Samsung's 32-inch, 1080p LE32B650 LCD TV looks exquisite and has features galore, including online functionality, for the extremely reasonable sum of around £600. And things only get better when you turn it on.
The LE32B650 really is a looker. Its 'crystal' finish makes it look like it's made from pure glass, and the transparent sheet over the black bezel extends beyond the main frame, leaving a prism-like edge that's as distinctive as it is attractive.
The LE32B650 also fits in a startling roster of connections, including four HDMI sockets, two USB ports (one able to take an optional £40 dongle for wireless online connectivity), and an Ethernet jack for either streaming media from a DLNA-ready PC or accessing Samsung's online features the wired way.
The so-called 'Medi@ 2.0' online features include specially formatted versions of YouTube and Flickr, plus the Yahoo News and Finance services. Samsung is still the only manufacturer with rights to use the Yahoo Widgets online development platform, making it easy for extra services to be added in the future.
Less worthwhile, though still interesting, is the LE32B650's 'Content Library': a collection of multimedia content stored on flash memory inside the TV. This offers, for example, photographs and digitised paintings that you can use as screensavers, some basic games, and some stories for children. We felt little compulsion to revisit this content after first exploring it, but, again, it has potential for the future.
Wrapping up the TV's strong feature set are 100Hz processing; Samsung's DNIe video processing; a 'wide colour' system that reproduces a claimed 92 per cent of the high-definition colour range, rather than the 85 per cent of models further down Samsung's current LCD TV range; and Samsung's Ultra Clear Panel II system for reducing screen reflection to boost contrast.
Despite not boasting the LED backlighting of Samsung's 7000- and 8000- series TVs, the LE32B650 is still an excellent performer. The Ultra Clear Panel II system really does the business, for instance, leading to black levels as deep as any we've seen on a 32-inch LCD TV.
The rich blacks witnessed during dark scenes are achieved without the dynamic contrast engine needing to reduce the brightness much, allowing dark scenes to look unusually dynamic and solid.
The intensity of the LE32B650's colours also plays a big part in the set's eye-catching pictures. Yet, gratifyingly, the aggression of the colours doesn't mean that tones look forced or unnatural. In fact, even skin tones, one of the trickiest things for an LCD TV to get right, look consistently believable.
The LE32B650 doesn't suffer badly at all from motion blur, especially if you use the 100Hz processing option. You have to be careful with this, though, as some of the provided modes can cause processing side effects. Stick with the 'clear' option and you should be fine. Without much motion blur to distract you, it's also easy to appreciate how sharp HD pictures look on the LE32B650's 1080p screen.
In an ideal world, the LE32B650 would do a slightly cleaner job of upscaling standard-definition pictures and wouldn't lose quite so much vibrancy when viewed from the side. But its pictures remain a class act overall.
The same, alas, cannot be said of the LE32B650's sound. As with an upsettingly high number of Samsung TVs at the moment, there's not enough power and range, especially at the bass end, to deliver convincing sound when the going gets tough.
The Samsung LE32B650 produces a near-perfect balance of design, pictures and features -- and all for the sort of aggressive price that will have many Japanese manufacturers crying into their sushi. In fact, were it not for the average audio, the LE32B650 would have ended up with an even higher score.
Edited by Charles Kloet