LED backlights are going through a period of flux at the moment. In the past, these backlights have been made by replacing the cold cathode tube used in standard LCDs with an array of LEDs. Now, however, companies are reducing the depth of their TVs by mounting the LEDs at the side of the panel and using some clever diffusing technology to distribute the light evenly.
We've seen TVs with LED edge lights before. One of our concerns has been that the edges of the screen often seem brighter than the middle. We noticed that one company's model suffered from this especially badly, so we were very keen to see how the 40-inch, 1080p Samsung UE40B7000WW performs. We were also eager to take advantage of the Internet and media-streaming functionality offered by this set, which is priced at around £1,600.
There's only one word to describe the UE40B7000WW's design: stunning. We really fell in love with the look of this TV from the first minute we took it out of the box. It's as light as a feather and not much thicker either. From an aesthetic point of view, you'd have to be a pretty tough customer not to feel your heart melt when you set eyes on this set.
Of course, dimensions and weight are just two aspects of TV design. But the Samsung seems to have all the other bases covered too. The UE40B7000WW comes on a sturdy glass stand, with a transparent neck that supports the TV. The idea is to give the illusion that the TV is floating in the air.
If the stand isn't for you, a wall-mounting kit is available, although we think the asking price of around £200 is absurd. We have to admit, though, that this kit is as cool as a cucumber in the salad-refrigeration section of your fridge. Basically, it's a piece of ultra-strong fibre-optic cable that you hang on a special wall fixture -- just like hanging a picture on the wall. If that's not as close to the future as the present can get, we'll eat our hoverboards.
Even the remote control has a cooler design than the usual Samsung fare. The end has an attractive, curved design that makes the remote look like it's been sculpted out of a piece of molten plastic, rather than the product of some tedious injection moulding process. The remote also features a very capable backlight, so, even in pitch-black conditions, you can see what buttons you're pressing.
Samsung is very keen to point out that, although the UE40B7000WW is wafer-thin, it has everything built in that a TV should have. Other manufacturers, such as Hitachi and Sony, have managed to make TVs that are as thin, or thinner, than this one, but they have always had just a single HDMI input. Generally, the rest of the connections are handled via a break-out box or media receiver. The UE40B7000WW offers every socket you'd expect, although it does cheat slightly.
Maybe 'cheat' is too harsh. Essentially, this TV has four HDMI sockets on the rear. These are marked 1 to 4, with number 1 being used as a DVI socket, for PC users who want to connect a PC to the TV. The composite, Scart and component inputs all have specialised cables. These cables use a 3.5mm custom jack to get the relevant signals to the TV. You could argue that this might reduce quality, and we don't think this is the best way of getting a signal to a TV, but, for space-saving purposes, we'll accept it's a necessary evil.
Put simply, we love the way this TV looks, and think the downsides of its design are more than compensated for by the set's beautifully thin and stylish appearance.
We're thrilled to note that Samsung has finally listened to what we've been saying about user interfaces for some time now. The result is that the menus on this TV are beautifully designed and a real treat to use on a day-to-day basis. Previously, Samsung had trailed behind Korean rival LG in the user-interface stakes, but now we think the two companies are fairly evenly matched.
Samsung has cleverly minimised the impact on your TV-viewing experience of going into a menu. If you want to modify a setting, it's possible to do so without having your focus drawn away from the TV show you're enjoying, thanks to an almost entirely transparent menu screen. Also, setting adjustments can be made while keeping the picture clear and clutter-free. For example, adjusting the backlight allows you to see the impact your alterations are having on the picture in real-time.
Samsung has added plenty of other features to help elevate this TV above the competition. The inclusion of Yahoo Widgets is the main attraction. These handy, bite-sized applications are designed to keep you updated about weather and stock prices, for example, and give you access to other online content. Our favourite is the Flickr app, which allows you to watch full-screen slideshows of online photos -- very funky. We can see widgets taking over from interactive TV, a concept that's never really delivered on its initial promise.
In addition to its widget capability, the TV can also handle video, music and photos from an external source, via your home network, USB hard drive or memory card. We love this functionality. When we tested our usual array of media, we were in for a massive surprise. This TV can open and play files in an MKV container. If that doesn't mean anything to you, please bear with us for a moment while we talk about it. If you do know what we mean, then please now join us in a celebratory dance.