Samsung UE46D7000 £1700
8th Mar 2011 | 16:24
Superb 3D TV with groundbreaking online capability
Samsung UE46D7000: Overview
Samsung's UE46D7000 is a poster boy for a new generation of TVs. There's hardly anything about this 46-inch set that isn't cutting edge and it sets the bar dizzyingly high for others to follow.
Its design is stunning, thanks to a physics-defyingly skinny, mostly transparent bezel that appears arguably even more 'invisible' than the slightly more slender – but also more metallic-looking – frame sported by the UE55D8000.
Samsung's radically advanced new online system is informed by a true 'apps' approach and joins with a terrific new content management menu system to deliver the UK's first genuinely 'smart' TVs.
The UE46D7000 is an authentic second-generation 3D TV, raising all sorts of questions over how much it might improve over Samsung's first 3D screens, and what sort of standard it will set for rivals such as LG's forthcoming passive TVs and the next wave of 3D plasmas.
There's no significant feature difference between the D7000 and D8000 series; the different model numbers merely describe the aesthetic differences in the bezel.
For a significant step-down in price you're looking at the 6 Series LED models, with slightly larger bezels and a feature 'split' that finds the D6100s having fewer online features than the 6530 models.
Samsung UE46D7000: Features
Samsung has pulled out every last stop with the UE46D7000. The stunning, all-but-invisible screen surround has a potential benefit when watching 3D as having a defined border around a three-dimensional picture can subtly reduce its impact.
The UE46D7000 sticks out a bit more round the back than last year's C series, but unless you happen to live in some over-designed pad where your TV might, for whatever reason, be plonked in the middle of your room, it surely makes more sense to have a trim bezel that you can see rather than a trim rear that you can't.
The set's slightly deeper rear also has the advantage of enabling you to attach more cables without needing adaptors than was possible with last year's über-slim Samsung models. It's quite a set of connections, too. Four HDMIs and three USBs lead the way, with good support coming from a LAN jack and, best of all, built-in Wi-Fi. There's no need here for one of those silly USB dongles so common among last year's online TVs.
The only connections you'll still need to use (provided) adaptors for are the Scart and component options.
The UE46D7000's feature count is truly prodigious. Its contrast ratio is apparently so vast as to defy meaningful measurement, while motion is rated at '800CMR' based around Samsung's self-styled Clear Motion Rate. This means that the TV should be able to remove pretty much all traces of judder and blur, even when viewing 3D, via the set's highly flexible motion processing tools.
As usual with such tweaks, you have to handle them with care. But the key point is that Samsung has made such care possible by not only including a varied suite of motion processing presets (including our preferred Clear mode) but also enabling you to fine-tune the weight of the processing elements as applied separately to judder and blur.
There's also an interesting Motion Lighting feature that's new to Samsung this year, where the TV adjusts the brightness of its pictures in response to their motion content. Anyone who puts picture quality above environmental concerns will probably want to avoid this, along with numerous other green features, including a system for automatically adjusting the picture to suit ambient light conditions. If you're a planet-first kind of person, however, the UE46D7000 has plenty of tricks to keep your conscience clear.
The backlight's LEDs, for example, are down the sides, rather than along the top and bottom, of the screen, cutting the number of diodes, and therefore reducing the amount of power required to illuminate the display.
People serious about calibrating their TVs should feel reasonably content with the amount of adjustments on offer. Highlights include a decently flexible colour management system, a 10-point white balance adjustment, both digital and MPEG noise filters, shadow detail and gamma adjustment and the options to turn off or adjust the strength of both black tone and dynamic contrast processors.
The latter of these is probably best turned off, or at least not set higher than Low, as it can cause the picture's overall brightness level to jump too obviously for comfort. In fact, setting the TV up to its best advantage is rather hampered by the fact that a number of the tools Samsung provides can make pictures look worse rather than better. The edge enhancement tool, for instance, makes pictures look gritty and forced and Motion Plus can generate processing artefacts if set too high.
From this it's debatable if some of the UE46D7000's features are really worth including, but Samsung would doubtless argue – with some justification – that it's just trying to cater for all the potential tastes out there.
There's another important menu in this TV. Smart Hub is accessed via a dedicated button on the remote and is a brand new 'jumping off' screen to what turns out to be pretty much every possible source for the TV, including the normal (Freeview and Freesat HD) tuners; video, photo and music content stored on USB sticks; the numerous apps now available via Samsung's new app store; open internet access via a built-in browser and Samsung's new dedicated 'video browser'.
This latter feature includes an Internet Movie Database-style service that enables you to look up facts on favourite films, recommend films to friends, and even search either Samsung's 'local' online services or the internet at large for downloadable versions of films you want to watch.
The 'Universal search' tool on the main Smart Hub page is genuinely revolutionary, tying you to the wider world in a way no previous TV has managed.
As for the apps support, at the time of writing there were 37 for you to choose from, all of them free. But doubtless more, including some you have to pay for, will appear soon, especially as Samsung's code for designing apps has now been made available to anyone who wants a go (though bear in mind that you still have to run the fruits of your app-design labours through Samsung's quality control department before it will be allowed to go 'live').
Among the most useful apps available at the time of writing were LoveFilm, AceTrax, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Skype and Picasa and the BBC iPlayer is scheduled to be up and running by the time the TV hits the stores.
As anyone familiar with Smart Phones will realise, by no means all of the apps available from Samsung's app store will be worth troubling yourself with. The games currently on offer, in particular, are very half-baked, but of course, it only takes a handful of gems to make the whole 'Smart' apps approach to content seem like the coolest thing since sliced bread.
All in all, the almost ruthless efficiency of the Smart Hub screen together with the extent of the 'Smart' services on offer combine to make the UE46D7000 feel more revolutionary then merely evolutionary.
Turning finally to the UE46D7000's 3D features, Samsung has provided quite a striking selection of tools for you to play with. For instance, you can choose to convert 2D content into 3D, choose between manual and auto settings for the '3D Effect', choose to have the TV automatically switch to 3D playback if it detects a 3D input (including Sky's side by side system) and use a 3D Optimisation tool for subtly shifting the image's depth and sharpness.
Samsung UE46D7000: Picture quality
Images are phenomenally punchy and dynamic, with edge LED's talents for brightness and rich colour saturations used to maxium impact.
For a really convincing all-round image, you need a good black level response and it's here that the UE46D7000 really makes its mark with black levels that are outstanding by edge LED – and CCFL – standards.
What's even more impressive about this is the fact that the black level remains quite consistent right across the screen. There are some minor bits of extra brightness in the image's corners – more so than there were on the 55D8000 – but they're so muted and infrequent as to be insignificant.
More good news concerns the tone and subtlety of the 46D7000's colours. After a little calibration, the set combines its exceptional vibrancy with a superbly expansive palette complete with outstandingly refined blends.
Skin tones, in particular, are much improved over anything seen from Samsung before on an LCD TV.
Hi-def footage is jaw-droppingly detailed. Without any of the set's sharpness-boosting processors in action (you should turn them off, as they can make images look unnecessarily noisy) the purity and snap of HD pictures is a sight to behold.
Not that it only looks good with HD, though: it's also unusually capable when it comes to upscaling standard-definition images, making all but the poorest quality sources look detailed and crisp while also ensuring that neither MPEG nor other source noise are emphasised.
Contributing to the overwhelming sense of sharpness of the UE46D7000's images is the set's excellent motion handling. Samsung's improvements in this area have been steady but constant over the past two or three years and its clear that the Korean brand is getting a real handle on how to keep the native response time of its LCD screens low. The motion processing also seems marginally improved, compared to last year's models, provided you're careful how and when you employ it.
The UE46D7000's general picture improvements extend to its 3D playback. A selection of material, from Liverpool vs Man Utd football match on Sky through to Monsters Vs Aliens and Avatar on Blu-ray, all looked way better than on Samsung's 2010 3D models. In fact, 3D sources look better than on any other LCD TV seen to date.
The reduction in brightness and colour intensity caused by popping on Samsung's Bluetooth-driven 3D glasses is startlingly slight compared with the hefty drop-off in these areas witnessed with recent Sony LCD and Panasonic plasma 3D sets.
This improved brightness and colour response delivers a greater sense of depth, space and detail to full HD 3D sources, too. So much so that the 46D7000's 3D images really do live up to the notion that they're ushering in a new generation.
For all their stunning impact and striking quality, though, the 46D7000's pictures aren't quite perfect. For a start, contrast and colour saturations drop off markedly if you have to watch the screen from an angle of much more than around 30°. Next, 3D pictures still suffer from traces of crosstalk, though it must be stressed that this is far less prevalent than on Samsung's previous screen generations.
Indeed, the set suffers from less crosstalk than any other LCD 3D TV yet, to the point where untrained eyes may struggle to notice it at all. It's just the 3D plasma models out there that still have the edge where crosstalk is concerned.
Another very faint issue – with 2D as well as 3D pictures – is a tiny reduction in brightness over the central third of the picture, but this only appears where you have a 'wash' of a single colour over most of the screen, and is in any case so subtle that it's hardly worth mentioning.
Samsung UE46D7000: Sound, value and ease of use
For so many years audio has been the Achilles' Heel of otherwise excellent Samsung flat TVs, but the UE46D7000 sounds surprisingly good.
There's much more raw power and a wider dynamic range than before, meaning the set can deliver a sense of expansion when shifting up a few gears for action scenes and retain clarity, especially with dialogue, when pushed hard. There's even more than a hint of bass in the sound mix, which is all the more remarkable when you remember how slim that bezel is.
Although £1,700 is quite expensive in the context of 46-inch sets in general, by the time you've tallied up its mind-blowing design, massive feature count, groundbreaking 'smart' functions, 3D capabilities and, most importantly of all, terrific picture quality, suddenly it starts to look surprisingly fair value.
Ease of use
Firing up the UE46D7000's onscreen menus immediately reveals a revamped look to things, with much greater use of graphics and a very much appreciated 'interactive' onscreen instruction manual that shows you a brief description of what each feature in the menus does, as and when you select it.
Some of these descriptions are a little too brief for comfort, but overall it's a system of which Samsung should be proud that sets an example for other brands to follow.
Then, of course, there's the Smart Hub. The amount of content this new 'jumping off' menu puts instantly at your disposal is superb, making full use of the screen's full HD resolution to present its many icons and sections clearly and logically. This, surely, is a first glimpse of how the TVs of the future will have to organise their sources.
The other onscreen menus aren't perfect, though, thanks to some general organisational issues. Particularly flawed is the use of separate Advanced Settings and Picture Options submenus within the main Picture menu, when it would have been easier to have all the features spread over these two menus tucked into one (though to be fair, when you highlight a sub-menu you do get a list of the options that submenu contains).
There are also an awful lot of features for you to get your head round, some of which can make picture quality worse if you don't know what you're doing with them.
The basic remote control, meanwhile, is adequate. It lacks the glamorous looks of the main TV, but its layout is reasonably intuitive and its buttons are responsive. If you're after something a little more swish, you can purchase an optional remote control with a full-colour touchscreen interface.
In some ways, this works superbly; its keyboard is certainly superior to the buttons on the standard zapper and it is very effective at navigating the Smart Hub. However, it also makes achieving some really very basic functions feel frustratingly complicated.
Samsung UE46D7000: Verdict
The UE46D7000 gets your attention right from the off. Its bezel-free design is remarkable, the connections are generous and the newly designed onscreen menus, complete with impressive onscreen and interactive instructions manual, are a breeze to use.
There are more features than you'll probably ever even tinker with among these onscreen menus, some of them extremely useful, others less obviously so.
The Smart Hub, from where you can leap simply off to absolutely any of the many sources the TV makes available, from its USB and PC inputs to its online services and apps, is inspired and sets the general template for all future TVs.
With so many cutting-edge features to compete with, it wouldn't have been too surprising if the UE46D7000's pictures hadn't stood out that much, but actually, they are the star of the show, thanks to their hugely impressive contrast, colours, sharpness, clarity, and black level response, even when watching 3D.
The bezel-free design is awesome, the set's connections are pretty much perfect, its got almost too many features for its own good, its Smart Hub home page idea is terrific, its online service delivers a previously unheralded level of usefulness, its 3D pictures are the best yet seen from an LCD TV and its 2D pictures are superb.
The UE46D8000's effective viewing angle is rather limited and there are minor traces of backlight inconsistency. There are also some small crosstalk artefacts with 3D playback, and some of the features on offer need to be used with care or they can reduce the overall picture quality.
The UE46D7000 joins the UE55D8000 in ensuring that Samsung's opening salvo in 2011's likely mighty TV 'war' hits its target in no uncertain terms.
Its design is unlikely to be topped by any other sets 2011 has to hold. Its connectivity is unlikely to be topped by any other 2011 TVs. Its feature count, as dominated by its Smart Hub and huge online features, might well not be topped by any other sets this year.
Its picture and sound quality are perhaps less safe from the incoming assault of other brands; it will be interesting to see how Panasonic's new high-spec plasmas and Philips' next-gen LED TVs shape up.
But do not for a minute take this as a sign of weakness in the UE46D7000's performance.
It's a big improvement over 2010's already impressive C series models, especially where 3D playback and sound quality are concerned, and its 2D pictures are huge crowd pleasers.
All in all, it's a truly stellar package.
Follow TechRadar Reviews on Twitter: http://twitter.com/techradarreview