- Attractive design, Wide range of connection options, Excellent PC performance, Above-average standard definition
- Image quality issues at 1080p
The The Samsung LA46M81BD has so much potential, but it's hampered by its below-average gaming performance and some image problems when displaying HD movies.
Price$ 5,499.00 (AUD)
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A very high bar is being set for full high definition 1080p TVs. They are touted as the next big thing, the format that manufacturers hope will dominate the market as we move forward into the high definition era. The LA46M81BD is the second 1080p LCD TV from Samsung, following from the LA46F71BX. However, unlike its predecessor, it displayed some noticeable flaws during our gaming tests at both 1080p and 720p resolutions. While Blu-ray and HD-DVD image quality was reasonable, there was definitely room for improvement on both. As a result, we're underwhelmed by the high definition capabilities of this unit, our only solace being the excellent PC connectivity, above-average HDTV tuner and its standard definition capability.
To test the 1080p capability of this unit, we ran gaming and Blu-ray tests. To test gaming, we connected an Xbox 360 to the unit using Component cables and we set the console to output a 1080p signal. Remembering the excellent performance of the F7 series, we were expecting great things from the M8. Unfortunately we were bitterly disappointed with the image quality we experienced. The most noticeable and garish problem was a severe pixelation on curved surfaces. In both Tony Hawk's Project 8 and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2, we noticed horrible jagged lines along the all edges. The character models were the most obviously affected, but even fine details in the terrain and particle effects like smoke and debris fell victim to this issue. There was also a high level of over-sharpening but we were able to remove this easily by using the on-screen calibration tools. To test its ability to display Blu-ray movies, we connected the Samsung BD-P1000 and viewed selected scenes from Casino Royale and Into the Blue. While the Blu-ray playback showed a massive improvement over the gaming results, it still wasn't without its share of issues. Granted, these issues are not epic in nature, but they warrant a mention nonetheless. The most prominent is a noticeable level of grain in the image, far beyond what we have previously seen while viewing these films. The pixelation on curved surfaces was mostly absent, but it still made an appearance now and then, although to a very minor degree. There was over-sharpening once again, but just as before, we were able to quickly eliminate it. The only other problem in the Blu-ray test was an overall muting of colours. We noticed this on skin tones. Apart from that issue, skin tones showed no stepping or contrast issues.
While there were issues with the TV's 1080p performance, not everything was doom and gloom. For an LCD TV, we were completely blown away with the black levels on the M8. With the various black enhancement tools switched on, the blacks are dark and pure. We were also quite happy to see that the level of red in the image has been greatly reduced compared with previous Samsung models, although we still had to remove a small level of red via the provided on-screen tools. While the M8 doesn't offer six axis colour control (six axis colour control allows for the three primary -- red, green and blue -- and three secondary colours -- cyan, magenta and yellow -- to be adjusted), there is a certain level of flexibility on offer, with the ability to tweak the levels of white, blue, green and pink in the image.
For viewing Blu-ray films, the M8 does a reasonable job and will most likely satisfy the needs of many users. However, gamers and AV enthusiasts should probably steer clear of this unit, due to the problems outlined above. That said, we tested games with the Xbox 360 by using a Component connection. Since we don't have a Playstation 3 available for testing purposes, we don't yet know if there wil lbe any advantage to using the digital HDMI connection for gaming. However, since our Xbox 360 tests are standardised across all units, we are able to use this test as a comparison tool and, when stacked up against other 1080p TVs (including its predecessor), the LA46M81BD comes off second best.
High definition (1080i/720p)
Our high definition tests are almost identical to the 1080p test. However, we ran games at 720p and HD-DVD movies at 1080i to check the quality of the interpolation on the M8.
For the HD-DVD movie playback test, we viewed the Empire State Building finale from King Kong. Surprisingly, the HD-DVD looked a little better in 1080i than the Blu-ray tests in 1080p. The over-sharpening was still present, but was easily remedied. The colours and black levels were excellent, without any problems, and there was no stepping on skin tones. However, its HD-DVD performance wasn't perfect. There was a very minor level of noise in dark areas of the image, accompanied by a minor level of contrast-stepping. Apart from that, the level of detail was excellent and the motion was smooth with very little stuttering or blurring.
Running the same games as in the 1080p tests, the M8 showed no improvements in the 720p gaming tests, but it didn't exhibit any new problems either.
While it HD-DVD performance was slightly better than its Blu-ray performance, it isn't a selling point for the unit.
Standard definition (576i/p)
To test the standard definition capabilities of the Samsung LA46M81BD, we viewed various DVDs at 576i and 576p.
Using the lobby scene from The Matrix, the M8's 1080p panel handled the difficult job of scaling a standard definition signal very well. We have seen very few units that are capable of displaying DVDs well, but the M8 rose to the task. That said, there was still a noticeable level of noise in the image, which was expected. There was no discolouration or pixelation and no contrast-stepping to speak of.
The other DVD we use is Digital Video Essentials. This is a specially designed disc containing various still-test patterns, which test a unit at a fundamental level. During these tests we found no problems at all. There was no noise in the greyscale-block tests nor any inaccuracies in the colour-block tests. The SMPTE colour bars were rendered perfectly and the greyscale tests were delivered without any discolouration or stepping.
As far as standard definition content is concerned, the M8 does an excellent job at scaling a movie. This is something that those with large DVD collections will no doubt appreciate.
We connected the unit to a PC via its D-Sub connection and ran the DisplayMate Video Edition software package to check for any image quality issues. The highest stable resolution we were able to use was 1024x768 and at default settings it looked fairly average. After tweaking the contrast, brightness, colour temperature and sharpness, the image was vastly improved. We found no major problems at all in our DisplayMate tests. The only issue that we encountered was some banding on the vertical and horizontal resolution tests, but this was to be expected as it's a result of the interpolation of the 1024x768 desktop resolution on the 1080p panel.
If you own a media centre PC or just want to connect your laptop to the telly, this unit will perform the task brilliantly.
Design, speakers, TV tuner
Like all Samsung TVs, the design is very attractive and in keeping with the style of the company's entire product line-up. The piano black finish has become a staple of Samsung's TV range and when combined with the convenient layout of the rear connections panel, it's no wonder that Samsung TVs are so popular. The connectivity options include two HDMI, two Component, one composite and a D-Sub port. The side panel has a third HDMI port, one S-Video and a further composite video connection.
The speakers are excellent and deliver a high volume without any distortion. However, the sound options on the M8 are hit and miss. In some modes, the music in a scene tends to drown out the speech and in another scene the speech is prominent but the music gets lost in the background. There is a custom mode, but finding a happy medium is very difficult.
The last tests we carried out were on the integrated HDTV tuner. The tuner didn't take too long to set up and its channel-switching was fast. It definitely impressed us. The tuner is capable of displaying HD TV channels, standard definition channels and analogue content as well. Its image quality was top-notch, with very little pixelation and digital artefacts visible when watching a HD channel. Unlike the digital content, analogue content looked abysmal, but this is the same with most analogue tuners when displayed on a HD panel.
The Samsung LA46M81BD has so much potential, but it's hampered by its below-average gaming performance and some image problems when displaying HD movies. It does display DVDs very well and it also looked excellent when connected up to a PC. However, since this is a 1080p panel, these are nothing more than consolation prizes.
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