Samsung LE37A616 £900
10th Feb 2009 | 09:30
A beautiful and impeccably specified, full HD star
Seductively decked out in darkest red, Samsung's latest 37in TV certainly has the looks. And, with top-grade specs and features galore, the LE37A616A3F looks like it may also have the brains to match.
Its 1080p status constitutes a big, fat tick at the top of most lists of videophile criteria, and this is backed up with the very latest version of Samsung's image 'engine', DNIe Pro, making it – on paper at any rate – one of the most formidably equipped flatscreens on the market.
Lots of ports
There's a trio of full-spec HDMIs, every other AV socket you'll need, as well as an optical output to send digital audio to external amplification and a USB port for photos.
You'll also find Anynet+ for operating additional Samsung kit using just the one remote, digital and analogue tuners and more audio/visual adjustment options than most folk will ever need.
Picture tweak heaven
Graphics are clear, logically laid out and attractively shaded. The thoughtful menu architecture baby-walks you through installation and you'll arrive at a serviceable picture in no time at all.
A basic picture settings menu covers all the major bases and will probably be enough for most people. Those prepared to delve a little deeper, though, will be rewarded by a mind-boggling set of image-enhancing tools, the potential of which is limited only by the time you have and the sensitivity of your eyes to minute differences in video quality.
You can muck about with tint, flesh tones and edge definition, switch various motion smoothing or noise-reducing circuits on or off... there's even a 'Blue Only' mode that removes the red and green elements of what you can see in order to help you optimise the tonal palette of each video input against a colour bar without having to use an additional blue filter.
The remote, meanwhile, is a paragon of user-friendless: its large, clearly labelled buttons operate with a satisfying precision, there are 'hot keys' for toggling sound and picture modes quickly and it's even backlit.
Not afraid of Freeview
This is a set with sophisticated taste, but it's not above getting its hands dirty with grubby old Freeview. Digital broadcasts usually suffer terribly on high-spec screens where the scaling circuitry is geared to enabling hi-def video to excel, rather than rescuing lower-grade stuff.
This is true to an extent with the Samsung, with digital TV clearly operating at the outer limit of its capabilities at 37in, but it's nowhere near as messy as plenty of smaller LCDs. TV broadcasts also give a foretaste of the colour palette that will go on to be deployed to such effect with DVD and HD video.
It's accurate and realistic, rather than eyeball-blisteringly intense, so that the daylit, earthy tones of What the Romans Did For Us precipitated a vivid flash-back to school trips spent plodding around damp, English countryside trying to extrapolate ancient communities from muddy masonry.
The set's strengths really come to the fore with movie discs, although it's the clarity, rather than the excellent colours, that grab you first. DVD discs could easily pass for Blu-ray on the LE37A616, with our copy of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor acquiring that almost uncannily realistic gloss that we've come to associate with HD.
This, combined with the bang-on palette, breathes new life into the most familiar movies and makes for a wholly engrossing experience. Actual high-definition is, inevitably, even better, but it's the performance with DVDs that is really intriguing. It's an LCD, so the usual minus points of motion blur and blacks failing to hit the depths plumbed by plasma apply, but to a lesser degree than on most liquid crystal sets.
That there is any sound at all seems remarkable, given the bewildering absence of any evidence of the speakers themselves. Wherever it's coming from, though, there is way more power than seems feasible and the soundfield is adequately three-dimensional.
Which is not to say that the 'surround' modes add anything particularly useful; instead the sound is airy and absorbing, rather than being compressed and all-too-obviously locked to the TV frame. The bass is hardly going to shatter your plaster. Pictures as good as these really should be accompanied by a proper 5.1-channel system.
Nine hundred smackers is hardly peanuts, but we'd be surprised if you couldn't find it for a few bob less if you shop around, and it's still less than some manufacturers are asking for their top-line 32in models. With that in mind, we'd say that the LE37A616 is, in just about every respect, bang on the money.