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Samsung LCD: Deep Colors at a Discount

Editor's Rating: star rating

Samsung's HD TV has some drawbacks, but the high-quality sound and video from this big-screen set—not to mention the price cuts—make it a nice choice

Each year, high-definition TV makers seem to find new technologies to entice buyers into purchasing ever-larger screen sizes to help counter a steep slide in what these companies can charge for their sets. Samsung's LN-T5271F is a prime example of this determination to make sure the latest TVs not only look good on the outside but deliver the latest cutting-edge enhancements from their innards. Yet despite all these high-end features, prices keep tumbling even on the latest models like this, creating great bargains.

Like all recent Samsung sets, this 52-inch model sits on a swivel stand and offers a startlingly glossy black screen that nearly matches the gloss of the front bezel. Samsung says this helps highlight black and darkened areas, while making colors look more vibrant and compelling. This goes hand-in-hand with a superb 25,000-to-1 dynamic contrast ratio that processes the whitest whites and blackest blacks.

Preproduction Model Glitch

The technology delivered on its promise—initially, that is, as I had a preproduction unit that experienced problems Samsung insists won't occur with those being sold in stores.

While watching Superman Returns on a Blu-ray HD DVD, I could see the subtle variations in black detail and shadows. Brightly lit scenes were so clear and colorful that at times they looked three-dimensional. My preproduction model also performed beautifully when handling fast-action HD-DVD recordings of movies such as 300 and Transformers. And the Samsung did a great job of "upscaling" standard-definition cable and games to the set's full-HD, 1080p native resolution.

But after a month or so, I started to see vertical scan lines that at one point turned the picture so fuzzy it was difficult to see. After turning it on and off, the lines went away, only to return and require the same "fix." Samsung engineers identified the problem as overheating, and stressed that they had heard of no such trouble with full production units. But if any customers do encounter the problem, Samsung says they'll get a free replacement.

Action Fans Will Love Blur Control

Like other large liquid-crystal-display makers, Samsung recently began shipping its sets with a 120Hz LCD panel to reduce motion blur, doubling the frame rate from 60 to 120 per second by inserting a new "middle" image between each frame. Personally, I think the jury's still out on whether such technology is important enough to pay extra for. If you generally stick with regular television, only occasionally watching action movies and sports, I'd argue you don't need it. And if you buy a set with this feature, you might do well to leave it turned off most of the time, since it can introduce artifacts into nonaction scenes.

The set is unnecessarily wide because of Samsung's decision to position the speakers on each side of the screen behind a clear Plexiglas strip. I preferred the bottom-mounted recessed speakers on prior Samsung models, as the extra inches of width could become a deal-breaker in tighter quarters.

Samsung offers many of the standard inputs for a set in this price range, though I wasn't enamored with their positioning. Rather than place all three HD multimedia inputs on the rear of the set, Samsung moves one to a side panel. This may quickly become an annoyance if you plan to use all three ports regularly, as the cord from anything you plug into the side-mounted input will jut out in full view while marring any hope for neatly coordinating the usual jumble of cords behind the set.

There also are two component inputs for set-top boxes and game consoles, S-video and composite inputs on the side and rear for older equipment, two rear RF antenna inputs for standard cable and broadcast feeds, a VGA input to use the TV as a computer display, and two audio inputs for stereo equipment. The side panel also features a headphone jack and USB 2.0 connector to connect a digital camera.

Why Bother with Analog?

The set offers picture-in-picture capability, but as with a smaller Samsung model I reviewed earlier this year, the company skimped by not including a digital TV tuner for the second picture. Instead, the smaller frame only shows grainy analog video. Since analog signals are slated to disappear in less than 18 months, when all broadcast goes digital, Samsung is asking you to spend thousands on a TV that will grow partly outdated pretty darn quick.

One neat feature of the LNT-5271F is a touch-sensitive button below the screen to turn the TV on and off. This means you don't have to search for the remote or root around on the side or top of the set, hoping to press the correct button. And to the right of the screen, there's a touch-sensitive panel to adjust the volume and other controls.

Fine-Tune Sound and Picture

For both audiophiles and videophiles, Samsung's menu system offers a wealth of choices for finer calibration and tweaks to suit your needs. You can customize sound with a built-in equalizer or simply use automatic sound settings for movies, music, and the oddly named "speech" mode for programs that are mostly dialog.

For video, there are five screen-size settings and an "active color" setting to deliver more vivid blues and greens. In the standard and movie modes, you can dive even deeper to adjust primary colors and their mix on the screen. There's also an energy-saving feature with four settings—low, medium, high, and automatic—that can be turned on and off to adjust the brightness of the screen and reduce power consumption.

But perhaps the best part about this TV is that, despite all the new technologies, competition continues to drive prices lower. The $3,900 list price has plunged in recent months to as low as $2,700, so you can now get a great picture and a great-looking TV at a fairly reasonable price.

Edwards is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Silicon Valley bureau.

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