|Samsung LN52A750 LCD HDTV|
|Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs LCD HDTVs|
|Written by Adrienne Maxwell|
|Monday, 01 September 2008|
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I recently saw a CE news headline that read something along the lines of, “Report states that HDTV manufacturers must add more features and interactivity to compete in the future marketplace.” I’m not sure anyone really needed an official report to glean that pearl of wisdom. As performance and price amongst the big-name brands become increasingly similar, features and design play a larger role in distinguishing one TV from the next. With its 2008 line of high-end LCDs, Samsung has gotten aggressive in both respects. The Touch of Color aesthetic aims to catch your eye on the showroom floor, while features like media streaming and RSS feeds give the “connected” user something to be excited about.
Of course, features and design don’t mean much if the TV’s performance is sub-par, but that’s not a concern here. The 52-inch, 1080p LN52A750 hails from Samsung’s top-shelf Series 7 line and consequently employs some of the company’s most advanced imaging technologies. Sadly, it does not sport the LED backlighting found in last year’s 81 Series (Samsung has yet to announce a second-gen LED line), but it does include Auto Motion Plus 120Hz technology, as well as a host of advanced image adjustments and a generous connection panel, for $3,199.99.
Set-up and Features
Embrace the bezel. That could be the LN52A750’s motto. For whatever reason, bezel seems to have become a four-letter word in the TV business, and ultra-thin bezels are the design de jour in both flat-panel and rear-pro circles. Most of the TVs I’ve reviewed this year have put a minimal amount of frame around the screen, which is probably why my husband’s first response upon seeing the LN52A750 was, “That’s a lot of bezel.” There are about three inches of high-gloss-black frame surrounding the LN52A750’s 52-inch screen, compared with less than an inch on the Toshiba 52XF550 I reviewed recently. Beyond the size factor, Samsung further draws attention to the bezel by incorporating a deep red stripe and clear acrylic border all the way around the frame’s edge – hence the Touch of Color moniker. The red effect is actually quite subtle, only really noticeable under brighter lighting conditions. Still, I suspect the Touch of Color design will earn mixed reactions. Personally, I thought the combination of gloss black and deep red gave the LN52A750 an elegance that befits its higher-end status.
The newly redesigned remote has a glossy black face and multicolored, backlit buttons. Samsung has added an iPod-like scroll wheel that’s supposed to make it easier to maneuver the onscreen menus, but I found it frustrating to use: sometimes it was too responsive, and other times it wasn’t responsive enough. Luckily, you can press the top, bottom and sides of the wheel to make it perform more like a directional keypad. The remote lacks dedicated input access; a single Source button scrolls you through the many input options. At least the TV automatically senses which inputs are in use and skips the inactive ones. The Tools button pulls up a handy onscreen interface through which you can change aspect ratio, picture mode and sound mode, as well as set the sleep timer and turn on PIP. While I like this feature, I’d still prefer direct buttons for aspect ratio and PIP; incorporating them solely into this sub-menu demands extra button presses, and no one wants that. I’d love to see Samsung add a direct button to enable/disable the Auto Motion Plus 120Hz feature, so that you can more easily switch modes based on the type of content you’re watching.
The LN52A750 has a thorough connection panel that includes four HDMI inputs (with one on the side panel) that accept 1080p/60 and 1080p/24, as well as two component video and one PC input. A single RF input grants you access to the internal ATSC/NTSC/Clear-QAM tuners. Optical digital and stereo analog audio outputs are available to send HDTV audio to an outboard A/V receiver. There’s no program guide, but PIP functionality is here, with the option for window or side-by-side viewing. Sadly, the PIP implementation is clunky at best, requiring too many steps to turn it on, change channels and adjust audio.
On the LN52A750’s left side panel, you’ll find a USB 2.0 port that allows you to access music, movies and photos stored on a jump drive or another USB device. This function, called WiseLink Pro, offers more advanced sorting and viewing options than you get with many TV media apps, and compatible formats include JPEG, MP3, MPEG2 and MPEG4. You can also update the TV’s firmware using this port. While USB is nice, the LN52A750’s marquee connection is its Ethernet port. Connect the TV to your cable/DSL modem or router, and you can quickly access RSS feeds for news, weather and stocks. A handy Info.L button on the remote launches the RSS menu. The main menu hangs over the top left corner of the screen, while the sub-menus for news, stocks and weather sit in the other three corners. You can view daily or weekly weather forecasts for your zip code, pick your favorite stocks to display and tailor the news to such areas as politics, sports, or money. Using the Ethernet port and the supplied PC Share Manager software (for Windows XP or Vista), you can also add the LN52A750 to your home network and stream movies, music and photos from a PC or any DLNA-compliant media server. If you prefer to wirelessly connect to your home network, you can attach an optional Wi-Fi adapter via the USB port.
The Series 7 LCDs also have internal flash memory and come preloaded with entertainment content, located in the Content Library under the Applications menu. It’s an odd hodgepodge of content, including a photo gallery, a recipes gallery, games, a fitness section and a children’s area that includes stories, songs and games. Frankly, I found all of this content to be of the throwaway variety. I’d like to think that future firmware updates might make this Content Library a more meaningful application by adding the ability to rent or buy media via the network connection, or perhaps Samsung will announce deals with media outlets to make free content available. But that’s just speculation at this point. If the Content Library and the WiseLink Pro USB port don’t interest you, consider the step-down LN52A650 ($2,999.99), which lacks these features but should otherwise offer the same performance.
The features don’t stop with the connection panel. Samsung has included just about every picture control you could want. In addition to expected offerings like preset picture modes (dynamic, standard and movie), an adjustable backlight, five color-temperature options and digital noise reduction, the LN52A750 offers white-balance controls, flesh tone and gamma adjustments, and multiple color spaces with the ability to precisely tweak all six color points. You can configure each picture mode differently for each input. With the movie mode as my foundation and the Video Essentials DVD (DVD International) as my guide, I found that I didn’t need to make many adjustments to enjoy a very pleasing picture. The default gamma setting of zero produced below-average black detail, so I turned this setting up to +2 or +3 (its maximum). The movie mode defaults to the warm 2 color temperature, which proved closest to the accurate 6,500 Kelvin. I never felt the need to move out of the default auto color space, as colors looked very natural. The picture menu also includes set-up parameters for Samsung’s Auto Motion Plus 120Hz technology; the options are off, low, mid, and high, and I experimented with all of them. We’ll discuss performance specifics in the next section. On the audio side, the LN52A750 offers five sound modes, with an equalization feature to fine-tune various frequencies. SRS TruSurround XT processing is available, as is an Auto Volume function that equalizes the level between TV shows and commercials. The Series 7 is Samsung’s only new LCD line to incorporate an internal woofer, which effectively produces a fuller audio experience than I’ve heard from most other flat panels I’ve reviewed.
This year’s models add three entertainment modes that offer fixed video and audio settings designed to suit the type of entertainment (sports, cinema or games) that you’ve selected. When you enable an entertainment mode, it locks most of the video and audio parameters at preset levels. The cinema entertainment presets are slightly different from those of the basic movie picture mode; it’s still a solid choice that might please the average viewer, but it’s a shame to lose access to all those great set-up parameters (especially the adjustable backlight) that Samsung has so kindly included. I therefore opted to keep these modes off and use my own settings instead.
The LN52A750 has six aspect ratios, including a Just Scan mode that displays 1080i/1080p sources with zero overscan. You can also resize 4:3-shaped sources that have been incorrectly stretched across the screen on an HD channel like TNT or TBS. An Energy Savings mode is available that reduces the TV’s brightness and thus its power consumption; if you’ve already set the TV’s adjustable backlight to zero, the Energy Savings options won’t reduce brightness further. The auto Energy Savings mode slightly improves the black level, but it also causes the picture’s brightness to noticeably fluctuate, which I found distracting.