1 audio and will instead hear the stereo HE-AAC audio. Itís an area Samsung really need to address as the limitation doesnít exist with most other TVís in the marketplace.
ē Fantastic picture quality
ē Brightness levels far greater than existing CCFL LCD panels
ē Internet@TV allows internet connectivity from the TV.
ē No 5.1 AC3 output
ē Price significantly greater than existing CCFL TVs