Samsung HL-S5688W 1080p DLP Rear Projection TV

My how times have changed in video over the past few years! I remember reviewing the first Samsung DLP projection TV for another publication several years back and being stunned at just how dreadful it could look—grass athletic fields that looked like millions of squirming worms, dreadful eye-assaulting greens, terrible blacks, and on and on. But Samsung clearly listens to dealers, customers, consultants, and maybe even reviewers, because with this 1080p HL-S series, nearly every previous point of criticism has been addressed, making this set a clear contender for best RPTV. This 56" model has been widely acclaimed by the press (rated #1 by our sister publication, Home Theater), but in this review you'll learn some details that nobody has told you yet about how the set looks right out-of-the-box and what's reallyinvolved for the end user to get that award winning picture. If you're considering Samsung based on raves elsewhere, this is a review you'll really need to read.

Useful Features
I reviewed an HL-S5686W Samsung some time ago. That was a 720p set. The HL-S5688W reviewed here ($2,599) is a DLP set with similar features, plus 1080p resolution and the ability to accept a 1080p source.

Samsung makes several HL-S 1080p models in various screen sizes, including 50", 56", 61", and 71". Apart from the model that uses an LED light source it's likely that they differ mainly in features, not performance. While comparing different models in a meaningful way on Samsung's web site is mostly an exercise in frustration, it's possible that you could pick a cheaper 1080p HL-S model and avoid certain bells and whistles without sacrificing picture quality.

All of the 88-series models are fully loaded with picture-in-picture, an input for digital cable, a CableCARD slot, TV Guide on Screen, an IEEE 1394 connection for camcorders and digital VCRs, and a WISELINK (USB) jack for viewing photos and playing MP3 audio.

The HL-S5688W is a thin bezel design that, at a mere 16.3" deep, "fits where others won't." 10-bit processing and a 5-segment color wheel rotating at nearly 14,000 RPM are claimed to enrich the viewing experience.

The most significant feature change I found with this 1080p HL-S set over even the 720p version is that any given video preset (Standard, Movie, etc) can be assigned to any input and customized separately. Halleluiah! In past Samsungs the Movie mode could be assigned to any number of sources, but the mode settings for Brightness, Contrast, etc. couldn't be adjusted separately for each source.

Why was that an issue? Simply because Samsung has an entirely different internal factory setup for Movie mode, with a more accurate grayscale and vastly improved color accuracy. It was Movie mode that set previous Samsungs apart, but if every source was assigned Movie mode, the user had to go in and optimize things like Brightness and Color each time he/she changed from one source to another. This was incredibly inconvenient, but not unheard of in other sets even today. The ability to assign the Movie mode to each source and adjust the Movie mode video settings independently for each of those sources is a major plus.

Samsung has also included a number of insignificant features which, in general, you'll want to avoid. DNiE does a number of things to the video to "soup it up" and make it "pop" more. You can get rid of most of its edge enhancement by running Sharpness down below 25 but there's nothing you can do to get rid of the contrast enhancement that crushes blacks dreadfully. Fortunately, DNiE signal processing can now be defeated by the user (and it's not even an option in Movie mode). It would be nice to have more control of DNiE's individual components, but without that, just leave it off.

Here's a suggestion for Samsung: Why not include the various functions of DNiE, selectable separately, in the Custom video mode, as Sony does? You could also include options for either the standard color calibration tables or the ones Movie mode uses, and whether or not to use overscan.

Another insignificant feature is Color Weakness. This allows you to boost red, green, or blue to compensate for your own color blindness—or so they say. Like most color management programs in user menus, there is no specified (or known) way to use it accurately. Another similar color adjustment is called My Color Control. It allows boosting or cutting not just the three primary colors (red, green, and blue) but the secondary colors (yellow, cyan, and magenta) as well. Good luck on actually improving your picture with these.

But Samsung really does have some serious color management hidden in this set, though the adjustments aren't accessible to the user nor useful without very expensive test gear. More on this a bit further on.

Samsung's inputs activate only when a source is plugged in. Each input can be named. Changing inputs requires a slew of button pushes if you start with the Menu button. Eventually (after finding a small note in the manual) I found a separate Source button on the remote that had escaped me. This button allows a quick scroll through the active inputs.

Samsung's tuner (analog, digital, and cable) seems well thought-out. You can create a favorites list for off-the-air TV and a separate one for cable. There's a signal strength meter to help you tune digital stations. Channels you watch can be labeled and those you don't watch can be deleted from the list. There are separate RF inputs for cable and antenna.

While a PC input is included, supported resolutions are the typical PC-only 4:3 types going up to 1600 x 1200 plus a 1920 x 1200RB mode (not explained). A 1080p mode, found in some sets, is not available.

The owner's manual is quite good. The remote is simple and fairly intuitive and includes useful buttons for the sleep timer and off-the-air antenna tuning. DLP's are inherently "burn proof" so this set is computer and game safe.

Right Out-of-the-Box
Each input starts out in Dynamic mode, so expect that every time you plug in a new source. Dynamic is designed to make the set "jump off the showroom floor" and Samsung seems to have outdone all others at this game. Light output is blinding, color is oversaturated, contrast and sharpness are super-enhanced, and the set looks just brilliant with the typical undemanding source material usually seen in showroom demos.

But don't take this thing home and get accustomed to Dynamic mode. Never has a picture been this far removed from reality. Standard mode is a bit better, with more conservative settings. With DNiE off, Warm 2 color temperature selected, and Contrast turned down to 50 or less, Standard mode begins to actually look acceptable, though it's measurably far from perfection. Even in Warm 2, the lowest of the available color temperature settings, the picture has a significant bluish cast. Combine that with primary and secondary colors that are far from accurate and you get a picture that's bright and colorful but just not real. Water, in particular, always looks far too blue, and athletic fields far too green. You might not notice these things right off, but you will after you discover Movie mode, which is a giant step closer to reality.