The Good: A wealth of options for media input, lifelike image reproduction, deep blacks
The Bad: Picture-in-picture has limited functionality, minor lighting issues
The Bottom Line: A good second-room or dorm-room set that stands out in its class
Over the years, I've argued that bigger is better when shopping for high-definition TVs. While this might be true if your aim is a home theater that lets you catch every minor detail of a movie or TV show, space can be a problem when you're equipping a smaller room.
Samsung's latest HDTV, the LN-T3253H, fits that second niche nicely. Indeed, this 32-in. liquid crystal display (LCD) set, priced modestly at about $830, offers great style and function in a compact package. The entire set—even the screen—is finished in glossy black. A clear plastic edge at the bottom and a swiveling black oval base add some flair.
There's a blue accent light just below the Samsung label on the bottom that lights up when the set is turned on or is in standby mode (if you find it distracting, this indicator can be disabled). The TV's controls, which reside on the lower right front of the bezel, are unusual in that there are no physical buttons to press: they're all touch-sensitive. Some users may find these difficult to find or tell apart in a darkened room, given the glossy black bezel, but I only found myself using the on-off button, picking up the wand-like remote for all other commands.
Bristling With Connectivity
Like many Samsung sets, the T3253H doesnt skimp on connectivity options. On the back panel, there are two high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) ports for using a single cable to play the audio and video from an HD DVD player, PlayStation 3 and other devices. There are also two component video ports (one composite video and one S-video), inputs for both cable TV and a digital antenna, along with a VGA-style input for connecting a personal computer. There also are numerous side ports just behind the screen: a third HDMI input; another composite input and S-video input for quickly connecting a digital video camera; a handy headphone jack for listening without bothering others around you; and a USB port to display digital photos directly from a camera or play back music from an MP3 player.
There also are several ports on the front of the set: a third HDMI input, another composite input and S-video input for quickly connecting a digital video camera, and a handy headphone jack for listening without bothering others around you. And on the side panel, there's a USB port so you can display digital photos directly from a camera or play back music from an MP3 player.
The set's native resolution of 1,360 by 768 pixels is sufficient to display high-definition images in the 720p format, but struggles with full-HD 1080p feeds. For most people that shouldn't be a problem since there are still so few ways of getting full HD in the first place.
Bad Corner to Cut
Samsung likes to trump competitors by throwing in a few extras. In this case, the T3253H is one of a handful of sets in this size class to offer picture-in-picture viewing. But that goodie isn't really useful to many users. Testing the set in my office, I tried to use PIP the way I had with a Dell TV. The plan was to connect my PC to the Samsung's main input so I could do work on the big screen while watching some TV on the smaller PIP window to the side. Oddly, though the TV tuner for the full screen can display digital and analog feeds, the small PIP window is analog only. At this late date, with the FCC-mandated switch-off of analog TV arriving in early 2009, that money-saving decision on Samsung's part seems unforgiveable.
Samsung makes up a bit for the slight by offering a wealth of picture adjustments to make the most discerning videophile fairly happy. The set offers three picture modes: movie, dynamic, and standard. Each lets you customize color, contrast, and brightness. In addition, the movie mode allows for full adjustment of picture characteristics such as color tone and white balance, as well as the overall light output of the TV. Since Samsung generally sets its backlighting relatively bright to stand out on the showroom floor, adding user control is a good feature that can help users save energy.
So how does the set perform? Images positively jump off the screen, with very good black detailing—often an issue with LCD TVs. Hooking up an Xbox 360 Elite with an external HD DVD drive, I barely noticed any lag in processing the signal from the console to the screen. The set handles fast-moving images ably, and color detail was fairly even as my eye traveled across the screen. Watching the BBC's Planet Earth series on HD DVD, I jumped appropriately at the vividness of the scene where the shark attacks the seal.
Despite a few knocks that prevent this set from being perfect, most buyers should be content with the L3253H at home or in the office.