Review: Samsung LE40A796

 
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Published: November 19, 2008 11:00 PM
By Vincent Lheur
Right now, all of the main TV manufacturers are releasing their first offerings backlit using a series of LEDs rather than traditional lamps.

Never one to fall behind the times, Samsung has released its A796 series.

They feature glossy Full HD screens, and although there is an anti-glare coating to cut down on reflections, this leaves a lot to be desired.

Another disappointment is the fact the stand the screen is on doesn't rotate.

The frame around the screen itself is light and dignified, with a light blue tinge that only shows up in under a certain light--out with the red from Samsung's previous TVs, but the effect is largely the same.

Turning it around, a standard set of connectors is on offer: 2 SCART sockets, 4 HDMI ports, including one on the side, an S-Video as well as optical audio and a USB port which allows you to use the WiseLink interface to play MP3s and look at digital photos on your TV.


The remote is exactly the same as those on Samsung's Series 8, which means the same slightly stiff backlit buttons.

They're nice and big, which, along with the backlighting, makes them easy to spot in the dark, but we'd rather Samsung had stuck with a more logical layout which would have done the job just as well.

Finally, the fact it's made of cheap plastic doesn't do very much to complement the finish quality of the rest of the TV.

Smart LED: Our Verdict

Given that what's new here is the backlighting--which promises above all to improve the contrast--we were keen to get this TV straight into our labs and take it for a spin with its default settings.

The first thing we noticed was that switching the input to HDMI automatically activates the Film presets which tended to give better results; by default the tuner uses Standard mode, which appears deceptively easy on the eye but actually is quite weak in practice.

Our first readings, then, were in Film mode, because we had the TV connected via one of its HDMI ports.

They were frankly rather disappointing, and here's why:
  • Colors are way off what they should be, with blues in particular straying far too close to cyan.  This defect is corrected by switching the color space from 'Auto' to 'Native' in the menus, which leads us to wonder what the point of using this as the default setting is.  Even after deactivating this feature, however, this TV still can't manage a DeltaE reading of less than 3, and is generally closer to 5.
  • The contrast is convincing, but is far too changeable.  By default, the hundreds of LEDs that light the screen from behind get brighter or dimmer according to the image currently shown on their area of the screen.  So, in dark parts of the frame, the LEDs are turned right down, while in lighter areas the LEDs will give out more light.  Unfortunately, this system, dubbed Smart LED by Samsung, doesn't always work perfectly.  In our tests, when we showed a 10% gray square (very dark) against a black background, it was practically invisible because the backlighting wasn't powerful enough.  Turning Smart LED off sorted out the gamma curve and allowed the square to stand out from its background.
Some critics will claim that these problems mean that the proposed advantages of this new type of backlighting are lost, then. 

We would retort that LED backlighting hasn't yet had a chance to prove its worth.

It certainly allows for incredibly dark blacks and thus provide incredibly strong binary contrasts between black and white.

However, on the other and, this process serves to make the image appear rather unnatural, and we're not at all sure it's worth it.

With Smart LED turned off, our measures for ANSI contrast were around 1250:1 compared to 1800:1 with the feature activated. 

Despite this improved contrast ratio, even without Smart LED, the level of black is around 0.1 cd/m², an excellent score that takes some beating.

Viewing Tests


Our viewing tests only served to confirm what we learned in the lab: this TV gives far better results after a little tweaking, and especially when Smart LED is turned off and the color space adjusted.

Even after being reconfigured, the colors it delivers are still not quite right in our test scenes, but will probably seem reasonable in everyday use.

For the most hardcore out there, a few more adjustments can be made but these have very specific effects and are only worthwhile if you're seeking absolute perfection for a particular scene or clip.

Contrast seems excellent to the eye, and it's really easy to get drawn into HD movies, which the Motion Plus 100 Hz feature makes a lot more fluid.

If you prefer to watch your films at their original framerate (24 fps) you can, but turning on Motion Plus cuts out ghosting and jerkiness, even if it is just a little less accurate than the version Sony includes on its TVs.

In particular, movements are sometimes appear faster than they should, but the effect is a lot more under control than it is on Philips' MODEL NUMBER, for instance.

Upscaling is far from perfect, and a long way from our Sony PlayStation 3, which is still the best out there.

Like a lot of other Samsung TVs, using a lower resolution signal on a screen this big results in a slight blur, but the results are generally acceptable.

TV programs remain entirely watchable, but if you're a DVD fan, you might prefer to use a DVD player with a good upscaling chip that will pass an HD signal straight to the TV rather than allowing the TV to do this job itself.


When it comes to colors, the viewing angles are fine, but even at 2.5 meters from the screen, if you have more than four viewers, light levels seem to drop as you move away to the sides, particularly in darker areas of the screen.

Ironically, the strongest argument in favor of the Smart LED system we discussed above is that it helps combat this problem.

Because the LEDs behind dark zones are switched off, there is no extra light spilling out across the screen, even if you look at it side-on.

Despite the fact it helps resolve this classic problem common to all LCD screens, we don't think it's worth recommending the activation of Smart LED except in very particular circumstances.

We found the speakers very disappointing and the sound they produced is very tinny.  

They are on each side of the screen, and face the wall behind the TV, which gives the impression that the sound is bouncing around the inside of the TV.

For such a high-end product, something a little more advanced than a pair of simple speakers wouldn't be too much to  ask, and a sub-woofer to handle bass notes would go a long way to correcting some of these problems.
4/5 Samsung LE40A796 DigitalVersus 2008-11-20 00:00:00

Pros

  • Excellent blacks and great contrast
  • Fluid movements with Motion Plus 100 Hz
  • Great pictures after adjustment
  • Backlit remote
  • Full HD digital tuner

Cons

  • Glossy screen
  • Smart LED feature makes the screen too dark
  • Remote is a little confusing
  • Mediocre sound
  • Colors need adjusting

Conclusion

It isn't quite the revolutionary leap forward that we'd all hoped for, but the LED backlighting on the Samsung A796 delivers very good images nonetheless.

OUR SCORE 4/5
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