Samsung's Series 7000 LED TV Keeps You Connected
The Good: Ultrathin frame, deep blacks, rich colors, energy-efficient lighting technology
The Bad: Uneven color, noticeable picture "judder"
The Bottom Line: Internet-connected LED TV offers a pleasing viewing experience
Despite a release date in May, when many consumers were still cutting back on big-ticket purchases, Samsung's new line of televisions has been a big hit. With a stunning 1.1-in. ultrathin design and new energy-efficient technology packed inside to save money on your electricity bill, it's easy to see why.
Landing right in the middle of a three-tier lineup, the Series 7000 is notable for more than energy efficiency. The $3,000 TV comes chock full of goodies, including stunning design, interactivity with the Web, a crystal-clear high-definition picture, and an excellent master remote. But the experience is diminished by a lack of image uniformity and a feature setup that's fraught with legal jargon.
First, the advantages: The most notable addition over previous models is LED, or light-emitting diode, backlighting across the lineup. Replacing fluorescent-tube backlighting typically improves image quality and delivers greater power efficiency by adjusting lighting only in areas of the set required to correctly view the picture on the screen.
Gateway to the Web
Samsung also was the first HD television maker this year to add streaming video and widget software created by Yahoo! (YHOO) that lets users with Internet connections browse Google's (GOOG) YouTube, news, and other sites directly from the set. You click on a Web applet called a widget to gain access to a particular site and use the remote to navigate. LG, Vizio, Sharp, and other rivals are all likely to offer similar services in time for the holiday shopping season.
The Yahoo service will someday be extremely useful to TV watchers because it will eventually become an easy-to-use gateway to thousands of Web sites. Since Samsung adopted the service first, there were not many applications available when I first received the 46-in. set to review. A month or so later, feeds to Twitter, YouTube, and sports sites began to trickle in. Yahoo executives say many more applications will become available by Christmas. (One drawback to the service is initial startup, which includes a lot of legalese to which the user has to agree before gaining access; it's a requirement because of liability worries brought on by the Internet connection. At least rival LG pokes fun at the process and makes it a one-click process vs. the several pages and clicks I needed with the Samsung.)
Another enhancement on Samsung Internet-connected televisions is the Samsung Content Library, which comes preloaded with games, recipes, fitness programs, and a slide show of high-definition art and music that can be played while entertaining guests.
Impressive Range of Inputs
The Series 7000 doesn't stop there, though, in terms of interactivity. Users can stream videos, photos, and music from devices certified as DLNA-compatible, and it has USB ports that let you connect digital music players, digital cameras, and external drives. And users can go online to check for upgrades to the television's firmware, or internal operating system.
As is common these days, Samsung delivers a picture with a native resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 progressive, which is the highest HD-quality image available today. It is capable of displaying "full HD" 1080p technology offered with Blu-ray movies and Sony's (SNE) PlayStation 3. Television shows are upconverted to the set's native resolution through video processing.
Samsung is never a slouch when it comes to connectivity, and with this model you can attach a cable, satellite, or TiVo (TIVO) set-top box, PS3, and standalone Blu-ray player on the four HD multimedia inputs. There's also a pair of component video inputs, a single RF input for cable and antenna, a VGA input for personal computers, and two USB inputs. It's all the more impressive that Samsung could squeeze in so many connections to the thin frame.
The sets also come with a great master remote that features backlit keys for operation in darkened rooms. It fits in the hand nicely and is easy to operate with the onscreen menu, which stands out by giving users a brief one-sentence description of each of the plethora of picture-adjusting features.
Tinkering with the Picture
Those features are led by a 120Hz screen refresh rate and "dejudder" processing, which are designed to eliminate blurring and picture shakes in movies and TV shows. Users can choose between four modes, including a custom setting that lets you tinker with the picture. Strangely, Samsung names the initial three settings "Clear," "Standard," and "Smooth," which doesn't offer much in the way of explaining the differences between the three modes.
The odd thing about LED-backlit sets is that the color and picture quality look so crystal clear that the viewer's eye catches much more judder than in older-technology HDTVs.
In the James Bond movie Casino Royale, for instance, there's noticeable judder as the flags wave in a scene where a consular limo pulls away. When you boost the judder-reduction technology, though, you can get other types of artifacts in the picture: I saw telltale halo effects around characters in television shows even when they weren't moving much. It takes quite a bit of trial and error with the AutoMotion Plus 120Hz technology to clear up these flaws.
One thing you can't clear up is image uniformity. That's because rather than opting for the more expensive full LED technology across the entire screen, Samsung uses edge-lit LEDs. When viewed from the side in particular, there are areas of brightness that should not normally show up in the darkened areas. Samsung corrects this flaw in new models now hitting store shelves with a technology called local dimming that turns off the backlight in areas where it is not needed. Would the average user notice even without this technology? Probably not, but it's worth noting if you're a picture purist.
Given these flaws, the Series 7000 doesn't rate as well as my previous-generation favorite, the Series 8. Yet, environmentally conscious consumers, or those concerned about energy efficiency, might be pleased to own one of the most energy-efficient LCDs on the market; with its backlit LED technology, the set passes California's tough proposed 2013 energy-efficiency standard, and it is rated Energy Star 3.0-compliant. And most consumers will love the terrific picture, wealth of features, and stunning design.