Sugg. Retail: $4900 (CAN);
Distributor: Samsung Electronics Canada Inc.,
7037 Financial Drive, Mississauga, Ont. L5N 6R3
(905) 542-3535 FAX 542-0940
Reprinted From the Summer 99 Issue
The SP403JA may be the only rear-projection LCD television in the marketplace. It’s certainly the only one I’m aware of. Measured diagonally, its screen is 39 1/2″ or 100 cm, and is 16 x 9 in aspect ratio. This means that with standard 4 x 3 pictures it’s pretty much equivalent to a 27 or 29″ screen, while with letterboxed pictures from DVD it becomes closer to about a 45″ TV, but without the black bars at top and bottom. A bit of a chameleon, this TV.
Both brochure and owner’s manual are rather vague about technical details, but the use of the phrase “Double Scan Injection System” in the former suggests that it’s a line-doubling 32 kHz progressive scan TV. I’ll elaborate on this below.
To match the picture to the source, there are 5 different picture modes, all but 2 of which stretch the picture to laterally fill the screen. Those that do are Wide, Panorama, and Zoom 1; Normal leaves black bands on either side, while Zoom 2 crops the picture at top and bottom. I did not care for the stretchy modes because they made everyone on screen into fatheads, and preferred Zoom 2 most of the time, though it could tend to make not so good pictures worse, emphasizing video noise or grain. Presumably one of these stretch modes is intended to match anamorphic DVDs or camcorder pictures, but since all the DVD players I had on hand widen these automatically, I didn’t have the opportunity to confirm this.
Picture settings on the SP403JA are pretty standard, though no adjustment of colour temperature is provided. I’ll say more about these settings when discussing picture characteristics and quality below. And though the TV has component, RGB, S-video, and composite video inputs, its remote-control selector toggles only between TV and Video, unless components are connected to the other inputs. As well, with component video inputs the Aspect screen size function does not operate, making picture shape entirely dependent on the source. A PIP function is offered for keeping both sources on screen. During our tests, it was the S-Video input that was used, no component video sources then available. As well as the rear-panel inputs, a small pop-out panel on the TV’s right side offers controls and easily accessible inputs for a camcorder or a portable DVD player like our Panasonic DVD-L10.
If we’d had a progressive scan or component video source, it would have been possible to get a handle on the true resolution capabilities of this Samsung monitor. I would guess that it could look very impressive with a 480p source, though it lacks all of the circuit sophistication of the Loewe TV. It does have a bigger picture, line doubler, and allows larger 4:3 off-air images.
Like all TVs, the SP403JA has internal stereo speakers, but also provides amplification, said to be 13 wpc, to drive external speakers. It also provides rudimentary virtual surround modes with Concert and Stadium settings. In a small room these features might serve well with a pair of small speakers. I’ll expand on this presently. Bass and Treble adjustments are provided, along with Balance, and a rear-panel headphone jack can be used for private listening.
Special tuner features include both fine tuning of channels with memory, a low noise amplifier to boost the signals of weaker channels, and video noise reduction for those that cannot be boosted to a noise-free signal. The tuner can be set up for reception directly off-air or for as many as 181 cable channels. The tuner can be programmed to scan and memorize all receivable channels. In sum, this is a full-featured set with some unusually well conceived features.
Using the Video Essentials DVD produced by ISF’s Joe Kane, we looked at various aspects of the SP403JA’s video performance. The picture is not the brightest we’ve seen from a tube or rear-projection set, and I found that a quite high Contrast setting was required for good blacks, with Brightness backed off. And this presupposes a quite dark room; unlike some sets, this one will not compete in the fluorescent showroom environment, but when properly set up in the right conditions can be easily adjusted for a very natural picture.
The set has no picture temperature setting, and Video Essentials revealed a slight blue cast in the grey scale charts, but colour was otherwise very accurate. Geometric accuracy was superb in all the screen modes that did not distort the picture, with crosshatch and other patterns perfectly reproduced on the very flat screen. Resolution was quite high, the LCD pixels invisible, though a fine grain could just be noticed on high resolution sources like DVD, especially in the Zoom modes. In general, the picture was very satisfactory for a TV this size.
I found the off-air tuner exceptional in sensitivity, able to make 3 or 4 more channels watchable than our Pioneer SD-5193 could. And the special reception features could be used to help. The fine tuning can improve reception of channels with other channels on either side, while to signal boost and video NR helped with distant signals, these all programmable in memory for future tuning to these channels. If you depend on an outdoor antenna, the SP403JA is a fine choice for good reception.
Looking at the film-sourced sequences on Video Essentials I noted a quite film-like picture, that is, a little soft, without the etching of many video sources. Some motion artifacts could be detected on pans and zooms, as with all LCD projectors, but the lack of pixelization was notably good.
Though I usually don’t worry too much about the sound of most monitors, since I assume their use with stereo and surround systems, I hooked a pair of Proson Tower V6 speakers to the small spring-clip speaker outputs using short lengths of 16-gauge zip cord. I was very surprised by the resulting sound quality, though the TV’s virtual surround modes were not nearly as impressive as those provided by my portable DVD player. Some bass and treble boost was required to get really good sound, but I was pleased that the TV’s amplifier had good sound quality and seemed to have more than adequate power. Sound effects from Apollo 13 were quite convincing through this system, especially when I turned on the DVD-L10’s virtual surround. In other words, you can have quite a satisfactory home theatre system with just this widescreen TV and speakers, and perhaps a subwoofer. There is one minor downside shared with many front projectors, namely an internal cooling fan that is just audible in a normal room at an optimum viewing distance.
At around $4000 or just above there are many excellent rear-projection TVs, most quite a bit bigger in bulk and screen size than this one. There are also some very large tube TVs, but any of these anywhere near the 40″ size are well over 300 pounds in weight. Few other TVs with comparably sized screens are as compact, relatively light in weight (about 75 pounds), and simple to set up. If this combination of features and flexibility grabs your attention take a closer look at the Samsung SP403JA.