Samsung LA40R81BX (40-inch LCD) - Review

Samsung LA40R81BX (40-inch LCD) - Review

Though most guys will chant non-stop on the importance of performance over design, there is no doubt about the rising popularity of this once forgotten consideration. The stylish Bordeaux R7 is a fine example of this evolving trend. Launched last year, it's a regular entry in our "most popular" chart even till today, despite stiff competition from newer cutting-edge offerings. Now that its Plus successor is hitting the shelves, it's about time the R7 got its long-belated retirement.

Design of the Samsung LA40R81BX (40-inch LCD)

Just when we thought Samsung was done churning out aesthetically pleasant flat panels, it has yet again proven its leadership by refining the Bordeaux range to a whole new level. Sporting more curves and a sleek 107mm chassis, the Bordeaux Plus presents an all-round glossy finish with the now iconic wine glass-inspired pedestal stand. New on the plate is a configurable soft blue lighting and an embossed touch-sensitive TV control panel, the latter is another first for a non-boutique brand name and a truly unique proposition for mid-range panels.

There is also hardly anything to nitpick against the layout of the various controls and sockets. To maintain a clutter-free front without compromising usability, the left-mounted A/V inputs are housed within a recessed panel, within easy reach and concealed from the eye. The same applies to the aforementioned TV controls. These are seamlessly integrated within the bezel and almost invisible from far, save the red power indicator which somewhat doubles as a beacon to their location. Fixed and motorized wall-mounting options are also available, starting from S$100 (US$65.01) extra.

Extending the same black theme is the ergonomic remote, brimming with buttons of all shapes and sizes. These conform to the standard layout featured on all its electronics products and offer a nice tactile feel plus adequate spacing. The remote also excels in versatility, featuring multi-device/multi-brand programmability (DVD player, VCR, cable and set-top boxes), plus backlit buttons for volume and channel adjustments in the dark. That's on top of four dedicated keys for basic playback controls, though you will have to settle with a single toggle button for video switching.

Unlike Samsung's past panels, the Bordeaux Plus is a totally different beast altogether when it comes to the software menu. Gone are the skin-deep configurations, now replaced with a comprehensive selection that, we are sure, will please the technophiles. We counted no less than 50 settings covering different aspects of operations from video to audio and power to the new HDMI-CEC function. In fact, we were pleasantly surprised by the presence of grayscale gains and offsets settings--a match made in heaven for advanced SpyderTV Pro calibration.

Features of the Samsung LA40R81BX (40-inch LCD)

At the heart of this shimmering concoction is a HD-ready 1,366 x 768-pixel Super Patterned Vertical Alignment LCD panel. This is rated to deliver an ultra-high 8,000:1 dynamic contrast and an above-average 550nit brightness. Coupled these with a fast 8ms response time and industry-leading 178 degree viewing angle, Samsung has got itself an extremely powerful TV that's currently leading the pack in the mid-range segment. Fancy figures aside, there is also the customary DNIE picture-processing engine, new Movie Plus and Home Theater PC functions.

For lazybones and couch potatoes, Samsung is presenting you the option of an auto wall-mounting system. Instead of manually adjusting the panel's angle to compensate your seating position, you could simply hit a remote button to swivel and tilt the set. This cool motorized system will even revert automatically to its original flush position after the TV is powered down. There are two caveats here worth noting though, the motorized bracket supports only 40-inch and above models and will not come cheap--luxury comes at a price, remember?

And there is the Anynet+ remote function a.k.a. HDMI-CEC in the consumer electronics industry. This enables one-remote operation between compatible A/V boxes (theoretically, among different brands, too), such as playback controls without juggling between multiple remotes. It�s a simple cheat to do away with the need for an expensive multifunction remote controller. In Samsung's implementation, you could also enable remote recording, route audio to your home theater and even shut down connected devices collectively.

Another strong feature of this panel is its souped-up connectivity options that are truly in a league of its own. In addition to the HDMI port by the side, there are also two more on the rear. This adds up to three digital A/V jacks, previously unheard of for its class. If these are insufficient to suit your needs, there are still another two sets of analog component-video sockets at your disposal. That's a total of five 1080i-ready inputs to go with your HD-enabled playback devices. Rounding up the ensemble are the analog S-video and a 1,360 x 768-pixel-compatible PC input.

Performance of the Samsung LA40R81BX (40-inch LCD)

To get an accurate assessment of this new Samsung, we decided to pair it with an assortment of native HD test equipment ranging from its own BD-P1000 to a Sony PlayStation 3 console. The responsibility of ensuring quality interfaces fell onto Monster interconnects, while the panel was computer-calibrated via SpyderTV Pro. Tuning in to the numerous off-the-air channels received through the onboard analog tuner yielded generally soft pictures laced with light dot crawl. Looking on the brighter side, noise was definitely on the low side with minimal visible grains.

It was a quick reversal when we had our rounds of Avia synthetic test patterns. The Bordeaux Plus exhibited near-perfect color decoding and strong black levels, resolving every shade of the dark hue convincingly. Switching over to our reference DVD clips produced mixed results. Though colors were spot on and natural, sharpness can be a bit lacking depending on the quality of the movie transfers. The consensus here is that standard-definition (SD) visuals is more film than animation-like, with less emphasis on artificially enhanced edges common in graphics.

Going high-def gave the Bordeaux Plus an instant boost in fidelity and, at the same time, added distinctive layering effects that enhanced depth-of-field. We could easily make out the raindrops flowing down the raincoats in one of RV's night scenes. Equally commendable was the striking contrast between the vivid green and orange RV and the subtle flesh tones of Robin William and the cast. The panel also had little problems in tackling fast panning shots and action sequences, verified on a PS3 after adrenaline-filled runs of Ridge Racer 7 reproduced in solid fluidity.

As expected, the R8 did an excellent job displaying a near-native 1,360 x 768-pixel output from a Compaq laptop. Small fonts were clearly rendered with non-existent banding from a close evaluation of our color chart. This could have been even better if not for the omission of a 1:1 pixel mapping. Moving on, sound from the stealth speakers was average, with good mid-to-high-end response and a very light bass presence. The latter did showed signs of distortions when driven loud, but was hardly a show-stopper given the audio subsystem's surprisingly enjoyable stereo imaging.

Awarding the Samsung Bordeaux Plus an Editors' Choice is a tough call, marred by its high S$4,888 (US$3,215.96) tag. We felt the set is a bit overpriced, though we all unanimously agreed that this is an excellent all rounder with a handsome design, balanced feature set and strong HD performance. Taking everything into consideration, the decision is actually a straightforward one if we were to factor in the S$3,888 (US$2,557.87) street price. As to the reason behind the huge price discrepancy, only Samsung has the answer.