It’s the first of Samsung’s autumn 2008 line that we’ve been able to test, but the LE46A856 has been a highly-anticipated model whose specification includes an impressive list of features: Full HD screen, built-in digital tuner that’ s also HD compatible, great style and an Internet connection.
Build Quality and Design
The LE46A856 has the same finishing as some earlier Samsung models, with a red tinge to its plexiglass frame. Here though, the frame itself is more solid, and now rests on a rotating base.
Given that the panel itself is very thin, you’re faced with a very slim model indeed when you sit down in front of it, and it looks very stylish.
As the screen is glossy, rather than matt, though, it’s very prone to reflections, so if you want to get the most out of this television, you’ll have to use it in a room where you can control the lighting.
This shouldn’t prove too much of a burden for Home Cinema lovers, but turning the lights off and drawing the curtains just to watch the news might become a bit of a chore …
Look out for reflections on the screen and the frame …
Apparently, two remote controls ship with this TV.
The first is perfectly average, and the fact that it’s back lit just about compensates for the confusing layout of the buttons.
The second, meanwhile, a minimalist little number with a cut-down set of options, can change turn the TV on and off, choose a channel or adjust the volume.
Unfortunately, the model Samsung sent us to test didn’t include the mini remote, so we didn’t get a chance to try it out.
Because the panel is so thin, all of its ports are grouped together at the back rather than down the side.
If you want to fix it on the wall, you’ll need to be careful to ensure enough room for the cables, and, in particular, plugs. Thinking about it, it’s probably about time that somebody invented L-shaped connectors for things like SCART …
You’ll find all of the usual suspects on the back (composite, S-VIDEO, RGB, SCART, audio) as well as some more interesting inputs and outputs.
An optical output and four HDMI ports are also available, while Ethernet and USB connect this TV’s impressive connectivity. There’s more about these two below and in the box on the right.
One thing that’s worth pointing out, however, is that not all of these ports necessarily perform perfectly.
During our tests, the HDMI ports in particular sometimes took a few seconds to pick up the signal emitted by our source, a Blu-ray DVD player. It took us two attempts to confirm that the TV was reading the 24p signal from the source; the first time, the TV reacted too slowly and didn’t activate 24p mode in time, causing the DVD player to fall back to standard mode.
The Ethernet connection gives access to online content
The first thing we noticed when we switched this TV on was that the old menu system, found on all of the existing Samsung models, has finally been updated.
OK, so it’s hardly a revolution, and Samsung aren’t really the first to use transparency as a visual effect, but a more sensible organization makes adjusting the settings a lot easier.
A few settings that fell under the ‘Advanced’ menu have been removed, but that’s no great loss as they contributed very little to the quality of the image, even for the few viewers who understood how to use them. Just moving around the menus now seems quicker and more intuitive.
At last, a new look for Samsung’s menus
Our first lab tests using the TV’s factory settings gave decent results, but, as is so often the case, give a very limited idea of what this machine is actually capable of.
Switching to Cinema mode gets the best out of the LE46A856, with deep, convincing blacks and balanced colors that match the CIE chat. The gamma curve stable at around 2.2, the average deltaE score comes close to 3, and the color temperature is proportional at 6500K.
Based on these results, you might be tempted to say that this is a statistically perfect screen, especially given that it rates black at precisely 0 cd/m².
We’re not as easy to fool as that though, and such an absolute level of blackness leads us to suggest that some kind of subtle dynamic contrast feature remains active even when it is explicitly deactivated via the menus.
Further tests revealed this to be the case: although some parts of the screen do indeed reach the magic figure, the contrast is different across the whole of the panel.
On a mostly dark image, the brightness of the image falls to allow for a genuine absolute black, but also affects the strength of whites as it does so.
Showing a lighter image, lighting returns to about the same level, and black measures between 0.6 and 0.8 cd/m², a range which suggests an actual contrast ratio of between 2100:1 and 3200:1.
What’s great about this always-on system is that it doesn’t skew the gamma curve, unlike on some TVs from Philips, for example.
But guess what happens if you turn the ‘official’ dynamic contrast back on using the menus?
The brightness is completely altered, disrupting the gamma curve and making the image horribly artificial.
The LE46A866′s scores for color, gamma and color temperature are all very strong.
At first glance, the image quality is good if not excellent. A brilliant contrast, very natural colors and sharp pictures are all very pleasing to the eye.
Activating the Motion Plus 100 Hz modes cranks up the response time, and with it turned off, only a very small amount of afterglow is present but does not present a nuisance.
Activating this setting doesn’t affect the fluidity of moving images, as long as you don’t set it higher than ‘Medium’, above which there is a noticeable change.
As for this varying brightness, we certainly noticed during a sudden change from a particularly dark shot to a particularly light one or vice versa. It’s not an annoying effect, but it’s certainly there.
If you’re really passionate about your video, you’ll want to check out a demo before you buy.
We personally think it’s a price worth paying to ensure exceptional quality blacks the rest of the time.
Even though whites can’t shine through at more than 50 cd/m² in dark scenes thanks to the lower lighting, they are still very present by nature of the very fact that they stand out against the background.
The TV performs much less well with Standard Definition images.
Images lose none of their quality, but the upscale is far from brilliant, with the Playstation 3 clearly beating it.
You need to get about 3 meters away from this 46” before the defects introduced by upscaling become apparent.
That far away, though, the viewing angle is wide enough to include six people who won’t be affected by the loss of quality produced by the enlargement process.
The lower-case characters, and the ^ in particular show how much better the PS3 is at upscaling.
To talk briefly about the sound, you should know that it is less than brilliant. With little bass and no midtones, it sounds muffles and is a long way behind the quality of the image and certainly well below average for this class of TV.
Reading external files
Finally, the last thing that we looked was the WiseLink feature, which allows files to be read form a USB storage device, such as a pen drive, or, more realistically, an external hard drive. It gives access to audio and video files, as well as photos via a custom interface controlled by the remote.
Plugging in a USB key, we could access MP3s and JPEG photos very easily, so we then tried watching some videos.
We couldn’t test out every single format, given the wide variety that the TV’s specification claims to support, but here’s what we found with those we did try:
- VOB files – the TV could only handle this MPEG-2 file, ripped from a DVD, with a little coaxing. The decoding was a little slow, and it was impossible to adjust the aspect ratio of the image. Anamorphic images, which are found on most DVDs, will, therefore, show up with a stretched image. Some VOB files wouldn’t work at all due to a problem with the audio codec that we didn’t manage to solve.
- DIVX files — Absolutely flawless in Standard Definition, but absolutely impossible in HD. Despite our best efforts, we only ever saw a ‘resolution not supported‘ error message.
- MKV and TS files in H.264 — trying to read these over USB was our biggest headache with this TV. When it was formatted as NTFS, our hard drive wasn’t recognized. Reformatting it as FAT32 solved that problem, but created another, because the maximum file size allowed is 4 GB. This just won’t do for a HD movie in this format as even the smallest are usually around 4.5 GB, while the largest can be 10 GB. To get round this, we used a DLNA connection to a computer which was running TVersity, multimedia server. Even then, the TV would have nothing to do with the MKV file. An M2TS file renamed as an MPEG to work with TVersity started well, showing that the TV can, in theory, handle decoding H.264. Unfortunately, the sound was handled was very ropey, and, what’s worse, every film we tried crashed after about five or ten minutes
It seems we’re still a long way away from using TVs to manage large video libraries, but this TV is a good first attempt and opens the door to more work on getting rid of separate external devices for decoding different formats.