|Samsung HL-S6187W 61-Inch DLP HDTV|
|Home Theater Rear-Projection HDTVs DLP Rear-Projection HDTVs|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Wednesday, 01 November 2006|
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So, you want a big screen experience in your home, but a 50-inch plasma won’t quite cut it and you don’t have the Benjamins for something bigger. To make matters worse, your room isn’t quite suited for front projection, or you can’t justify to your significant other why heavy blackout drapes or gray walls is a good idea. What is one to do? Get yourself a rear-projection DLP, that’s what you do. Rear projection DLP HDTVs offer most, if not all, of the features of their plasma and projection brethren with fewer drawbacks and lower prices. Rear projection DLPs come in a wide range of sizes, from 40 inches on up and, thanks to the wizards over at Texas Instruments, they’re shallower than ever, with an average depth around 15 inches, making them easier to place in and about the home. To top it off, rear-projection DLP TVs are way cheaper than their plasma or projection counterparts, save a few manufacturers, giving consumers more of that bang for their bucks.
Take for instance the DLP TV in question for this review, the Samsung HL-S6187W 1080p-capable HDTV. It retails for a mere $2,999, which for a 61-inch HD anything is quite a bargain. Throw in the latest 1080p technology, countless video enhancements and two HDMI inputs, and the Samsung begins to sell itself. At 61 inches (diagonally), the Samsung finds itself in the larger end of the display spectrum, measuring in at 55 inches wide by 38-and-a-half inches tall and 17-and-a-half inches deep and weighing in at a surprisingly light 81 pounds. Still, don't think you can move the thing by yourself. From the front, the Samsung DLP is extremely attractive, with a glossy black finish accented by a thin silver bevel that runs along the bottom of the TV, just under the Samsung nameplate. The silver bezel isn't just a decorative feature; it's actually the opening to the TV's internal speakers, which Samsung calls their "hidden speaker" technology. Clever. Along the lower edge of the "hidden speaker" and off to the right of the TV itself are the manual controls for options such as power, channel up/down, volume and input selection. Turing my attention aft, I was welcomed by a bevy of input options. First and foremost, the Samsung DLP TV features not one but two 1080p-capable HDMI inputs, which support not only digital video signals but digital audio signals as well. For those of you still in the analog realm, there are two sets of component video inputs, as well as two S-video inputs and two composite inputs, with the third located on the side of the TV. There is an RF or coaxial input as well, which takes advantage of the Samsung's internal HDTV tuner for those connecting their antennas or cable boxes directly to the TV. There is also an RGB monitor input, allowing you to connect the Samsung to a PC and use it as your computer monitor. Getting back to its inputs, the Samsung has a full complement of RCA audio ins for each of its video inputs, as well as an optical audio out and a single USB input with a photo viewer interface located on the side of the TV.
Inside, the Samsung is packed with the latest goodies, boasting some pretty impressive specs. For starters, the Samsung has a stated resolution of 1920 by 1080, providing it with its 1080p qualifications. Tack on a reported yet hard to believe 10,000 to 1 contrast ratio for deep blacks and whiter whites, and the Samsung shows it has some muscle to flex. But the good news doesn't stop there. Inside, Samsung has included their latest version of their Cinema Smooth 1080p Light Engine, which Samsung claims results in a picture with no visible pixel structure and better low-light detail. Also, the Samsung DLP TV has the next-generation DLP chips from Texas Instruments, which claim to be more responsive than any other HDTV technology on the market today. Along with the latest from Texas Instruments, Samsung has beefed up their color wheels to be not only faster and more accurate, but quieter as well. Those of you familiar with older projection TVs or early DLP designs can probably recall just how finicky the colors could be. Samsung also employs their exclusive DNIe or Digital Natural Image Engine technology to ensure the best, most uniform picture from any source, which should all but guarantee the truest color and highest contrast while keeping digital artifacts to a minimum. Couple all of this with Samsung's Cinema Smooth 3:2 pull-down and a grip of color controls, and you should get one hell of an amazing picture.
As if this review were not already overloaded with features, I have more. My review sample did not come from Samsung, but rather from the online giant Amazon.com. Amazon.com has exploded over the years to include just about everything people could want for outfitting their lives. Even more impressive than their huge selection and low prices, Amazon.com now offers white-glove delivery services for most of their larger consumer electronic product lines. The white glove delivery isn't free, but it does have its advantages, including in-home set-up and the disposal of all boxes and packing materials, letting you get on with enjoying your purchase faster. With the TV delivered and set up in my living room system, I began the process of calibration.
First, I connected the Samsung to my reference receiver, the Denon 4806, via its HDMI monitor out. I attempted to use my Toshiba XA-1 HD DVD player with the Samsung, but due to handshake issues and other problems that have plagued the format and many first-generation players, I was unable to get the two components to "talk" to each other. To be clear, I do not blame this on the set. Many people have had success with different switchers, cables, etc. In my case, nothing I could do worked in the digital domain. So I opted for my reliable Denon 3910 universal player for standard-definition DVD playback. I dusted off my JVC D-VHS player for some high-definition action, with my Time Warner HD-DVR rounding out the list of equipment. I connected everything via Monster M series interconnects. I am regretful that I couldn’t score a matching Samsung Blu-ray player for the review. While new players are headed to market this holiday season and I am certain to invest in them, they are currently the only players to give true 1080p output.
With my Denon player, I cued up my calibration disc of choice, Digital Video Essentials. I found the Samsung's menus to be nicely designed and informative, though some of the more critical controls are buried within a barrage of sub menus making calibration a bit tedious. It's important to point out that, while I was able to ultimately achieve a rather stellar image, the Samsung's picture controls seem to affect one another more than most, which made the whole process take a little longer than expected. Yet, in less than two hours, I was ready to rock and roll.
I decided to kick things off with the HBO HD presentation of the Nicholas Cage melodrama City of Angels (Warner Bros.). Besides being a wonderful transfer, which can be problematic with slightly older films, City of Angels showed off just about everything the Samsung had to offer. For starters, the Samsung's colors were just brilliant. The warmer side of the color spectrum was rendered beautifully with punch and accurate saturation, with nary a sign of bloom. Reds were especially magical, which I find to be rather rare in today's oversaturated HD world. The Samsung's proper color balance made for very realistic and accurate skin tones. City of Angels features a lot of close-ups, especially on the less than perfect skin of Nicholas Cage, which I'm pleased and a little sad to say the Samsung rendered without restraint. It seems HD isn't good for everyone (Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz – you are next on my list). More impressive than its color rendering was the Samsung's ability to portray blacks. Blacks have been better through DLP technology than through LCD or plasma for years. However, blacks through any sort of projection system have always seemed to suffer. Well, if Nicholas Cage's black duster is any indication, the folks over at Samsung have gotten blacks pretty much figured out. The sheer level of detail and texture found within the film's darker regions was astonishing. The blacks were inky smooth, with excellent edge detail and definition, which leant a true three-dimensionality to the image. Sadly, getting the darker portions to blend with the light proved to be a bit problematic at times, causing excess breakup and patchiness. Also, when placed alongside a bright subject like direct sunlight, the black values could become grainier and “float” or become disjointed from the rest of the image’s lighter elements. Also, complex textures, like Denis Franz's plethora of pattered and tropical t-shirts, proved to be quite a task for the Samsung's internal video processing, resulting in a bit of a visual shiftiness. I have to say, though, this anomaly has just as much to do with the broadcast as it does with the television. Even so, it was present.
Next, I cued up my TiVo for ABC HD's presentation of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Disney). Right off the bat, the Samsung's edge fidelity proved to be most impressive. The sharpness only added to the sense of depth, especially through out many of the film's wider shots. Speaking of wide shots, director Gore Verbinski captures some pretty spectacular ocean vistas, which, were crystal clear through the Samsung, wonderfully detailed with true to life color and saturation. The frothy white tops of the crashing waves were free from digital artifacts, break-up and excessive noise, the latter a problem that can often plague HD sets. Once again, the blacks were sharp and plenty deep. Pirates has a number of scenes that take place in the bowels of a ship, yet I never felt as if I was locked in a closet with Samsung's seemingly limitless black detail. However, when I turned my attention toward the portholes in a few of these scenes, the image still didn't transition quite as smoothly into the light as some. Breaking away from endless scenery and beautifully rendered set pieces, I focused on the actors themselves. Unlike Nicolas Cage’s otherworldly character in City of Angels, Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow is supposed to look like 50 miles of bad Utah road. I could write a whole review on the endless amounts of information and detail I saw in Johnny's makeup design, yet it was Keira Knightley's face that caught my eye. Not only was her skin void of any sort of noise or splotchiness, it was faithfully rendered in terms of color and saturation that at times appeared to protrude out from the screen. This effect was no doubt assisted by the Samsung's excellent sharpness and detail retrieval, but it was also the result of the projection aspect of the set itself. More so than plasma, rear-projection images appear to pop out in space in a darkened room due to the screen material and often thinner frames, creating a more realistic movie theater feel. If you're going for that megaplex look on a smaller scale, the Samsung may just be the answer.
I ended my time with the Samsung DLP with the best HD demo I could muster, Fight Club (20th Century Fox) on D-VHS. This time around, I couldn't blame anything on the broadcast or bandwidth. This was pure HD, baby. I bypassed my Denon receiver and connected my JVC D-VHS player straight to the Samsung via a set of Transparent Reference component cables. Director David Fincher's crossed, processed visuals can wreak havoc with a number of today's best HD sets. For starters, in terms of ultimate black levels, Fight Club is the best. Through the Samsung, black levels were not robbed of even an ounce of their punch. They were textured, vivid and, above all, deep. In a pitch-black room, portions of the screen appeared to be black holes, sucking in light and not letting go. However, the Samsung was still a bit noisy coming out of darkness towards the light. Once again, this meeting of deep blacks and light proved to make the Samsung a little finicky, causing the image to "clump" a bit. Another thing that I noticed with Fight Club was that the Samsung tended to succumb to showing slight motion artifacts or "jaggies" during the film's many rapid pans. It was minor but present. Moving beyond these issues, the Samsung's way with color was magnificent. Even the slightly metallic and muted color pallet of Fight Club looked brilliant. Every color was held firmly in check, with zero signs of blooming, even against absolute white. Speaking of whites, the Samsung presented them beautifully. Normally HD sets go about providing whites in two ways, either with excess noise or with excess brightness, causing you to squint or simply look away. I'm happy that the Samsung doesn't fall into these categories. Overall, Fight Club was the best demonstration of the Samsung's strengths and weaknesses. Beautiful colors, endless detail, wonderful black levels all help give the Samsung one hell of an amazing image, and go a long way toward helping the viewer look past its faults.
The burning question still left to be discussed is, how does this Samsung HL-S6187W do with standard-definition broadcasts, which still sadly make up the vast majority of your broadcasting day? The simple answer is, despite internal video processors that scale all sources ranging from 480i to 480p to 720p to 1080i up to 1080p, the standard-definition picture is lackluster, just as you will find with nearly all of the HDTVs this set competes with in the marketplace today. The internal processor just isn’t up to the challenge of taking low-quality, distorted, squished video and making it look like HDNet or Sunday Night Football. But is all lost? Not at all. There are a new crop of video scalers on the market that can take crappy-looking SD images, even from sources like a DVD player or the progressive output of a cable box, and nicely upconvert them to 1080p. The new DVDO VP50 comes to mind, but it will cost the majority of the purchase price of the set. Nevertheless, it is a reasonable upgrade path for those who want to get their SD looking more like their beaming HD.