The $935 (as of April 22, 2009) Samsung LN37A550 is a good choice for someone seeking an adequate, not-too-expensive 37-inch HDTV that requires minimal setup. The input connections are easy to get to, the on-screen menus are well designed and helpful, and the remote control is one of the best I've seen. But this model had wildly variable picture quality, ranging from fair to very good, plus a tendency to make some images too bright, and mediocre sound.
In our image-quality tests, judges tended to give the LN37A550 middle-of-the-pack scores. Images were sometimes too bright, and Caucasian skin tones tended to be extremely pale. One judge noted a lack of image depth in two of our tests. Most troubling, we saw vibration artifacts in our NASCAR and Mission: Impossible III (Chapter 7) test clips--a symptom that the LN37A550 was struggling to handle complex motion, and a bad sign for sports or action movie fans. Even for a 60Hz LCD (which this is), this was disappointing.
While the picture had occasional problems, the sound had nothing but. For one thing, it wasn't loud enough. I could listen to the built-in speakers comfortably with the volume all the way up, leaving me nowhere to go from there. Nor did the audio have much dynamic range. At one point in Chapter 2 of The Phantom of the Opera Blu-ray disc, a man's quiet speech gives way to a sudden, loud chord from an organ. But the LN37A550 ruined the effect, because the organ was hardly louder than the man. The sound was strained and muddy, and the pseudo-surround effect was utterly unconvincing.
One thoughtful addition is a headphone jack for private listening. Even the best TV speakers can't do justice to the audio of a modern Hollywood movie--which is why every good home theater needs a separate sound system. But the LN37A550's speakers are notably worse than most built-in speakers.
Still, if convenience and ease-of-use are your top priorities, this TV makes a good choice. The input connections on the back face outward for easy access, and additional inputs on the side offer even more-convenient access. When you turn on the TV for the first time, a wizard walks you through the basic settings, helping you set the clock and scan for channels. It also asks whether the TV will be used as a store demo model or for home use. TVs leave the factory calibrated to look their best in a store, not in your home. By obtaining this information at the outset, the LN37A550 avoids the most common cause of poorly configured new televisions.
The on-screen menus and displays are well designed, easy to use, and trouble-free. The attractive main menu displays options clearly and with useful explanations. A smaller Tools menu gives you quicker access to such popular options as Picture Mode, Sound Mode, and Favorite Channels. The remote's Info button brings up information on the current program in a translucent box that obscures as little of the picture as possible. Switching between your various devices (Blu-ray player, DVR, and so on) is extremely easy thanks to a Source List that groups the inputs that are currently receiving a signal at the top of the list of options.
Though it's not programmable, the remote control is among the best I've seen. The buttons are large, well placed, and easy to press. The important ones are uniquely shaped, which makes them easy to find with your thumb. And the backlighting helps you spot the button you're looking for in a darkened room. Press the Backlight button (which glows in the dark), and all the buttons light up. The labels are written on the buttons themselves, so you can truly see what you're pressing.
The LN37A550 has a USB 2.0 port on one side that you can use for viewing photos and listening to music stored on a USB thumb drive or external hard drive. The TV finds all of the relevant files on the drive you plug into it, so you don't have to search through folders to find your pictures (or songs). Unfortunately, the photos display initially as icons, not thumbnails. Select one, and it starts a slideshow. The only supported formats are JPEG and MP3, so if you rip your CD collection into iTunes using the default settings (which will save your music in AAC format), you're out of luck.
Samsung added picture-in-picture to this television, but the feature is severely limited. The remote lacks a PiP button, so you have to go to the main menu for access. And PiP works only with an outside source (such as a DVD or Blu-ray player) in the big picture, and a TV channel playing through the set's own tuner in the little one.
And of course the price is right. At $935, the LN37A550 costs $105 less than the lowest-priced 42-inch HDTV we've looked at recently (the Honeywell Atura MLX)--a set with no better audio quality and considerably worse image quality.
If keeping hassles to a minimum is your top HDTV priority, the LN37A550 makes an excellent choice. Just don't expect to be blown away by a superb home-theater experience. For that, you would be better served by the LN37A550's sibling, the 46-inch Samsung LN46A630, or on a more modest level by the 42-inch Sharp LC-42D85U.
This story, "Samsung LN37A550 37-Inch HDTV" was originally published by PCWorld.