To our eyes the Samsung LN-S3251D is one of the best-looking LCDs available. Its round-edged, glossy black case takes a distinctive wide V shape along the bottom, which opens up to reveal a subtle blue swatch of color across its width. (Samsung also makes a white version, the LN-S3252D, with a burgundy swatch instead of blue.) The company hid the speakers under the upper lip of the opening, contributing to an extremely clean overall look. The bottom of the TV meets its matching glossy black stand in a rounded pedestal that swivels about 35 degrees to either side. Including stand, the set measures 31.5 by 9.9 by 23.7 inches (HWD) and weighs 32.6 pounds.
Samsung's remote is the same as those included with its other 2006 HDTVs, and it's an improvement over last year's controller. It offers a smarter button layout, better differentiation between the keys, and a longer, easier-to-hold shape. Although it still lacks backlighting, we appreciate its ability to control four other devices. The black LN-S3251D gets a black clicker, while the white LN-S3252D's remote corresponds to its color as well. The internal menu system looks the same as that of Samsung's other flat panels. Although not as slick as the menu system from the company's DLP televisions, it's intuitive enough to navigate. We appreciated the ability to choose and rename inputs from the menu, as well as the helpful information explaining various menu items.
The spec sheet of the Samsung LN-S3251D starts with a decent connectivity suite, including two HDMI inputs, still relatively rare among 32-inch LCDs. There's also single component-video input--we'd like to see two but it's no big deal on a TV of this size--along with one each for composite and S-Video, plus a VGA-style PC input that can take resolutions as high as 1,360x768. The side panel gets another set of A/V inputs with S-Video as well as a headphone audio output. Like most HDTVs this year, the LN-S3251D includes an ATSC tuner and lacks a CableCard slot--not a big omission in our book.
Conveniences are also solid for a smaller LCD in this price range, starting with a fairly flexible picture-in-picture option. There's a freeze option for writing down phone numbers, for example. You can choose from as many as four aspect-ratio modes with standard-def sources, two of which are adjustable zooms and two with high-def sources, and neither of which are adjustable zooms.
Picture controls include four adjustable picture modes. Unfortunately, the set lacks true independent input memories, so you're restricted to just those four modes of different picture memories--which should be plenty for most picture-fiddlers to customize their sources. You also get five different color-temperature presets, with the Warm2 setting coming closest to the standard. Samsung also includes its gimmicky DNIe demo mode but unfortunately doesn't provide a switch to turn it off, which introduces some edge enhancement (see below). Finally, the company included a Game mode on this set, which generally makes the picture look more garish and unrealistic, but which may please the eyes of some gamers.
One thing absent from the picture menu is an adjustable backlight, a control found on many other LCDs that, when set to a relatively low position, can often improve black-level performance. The company does have a four-position Energy Saver control buried in the setup menu, however, that accomplishes the same thing in less precise steps.
To evaluate the Samsung LN-S3251D's picture, we followed our normal routine of adjusting it for as good a picture as possible in a darkened room. We found that the backlight/Energy Saver control was best set to Medium in this situation; the High setting did produce a marginally deeper black, but it didn't allow the TV to reach our target peak brightness of around 36 footlamberts. See the Tips and Help tab for our complete dark-room settings.
After setup, we connected the set to our Toshiba HD-A1 and watched a little of Serenity on HD-DVD. It quickly became apparent that the Samsung, once it was set to the medium Energy Saver mode, easily outclassed the other two comparable LCDs we had onhand--the Dell W3706MC and the Vizio L37HDTV--in terms of producing a deep black. During the nighttime conversation between Mal and Shepherd, for example, the shadows around the fire appeared relatively deep and dark, with plenty of detail as they faded into the corners. We checked back on our measurements of the similarly priced Sony KDL-32S2000 to see how it competed against the Samsung, and the latter also delivered a deeper level of black, resulting in better contrast ratio.
This dark scene also revealed the Samsung's solid brightness uniformity across the screen; unlike many LCDs, its edges didn't appear too much brighter than the middle, although there was still some variation, especially on the lower corners. We also noticed that the LN-S3251D did a better job of not washing out the image when seen from off-angle compared to the Dell and the Vizio.
As we expected, detail looked fine from this high-quality source. During Serenity's flyover of a forest, for example, the trees in the distance appeared sharp with well defined conical forms to the horizon. The color of green appeared slightly yellower than it should have, but not nearly as objectionable as that of some LCDs we've seen. When Mel talks to Inara on the ship after her rescue, her fine, olive skin looked natural in the dim light and not overly tinged with red. Overall color reproduction was good, although areas did appear too blue regardless of the color temperature preset we chose.
Even with the Sharpness turned to zero, however, we did notice some signs of edge enhancement, which we attribute to the Samsung LN-S3251D's DNIe processing. They were undoubtedly subtle but still visible in some areas, usually text. We saw very faint exaggerations along the inside letters of the FBI warning, for example, and in the word Serenity when it grafts onto the side of the ship in the intro. By and large, however, these artifacts were very subtle and didn't detract much at all from the film. We also appreciated that, unlike its 40-inch brother, the LN-S3251D did not suffer from overt false contouring.
The Samsung did relatively well on our battery of standard-def tests. It successfully resolved all of the resolution of DVD via component, S-Video and composite-video, although the latter two did look a bit softer than we'd like to see in highly detailed areas, such as the stone bridge and the grass from the HQV test disc. Likewise, the Samsung did an acceptable job of smoothing out jagged edges from moving diagonal lines, and it successfully detected 2:3 pull-down when we engaged film mode in the picture menu. During noisy shots of sky and clouds, however, the Samsung's noise reduction circuit made very little difference via component and composite video. On the other hand, when we turned on noise reduction with an S-Video source, the image cleaned up considerably.
All told, the Samsung LN-S3251D delivered very good picture quality, especially for a smaller LCD, and its superb design, solid feature set, and complete connectivity also sweeten the deal. Against its like-priced competitors that we've reviewed, namely the aforementioned Sony KDL-32S2000 and the Sharp LC-32D4U, we give the picture-quality nod to the Samsung. Yes, it does cost a good deal more than some of the budget LCDs out there, but if you're willing to pay more, it has a lot to offer.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7,958/6,794K||Average|
|After color temp||6,528/6,525K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 389K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 114K||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.642/0.330||Good|
|Color of green||0.272/0.594||Average|
|Color of blue||0.145/0.053||Good|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||No||Poor|