Samsung LN-T4681FX LED Backlight 46in. 1080P HDTV

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Product: Samsung LN-T4681FX LED Backlight 46" 1080P LCD HDTV
Provided By: Samsung Canada
Price: ~$3699.99 CAD

 

Introduction:

As many of you are aware there has been a large war in the TV world over which technology is the best.  The two sides have firmly entrenched their loyal solders and thus engaged on the consumer battleground, they have fought over market share.  Each side makes use of some scary slogans which they hurl – as a mighty projectile – to inspire fear into the cautious buyer.  An unwary buyer, uninformed by be pummeled by such phrases as “Watch out for burn-in”, “pricey”, “high failure rate”, or the big one, “contrast ratio”.   So what am I doing on this battlefield?  Just think of me as a mercenary and with this review I am going to fire a shot for the LCD side using their latest innovation in the ongoing conflict, the LED backlit TV.  With this little improvement the LCD side hopes to shore up one of their very real weak spots and that is the contrast ratio.  It has been no secret that this was a gaping hole in the bulwarks of the LCD camp, one that Plasma foot soldiers have been exploiting for quite a while.  Even the staunchest supporter of LCD technologies has been forced at one time or another to admit that LCD technologies have traditionally sucked when it came to this important criterion.

Ok, enough babble lets load this catapult and fire a shot.  What exactly is LED backlighting as it pertains to an LCD TV?  Just hold on a minute Wikipedia is still loading…. And it’s done.  A flat panel LCD is really a type of projector although not really recognizable in the traditional form.   To generate the image that you see from your couch, fluorescent tubes have been used to shine light through a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD).  The LCD panel is used to filter the light that reaches your eyes.  Think of it in a very basic sense as a bunch of shutters that open and close.  Using a fluorescent tube produce the light is a very rough approach and it results in a lot of wasted light as well as a lot of light bleeding through when you want a black color.  LED backlighting allows for a much more precise application of the light resulting in less light loss, deeper black and more vivid colors.  However LED lighting is not a coup de gras in that it can bring in problems of its own.  A long term concern has been that as the display ages the LEDs will decay at a different rate resulting in an uneven image later on in the lifecycle.  Regardless of this caveat this is a technology that certainly warrants a further look.

 In the Box
In the Box
 Wrapped Up
Wrapped Up

 

And what a look it is.  This is the Samsung LNT4681 LED backlit TV.  Its looks quick normal on the outside but its innards beat with the heart of a monster.  Despite its diminutive appearance when unpacked, it’s huge when it comes in the box.  In fact Zeus had to go and pick this one up from the depot because this TV is not designed with a Honda civic in mind. Regardless of how Zeus may have handled it Cough*(Jim Carrey) it arrived at my house intact, and after a brief flurry of packing materials and wire cutters, I found my staring at this 46” monster.  You may guffaw at this and say that 46” is a rather small size and I suppose to some people this may be true, however 46” is the largest size that has ever graced my living room, and my wife took one look at it and said “Oh my word that’s huge”.  I will also note here that it is heavy as well, so not a good unit to take to the LAN party.

TV In Use
TV In Use
Console Action
Console In Use



Details:

Before we get too in depth with technical details, let’s take a quick look at the published specifications for this TV. Keep in mind that these numbers are produced under ideal circumstances and are not always indicative of real world performance.

Specs
Specs
Specs

Of all of these specifications the 500,000:1 Dynamic Contrast ratio is the most interesting.  You will notice that this number is far greater than the typical 10,000:1 or 5,000:1 contrast ratio that is typical of regular LCD TVs.  The other specifications are fairly normal and there is nothing else that is particularly noteworthy.


Setup & Installation:

The setup and installation was a breeze.   The unit comes packaged with the TV (of course) the remote, a power cable, and a manual.  To get up and running you will need some cables. Here’s a small tip for you. If you are only doing short runs get a cheaper cable.  Buying some expensive monster-whatever cable won’t improve your picture over a short run (< 15 feet).  There are plenty of good quality cables that won’t break the bank. Most of the cost of the expensive stuff is markup anyways.  Trust me; I do backend programming for a retail company.  Anyways, this TV comes with a wide range of inputs to cope with almost any device that you could care to plug into it.  Let’s take a look at these inputs for a minute.

Inputs on the Back
Inputs on the Back

 

First we have two sets of component video inputs.  These are probably the most widely used High Definition (HD) inputs at the time of this article.  A lot of the older DVD player and other set top boxes will use a component video cable to carry their signal.  In addition to the component inputs we have three HDMI inputs.  HDMI is a newer standard than component and uses a digital signal as opposed to analog.  That being said, digital is not always better and you would probably be hard pressed to notice a difference between a 1080p signal from component and one from HDMI.  The main differences would start to make themselves known as you get into larger cable runs.  However HDMI does have an important advantage especially for HD equipment manufacturers and broadcasters in that you can copy protect a signal that is transmitted over HDMI.  It’s always about control.  In this case the broadcaster wants to control you – the viewer – and make sure that you are not copying that HD movie you are watching. (You wouldn’t do that now would you?)  If you aren’t using HDMI you have a very good chance that your HD player will downscale the content you are watching to a much less impressive level.  All in all HDMI is a very good thing to have.  I did come across one small anomaly while using the HDMI inputs on this unit to connect a Playstation 3.  I was unable to use the HDMI signal from the PS3 unless it was connected to HDMI port 1 on the TV.  The manual has this to say about HDMI port 1.

“When using an HDMI/DVI cable connection, you must use the HDMI IN 1 jack.” 

 

DVI and HDMI are very close in terms of their format, but something is different enough that Samsung only chose to implement this functionality on HDMI port 1.  This probably won’t concern you very much, however if you are thinking about hooking both your Home Theatre PC (HTPC) and your PS3 (or Xbox360 HDMI) at the same time, you may run into some problems.  There is a VGA port for connecting your PC to this display but as in previous models this port is very limited.  The only widescreen resolution that is supported is 1920x1080 and that could pose a problem if you are trying to play a game using your PC. We will take a look later on and see how well the PC performs when connected through the HDMI port. Moving away from HD video in the realm of CV (interpret as you will) you will find this unit sporting both composite and S-video inputs. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Svideo While these input methods are terribly dated, you may still need them if you have an elderly VCR requesting some attention.  Just bear in mind that a composite signal blown up to 46” will look like something your neighbor’s dog left on your lawn yesterday.   That wraps up the inputs in regards to a video signal. Whoops, I forgot, there are also jacks for hooking up to an analog cable service or some fancy Rabbit Ears.

There are also plenty of other inputs for getting sound in and out of this TV.  While most people will not be using the built-in speakers on a TV of this size an occasional few people probably will.  The optical audio output could also come in handy if you are transmitting sound to the TV through an HDMI cable and you want a way to separate that audio signal so that it can go to your Home Theatre amplifier.

There are plenty of features that Samsung shares across its TV line and one of these is the ability to plug a flash drive into the unit to view pictures and listen to music.  I found this feature to be handy but only in a limited sort of way.  Most people that purchase a TV this large will have a sophisticated set-top box that plays media or an equally capable home theatre PC that could handle this functionality with much more aplomb.  I do have to give credit to Samsung for making this feature quite easy to navigate and use.

 

Construction:

As per usual I have to give Samsung full points for the design and build quality of this unit.  Of special aesthetic interest is the main power button which is not really a button at all but a long touch sensitive switch with a blue strip LED. To activate it you simply touch the plastic in the general area of the switch and “poof” the TV turns on.  While this may prove to be only mildly amusing to an adult with an average IQ, it is intensely fascinating to a child.  We have friends with a young child and they were over for dinner one night.  During the course of the evening I think she must have turned it on and off at least 30 times.  Perhaps a locking feature might be order in the next revision.

Eden And The TV
Eden And The TV

 

I do have one caveat about the construction though.  Samsung has been known recently for switching the LCD panels around in the models they sell.  As you can see from picture of the back sticker, this is an “S” model.  The things that you read about this TV in the rest of this review are applicable to the “S” model but they may not be true if you get a different panel.   Hopefully the day is coming soon when all Samsung models will meet the same quality control standards.

 Sticker Picture
Sticker Picture

 


 

Testing:

Testing is always the hardest part about a TV review.  Image quality can be such a subjective experience and I usually like to operate with cold hard facts in hand. Most of these tests are subjective however there are a few quantitative tests mixed in.

 Color Swatch
Color Swatch

 

IMAGE Quality and Color Reproduction:

In the month that I had this TV I used it for everything from low quality DIVX files to DVDs and Blu-Ray movies.  The DIVX and DVD testing was done using my modded XBOX original and the Blu-Ray movies were played back using a friend’s PS3 game console.  I will say that overall my experiences were very positive with just a few negatives I would like to let you know about.   Let’s start out with the positives, shall we.

The color and contrast of this TV are absolutely stunning.  There is really no comparison with the 40” non-LED Samsung I had tested previously.  I was very surprised that the LED backlighting would make such a difference but it certainly did.  Blacks were much blacker, and the whites were positively blinding.  On a movie like “The Incredibles” the color was very deep and rich.  I wish that I had pictures to do it justice but you have to see one of these units in store to believe it.  Even the problems I have had with the “Dynamic Contrast” setting on previous models were largely mitigated.  All in all I was very impressed with the depth of color and contrast that this unit provided.

 Contrast
Contrast Gradient
 Contrast
Contrast Pattern

 

Moving on to the image scalar I found myself facing more mixed feelings.  On the one hand this TV will upscale old DVDs and low-res DIVX movies quite well.  I was quite pleased with the results compared to the excellent image scaling provided by my older XBOX.  On the other hand, however, noise reduction was virtually non-existent.  While watching Blu-Ray movies such as Superman, I found the film noise to be quite noticeable and very annoying.   While it is not the sole responsibility of a TV to limit the film noise, it is something that most consumers will be expecting from a unit of this caliber.  If you are intending to purchase this TV it is in your best interest to make sure that your source has adequate noise reduction or you may find yourself somewhat disappointed.

 

Brightness Uniformity:

There is no denying that this TV is like a mini supernova when it comes to brightness.  For my lighting tests I had to put up a solid white screen and then crank the brightness to max.  Normally that wouldn’t be a problem; however things were different with this sucker.  I had to don sunglasses just to be able to get close enough to take light readings with our LUX meter.

Sunglasses
Sunglasses

 

After braving the blistering onslaught of photons to gather some precious data, I was able to ascertain that this TV has a very uniform brightness.  It does fall off rather quickly around the edges but nothing that is visible to the naked eye.  Pictures speak better than words, so here are the charts from the measurements that I took.

Profile Light Map

 Top View Light Map

 


 

Viewing Angle:

The viewing angle is probably this TV’s greatest weakness and I’m not sure exactly what to blame it on.  However, whether it is the backlighting used or the type of panel, the fact is that this TV does not look nearly as good from an angle as it does from head on.  I have included a couple of pictures that hopefully will illustrate my point.

 Angle - Head On
Angle - Head On
 Angle - Slight Side
Angle - Slight Side
 Angle - Full Side
Angle - Full Side

 

As you can see when viewed from head on the image is perfect.  However as one begins to move to the side bright things start to develop a fuzzy but noticeable halo.  The contrast also decreases and the image begins to look washed out.  It remains to be seen if this is an inherent problem with LED backlighting or simply a design flaw that can be worked out in time.  It is definitely something to consider when deciding if this is the right TV for you.

 

Gaming: 

The gaming “tests” are always the most fun part of these reviews and this is a great TV to be gaming on.  I just happened to have won an XBOX 360 this Christmas so that certainly helped out in the testing.  As I mentioned early Samsung seems to have overcome some of the early problems they had with Dynamic Contrast.  I had no problems gaming on this TV with Dynamic Contrast turned on or off.  There were also no visible signs of ghosting or image distortion.  I ran through a bunch of moving block tests and observed no visible ghosting even on the fastest speeds.

Moving Block
Moving Blocks
 Moving Block
Moving Blocks
 Moving Block
Moving Blocks

 

PC Connectivity:

As a review site that specializes in the PC business, we would have been remiss in not fully testing this unit with a PC.  After hooking everything up and adjusting the display for optimal performance, I was saddened to discover that most of the problems that plagued the LN-T4061F 40” were still present in this unit.   I will rehash the important details again for those of you not acquainted these problems.

  1. Even at native resolution the text has some funny discoloration problems.  This only becomes more visible at lower resolutions.  I’ve included an image that shows some of what I’m talking about.   I should note that this problem really only seemed to occur when using the DVI as an input.  When you plug your PC into the VGA connector the text is much more readable.

    Yellow Text
    Yellow Text

  2. Even though this TV provides a VGA connection that has better quality than the DVI connector -at least for text - there are several reasons not to use it.  1) You can’t send a HDCP signal through a VGA cable, so if you are trying to playback HDCP protected content then the VGA port won’t service your needs.  2) The VGA port has a limited set of resolutions that it can accept.  In fact, the only widescreen resolution that it takes is 1920x1080.  The rest of the resolutions are standard 4:3 modes.  If all you are doing is watching TV and Movies then this will work fine for you because your PC will upscale the content very nicely to 1920x1080.  However if you are trying to run a game you will run into problems. There are very few rigs out there that can run a modern game at 1920x1080 with decent eye candy.



After all is said and done you are probably better off plugging into the DVI connector.  The text issues are minor and unless you happen to be using this unit for word processing you will probably not notice them.

 Nice Image

 

Conclusion:

I was very impressed overall with this TV and saddened to see it go.   The colors and contrast were without equal among the LCD TV’s I have seen.  The 46” size doesn’t hurt anything either.  This is a stylishly designed unit that is guaranteed not to be an eyesore wherever you choose to put it.  The range of inputs is excellent and the onscreen menu system is a pleasure to navigate through.  Its gaming performance is excellent and connecting a PC is fairly easy once you know which buttons to press.

However as with every product there are flaws, chief among them being the viewing angle. A great picture quickly turns mediocre when viewed from the side.  Also poor text rendering from the DVI port coupled with limited set of resolution choices for the VGA port make this unit unsuitable for a role of rendering text primarily.

I for one am very excited to see the advances in image quality that LED backlighting has brought.  Perhaps in a few years it will become mainstream and some of the more obvious faults will have been eliminated. As usual I would like to thank Samsung for sending us this unit.  I will be sorry to see it go.

 BCCRating

 

I'd like to thank Samsung for shipping up this TV to us for the review.  If you have any questions, comments or feedback, please post it at the "Comments" link below.