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Samsung LN-T61F review: Samsung LN-T61F

Samsung LN-T61F

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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12 min read

Editors' Note 10-07-07: The rating this review has been modified from 7.9 to 7.6 because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the introduction of models with 120Hz processing.

7.6

Samsung LN-T61F

The Good

Flat-panel LCD HDTV produces deep black levels; accurate color after adjustment; clean image; numerous picture controls; beautiful styling.

The Bad

Less shadow detail than some LCDs and plasmas; image discolors somewhat when seen from off-angle.

The Bottom Line

Although not quite the best of its breed, the Samsung LN-T4661F delivers very good picture quality with plenty of style and functionality.

The LN-T4661F is Samsung's least-expensive 46-inch flat-panel LCD with 1080p native resolution for the 2007 model year. We recently reviewed another 46-inch 1080p LCD HDTV from Samsung, model LN-T4665F, so you may be wondering why we chose to review this one so soon afterward. The answer is shine. We complained about the 65F's shiny screen because it reflected lots of ambient light, acting more like a mirror than any TV screen we'd seen yet. The 61F's screen has the standard matte finish, which really cuts down on glare. But between the two, we did feel the LN-T4665F offered slightly better picture quality despite the shine (more on that below), making it a better choice for real home theater buffs and others with a lot of control over room lighting. On the other hand, the LN-T4661F should satisfy people who just can't stomach glare, and its picture quality, feature set and exterior design are still a cut above most LCDs on the market.

Design
We really liked the futuristic look of the Samsung LN-T4661F. While both Samsung LCDs, along with most other HDTVs from all kinds of manufacturers lately, are clad entirely in glossy black, the LN-T4661F has a few different styling cues of its own. The speakers hide on the bottom, as opposed to the sides, and sound is deflected into the room by a narrow lip that runs along the bottom of the frame. The swivel base, which allows the panel to move about 20 degrees to either side, is oval instead of rectangular. And fans of the company's prominent circular power button will be thrilled to see it's back in full effect here.

Including the stand, the LN-T4665H measures 43.6 inches wide by 30.2 inches high by 12.8 inches deep. Without it, the panel measures 43.6 inches wide by 23.8 inches high by 4.1 inches deep.

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

Features
Readers of the LN-T4665F review will experience some deja vu when reading the below because the two reviews' Features sections, like the two TVs' feature sets, are basically identical.

With a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, popularly known as "1080p," the Samsung LN-T4661F has enough pixels to resolve every detail of 1080i and 1080p HDTV sources, although it falls a bit short in real life (see Performance for more). All other sources, including 720p HDTV, DVD, computer, and standard-def, are scaled to fit the pixels.

The LN-T4661F includes HDMI 1.3-compatible inputs, which have higher bandwidth than the older versions. In itself that doesn't mean much, but it does enable the LN-T4661F to offer a menu selection labeled "xvYCC," which refers to a wider color space that supposedly comes closer to human vision's capabilities than the current HDTV color space. Of course, you'll need an HDMI 1.3-compatible source (the player and disc, for example), and as far as we know, there isn't any xvYCC content available. In other words, we classify xvYCC and HDMI 1.3 inputs, at least as implemented on the LN-T4661F, as "no big deal." The set's spec sheet also mentions 10-bit processing, but when we asked Samsung, they said that the panel itself doesn't deliver 10-bit color--just that the processing is capable of it. Extra bit depth can allow less false contouring, among other issues, but again, it requires a 10-bit source and display.

Segueing to features that actually matter, the LN-T4661F has an excellent selection of picture controls. It offers 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 the most demanding viewing conditions. In addition to the standard brightness, contrast, etc., sliders, there's a full-fledged backlight control, which is also independent per input.

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. 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.

We appreciated the solid selection of aspect-ratio controls, which include four choices for HD sources. Just Scan is the mode best suited for 1080i and 1080p sources, because it introduces no overscan and displays the image with no scaling. Standard-def sources allow four choices as well, including two zoom modes you can adjust vertically, to see subtitles or obscure tickers, for example.


The back panel includes the usual array of jacks.

Like more and more 2007 HDTVs, the Samsung LN-T4661F offers three HDMI inputs as opposed to just two. Two are located on the back, while a third can be found in a recessed bay along the panel's left side. The Samsung's commendable connectivity continues with a pair of component-video inputs, an AV input with S-Video, two RF inputs for cable and antenna, and a VGA-style RGB input for computers (maximum resolution 1,920x1,080). That recessed bay offers an additional AV input with S-Video as well as a USB port that can interface with thumbdrives to display photos (JPEG only) and play music (MP3 only). Software upgrades can also be applied via the USB port.


The side panel offers a USB port for music, photos, and firmware updates.

Performance
Overall, the Samsung LN-T4661F came close to the picture quality of its slightly more expensive brother, the LN-T4665F, but fell a bit short in a couple of areas. The first is its superior detail in shadows, and the second is its significantly better off-axis viewing characteristics. In most other aspects of picture quality, including depth of black, resolution, color accuracy and saturation, the two were very similar. If you're more of a home theater stickler who turns off the lights for movies and can control your room's ambient light in most other situations, then the shiny-screened 65F gets the nod. But if you're stuck with a bright room or simply don't want to contend with the glare from the 65F's screen, the 61F makes a solid choice.

During setup, as usual, we adjusted the picture settings to levels ideal for our darkened theater. We chose the Gamma -2 mode because it seemed to provide the best balance between preserving shadow detail and delivering a smooth, realistic rise out of black. We'd have liked to go with -3 mode, as we did with the 65F, but that ended up obscuring too much shadow detail. After reducing light output to around 40 ftl, we used the extensive color temperature fine-tuning controls to improve quite a bit upon the Warm2 preset (see the Geek Box below). For a complete look at our user-menu picture settings, click here or check out the Tips & Tricks section above.

For this review, we set up the LN-T4661F next to a few other HDTVs we had on hand, including its aforementioned "shiny" step-up brother, the LN-T4665F, along with the Sony KDL-46S3000, the Panasonic TH-42PZ700U, and the Pioneer PRO-FHD1.

We began, as usual, with a good look at the LN-T4661F's black-level performance, and the set did not disappoint. We had it right next to the LN-T4665F and, despite Samsung's "true black" advertising (which pertains to the 65F and not the 61F), after calibration it was often difficult to tell which one displayed a deeper color of black. Our measurements told us it was the 65F by a hair, but that set did have slightly brighter edges compared to the middle, making the 61F appear darker in certain scenes, especially predominantly dark ones like the void of space in the beginning of Planet of the Apes. For the record, both Samsung LCDs and the Panasonic plasma evinced about the same level of black, while the Sony LCD and the Pioneer plasma appeared visibly lighter.

When calibrating the TVs in our comparisons we adjust the relavant controls to achieve the best combination of black level and shadow detail. In the case of the 61F, we felt this combination was best achieved by sacrificing some detail in shadows to get the blacks deeper -- a compromise we didn't have to make with the 65F. The effect of that compromise with the 61F was the most-visible difference between the two sets. When Mark Wahlberg's ship first crashes on the planet, for example, we could see less of the leaves under the darkest parts of the jungle foliage on the 61F. Gradations from light to shadow, which were evident in the hallway of shadowed plant husks outside the ape city, also appeared a bit more realistic on the 65F and the plasmas. The 61F's shadow detail was still a cut above that of most LCDs however, including the Sony.

The LN-T4661F has accurate primary colors in common with its shinier brother, and other areas of color accuracy, including grayscale performance, were very similar. After calibration the 61F, like the 65F, evinced a grayscale that tended to redden dark areas of the image. This issue was evident, for example, when Walhberg's face and, especially, his dark hair appeared a bit redder than on our reference Pioneer plasma after he's thrown to the ground during the apes' dinner and looks back at his tormentor. Overall, however, colors were still quite well-saturated and vibrant, from the green of the jungle plants to the apes' various skin tones to the red cushions and tapestries in the main ape's bedchamber. Even with its less-accurate grayscale, the LN-T4661F's color accuracy is among the best we've seen from a flat-panel LCD.

As we expected, the Samsung also delivered a very clean image. We didn't notice any false contouring during the film, even in tough areas like the sunlight in the misty jungle that showed slight contours on the Panasonic plasma. Video noise, even in skies and shadows, was also not a noticeable issue.

Although Apes appears a bit softer than many Blu-ray titles, it still packs plenty of detail, which the LN-T4661F conveyed faithfully. We enjoyed the weave in the carpet under the card-playing soldiers, for example, and the individual golden strands of Estella Warren's hair during a close-up. It also behaves exactly the same as the 65F in our resolution tests--failing to resolve every detail of a 1080i test pattern, for example, and failing both of the Geek Box 1080i deinterlacing tests (although it passed the video test when in "16:9" as opposed to "Just Scan" mode) from the HQV HD DVD and Blu-ray discs. We didn't see any evidence of those failures in Apes, but we did find a scene in Ghost Rider, where the grille of the RV at the end of Chapter 6 evinced some diagonal moiré along its horizontal grille. We don't consider failure at deinterlacing a deal-breaker for HDTV picture quality, although if you have access to 1080p content, we recommend choosing it to avoid the chance of seeing these sorts of artifacts.

For what it's worth, Samsung sent us a firmware update that worked with both sets to fix the deinterlacing of video-based, but not film-based, 1080i content and to show every line of a 1080-resolution test pattern. (This update is not reflected in our Geek Box results.) Update 06-20-07: We originally reported here that the firmware update would be available as a download from Samsung's web site. Now we hear from the company that the update may instead only be available to owners who call the Service Center and ask to have it sent. We'll update this section again when we're told more. New TVs equipped with the updated firmware will arrive on store shelves, according to Samsung, by mid- to late July 2007.

Flat-panel LCDs often display imperfect uniformity across the screen, although the LN-T4661F was better than most in this regard. We've mentioned that the screen of the 65F appears brighter along the edges than the middle, especially in darker areas. The 61F does as well, but the difference is quite a bit smaller, and its rightmost edge is the only area that was visibly brighter in black fields, such as the shots of the orbiting space station from the beginning of the film. In dark gray test patterns (15-20 IRE fields), we did notice a very slightly brighter area across the screen's middle as well, but it wasn't apparent in any program material we watched.

One area where the LN-T4661F falls a good deal short of its shiny cousin is in off-axis viewing. All LCDs, including the 65F, wash out a good deal when viewed from somewhere farther than a seat or two away from the sweet spot right in the center of the screen, but the 61F (along with the Sony) also acquired a slight reddish tinge when seen from off-angle to either side, an issue the 65F does not have. The washed-out blacks and red coloration became more apparent the farther we moved off-axis.

On the flip side, the LN-T4661F's matte screen reflected far less ambient light than the shiny screen of the 65F. With the room lights turned up, the 61F actually delivered a darker apparent color of black, and of course, we didn't see nearly as much of the room--including a watcher's white shirt or the coffee table in front of the TVs.

When we checked out the HP-T4661F's standard-def picture quality, using the HQV disc at 480i resolution via component video, the set performed exactly the same as the 65F--which is about average. According to the color bars pattern, the set resolved every detail of the DVD format, and the grass and bricks of the detail test were relatively sharp. On the other hand, it allowed many moving diagonal lines, such as the stripes on a waving American flag, to appear more jagged than we like to see. The four noise-reduction settings did a progressively better job of removing random motes of snowy noise from the disc's low-quality sunsets and shots of skies, but as usual, there was a trade-off, and details were softened somewhat as we increased NR. The Auto setting didn't really work well to automatically adjust the NR, especially in the "motion-adaptive" scenes with the roller coaster, so we recommend choosing one of the manual modes when you'd like to fight the noise. The LN-T4661F did engage 2:3 pull-down quickly and accurately.

As a PC monitor via the VGA input, the LN-T4661F performed exactly as its 65F counterpart. According to DisplayMate test patterns, the set resolved every line of vertical resolution and nearly every line of horizontal resolution with our video card set to 1,920x1,080 output. We detected a slight bit of softness in PC text at font sizes smaller than 10-point, but it certainly wasn't overt. The desktop filled the screen perfectly, and overall, we think most viewers will be happy with its capabilities as a big computer display.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 7006/7088K Average
After color temp 6398/6490K Good
Before grayscale variation +/- 623K Average
After grayscale variation +/- 126K Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.641/0.327 Good
Color of green 0.296/0.578 Good
Color of blue 0.149/0.068 Good
Overscan 0% Good
Black-level retention All patterns stable Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Y Good
1080i video resolution Fail Poor
1080i film resolution Fail Poor

Samsung LN-T4661F Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 245.63 113.52 111.31
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.27 0.13 0.13
Standby (watts) 0.78 0.78 0.78
Cost per year $75.07 $34.95 $34.28
Score (considering size) Good
Score (overall) Average

7.6

Samsung LN-T61F

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7
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