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 quite good.
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 input.
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