Anyone who knows much about flat TVs is aware that LCD technology has a couple of fundamental problems.
The first is contrast, because current liquid crystal TVs universally struggle to deliver convincing, deep blacks to counterpoint their often extreme brightness.
The second is motion, as fast-moving objects tend to blur when they pass across the screen. Up to now, both of these problems have had LCD’s use of a single static backlight to illuminate its pictures as their root cause, at least in part.
Since this has to be on constantly if you’re to get any picture at all, some light seeps through even into pixels that should be dark, making them look grey.
With motion, meanwhile, the static, ‘always on’ nature of the LCD backlight leads to ‘the sample and hold’ effect, whereby a moving image appears blurred, because your eye naturally tends to track movement from one frame to the next, rather than perceiving motion as the series of ‘stills’ LCD static backlight technology presents.
Why are we blinding you with all this science in what should be a TV review? Because we’re setting the scene for the first LCD TV in the UK to ditch the old static backlight in favour of an array of light emitting diodes (LEDs).
The application of a number of individually controllable LEDs rather than the usual solitary light source really could revolutionise LCD’s performance.
For instance, black levels should benefit from the way the TV can completely shut down LEDs in parts of the picture that should be dark, without other parts of the image suffering.
And motion should be clearer, too, as the array can be manipulated so that it roughly copies the motion-friendly scanning effect of old CRT technology. Not that its LED heart is the only attraction in the 52F96BD’s arsenal.
For starters, it looks absolutely beautiful. Next, its connections include three v1.3a HDMI sockets for compatibility with auto-lip synching and Deep Color technologies. Plus, the regular assortment of analogue goodies are accompanied by a D-Sub PC feed and USB 2.0 input for MP3 and JPEG playback.
In terms of picture processing, you get Samsung’s DNIe system for enhancing motion clarity, contrast, colours and sharpness, Movie Plus for interpolating extra frames and making motion smoother, plus an Edge Enhancer.
Ease of use
With some really pretty onscreen menus and a sensibly laid out remote control, the only aspects that bug us about using this screen are the facts that its remote responds rather sluggishly to button presses, and the TV ships with its pictures defaulting to a ludicrously unpleasant ‘Dynamic’ preset.
Thankfully, after some quality time with the settings menu, we’d dispensed with the dubious dynamic mode and ended up instead with a picture that looks almost too good to be true.
We’d hoped that the LED system would improve on the TV’s black level response, but the results comfortably surpass our expectations. Here, for the first time ever with an LCD TV, you can experience a black that actually looks black, rather than insipid grey.
This makes pictures look superbly cinematic and dynamic, as well as helping the set produce exceptionally rich colours that seem to have a whole extra dimension in terms of authenticity and vibrancy over standard LCD TVs.
The good news continues as the HD images look terrifically sharp, with the prodigious screen size merely highlighting the extra detail and clarity of hi-def sources rather than revealing any flaws in the TV’s LED construction.
Let’s not forget, either, that this awesome sense of sharpness is further exaggerated by the fact that moving objects really do pass across the screen with less blur than usual. Although the 52F96BD’s pictures revolutionise our conceptions of LCD’s capability in many ways, they aren’t quite perfect.
For starters, we’d recommend you avoid both the Movie Plus and Edge Enhancement options, as they cause noise and over-emphasise edges respectively.
Also, the set’s viewing angle is very limited for such a large screen, and it’s not a great fan of standard definition, tending to highlight any noise a standard-def signal may contain and make skin tones look waxy as a result. But then, surely, anyone spending £3k on a TV will be trying to feed it as much HD fodder as possible.
Considering how subtly the 52F96BD’s speakers have been integrated into its design, it’s a pleasant surprise to find that they’re actually quite powerful and robust, delivering a wide, open soundstage that never succumbs to distortion.
Three grand is obviously a lot of money to spend on a TV, but on the other hand, this one is enormous and its black levels are truly groundbreaking. If you can afford it, the decision should make itself.