If you care about the aesthetics of your electronics equipment, you'll be sure to love the Samsung LE40A856, which is an elegant, slim and very stylish TV going for roughly £1,100. Its thin profile and small bezel make it look much smaller than it actually is, which is great because that means you'll be busy concentrating on what it's showing rather than on the design.
The question is, has Samsung managed to fit everything necessary for a modern TV into such a small package, or has something been sacrificed? Luckily, we got to review one of the first samples, and here are our thoughts.
It's hard not to love a TV that's as thin as this. Although we think slim TVs aren't necessarily worth it, you can't help being a little bit impressed when you see a screen with such diminutive dimensions.
The great thing is, Samsung hasn't sacrificed any features to make the TV monitor just 85mm thick: there are still three HDMI sockets on the back, and a fourth on the side. You get a pair of Scart inputs, component, VGA and S-video in -- with composite video inputs and a USB socket located near the side HDMI input.
The front of the TV is largely unbroken -- there are some touch-sensitive controls on the right-hand side which are totally invisible until you touch the surrounding area. A light at the bottom and centre of the set illuminates the bezel just below the Samsung logo, and that's it. Nice and simple, which means the TV will look great in pretty much any living room, as long as the red colour doesn't clash.
The remote control also features the new scroll wheel interface that Samsung is introducing this year. It's not too bad, but we do have some concerns about how the TV responds to the remote, but we'll discuss that a little later in the review. Other than that, the remote is a sturdy little thing, with nice chunky buttons to help those of us not blessed with fingers like needles. There's also a backlight, which should help you control your TV in reduced light.
Overall, the style of the TV is pretty awe-inspiring, and you don't have to like the red style to respect what Samsung has done here.
New on Samsung TVs this year is something called InfoLive, a simple RSS-style reader that enables the TV to use its built-in Ethernet connection to go online and get information from Yahoo. This consists of stock market, weather and news updates, which isn't much but is actually pretty cool for a quick peek at what's going on.
Additionally the LE40A856 features Samsung's much improved WiseLink Pro, which enables users to browse through photos and MP3 stored on USB devices. This new version even allows you to watch DivX and XviD, which is a definite bonus. Samsung also tells us that the next generation will probably allow playback of the new MKV container -- if only they introduced it this year!
The A8 range also include 120hz picture processing, an improvement over TVs that only offer 72hz or 100hz because it can provide 5:5 pull-down, where each frame of the film is duplicated five times, making for much smoother motion.
First we tuned in Freeview. Instantly it became clear that we were going to have to switch out of the hideous 'dynamic' mode and into something a little less likely to ruin the picture quality. Once we adjusted the picture settings, everything looked good. Colour was restored to realistic levels and skin tones stopped looking like a lobster with a sunburn and took on a more sensible human colour.
After our initial tuning, we noticed something quite interesting. The picture and sound had drifted out of sync ever-so-slightly. Turning the TV off and on fixed the problem, and we didn't notice it again during our testing. It's possible this was a one-off glitch, but if it were to be an ongoing problem, it would be fairly annoying to live with.
Blu-ray material look great -- the 24p support this TV offers to compatible players really means the picture looks wonderfully stable. There is very little motion blur, and what blur there is comes without the unnatural look that some built-in processing modes can create.
We didn't think the LE40A856 had the most detailed picture we've ever seen, but it certainly made our Batman Begins Blu-ray look pretty decent. We watched some of our favourite parts of the movie as well as The Dark Knight prologue and were very happy with the accurate colours. Pictures were very clear, too.
We should also congratulate this TV on its black levels. In the past, thinner TVs have had problems in two areas: firstly the backlight can look uneven because of its closeness to the panel, and secondly the backlight can appear too bright, which is a problem when you pack all of the screen elements in closely together. The Samsung doesn't suffer from either of these, though the backlight is slightly visible at the edges of the screen.
Sound from the LE40A856 isn't outstanding. It was certainly easy to hear dialogue but the TV doesn't seem able to produce much volume, and there wasn't much in the way of low-end sound. Movies are likely to need an external speaker system of some sort.
Overall, this is a decent TV. The picture is good, at times excellent, and we love the styling despite the red colour. Performance is strong for the most part, and we think everyone who takes one of these home will be pretty chuffed with their purchase.
If you want a TV with as much visual impact as this one, you'll need to consider the Hitachi UT42-XV7000, which is expensive and needs an external box of tricks to receive Freeview or accept analogue inputs. That said, we do think the Hitachi had a slightly more detailed picture. The other option is the Toshiba 40ZF355D, a great TV with beautiful styling but a touch less impact visually than the Samsung and Hitachi.
Edited by Marian Smith