Probably the DLP world's first genuine classic rear projection TV was Samsung's SP50L7HX - a stunning set I fell in love with when I reviewed it back in HCC 112. So you can imagine that my hopes are very high indeed for Samsung's brand new, 46in DLP rear-pro set, the SP46L6HX.
This new model does not share its predecessor's design genes. I felt a little pang of disappointment when I hoicked the SP46L6HX from its box. While certainly not ugly in its combination of black screen frame and silver speaker section, it's no match for the stunning extravagance of the flagship SP50L7HX model.
But this slight backward design step becomes eminently forgivable when you look at the 46in model's price: at just £1,500, it's clearly made for a whole different viewer than its bigger, costlier brother. So from now on it's probably fairer that I treat the SP46L6HX on its own merits, and leave off with the SP50L7HX comparisons.
The SP46L6HX's connections are useful for such an affordable screen, including, as they do, an HDMI jack and a set of HD-compatible component jacks. These inputs fulfil the connection requirement of the industry's official HD Ready specification. The set goes on to tick all the other HD Ready boxes thanks to a native widescreen resolution of 1280 x 720 and compatibility with all the necessary HD formats.
Other connectivity worthy of mention includes a trio of Scarts (two RGB enabled) and a standard VGA connection that allows it to double up as a PC monitor.
Specs beyond the HD Ready native resolution already mentioned include a decent but certainly not outstanding (for DLP) claimed contrast ratio of 2000:1, and a claimed brightness of 1000cd/m2. The set also carries Samsung's proprietary DNIe processing, for - and I'm quoting now - enhancing the appearance of fine detail in the picture, improving motion handling, and boosting both the screen's colour response and contrast levels.
Other attractions include digital picture noise reduction, a film mode for improving the appearance of movie rather than broadcast footage, SRS TruSurround XT audio processing, and the facility to individually adjust the pink, green and blue components of your picture to suit tastes or specific footage. As an added bonus, during this colour fine tuning, you get to make your choices while looking at a pretty picture of a rather lovely young lady.
In action however, the SP46L6HX is unexpectedly unexciting. For starters, compared to some of the better (admittedly more expensive) DLP sets available, the SP46L6HX's picture looks slightly soft - a feeling that applies equally to broadcast and HD footage, and to both digital and analogue connections. The picture lacks the vibrancy and dynamism of recent DLP offerings from, say, Sagem, with the result that the picture appears occasionally flat and uninvolving, especially with ordinary Sky Digital or analogue broadcasts.
Part of this lack of dynamism is down to a curiously inconsistent contrast range, which sees shady, darker areas during relatively normal, mid-brightness/ contrast footage - including regular daytime TV - suffering slightly with a distracting, depth-reducing green tinge. What's more, this green undertone has a tendency to make colours in general (but flesh tones in particular) look rather unnatural. The shots inside the family ranch in Legends of the Fall, for instance, often display flesh tones that look seriously unhealthy. When viewed via the HDMI jack, meanwhile, the same shots in Legends... also reveal some low-level evidence of the MPEG blocking problems witnessed with digital feeds on a variety of screen technologies.
Of course, Samsung hasn't totally lost the plot. One of the picture's more impressive accomplishments is its handling of the traditional DLP problem - dot crawl over moving objects or, especially, during camera pans. Here, even the faces of the dwarves and elves remain clear and smooth during the panning shots that introduce the characters during the voice over at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring.
Other noise types are well handled too, including DLP's traditional rainbow effect (though this can still be seen in extreme contrast situations, such as white titles over black), and grain. Really deep blacks, meanwhile, look richer and more profound than the 2000:1 contrast range would suggest.
The shots of earth from space that open Armageddon, for instance, enjoy some of the richest, deepest portrayals of space I've seen on a DLP TV this year - not least because there's no overt sign of DLP's problems with green dot crawl over dark picture areas.
In fact, the set's prowess with truly dark footage makes the green toning that sets in during actually less demanding, more neutral scenes, all the more inexplicable. The SP46L6HX's sound is fair to middling. There's quite a lot of raw power, but this is rather wasted on speakers that lack treble definition, so tend to sound a little flat and muffled.
Overall, while I appreciate Samsung's efforts in making its DLP technology more affordable while keeping HD Ready specification intact, I also can't help but feel that there's something slightly old-fashioned about the resulting TV. And that's probably the very last thing I expected to find myself saying about a Samsung TV right now. Not a performance superstar then, but worth a look. John Archer