Samsung LE40B650 television review

The UK’s most popular brand of flat telly looks set to carry on its success if this entry-level LCD TV is anything to go by.

The LE40B650 is so good it’s tempting to suggest that the makers of plasma TVs and even new-fangled LED LCD TVs (of which Samsung is a major proponent) should all give up and go home.

And this sleek black (and slightly red-tinted) 40-incher doesn’t even cost a grand. Considering its sheer quality with high definition pictures, not to mention its wondrous networking abilities, this bound-to-be-discounted model could be steal of the year in a few months.

Finding itself in the middle of Samsung’s brand new Series 6 of LCD TVs, the LE40B650 has some top tech inside. Some, like its built-in "Contents TV" roster of pre-loaded entertainment are bordering on frippery. Comprising step-by-step recipes (Rare Gingered Duck, anyone?), children’s stories, 15 screensaver-style paintings (Monet, Van Gogh, etc.), relaxation "wellness" videos set to music and even a basic Tetris/Asteroids-style game, Contents TV is presented here in its second generation.

It’s actually much better than on last year’s LE40A856S1W. The music used is not as bland and there’s a more European feel in the way everything is presented, while there’s now an option to add to the library. Samsung is promising regular updates via its website (simply download to a USB memory stick) and existing content can be deleted from its 200MB internal memory.

More impressive is the LE40B650’s Internet@TV platform, which is essentially a closed Yahoo-based information service. Relying on an Ethernet connection to a broadband router (a wireless dongle is also available from Samsung), Internet@TV uses a taskbar of widgets – news headlines, access to Flickr photos and YouTube streaming.

There’s an option to sign-in to a Yahoo account, so we presume that basic emailing could soon be possible. Though the reliance on a Yahoo-centric platform does severely limit the chance of this feature becoming a major selling point, it’s better than rival applications found on other TVs.

More impressive is the LE40B650’s streaming abilities. Its Media Player can fetch JPEGs and MP3s from a USB stick or an external hard drive attached to one of the TV’s side-mounted USB inputs. The latter is a rare and welcome feature and sets-up the possibility of storing a huge library of digital media on a hard drive amongst your home entertainment set-up. It’s a shame about its lack of video file support, though the LE40B650’s DLNA-compliant streamer can fetch DivX video files and even rarer formats such as MKV from a PC (but not a Mac) on the same home network. Loading times are slow, and the otherwise reasonably designed remote control can get annoying.

Perhaps that’s the price you pay for such an information-loaded TV, but its picture-centric features don’t bring similar complications.
Step forward its Crystal FHD Engine, a new addition to Samsung’s LCD TVs for 2009, which should be the real reason for buying this multimedia TV.

LCD TVs generally have two problems: image lag and judder, and poor contrast that see black represented as a dark grey mush. The LE40B650 has no issue with contrast – it’s quite simply the best LCD TV we’ve seen of late at showing deep, rich black levels. Added to impressive clarity, this lends depth and realism as well as helping bolden this set’s colours.

Image lag is dealt a fatal blow by the LE40B650’s 100Hz Motion Plus system. Retaining Full HD detail in moving images is something most LCD TV’s struggle with, but not here. You can choose how hard this feature works, but set to "clear" it makes images smooth and gets rid of the judder often found in Blu-ray discs.

It doesn’t work quite as well on Xbox 360 games in our test, in which we did notice some blur, while Freeview pictures are also something of a letdown. Add to that some underwhelming audio from its built-in speakers and there are three reasons not to buy the LE40B650.

But this is such a ground-breaking set in so many other ways that we’d advise anyone after a screen that excels with high-def to check it out.

Verdict

With the LE40B650 Samsung continues to change our expectations from a LCD TV. Last year it was the "rose black" design and primitive internet and streaming feature adding value. Now, with much improved picture quality added to the mix, the LE40B650 renders the old plasma vs. LCD issue virtually redundant. Now that’s progress.