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Samsung LNA750 review: Samsung LNA750

Samsung LNA750

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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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15 min read

Editors' note: The rating on this review has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace.

7.3

Samsung LNA750

The Good

Superb black-level performance with solid shadow detail; highly accurate color; improved 120Hz dejudder processing; unbridled feature set including network streaming, built-in interactive content and news, stocks and weather feeds; broad selection of picture setup options.

The Bad

Expensive; clear plastic layer on frame conducts distracting light; red color isn't for everyone; shiny screen reflects ambient room lighting; some artifacts when dejudder modes are engaged; most interactive content seems tacked-on; streaming doesn't support third-party DLNA servers; awkward clickwheel remote.

The Bottom Line

The excellent picture quality and unique interactive features of the Samsung LN46A750 flat-panel LCD TV aren't quite worth the higher price tag.

"The kitchen sink" is a term used loosely when describing a feature set on any product, from cars to countertops, but in the case of the Samsung LN46A750, we're using it in the tightest sense. This 46-inch flat-panel LCD packs more feature punch than any HDTV we've tested yet. 1080p with 120Hz refresh rate? Check. More picture controls than any set on the market outside of LG? Check. Built-in networking that allows RSS-style news and weather feeds, access to networked videos, photos and pictures? Yup. Unique interactive content, courtesy of internal storage and augmentable via downloads, encompassing "Tofu Tortillas," "Basic Reflexology," and "Bye Bye Boowa and Kwala?" Yeah, sure. Of course we'll tack on some accolades regarding picture quality, which is every bit as good as the superb LN52A650, as well as some reservations in the Design department that affect picture perception in some circumstances. On a flagship TV, one big reservation is the price tag--those interactive doodads are not worth the typically $300-600 difference between this model and the LN46A650, in our opinion--which along with said design issues helped earn the 750 series a lower score than its 650 series line mates. Another is the assurance that later in the year, even higher-end sets will hit the market, likely with better LED backlighting than we saw on the 2007 Samsung LN-T4681F. For now, however, the LN46A750 stands secure as king of the feature hill.

Design
Much like the 650 series, the 750 models have a "Touch of Color"--red, in this case--incorporated into the glossy black frame. The effect isn't overwhelming, although again you certainly get the impression that the TV's frame has a reddish tint, which becomes more apparent in brighter rooms. Many people (including us) might object to the red, especially if it doesn't go with the rest of the room's decor, and as of today, Samsung hasn't announced any additional colors. The Touch is best experienced firsthand to see whether you like it; neither the video nor the still pictures really capture it. Compared with the 650 series, however, the 750's red is definitely a bit more subtle.

Aside from color the LN46A750 is a fairly high-tech-looking TV, lacking the soft, rounded curves of the 650 series but including a clear plastic overlay on the frame that adds an extra level of sheen. While most such accents have no effect on perceived picture quality, especially in a dark theater, the Samsung's shiny frame introduces a major design flaw. When we turned down the lights we noticed that any kind of brighter image on the screen caused the extreme edges of the frame to light up correspondingly; the clear plastic of the frame was collecting light from the screen and transmitting it to all four edges. We found the extra light particularly distracting during movement.

Especially compared with thin-bezel sets like the Mitsubishi LN-T46148, Samsung's thicker frame makes this 46-inch set seem a bit bulky. The dimensions and weight for the LN46A750 total 46.1 inches wide by 11.8 inches tall by 30.1 inches deep and 64.8 pounds including the stand, and 46.1 inches wide by 3.9 inches tall by 28 inches deep and 52.7 pounds without it. Surprisingly, the matching glossy black stand does not swivel.

The remote uses a rotating, clickable wheel, similar to an iPod scroll wheel, for menu navigation, as opposed to the standard, four-way directional keys. The wheel would be a cool idea if it was more responsive, but with the brief delay between moving the wheel and seeing the results on the screen, we found ourselves more than a bit annoyed. The rest of the remote's buttons are nice and big and backlit and we liked the dedicated "Tools" button that offered quick access to picture and sound modes, the sleep timer, and the picture-in-picture controls. We didn't like the clicker's glossy black finish, however, which picked up more than its share of dulling fingerprints after a few minutes. Worse, the 750 series' remotes remove the handy "P Size" button in favor of a "Content" key, so you have to navigate into the menu to change aspect ratio. Did we mention being annoyed?

Samsung LN46A750
We liked the easy-on-the-eyes design of Samsung's menu system.

Samsung's new menu system is sleeker than last year's and blessed with big, highly legible text set against transparent backgrounds that occupy almost the whole screen. Getting around is easy; there's helpful explanatory text along the bottom, and we dug the context-sensitive menu that would pop up occasionally to provide more options. Overall, it's one of the best-designed and most-attractive menu systems we've seen on any HDTV, and it really makes setup a breeze--except for the confusing picture mode arrangement (see below). One cool extra reserved for the 750 series is a built-in "product guide" that takes you through the TV's myriad features.

Features
Interactivity is the LN46A750's biggest differentiator over the 650 series, but we'll start with the basics. This set has a 120Hz refresh rate, which allows it to cut down on blur and to affect judder in motion with a video-processing mode, Samsung calls "Auto Motion Plus." Check out David Carnoy's Fully Equipped column for an in-depth discussion of 120Hz, and the performance section of this review for specific details. Like most other LCD and plasma TV models on sale in 2008, the LN46A750 also has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 (aka 1080p).

Samsung LN46A750
Local weather reports are available on the LN46A750, along with news and a stock ticker.

Interactive capabilities: New for 2008, both the 750 and 650 series include an Ethernet port, which lets the TVs access the Internet to display news, stock ticker information, and local weather. The company's implementation of Internet access isn't as extensive as that of the Panasonic TH-50PZ850U, for example (described here), but it's still pretty cool. We liked the easy-to-read font in normal and large sizes, as well as the intuitive controls. USA Today provides the newsfeed, which can sit in the corner of the screen like a ticker, or be expanded to let you read numerous top stories in a variety of topics. One annoying quirk was that we couldn't remove the Setup screen easily--hitting "return," as the manual suggested, merely turned off the whole service. Also, we'd really appreciate if the port allowed the TV to access firmware updates, but according to Samsung that's not in the cards. A USB-to-Wi-Fi dongle that lets the TV connect to a wireless network (model WIS-08BGX, $34.99) is also available.

Samsung LN46A750
The Content Library menu allows access to a couple of built-in games, recipes and other seemingly random, er, Content.

The 750 series also adds a suite of limited interactive content functions. The TV comes preloaded with a hodgepodge of a few simple games, recipes, a slide show of high-def art with music (the highlight of the preload pack, complements of GalleryPlayer), a children's section (games, stories, choppily animated sing-alongs) and a fitness section with stretching and massage instruction. The content consists of still images and text in the form of Shockwave files that can be painfully slow to navigate, and we doubt many 750 owners will use it extensively. An unfortunate exception would be Dora-addled rugrats repeating the sing-alongs ad nauseam.

Samsung LN46A750
The text-and-stills shockwave files are sort of glorified slide shows; in this case with information on proper aerobic exercise.

More content can be downloaded from Samsung's Web site, transferred to a USB thumbdrive and played back via the built-in USB port. When we tried doing so, we were frustrated by the scant instructions in the manual. First off, we didn't need the special number the manual mentioned as necessary for download. Second, the instructions forgot to mention that we had to unpack the files ourselves with the included Korean-language installer on the PC before they can be used--a process many users will find frustrating. When we finally got the content (a yoga instruction and another picture gallery) to load, it worked as well as can be expected, although again navigation was poky.

The TV can also reach out to your home network and play back photos, videos and music stored on networked computers. You'll need to install special software, included with the TV, onto your PC, and of course leave the PC on. Alternately, you can copy said files onto a USB thumbdrive and play them directly on the TV.

While this feature seems pretty cool, it's not as good as similar functionality built into a PS3 or an Xbox 360, let alone that of a dedicated network media streamer like Apple TV. Despite being billed as DLNA-compliant, the TV won't play nice with DLNA server software like Windows Media Player 11 or TVersity (both of which we tested), so you're stuck with the included proprietary software. Samsung's software is basic and lacks both preference menus for transcoding and compression and the ability to alter the file hierarchy. It also takes a long time to scan your PC for media, but once it's set up, the system works well. We were able to play back DivX, Xvid, H.264, and MPEG2 video files; as well as the audio formats MP3, AC3, PCM, ADPCM, and AAC. It also let us browse JPEG picture files and, surprisingly, played back raw Video_TS files ripped from DVDs (although it wouldn't recognize ISO files). Unfortunately we missed some functionality, such as fast-forward and an adequate selection of aspect ratio controls, when playing back video files. We'd like the home network stuff a lot better if it worked with other software, but this is a decent start if you don't have access to another server solution. (Interactivity testing, sans yoga, performed by Matthew Panton).

Picture controls: The LN46A750 has three adjustable picture modes that are each independent per input. That's great, but in addition there are three more picture presets, called "Entertainment Modes," that cannot be adjusted and are accessible via a separate key on the remote and the Setup menu. This arrangement is unnecessarily confusing on a TV with so many settings anyway; we'd prefer to have all of the picture modes, both adjustable and nonadjustable, be accessible together from a single key on the remote and one area of the Picture menu. Also, if you're in Entertainment mode, you're prevented from making picture adjustments, or even selecting one of the adjustable picture modes, until you actively cancel an Entertainment mode by navigating to the Setup menu (which the onscreen instructions suggest) or toggling the mode to "Off" using the remote. That's an awkward hitch in an otherwise smooth menu design.

Samsung LN46A750
A detailed white balance control joins numerous other picture adjustments.

Other picture controls include five color temperature presets along with the capability to fine-tune color using the white balance menu; three varieties of noise reduction, including an automatic setting; a film mode to engage 2:3 pull-down (it also works with 1080i sources); a seven-position gamma control that affects the TV's progression from dark to light; a dynamic contrast control that adjusts the picture on the fly; a "black adjust" control that affects shadow detail; and a new color space control that lets you tweak the Samsung's color gamut.

You can choose from four aspect ratio modes for HD sources, two of which let you move the whole image across the screen horizontally and vertically. As we'd expect from a 1080p TV, one of those modes, called Just Scan, lets the LN46A750 scale 1080i and 1080p sources directly to the panel's pixels with no overscan--the best option unless you see interference along the edge of the screen, as can be the case with some channels or programs. There are also four modes available with standard-definition sources.

Other features: We appreciated the three power-saver modes and the singular fact that, much like Panasonic's plasmas, this year Samsung did not use the brightest picture mode as its default. Instead, the default picture mode for Home use is Standard, which saves a lot of energy compared with the much brighter Dynamic. Check out the Juice Box below for details on the set's energy use. As far as other conveniences, Samsung throws in picture-in-picture and compatibility with the company's forthcoming digital media adapter.

Samsung LN46A750
Three HDMI inputs and a PC input are available on the back panel of the LN46A750, along with an Ethernet jack for network-based interactivity.

The connectivity of the LN46A750 is excellent. There are three HDMI inputs available around back, while a fourth can be found in a recessed bay along the panel's left side. There's also a pair of component-video inputs; a single RF input for cable and antenna (the '07 models had two); and a VGA-style RGB input for computers (1,920x1,080 maximum resolution). That recessed bay offers an additional AV input with S-Video and composite video, a headphone jack, and the USB port.

Samsung LN46A750
The side panel adds a fourth HDMI input as well as a USB port to access some interactive functions.

Performance
All told, the LN46A750 delivered basically the same picture quality, give or take a couple of dejudder differences, as the superb LN52A650. We loved its deep black levels and accurate color, and while we could complain all day about the shiny screen in a bright room--and the shiny accents around the edges in a dark room; see Design--it's still one of the best-performing LCDs out there.

As we've come to expect from Samsung, the initial Movie mode was quite accurate for home theater viewing, but the LN46A750 still benefitted from a little tweaking. A standard calibration improved the color temperature somewhat over the Warm2 setting, although the tendency of the grayscale to get blue-green in very dark areas was something we couldn't fix. Primary and secondary colors measured very well on the LN42A750, to the point where we didn't bother to adjust the color points. Check out our full dark room picture settings and the Geek Box below for more gory details.

Our comparison this time around involved a few competing higher-end 120Hz LCDs, including Samsung's own LN52A650, Sony's KDL-46W4100 and Mitsubishi's LT-46148, along with our reference Panasonic TH-50PZ800U plasma. We checked out the Blu-ray of 10,000 B.C. on our PlayStation 3 for the bulk of our image quality tests.

Black level: Since the LN52A650 delivered some of the deepest blacks we've seen on any LCD, we weren't surprised when the 750 followed suit. It displayed dark areas, like the letterbox bars, the shadows of the warriors and the black hair of the primitive tribesmen gathered inside the meeting yurt, realistically and with plenty of depth, albeit just a touch lighter than the Sony LCD and the plasma. On all of the displays aside from the Mitsubishi, we doubt we'd be able to perceive any black-level a difference if we weren't comparing them side-by-side. Details in shadows, such as the hair and costumes of the tribesmen gathered around the shaman, looked distinct and well-defined, although the plasma appeared a bit more realistic in these areas.

Color accuracy: We had no major complaints on the color front. Skin tones looked quite natural, while colorful shots such as the grassy plains and the tribe's leather outfits had a depth and richness of saturation that's the result of fine color decoding and deep blacks. Despite the uneven grayscale, dark areas didn't get too inaccurate as to become distracting, and black itself didn't have the bluish tinge we've seen on so many LCD displays. Primary colors also lived up to their accurate measurements, from the ubiquitous blue of the ice and sky to the lush green of the jungle.

Video processing: Samsung's Auto Motion Plus processing is designed to smooth out motion--specifically the judder or faint stuttering inherent in 24-frame material such as most films. Judder can be perceived most easily in pans and camera movement, but once you notice it, it seems to pop up everywhere there's any movement onscreen. Some viewers find the smoothing effect desirable, while some think it looks too video-like and even cartoonish in some instances, particularly Hollywood films. We're of the latter camp, but we feel dejudder processing can be effective in some scenes.

Surprisingly, we noticed differences in AMP between the 650 and the 750, which we attribute to different software; our 650's software is actually a month newer (dated April, 2008) than our 750's software (March, 2008). In the Low and Medium AMP modes, the 750 actually introduced more smoothing than the 650; the latter seemed to preserve more of the inherent judder in the film-based test material we used initially. However, when we switched back to B.C., a pan over the snowy mountains seemed a bit choppier on the 750, a testament to the variability of dejudder with different sources. Both displays introduced the same minor amount "triple puck effect," an artifact that looks like elongation and blurring in a quick moving object, such as a hockey puck or football in mid-air, in High and Medium modes. Both of these modes also introduced more-prominent halos around fast-moving objects, such as when the tribesmen get chased through the jungle. We still preferred the Sony's antijudder processing compared to that of the Samsungs, but as with the 650, the 750 is much better than last year's LN-T4671F at squelching artifacts introduced by the anti-judder processing.

Other aspects of 120Hz performed as advertised. We preferred the juddery (film-like) look of feeding this and the other 120Hz sets 24-frame material--setting our PS3 to 1080p/24 mode with film-based Blu-ray Discs -- and deactivating the dejudder modes, which eliminates the hitching motion of 2:3 pull-down but doesn't smooth overmuch. Compared with the Panasonic plasma, which was set to 60Hz mode, a pan over a snowdrift looked a good deal less choppy, yet lacked that artificial-seeming smoothness introduced by the dejudder modes. With this setup, it was difficult to discern a video processing difference between any of the 120Hz displays. As usual, when we watched specialized test footage we could discern blurring in fast motion when we deactivated dejudder processing, and when we turned it back on the blurring cleaned up noticeably, although those moving objects still didn't look as sharp as on the plasma.

We were surprised when we ran the film resolution loss test, which measures a display's capability to deinterlace 1080i film-based sources properly, because the LN46A750 failed the test, while the LN52A650 right next to it passed. We noticed a bit more artifacts in the pan around Raymond James Stadium and the grille of the RV from Ghost Rider, but the difference wasn't a deal-breaker and, as usual, we didn't see it in B.C. (Update July 18, 2008: Samsung has released a firmware update for the LN46A750, and after we installed it the TV passed this test. Since the majority of shipping units don't have the updated firmware, however, we are not changing the corresponding Geek Box rating.) Of course the 750 displayed every detail of 1080 resolution sources and handled deinterlacing of video-based 1080i sources well.

Uniformity: Our LN46A750 test sample appeared a bit less uniform across the screen than the 650. We noticed a slightly brighter area in the upper-left corner that was most-visible in dark scenes, but still perceptible in the letterbox bars regardless of scene brightness. We also noticed the same tendency for the sides to appear brighter than the middle of the screen. Viewing from off-angle was good for an LCD; the black-level drop-off wasn't as severe as the Sony or the Mitsubishi, and we didn't see significant discoloration.

Bright lighting: Samsung tells us that the LN46A750 has a better "antireflective," glossy screen than the one on the 650, but in person, to our eye, they looked just about identical. Neither did a good job of attenuating bright in-room light sources--their mirrorlike finishes seemed to reflect the windows, in-room objects, and even ourselves framed in the screen equally egregiously. In short, we feel these shiny-screen LCDs are surpassed by most other displays, including glass-screened plasmas with antireflective screens, in their capability do deal with ambient light.

Standard-definition: The LN46A750 performed quite well with standard-definition. It resolved every line of the DVD format, and program material appeared relatively sharp. The Samsung did a superior job of removing jaggies from diagonal edges, its noise reduction was very effective in the low-quality shots of sky and sunsets and it engaged 2:3 pull-down quickly.

PC: Via both VGA and HDMI, the Samsung LN46A750 made a superb computer monitor. Via HDMI resolved every detail of 1,920x1,080 sources according to DisplayMate, and text looked crisp and well defined. It couldn't quite hit every line of horizontal resolution via VGA, but the difference was impossible for us to detect in text and other onscreen objects.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 6867/7087 Good
After color temp 6861/6561 Good
Before grayscale variation +/- 421 Average
After grayscale variation +/- 181 Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.64/0.332 Good
Color of green 0.277/0.602 Good
Color of blue 0.146/0.05 Average
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Y Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Fail Poor

Samsung LN46A750 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 184.62 119.31 98.41
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.2 0.13 0.11
Standby (watts) 0.8 0.8 0.8
Cost per year $57.64 $37.42 $30.96
Score (considering size) Good
Score (overall) Good
*Cost per year based on 2007 average U.S. residential electricity cost of 10.6 cents per kw/hr at 8 hours on/16 hours off per day.

How we test TVs.

7.3

Samsung LNA750

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7
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