Samsung HL-S5679W DLP HDTV
A little less than a year ago, a predecessor to this TV competed in one of our Face Offs with five other RPTVs. It didn't do well. Despite the fact that it posted some of the best measurements of the group (including the most accurate color points and the best contrast ratio), it came in fourth place out of six sets. The reason was a video processing "enhancement" called DNIe, which two-thirds of the reviewers flat-out hated. It couldn't be disabled. Just the fact that the same processing on this HL-S5679W is defeatable would make it worth a review. (In fact, you can't enable DNIe at all in some modes.) As it turns out, this isn't even the most interesting feature on this RPTV—not by a long shot.
Look Ma, No Bulbs!
This is the first projection television since the extinction of the CRT RPTV that doesn't use a UHP (ultrahigh pressure) lamp to light up its screen. Instead, the HL-S5679W has three tiny LEDs (light-emitting diodes), all on one chip. I talked about these in detail in the July 2006 issue's GearWorks. In short, they are tiny, powerful light emitters. They run far cooler than UHPs and are infinitely less fragile. These two things allow for nearly instant on and off, so you won't have to put up with the cool-down time that projection-TV owners have patiently (or not so patiently) dealt with for the past few years. Also—and perhaps more importantly—these LEDs are rated to last the life of the TV, so you'll never have to replace them. Over the lifetime of a TV, this could save you thousands of dollars. There's no need for a color wheel, but, because the colors are still sequential, there's still the possibility of rainbows. It's possible, but, because of the rate at which the TV flashes the colors, it's very unlikely that anyone will see them. Expect to see more TVs with this technology in the future.
Color Me Impressed
More than any other aspect of this TV's performance, what impressed me the most was the accuracy of the color points. Of the products we've reviewed, only the near-reference Yamaha DPX-1300 front projector has color points this close to perfect. The Yamaha is a $12,500 front projector, and, despite its accuracy, even it's not as close to the SMPTE spec as this RPTV. Out of the box, the green and blue color points are pretty much spot on. The red color point is just a little oversaturated. This makes for a pleasing image in its own right, but, if you calibrate it, it can get even better.
Calibration, by a certified ISF technician, will improve just about every display's accuracy. With this TV, a skilled tech with the right equipment can make it about as accurate as any display we've ever reviewed. The process could be easier, but the results are fantastic. With just a bit of work, I was able to dial in the primary (red, green, and blue) and secondary (cyan, yellow, and magenta) color points to within the measurement tolerance of our PhotoResearch PR-650. That's accurate. Even more impressive, this level of calibration isn't specific to this TV. In fact, it's available in most Samsung RPTVs, something that will make next month's RPTV Face Off even more interesting. (In case you missed it, that was a plug for you to buy our February issue.)
But color accuracy and a neat way to light up the screen aren't the only aspects of a TV's performance.
Aesthetically, the HL-S5679W is a step forward compared with previous Samsung designs. The gloss-black finish is simple and elegant. As with previous Samsung TVs, this one makes a noise when you turn it on or off that sounds like leftover sound effects from Tron. It's. . .distinctive.
Seeming to know how hard their remote is to use in any amount of light, Samsung provides braille for the power, volume, and channel buttons. I think this is a rather odd addition for something that is predominantly a visual device, but, then again, they put it on drive-up ATMs, so why not? If you can't read by touch, you'll still be able to feel your way around the remote's major function buttons. You'll need full house lights to read the secondary functions, as the gray-on-black lettering is hard to read, and the tiny buttons are hard to discern.
The menus seem to take a page out of the Sony design book—as in, they're colorful, require far too many button pushes to get anywhere, and are a little slow. For example, to change the contrast, there are seven button pushes to even get to the control. In an effort to make TVs easier to use, every TV manufacturer seems to make the basic things harder. Can someone convince Apple to offer seminars on how to design product ergonomics?
The HDMI inputs accept 1080p, as does the PC RGB input. The PC input can be pixel-for-pixel from the source. If your calibrator knows what he's doing, he can adjust the regular inputs to be the same in the service menu (as in no overscan). No matter what I tried, the HDMI input would not sync to the Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player—but it would to Samsung's own Blu-ray player. Sketchy.
Another thing the HL-S5679W has in spades is detail. On the 16 Blocks HD DVD, Bruce Willis' individual hairs and wrinkles are all visible enough to count. It is perhaps not quite as sharp as a front projector or a direct-view 1080p display, but, for an RPTV, it's better than most. The scaler does an excellent job pulling out every bit of detail possible from 480i sources. In the close-up of the professor in chapter 2 of The Fifth Element, his beard has a lot of detail without looking overly enhanced. There is a little noise in the image, but not a lot. The Digital NR doesn't seem to get rid of the noise, but it does seem to soften the image very slightly. Some of the noise comes from the screen (as it does in all RPTVs), but there is less than with other RPTVs I've seen. Considering the gain that the screen appears to provide, it could be worse.
Also, like all RPTVs, there is a drop in brightness if you move even slightly off axis. Move even just a few inches up or down, and you'll see a noticeable decrease in light output. The same is true if you move side to side, but to a lesser extent. Make sure you have the center of the screen at eye level when you're on your couch.
The HL-S5679W picks up the 3:2 sequence very quickly on all 480i sources, both synthetic (Silicon Optix's HQV Benchmark) and real (Gladiator). With a prerelease copy of the HD HQV Benchmark, and using the Toshiba HD-XA1, the HL-S5679W correctly deinterlaced 1080i/30 material. It didn't, however, correctly deinterlace 24-frame 1080i material. Then again, neither do roughly 80 percent of the TVs on the market today. With actual HD material, this wasn't noticeable.
Not So Shiny
Unfortunately, the two aspects of the HL-S5679W's performance that aren't great are its black level and its contrast ratio. Neither is particularly impressive. The black level is 0.091 foot-lamberts, which is significantly higher than all of the RPTVs from last year's Face Off. In fact, it's higher than most of the displays of any kind we've reviewed recently. The contrast ratio of 1,189:1 isn't terrible (it's similar to most flat panels), but, compared with the 7,622:1 of the last Samsung RPTV we measured, it's a long way off. Some TVs have an auto iris that tracks the video signal and opens and closes as needed. This can artificially increase the contrast-ratio numbers, but it does help somewhat with the apparent contrast ratio. Even so, a staged iris that could lower the black level and light output in steps would be a welcome addition. I have to figure that the only reason Samsung didn't include one on this model was cost. Already, the HL-S5679W is more expensive than other TVs of its size.
LEDs Lead the Way
This TV's performance is hindered only by its black level and contrast ratio—ironically, the very things that seem paramount to every TV manufacturer. Its color accuracy is unmatched, and the image it creates is very pleasing and relaxing to the eye. The detail and lack of noise are also commendable. Other TV manufacturers should take note; just as consumers once sought color-temperature adjustments, I hope that adjustable color points will be the new fine-tuning people seek. After all, once you get a taste of what an HD image is supposed to look like, it's hard to go back to those oversaturated and rather cartoonish colors of certain other displays. (Cough, Sony, cough.)
• Excellent color accuracy before and after calibration
• No lamp to replace
• Terrific detail with both HD and SD material and little noise