New LCD TV

2010-08-08

Recently, I've upgraded my television to a Samsung LE40C650, used regularly for Playstation 3 gaming, and felt I could share my views in this ramble. Long hours of research into LCD, Plasma and some LED televisions led to two highly recommended televisions. Panasonic's TX-P42G20B plasma was raved about for incredibly deep black levels, crisp picture quality and low input lag (always be careful to differentiate pixel response, always likely to be a very low number, from input lag which is essentially the time taken for the display to appear from an external source such as a DVD player or games console), but reading the negative feedback resulting from fading image quality of the predecessor, the G10, and noting the additional cost of the plasma, it eventually seemed like the wrong option. Similarly, LED TVs seemed to offer limited benefit for the greatly increased cost (the energy consumption would save as little as £10 a year if the figures were all to be believed, though people keen to hang their TV from the wall may appreciate the wafer-thin LED displays). Meanwhile, reviews for this Samsung TV were extremely positive, with only two areas of criticism: some reviewers felt the images were over processed, and many mentioned the possibility of high input lag which may affect gamers or those connecting separate video and audio output devices.

Samsung LE40C650

Having now had two weeks to test the TV, here are some comments on the two areas of criticism, and some further observations about this TV:

Input Lag

This Samsung TV does indeed suffer from uncomfortably high input lag (as do a large number of modern TVs) when all the default settings are selected. However, in the Plug and Play menu, there is an option to select Game Mode. This TV-saving feature results in no noticeable reduction in picture quality when playing games (several features, such as motion plus, are switched off to allow swifter processing, but these tend to be features that benefit regular television watching, as opposed to games which do not necessarily benefit from such additions). The input lag is reduced significantly, to the point where it is certainly no longer an issue. There may be some gamers, amassing thousands of kills in Modern Warfare 2, who might notice the lag more than I do, but as a keen gamer myself, I've noticed no issue with the lag with Game Mode on. Handily, different input selections (such as HDMI 1) remember whatever settings you select, so you do not always need to fiddle around with the settings for your current activity.

Over-processed picture

A more minor worry highlighted in some reviews was that some people may view the picture as being too heavily processed, though this one is very subjective. Initially, the ultra-smooth picture resulting from the Motion Plus settings (granting this TV the 100Hz badge, though bear in mind that the input is never likely to reach that refresh rate, so the TV is having to propagate its own information) didn't seem quite right. People seemed to be moving too quickly on screen, which was perhaps due to the increased TV size in the room. The effect was lessened with Motion Plus off, though it's actually a feature I've grown to appreciate simply because it's so smooth. Crucially, all options are highly configurable, so while the Motion Plus looks incredible for sports broadcasts, users may want to switch it off for close-up dramas or games - it's down to the user. I actually really like the picture quality and the processing applied. I found many Sony displays somewhat washed-out, but love the vibrance and colour of the Samsung.

A quick list of some favourite features:

Picture in Picture

The PIP options with the TV are pretty good, allowing you to choose a corner of the TV, and size for your PIP. Hook up an HDMI source, and it's easy to choose a channel to watch at the same time. You can also easily switch between audio sources. If you've ever found the build up to an F1 race a little slow, try playing a few games with the F1 build up in one of the corners - it's the most productive, efficient way I've ever tackled time-wasting activities.

The panel itself

Is gorgeous! It's a bit embarrassing to use that word, but it truly is. It's got a glossy, almost glassy finish, that looks absolutely superb. Reflection might seem an issue compared with the matte finish of many LCDs, but when the TV is on (equipped with flexible backlight options) there's no noticeable issue from reflection (but I guess that'll be dependent on your room setup). I'll be honest, and admit that I didn't really understand why people were worried about different panel types (apparently there is an SQ01, an AA and a B panel that can be supplied with the TV, apparently the case with many TVs, and some claimed the SQ01 was better, while others said nobody would notice the difference). One thing I can say is that, having ordered from Amazon, the panel supplied was an SQ01, leading to a snobby feeling I don't quite understand. Perhaps this information will be useful to somebody though.

Text and Guides

My previous LCD had incredibly slow teletext, and a higly-unreliable guide. However, the Samsung loads everything very quickly, and the guide is always complete and easy to access (I particularly like the option to select future programmes that the TV will then automatically switch to at the correct time). One minor point to criticise is that good old fashioned channel hopping can still be fun, and the standard pop-up in the corner (with channel number and name) doesn't display the "what's on now" title. Still, it's a minor thing, and is encouraging me to use the more-efficient guide. I've not had much need for the TV's internet connectivity, and didn't consider a major purchase incentive, however there are some handy options to have. It's worth noting that it's always going to be the hardest bit to guarantee operation, because many routers and be quite picky about what they interact with. Still, there are numerous reviews reporting people's success with a variety of video formats passed to the TV, including mkv, though several windows media types are reportedly not supported (not tested by myself).

A vast array of handy settings

The TV isn't stuck as you first find it. The factory settings are pretty amazing, to be honest, but a little online research and some trial and error will see people get even more from their sets, suited to the environment the TV inhabits. Backlight levels, black levels, motion plus, all the usual suspects (contrast, brightness etc.) and a whole host of other options are available.

Blu-rays look incredible

Though this replicates the praise about the panel it's worth noting just how good games and blu-rays look, displayed in 720p or 1080p. Black levels are mighty for an LCD (I'm not sure many of us would be able to see the difference with a decent plasma), and everything just looks stunning. Watching Star Trek on blu-ray led to multiple jaw-drop moments - it's worth buying a blu-ray player just to get even more from the TV. Meanwhile, games like Demon's Souls look even more atmospheric, and the same can be said for Rapture in Bioshock 2 - incredible stuff.

Freeview HD

The TV comes with Freeview and Freeview HD. Though there aren't a massive number of HD channels yet, the quality of BBC, ITV and CH4 HD channels is impressive, and a nice addition.

In summary

Truthfully, the right television is dependent on the intended viewers, and it's often worth checking out particular models in stores (and even asking if you can fiddle with the settings) before committing to a purchase on a place like Amazon (who, for their part of the service provided, ensured a rapid delivery and a smooth purchase). I can't fault this television and would recommend it to anybody. My final piece of advice would be to read as many reviews as possible, but to draw the line at some point. If you continue to trawl the internet, you'll always, always find somebody unhappy with a product, and making a decision about a television only gets harder with every review you read. Good luck!

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