Flat panel displays continue to be hotter than Texas in the middle of summer. Plasma has been the mainstay of thin, fixed pixel displays, but over the past couple of years LCD panels have been getting larger and larger. They are now approaching the size of plasma panels, and are expected to grow in the near future. Currently, the largest LCD panel is the $8,999 40-inch Samsung. This is a 16:9 widescreen, 1280x768 resolution panel, and it is one of the better overall packages that I have seen.
We should first discuss the advantages of LCD versus plasma. LCD is lighter in weight--the Samsung weighs in at 52 lbs., while a similarly sized plasma would be about 80 lbs. It uses less energy and does not get the dreaded burn-in like plasma panels can. LCD does have some disadvantages, as it shares the difficulty of getting true deep blacks and shadow detail that plasma does. It also can have some limitations of off-axis viewing.
If some of these concerns sound similar to those voiced when plasmas first came out, that is not coincidence. LCDs, although popular as computer monitors for several years now, have been adapted only in the last couple of years to the more demanding requirements for television and home theater use. The development curve will probably be more rapid, as plasmas have set the pace, but so far LCDs have populated the smaller sized end of the market as replacements for direct-view CRT televisions. Sharp led the way with the AQUOS line, but now just about all the major manufacturers have brought out 20-inch and under LCD panels. There are a few companies (like Sharp, LG, Philips, and Samsung) that are leading the charge to ever larger LCD panel sizes. With the LTN406W, Samsung has entered an arena that has only been populated by plasmas.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
The Samsung came in one box together with the stand and speakers. This was a pleasant surprise, as my experience with plasma displays is that everything is optional--stand, speakers, etc. It was packaged extremely well and easy to unpack and set up. Another pleasant surprise is that the Samsung is set up like a conventional television rather than a monitor, like most plasmas. It has a built-in NTSC tuner, S-Video, composite, component, DVI, and even coaxial input. I was able to directly hook up analog cable to the television, and use the internal tuner just like on any television. I also hooked up a high-definition Time Warner cable box and a Philips DVD player to this unit.
Due to the fact that Samsung has very few pieces available for review (actually, they sent me this one right from CEDIA, as it was the only one they had), I had a very short period of time with this unit.
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Since the Samsung had been running almost non-stop at CEDIA, it did not
need any run-in time. I did, however, calibrate it using my Video
Essentials DVD. Frankly, I was surprised to see just how good the black
level is, as LCDs in the past have had some significant limitations, in
this regard. The Samsung uses their new DNIe technology to increase
contrast ratio. Rather than go into a long explanation of how it works,
I will simply say the difference is apparent. The black level is the
best I have seen on an LCD panel and will actually match up well with
many plasmas. The picture quality is very good indeed--bright, clear,
and when fed a good signal, very smooth. Due to the high resolution of
the panel, picture quality in high-definition is very detailed and
crisp. Colors were represented very well, and even off-axis viewing was
Using analog cable gave a very poor, grainy picture with lots of
interference on most channels. I do not believe this to be the fault of
the Samsung tuner. I believe it is just the lousy cable feed. Using a
digital cable box, the NTSC picture quality was quite good, and the
stretch mode is fairly acceptable. Samsung uses the philosophy of
keeping as much of the center of the picture intact with more extreme
stretching at the edges. It makes sense, as the majority of the time
the center of the picture is completely undisturbed, but it does make
for a somewhat disconcerting fishbowl effect at the edges upon occasion.
DVD picture quality was also excellent, again with a black level
better than on any other LCD I have seen. I did not have a DVI-equipped
player handy at the time of this review, so I was not able to test this
Ultimately, the panel may not have been quite as bright as some of
the brighter plasmas, but it was considerably brighter than lower end
plasmas. However, I did not feel, at any time, that the contrast ratio
or the brightness was lacking.
Besides the picture quality, the thing that struck me the most was
the excellent overall ergonomics of this package. It is extremely easy
to set up and use. The very fact that Samsung includes the speakers and
stand with the unit shows that they are serious about going after the
mainstream buyer, as it will function very nicely on its own. A word on
the speakers-- they look nice and sound better than most television
speakers, but even with included Dolby Pro Logic II decoding, they
won't remind you of a separate 5.1 system.
The main downside of the Samsung is the price. At $8,999 retail, it
is more expensive than 42-inch plasmas today. It starts to make a bit
more sense if you consider the fact that 42-inch plasmas with true HD
resolution (720+) are more expensive, and if you add in speakers and
stand, the Samsung then becomes competitive. Even so, this package is
so good, I do hope the price comes down quickly so it becomes more
readily affordable. I did notice that the street price was quite a bit
lower when I looked around on the web, but I could not tell if they
were authorized dealers. With a package like this, and with picture
quality this good, I doubt there will be many who will be sorry to see
large, heavy, bulky CRTs go the way of the dodo.
For those of you that find 40 inches still a bit small, Samsung is
coming out with a 54 inch LCD panel in the near future, with a
resolution of 1920x1080. Yes, you read that right, a true 1080 panel.
LCD's future seems to have gotten quite a bit brighter.
Samsung LTN406W 40" LCD Television
1280 x 768 Pixel Resolution
600:1 Contrast Ratio
Dual NTSC Tuner Built-In With Split Screen & PC
16 ms Response Time
3D Y/C Digital Comb Filter
Detachable Side Speakers
with 10 Watts x 5 Audio Power
Dolby Digital Surround Sound