Earlier this year, we called Samsung's HL-S5687W "the best 1080p big-screen we've reviewed so far" in terms of value, and that's still the case. For the vast majority of big-screen seekers, that television represents an excellent combination of performance and budget-mindedness. But some viewers out there don't see its picture quality in quite the same way. Instead, to paraphrase The Sixth Sense, they see rainbows. The rainbow effect is a picture artifact common to DLP-based front- and rear-projectors, almost all of which use color wheels to produce color. While the wheel does spin thousands of times per second, too fast for most people to discern, some viewers see brief, distracting bursts of color, especially in high-contrast areas or during rapid eye or camera movement. If you're one of those people, the HL-S5679W, Samsung's first DLP HDTV to use an LED light source, is mighty interesting indeed.
The HL-S5679W replaces the wheel and bulb with separate red, green, and blue LEDs, which have the benefit of eliminating rainbows and also lasting significantly longer than bulbs (details below). The catch? At around $3,999 online, the 56-inch HL-S5679W costs at least $1,300 more than the 56-inch HL-S5687W we cited as being such a good value. For most people, that difference just isn't worth it. Yes, the more-expensive HL-S5679W is a very good performer in its own right, but we did come away less than impressed by some aspects of its picture quality, namely its black levels and uniformity. Its color is excellent, however, and overall, it's a solid effort for a first-generation projection technology that shows real promise--but for now, it's just not worth the extra money. If rainbows bother you enough to consider the HL-S5679W instead of a traditional DLP, then you'll probably be happier with a three-chip LCoS or LCD solution--at least, until somebody works out the kinks. Like most big-screen HDTVs today, the Samsung HL-S5679W is basically a big box. The company took an understated design route with this model, dressing it entirely in black, with just one silver highlight: the circular power button in the middle, below the Samsung logo. The button, unlike those of the company's mainstream sets, does not glow blue. A glossy black frame immediately surrounds the big screen, while below the screen frame sits the black horizontal speaker grille.
Not quite as compact as the 56-inch HL-S5687W mentioned above, although it is an inch less deep, the HL-S5679W measures approximately 52.5 by 38 by 15.4 inches and weighs 84.4 pounds. You'll want to set it atop some sort of stand to get it up to eye level; Samsung sells a couple of options, including the matching TR50X3B.
The remote is the same as those of other Samsung TVs we've reviewed this year. The midsize black wand lacks any kind of illumination and looks unremarkable, although we found the major controls easy enough to manipulate. We also liked the ability to control other devices but expect many users to replace this staid clicker with a universal model.
In terms of design, the Samsung HL-S5679W's menu system is one of the best we've ever used in an HDTV. It's oriented along the bottom, as opposed to taking up the middle of the screen, and options pop up in various categories--picture, sound, and so on--when you move over them. Make a selection, and text appears in the upper-left corner of the screen explaining the item's function. The best part is the menu map, which places all of the menu items on one page for easy lookup. We also liked the ability to rename inputs. Unfortunately, the HL-S5679W's menu responds relatively sluggishly. It probably won't be an issue under most circumstances, but if you're making a lot of adjustments, it can become frustrating. The main differentiating feature of the Samsung HL-S5679W is its LED-based light engine, which is fundamentally different from anything else currently on the market--although one other company we know of, NuVision, also sells an LED-based DLP TV. Unlike other microdisplays, which use a single bulb to illuminate one or more pixel-filled chips, the HL-S5687W has a set of three LEDs--one each for red, green, and blue--that create the picture by bouncing light off of one DLP chip. The LEDs last longer than standard bulbs--20,000 hours according to Samsung, vs. about 3,000 for bulbs--and provide one other key bonus compared to other DLP rear-projection TVs: immunity to the rainbow effect (see below).
The HL-S5679W has the same single 1080p (1,920x1,080) native resolution DLP chip that's used in other many rear-projection HDTVs, such as Samsung's own HL-S5687W. That level of native resolution should be enough to resolve every detail of 1080 resolution HDTV sources. As usual, all other sources, whether they be from HDTV, standard TV, DVD, or computer, are scaled to fit the native resolution.
In terms of conveniences, the HL-S5678W comes well-equipped, starting with a versatile picture-in-picture mode that offers side-by-side options as well as the ability to watch the PC input along with other sources. The company threw in the requisite ATSC tuner as well as a CableCard slot, the latter allowing you to watch digital and high-def cable without a box if you can stand to lose such niceties as the cable company's EPG and/or DVR. Samsung also included the TV Guide EPG for use with the Card. Other notable extras include a freeze mode to still the onscreen action and a USB port for connecting with a thumbdrive to display JPEG photos or play MP3 music via the TV.
Aspect-ratio controls on the HL-S5679W are fairly extensive. You can choose from among five choices with standard-def sources and three choices with high-def. We also like the ability to change the vertical position of three of the modes.
Picture controls start with the four picture modes: Dynamic, Standard, Movie, and Custom. All of these can be adjusted for most of the major picture parameters, and they'll remain different for every input, providing plenty of flexibility in tweaking the picture to your liking. Advanced controls include five color-temperature presets (Warm 2 came closest to the standard); one level of noise reduction; a DNIe control, which is best left off for high-quality sources; a complex My Color control that's best left in default positions since color accuracy is already quite good; a separate one-position Color Weakness control that's, again, best left alone; a Film mode that engages 2:3 pull-down (it worked well in our tests); and a Color Gamut control that can be set to Wide if you feel the color lacks punch--we left it off. Like many other TVs, the HL-S5679W offers a Game mode that's said to eliminate any lag between a game controller and the onscreen action. In the case of this television, Game mode bypasses video processing and makes the picture unrealistically bright, saturated, and edge enhanced.
The input selection on the Samsung HL-S5679W leaves little out. The back panel sprouts a pair of HDMI inputs; two component-video inputs; two A/V inputs with composite- and S-Video; a PC input (1,920x1,200 maximum resolution); two RF inputs (one each for cable and antenna); and two FireWire ports (labeled D-NET IEEE1394 S400MPEG for whatever reason). Outputs include one A/V with composite video as well as an optical digital audio jack. Miscellaneous rear-panel features include an RS-232 port for custom installers, a G-link jack to allow TV Guide to control your gear, and the CableCard slot. A recess on the side panel offers an additional A/V input with composite video as well as the aforementioned USB port.
As one of the first rear-projection HDTVs available with an LED light engine, the Samsung HL-S5679W has a lot to live up to, but let's get this out of the way first: we didn't see any rainbows. CNET has a few staffers who are particularly sensitive to the rainbow effect, and none of them detected 'bows either. Colors looked rich in general, and the primary colors were as accurate as we've seen on any HDTV. Although test patterns revealed that the set couldn't quite resolve every detail of 1080-resolution sources, to our eyes, details were plenty sharp. Compared to the traditional HL-S5687W, however, the LED-based Samsung did turn in a somewhat less-impressive performance in terms of black levels, and we did notice that brightness and color across the screen wasn't nearly as uniform as we'd have liked.
We began our evaluation process by adjusting the set to achieve peak performance with our reference source, a Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player running 1080i via HDMI. As usual, we adjusted the set for a darkened room, limiting peak light output to 40 FTl (footlamberts). (Speaking of light output, we were curious whether LEDs could compete against bulbs on that front. While the HL-S5679W's peak brightness of 101 FTl isn't quite up to the blinding 150-plus peaks we've seen on some DLPs, it's still plenty--even for brightly lit environments). You can check out our full user-menu settings by clicking Tips & Tricks above. We also subjected the HL-S5679W to a full calibration for grayscale and tweaked its primary colors slightly, which resulted in an improved picture (see the Geek box, below).