Editors' note: The rating on this review has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace.
Our favorite small-screen LCD in 2007 was Samsung's LN-T3253H, and this year's version, the LN32A450, is another picture-quality winner. This LCD delivers solid black level performance and accurate color, along with a commendable feature set compared with the rest of the 32-inch LCD pack. No, it's not as inexpensive as the Insignia NS-LCD32-09 or the Vizio VX32L, but if picture quality is a priority and you can afford to splurge just a little, the Samsung LN32A450 deserves a place near the top of your list.
The handsome all-glossy-black exterior of the LN32A450 outclasses that of many low-dollar HDTVs, with its hidden speakers and subtle see-through strip that curves along the bottom of the frame. The narrow pedestal lets the set swivel somewhat from side to side. Including the stand, the set measures 31.4 inches wide by 22.7 inches tall by 9.9 inches deep and weighs 27.9 pounds; without the stand, it is 31.4 inches wide by 20.7 inches tall by 3.7 inches deep and weighs 24 pounds.
The remote control included with the LN32A450 is a pleasant surprise. The largish, organically curved wand places all the important keys in the right places with plenty of differentiation. There's no backlighting, and it can't be programmed to control other devices than, but those are minor gripes. We wish Samsung's gloss-happy designers had gone with matte for the remote, which is much less prone to unattractive smudges than the current shiny finish. Samsung's menus are unchanged from last year, and we found them relatively easy to navigate and appreciated the helpful explanations when we selected menu items.
As usual for a Samsung TV, this model has scads of ways to adjust the picture. The three standard picture modes are each independent per input, which we liked, but unfortunately the LN32A450 (along with, we assume, all 2008 Samsung HDTVs) has the same awkward picture mode design as the PN50A550 plasma. There are three more picture presets, called "Entertainment Modes," that cannot be adjusted and are accessible via a separate key on the remote and the Setup menu. This arrangement is unnecessarily confusing on a TV with a zillion settings anyway; we'd prefer to have all of the picture modes, both adjustable and nonadjustable, be accessible together from a single key on the remote and one area of the Picture menu. Also, if you're in Entertainment mode, you're prevented from making picture adjustments, or even selecting one of the adjustable picture modes, until you actively cancel an Entertainment mode by navigating to the setup menu (which the onscreen instructions suggest) or toggling the mode to "Off" using the remote. Awkward, to say the least.
The LN32A450 shares the same selection of advanced picture settings as the higher-end plasma TVs. They include five color temperature presets along with the capability to fine-tune color using the white balance menu; three varieties of noise reduction, including an automatic setting; a film mode to engage 2:3 pull-down; a seven-position gamma control that affects the TV's progression from dark to light; a dynamic contrast control that adjusts the picture on the fly; a "black adjust" control that affects shadow detail; and a new color space control that lets you tweak the Samsung's color gamut. See performance for more details.
You can choose from four aspect-ratio modes for HD sources, two of which let you move the whole image across the screen horizontally or vertically. One of those modes, called Just Scan, eliminates overscan--the best option unless you see interference along the edge of the screen, as can be the case with some channels or programs. There are also four modes available with standard-definition sources.
We appreciated that the three power-saver modes provide an easy way to limit energy consumption (see the Juice Box). As far as conveniences, the Samsung lacks picture-in-picture, although there is a USB port that can connect to thumbdrives to play back digital photos and MP3 music.
Samsung's connectivity suite is basically unchanged from 2007. Two HDMI inputs are available around back, while a third can be found in a recessed bay along the panel's left side. There's also a pair of component-video inputs; an AV input with S-Video and composite video; a single RF input for cable and antenna (the '07 models had two); and a VGA-style RGB input for computers (1,360x768 maximum resolution). That recessed bay also offers an additional AV input with S-Video and composite video, a headphone jack, and the USB port.