Television design has been getting a little silly of late, what with the LG Scarlet's "love hole" and the Sony ZX1's wall-mount bracket in a fetching, scratchy piano-black that no-one will ever see, so it's refreshing to find a TV as understated as Samsung's Series 9. After all, people visit the Louvre for the pictures, not the frames.
But that's not to say that design has come last in the construction of this TV — it's actually quite a stunner, with a faux-carbon fibre finish and a clear plastic trim. While it's not as slim as the Series 8, it's certainly sturdier with a solid, non-swivelling glass stand.
Our only gripe is with the on-board controls, they are impossible to see under most lighting conditions. Unless you have a light shining directly on them — which is a no-no for television viewing — you won't be able to find them. They are of the capacitive type, but will light up when you ... erm, rub the area.
The remote is quite chunky, and with a decent smattering of friendly buttons. While controlling some of the network and streaming functions isn't always that obvious it's quite useful in most respects. We especially like the Previous Channel button for cycling easily between two channels.
While this isn't the first LED-backlit TV, the 70-inch, AU$70,000 behemoths from Samsung and Sony didn't make that much of a dent on the market, only selling four between them. But it's an exciting feature as it allows better colours and better blacks at the same time.
The panel itself is a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution LCD, and the backlighting contributes to the hyperbolic 2,000,000 to one(!) dynamic contrast ratio. Suspicious numbers aside, the black levels on this TV are very fine indeed.
Like the Series 8 before it, you get a generous four HDMI ports, and an Ethernet port for streaming weather information and media content from a DLNA server (a PC or NAS unit).
If that's not enough you can also connect USB devices like MP3 players or memory keys, and choose from a large selection of content on-board, which includes children's stories, illustrated recipes and even games. You don't even need to connect an antenna to get entertainment from this device, but if you must, there's also an EPG-compliant, high-definition tuner on-board as well.
We'll put this out there: if you're looking for a plasma-like picture without the associated burn-in problems then the Series 9 Samsung is the king. In fact, because this TV doesn't have the light bleed or off-axis discolouration problems of other LCDs, we think you could fool most people — experts included — into believing this was a plasma TV.
The LA46A950 is Samsung's flagship LCD and for the price it's very compelling, especially when considering that Sony's competing model is AU$1,500 more expensive and boasts many of the same features, and is doubtlessly the same panel.
Standard definition was a tale of two outcomes — while the TV failed our synthetic tests, it did well with our usual barrage of movie content. To elaborate further, the Samsung had real problems with "jaggies" — even after upscaling the test DVD. While enabling DCDi on our Marantz DV6001 player, it cleaned up the image straight away, but this is hardly the point.
However, watching King Kong was an engaging experience. Even without NR turned on, the MPEG noise in this movie was much reduced. Although, one thing did strike us during some of the darker scenes — the high-contrast coating is very reflective. You'll want to watch this TV with the lights off — not a point we usually make with LCDs, which usually do better in bright rooms. While the screen boosts black levels, we found it does also "flatten" them a little, meaning that some detail in dark areas can be lost. But the end result was so impressive — and certainly on par with typically softer plasma — that it didn't really matter.
A lot of the televisions we've seen recently have tended to be over-sharpened out of the factory, and what this does is create false levels of detail. This tactic is usually employed to make the set stand out when sitting on the shop floor, but it can make the picture look garish and noisy in your living room. As a result, we had to fiddle with the Samsung's "sharpness" controls to rein in the Mission Impossible III Blu-ray's tendency for graininess — even in Movie mode. Once we did that, the picture was vibrant and three-dimensional.
Off-axis performance was generally good — especially for an LCD — with only a minimal dulling of colours when you sit off to the size. There certainly wasn't any of the strange psychedelic effects other LCD polarising screens can give off-axis. The backlighting, however, was seamless, and only during very high contrast screens (white on black) was there a faint ghosting around the image, and only when viewed from an extreme angle.
The on-board tuner was capable and provided smear-free images, and the deep black levels brought out the best in Ten's afternoon HD documentaries. The complementary EPG is also easy to use, though a little slow to update.
Our only disappointment with this TV is a relatively minor one when you consider how magnificent the picture can be: media streaming still has a way to go. We had a lot of problems with Samsung's "DLNA" program, finding it hard to use and laboriously slow — and then it didn't even work! Eventually we had some success with streaming once we enabled sharing on Windows Media Player 11. But even then the TV's interface was slow and hard to navigate. If you have a PlayStation 3 or even a media centre then we'd suggest sticking with them.
Internet connectivity is still a bit of a gimmick, and we wouldn't buy this telly simply for that. Its LED backlighting is the star here, and it's what makes this TV worth every single cent. While you can get plasmas with an equivalent picture for cheaper, this is currently the best LCD television you can buy.