Samsung LE40C650 £800
16th Jul 2010 | 10:00
Digital-savvy LCD TV with Freeview HD and great pictures
Samsung LE40C650: Overview
LCD TVs souped-up with LED backlights have taken over from 'normal' LCD TVs, right?
Not if this model from Samsung's Series 6 is anything to go by; packed with the brand's very latest multimedia features and online trickery, this 40-inch LCD TV sports excellent pictures and an all-round usability that helps put the ageing liquid crystal display tech back on the map.
Available for around £800 online, the LE40C650 features a Full HD panel alongside HyperReal picture processing, a Freeview HD tuner, Samsung's own Internet@TV online platform and AllShare DLNA streaming over a home network. Not bad for a 'budget' TV.
Despite that tempting haul of features, the LE40C650 is actually near the bottom of Samsung's line-up for 2010. For £200 or so more, the step-up C750 Series adds 3D compatibility and 200Hz Motion Plus, but little else, while Samsung also makes four separate ranges of LCD-LED TVs and plasmas.
Its status is further raised by its stylish appearance. Samsung claims that the LE40C650 'crystal' design 'captures the essence of natural beauty'. To describe the gloss back screen surround and transparent lip as such is overdoing it a tad, but the TV's red-tinted undercarriage and transparent desktop stand is a Samsung signature and ought to have wide appeal.
Another nice flourish is that the rear of the screen sports a metallic finish, in contrast to most brands' reliance on cheap plastic.
Samsung LE40C650: Features
The LE40C650's haul of four HDMI inputs should be plenty for most users; three are provided on the rear of the TV, with a side-panel containing the fourth. That side-panel also includes two USB 2.0 inputs, a composite video input and ports for stereo analogue audio.
The rear panel is home to a couple of RGB Scarts, a set of component video inputs, a VGA PC input, an RF aerial input and an Ethernet LAN port. Sound is taken care of by analogue stereo audio inputs, a headphone jack and an optical digital audio output.
If you're in a Freeview HD area (find out at www.freeview.co.uk), the LE40C650 can supply the three high definition channels – BBC HD, ITV 1 HD and either 4HD (England) or S4C Cirlan (Wales). If you're not, this set is also equipped with both a standard digital terrestrial tuner and an analogue version. Digital TV comes with an eight-day EPG.
Elsewhere, the LE40C650's main features centre on digital media. Its Media Play software is a joined-up interface that presents options to use digital photo, music and video files from a USB stick/hard drive (or both) or from a PC on the same broadband home network.
The USB option sees the LE40C650 read both DivX and even DivX HD video files from a USB device, though of most interest will be Samsung's beefed-up Internet@TV service.
New for 2010 are 'apps' for Lovefilm and Twitter, though the promised app for the BBC iPlayer is nowhere to be seen – yet. Samsung confirmed to us that it will appear on the home screen very soon.
Samsung LE40C650: Ease of use
Despite its multimedia skill, we're willing to bet that most buyers of the LE40C650 are after its Freeview HD tuner. Although a cinch to set-up and use, it didn't prove a very sensitive tuner during our test.
It tuned-in most channels but failed to pick-up the HD channels during the first scan. It later succeeded, but other (minor) digital TV channels didn't tune in completely and instead we were presented with a bizarre 'not for sale' message on channels it couldn't tune-in.
The set's eight-day electronic programme guide is stylishly presented with a Freeview HD logo above a small thumbnail of the current live TV channel. Alongside are programme details and a short synopsis, though the latter is only given one line – the 'info' button on the remote must be used to access the full synopsis.
With around a third of the screen's real estate already occupied, listings are set out below for just six channels over two hours, though it's possible to swap to an entire evening's schedules on a single channel.
Although the EPG can appear a little cluttered, the software is fast and responsive to commands from the remote control; changing to a different day and skipping between time periods takes place in a flash.
Press 'Content' on the remote and you're led to a screen that displays rolling icons for Internet@TV, Media Play, and AllShare (DLNA).
The latter is nicely presented and relatively reliable with music, photos and video, but as usual with DLNA offerings, Samsung's AllShare feature only worked with a PC during our test.
The wallpaper of the Media Play home screen can be swapped and files read in simple folder view as well as by title, date etc, but it's the file support and performance that really impress. Only MP3 music files and JPEG photos are played, but video is exhaustive; DivX, DivX HD (MKV), MP4, MPEG, WMV and WMV HD (pictures only, no audio) are all played quickly and spotlessly.
While playing, files can be fast-forwarded/rewound in three speeds, though presentation of file lists isn't perfect; the software displays moving thumbnails of each video file in a list, though only after you've played them, which surely defeats the object.
As a default, the Internet@TV service is powered by the set's wired Ethernet LAN port, which does mean trailing a cable to the rear of the TV from your broadband router. If that's impractical, Samsung does make a wireless dongle available. The WIS-09ABGN costs around £40-£50 and plugs directly into one of the two USB ports.
Predictive text is new to Internet@TV, as is the dedicated and busy home screen that sees clutters of icons for each service. There's a useful window for either Blu-ray or live TV, though annoyingly Internet@TV itself shuts down and returns to that source if left untouched for a minute or so.
New for 2010 is Lovefilm, Twitter, Google maps and some on-demand History Channel programmes, with other apps available for YouTube, Picassa, AccuWeather, GettyImages and USA Today. There's also a host of minor apps such as Sudoku, Quizz Master and Texas Hold 'Em.
During our test we occasionally got a 'network interference' message despite using a 10-meg broadband line, but the main problem was speed – or lack of; the remote is slow to operate the home screen and this does hamper its attractiveness. Our main issue, though, is the lack of apps for on-demand TV hubs such as BBC iPlayer or the ITV Player.
Samsung LE40C650: Picture
Out-of-the-box the LE40C650's 'movie' mode produces impressive results, but there's an exhaustive settings menu to investigate if you want colours spot-on. Selecting a parameter to change brings up an adjustment bar across the bottom of the screen. That's useful if you want to manually adjust colours, say, but not if you want to quickly change something and move on.
It might be time-consuming, but it's worth it, although the main picture-boosting technology on the LE40C650 is MotionPlus 100Hz. This frame rate-doubling tech should rid the LCD panel of its traditional blur when showing fast-moving motion. It does just that – images from a Blu-ray disc of Hancock are sharp and fresh with Motion Plus activated and fast-moving scenes don't suffer from much resolution loss.
A slow pan across a valley to Hancock lazing outside his hut shows no sign of blur or motion judder, with detail high and colours brilliant.
But a close-up of Hancock's hands reveals two of this TV's weaknesses: flicker and contrast. His hands are lit while the surroundings are dark, and the result is a black hole. As he moves his hands up his face, there's also a distinct flicker that's quite distracting.
So while the MotionPlus system does reduce blur its effect shouldn't be overstated – you'll only notice it during fast-moving scenes, and simultaneously you'll more often notice the blur replaced by flicker. Consequently, MotionPlus is best left on its mid-strength 'smooth' setting. This minimises the flicker, while retaining most of the fluidity – which in itself creates a very involving picture that, at first glance, looks stunning.
MotionPlus rids the panel of all but minor amounts of blur, while jagged edges are smooth and well rendered.
Contrast on the LE40C650 is just about acceptable, though there's not as much detail within dark areas of the image as we'd hoped for. There's no doubt that the panel is capable of producing deep blacks on its own, and in practice its 'black tone' setting (dark, darker, and darkest are available) only creates more of a 'black hole' feel.
It's also worth noting the LE40C650's 'Eco Solution' settings. This energy saving feature can be switched off, but in use can be set to low, medium and high, which obviously reduces the brightness of the panel. There's also an option to switch-off the panel altogether, which is useful while you're listening to DAB radio through the set's Freeview tuner.
Digital TV is not as sharp as it could be, but it is very clean, while both Freeview and DVD images are upscaled in a low impact manner. The results aren't exactly awe-inspiring, but it's done cleanly and without any artefacts creeping in.
Our one complaint about an otherwise endlessly tweakable approach to picture settings (professional calibrators will love the LE40C650's unusual 10p white balance feature) is that none of them feature on the remote control. MotionPlus, in particular, could do with a dedicated command on the backlit remote control, so 100Hz scanning could be toggled on and off.
Samsung LE40C650: Sound and value
Like many flat TVs, this Samsung employs various sound modes from the SRS labs. Under the SRS TheaterSound banner, presets include amplify, standard and Clear Voice.
Engage 'amplify' and it seems to lessen volume and narrow the soundscape somewhat, while Clear Voice simply increases the treble levels and almost completely removes background sound. The 'standard' setting proves the best option.
It creates a reasonably wide soundstage with decent low frequency sound and some quasi-surround effects with SRS TruSurround HD switched on. If you need it, there's another dialogue push feature called SRS TruDialog, which can be engaged simultaneously, though it appears to flatten audio and undo most of the good work.
Overall sound quality on the LE40C650 is acceptable, though that's judged against other flatscreen TVs that, as a genre, don't exactly impress. Here, sound is more powerful and nuanced than usual, though a separate sound system would be preferable.
Just as the remote lacks dedicated controls for this set's many picture settings, the same applies to audio – it could definitely do with a toggle button for SRS TruSurround HD.
Samsung has successfully augmented LCD tech to produce excellent picture quality without resorting to LED side-lighting. That helps keep the price low and has enabled Samsung to include a few nifty extras such as Internet@TV and, of course, that integrated Freeview HD tuner.
The inclusion of hi-def channels will make the LE40C650 seems a good value way of buying a bigscreen TV and perhaps ending a subscription to Sky+HD or Virgin Media V+, though to be considered a true success, Internet@TV needs to include the much-publicised app for BBC iPlayer.
Until then, the LE40C650 remains a good value, versatile LCD TV that competes well with similar mid-range screens from the likes of Sony and Panasonic.
Samsung LE40C650: Verdict
The LE40C650's lowly position in Samsung's range is misleading and proof of just how far flat TVs have come in recent times; this is a very fine flatscreen indeed.
The inclusion of support for DivX HD files – and Media Player software for USB playback – is impressive, as is this set's fast EPG for Freeview HD.
Colours and hi-def sharpness also impress, as does the giddy sense of depth and smooth movement created by the 100Hz engine.
The absence of an app for BBC iPlayer renders Internet@TV nothing more than a sideshow for now, while it's also a shame that AllShare doesn't work with a Mac.
We're also rather disappointed that the set doesn't come with a Wi-Fi dongle as standard. Picture-wise, the LE40C650 could do with more attention to contrast, though that's nit picking. More of an issue is the flicker introduced by the 100Hz scanning.
We're still not convinced consumers use internet video platforms – and even USB playback – very often, and Samsung's effort is certainly not yet a must-have.
The Freeview HD tuner didn't prove as sensitive as others we've tested, but in all other respects is an excellent presentation, enjoying fast and good-looking software that will assuage anyone coming from Sky or Virgin.
The flicker apparent when 100Hz is switched on is a worry, and though it's always noticeable it's worth persevering with while watching Blu-rays because of the involving picture it creates. There's little in the way of blur or judder and standard-definition pictures are treated well; an all-round quality performance makes the LE40C650 hard to resist.
Follow TechRadar Reviews on Twitter: http://twitter.com/techradarreview