Okay, we admit it - in the past, we've been known to criticise some of Samsung's flat TVs for being a little aesthetically dull. The brand's latest effort, however, has us eating our words. The 26in LE-26R41BD is one of the most attractive LCDs we've seen for some time.
In fact, thanks to an opulent gloss finish and classy black screen frame - not to mention the cute triangular shape of the silver speakers under its screen - it looks more like a style TV from the likes of JVC than an 'entry-level' (at just £800) offering.
Things look just as good when it comes to the LE-26R41BD's connections. Most impressive is a digital HDMI input, which, together with the screen's high native resolution of 1,366 x 768, ensures that it earns the 'HD Ready' badge of future-proofing honour (at 26in, this screen is just deemed big enough to display HD in all its glory). There are also component inputs for analogue high-def and progressive scan images, and VGA jack for hooking up to a PC.
Even the features count is good for the price. There's a built-in digital TV tuner, complete with seven-day electronic programme guide support - by no means a staple on a screen of this price - and Samsung's 'DNIe' picture processing circuitry, which, among other promised enhancements, should boost the screen's fine detail response.
Happily a spin of our mind-bending test disc, Memento, does very little to dampen our enthusiasm for the LE-26R41BD. The most surprising strength is its black level response. Much of Memento is filmed with low lighting - be it in dingy motel rooms or dodgy abandoned buildings - but even the darkest scenes enjoy a sense of depth and scale thanks to the background darkness looking truly black rather than grey or blue as is the case with so many other budget LCDs.
Feel the quality
The DNIe processing works a treat, too, making bright, outdoor scenes in particular both textured and sharp. What's more, this doesn't seem to throw up any unpleasant processing side effects, as there's not even any sign of blocking noise on digital HDMI sources - a common problem.
Finally, despite the deliberately washed out look of much of Memento, colours - such as Guy Pearce's blue shirt - are rich and solid. Skin tones also look natural, even with the often tricky lighting conditions.
As is often the case with LCD, footage from an analogue tuner causes problems. While DNIe works great with most sources, here it causes smearing and severe softness. But with a digital tuner built in, surely no one's seriously going to watch such broadcasts!
Out only other gripe is that the picture can 'jump' in brightness from time to time - but this is occasional, and not serious.
The LE-26R41BD's cute speakers are as good as you can hope for from a screen of this size, keeping dialogue clear and never succumbing to distortions, cabinet rattles or harsh trebles.
At this price, we would expect something - be it looks, features or performance - to be slightly lacking. But the LE-26R41BD manages to surprise on all accounts, and that makes it a great buy in our book.