Drop dead gorgeous. The Samsung style-meisters have done it again with the LE-40R74BDX, which screams opulence. But, before we get carried away with the design praise, this 40-inch LCD TV's performance is on the schizophrenic side. Everything points in the right direction in this HD-ready LCD TV's specifications, with a native resolution of 1366 x 768, claimed brightness of 500cd/m2 and a sizable quoted contrast ratio of 5,000:1.
For £1,600, you'd expect this TV's connections to be beyond reproach. So we're a little puzzled to discover that there's only one HDMI, especially as lesser screens have twin HDMI futureproof status. Only two Scarts as well, and only one of those is RGB enabled. Still, the rear guard of connectivity cheers us up, because there's a VGA PC jack and a digital audio output lurking among the usual standard-def jacks.
The digital audio output and CAM slot alerts our attention to the presence of a digital tuner built into the LE-40R74BDX, which is supported by a seven-day electronic programme guide (EPG), which is pretty much standard issue these days.
Like most flatscreens in the Samsung stable, this set comes complete with Digital Natural Image engine (DNIe) picture processing, which improves black levels, colours and sharpness, for enhanced viewing enjoyment.
Other features of note include a game mode, picture-in-picture settings and digital noise reduction. It all sounds textbook Samsung so far.
So, settling down to a viewing of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on a standard-definition DVD and 1080i high-def DVHS tape, we put this LCD through its paces. As with many a Samsung screen, brightness is impressive and isn't achieved at the expense of blacks. The rare dark scenes within the factory's interior are free from grey mist in both standard and high-def, and have a real sense of depth.
This good contrast is accompanied by great colours, which are lively but not overwhelming. The 10-bit colour processing is obviously at work here too, because there's an impressive range of colours. The viewing angle is also pretty good, with little drop in image quality.
This set's good work is undone slightly by some motion smearing and image lag. This is apparent with a standard-definition source (which we expected to a certain extent), but also in the hi-def mode, which is a disappointment. Colour tones also lose vibrancy in darker scenes.
Which brings us back to our opinion that this Samsung is a Jekyll and Hyde of a picture performer. Granted, with bright, high quality and relatively still picture sources, the LE-40R74BDX really excels. But, by the same token, the picture can look flawed in darker, busier periods. This lends itself to an uneven viewing experience.
The LE-40R74BDX's soundstage can be a bit flat and it's a little lacking in the bass department too. Voices can also sound muffled. This may be partially down to the concealed speakers: design perhaps triumphing over performance.
This Samsung's picture performance is something that lesser models could aspire to. But that's the issue: we know how good Samsung's products can be - and this set is merely good rather than great, going by the company's own high standards.