Features from high-end TVs are trickling down to cheaper sets, with some enticing results. Take Samsung's 40-inch, 1080p UE40D5520 LED TV, for example. Despite costing a very affordable £550 or so, it's as thin as a rake thanks to its LED illumination, offers 100Hz processing and comes with Samsung's full complement of Smart TV features, including digital media streaming and support for BBC iPlayer.
User interface and EPG
Of all the major TV manufacturers, Samsung has probably done the best job of creating a user interface that looks rich and inviting, yet remains very easy to use. Like the rest of Samsung's recent TVs, this one has a Smart Hub page that brings together all of the TV's key features on a single home screen.
The Smart Hub displays a series of colourful icons with a live video window of the currently selected channel shown in the top left-hand corner. From here you can skip between the various AV inputs, access the main settings menus, use the media-streaming features, and access video-on-demand services, such as BBC iPlayer.
Even the standard video and audio menus look very colourful and inviting. Tucked in among them, there's an on-screen manual that you can browse in much the same way as you would a Web page, as it has links from one topic to another.
The electronic programme guide is also first-rate. It's rendered using a large, crisp font that's easy to read from a distance, and it shows programming data for six channels at a time using a horizontal layout. The EPG screen also has a video window in the top left-hand corner, and, to the right of this, it displays information about the currently selected programme.
Digital media and Internet features
This set includes Samsung's full Smart TV platform. This means it comes loaded with apps for a number of online video-on-demand services, including BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm, Acetrax and YouTube. Alongside these, you'll find a number of apps for simple games, as well as news and information services. There's also support for services like Facebook and Twitter, and the Smart TV platform even includes its own app store, so you can pick and choose which apps you want to have loaded on the home screen.
Smart TV is stylishly presented and fast to navigate. We had an issue with the BBC iPlayer app, though -- fast-forwarding through shows is extremely slow, as essentially you can only jump along in 30 second hops. Sony's implementation, in contrast, lets you quickly zip back and forth through a show via the progress bar.
It's also worth noting that, unlike Samsung's higher-end TVs, this one doesn't support Skype and doesn't include a full Web browser.
Along with the Internet features, the set can also playback content from memory keys or hard drives plugged into either of its two USB ports. A pretty broad range of formats is supported. We had no problems getting the telly to play a number of different video formats, including Xvid, DivX and HD MKV files.
The set also supports digital media streaming, via its Ethernet port, from a PC or network-attached storage drive. Again, playback is smooth and format support is impressive. One anomaly, however, is that the TV would only play MKV files if we renamed them as AVI files, which is strange, as the set doesn't have a problem playing MKVs locally via USB.
Design and connections
Samsung has a knack or producing TVs with great designs. Despite its modest price tag, this TV still looks drop-dead gorgeous. The company has gone for a glossy black finish with a transparent edge that manages to look striking without drawing too much attention to itself. The transparent edge is also echoed in the sexy Perspex stem used on the pedestal stand. Thanks to its LED backlighting, this telly is also supremely slim, at just 30mm deep, and this, combined with the narrow bezel, means it has a very modern look.
The rear of the TV is home to a line-up of connections similar to that which you'd find on tellies of double the price. There are four HDMI ports, as well as a set of component inputs, a Scart socket, and a VGA port. There's also an Ethernet port for the Web features, as well as two USB sockets. The second USB port is provided largely so that you can add the optional Wi-Fi USB dongle and still have a spare port for connecting up a hard drive.