Numerous brands have now had a stab at LED TV technology – with results that generally confirm our long-held belief that it could be the TV technology of the future. Samsung is now taking light emitting diodes to a new level by launching a whole TV category comprising two complete ranges: the 7000 and 8000 series.
We'll have a look at the flagship 8000 series at some point in the future, but we thought we'd kick off with the more affordable 7000 range, as represented by the UE40B7000.
Arguably the most important feature of the 40B7000 is the fact that it uses edge-mounted rather than rear-mounted, 'direct' LED lighting. And Samsung's decision to go this edge-based route reaps an immediate benefit in the TV's design, as the screen registers a jaw-droppingly slender depth of under 30mm.
Couple this extreme slimness with the TV's glossy 'crystal' finish, red-tinged bezel and the striking transparent neck connecting the TV to the desktop stand, and once again Samsung has a design classic on its hands.
The 40B7000's LED lighting is also key because it delivers a number of supposed advantages over the normal CCFL backlighting used in normal LCD TVs. These include better contrast, faster response times and a far wider colour palette.
However, using edge-mounted LEDs means the 40B7000 can't offer the key local-dimming feature found with 'direct' LED TVs, whereby the separate arrays of diode lights that make up the picture can dim their brightness level individually, enabling you to have a completely black picture element sat right alongside a bright white one.
In typically bullish style, though, Samsung isn't about to let traditional wisdom get in the way of progress. It's adamant, for instance, that the more generalised dimming properties of edge-mounted LED lighting can actually produce deeper contrast than the direct version if manipulated carefully. What's more, Samsung's edge-mounted LEDs can apparently react faster to changes in the brightness content of the picture than the direct ones can.
Edge-mounted LEDs can also, it's claimed, produce brighter pictures than direct LED models, since they use darker diffusion mechanisms. Furthermore, since edge-mounted systems can be brighter, they can produce watchable images while consuming less power.
KNIFE EDGE: Despite its incredible thin profile, Samsung has managed to fit a great selection of ports into the 40B7000
The 40B7000 is extremely well connected, with highlights of four HDMIs, two USB ports and even a LAN connection. The USB ports can be used to play an impressive variety of multimedia file formats, while the latter socket enables you to access files stored on a networked DLNA PC.
That's not all the USB and LAN ports do, though. For you can also use them to connect the 40B7000 to Samsung's new online interactive services, powered by the brand's exclusive deal with Yahoo Widgets. The USB route enables you to connect to your router wirelessly via an optional dongle.
Among the services available on Samsung's internet platform are YouTube, the Flickr photo service, and plenty of news, finance and weather reports – all easy to access and beautifully presented.
The 40B7000's obsession with multimedia content doesn't end there either, for the set also carries Samsung's Content Library feature, where a passably engaging array of content such as recipes, animated stories and songs for kids, plus screen saver images is stored on built-in flash memory.
Heading into the 40B7000's picture menus, meanwhile, uncovers a huge list of options. These are far too numerous to cover in full, but highlights include 100Hz processing, noise reduction, and an HDMI level adjustment that comes in unexpectedly handy, as we'll see.
Ease of use
The 40B7000's remote control isn't especially comfortable, and we didn't find the organisation of the TV's clean-looking onscreen menus particularly logical.
The single most annoying aspect of the 40B7000, though, concerns its factory presets. With the notable exception, perhaps, of the Movie mode, we found we had to spend a long time recalibrating all the TV's picture presets to optimise quality.
Luckily, the tools are provided to make such fine-tuning possible. Better still, once you've put in the effort, the rewards are considerable.
Black levels are superb, with dark parts of its pictures looking richer and deeper than those of any normal LCD TV. In fact, they look at least as deep as those of any direct LED TV we've seen, supporting Samsung's arguments for the edge-based approach.
More startling is the fact that the black levels are achieved within the context of a startlingly bright image that sees really vibrant, rich colours and pristine peak whites ably sitting alongside black picture elements.
BLACK OPS: The impressive LED backlighting gets the full potential out of dark, atmospheric scenes
The 40B7000's colours really are spectacular, seemingly more dynamic yet also subtle in tone than the vast majority of flat TV rivals. And they're very finely blended thanks to both the screen's processing power and its resolution.
The latter plays its part, too, in helping the 40B7000 reproduce hi-def sources with outstanding clarity, detail and sharpness, and the 100Hz engine helps this sharpness remain reasonably undiminished when HD pictures start moving.
Add all the good stuff up, and the 40B7000's HD pictures, when sensibly calibrated, are really quite remarkable. But it is possible to mess the pictures about. Leaving the contrast too high can cause noise; you need to tweak the 100Hz engine a bit to keep processing artefacts out of the picture; and oddly we found black levels dropping off substantially while playing console games, unless we adjusted the HDMI Level setting to low.
Standard-definition pictures aren't upscaled to the screen's full HD resolution quite as successfully as with some rival TVs, either. Still, even at its worst the 40B7000 remains one of the best picture performers around, especially for its money.
On the audio side of things, a lack of bass, raw power and dynamic range mean that while the 40B7000 performs okay with standard TV fare, it tends to sound rather flat and uninvolving with a typical movie soundtrack.
With every other brand currently using LED as an excuse to charge an arm, a leg and possibly a kidney too, Samsung's decision to flog the 40B7000 for £1,250 is pretty groundbreaking and great news for us punters.
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