A rear-projection TV without a ginormous base
Impressive picture quality
Analogue TV tuner
Bizarre low-level noise with HDMI
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In comparison with equivalently jumbo-sized plasma and LCD displays, DLP rear-projection TVs represent astonishing value for money. DLP's reputation for picture clarity is considerable, and the diminutive light engine allows for some unusually slim cabinet design (first-generation rear-projection TVs used a trio of picture tubes, which guaranteed cabinet bulk).
Samsung's 50in SP50L7HX breaks the rear-pro mould entirely, however, by utilising a proprietary DLP Rocket Engine design and vertically mounting the source projector, allowing for a sleek, cylindrical pedestal to hold the screen.
There's no doubt that this Samsung set is eye-catching. The screen frame is gorgeous, with a gloss-black finish and three exposed, circular speaker grilles either side. But it's the pillar stand that's the coup de grâce. Marrying a silver finish with a contrasting black stripe, it looks very post-modern, and it sits atop a clear glass trapezoid.
Unfortunately, and controversially, I found that the whole doesn't quite match the sum of its parts. It looks like three good design ideas in one, and therefore mismatched. However, everybody else who passed through the test labs thinks it looks stunning, so it's probably just me.
I also found that the base distracted the eye a little too much, which is a shame seeing as the screen performance is one of the best I've seen for a DLP rear-pro.
More on that later though, because it's just as easy to be wowed by the back of the set and its connectivity. Three Scarts are supplied, with two of them RGB-enabled, but it's the high-definition future-proofing that impresses the most. Not only are there VGA and HDMI ports, but the component inputs are high-def compatible too (as well as PAL/NTSC progressive scan). It's okay with standard feeds; S-video and composite AV ports make up the numbers.
Features are also plentiful, with Samsung's own DNIe (Digital Natural Image engine) the most impressive. The technology makes pictures sharper with more contrast, produces a richer colour field and improves motion. And although this picture processing system has been received with mixed feelings on previous screens (notably plasmas), here its performance is exemplary.
My Colour control is another interesting addition to the spec, as it lets you set individual levels for each of the pink, green and blue elements in the image, without affecting the rest of the picture. This is on top of the normal red, blue and green adjustments afforded by all standard TVs - it adds a layer of refinement that benefits skin tones greatly.
Bizarrely though, there is no provision for a digital tuner. If any set looks like it should be an IDTV, it's this one. However, Samsung isn't the only culprit releasing, relatively, high-spec sets with just an analogue tuner, but it irks me that futureproofing has been carefully considered in all other aspects of the TV's design.
However, lack of a digital tuner is a minor quibble when presented with the kind of image quality the SP50L7HX is capable of.
To begin with, there's no sign of the usual picture trouble associated with some DLP projectors - namely green speckles on stark blacks. They are deep and unbroken, noiseless and flat (in a good way). And it's helped by a more than reasonable contrast ratio which also benefits the colour range to produce vivid and memorable images. Normally, this can affect edges (with colour bleed, for example) but there's no sign of this foible.
It's not all a bed of roses though, especially through the HDMI input. Although high-definition pictures via component are spectacular and offer a crispness that'll make you write letters to broadcasters demanding HDTV now, the same picture through HDMI can introduce a low-level green-blocking noise over deep blacks. It doesn't happen all the time and is barely noticeable with most high-def content, but it's worth pointing out (bizarrely, we've noted similar flaws on other displays fed by an HDMI source).
The 15W stereo speakers, on either side of the display, are slightly less impressive than the picture but still produce a workman-like soundstage. Dialogue is clearly audible even during chaotic action scenes, while explosions have a throaty growl to them. However, there's a lack of deep-level bass and treble extensions to really bring a soundtrack to life. Also, when faced with higher volume levels, the speakers start to cough and crackle - but we're talking about improbable noise before this becomes evident.
The SP50L7HX is one of the first of a new generation of high performance rear-pro sets. Forget the old image of rear-pros being fuzzy monsters - DLP puts the screens on a par with (and in some cases past) what can be achieved with plasma.
And it sets a high standard. The image is crisp and pleasing, there's no overt rainbowing from the DLP light engine and connectivity is great. Although I'm not sure about its design aesthetics, which puts me in a minority of, er, one, this set demands to be auditioned.
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