Samsung’s LED TV Still Leading Edge

Flat-screen connoisseurs on a budget will be hoping for a bargain as Samsung rolls out its 2010 range of LCD TVs over the next six months.

To make room for the new models, including Samsung’s Next Big Thing — 3D-capable displays — retailers may start offering great deals on its Latest Big Thing: LCD TVs with LED edge lighting.

Sony pioneered LED backlighting in the mid-2000s but  Samsung was first to exploit its potential for creating super-slim TVs that use less energy than conventional LCD TVs while generating brighter colours and better contrast within a frame that’s barely 30mm ‘thick’.

The key to the svelte design of Samsung’s Series 6, 7 and 8 models is edge lighting. Samsung’s first-generation LED-lit TV had its LEDs arranged across the back of the TV, so from the side it looked more like an LCD TV that uses cold cathode fluorescent lamps.

But by mounting the LEDs along the edges of the screen, Samsung was able to shave nearly 70mm off the depth. Moreover, it’s done this without having to house all of the video, computer, USB and Ethernet inputs in a separate multimedia box.

There is a minor downside to this innovation: because the arrangement sacrifices what’s known as “local dimming”, the black levels are a smidgen lighter than on the first LED generation. But most people will gladly trade-off this incremental loss for a flatter, more elegant design that still delivers vibrant, accurate colours with phenomenally good black levels that rival those of plasma TVs.

The top-of-the-range 46-inch B8000, which sells from $5000, looks its best with HD content but even SD broadcasts and DVDs are surprisingly punchy once the display has been calibrated using its plethora of picture-tweaking options.

Because you can also adjust the 200Hz processing, judder can be minimised without introducing intrusive side effects, although the blur that bedevils LCD TVs is never eliminated.

The screen also appears ‘blotchy’ when it’s blank but this inconsistency isn’t apparent when watching broadcasts or Blu-rays – indeed, the shiny, reflective bezel is more distracting.

Neither is the shortage of analogue connections a problem. A TV of this calibre wasn’t designed for legacy gear without HDMI outputs, and the sooner more manufacturers follow Samsung’s lead in this respect, the better, as it frees up space for extra HDMI inputs.

The B8000 has four of these, so it can accept a Blu-ray player, a MySky HDi, a games console and a MyFreeview HD simultaneously (it also comes with a built-in FreeviewHD tuner, can be plugged directly into a broadband connection for watching YouTube videos and offers the option of a wireless adaptor for home networking).

Accommodating all of these within such a slim chassis is an engineering marvel but perhaps Samsung should have opted for a separate multimedia box. Because the B8000 has a transparent pedestal stand, the HDMI cables extending from the rear of the display can’t be hidden, whereas a single HDMI connection to a multimedia box would have looked less unsightly.

There’s a couple of other design drawbacks, too: if you sit off-centre from the screen, picture quality deteriorates markedly while the space-compromised speakers disperse barely adequate audio.

But if you’re in the market for a premium TV this sleek and chic, you’ll probably already have an equally sophisticated home theatre system — not to mention a collection of HD movies that will make the UA46B8000 your Blu-ray haven.

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