Note: This television is also available in a 46-inch size for AU$6,499 RRP (model LA46F7).
The Samsung LA40F7 sports a black stand and black piano-finish frame (a fingerprint cloth is included). The only visible front elements are a Samsung logo and round Power indicator that is rimmed in a blue light that turns off when the power is on, but lights up in standby mode. (However, you can set this light to be off completely if you choose). When on the included stand, the cabinet swivels 20 degrees.
There are two small speakers concealed on each side of the bottom of the frame, with manual TV controls hidden on the left edge and memory card slots, Pictbridge, USB, S-video, composite and headphone ports along the right. The back panel houses all your standard array of AV connections, most notably though, two HDMI ports.
The remote follows the black theme -- there are no back lights, but it's very slender and nicely weighted. It's pretty button-intensive, but needs to be as you can set it up to control five different devices -- a TV, DVD, cable, set-top-box and VCR. Quite an extensive array of brands and models are supported. Some of the remote buttons, such as the ones that control viewing photos and playing music from memory cards or USB media are quite tiny, but the most often used buttons that change volume and channels and the cursor menu control are large and well located in the middle of the remote.
This TV was launched to partner one of the first Blu-ray players on the Australian market, Samsung's BD-P1000 and it should be pointed out that the matching finishes and design of the two devices make a very smart-looking combination.
You'll be happy with the LA40F7 if you're the type who wants to set up things specifically to your own preferences. There are a multitude of set-up, picture, sound, Picture-in-Picture (PIP) and power saving options. All are easily accessed through the onscreen menu system, so it's also easy to make adjustments on-the-fly, depending on what source content you're viewing (handy too, as the Picture mode must be adjusted separately for each input source).
With what Samsung calls its Wiselink function, you can use the LA40F7's 10-in-2 memory card slots to view JPEG photos or listen to MP3 music files. Using the remote, you can also copy and delete files, as well as set up photo slide shows, zoom and rotate photos.
If you haven't seen it yet, Blu-ray does take video to another level of detail, depth and definition. We sampled a cross section of high definition content and found that outdoor scenery, well lit interiors and animated movies (you'll probably see a loop of Chicken Little running in stores) looked particularly impressive on the LA40F7.
Disappointment only crept in when we started viewing a Blu-ray disc of S.W.A.T., a movie that contains many dark scenes where a crack team of LA cops -- dressed in head-to-toe black battle gear -- chase mostly black-attired bad guys at night. Extra resolution serves no purpose if it is difficult to discern different shades of black and grey. Altering the brightness and contrast, which as noted before can be very easily done on the fly, did help, but even with the settings cranked up, the definition in the dark scenes was not perfect. It's an old issue with LCD technology, but one to consider given that many of the first release Blu-ray titles are movies with variations of the S.W.A.T. theme.
Fans of fast-pace actions genres will be pleased that we detected no blurring during scenes with rapid movement. The whirring blades of the SWAT team helicopter were depicted cleanly and the adrenaline junkies of the SWAT team trained and ran from one encounter to the next without issue.
Hooking the LA40F7 to a set top box to view free-to-air digital broadcasts produced much the same response as content through the Blu-ray player. Bright colours are vividly reproduced to an almost eye-popping degree, but dark scenes sent us back to the Picture Standard controls. HD signals naturally look much better than SD broadcasts, as they put all those extra pixels to much better use. The bottom line is, if you're not going to watch HD content most of the time -- broadcast or video, this television is probably overkill. You will however, have the comfort of having a fairly future-proofed model as the supply of content catches up with the display technology.
We plugged in an Xbox 360 to the LA40F7 to get a gaming point of view, and we found the set provide generally pleasing stutter-free images. We took racer Test Drive Unlimited out for a spin and did not encounter any distortion to the fast moving images, while players on FIFA 07 looked detailed and realistic. When we pumped up the 360's resolution to 1080p, however, we did encounter some noticeable ghosting, particularly around text.
The high resolution of LA40F7 also makes a great display vehicle for your family photos. With a dedicated button on the remote, the Wiselink functionality is dead easy to use. Two very minor quibbles, however. The first is, if you've shot an image in portrait rather than landscape mode, the 16:9 widescreen will stretch the image across the screen and it will be distorted. Also when we inserted our USB drive with 400 stored photos, we found it took a while to jump to the last images, as consecutive pages of 15 images each will load before you can advance. Having said that, we haven't seen a more sophisticated photo navigation system on any other TVs as yet.
In addition to picture quality, one of the big benefits of Blu-ray content is its use of new HD surround sound formats such as Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-HD. While the LA40F7 does have five sound modes -- Standard, Music, Movie, Speech and Custom -- as well as TruSurround XT, a technology that lets you play 5.1 multichannel content over two speakers, the on-board speakers are too small to match its picture prowess. You'll want to invest in an external audio system to fully appreciate a high definition movie experience.
At the time of this review, there are only a handful 1080p televisions on the Australian market. If you want to be the first house in your neighbourhood to boast one, Samsung at least comes in with the most competitive pricing in a very expensive category. Stack it up price-wise against Sony's X-Series 1080p LCDs (40-inch AU$5,499, 46-inch $6,999 and 52-inch AU$9,999) and it holds its own. Compared to the 1080p plasmas out now -- which would arguably handle blacks better -- Samsung looks almost cheap. Pioneer's PDP-5000EX is AU$14,999 and Panasonic's Viera TH-65PV600A is AU$17,449. Note though that 1080p plasmas are only available in very large sizes -- the above models are 50- and 65-inch respectively -- so price comparisons are difficult.