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If features float your boat then Samsung's latest LCD, the N73 series, has more than your typical TV. As well as the usual high-definition specification, with integrated digital and analogue tuners, the screen also supports various memory card applications that allow you to view pictures from your digital camera or listen to music from your iPod.
In this age of convergence, digital enthusiasts will welcome these novel additions, which are supported by some advanced processing systems and more interactive functions than you can shake a stick at.
Like the striking design, picture performance offers in-your-face appeal using bright, vibrant images that demand attention. However, colours appear exaggerated at times and subsequently robbed of realism -- at around £1,200 it's still good value for money, though. We reviewed the 40-inch model, but it also comes in 32- (£850) and 46-inch (£1,800) versions.
There seem to be two schools of thought used in LCD styling -- understated or overwhelming. Samsung's striking designs, featuring heavily lacquered black finishing and neon blue under-lighting, definitely fall into the latter.
Affordable screens tend to favour glossy finishes that guarantee instant attraction in the showroom -- but they can look overbearing in more traditional living rooms, especially when larger than 32 inches. Nonetheless, build quality is excellent for the price and there's no denying the wow factor.
Samsung claims enhanced connectivity is the defining difference between this and Samsung's preceding range of LCD TVs, the R74 series. This basically means you get a second HDMI digital input that allows you to directly connect two high-definition sources, such as a satellite or cable receiver and a DVD player at the same time. Since Samsung has just released its first Blu-ray DVD player you'll guess why it's plugging the increased connectivity.
There is also a USB port and 9-in-2 (ie nine different formats in two slots -- see Specs for details) memory card slots, which offer further steps towards total convergence. You can view JPEG photos and play MP3 music files stored on a variety of memory card formats or a portable USB device. You can organise and edit files on screen and even use the Picture Bridge function to conveniently print photos using a separate printer.
Otherwise, the remaining range of connections is pretty standard, with two RGB-enabled Scarts, component inputs supporting progressive scan, an optical audio output and a PC input with sound -- all neatly arranged across the rear panel. There's also a set of easily accessible AV inputs at the side for making temporary connections with devices such as an older games console or camcorder.
The tall, slender remote is comfortable to use and primary functions can be illuminated for dark room viewing. However, practically every feature seems to have been assigned its own key, leaving the remote overcrowded and complicated.
As you'd expect, the LE40N73B is high-definition compatible, although the 1,366x768-pixel resolution will only display the 720p and 1080i formats. That's fine for the vast majority of hi-def sources, but next-generation games consoles and DVD players such as Samsung's BD-P1000 Blu-ray player will also be able to output 1080p -- and for that you'll need a higher-resolution screen and a much bigger budget.
If, like most people, you're waiting for the high-definition dust to settle, you can continue watching standard TV broadcasts using the integrated analogue and digital tuners -- with an accompanying CI card slot for TopUp TV's subscription channels.
Samsung has accompanied its proprietary DNIe technology and 10-bit processing with a new XWCG (eXtended Wide Colour Gamut) system. Apparently, the advanced backlight units mean the screen can display more colours than your average LCD -- but not necessarily to everyone's tastes, as we'll explain later.
All this advanced underlying technology is joined by an extensive range of interactive features. As well as the memory card applications we've mentioned, there are some sophisticated settings for picture and sound, including advanced colour-management systems and surround-sound effects. Games enthusiasts can also select a Games Mode, which enhances sharpness, response times and audio for a more engaging experience.
The clean graphical menu system is simple to use, while digital broadcasts are accompanied by an excellent electronic programme guide that features a moving thumbnail with sound, so you don't miss programmes while you're scanning schedules. Short-cut keys on the remote mean you can access virtually all options with the touch of a single button.
Although picture performance is exceptional at this price, there are a few flaws that separate it from class-leading models from Sony and Panasonic.
Digital TV broadcasts and analogue connected sources lack a little detail and stability, especially when faced with challenging movement or complex backgrounds. Nonetheless, the bright images appear instantly appealing, using vibrant colours and strong black levels to enhance depth and definition. While the new XWCG colour system creates a rich palette of colours, however, the balance appears upset and unnatural at times.
High-definition images carry the same colour balance, but enhanced detail, cohesive movement and the elimination of artefacts mean the overstated colours are easier to ignore. If you want to be dazzled you won't be disappointed, but picture purists might want more realism.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide