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.
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.
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.
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.