Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified..
To a bargain HDTV shopper, the array of small-screened LCDs must seem inexhaustible and indistinguishable, but among recent models we've reviewed, the Samsung LNB360 stands out with the best picture quality. It's no reference-level display, mind you, but it managed to beat out the competition in the important arena of black-level performance, while remaining among the leaders in most other areas. It does cost a few more bucks than many of its competitors, and it lacks some noteworthy features (like side-panel inputs), but if you're looking for a small LCD that gives "good enough" picture for less, the LNB360 series certainly qualifies.
We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 32-inch Samsung LN32B360, but this review also applies to the 26-inch Samsung LN26B360. The two share identical specs and should exhibit very similar picture quality. The 19- and 22-inch versions have lower contrast ratio specs, in addition to other differences, so this review does not apply to those models.
Simple and handsome, the external appearance of the Samsung LNB360 series has the same glossy black frame and general proportions as many other entry-level HDTVs, but a few classy touches set it apart. Chief is the subtle protrusion of clear plastic that runs along the curved bottom lip of the frame. That curve matches the sweep of the oval stand's base, and we liked that the stand swivels.
Samsung's remote and menu system are both smaller and simplified compared with its larger sets. The many-buttoned clicker presents nearly as many options as the one on Toshiba's AV502U series, for example, but does it in a much easier way. The keys are nicely differentiated by size and color, and all of the expected buttons are present. The remote can't directly command any other devices, however, and unlike the Sony and LG entry-level sets the Samsung lacks a control-over-HDMI option.
The menus feature simple icons and a layout reminiscent of higher-end Samsungs, and we like it a lot. A separate Tools menu offers easy access to often-used functions. The text explanations under various main menu items are superb, the navigation logic makes sense, and the wealth of items under the "support" tab will be a boon for beginners. There's a Self-diagnosis with internal patterns designed for troubleshooting, a diagram for common connections, and a Contact Samsung page with a phone number, Web site, and directions to the site's firmware update section.
Like most entry-level LCD TVs, the Samsung has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, or 720p, as opposed to the 1080p resolution found on step-up models. Of course, at this screen size, the benefits of 1080p are negligible, except with computer sources, so we don't consider this feature omission a big deal.
Typically, Samsung is second only to LG in terms of picture adjustability, and the LNB360 series is no exception. Its menu offers numerous ways to tweak the image, starting with three adjustable picture modes that are all independent per input. There's also custom color temperature controls to augment the four presets, and unlike many entry-level sets, the Samsung's white-balance controls include all six main adjustments.
Other adjustments include gamma and color space, in addition to a few others we left turned off for critical viewing: dynamic contrast, black tone (both of which adjust the picture automatically), flesh tone (which affects color decoding), and edge enhancement. HDMI black level, three levels of noise reduction, and a film mode, which affects 2:3 pull-down, round out the available adjustments.
Total aspect ratio settings on the LNB360 number four with both HD and standard-def sources, and two of the four are adjustable. The Screen Fit setting available for HD sources assures zero overscan, so we recommend using it unless you see interference along the extreme edges of the screen.
We appreciated the inclusion of four-step Energy Saver setting that limits the LNB360's maximum light output, providing an easy way to reduce power use. Samsung also throws in a game mode that minimizes video processing and supposedly prevents lag between the controller and the onscreen action (we didn't test this feature).
The Samsung LNB360 series has fewer connections than many TVs in its class, and the biggest omission as far as we're concerned is found on the side. The TV lacks side-panel inputs of any kind. The back panel includes an average selection of jacks, however, namely two HDMI, one component-video, one VGA-style PC (1,360x768-pixel maximum resolution), one AV input with only composite video, and one RF input, along with optical digital and analog stereo audio outputs.