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Samsung LN-T53/54H review: Samsung LN-T53/54H

Great style, oodles of features and a solid picture combine to make the Samsung LN-T3253H one of the best LCD TVs available at its size.

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg
David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David runs CNET's home entertainment division, where he leads a team that covers TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home audio. If he doesn't know something about the gear you use to keep yourself entertained at home, it's not worth knowing.

Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
9 min read

Samsung's LN-T3253H is the successor to the LN-S3251D, our favorite 32-inch LCD television from last year, and in most ways it's an improvement. Our favorite addition is the significantly expanded array of options for tweaking the picture, including everything from gamma to color temperature to independent input memories. And if all that sounds like gobbledygook, don't worry; the television's Movie preset is pretty solid in its own right. Aside from its picture, the LN-T3253H also offers exemplary connectivity and plenty of style, once again providing a good reason to spend an extra few hundred dollars over bargain-basement LCDs.

7.6

Samsung LN-T53/54H

The Good

The Samsung LN-T3253H HDTV produces relatively deep blacks with fine shadow detail; accurate color; slick styling; scads of picture controls; superb connectivity with one PC and three HDMI inputs.

The Bad

Expensive compared to bargain models; grayscale tends toward blue in darker areas.

The Bottom Line

Great style, oodles of features, and a solid picture combine to make the Samsung LN-T3253H one of the best LCD TVs available at its size.
Samsung LN-T3253H
Editors' note, November 15, 2007 The rating on this review has been lowered from 7.9 to 7.6 due to changes in the competitive marketplace.

Design
Samsung's LCD TV design is pretty much unchanged from last year, and that's a good thing. The 2007 LN-T3253H looks a lot like the 2006 LN-S3251D, although it doesn't have the other model's blue swatch. Instead there's a curved, transparent lip of plastic along the bottom of the frame, which contrasts nicely against the straighter top and sides. The speakers are completely invisible; their openings consist of downward-firing slits hidden above the lip. The entire set is finished in glossy black, and the edge of the frame is rounded off for a friendly yet futuristic look. There's a blue accent light on the front that can be disabled, and the controls along the right side are slick, touch-sensitive icons as opposed to buttons.

The matching oval stand allows the TV to swivel about 20 degrees to the right or left. Including the stand, the LN-T3253H measures 31.5x22.8x9.9 inches. Stripped of its stand, the panel measures a trim 31.5x21.3x3.1 inches.

Samsung's remote is almost the same as last year, and we generally found the slender wand easy to operate. Only the buttons for volume, channel, and device control (the universal remote can command four other pieces of gear) are illuminated, but that's better than most TV remotes, which often skip backlit buttons altogether. All of the buttons are nicely separated and differentiated, with the exception of secondary controls clustered at the remote's base, which kind of blend together. Cycling between sources is less arduous than usual because the set automatically senses and skips inactive inputs.

Features
With a native resolution of 1,366x768, The Samsung LN-T3253H matches the pixel count of most other LCD models in the 32-inch size range. That number of pixels allows it to resolve all of the detail of 720p HDTV sources. As always, all sources are scaled to fit the pixels.

The LN-T3253H offers a slew of picture adjustments for a 32-inch LCD. You get three picture modes that are each independent for each input, allowing you to customize each source with three different groups of picture settings. Only Movie mode allows full adjustment, however, so we recommend using it for your most demanding viewing conditions. In addition to the standard sliders for brightness, contrast, and so on, there's a full-fledged backlight control, which is also independent per input. Backlight intensity controls the overall light output of the TV, and while such a control is common with other LCD makers, it's new for Samsung this year.

In addition to the five presets for color temperature, there's a full set of detailed color temperature controls. Labeled "white balance" they offer both gain and offset adjustments for red, green, and blue, which allows slightly more-advanced users to really zero in the set's grayscale (more on this in the Performance section below). The My Color control, on the other hand, doesn't seem to do much of anything, so we left it in the default positions. The selection of secondary picture controls includes items labeled "black level," which affects shadow detail; dynamic contrast, which adjusts black level on the fly; gamma, which affects the rate of progression from dark to light; and a selection for color gamut, which controls the range of colors the display can reproduce. See Performance for more details, and click here or see Tips & Tricks for our full picture settings.

We appreciated the solid range of aspect ratio controls, which includes four choices for HD sources. A Just Scan mode is said to "show native full HD signal" according to the in-menu explanatory text, but it can't with 1080i sources (the TV's resolution is 1,366x768) and it doesn't appear to do so with 720p; the image was still scaled to fill the screen. We assume that mode is designed for 1080p native resolution TVs and got carried over to this set. Despite these complaints, we still liked Just Scan because it caused significantly less overscan than the default 16:9 mode, allowing more of the picture to be displayed onscreen. Standard-definition sources allow four choices as well, including two zoom modes you can adjust vertically, to see subtitles or obscure tickers, for example.

A variety of other settings are available in the Setup menu, starting with a Game mode, which the manual says provides a "more realistic gaming experience." If "realistic" means that it's brighter, more washed-out, bluer, and more edge-enhanced, then that statement is accurate. There's also an Energy Saving control with four steps of saving--higher settings dim the backlight--and an Auto mode that apparently adjusts light output according to room lighting. The Setup menu is where Samsung stashed the Film Mode control, which affects how the TV implements 2:3 pull-down detection.

Convenience features start with a picture-in-picture mode, although the second, inset window is limited to displaying just the input from the TV tuner, not any of the A/V, HDMI, or PC inputs. Of course the LN-T3253H offers an ATSC tuner. We also liked the numerous user interface customizations; you can adjust menu transparency, whether the TV plays a cute start-up greeting, and whether helpful explanations appear in the menu system.

We were equally impressed by the LN-T3253H's excellent connectivity. The back panel includes two HDMI ports, two component video inputs, one A/V input with composite and S-Video, a VGA-style analog PC input (1,360x768 maximum resolution), and two RF inputs for antenna and cable. Best of all, the side of the set includes a third HDMI input, another A/V input that has composite and S-Video jacks, a headphone output, and a Wiselink USB port, designed to allow the display of digital photos and the playback of MP3 files from a USB thumb drive. We tested the latter functionality, and it worked well with both photos and music.

Performance
Overall the Samsung LN-T3253H produced a very good picture for a 32-inch LCD television. The many picture controls allowed us to hone the picture to our liking and improve it quite a bit, although the default Movie mode wasn't bad at all.

During the setup process we took advantage of the backlight control to reduce the LN-T3253H's light output to a level commensurate with comfortable viewing in a completely dark room, about 40 FTL. We also calibrated the grayscale with the user menu-based white balance controls, which helped to further improve picture accuracy. After setup, we compared the LN-T3253H side by side with a couple of other 32-inch LCDs: Vizio's inexpensive VX32L HDTV and Sharp's significantly more expensive 1080p model, the LC-32GP1U. For our Blu-ray test material we chose 8 Below, a nauseatingly family-friendly yet great-looking Disney flick starring a bunch of dogs, played over the Samsung BD-P1000 at 1080i resolution.

Performance in darker scenes was impressive for an LCD model. The LN-T3253H didn't produce as deep a shade of black as some of the other LCDs we've tested, such as later, larger models from Sharp and Sony, but it beat the Vizio and matched the 32-inch Sharp we had on hand. What we really liked about its dark-scene reproduction was the realistic gamma, which manifested as plenty of detail in shadows without too steep of a rise out of black. For example, in the scene where Jerry Shepard talks to Katie on the ship back to rescue the dogs, the shadowed side of her face appeared realistically dim yet we could still make out details around her eyelids and eyebrows. On the Vizio and the Sharp, by comparison, that area appeared brighter and a bit less realistic. We attribute this difference to the Samsung's adjustable gamma control, which we slid to its lowest setting (-3) to achieve the most CRT-like rise from black into shadow.

The Samsung's grayscale did tend to dip toward blue in the darkest shadows. As a result, Katie's face looked a bit too blue in that scene, more so than on the other two LCD sets, but it wasn't egregious. Colors in brighter areas remained true, however, which made the snow look more realistic, along with areas such as the faces of Jerry and Davis when they're out on the snowpack and inside the well-lit yellow tent. The ability to tweak the grayscale and the Samsung's accurate grayscale really help the colors look more natural. The set's relatively accurate primary colors and excellent color decoding are also big factors in its solid color performance.

We kept an eye our for false contouring artifacts, especially in all the expansive shots of snow and sky, but the Samsung LN-T3253H's image was clean. When we looked closely at snowy skies, we saw a bit more noise than on the other displays, but it wasn't apparent from seating distances of more than about five feet. We also looked hard during fast motion while watching the film and other material, and the Samsung didn't exhibit any notable blurring.

For an LCD, the Samsung LN-T3253H delivered fairly even uniformity across the screen. The biggest issue was the slightly brighter area on the left side, which was barely noticeable in the letterbox bars and more apparent with all-dark screens, such as the black spaces between titles or the night sky. We appreciated the even backlighting in particular during 8 Below's numerous shots containing fields of snow and ice. We also noted that the LN-T3253H maintained a fairly watchable image even when viewed from an extreme angle. When we moved to either side, both the Samsung and the Sharp washed out the darker areas and dimmed the brighter areas somewhat, but they were about equal to each other in this regard and certainly superior to the Vizio, whose image became both more washed-out and discolored from the sides.

Video processing with high-definition sources left a bit to be desired. Like most other HDTVs we've tested so far with the HQV HD DVD, the Samsung LN-T3253H failed to properly deinterlace 1080i signals and preserve all of their resolution. As a result we saw some moire in the stands of the stadium during that disc's real-world test. We looked for the effects with program material and couldn't really see them in this film, however, so it's safe to assume they're subtle.

In terms of standard-definition performance, the Samsung turned in a decent performance when displaying most of the images and test patterns from the HQV DVD. It smoothed out the jagged edges of moving diagonal lines very well, including the difficult stripes in a waving American flag. Details in the grass and the stone bridge were a bit softer than on some sets we've seen, although the LN-T3253H did resolve all of the lines of the disc's color bars pattern. The set's noise reduction options were quite effective without softening the image too much, although the Auto setting didn't clean up the toughest images as well as we'd prefer. Update 04/26/07: When this review first published we indicated that it failed the test for 2:3 pulldown detection, but that is incorrect. It passes the test well, implementing 2:3 processing quickly when Film Mode is set to "On" in the setup menu.

We also hooked up the Samsung's VGA input and tested it as a computer monitor. At 1,360x768 resolution, the image looked crisp with text down to a 10-point font, and according to DisplayMate the Samsung resolved every line of that resolution. The set is also equipped with a Home Theater PC mode that dimmed the image a bit and helped improve the picture to our eyes. Of course you can get the best results by adjusting the TV's standard picture controls, but the HTPC mode does provide a quick option.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 7525/6544 Average
After color temp 7421/6614K Poor
Before grayscale variation +/- 434K Good
After grayscale variation +/- 164K Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.624/0.321 Average
Color of green 0.270/0.591 Average
Color of blue 0.146/0.057 Good
Overscan 0.5 percent Good
Black-level retention All patterns stable Good
Defeatable edge enhancement No Poor
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24fps Yes Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Fail Poor

7.6

Samsung LN-T53/54H

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7
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