Rear projection is no longer the flavour of the month, thanks to the increasing dominance and falling prices of flatscreen. However, this doesn't deter the many cinema enthusiasts, who will attest to rear projection's far more natural picture and value for money. While the premium design of the SP-50L7HX and its resulting price might fly in the face of the latter argument, it's still an impressive feat of style, features and performance.
The design flourishes have not been to the detriment of features and picture quality. First of all, the HDMI input and 1280x768 resolution mean that it's fully high-definition compatible, and Samsung's proprietary DNIe system performs a multitude of picture enhancements on the fly. It can really improve the quality of standard-definition pictures, or be disabled to enjoy the newest high-definition sources as they were intended. Either way, the Samsung SP-50L7HX is our favourite rear-projection television, sitting beside the iPod as an example of peerless design backed up by functionality.
The Samsung SP-50L7HX is so impressively styled that it even drew intrigued glances from our seasoned veterans. They got more impressed once we revealed that it's a rear-projection TV -- the bulky, square template of old has been ditched in favour of a sexy, awesomely wide display sitting atop an amazingly thin stand. It's like a magician's illusion for geeks -- just how have they managed to squash the projection system down so small? Only Thomson comes close to matching on first impressions -- its latest Scenium range is so small it can be hung on the wall.
Luckily, Samsung's unique flair stretches to the rest of the package too -- the circular display underneath the screen shows a smiley face on startup, the menus are crisp and easy to navigate, and the remote is unconventional yet resolutely useable. The black surrounding to the screen is also a nice touch -- it looks classy while adding more to the perceived contrast of the panel itself.
The television is heavy, but not as immovable as you might expect. The glass base adds considerably to the weight, but it will only take two people (perhaps straining in places) to set up. It's also impressively quiet while running, even though you can feel the heat that's being directed out of the rear. The sockets, of which there are many, sit on one panel on the rear of the stand. The star of the show is HDMI. Even though most people won't be using it yet, it guarantees that the set will be completely future-proofed when HDMI becomes the next Scart.
Speaking of which, three Scart inputs (2 RGB) is more than enough for most people, especially when they should take advantage of the progressive scan-compatible component inputs for DVD playback. There's also a VGA input for connecting a PC, which will also support high-definition video playback, but it's unfortunate that a DVI input wasn't included as well. It's the old 'analogue versus digital' argument. There isn't a huge difference between VGA and DVI picture quality, but all the Media Center PCs we've seen ship with a DVI connector as standard. It could be argued that these machines have now penetrated the market enough to be considered important in terms of compatibility.
Everything else on the connections side is purely academic -- you can input via composite or S-video if you start to get desperate, plus there's a mysterious service input if Samsung ever decides to initiate an upgrade.
The Digital Natural Image engine (DNIe) is the key difference between Samsung's rear-projection technology and those of its competitors. It combines a motion optimiser, contrast enhancer, colour optimiser and detail enhancer into one function, and you can choose to have it turned on or off. With the majority of viewing, that is from analogue television (shudder) or a Freeview/Sky box, we'd recommend having it turned on by default. It makes a really good effort of cleaning up the typical artefacts that can be seen from MPEG compression. Text is sharper and more defined, those fast camera sweeps prevalent in music videos don't degrade into a blocky mess, and everything else is given a more luminous, natural quality.