While Samsung's trademark 'touch of colour' LCD TVs might be the talk of the tech town right now, if your aesthetic tastes tend towards the subtle -- and you want to save a few bob into the bargain -- Samsung's A558 range, as represented today by the 32-inch LE32A558, could be just the thing.
Despite being resolutely black, the 32A558 is certainly not ugly. Its high-gloss finish makes it feel opulent beyond its £500 asking price, while its subtle combination of stark angles and gentle curves gives it bags of style. The set is decently connected too, thanks in particular to its three v1.3 HDMI inputs, D-Sub PC jack, and USB port for playing JPEG and MP3 files straight into the TV.
More good news, given the 32A558's price point, is its 'Full HD' resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, and high claimed contrast ratio of 15,000:1. Both these figures are consistent with the higher-priced A656 range, as is the provision of Samsung's Movie Plus and DNIe processing systems for, respectively, sharpening or smoothing out the handling of motion, and boosting everything from colours to sharpness.
What's more, these two headliners are just the tip of an iceberg of tweaks and options that's much deeper than we'd have anticipated finding on such a competitively priced TV. Edge-enhancement processing, gamma adjustment, backlight adjustment, white-balance adjustment, skin-tone adjustment, noise reduction... seriously, it's a tinkerer's heaven!
Once you've spent some quality time with these features, you can rustle up some very good quality images from the LE32A558. For instance, HD sources are reproduced with extensive detail and sharpness, and colours look vibrant but naturally toned, even if you happen to be watching from quite a wide angle. This latter talent is a real bonus versus the majority of 32-inch LCD TVs that come our way.
The Full HD, 1080p screen resolution also helps colours enjoy unusually subtle blends, while black levels look solid and acceptably natural. Moving objects look quite sharp and smooth. That said...
Neither the 32A558's black-level response nor its motion reproduction are really outstanding by today's tough standards, with traces of greyness over dark scenes, and sporadic blurring over fast-moving objects.
There are other issues with the picture too. For starters, if you use any of the picture presets included with the TV, colours tend to look pretty weird, with over-exaggerated primaries. So you'll need to spend time with the various colour user tweaks.
The 32A558 isn't the best standard-definition performer either, though again you can improve things with some judicious tweaking of the TV's noise-reduction, backlight, and brightness and contrast settings.
Another issue concerns the Movie Plus and Edge Enhancement processing. The first of these can cause noticeable flickering and shimmering noise if you leave it set to its maximum power, while the Edge Enhancement tool should be avoided at all costs, since it makes contrasty edges look over-stressed.
The slight motion blur that even Movie Plus can't remove, meanwhile, makes us wish the 32A558 additionally had 100Hz processing. A few seconds in the presence of pretty much any scene of Die Hard 4.0 highlights some pretty severe power and dynamic-range shortcomings in the 32A558's speakers.
Two final issues with the 32A558 come about when you compare it with its slightly more expensive sibling, the 32A656, which is available for under £600. It only has three HDMIs whereas the A656 has four, and for us, it just doesn't look nearly as opulent or glamorous as the A656.
As usual for a TV with the Samsung brand attached, the 32A558 represents really good value. Especially as its picture performance more or less matches the brand's more expensive 32A656 model.
Throughout our time with the 32A558, however, we consistently found ourselves hankering after the 32A656's extra connectivity and glamorous design. So much so, in fact, that in the end we didn't feel that the cheaper model puts quite enough clear blue pricing water between it and its more compelling red-tinged sibling.
Edited by Nick Hide