As HDTVs become more common--some would say commoditized--TV makers go to ever-greater lengths to justify higher price tags. Nobody is going as far as Samsung this year. The company is the only one thus far to announce a full lineup of edge-lit LED-based LCDs, which cost a mint yet offer the most advanced technology and design you can get--at least until OLED comes along.
Each model among the three series of Samsung's lineup measures just 1.3 inches thick, thanks to that LED lighting system, which is also responsible for the TVs' excellent energy efficiency. The UNB7000 series is the middle child in price and features of the three; yet it includes buckets of add-ons, many of them interactive, along with extensive picture adjustments including a cool new tweakable dejudder mode. In our performance testing, encountered some picture quality trade-offs caused by the LED system, namely less-than-perfect uniformity and off-angle viewing, along with the backlights' somewhat distracting fluctuations. These issues keep the UNB7000 series from earning our highest accolades for performance, but in terms of design and features the expensive TVs set a standard that will be tough to beat. Series note: The Samsung UNB7000 series is available in three screen sizes. We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 46-inch model, the UN46B7000 ($2,999 list), but this review also applies to the other sizes in the series, the 40-inch UN40B7000 ($2,399) and the 55-inch UN55B7000 ($3,799). All three sizes share identical features and specifications. Samsung also has a retailer-specific series currently exclusive to Best Buy, the UNB7100 models, that are identical except for gray coloring, as opposed to red, and with overall cosmetics similar to the step-up UNB8000 series.
Did we mention these TVs are really thin? The UNB7000 measures just 1.2 inches deep at its thickest point, and tapers even thinner toward the edges of the panel. Samsung offers a special thin wall mount, and if you decide to keep the TV on its stand, the thin panel will look equally impressive from the side.
Aside from the obvious thinness, the LEDs allows a couple other design bonuses. The UNB7000 runs a lot cooler than other LCD and especially plasma displays producing a similar about of light, and the panel itself weighs less than other models.
A thin, subtle red border edges all four sides of the panel, while the outer transparent edge lends a jewel-like look. On the downside you can't get it in any color but red, aside from the gray 7100 series.
The matching stand is also edged in red, and a unique transparent pedestal keeps the thin panel gracefully suspended above its surface. We appreciated that the stand allows the TV to swivel to either side.
The remote is basically the same as last year, aside from a new protrusion on the rear that keeps the remote control stable on a flat surface, and we're definitely fans--especially since Samsung ditched the rotating scroll wheel. The buttons are big, backlit and easily differentiated by size and shape, and we liked the dedicated "Tools" key that offers quick access to the E-manual, picture and sound modes, the sleep timer, and the picture-in-picture controls. We didn't like the remote's glossy black finish, however, which picked up more than its share of dulling fingerprints after a few minutes.
Samsung used the same menu system as last year, albeit with red borders to match the TV, and we still think it's one of the best in the business. Big, highly legible text is set against transparent backgrounds that occupy almost the whole screen. Getting around is easy, there's helpful explanatory text along the bottom, and we dug the context-sensitive menu that would pop up occasionally to provide more options.
New for 2009, Samsung has added Yahoo widgets to the its higher-end sets including the UNB7000 series. The system gathers Internet-powered information modules, called "snippets," into a bar along the bottom of the screen. The model we reviewed came with widgets for stocks, weather, news, and access to Flickr photos. We expect more widgets to be available shortly.
Samsung's dejudder processing offers more adjustments than we've seen on any such display so far. Custom offers two sliders, one called Blur reduction that affects video-based sources and one called Judder reduction that affects only film-based sources.
The highlight is four HDMI inputs, arranged vertically along the shallow connection bay on the back of the TV (note that fat cables might not fit the nearly flush sockets very well). There's also a pair of USB inputs, one occupied by the E-manual in this shot, and an optical digital audio jack.
The back panel also includes a VGA-style PC input and a single component-video input that can be converted to accept composite video instead. An RF input for antenna or cable and the Ethernet port complete the picture. If you need to connect more than one analog device, you'll need to use a switcher or an AV receiver.
In sum, the UNB7000 series delivered a very good picture, but a few flaws prevented it from matching the best models we've tested, including local dimming-equipped LED-based LCDs. Despite its relatively deep black levels, the UNB7000's variable backlight impaired performance in very dark scenes. We also noticed some uniformity issues, primarily in dark scenes as well, that are probably caused by the edge-lit LED system. That said, we really appreciate the set's accurate color and the Custom setting of its dejudder processing.