With the previous model in its 'LW' series, Korean manufacturer Samsung managed to produce one the first 40in LCD screens, thus kick-starting the battle with plasma for top billing in the big-screen stakes. With the LW40A23W, the brand sets its stall out as a home cinema enthusiast's dream.
Socket to 'em
That's largely down to the screen's rear connections. There's not one, but two sets of high-definition and progressive scancapable component video inputs. And that's just for starters. A DVI input is another highlight.
As well as being HDCPcompatible (and therefore able to show Sky's planned HDTV transmissions) it means an all-digital feed from a PC or compatible DVD player will result in stunning pictures. Two Scarts, S-video, composite video, coaxial and optical digital audio inputs and three stereo audio inputs complete the collection.
Ideally we'd like to see more than a solitary RGB Scart, because with both a PlayStation and Freeview box comes Scartswapping nonsense - but pictures from it are exemplary. LCD screens can crumble when faced with the challenge of a Freeview feed, with motion blur being the main culprit, but the response time of the LW40A23W is good enough to combat this. Dip below the RGB Scart to a composite input and inadequacies are clear for all to see, but this isn't too important, as it would be an insult to a screen of this size and price to feed it such a poor input.
Alongside the excellent connection roster, Samsung has included a number of proprietary features. The most important of these is its Digital Natural Image engine (DNIe), which clearly improves the screen's verve and sharpness.
With DVI sources the LW40A23W doesn't sweat over producing top-notch results, with particularly notable brightness levels bringing out the best from saturated movie scenes. Likewise, fine details were ably represented, awash with good colour variations that didn't bleed at all. But results like these are to expected at this input level, and the set still has to perform with analogue sources...
Clean and clear
Across all sources, there were very few blurred edges to be seen - and more often than not this can be put down to DVD sources anyway. On the other hand, contrast could be improved slightly. During a scene from Old Boy set in a gloomy, blue-lit train carriage on the Seoul subway, the focus and depth of field changes from a giant ant to a girl's face without too much detail apparent, revealing that this set's contrast ratio is occasionally found wanting. Should you wish to turn off DNIe you will notice this effect worsen, however, so congratulations to the engineers at Samsung for making an impressive outing in terms of pictures.
As far as sound goes, the LW40A23W is fairly unique in that it is able to decode and amplify Dolby Digital, DTS and Pro Logic II, and output them to a sound system. This is done via spring-clip connections, with an added subwoofer line out to handle bass. Audio from the speakers varied during our test, and it's daft not to pair such an expensive TV with a decent surround sound package, but for those buying in stages they serves as a capable stop-gap.
Having had a good six months on the shelves, this is a fine example of how LCD prices are tumbling. We used to say that large-screen LCDs would set you back twice as much as a plasma, but we found this screen available for as little as £3,000 online. With good pictures and plenty of connections, the LW40A23W should go to the top of any bargain-hunter's hit list.