Samsung's showcase in San Fran

Glaskowsky attends a Samsung product showcase in San Francisco, admires and analyzes various HDTVs, computer monitors, and cellphones, and takes in an IMAX showing of The Dark Knight.

Samsung Electronics, an arm of the giant Korean company (second only to General Electric in annual revenue among conglomerates), held a press event in San Francisco last week to show off its products for the coming holiday season.

Samsung Series 9 LCD HDTV
Samsung's new Series 9 LCD HDTVs use LED backlights to improve contrast and color quality Samsung Electronics

I'd been looking for an excuse to go up to the city, so off I went-- taking Caltrain rather than driving. Conveniently, the Samsung event was just a few blocks from the train station in San Francisco.

I didn't get to see everything I was interested in; the folks representing Samsung Semiconductor were nowhere to be found. But I did get briefed on Samsung's wide range of consumer products. Forthwith, some observations.

Samsung covers all the major varieties of high-end HDTVs-- LCD, plasma, and DLP-- and all were on exhibit at the event. One Samsung exec I chatted with informally lamented the fact that the company's excellent DLP TVs-- based on Texas Instruments' micromirror rear-projection display technology-- have suffered in comparison with true flat panels. DLP HDTVs look great and can cost less than otherwise comparable LCD or plasma sets, but they just don't have the sex appeal of the thinner sets.

But I think the best-looking HDTV picture in Samsung's lineup comes from the new Series 9 LCD TV, which uses LED backlight technology. LEDs can deliver deeper, more saturated colors, and outlast older flourescent backlights.

In this new series, Samsung has added local dimming-- the LEDs backlighting a dark section of the picture can be turned down, boosting the contrast of the display. Although Samsung claims a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, which is impossible to realize in practice, local dimming does make a visible difference.

This technology comes with a slightly higher price-- the Series 9 is $3,199, and Samsung's next-best flourescent-backlit LCD HDTV is about $500 cheaper. But to me, the quality improvements are well worth the 19% premium.

Samsung also offers an innovative plasma set (the Series 4, I think; Samsung's press kit didn't identify it, and I didn't write it down when I was there) that supports 3D imaging. For an extra $149, buyers can get a pair of LCD-shutter glasses that work with the set to present slightly different images to each eye.

The glasses work with many PC games, and ordinary DVD movies can be processed to add a sort of 3D effect, but I wouldn't buy this set just for the 3D capability. If you're going to buy this set anyway, sure, add the glasses-- but understand this technology is really just a novelty at this point.

Samsung also makes combination PC monitor+TV LCD displays. I was surprised to learn that Samsung sells both a 24" LCD and a 25.5" LCD with exactly the same features (1,920 x 1,200 pixels, etc.), list-priced at $549 and $599 respectively. It seems to me that there's really no good reason for anyone to bother with the 24" model unless they're trying to fit the display into an existing piece of computer furniture or something like that. Very strange.

At the event, I got my hands on the Samsung Instinct cellphone for the first time. Although the user interface looks a little primitive next to the iPhone, the Instinct has more features, and it's significantly smaller. I plunked my own iPhone 3G down next to the Instinct, and they were almost the same thickness. The Instinct is a little taller, and the iPhone is a lot wider.

But with Apple's usual genius for industrial design, the iPhone looks a lot thinner than it is, and its display is larger than the Instinct's; video looks better on the iPhone.

I also saw some of Samsung's well-regarded multifunction printers, a whole kitchen worth of Samsung appliances, some good-looking camcorders, and various other products that ought to sell pretty well. You can see more about all of the company's product lines on its website.

After the showcase I went over to the Westfield Metreon mall and took in a showing of The Dark Knight in the AMC Loews IMAX theater. Mmm. Never has $15 for a movie seemed like such a great deal.

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About the author

    Peter N. Glaskowsky is a computer architect in Silicon Valley and a technology analyst for the Envisioneering Group. He has designed chip- and board-level products in the defense and computer industries, managed design teams, and served as editor in chief of the industry newsletter "Microprocessor Report." He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. Disclosure.

     

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