Before we launch into the review proper we thought we'd preface it with a discussion of Samsung's term "LED TV" and why we think this is potentially misleading. This is not a different type of television, this is an LCD television with a different type of lighting system. In this case it's lit by a bunch of LEDs and not fluorescent tubes, and it's not new: the technology's been around since at least 2004. An LCD is an LCD in our books and you can use anything you like to light it.
Samsung calls this the "thinnest TV in the world with a digital tuner inside". The backlighting system on this one means it is incredibly slim, and it doesn't need an external media box like most others — it's all built in. The television features the company's now-familiar "Crystal Design", which is a predominantly black bezel bleeding into a grey and then clear edge. The stand is also striking with a clear "stem", with a subtle red glow atop. Pity you can't hide your cables behind the stand, though.
Given the unit's slimness, the Samsung is a prime candidate for wall-mounting, and while the unit wasn't supplied with one, the optional wall-mount bracket appears to be almost as easy to hang as a picture. If you're looking to wall-mount, this is one of the best products yet.
Samsung has altered the design of its now-familiar remote slightly with a small sculpted overhang at the bottom. It's not particularly ergonomic, but it looks cool. Most buttons are within easy reach and we found we could easily control a Panasonic DMR-BW850 Blu-ray recorder with the same remote — thanks to the Samsung Anynet+ (HDMI-CEC) feature. The package includes a second round remote, and we couldn't help but laugh at Samsung's description: "It shines with a rare beauty that enriches its environment, making your world a more beautiful place". We are tempted to take the meaning of world literally here, and think that Samsung plans to make all of our lives better by simply inventing this round piece of plastic (and introducing it to the "world").
Editor's Note: the model we received had a red bezel instead of a grey bezel. The red bezel is not available in Australia, but the feature set is otherwise identical.
What we have before us is probably the most fully-featured television in the world. There is very little that the UA40B7100 leaves us wanting, and comes with a full complement of networking features, connectivity options and even on-board entertainment. It may sound odd to say it, but this is an incredibly entertaining television. You don't even have to plug an aerial into it to get games, MP3s or even YouTube (though you will need to plug in an Ethernet cable or USB wireless adapter). As with last year's Series 9, the UA40B7100 is a "connected" TV and features internet connectivity plus DLNA playback from other machines on your network.
Later this year, Samsung is planning to introduce MSN widgets, but at the moment there are two plug-ins available: weather and YouTube. The weather application works as you'd expect it to, giving you potted descriptions and a forecast for the next few days, but we must say we're a little disappointed by the YouTube application. While it works in a similar way to solutions offered by LG and Panasonic, it misses one crucial aspect: search. Without it you're reduced to browsing what's new and "highlights" are picked by somebody in Samsung. We're hopeful search will be implemented in the future. Look out for further widgets though, as we think this feature shows promise in a similar way that iPhone apps are promising — though probably without the excitement or hype.
The slim form-factor has lead to some compromises in terms of connectivity, some of which may not please videophiles. The unit ships with an impressive four HDMI inputs (which are side-mounted), and while indented they are perhaps still a little too close to the edge for effective stealthy installation. Also along the side is a USB input, an optical audio output, and a connector for control of the optional, motorised wall-mount bracket. On the back — not that there's really a "back" because the screen is so thin, it's more a continuation of the side-mounts — lives a PC input, an antenna and a LAN connector. Naturally, there is also an AV input and single component connection but there is a twist; to save room these take the form of a proprietary, PlayStation 2-type connector and 3.5mm-to-component adapter respectively.
In use, the UA40B7100 reminded us very much of another television from the Samsung stable, the Samsung LA46A950. Not surprising, as both are based on LED backlighting technology, and while the 9 Series was a better television it also CHEATED by using Cold Cathode tubes in addition to LEDs. We should also note that the LEDs are lined up around the edge of the TV, which means you can get that super-human thinness, but it also means it may not have the black levels of a direct-lit TV.
Given the Samsung's green credentials, we were eager to test the picture quality against the much-trumpeted Sony WE5. When the two televisions were placed side by side, the differences in picture quality were immediately apparent. The Samsung was capable of a much better dynamic range with plenty of shadow detail and natural colours. If we could quantify the amount on how much better the Samsung was, we'd say "times two". And that was just watching free-to-air!
Before we go any further we will say this: out of the box the Samsung suffers from an all-too-common affliction, over-sharpness. The settings on all three modes — Vivid, Standard and Cinema — have all had the Sharpness levels boosted to introduce "fake" detail, and can make most pictures look garish. But after running the television through calibration, tweaking some of the "HDMI black" features and turning the Sharpness down to "Minimum", we were able to get a decent picture out of the screen. Yes, the screen comes with plenty of noise reduction and colour settings, but we'd say that it probably goes a bit too far — especially when it lacks the professional-grade ISF tweaks offered by competitor LG.
One of the main failings in poor 1080p screens is their inability to replay standard-definition content, and given that most of the stuff we watch on TV is in standard-def it's something they need to get right. We are happy to report, then, that the Samsung put in a marvellous performance. Popping in the King Kong DVD we were treated to a natural performance, particularly in the final scene with its pink and orange sunrise. There was absolutely no smearing as you'd expect from an LCD — even a good one — and Kong's fur looked black, and not green as on some other screens.
Switching to Blu-ray and the Mission Impossible disc failed to show any of the backlight problems we'd experienced with the preproduction models. Blacks, while not inky in the way that OLED or plasma are, were rich and full of shadow detail. Colours were bright, and as we found with DVD, detail was also fine. With 24p mode enabled motion judder was kept to a minimum and moire/jaggies problems were also non-existent. If you want to buy a screen that will show off the benefits of Blu-ray, this is an excellent introduction.
We also found the screen was good for gaming, but weren't too impressed by the "Gaming" mode. It re-introduced the over-sharp problems of before, and lost a lot of the three-dimensionality the image had otherwise.
The only disappointing part about this TV's performance was in audio reproduction. While speech was intelligible, voices had no depth. Similarly, action scenes such as the bridge attack from Mission Impossible lacked the boom-tish that a great sound set-up needs.
While it may sound like we've spent most of the review griping about this TV, we really, really like it. It's got plenty of features, a great picture and excellent styling. It may not be up there with plasma picture quality yet as it still suffers from off-axis problems and lack of a "true" black, but it's getting close. The Samsung UA40B7100 offers everything that's good (and bad) about LCD technology, and we look forward to playing with the daddy of the line-up — the Series 8 — in the near future, as we're excited about where this technology can go.