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Last year we awarded the Samsung 50-inch plasma our Editors' Choice award for best TV. We picked it over an excellent Pioneer because the price was much lower and it offered a very decent level of performance. This year Pioneer has come back with even better TVs -- some of the best we've ever seen, in fact -- so when the new Samsung PS50A756 landed on our doorstep, we couldn't wait to see what it could do.
Would it offer the same sort of picture quality as its rivals? To find out we've put it through its paces, and we have to say, it's an impressive TV. The A756 will be out in the UK soon, but pricing information is yet to be determined.
Love it or hate it, the red finish on Samsung's 'touch of colour' range is certainly different. Honestly, we aren't that keen, but we don't especially want to mark the TV down for it, because the world of consumer electronics would be a boring place if everything looked the same. To be honest, in most homes you'll barely notice that this TV has red mixed into the bezel, and we'd say it's certainly not enough to put us off buying one.
The red finish also extends to the remote control, which has another new addition in the form of a scroll wheel. This device is designed to help you navigate menus and quickly adjust the volume and other similar settings. We actually like the remote supplied with these new screens, as it feels solid and the buttons are a decent size, even for people who have larger-than-average digits. It's also got a funky backlight, which should help you control the TV when the lights are dimmed on movie night.
At the back of the TV are a host of inputs and there are some more on the left-hand side of the screen too. The rear connections include three HDMI inputs, component, VGA and two Scart sockets. On the side there are USB, a fourth HDMI and composite and S-Video inputs.
The Samsung is jam-packed with features, so we'll run through the most interesting ones here. Suffice to say, if you love toys, this TV has plenty to keep you happy for some time.
Wiselink Pro is Samsung's way of letting you look at photos, listen to music and now, watch video from USB devices. It includes a slick interface that allows you to chose what you want to watch or listen to. Even formats like XviD and DivX are supported, which means video from the Internet is easily playable.
InfoLive is a new feature that allows limited access to some RSS feeds provided by Yahoo. The list is hardly exhaustive, but you get on-screen access to stock information, weather data and the day's news. It's a nice extra, and saves turning your computer on to find out what sort of clothes you'll need for the British 'summer'.
Of course, the TV has a 100hz refresh rate and is capable of a 1080p picture -- and 24p material will play with no fuss. The Samsung features the usual HDMI control system, which the company calls Anynet+, so you can control Blu-ray players and other external hardware with the TV remote.
The TV is also DLNA-compliant, which means using the wired Ethernet connection will allow you access to media stored on computers on your home network. That's a nice feature for streaming video, music and photos to your TV from a computer in another room, as long as you have the relevant network cables in place. DLNA won't work over the optional wireless dongle Samsung provides for this TV, but InfoLive will.
When we test a TV, the first footage we generally see is standard definition from Freeview. This means that our hopes are either dashed straight away, or we jump for joy. This is because Freeview is quite low quality, so how a TV deals with this really is the measure of how good the picture processing is. We were particularly thrilled to see the Samsung do an amazing job and provide a bright, accurate picture with stunning amounts of detail. It's fair to say the Samsung doesn't have the sharpest standard definition picture we've ever seen, but it's a very strong contender. Great news if you mostly watch DVDs or regular TV, which is, let's face it, most of us.
Of course HD material takes the TV to a whole new level. Gaming from the PS3 with titles like Ridge Racer 7 very nearly blew our mind. Detail was so sharp and colours so beautiful that we could see ourselves playing games an awful lot more than is strictly healthy.
For movies, we couldn't resist taking a look at Zombie Strippers, a film so cheesy you could put it on a slice of bread, stick it under the grill and enjoy a delightful snack shortly after. The good news is that there was plenty of detail. Of course, Zombie Strippers is quite a low-budget work, so there was a lot of grain and many times when the camera crew was visible in sunglasses and other reflective surfaces. The PS50A756 reproduces all of this faithfully, which is exactly what we wanted.
A more conventional film like Walk Hard: The Dewy Cox Story looks utterly beautiful -- colours are bright and inviting with fine detail in faces. We also watched the preview clip of The Dark Knight on our Batman Begins Blu-ray disc, it's fair to say we loved every second.
Looking at one of our test DVDs, X-Men, we are pleased to report that the Samsung does a good job of making the movie look as good as possible. It's not quite as breathtaking as HD material, but it's certainly impressive enough to make watching your DVD collection a pleasant experience.
Even the sound on the A756 is competent. The speakers are invisible, which basically means they're mounted on the underside of the set and fire downwards instead of outwards. This doesn't seem to affect the sound quality, though we'd be interested to know if wall mounting has an effect on the sound.
The new menu systems are for the most part decent and certainly look better than the older versions, but sometimes we found them slow to respond. The scroll wheel on the remote is a decent enough way of navigating, but it isn't that accurate, which means you can over-shoot the setting you were looking to change.
There's no doubt about it: this TV is spectacular in every way. Samsung has jammed it so full of features it's amazing it doesn't explode. The picture quality on Freeview, Blu-ray movies and games is superb and the sound from the concealed speakers is respectable indeed.
In terms of picture quality, the only TVs that come close are the Panasonic and Pioneer plasmas. The Pioneer stays on its throne as our favourite TV, but the Samsung offers so much, and for significantly less money.
Edited by Marian Smith