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Samsung LE40A656 Picture Quality
High Definition (Blu-Ray)
Widely criticised for its underwhelming CGI effects and weak ending, I Am Legend on Blu-ray nevertheless presents sufficient eye candy for us to assess high definition image quality on the Samsung LE40A656 LCD television. A significant portion of the movie was filmed in natural daylight without any tampering of contrast and colours, which practically screams out for first-rate D65 greyscale treatment. The calibrated Samsung LE40A656 duly obliged, accurately depicting the hauntingly beautiful sunshine that bathed the desolate post-apocalyptic New York City as Robert Neville (Will Smith) went about his day-to-day business of deer hunting and chatting up mannequins.
Helped in no small part by the hypnotic "Ultra Clear Panel", black-level performance was typically superb on the Samsung LE40A656. The few cut-to-black (e.g. when Robert sealed the heavy metal shutters covering his windows just before nightfall) and fade-to-black (e.g. when Robert passed out after falling into a snare trap) scenes never threatened to lapse into the dreaded "grey haze" that commonly afflicts lesser flat panel displays.
In the past we've been somewhat let down by the indistinct shadow detail on Samsung LCD TVs, but the LE40A656 seems to be breaking away from this less-than-desirable tradition. As long as black level and gamma were set correctly, the Samsung LE40A656's delineation of nuances in the dark was comfortably on par with the Sony W4000's. For example, as Robert nervously explored the pitch-black interior of a building where he would later stumble upon a group of hibernating Dark Seekers, we had no difficulty appreciating the profuse sweating on his forehead and the unmistakable fear in his eyes, despite the only source of illumination being the tactical torchlight on his M4 rifle.
Colour performance was one of the few aspects where the Samsung LE40A656 failed to measure up to the excellent Sony W4000. Although blessed with a colour management system (CMS), its limitations meant that colour saturation had to take a slight hit as we sought to rectify the red push initially present on the Samsung LE40A656. That said, colours still appeared rich enough due to support from inky blacks. And thanks to hue-aligned secondary colour points, skin tone rendition remained among the most realistic we've witnessed on a Samsung LCD TV.
"Just Scan" unleashed the full potential that we know 1920x1080 full HD flat screen televisions are capable of, empowering the Samsung LE40A656 to portray fine detail with wonderfully incisive clarity. Close-up shots of Robert's face were particularly revealing, with each bead of sweat, facial pore, and bristle of his crew-cut hair plainly visible.
The Samsung LE40A656 HDTV did not manifest any evidence of telecine judder (as judged from the slow panning shots and scrolling end credits in the movie) when displaying 1080p/24 video signal from the Sony PS3. Activating [100Hz Motion Plus] would smoothen even the inherent 24fps judder (which is responsible for the dream-like filmic look we've come to associate with movies), but in the process make I Am Legend look like a video documentary.
We're not big fans of this video effect, but some of you may grow to like it, especially when you take into consideration the increased motion resolution that [100Hz Motion Plus] brings. During the horizontal pan across the panicking crowd trying to evacuate New York City (40:42), individual figures were simply less blurry and more well-defined if [100Hz Motion Plus] was engaged.
Aside from the occasional stutter (for example as Robert's Ford Mustang entered the overhead tracking shot of New York City around 03:12), we did not notice any significant interpolation artefact with [100Hz Motion Plus] engaged. As almost always, we'd prefer to leave it off for film-based material, but if you wish to see less motion blur and don't mind the video effect plus a few artefacts, the "Low" setting would probably suffice.
Standard Definition (Freeview Digital TV)
While scaling quality, black level and (to a lesser extent) colours were similar on both sets, the Samsung LE40A656 did hold the slight upper hand over the Sony W4000 in this department thanks to its superior standard-def video processing. In particular, film-based content (e.g. movies and American dramas like CSI) benefited from the correct application of 2:2 pulldown, largely ridding the picture of deinterlacing artefacts such as line twitter and moire. As long as a sensible viewing distance is adopted, high bit-rate transmission can look satisfyingly good on the Samsung LE40A656 LCD television.
The 100Hz motion compensation algorithm on the Samsung LE40A656 has improved compared to last year's models, if what we saw during BBC1's live broadcast of the meaningless international football friendly between England and Trinidad and Tobago was anything to go by. With [100Hz Motion Plus] set to "Low", the Samsung LE40A656 evinced fewer instances of tearing artefacts (and when they cropped up, they were not as distracting) than the F86 we reviewed 8 months ago. As expected, there was less motion blur with [100Hz Motion Plus] engaged, but we wouldn't go any higher than the "Low" setting due to a progressive increase in frequency and severity of the interpolation artefacts.
We tried out the "Sports" [Entertainment Mode], but discarded it pretty much instantly as it spawned a picture too garish for our tastes.
HD Console Gaming (PS3)
Anchored by excellent black level and 1:1 pixel mapping from "Just Scan", colours and fine detail in Gran Turismo 5: Prologue simply "popped" on the Samsung LE40A656 HDTV, contributing heavily to a visually immersive gaming experience. [100Hz Motion Plus] reduced motion blurring, but also introduced some mild interpolation artefacts like intermittent tearing and shimmer around moving objects, although to be fair these were a lot more subtle than what we observed on the F86.
Here's the not-so-good news: even with [100Hz Motion Plus] disabled, we measured input lag on the LE40A656 to be 30ms slower than our resident Samsung F96, which means that it's up to 60ms slower than the Sony W4000. While most people will not be affected by this, sensitive gamers will probably experience this input lag in games demanding sharp reflexes. We certainly did: in Call Of Duty 4 somehow we were unable to nail as many headshots on the Samsung LE40A656, though we readily concede that the reason might very well have been psychological.
There are two ways to mitigate input lag (to the level where it's on par with the Samsung F96) on the LE40A656, neither of which is satisfactory. The first is to set [Entertainment Mode] to "Game", but the resultant image would be too bright and over-sharpened (which cannot be fixed because the picture settings are locked).
The other (slightly better) method is to use the VGA port which seems to be clear of most of Samsung LE40A656's processing, and can accept and display 1920x1080 progressive video signals. However, not every gaming console has a VGA output (think Sony PS3). Also, some key picture adjustment controls such as [Sharpness], [Colour] and [100Hz Motion Plus] are greyed-out and unavailable in PC/ VGA mode.
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