“Add the LN46A630 to your shortlist this holiday season.”
- Excellent picture quality; can be fine-tuned; intuitive menu system; attractive design
- Unimpressive sound; could use more profiles
Sitting between the popular 42- and 50-inch HDTV sizes, Samsung’s LN46A630 occupies the middle of the road both in size and features. While it doesn’t quite have all the bells and whistles of Samsung’s pricier 8- and 9-series sets, it gets the essentials, including full 1080p resolution, a 40,000:1 contrast ratio, and Anynet+ for sending remote control signals over HDMI cables. It also includes Samsung’s signature Touch of Color translucent red bezel and AutoMotion Plus, which doubles the refresh rate over that of a normal television. MRSP is $2099 USD.
Features and Design
Samsung’s “Touch-of-Color” design ethic might not be for everyone, but the company should be applauded for breaking away from the gloss black bezels that it (and seemingly every company in the biz) have been addicted to for years, and trying something new. The effect is so subtle that it might actually be mistaken for the old gloss black approach in dim rooms, but with a little ambient lighting, the bezel’s translucency and reddish amber color show up around the edges, giving it a pleasant sort of glow. It strikes a nice balance between styling that’s too plain or completely over the top, and though we’re not interior designers, we think it fits in nicely in any room, especially those with more contemporary styling.
Other aspects of the LN46A630’s design also helped it achieve its sophisticated look. For instance, the buttons on the face have been embedded seamlessly into the plastic, making them extremely subtle, and the TV adopts a consistent squared-off look on every edge from its sides down to the stand.
Ports and Connectors
For the most part, Samsung included an adequate array of connections for the LN46A630, though on the whole it skewed a bit too far toward newer-style inputs and skimmed over some important legacy ports. For example, while it offers three HDMI inputs (two on the rear and one on the side,) and two component video inputs (which can double as composite inputs if needed), there’s only one S-video connection, located on the side where full-time hookups are mostly verboten. Sure, most users will probably hook up an HDMI cable box and Blu-ray player and call it a day, but if you have an old VCR, digital camera with S-video TV output, or even some older game systems, you’re going to be swapping them out all day long to share only one input. We thought this was a bit short-sighted on Samsung’s part, especially since these older connections can barely be called premium features anymore.
Wiselink USB Reader
In contrast to the almost-pathetic USB functionality on the last Samsung device we reviewed, the HT-X710T home theater system, the ability to read data off a USB thumb drive improved dramatically on this television. The interface looked almost as polished as we’ve come to expect from home media center software running on a PC, and it responded quickly to remote commands. Like the rest of the TV, it’s also laden with extra features, allowing you to change everything from the music files you would like to play during a slideshow to which ID3 tag (artist, title, mood, etc.) you would like to browse MP3s by. It even includes some oddball extras, like browsing photos by composition or color. Granted, we would have liked to see the ability to play movies built in, but given how well it performs as a photo viewer and MP3 player, we can’t really complain.
Samsung discarded some of the goofier aspects of its low-end remotes for the one that comes with the LN46A630, which is comfortable to hold, reasonably well-laid-out, and has a solid feel. It does, however, sport a somewhat cartoony look, thanks to its huge print and use of primary colors, which we found to be an odd pairing with the otherwise ultra-modern and contemporary-looking TV. For use in the dark, it even includes a backlight, which temporarily makes the buttons glow just brightly enough to make a selection. We did find that its responsiveness was hindered by the TV’s infrared receiver, though, which seemed to be nonsensically located at the bottom center of the TV rather than at the top, where it would have the best line of sight. Even small obstructions like a pile of DVDs or books hindered the remote’s operation, which could turn into a major annoyance in frequently used TV rooms where these types of things tend to pile up on a coffee table.
Image Courtesy of Samsung
Although most people will only have to deal with Samsung’s packaging once, we give the company credit for producing a box that makes unpacking such a large TV a breeze. After releasing clips on the side of the massive box, the entire top and sides lift away like a giant sheath, leaving the TV sitting exposed on a small cardboard base. Though there are no handles for lifting, the TV’s thin side profile makes it easy enough to grab and have up on a TV stand with two people lifting.
After setting it down, we found the TV exceptionally easy to hook up components to as well, due to its swiveling base, which moves with only the lightest touch, making it easier to access the rear panel. One HDMI cable and a power cable later, we were in business.
In testing, we found that the LN46A630 produced sharp, colorful and dazzling video on par with some of the best 1080p screens we’ve tested. The black levels and contrast drew our attention before we even attempted to tweak or enhance it with any of Samsung’s numerous settings – one of the best hallmarks of a superior-quality panel. Without boosting contrast or using artificial black-level enhancements, the inky blackness this Samsung was capable of made bright spots pop, and the colors look spot-on.
The vast array of settings this TV sports made it easy to further tune it to our personal taste and liking. Users can adjust everything from standard brightness and contrast levels to the proportion of red to green, and how much edge enhancement to apply. There’s a even a special blue mode for serious TV tweaking enthusiasts to use for calibration. The only disappointment came from the mere three profiles (movie, standard and dynamic) for saving different settings, which made it tougher to do A/B comparison tests as we played with different settings to find which we preferred.
Menu System & Configuration
Given how many features and tweaks Samsung has packed into this television, the sleek menu system does an admirable job of keeping them all straight and easily accessible. Each of the major functions (video, audio, channels, etc.) gets an icon on a slim bar running down the left side of the TV when the menu pops up, and scrolling through them provides a grayed-out preview of what each one entails. After selecting one, a bright-blue highlight clearly calls out which option has been selected. Snappy response times made it easy to cut through submenus directly to the ones we wanted, rather than wading through them as we’ve done with slower systems. Not only was it laid out intuitively enough to find most settings without the manual, attractive ones, too, with full-color overlays and transparency effects.
The “Tools” shortcut on the remote was an especially interesting feature, allowing you to build your own cheat-sheet of commonly accessed adjustments that’s available with a single button press. Like to turn down the lighting levels as the sun goes down outside? Add it to your Tools menu and it’s only one button press away.
One of Samsung’s most intriguing options to play with on this television, and one of the most boldly advertised, is AutoMotion Plus, a technique for milking the display’s super-fast refresh rates to generate the illusion of smoother motion. Since normal televisions refresh only 60 times per second, a TV refreshing twice as fast, as the LN46A630 does, would ordinarily only double the number of times a given frame is displayed. Instead, Samsung tries to “fill in the blanks” by digitally generating its own inbetween frames, effectively smoothing out on-screen motion by artificially doubling the framerate.
Of course, the problem with pulling data out of thin air crops up when in-between frames aren’t entirely predictable, as with fast on-screen motion or jerky photography. While AutoMotion Plus lends an almost eerie life-likeness to camera pans of slow scenes, it also produces some strange effects with movement that’s not quite as smooth. Human motion, for instance, starts to look variably sped-up or slowed-down during some scenes, producing awkward movement that might make you question, if we were still in film-reel days, whether the motor driving the projector was on its last legs.
Fortunately, Samsung offers three levels of intensity for AutoMotion, plus an off feature for those who can’t deal with it at all. We found it tolerable on the lowest setting, but a bit annoying and even distracting past that. The good news: Even with AutoMotion turned off, the television performs superb when dealing with fast motion and exhibits little to no motion blur thanks to its snappy 120Hz refresh rate.
Inexplicably, sound from this TV actually stacked up worse than the lower-end Samsung PN50A450 we reviewed before it. The dullness and lack of presence sounded more akin to what we would expect from a smaller (and cheaper) TV, and left us fairly unimpressed. While it’s not unlistenable, and will probably prove satisfactory for most television content, hardcore movie fans will want to invest in an accompanying home theater system to bring audio performance up to par with the spectacular on-screen performance.
An MSRP of $2099 may scare away budget-minded buyers looking for a display that’s “good enough” and has the right price tag, but that number is absolutely justified by the LN46A630’s outstanding picture quality. If you’re looking for a big-screen TV that delivers silky-smooth cinematic motion and crisp, vivid colors, in a slick contemporary presentation, Samsung’s LN46A630 won’t disappoint. Add the LN46A630 to your shortlist this holiday season.
• Top-notch picture quality
• Plenty of options for fine tuning
• Sleek, easy-to-use menu system
• Attractive, unique bezel
• Unimpressive sound
• Could use more profiles for different settings
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