The hottest TV property right now - until 3D arrives, at any rate - has to be LED. LCD TVs backlit via LED light arrays rather than the usual single CCFL lamp have been consistently earning critical praise for some time now. But finally it also seems as if LED's charms - including reduced power consumption, enhanced colour range, and deeper black levels - are really starting to strike a chord with the buying public too.
So with the festive telly season looming large, we thought we'd round up four of the latest LED hot properties for some head-to-head shoot out action. And for added spice, two of these models use the direct LED technique, while the other two use the edge LED technique.
In the direct approach, an array of individually controllable (for 'local dimming') LED clusters sits directly behind the screen. With the edge approach, the LED lights are ranged around the screen's bezel, firing their light across the back of the image before it's reflected through the screen by an array of minute mirrors.
So much for the teccy backgrounder. Let's now get down to the main business of finding out which screen performs the best.
Price: £1,350 More info: LG Electronics Size: 1009.2(w) x 629.7(h) x 29.3(d)mm Weight: 20.1kg Resolution: 1920x1080 Native aspect ratio: 16:9 Claimed max contrast ratio: 3000,000:1 Claimed max brightness: 500cd/m2 Connections: Four HDMI inputs (all v1.3), component video input, two Scarts (one RGB), composite video input, PC input, stereo audio inputs, tuner input, CAM slot, S-headphone jack, USB slot, optical digital audio output
As usual with a high-end TV from one of the big two Korean brands, the design of LG's 42SL9000 really is cool. For starters, it's a smidgen under 30mm deep, despite managing to squeeze in a Freeview tuner. Its glossy black bezel looks classy, too - especially thanks to the introduction of a gentle grey tone along the bottom edge.
The 42SL9000 also has a fine set of connections, including four HDMIs and a JPEG/MP3/DivX HD-capable USB port. Gadget hounds can even use a built-in wireless Bluetooth system to play files off suitable mobile phones, or send the TV's audio to Bluetooth headphones.
As you might guess from its slimness, the 42SL9000 uses the edge-based LED approach, which is here claimed to deliver a huge contrast ratio of 3000,000:1 - despite the edge system not supporting local dimming.
The 42SL9000's pictures should also benefit from 100Hz processing for making motion look crisper, as well as LG's own multi-facetted XD Engine system.
At first glance, the 42SL9000 looks like another LED success story. The image's contrast looks suitably extreme, colours are vibrant and intense, the brightness level is high, and the set does a surprisingly nice job of upscaling standard definition images to the screen's full HD resolution.
The more time you spend with the 42SL9000, though, the more you notice how its pictures don't quite rival the very best the LED world has to offer. Part of this is down to the 100Hz processing, which creates a few distracting artefacts. But we also felt that black levels, while better than you usually get with straight LCD TVs, aren't up there with the best LED sets.
HD images don't look quite as sharp as we know they can either, contrast and colours reduce badly if you have to watch from an angle, and bits of the picture that should look white have a slightly pink undertone.
The 42SL9000 has a reasonable audio performance for such a thin TV, but nothing can disguise the fact that the set's various picture flaws prevent a good TV from becoming a truly great one.
Lovely design, very bright and colourful pictures, good standard def scaling Minus points
Pink tone to whites, limited viewing angle, a few processing side effects, not quite as good with contrast as other LEDs.
Price: £1,250 More info: Samsung Size: 996(w) x 630(h) x 29.9(d)mm Weight (with stand): 19kg Resolution: 1920x1080 Native aspect ratio: 16:9 Claimed max contrast ratio: 'Mega', apparently Claimed max brightness: N/A Connections: Four v1.3 HDMI inputs, component video input, Scarts (via included adaptor), composite video input, DLNA LAN connection, PC input, stereo audio inputs, tuner input, CAM slot, Optical digital audio output, Stereo audio output, S-Video input, headphone jack, two USB 2.0 ports with wi-fi dongle option support
Although LG has stolen a bit of Samsung's thunder with the ultra-skinny 42SL9000, Samsung's 7000 and 8000 series can still claim to be genuinely iconic TVs. Partly because they hit the sub-30mm depth landmark first, and partly because their ultra-thin nature is partnered with a stunning 'crystal' finish and some lovely sculpting.
The 40B7020 is also a cut above with its feature count. For instance, there's the edge LED lighting that helps it look so slim. Plus it's got two USB inputs rather than the usual one, which you can use either to play MP3 and JPEG audio files stored on USB memory devices, or to connect wirelessly to Samsung's Media 2.0 online service (offering optimised YouTube, Flickr, Yahoo News and Finance feeds), via an optional USB dongle.
The set's multimedia credentials don't end there, either, for there's also an Ethernet port for accessing the Media 2.0 service, or streaming files from a DLNA PC. Plus there's Samsung's unique - though ultimately pretty missable - Content Library of built-in files, covering stuff like recipes, children's stories/songs, and health advice. For improving pictures, meanwhile, the 40B7020 boasts 100Hz processing and Samsung's own general utility Digital Natural Image engine.
In action, the 40B7020 seals its iconic status by being a real flag waver for edge-LED technology. Particularly impressive is the extreme depth and purity of its black level response, which actually outguns one or two direct LED sets we've seen, despite the lack of local dimming.
Its colours are both well saturated and natural, too, and fine detail levels with HD sources are up there with the best. Even standard def images look reasonably sharp and clean, overcoming a traditional Samsung failing.
Elsewhere, the set's 100Hz motion handling keeps moving objects looking reasonably sharp (though you could step up to the 200Hz-sporting B8000 series if you want), leaving as our only gripes with the 40B7020's picture performance the usual limited viewing angle issue, and the rather 'rogue' (as in, rubbish) nature of one or two of the picture processing options.
The 40B7020 doesn't unfortunately rise above its super-skinny design with its audio, which sounds rather feeble and fails to rise to the challenge of a good action scene. But the attraction of its design and, above all, picture quality still make it one of the most desirable TVs ever.
Iconic looks, excellent picture quality, huge feature count, loads of connections, good value Minus points
Slightly limited viewing angle, some picture settings don't work very well, barely average audio