Way back last December we checked out the UK's first ever LCD TV to use LED backlighting, Samsung's LE52F96BD. The set was expensive, and definitely had one or two picture flaws to worry about. But its portrayal of colour and especially black level revolutionised in an instant our expectations of what LCD TVs might be capable of. So much so that we suggested that we left it convinced that one day all flat TVs might be made using LED backlighting. Predictably, since then we've seen neither hide nor hair of another LED TV. Doh.
Thankfully for our reputation as technological soothsayers, though, LED is not only finally back on the TV scene, but it appears to be at the very centre of the current TV strategies of a whole host of manufacturers. Philips, Sony, and Sharp all have LED TVs due to arrive in the UK any moment now, for instance. But first of the new LED TV breed to find its way onto our test benches comes from Samsung again, in the gorgeous and huge form of the 55in LE55A956: the flagship model of Samsung's current flat TV range.
Will this monster screen live up to the hype and deliver the quantum leap in LCD performance standards that we've been longing for?
If aesthetics were a guarantee of inner quality, we could pack up this review and go home now. For in typical Samsung fashion, the LE55A956 is one heck of a looker. It continues Samsung's current ‘touch of colour' theme, only this time instead of the touch of red we've become used to, we get a hint of charcoal grey. And a very attractive hint it is too.
As if this wasn't enough, the LE55A956 also boasts a cute honeycomb effect in its bezel that subtly becomes visible in bright light, while a glass top-sheet gives the whole thing a luxuriously shiny finish. All in all, the LE55A956's appearance is perfectly suited to its flagship status.
As we're coming to expect from Samsung, its new LED set is superbly stocked with connections, too. Four v1.3 HDMIs set a great early pace, and these are joined by such other highlights as a component video input, a dedicated analogue PC input and, significantly, USB 2.0 and Ethernet ports.
These latter two jacks are key to another innovation of the LE55A956: its multimedia savviness. The USB 2.0 port, for instance, can play a variety of movie file formats as well as the more typical MP3 and JPEG files. And the Ethernet port (which is fully DLNA specified) both enables you to connect the TV to your PC network so you an play files stored on your computer, and lets you connect the LE55A956 to a broadband Internet connection.
Why have a broadband connection? Because of the set's InfoLive feature, where you can download a selection of information services specially formatted for the TV via a deal with Yahoo.
We won't go into full detail on the sort of services made possible by the InfoLive system here, as we covered them in our review of Samsung's PS50A756 plasma TV at the weekend. But briefly, you can get regularly updated news stories, weather reports (specific to your area, if you wish) and nearly-live stocks and share figures piped straight onto your screen at the press of a button.
We must stress, too, that you don't actually have to hard-wire the LE55A956 to your broadband pipe. For an optional dongle Samsung makes for the TV's USB port enables you to connect the TV to your wireless router if you have one.