Samsung HLN617W 61-inch DLP HDTV Review

I recently had an
opportunity to look at Samsung's enormous 61" HLN617W DLP flat screen TV, and we
jumped at it. DLP (Digital Light Processing) displays may be less familiar to
some of you than the more conventional methods such as plasma, CRT, LCD or rear

, but it may well be the future of big screen HDTV's. Samsung was one
of the first companies to jump into the DLP display market, which is based on
Texas Instruments revolutionary HD-2 DLP micro device.

The HLN617W is Samsung's current HDTV flagship home
theatre screen, so get ready to sell that extra kidney as we take a close look
at this mother of all Home Theatre screens! As citizens of an industrialized
nation, we've seen big screen HDTVs before. Our first experience with the
Samsung HLN617W still gave us a double take however. This is a laaaarge screen.

Once we had this Samsung DLP
screen it set up in the middle of the office, nearly everyone in the PCstats
labs had to wander over once or twice for a closer look (especially when we were
'testing' Doom3 on it, but that's another story). Samsung's HLN617W retails for
slightly under $3,000
making it extremely
attractive compared to similarly sized plasma screens which generally go for
more than double this price... Well, actually there aren't any equivalently
sized LCD screens, which sort of gives DLP a nice unfair advantage in our
opinion. ;-)

Samsung HLN-617W 61" DLP


Users Manual, Warranty, Remote
Control, 2 AAA batteries.

Off the cuff, the Samsung
HLN617W boasts a laundry list of features as you might expect. For starters the
display is a little over 19" deep, and a hundred pounds light. At the heart of
the unit rests a second generation Texas Instruments 0.8" Digital Micro Device,
which has a native resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels. This resolution matches
HDTV's 720p, pixel for pixel, and for television signals it features automatic
conversion to 720p.

Other technologies present in
the HLN617W are DNIe video enhancement technology (more on this later), Faroudja
DCDi de-interlacing technology, Digital Noise Reduction, BBE sound and Virtual
Dolby Surround Sound (DSS). The display comes with a universal remote control,
twin HD component interfaces, a DVD 480i/p set of component inputs (Y, Pb, Pr)
and it will display two separate signals under Picture-in-Picture (PIP)

Simple Good Looks &
61" of Eye Candy
- The Perfect Combination.

Samsung's HLN617W simple good
looks add to its appeal. Obviously the screen takes up most of the real estate
on the front, but the uniform black and silver bezel and single medallion-shaped
LED information display under the screen result in a sleek and classy

This circular display
functions as both a power-indicator and a warning light for various possible
trouble states; including lamp temperature and display assembly problems. A set
of essential controls is located on the right hand side of the front bezel, at
the bottom. These include a power switch, channel and volume controls, menu and
enter buttons and a TV/video switch. This allows you to effectively control the
entire DLP screen in the event you are left without a remote, but is in no way a
replacement for it.

Next, we'll give you a quick
run through about how DLP works, and why it is gaining so much interest in the
Home Theatre display industry.

Introduction to DLP

Digital Light Processing (DLP) is a product of the Texas Instruments laboratories, and is still fresh technology. The system was first used in digital theatre projectors, and has recently been finding its way into television sets over the last couple of years. Technically, televisions that use this technology are rear projection displays, in that light is passed through or reflected from a device that creates the picture before being cast onto the rear of the screen. In reality, DLP TVs are vastly different from any preceding projection methods.

A DLP HDTV contains one or more DMD (Digital Multi-mirror Device) chips as pictured here at right. These are solid-state microchips covered with an array of millions of tiny mirrors which move in response to the signal received by the chip. Light is shone onto the DMD from a projection lamp, and by varying the amount of light reflected by each micro-mirror, or blocking it, the chip can reflect a precise image onto the screen composed of up to 1024 shades of gray.

To generate the colour, the light from the lamp is passed through a rotating colour wheel before striking the chip. This produces a colour image on the screen with a colour density of up to 16 million shades. Since the colour comes from a single light source, convergence is a non-issue with this display technology.

A single DMD chip can produce more than 16 million colours, and systems with multiple chips are able to project far more by separating each primary colour - but as of yet, multi-DMD home systems are few and far between, and incredibly expensive. Future enhancements to the DLP system will bring more resolution and colours to single chip systems if the momentum for this technology remains constant.

DLP Consumables

Like other projection technologies, DLP sets do not suffer from the screen burn-in and fading issues that can plague big-screen plasma and CRT TVs.

While plasma screens have reported life spans of about three years, a DLP HDTV uses a projection lamp which will require replacement eventually. According to the manufacturer, lamp life should run in the 4000-8000 hour range, or 3+ years of normal use. A new lamp will run you around $200-$300 USD, which is certainly a lot less than replacing the entire screen as can be the case with a plasma TV.

The HLN617W is also user-serviceable in this regard. The manual includes detailed instructions for changing the lamp. As for whether the lamp's quality will deteriorate over time, opinions are mixed. Personally we can't see how it would, being that it is simply a high-end light bulb. The Samsung web site is of the same opinion.

The HLN617W's manual, on the other hand, states that "the lamp used in a projection TV has a limited life-span. For the best screen quality it needs to be replaced periodically" which sounds a little more ominous.

Rainbow Effects

If DLP has any disadvantages, it is the 'rainbow effect,' a visual appearance of colour breakup. This is an optical illusion created by the sequential updating of the colours on the screen by the rapidly rotating colour wheel. It can cause flashes of rainbow light in your peripheral vision when you switch your focus to a different part of the screen.

The effect is generally only noticeable in high-contrast scenes, and then only when you are looking for it. If you are aware of it though, it can become quite distracting. Some people are much more sensitive to the effect than others, but it is worth noting that this effect is not brought about by rapidly moving images on the screen itself - only when the user looks around the screen real estate rapidly. We'll talk about how the HLN617W performs in this regard in little later in the review.

Physical Attributes of the HLN617W

Since DLP displays do not require the bulky CRT's and projection equipment that weigh down conventional large screen TVs, they are considerably lighter as a rule. While not as svelte as plasma or LCD display, the HLN617W is still very easy to move for its size, and much lighter than an equivalent plasma screen would be. Weighing in at 101.9lbs, we found that two people could move it around with very little strain.

The HLN617W measures 57 inches across, 40 inches high and remarkably only 19 inches deep. Obviously it can't sit flush against a wall like plasma or LCD screens, but it is very shallow for its size and will not eat up too much of your living room.

A stand is a must for this set, as the best viewing experience only comes with the television properly mounted so that it is at eye level when you are seated. The Samsung TR61L2S stand (separately, $700USD) is the intended model for the HLN617W.

The rear of the set heats up considerably on the left-hand side where the vent for the lamp is located. Given the shape of the case, it is not possible to place the vent close enough to a wall or other object to cause concern though. The HLN617W shines a thin pattern of shifting light onto the wall behind it (the backwash from the lamp shining though the vent slats). This is hidden by the bulk of the TV during viewing, and is not bright enough to cause a distraction in our experience.

Incidently, the HLN617W's power consumption is rated at 200Watts. Comparably speaking, a 42" plasma screen draws about 310W, 220W for a 40" LCD screen. Now, let's take a closer look at all those A/V inputs.

Audio and Video Inputs

As you might expect, Samsung's HLN617W features a veritable forest of input options. The imposing back panel of the TV features no less than three sets of component inputs (Y, Pb, Pr) of which two are for High Definition sources and one for DVD input.

There are also two S-video connectors, three sets of composite connections, two coaxial antenna inputs (and one antenna output), an extra pair of audio inputs for PC connections, a DVI connector, a VGA port and even an RS-232 serial port for "…repair and software upgrades." Cool.

An additional S-Video port and set of composite connectors are located on the right side of the front bezel for easy use with game consoles and camcorders.

HLN617W Rear Panel Terminals

Terminals: Coaxial cable input and output, S-Video inputs, RCA Video input, RCA Left/Right Audio inputs, RCA component inputs (480i/480p/720p/1080i) & left/right audio, and RCA left/right PC audio input, a DVI computer video input, an Analog computer video input, and RS232 port for ugprading firmware.

  • 480i/480p/720p/1080i: Connects to a source with Y, Pb, Pr signals like a DVD player or DTV (Digital TV) set top box.

At the side of the Samsung HLN-417W are a set of component RCA Video, S-Video and left / right Audio inputs for use with a camcorder or similar device.

The included universal remote was one of our less-favourite parts of the system. It gets the job done, and it does allow you to control up to four other audio/visual devices (with a little programming) but we found it slightly below par for a couple of reasons. First of all, the control felt imprecise at times, with the TV either not responding or responding slowly to some button presses. These issues occurred at all ranges. Note that we are not saying the remote didn't work, just that we occasionally had to press a button twice or three times to get the desired response, which is not what we'd like to see on a high end TV.

Secondly (and this is us being fussy) the remote is quite plain for such an expensive device, and is not all that comfortable to hold, especially with the bottom hatch open.

Design-wise, the remote is adequate. An LED strip along the top indicates which peripheral this universal remote is currently controlling. Below that are three mode buttons. The 'p.mode' and 's.mode' buttons choose between picture and sound presets, respectively, while the 'mode' button changes which peripheral is being controlled by the remote. Below that are the typical number keypad, volume and channel controls and a 4-way selector and enter button to control on-screen menus. Under these is a row of four interesting buttons: 'P.size' switches between the various picture modes supported by the TV, such as widescreen and panorama.

The 'still' button can be used to stop the picture at a particular point. Pressing the button again will resume the video feed. Note that this does not imply any form of PVR function, as the program or DVD continues to run while the still is being displayed. It's an interesting option though.. 'MTS' chooses between stereo, mono and SAP audio and finally 'surround' activates the HLN617W's surround sound emulation feature.

At the bottom of the remote is a hatch which slides down to reveal a final three rows of (presumably) less used buttons in order to make the device easier to grip. Included in here are PIP (picture-in-picture) controls, VCR/DVD controls, a button for adding and deleting channels from memory and the control button for the DNLe video feature we talked about earlier.

On-Screen Menus and Settings

The onscreen menu system is colourful and comprehensive, if occasionally cumbersome to click through, though this was more because of the remote's lack of responsiveness than anything else. Let's break it down by category:

The input menu allows you to scroll through the various input options and also customize their names. So you could call composite 1, 2 and 3 'HDTV,' 'spare' and 'DVD' if you'd like.

When selecting inputs, only ones that are actually connected are highlighted and available, which is handy.

The sound menu contains sound presets (standard, music, movie and speech) and custom sound options for bass treble and balance. Also included are toggles for the BBE sound processing, MTS and virtual Dolby surround sound effects as well as an auto-volume adjustment feature which compensates for louder or fainter audio signals between channels.

Menu's are navigated with the help of a little joystick on the remote control, or via the controls on the bezel of the screen.

The picture menu, as its name suggests, controls the properties of the display. From here you can choose one of the three preset picture modes: standard, dynamic (for daylight viewing) and movie, or custom to edit the display properties yourself.

Also available in this menu are colour tone options, screen size and PIP controls (which are also on the remote) and the toggles for Film Mode (auto-adjustment of picture for 480i inputs only), DNLe and Digital Noise Reduction settings. More on these in the tech specs section below.

The setup menu is a grab bag of options including closed caption controls, V-chip controls, time, menu language and PC setup controls. The latter allow you to adjust the display to cope with any video noise introduced by a PC connection. The menus are available in English, Spanish or French.

Contains options for tuner and cable channel handling, including detection, fine-tuning, favorites, labeling channels, etc.

The display has two coaxial cable inputs on the rear and includes a built-in tuner. The options here allow the user to make adjustments to the cable settings.

The Manual

The included manual is large and comprehensive, with generally well written instructions and easy to follow diagrams on each page. We do think that Samsung might want to reconsider the order that they have arranged the contents in though. The first thing you see (after the safety warnings) upon opening the manual is a guide to changing the projector lamp and why it might be necessary. Now don't get us wrong, this is crucial information; it's just that as a consumer, I'd be a little peeved if the first thing I saw in the manual of my new multi-thousand dollar HDTV were instructions on buying and installing replacement parts. It left us wondering exactly how long Samsung expected each lamp to last... Next up, we put this little 61" screen through some tests with DVDs, and Doom3!

In use; HDTV, Gaming, and DVDs

Samsung's HLN617W is built for movies, and this showed when we hooked it up to a DVD player with component outs. DVD quality was excellent, with a very 'movie-like' feel to it (as you might expect on a 61" widescreen). The picture was crisp and colours were vibrant and well reproduced.

Using the component inputs produced solid, respectable black, while the black from the S-video inputs was rather washed out.

Viewing angles were quite impressive. We did not notice much of a decrease in clarity until we moved far enough to the side that we could not see the whole screen properly, so this will not be a concern. Samsung advertises the set as having 160-degree viewing angles so this is no surprise. Vertical viewing angles are a little less, but when set up properly this shouldn't affect a users viewing experience.

Samsung's HLN617W can function as a test case for the superiority of component inputs over S-video (not that there was much doubt in the first place). We used a DVD player with S-video and component outs in combination with the TV's Picture-in-picture feature to create a half-component, half-S-video display for comparison purposes. Not only were the colours much more vivid and life-like on the component side, the blacks were also much deeper. There's no doubt in our mind as to what this TV needs to work best then.

As you would expect from DLP technology, there is no sign of 'ghosting' in the Samsung HLN617W's picture during rapid action scenes.

The brightness of the set was fine for darkened areas, though when we viewed the display in a normally illuminated office area with large windows it overwhelmed the screen until we changed to the 'dynamic' picture mode intended to deal with bright areas. Overall we were satisfied with the brightness of this Samsung DLP screen.

Testing with regular TV signals always feels like a bit of a letdown on a screen this size, but the HLN617W did not do badly. The panorama picture mode lets you use the full screen area while only stretching the image at either edge of the screen, which we found to be an acceptable compromise. 4.3 mode works well also, but is very under whelming in comparison.

In use - Computer Display

Of course, as computer hardware guys, we had to see how the HLN617W would work as a PC monitor. We grabbed an Aopen EX915 XCube mini-PC also on the PCstats test bench (hey, it matched the TV!) connected it up, and preceded to test.

As we mentioned before, the HLN617W display has both DVI and VGA connectors for PC, so hooking it up was a breeze. With a few clicks of the remote, it is easy enough to bring up a DVD into PIP, and continue to work away on the PC desktop with the movie playing in the corner (as pictured above). It's also easy enough to keep the DVD playing as you load up a game like DOOM3 on this massive screen. :-)

We tested with a Radeon X600xt video card in the system, which has both DVI and VGA connections and the picture was excellent. With the DVI connection to the HLN617W and the resolution set at 1280x720, text was clear and crisp several metres away from the screen. None of the fuzziness we have come to associate with TV-out connections is present (nor should it be). With a wireless keyboard, writing a review using this 61" monitor would be a pleasure!

Supported PC resolutions run from 640x480 up to 1024x768. Three 'widescreen' modes are also available; 720x483, 1280x720 (our favourite) and 1290x1080i. The widescreen modes offer a fantastic amount of desktop workspace, and adjust well to most 3D games and applications. The HLN617W supports up to 32-bit colour.

We ran Doom3 through its paces on the HLN617W and we can report that the display would make an excellent companion for a multimedia/gaming computer. The HLN617W has easily the best computer display properties of any television I has reviewed so far.

Sound, Tehchical Conclusions

The HLN617W's sound system is not bad at all, and while obviously not a match for a dedicated surround sound system, it managed to do justice to most of our test DVDs.

The bass was quite impressive for its two channels of 15 watt speakers, and the included BBE Sound processing option adds considerable punch to music and on-screen action. The virtual Dolby Surround Sound feature does increase the 'space' of the sound, achieving at least the feeling of displaced speakers. As you might expect, DSS reduces the clarity and punch of the sound though. Note that the BBE sound and the Virtual surround options cannot be used together on this HDTV.

As we stated, the Samsung HLN617W handled the audio in our DVDs well, with the exception of a Nine Inch Nails concert disk. Even this produced good results, except that attempting the low bass notes caused the speakers to rattle the entire television cabinet, which was a bit distracting. While we'd assume that anyone shelling out for a HDTV like this would intend to match it with a comparable surround sound system, the HLN617W's integrated speakers are good quality, and will keep you going for a while. Especially in a smaller room.

Technical Observations and Conclusions

Having read about the 'rainbow effect' seen in DLP screens, we were on the lookout for evidence of this on the Samsung HLN617W. While we did see this effect in action, our conclusion is that it's not something to really worry about.

The 'rainbow effect' is most noticeable in high contrast scenes, where we found that if we moved our eyes quickly from one end of the screen to the other we would get small rainbow flashes in our peripheral vision until we focused on the new area of the screen. The effect got weaker the further we were from the screen.

Interesting, but hardly off-putting. It's worth noticing that as soon as we stopped thinking about the effect, we stopped noticing it. The lone exception to this was when we tested the HLN617W with a test pattern of pure black with white circles. On this particular screen, any motion of the eyes brought chaotic rainbow flashing which was very noticeable, so if you plan on watching a lot of test patterns, steer clear of DLP technology.

Samsung's much-hyped 'DNLe' image processing technology does actually seem to have a noticeable and positive effect on the image when enabled. The set includes a 'demo' mode of the effect, which splits the screen into a half-DNLe processed, half normal display. With the processing enabled, images are noticeably sharper, especially in the case of high-resolution signals like DVD and PC input.

As noted above in the DLP technology section, The HLN617W does not suffer from convergence issues, since colour is formed by a single light source passing through a single rotating colour wheel.

Final Thoughts

Our first conclusions after seeing the Samsung HLN617W in action are that it's hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't want it his or her living room.

Second thoughts say that the remote control could be a lot better, and the on screen menus more convenient, but these are minor points.

The Samsung HLN617W is an excellent wide-screen 61" HDTV which doubles as the largest computer monitor you are likely to see. If there is an issue with this product, it's how poor standard TV and game console signals look in comparison to HDTV, PC and DVD input. Make sure that you have the resources to take full advantage of this set's capabilities before buying. For the price and the size, this set is an excellent gateway into the world of really large screen HDTV, and I for one am definitely sold on DLP's visual qualities.

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