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.
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.
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.