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Samsung LE40R74 LCD TV

2006 Review

One of the fun things that happened whilst moving house was that our old Mastui CRT TV finally died. Not bad, considering it was an ex-display model from Currys five years previously, but that's what happens when you drop a TV during the move. So, as planned, it was time to go shopping for a new flat-screen TV.

There's two choices for flat screen TVs at the moment: plasma or LCD. I think that some of the earlier issues with plasmas have been addressed in terms of life; I personally wouldn't have had an issue with buying a plasma screen in terms of reliability. However, the key difference between the plasma and LCD TVs is that the former has a very glassy/reflective screen, whereas the latter has more of a matt effect. Given that we wanted to mount our TV on the wall in the lounge, where there's a lot of ambient light, I didn't think that the reflective effect would be beneficial and so plumped for an LCD TV instead.

So, why did we go for the Samsung LE40R74 model? Well, there's a certain set of features that were needed. It's got HDMI input (with HDCP, not that I intend to buy an HD DVD player at all), as well as an on-board digital tuner for DVB, which will be essential after the analog TV signal is turned off a few years from now (there's really no point in buying a TV without an integrated digital tuner, to be honest, even if you've got a set top box kicking around the place). It's also got a VGA input that I can use with the Mac for picture slideshows et al.

It's not all great. The TV doesn't support NTSC (despite Comet claiming that it did) so the American DVDs are next to useless on the screen. It also doesn't support DVI-D through the HDMI port, which was a small surprise. (There's actually 3 of them- DVI-A, DVI-D, and DVI-I -- the latter being a combination of analog and digital.) Instead, the DVI signal is taken as an HD signal (either 720p or 1080i) and then up/down converted. Which makes me wonder -- what's the point of buying an HDTV if you're going to use it with a computer? You're better off getting something with a VGA connector -- after all, the cables are much cheaper, and it's not like VGA has any of the quality issues that dog analog TV broadcasts. But VGA will detect (and use) the actual panel resolution (1368x768, or some such) whereas the HDMI will up/downscale from 1080i or 720p. So you actually get a better resolution with VGA than you do the HDMI port. It also means that playing DVDs through a Mac will actually make more sense; in any case, the Mac can handle the NTSC discs fine, thankyou very much (which is why I wasn't so bothered that the TV couldn't deal with it).

The Samsung is actually quite a nice TV -- good viewing angle, able to be very bright indeed (so bright, we've actually turned it down a little) and the motion pictures is actually better than my other LCD monitor. There's a few niggles -- the backplate isn't tremendously well designed for mounting on a wall (the cables are perpendicularly mounted on the back, which makes it difficult to mount flush with the wall without knocking a hole in the wall), and the TV menu is a bit crap (but then I use a harmony remote which means that I don't tend to use it). You can't even change the name of the inputs other than selecting one of the pre-defined menu items (WTF is a STB, anyway? I've got a TiVo).

The sound is really very good. The speakers are in the base of the TV and it's certainly good enough that I've not bothered to install the surround sound system that we used to have at our old place. I've not tried sound through the Mac yet, but via the scart socket it does a good job of amplifying the music and distributing the sound around the room, which is probably what you want from a TV with integrated speakers. I dare say that audiophiles would shudder at not using it with their own audio equipment, but I think there's an audio out at the back that you can use to hook up external audio devices (though no external surround sound speakers directly).

The TV also comes with a slot for a freeview access card, which you'd use to get pay-for channels over digital TV broadcasts. I'm not sure that I'd ever use that, but hey, it's a feature. Some of the newer TVs also come with the ability to read images directly off a camera card (though for some reason, not USB key rings, which would probably be the next most obvious feature to put on there).

In summary, the Samsung is a relatively nice TV. It's not the best -- the on-screen menu is a little clunky, and not as customisable as I'd like; and it doesn't support NTSC or DVI-I for the views -- but the picture quality is really very good and the VGA display is easily enough for what I want to do (watch movies on a Mac). I'm sure that when my TiVo finally does bite the dust -- assuming that they don't bring out the rev 2 over here -- then I'll be using a Mac for my PVR needs and using the TV as a giant monitor, and probably at a better resolution than the TV would give me on its own. But I strongly recommend those that are looking for a new TV to get one with a VGA connection instead of just DVI -- you may find that the quality is better, since it can natively use the TV's panel resolution instead of some HDMI-inspired 720p/1080i resolution.