Priced at about £540, the Samsung LE40B550 is remarkably affordable for a 1080p, 40-inch LCD TV. As is to be expected at this price point, it's rather lacking in features, but the key issue is whether its picture performance is any good.
Back from the future
The LE40B550 makes a good first impression, with a crystal-finished, curvaceous design that looks like it's leapt out of the pages of a futuristic concept magazine, rather than something you'd find sitting at the cheaper end of an electrical store's TV shelves.
The set is well-connected, too. As well as four HDMI sockets, you get a USB port via which you can enjoy MP3 audio and JPEG photo files. These highlights are in addition to more usual connections, like a dedicated, 15-pin computer input, component video input, Scart sockets and so on.
Having enjoyed the PC-file-streaming and online functionality offered by Samsung's step-up B650 TVs (we reviewed the LE32B650), we were disappointed to find that the LE40B550 doesn't have an Ethernet port. Camcorder enthusiasts may also rue the inability of the LE40B550 to play video files via its USB port, another feature that the B650 models offer. But ditching this sort of luxury functionality seems reasonable, given the LE40B550's price.
More of a concern is the fact that the LE40B550 also lacks the 100Hz picture processing used to such fine effect on the LE32B650. This raises the concern that it might fall prey to LCD technology's motion-blur problem.
The set isn't entirely without its picture-processing charms, however. It has Samsung's usually decent Digital Natural Image engine, attending to various different picture elements, plus there's a 'wide colour gamut' option. It also has an 'edge enhancement' system that aims to give pictures a more three-dimensional, crisper look, although we can't recommend that you use it. It hardens the image up far too aggressively, leaving edges looking forced, as if they don't belong to the rest of the picture.
Surprisingly good pictures
Thankfully, though, the effect of the edge-enhancement system is almost the only problem we have with the LE40B550's pictures. In practically every other way, they're miles better than you've any right to expect for the price.
The set's black levels, for instance, are startlingly profound, proving deeper than those of any other budget LCD TV we can think of. This makes it unexpectedly suited to playback of Blu-ray movies, which tend to employ much wider contrast ranges than your average TV show.
Also impressive is the way in which the LE40B550 reproduces the clarity and detail of high-definition sources, leaving them looking stunningly sharp. The sharpness even holds up pretty well when a scene contains plenty of motion, despite the set's lack of 100Hz processing.
The LE40B550's talents aren't limited to HD playback, though. It also delivers Freeview broadcasts without the usual softness and noise.
Finally, the LE40B550's images are unusually bright and intensely colourful for such a cheap TV. In fact, the vibrancy and dynamism of the LE40B550's image are able to challenge those of many 40-inch TVs that cost hundreds of pounds more.
If forced to find fault with the LE40B550's images, we could say that there's a modicum of judder during camera pans, and pictures lose contrast if watched from an angle. But these can be considered relatively minor misdemeanours.
The LE40B550's only really serious shortcoming concerns its speakers, which don't deliver enough bass and power to make the heavier parts of an average movie soundtrack sound engaging.
An average audio performance prevents us from giving the Samsung LE40B550 a higher score. But, if you want to bag yourself the best picture performance yet seen on a truly affordable 40-inch LCD TV, look no further.
Edited by Charles Kloet