Samsung HL-S5686W 56" DLP Rear-Projection 720p HDTV

The rear projection big-screen TV market is hot. Consumers are discovering that the latest RPTVs can often beat plasma in picture quality and offer bigger screen sizes for much less money if hanging it on the wall isn't a priority.

Modern RPTVs are thin, light, and inexpensive compared to the CRT-based monsters of just a few years back. While you can still buy a CRT-based set, they've now been severely compromised in quality to fit into the low-end $1000-$1500 price range. Newer projection technology, such as LCD, LCoS, and DLP, has typically started at over twice this price and industry leading Sony SXRD and JVC HD-ILA sets continue to sell in the $4000 range and above.

For years this reviewer has taken issue with some of Samsung's design decisions and the resulting picture. But the HLS series incorporates changes that greatly improve picture quality at a price tag that's stunningly low—especially considering some of the remarkable features being offered. Could the HL-S5686W be the new leader in affordable giant-screen TVs? Can a 56", 1280x720 DLP HDTV with a "street price" that's under $2000 look good enough for an Ultimate AV blessing?

Notable Features
You'd be surprised how often a set is passed over by consumers because it won't fit within a given physical space. A notable recent example is the first generation of Sony SXRDs, whose width with their non-detachable speakers probably cost Sony thousands of sales. Samsung has designed the HLS series to fit where others won't. It's unlikely you'll find any other projection TV in a comparable screen size with such a small footprint.

Samsung's DNIe (Digital Natural Image Engine) video enhancement circuitry has been controversial with video experts since day one. It's been improved somewhat in this, its fourth generation, but the big news is that this for the first time in years it is completely defeatable in the user menu. In fact, it's turned off by default in "Movie" mode. While DNIe definitely isn't the evil some would have you believe, the fact that you can turn it off is a major step forward in flexibility.

Samsung's Movie mode also boasts an industry first. The color points for its primary and secondary colors are said to be different from those used for the other viewing modes, which are exaggerated and oversaturated. The latter is typical of most sets these days. Some people actually prefer the more vivid factory color to true color accuracy. With the HL-S series, you have a choice of which color space (accurate vs. exaggerated) to use. It's as simple as changing viewing modes.

(Because of the oversaturated colors of earlier Samsung sets, a few ISF calibrators have, for several years now, been using a special technique hidden within the firmware of Samsung sets to correct the color points. Video guru Joe Kane first took advantage of this technique for setting correct colors when he worked on the design of the Samsung SP-H700AE DLP Projector. But this technique requires special equipment, is not a normal part of an ISF calibration, and it's something that can't even be done at all with any competing set we know of.)

The HL-S single-chip DLP sets incorporate a faster color wheel, with five color segments for additional color accuracy and resistance to dreaded "rainbow" artifacts. In addition, the color wheel features an air bearing for longer life and noise free operation. An additional color wheel segment was part of HP's secret to good color (see TJN's recent review of the HP md5880n ). HP used a new, dark green segment while Samsung has chosen yellow and cyan.

The Samsung's connectivity is outstanding for any HDT, let alone one at this price point. Two HDMI inputs are supplied along with a pair of component inputs that will accept all four scan rates (480i/p, 720p and 1080i). A USB input makes photo viewing easy, and an RGB input is provided for PC monitor use. Unlike plasmas, DLP sets aren't at risk for static image burn-in and are safe for static computer images.

This is a native 720p set, and its inputs will not accept present or future 1080p sources. But HD-DVD and Blu-ray players should still look great on this set at 720p or 1080i.

Because video sources can vary somewhat, it's important on any display to be able to customize video settings (brightness, color, etc) for each source separately. Samsung dropped the ball a bit here. While each source can be assigned a video mode (like Movie), your video settings within that mode apply to any source using it. If two of your sources require different settings, you'll either have to make video adjustments each time you switch sources, or you'll have to assign one of the sources to another mode like Standard, Custom, or Vivid, all of which feature less accurate color fidelity than Movie.

The remote is new for Samsung and includes some of my favorite buttons—"Sleep" for those prone to fading late at night on the couch and "Still" for freezing the picture to write down that phone number for some irresistible TV offer. It's black though, and unlit, and hard to see in a room with dim lighting. I would have also liked a signal strength button to facilitate off-the-air antenna orientation. You have to go deep into the menu to find that feature.

Finally, the HL-S5686W includes both an analog (NTSC) and a digital (ATSC) tuner. But there is no CableCARD slot and only support for analog, not digital cable.

Viewing Impressions
Frankly, I didn't expect to be particularly impressed with this inexpensive DLP set, but the HL-S surprised me from the first turn-on. Vivid mode was, of course, the way the set started up when it arrived, and was "overdone" in every way (as it is with all sets I've checked fresh out of the box). But switching to Movie gave a smooth, natural looking picture that was a pleasure to watch.