If looks were everything, the rest of the TV world might as well just pack up now and go home. If there's a better-looking LCD TV this year than Samsung's LE-40R74BDX, I'll be amazed.
It's glossy, black and utterly minimalistic screen surround gets things off to a great start, with substantial icing on the cake coming from its subtly curved edges, funky desktop stand, and the little angled-back triangular section along the bottom finished in a different, metallic colour, which hides 'invisible speakers'. Clever.
Connections include only one HDMI input which is a bit slack for a cutting-edge company. Compounding the lack of HDMIs is the provision of only two Scarts - and only one is RGB ready. Grr. There is some good news, though, in the discovery of a VGA PC jack and a digital audio output alongside the component video, S-video and composite video options.
The digital audio output is there as the TV carries a digital tuner, and so the set is future-proofing itself against the possibility that digital terrestrial services might start broadcasting Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks.
More support for the digital tuner comes from a CAM slot, and support for the 7-day electronic programme guide. There's one fairly big problem with the LE40R74BDXs EPG listings, though, which is that there's no way to skip through the listings by day. Instead, the maximum you can move ahead is just two hours, making searching days ahead seriously time consuming.
As with practically every Samsung flat TV these days, the LE40R74BDX comes equipped with Samsung's proprietary Digital Natural Image engine (DNIe) picture processing. As with many similar systems, this is designed to improve the appearance of motion, sharpness/ detailing, colours, and black levels.
The LE40R74BDXs attractive remote control/onscreen menu combination gives rise to one or two other noteworthy features, including a Game mode that optimises the picture settings through the component jacks for use with an Xbox 360; digital noise reduction, and handy picture in picture facilities.
The first model from the new R74 range I saw, the 32in 32R74BDX. So naturally I settled down to watch the 40R74BDX with high hopes. But I came away feeling ever so slightly nonplussed...
Things start well enough. The 40R74BDX is exceptionally bright for a screen of its size, as the unusually potent and efficient backlight really forces the image out.
Impressively, this brightness has little detrimental effect on black level, with dark scenes in HD and SD movies looking free of grey mist. Even better, this blackness isn't forced as dark areas contain a genuine sense of depth from its subtle shadow detail. I'm not sure about Samsung's 5000:1 contrast ratio claim, but contrast certainly isn't a major problem.
Good contrast usually leads to rich colours, and so it proves here. Fullish saturations look phenomenally vibrant yet not so much that they overwhelm the subtler stuff. There's a fair range to the colour palette too, probably thanks to the set's 10-bit colour processing (Samsung reckons it delivers 12.8 billion colours!).
Other good stuff includes wide- angle viewing without image quality dropping off too much, and good sharpness and detail from the 1366 x 768 panel especially with static high-def sources.
Why stress fairly static back there? Because even though the screen sports a supposed LCD response time of just 8ms, pictures are frequently affected by some overt smearing and image lag on moving objects. This is quite common on LCD TVs with lower quality standard definition sources, but we don't expect to see it on HD material quite as much as we do here.
I'm not always convinced by this Samsung's colour tones, either. There's no knocking them for vibrancy, but the tone doesn't always hold its naturalism during darker scenes, or with low-quality sources.
What all this adds up to is a picture that at times - with bright, stationary, high quality sources - looks spectacular, but almost as often looks rather average. Average this across an extended period and you end up with something pretty good overall, but certainly not excellent.
As soon as I saw its speakers tucked away I doubted if it could deliver strong audio. This is partly proven by the flat and constrained soundstage when the going gets tough, with a shortage of bass and slightly muffled vocals. On the plus side, trebles are clean and unharsh, the cabinet never rattles, and the sound always feels attached to the picture even though the speakers fire down.
By any normal standards the LE40R74BDX is an accomplished LCD TV. But by Samsung's standards I can't help but feel that accomplished ranks as something of a disappointment. John Archer