Samsung HLM617W Rear-Projection HD Monitor Page 2

The HLM617W also has an RS-232 input, which is unfortunately only for service functions. The set's menu and remote are attractive and easy to manage, although there's room for improvement. In particular, the remote doesn't have discrete IR commands. You can toggle through the various aspect ratios and sources, but you can't select one directly. Fortunately, the set automatically senses which input you're using and disables the remaining ones.

The set's user interface makes it easy to adjust the levels for the various inputs. The display has several preset picture modes, but it can also remember custom settings for each source. As I mentioned, the picture is really bright (see the measurements chart). The set has a built-in limiter, though. If you push the contrast level past a certain point, you can see the peak-white level drop. In fact, the luminance range's entire upper end drops somewhat, making the image look artificial. With the contrast set below the limiter's threshold, the picture was as bright as anyone could want.

Brightness isn't everything, though, so I ran the HLM617W through the gamut of picture-quality tests. Composite images look fairly good. There's some dot crawl, but no cross-color artifacts. As always, you're better off using S-video or Y/Pb/Pr connections, when available. The set has excellent black-level retention, which means that dark images don't get lighter or darker as the rest of the picture changes. The set doesn't offer scan-velocity modulation, of course, because there aren't any scan lines to modulate. All of the inputs utilize an excellent color decoder. With test signals, the decoder appears to be extremely accurate, rendering various colors at comparable levels. With actual picture material, however, the image is definitely red. I had to back down the color control significantly to keep the image looking natural. This might be due to the display's color temperature, which is disappointing. No matter what setting you choose, darker and brighter images are either bluish or neutral compared with middle-gray images, which are redder. Professional calibration corrected this problem. A better factory-adjusted gray scale, combined with the color decoder and accurate primary colors (again, see the measurements), would give the set awesome color fidelity.

DLP does offer some inherent improvements over CRT-based displays, and this Samsung is no exception. For one, the image is extremely sharp. Both DVD and HDTV signals are highly detailed. Samsung definitely utilizes the HD2 chip's full resolution. It helps that the display's convergence, geometry, and corner-to-corner focus are nearly perfect. The image is so bright, there's no need for the set's high-gain screen. In fact, the screen has both a noticeable hot spot and a slight sheen. I've seen this sheen on other rear-projection DLP models, and it's likely an interaction between the DMD pixel structure and the screen's fresnel or lenticular elements. Then again, these two elements help the screen reject ambient light and improve the image's black level. I got used to the screen sheen after a while; however, to see what would happen, I swapped the screen with a sample of Da-Lite's Video Vision screen, a unity-gain-diffusion material. The new screen definitely eliminated the sheen, but it introduced some other problems that I didn't have time to sort out.

The only other anomaly that I noticed was a contouring artifact that was apparent with NTSC material. As the image stepped from lighter to darker areas, the HLM617W created some video noise or snow at each step's transition. Our test signal that ramps from black on one side of the screen to white on the other wasn't smooth or gradual but instead stepped from one level to the next. While this effect definitely bothered me with test images, it was less noticeable when I watched program material. Fortunately, the effect wasn't prevalent with HD images, which ramped smoothly into shadows and had excellent detail. HBO movies like Shallow Hal and Terminal Velocity and an NHL hockey game and a James Taylor concert on HDNet looked outstanding.

Samsung hasn't been making high-end rear-projection displays for very long, but they've certainly come a long way in a short time. The HLM617W has great features and some outstanding performance characteristics. All that keeps me from giving it an unqualified endorsement are a couple of quirks that may not satisfy serious enthusiasts. Most people may not even notice these quirks, though. At the very least, anyone who's looking to buy a new rear-projection display should add this set to their audition list.


• Excellent scaler for both film and video
• Blindingly bright, with a reasonably dark black level

HLM617W Rear-Projection HD Monitor