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Samsung HL-S87W review: Samsung HL-S87W

Samsung HL-S87W

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
9 min read
Review summary
Samsung was the first company to introduce a rear-projection HDTV with a native resolution of 1080p, the highest available today. About a year later, it's the first to make big-screen 1080p HDTVs more affordable. The Samsung HL-S87W series, which includes the 56-inch HL-S5687W ($2,700 street price), is the company's least expensive line of 1080p rear-projection HDTVs, and it's priced better than most name-brand 1080p big-screens on the market. At the time of this writing, it's significantly less expensive than Sony's 2006 SXRDs and a bit less than Toshiba's and Mitsubishi's 2006 1080p DLPs. These Samsungs are also beautifully designed and packed with all of the features you need. Yes, they're missing picture-in-picture, FireWire, and CableCard, but we think most people could care less about those extras. In terms of performance, we rate the Samsung HL-S5687W as very good but still a notch below last year's Editors' Choice winner, the Sony KDS-R60XBR1. In terms of value, however, it's the best 1080p big-screen we've reviewed so far.

Editor's note: We have updated the rating on this review due to a mathematical miscalculation. It was originally rated 7.8 but is now 7.6. The subratings, from which we derive the overall rating, stay the same.


Samsung HL-S87W

The Good

Relatively inexpensive for a 1080p HDTV; can produce deep blacks and excellent shadow detail; compact design with hidden speakers; ample connectivity with dual 1080p-compatible HDMI inputs and a PC input.

The Bad

Rainbows visible in some scenes to some viewers; color decoding accentuates reds somewhat; cannot resolve every line of 1080p sources; no picture-in-picture.

The Bottom Line

With a slick design, well-rounded features, and solid performance, the Samsung HL-S5687W is a top choice for people who want a 1080p big-screen but don't want to break the bank.

This review is of the 56-inch version, but our comments apply to every screen size in the series, namely the 50-inch Samsung HL-S5087W and the 61-inch HL-S6187W. Meanwhile, the company's step-up HL-S88W series adds FireWire and CableCard and has slightly different styling, but its performance should be identical.

Fitting a big screen into a relatively small cabinet is one of the most substantial design challenges for rear-projection HDTV manufacturers, but the Samsung HL-S5687W succeeds beautifully. This set's 56-inch screen is surrounded by a 0.75-inch-thick, glossy black border on the top and sides, for comparatively compact overall dimensions of about 50.9 by 35.6 by 16.3 inches. It's also lighter than any 56-inch set has a right to be, weighing in at 73.4 pounds.

Below the screen, the cabinet thickens to encompass an angled silver accent strip amid the glossy black, and the overall look is very clean. The simple yet sophisticated appearance is partly due to the hidden speakers; instead of emanating from unsightly perforations on the front, the speakers' sound comes through hidden grilles above the silver strip. A line of buttons and status lights to the right, along with Samsung's logo and distinctive circular power button, are the only other details on the outside of the TV.

The design falls off a bit with the remote control. The midsize black wand lacks any kind of illumination and looks unremarkable, although we found the major controls easy enough to manipulate. We also liked the ability to control other devices but expect many users to replace this staid clicker with a universal model.

Unlike with its 2006 plasma and LCDs sets, which have the same menus as models from the last few years, Samsung has completely redesigned its menus on its 2006 DLP televisions. The HL-S5687W's menu system is on of the best we've ever used in an HDTV. It's oriented along the bottom, as opposed to taking up the middle of the screen, and options pop up in various categories (picture, sound, and so on) when you move over them. Make a selection, and an explanation appears in the upper left of the screen explaining the item's function. The best part is the menu map, which places all of the menu items on one page for easy lookup.

The Samsung HL-S5687W's principal feature is its 1080p native resolution, which means that its DLP imaging chip should be able to produce 1,920x1,080 pixels onscreen--see Performance for more. It achieves this high native resolution with the help of wobulation, a technology that effectively doubles the horizontal resolution; in reality, the DLP chip itself has only 960x1,080 discrete pixels, as opposed to LCoS 1080p displays that have all 1,920x1,080 discrete pixels (more info on DLP and wobulation). Of course all sources, including HDTV, computers, DVD, and standard-def, are scaled to fit the pixels. With 720p HDTV and lower-resolution sources, the benefits of 1080p are more limited.

Like all big-screen HDTVs should, the Samsung HL-S5687W includes an ATSC tuner, although you'll have to step up to the HL-S88W series if you want CableCard. Another notable omission is picture-in-picture; if you want to watch two programs at once, you'll have to rely on an external source, such as a PIP-capable cable box. Like many HDTVs, the HL-S5687W can freeze an image onscreen, so you can read the fine print in a car commercial, for example. It offers three aspect-ratio selections for high-def content and four for standard-def, and the zoom modes can move the image up or down on the screen.

Samsung provides lots of options for customizing the picture. Each of the four picture modes--Dynamic, Standard, Movie, and Custom--can be adjusted for contrast, brightness, color, and so on, and each will remain different for every input. That's like having four independent input memories for each input, and it allows you to customize each source, such as DVD, HDTV, or a video game console, for four different lighting environments or other preferences. Samsung also touts its Game mode, which increases color saturation and brightness and adds edge enhancement. We found the look significantly less realistic, but it may please some gamers.

There are also five color-temperature presets; a noise-reduction feature; a film mode that engages 2:3 pull-down detection; and My Color Control, designed for fine-tuning color. During testing, we found the Warm2 color temperature closest to the standard; the noise reduction quite effective at cleaning up lower-quality sources; the film mode good at engaging quickly to remove artifacts; and My Color Control incapable of improving color much. The Color Weakness feature also tended to ruin delicate areas such as skin tones, so we left it turned off along with DNIe, which added unnatural edge enhancement, among other effects.

The Samsung HL-S5687W leaves no input behind. The two HDMI ports can accept 1080p signals, such as from a Blu-ray player or a next-gen HD DVD player. There are also two component-video inputs, a VGA-style PC input (recommended resolution is 1,920x1,080), two A/V inputs with S-Video, two RF-style antenna inputs, an A/V output, an optical digital output, and an RS-232 port for service only, according to the manual. To the right side, you'll find a third A/V input with S-Video. The only missing link is FireWire, which is available on the step-up HL-S5688W.

The HL-S5687W also includes a USB port on the side, which Samsung decided to call Wiselink. It's designed to display digital photos and play MP3 files from small USB thumbdrives and worked as advertised.

In most of our performance tests, the Samsung HL-S5687W delivered the goods, producing commendable black levels and plenty of detail with few artifacts or extra video noise. Its color accuracy wasn't ideal, and we saw some of the rainbows inherent in current DLP products, but overall picture quality was very good.

We started by setting up the Samsung to produce an optimal home-theater image in a darkened room. The Movie preset, which defaults to the Warm2 color temperature, resulted in a surprisingly accurate out-of-the-box picture (for our complete settings, click on Tips & Tricks, above). The color temperature came fairly close to the standard of 6,500K, although it was still a bit too blue. After calibration, it was excellent. The internal service menu also enabled us to improve the primary colors until they were almost perfect; the numbers listed in the geek box below were obtained before calibration.

During setup, we reduced the set's contrast control to achieve a relatively tame maximum light output of 40 footlamberts. This reduced the rainbows and eyestrain, as well as improved black levels. We made sure Color Weakness was turned off, since it really made skin tones and other colors look unnatural at any setting. The DNIe control, which introduced edge enhancement and other artifacts, was disabled in Movie mode and can be turned off in any mode. That's a welcome change from last year's Samsung DLPs, which did not allow you to disable DNIe without delving into the service menu.

Our first test involved watching DVD content from our reference Denon DVP-3910 upconverting DVD player set to 1080i output mode. Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith exhibited the Samsung's ability to display a deep black quite well. During Anakin/Darth Vader's healing/construction process, dark areas such as the floor of the lab, the shadowy equipment in the background, and the inside of Vader's mask as it descends to his face appeared deep and inky. Shadows also looked very clean with little video noise, and details in dark areas came across well. Gradations from light to dark, such as the spotlighted smoke surrounding the completed Vader, appeared natural and smooth, with none of the precipitous false contours we've seen on some other displays.

As with all DLPs we've seen, the Samsung introduced the rainbow effect in a few areas. They occurred mainly in places where white and dark content were next to one another. In Senator Palpatine's chamber, for example, the white glow globes produced brief trails of color against the darker ceiling. Of course, many DLP viewers can't see rainbows at all.

We also noticed some geometry problems on our review sample; vertical lines bent noticeably outward toward the bottom of the screen. Such issues can vary from sample to sample and are characteristic of most rear-projection HDTVs. As we expected from a 1080p DLP, uniformity across the screen was very good, with no discoloration in white and gray fields, and pixel fill was excellent, with no gaps visible between pixels at normal seating distances.

Due to the set's red push, we had to reduce the color control to achieve natural skin tones, which also had the effect of making colors appear a bit less vibrant than they should have. Afterward, skin tones looked more accurate; during Padme's labor, for example, her face appeared reddish from the effort of bearing little Luke and Leia but not unnaturally so. Primary color accuracy in the crucial green and red areas was solid prior to calibration.

We appreciated the accurate green when we turned to some World Cup soccer on ESPN HD. The grass looked lush and natural, as opposed to the slightly yellowish look it assumed on the LG 50PC3D and the Samsung HP-S4353 we had on hand to compare. Detail was excellent on 720p sources, although 1080i, as we expected, looked a bit sharper. We also noticed that, annoyingly, 720p was significantly brighter on this set. Because of this difference and to take advantage of the Samsung's high native resolution, we recommend you set all of your high-def sources to 1080-resolution output and avoid feeding the set 720p. Furthermore, the Samsung's component-video inputs evinced a softer-looking picture than HDMI, so if you have the option, we recommend going with HDMI over component video.

Like last year's model, the Samsung HL-S5687W couldn't fully resolve every detail of 1080i or 1080p sources onscreen, according to test patterns from our HDTV signal generator (for 1080i) and the resolution chart on Sony Blu-ray discs (1080i and 1080p). It did de-interlace 1080i sources properly, preserving almost all the detail. We watched XXX on Blu-ray from the Samsung BD-P1000 at 1080p, and the bricks in the Prague town square, the lines in his tattoos, and the struts in the bridge off of which he drives his car, for example, looked well defined and lifelike. Of course, we also tried the player's 1080p setting, and while the Samsung had no trouble handling it, we didn't notice any difference between 1080i and 1080p on this set.

With standard-def sources, the Samsung more than held its own, smoothing out jagged edges and difficult moving lines well, such as the waving American flag from the HQV test disc. The set also did a fine job detecting 2:3 pull-down cadence and engaging film mode quickly to remove artifacts from film-based sources. Note that you'll have to turn film mode on in the menu to engage 2:3 pull-down since its default setting is off. As we mentioned before, the Samsung HL-S5687W's noise reduction cleaned up lower-quality sources quite well with no apparent loss in detail, although we recommend leaving it off with high-quality sources.

Test Result Score
Before color temp (20/80) 6,737/6,793K Good
After color temp 6,469/6,527K Good
Before grayscale variation +/- 249K Good
After grayscale variation +/- 66K Good
Color of red (x/y) 0.639/0.317 Good
Color of green 0.288/0.627 Average
Color of blue 0.150/0.058 Good
Overscan 4.25% Average
Black-level retention All patterns stable Good
2:3 pull-down, 24fps Y Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good

Samsung HL-S87W

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 7