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Samsung LA40A650 review: Samsung LA40A650

The Samsung LA40A650 is a very good all-rounder which particularly shines in high definition, but it's facing some talented competition.

Ty Pendlebury Editor
Ty Pendlebury has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
Expertise Ty has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast. Credentials
  • Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
Ty Pendlebury
4 min read

Design
We've discussed Samsung's Crystal Design finish at length before, but apparently it's made by Andalusian nose-flute players or something.

8.0

Samsung LA40A650

The Good

Striking design. Exceptional image depth. Particularly adept at full-HD content. Four HDMI ports.

The Bad

Over-sharpened images. Off-axis viewing not as strong. Blacks not as uniform as a plasma.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung LA40A650 is a very good all-rounder which particularly shines in high definition, but it's facing some talented competition.

The upshot is: if you're tired of big, black, glossy rectangles, then Samsung's series 6 may be of interest to you. It's "rose black", and it's glossy. So … not a huge departure, but a good start.

Samsung is quite keen on capacitive buttons, and it may take the uninitiated some time to actually find the 650's on-board controls. This is because they are raised Braille-like from the plastic surface, but can be very difficult to spot (Hint: they're in the bottom right corner).

The remote itself is a departure from the company's previous models and has taken design cues from the larger, friendlier remotes made by Logitech and Panasonic. It's (regrettably) piano-black, but it's backlit and easy to use.

Features
The LA40A650 is a 40-inch screen with a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels, and like most TVs released recently it has an on-board HD tuner. As one of the company's higher-end offerings, the panel also boasts an impressive-sounding 50,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio (probably around 3000:1 in the real world) and an ultra clear panel coating to reduce glare. The TV also includes the company's Wide Colour Enhancer 2 which "adds depth and intensity to the reds, greens and blues" but sounds suspiciously like it over-saturates everything to us.

To make the most of the screen's high-def potential the Samsung boasts an impressive four HDMI inputs. However, we've seen a worrying trend for screens to eschew the other HD input, component, to make way for HDMI and this TV's no different, with a barely satisfactory two component inputs.

Performance
We have been downright impressed by the quality of the LCD panels released in the past few months — and not just by heavyweights like Sony, but also the Korean underdog LG and its excellent Scarlet range. Can Samsung still compete?

Given that this a native full-HD panel, it's unsurprising that it was with Blu-ray's 1080p content where the panel excelled. Pressing the "go" switch on MI3 we were presented with detailed images which had a depth unlike most LCDs. This is due to the excellent levels of black which weren't "crushed" but had an impressive amount of shadow detail.

Running the same disc, we were also taken with the panel's support for the 24p standard. The opening tracking shot of cars in the bridge sequence — you know, the same scene where Tom Cruise is blown sideways into a car — is a test for most TVs, but the result on the Samsung was as smooth as a shaved chimp.

When writing about the 650, it's hard not to compare it to the Philips 42PFL9703D; also a good TV in its own right. The TVs share the tendency for excitable sharpness levels, but where they differ is that Samsung's 100Hz mode is actually a better all-rounder. We had some problems with Samsung's first generation 100Hz panel, the F8, but feel that the technology — while not mature — has definitely improved. Haloing artefacts were much reduced, and the effect on the Olympics coverage was actually quite pleasant — even on High. However, it's not a technology for videophiles due to the drastic effect it has, with films in particular, and we'd happily leave it off as well.

We were quite impressed by the performance of the LA40A650, but one thing still nags at us: images tend to lean towards over-sharp. While this can give the illusion of detail it also serves to increase the amount of noise in the image. We found this to be a problem particularly with SD content like DVDs and the on-board tuner. The Olympics broadcast has been quite noisy at the best of times but in the hands of the Samsung it came out looking like a YouTube video. Turning down the Sharpness control to zero, though, addressed this somewhat. Nevertheless, having to do this is quite unusual and could be seen as a "dirty trick" designed to make the panel stand out on the shop floor.

The panel's only real "faults" are its off-axis performance — the panel loses a small amount of contrast if you aren't sitting dead in front of it — and a tendency for blacks to peter out at the edges to a dark navy. But, the set's otherwise impressive black levels mostly make up for this. If you're looking for better off-axis performance, try the Philips 42PFL9703D.

Finally, we'll put this in the "niggles" category, the TV has an annoying tendency to display a "Searching For Signals" message instead of a black screen when, say, switching between inputs or video is resizing. It doesn't affect the performance in any way, but it may trick you into thinking you've switched to the TV input and the reception's gone bung.