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Samsung HLN617W Review

Highs

  • Excellent picture quality
  • good black levels
  • ample inputs

Rating

Our Score 9
User Score 2

Lows

  • Input configuration confusing
Simply put, the Samsung HLN617V 61

Summary

Simply put, the Samsung HLN617V 61″ DLP TV is stunning.  The image quality is second to none, it has enough inputs for most power users, and performs excellently for gaming and movie viewing.

While some people may experience the “rainbow effect”, we have yet to meet someone that actually notices it. There is no blurring or ghosting, like LCD rear projection units, and PS2/Xbox/PC games look amazing. When you don’t want to pay over $10,000 for a plasma display of equivalent size, the 61″ Samsung DLP will satisfy even the most demanding videophiles.

Low resolution programming and games that do not run in at least 480p look exceptionally poor. If you think this is the TV for you, make sure you match it with high quality, high definition sources. The picture is so sharp, you’ll never be able to go back to a standard definition picture…ever.

*Edit 3/27/04 – We originally posted on the first page that next generation DLP televisions will utilize dual DLP chips to help eliminate the “rainbow effect” commonly found on sets of this type. However, next generation sets will use the new HD2+ DLP chip, NOT dual DLP chips. We apologize for any inconvenience they may have caused.

Introduction

Making a decision on what HDTV set to purchase involves not only evaluating different brands, but also comparing different competing technologies. The Samsung HLN617W rear projection TV featured in this review is based on DLP, a relatively new technology in the HDTV arena. Before we discuss this particular unit, we thought it best to explain the basics of DLP.

DLP stands for Digital Light Processing, a technology created and patented by Texas Instruments. The general idea is not simple, and not intuitive. The core of DLP is a chip with over a million tiny mirrors that can be tilted to reflect a light source. If tilted to the “on” position, the light reflects through a lens and onto the screen, creating white. When in the “off” position, the mirror is tilted so that no light passes through the lens. Gray is created by switching between “on” and “off” faster than the eye can perceive, with lighter gray consisting of more “on” states, and darker with less. Color is added by the addition of a color wheel that spins in front of the reflected light. The color wheel is 1/3 red, 1/3 green, and 1/3 blue. The shifting of the mirrors is coordinated with the fixed speed of the color wheel, and it is this combination that allows for the correct color to be displayed on the screen. The Website DLP.com features a great demonstration of DLP technology if you’d like to get more in depth.

DLP inherently does not suffer from burn in, like plasmas and CRT displays, or ghosting, like LCD rear projection and front view units often do. Most DLP sets are on par with LCD rear projection units as far as depth, but are not in the same league as front view LCDs and plasmas.

Few people report to experience what is called the “rainbow effect” when viewing DLP displays. While we have yet to meet one, and over 40 people have viewed our Samsung review unit, it is described as a rainbow of color at the borders of white and colored areas. This is due to the perception of the color transitions as the color wheel moves from one colored third to the next. The next generation of DLP sets will use the new HD2+ chips which uses enhanced technology to help eliminate the rainbow effect, in addition to the 7 segment color wheel (instead of the current 6 segment one).

So which type of HDTV display is right for you?  Each technology has their pros and cons. Gamers may want to look at something other than LCDs because of a possibility of the ghosting we mentioned before. CRTs are big and heavy, and people who don’t have a lot of room or want the television to be upstairs, may want to choose something else. Plasma displays are thin and light and look great as the centerpiece in a room, but the price of the larger plasma screens can be quite prohibiting.

Features and Setup

Many HDTV buyers have come to the conclusion that DLP offers the best bang for the buck, and the Samsung 61″ HLN series looks to be an excellent option. The screen size is massive, the price reasonable, and plenty of inputs to satisfy all of your needs.  The set’s aspect ratio is 16:9, native resolution is 1280×720, at 720p. It supports a maximum 1280×720 pixels at a 60Hz refresh rate.

If you are looking for a multitude of inputs, Samsung delivers. The HLN617W offers two coax in, one coax out, three composite with RCA audio inputs, one composite with RCA audio out, three S-Video inputs, three sets of component inputs with RCA audio (one input supports 480i/p onlytwo support 480p/720p/1080i), a PC VGA input with RCA audio, one DVI input, and a mysterious RS232 port that has so far served no discernable purpose.

For the most part, setup was pretty straightforward until we got to the component inputs. One of the connections support 480i/p while the other two support 480p/720p/180i. This was a bit confusing. We wish they would have made life easier and simply made all of them 480i/480p/720p/1080i compatible.

The inputs were plentiful, but somewhat disappointing. While there are plenty, many semi-serious gamers that have both the Sony Playstation 2 and the Microsoft Xbox consoles may run into problems.

Samsung DLP back panel connections
Samsung DLP back panel connections

For instance, the Playstation 2 supports very few 720p and 1080i games, and otherwise runs primarily in 480i. But there is only one 480i input, which only scales to 480p. In addition, the Xbox dashboard (the load screen when you turn the unit on without a disc) only supports 480i, but runs primarily in 480p in games, and has more 720p and 1080i games. So in order to play most PS2 games, you have to connect it to the 480i/p inputs.  Since the Xbox dashboard is largely useless, we plugged it into the 480p/720p/1080i input, but we then split the Green output from the Xbox, plugging one into the component input (as is expected), and one into the composite video in. This allowed us to view the XBox dashboard in black and white on the composite input.

Another annoyance with the inputs was the inconsistencies in the aspect ratio options. Using the antenna input, composite, or S-Video, you can use view in the following modes: normal wide, panorama, zoom 1, and zoom 2. Normal places black bars on the sides of standard definition programming. Wide mode stretches the entire image.  Panorama stretches only the outside portion of the image, making the center of the screen appear in the correct proportions but the sides a bit distorted. Zoom 1 and 2 do just that – they zoom.in on the center of the screen, with different stretching methods.

Aspect ratio options for standard and high-definition programming on the component inputs have only two options – normal and wide. Normal is actually a bit “pinched”, and wide is actually normal. DVI and PC inputs have only “Wide PC” and “Wide TV” options. While “Wide PC” shows the border of the image, “Wide TV” is slightly over-scanned. We really would have liked to see better handling of the signals to enable all options in every view, and perhaps a manual mode allowing for fine tuning.

Viewing and Testing

The Samsung HLN line of DLPs feature DNIe technology (Digital Natural Image Engine), used to enhance detail, contrast, white balance, color, and allow for 3D motion noise reduction. The set also features a Faroujda chip, considered one of the best in the industry. The DCDi technology implemented by the Faroujda chip contributes to the absolutely beautiful picture.

Essentially, the Samsung DLP delivers a one-two punch of the latest and newly affordable image enhancement technologies. If that isn’t enough, there’s also standard digital noise reduction, which in our viewing tests did not produce a noticeable change in image quality. The setup menu also allows you to choose from a variety of color tones, as well as the expected brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness controls.

We tested the set with a Playstation 2 (480i/p input), Xbox (480p/720p/1080i input), Motorola DCT-5100 HD Cable box (DVI), and a home-theater PC (PC VGA input) based on an ATI Radeon All-In-Wonder 9800 Pro. We used high-quality Monster Cables for all of our connections. We won’t discuss much about the audio quality beyond the observation that it is very good. The Dolby Virtual option does a nice job of expanding the soundstage, and we were pleased with the quality. The BBE sound enhancement attempts to create the surround sound experience with only two speakers. The effect is nice, but will not compete with a physical 5.1 channel setup. The audio that comes out of the pass-through is set to a constant level, so changing the volume on the TV set had no effect on the device it is passed to. The remote is a simple universal design capable on controlling the TV, VCR, cable box, and DVD player.

The image quality literally blew us away when playing Lord of the Rings through the HTPC with PowerDVD. Watching CSI in full high definition glory was a whole new experience. Colors were all vibrant, with very little tearing or artifacts, and featured excellent black levels. As with all rear projection TVs, the amount of ambient light influences the quality of the black levels and color saturation. The setup menus offer the option of Dynamic color/brightness/contrast calibration which attempts to compensate for ambient light. We found this option best for daytime viewing. We also accessed the super secret service menu to adjust the gamma levels, since our set came calibrated to display light green grass as an almost neon bright green.

One letdown was the Playstation 2 experience. Because the Samsung DLP has such an excellent, accurate, and high resolution picture, the Playstation 2 felt like we were playing an old Nintendo, with the amount of pixilation. However, DVDs looked excellent, as we were using a v9 Playstation 2 with progressive scan. The Xbox did noticeably better, especially in 720p formatted games like True Crimes: Streets of LA. In the end, though, the Home Theater PC blew them all out of the water with Unreal Tournament 2003 and Need for Speed Underground.

It is worth noting that we used Powerstrip to create custom drivers in order to achieve 1:1 pixel mapping with the HTPC. The zoom options for the PC input either resulted in a black border, or overscan, rendering the start menu out of the visible area. This was done by following several guides and threads at http://www.avsforum.com.  Image quality was noticeably sharper, and contained less flicker when using the DVI input, versus the PC input. In all, once correctly mapped, the Samsung DLP makes a stunning computer monitor. At 15 feet from the screen, no font size changes needed to be made and text was crisp and clear.  One unexpected setting we had to make was turning the sharpness down.  This dramatically reduced jaggies and pixelation.

Conclusion

Simply put, the Samsung HLN617V 61″ DLP TV is stunning.  The image quality is second to none, it has enough inputs for most power users, and performs excellently for gaming and movie viewing.

While some people may experience the “rainbow effect”, we have yet to meet someone that actually notices it. There is no blurring or ghosting, like LCD rear projection units, and PS2/Xbox/PC games look amazing. When you don’t want to pay over $10,000 for a plasma display of equivalent size, the 61″ Samsung DLP will satisfy even the most demanding videophiles.

Low resolution programming and games that do not run in at least 480p look exceptionally poor. If you think this is the TV for you, make sure you match it with high quality, high definition sources. The picture is so sharp, you’ll never be able to go back to a standard definition picture…ever.

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