Not so long ago, 1080p screens were a relative rarity. Now you can't throw a scone without hitting one. But this is good news, because 1080p makes HD DVD and Blu-ray come alive, and gaming can also find a whole new level of realism.
The Samsung LE46F86 is the latest 100Hz, 1080p TV from the Korean company, available for around £1,400. There is also a smaller 40-inch model available if that better suits your needs for around £300 less.
It seems almost boring to say it, but once again, Samsung deserves credit for making a TV that looks good in the corner of your lounge. Each year they improve on the previous design, and make their equipment cooler and prettier. The LE46F86 has the same smooth lines as the other Samsung screens from this season.
At the rear there are the usual inputs and outputs. All of the larger Samsung screens now have three HDMI sockets -- two of which are at the back -- which we are pleased to see, although the time is coming when we'll need more than three of these little blighters.
There are also analogue inputs in the form of component RCA connections for HD for the Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and some upscaling DVD players. Two Scart sockets are present for hooking up video recorders and cable/satellite/Freeview boxes. There is also a VGA PC connector, for people who want to use their TV as a monitor or hook up a media centre PC.
At the side there is a USB connector, S-Video and composite video in, along with the third HDMI input. These side connectors are really handy for hooking up camcorders and games consoles, if you don't need them connected all the time.
This TV also features the prettiest power button we've ever seen on a TV. A glowing, thin blue strip is a touch-sensitive control for putting the TV into standby. It's a little pointless, but we do think it's very cool.
The LE46F86 offers the standard picture enhancement options we're now used to on Samsung TVs. While we still take issue with the way these screens are set up out of the box, we are happy that Samsung offers such in-depth control of the picture settings.
We're sure many people will leave the TV set to the default settings, but this is a shame. Just by doing a few simple things like turning down the backlight can really improve the black levels.
We are also big fans of the Samsung menu system, which is well designed and simple to use. Our only real issue is the setup routine, which seemed to mess with tuning. The first time we tried it, it didn't scan for digital channels -- still, this was fixed by scanning again.
The LE46F86 features Samsung's 100Hz mode, which ensures films look smooth and judder free. It's a feature we think appeals to some people more than others, but it also makes support for the 24p standard possible, which is supposed to offer film lovers a more cinematic experience.
The LE46F86 is also 1080p ready, which means you can get the very best out of your Blu-ray or HD DVDs, if you have something that can play those formats back. Samsung also includes its gaming mode on this TV, which will appeal to console owners who want a nice sharp, motion blur-free picture.
HD picture, as we have come to expect, is excellent on this TV. Our usual collection of test discs, including Serenity and Happy Gilmore, looked stunning and we saw plenty of detail in King Kong's fur, too.
Freeview wasn't too disappointing either, although expecting anything brilliant from the relatively low bitrate service is always a waste of time. The Samsung, for its size, does a reasonable job with digital TV, but the picture does look a little soft most of the time, with compression artefacts being quite noticeable. We didn't notice any significant problems with de-interlacing though, which is good news.
Upscaled DVD looked good, too. We fed the TV with a 1080i picture from our DVD player over HDMI. Some compression artefacts were present, but not enough to ruin the viewing experience. Of course, the volume and severity of these picture problems will depend on the quality of the DVD, which can vary wildly.
The Motion Plus system in the LE46F86 works a treat, making film material look smoother with less motion judder. The thing we like most is the fact that there are three settings for it -- low, medium and high. On low, we found movies looked smoother, without looking too artificial. On the medium and high settings, we noticed some considerable distortion around moving objects.
Sound was pretty reasonable. We found we had to crank the volume up to around 50 per cent before we got a level where we could hear everything clearly. But the sound wasn't distorted or overly muffled. There was a passable amount of bass, although as usual we don't think anyone should rely on built-in TV speakers for their home cinema experience.
But, as sure as a Samsung TV will look good,
you can be certain the remote control will be about as much use as a
chocolate teapot. We can't work out why the controllers are so sluggish
on these TVs, but it can be fairly frustrating.
The LE46F86 is a sturdy performer and anyone taking delivery of one will be thrilled once they've got it out the box and spent some time setting it up. There is pretty much nothing on the market at this price range that beats the styling of the Samsung. We just wish they'd spend some time sorting out their remote controls.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday