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To get the best output from next-generation devices such as Samsung's BD-P1000 Blu-ray player and the forthcoming PlayStation 3, you'll need a display that accepts a 1080p hi-def input. Samsung's LE46F71BX meets this challenge with a 1,920x1,080-pixel native resolution and support for all currently available high-definition formats.
As the specification and size suggest, this screen is designed for watching high-definition films. Limited conventional connectivity, the absence of an integrated Freeview tuner and average standard-definition performance will put off some people. But, aside from a few digital artefacts, high-definition sources look out of this world.
There are also several multimedia features that let you access photos and music from a full range of memory cards and portable digital players.
The Samsung LE46F71BX is available online for around £2,700.
LCDs just keep growing. This is the largest screen in any of Samsung's consumer ranges, although it is also available in a more manageable 40 inches. The bigger the screen, the better the experience -- but make sure you have the space to accommodate it or you'll be left living under a widescreen shadow.
The sleek design shares traits with almost the entire Samsung range, including the new BD-P1000 Blu-ray player, which the F71 has been designed to accompany. The familiar styling features a straight-cut construction, seamless glossy black finishing and subtle neon-blue lighting that deserves to be the centrepiece of your home cinema system.
There are several multimedia features arranged at the right side of the screen. These include a USB port and two memory card slots with support for ten different card formats. This means you can access JPEG digital photos and MP3 music files from a variety of memory cards or portable media players. You can organise and edit these files on screen, view images in high definition and even print photos from a separate printer using PictBridge.
As the 'Full HD' resolution suggests, this screen has hi-def in mind and connectivity has been tailored for hi-def sources. There are two HDMI digital video inputs, which allow you to simultaneously connect two hi-def devices such as a Sky HD box and a next-generation disc player for the highest quality performance. You can also use the analogue component inputs to display 720p and 1080i high-definition formats and standard progressive-scan -- but not the 1080p signals produced by Blu-ray and HD DVD players.
This is great for high-definition enthusiasts, but conventional users could be left feeling shortchanged. There are two Scart terminals, but only one has been RGB-enabled for better quality. This does inhibit standard-definition sources, especially as the absence of an integrated digital Freeview tuner means the single RGB Scart will probably be used for a set-top box.
There are alternative low-quality AV inputs at the side, but they are best reserved for offering easy access to temporarily connected devices like a games console or camcorder. PC and media centre owners can connect using an RGB 15-pin input with a dedicated audio jack.
The transparent menu system is simply laid out and easy to use, while the slender remote appears overcrowded but offers several short-cut keys for instant functionality.
It's no coincidence that Samsung's first 1080p screen has arrived at the same time as the next generation of disc players. The 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution will support all high-definition formats, including 720p, 1080i and the latest 1080p format used by hi-def devices such as Samsung's own Blu-ray player.
By progressively scanning the maximum number of picture lines, 1080p claims to deliver more detail and more cohesive movement than existing high-definition formats. If you're interested in high-definition video and games or want to future-proof your screen then this resolution is preferable. Prices are still high, but this screen is comparatively affordable at around £2,700 and you can expect prices to continue to fall.
Traditional users, however, are again slighted with the omission of an integrated digital TV tuner. This is a strange oversight because, although there's an analogue tuner for terrestrial TV, analogue broadcasts will eventually be phased out and image quality is inferior to Freeview. If you don't already own a Freeview box, you can expect to spend at least an extra £50.
There are no such limitations with the screen's impressive technological specification. The screen features Samsung's propriety DNIe (Digital Natural Image engine) and advanced 10-bit processing to enhance image clarity. There's also the new XWCG wide colour gamut, which claims to present 38 per cent more colours than the standard PAL system.
The LE46F71BX has a wide range of interactive settings, including advanced adjustments for colour management and sound options such as SRS TXT surround effects -- although more about the audio later.
If partnered with a true high-definition source such as Samsung's Blu-ray player, the LE46F71BX's picture performance is sensational. Densely defined images expose previously unseen detail, colour vitality is immediately engaging and movement glides across the screen.
Almost all the high-definition content we played, however, suffered from occasional instability and grainy gradations. Standard-definition and even upscaled images appear only average, with less detail, depth and control than some class-leading televisions with lower resolutions. Analogue TV performance is poor, while the sound is insubstantial for a screen of this size.
If you're a high-definition fan prepared to sacrifice standard performance, then this screen won't disappoint, but its ordinary all-round ability could be better.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide