SAMSUNG, KOREA: Testing times below the 38-storey tower
The main R&D tower here at Samsung's complex here in Suwon, some 65km south of Seoul, rises 38 floors, dominating the skyline for miles around.
9000 people work in this gargantuan bulding, out of a total of almost 23,000 on this site. That means it doesn't take a huge leap of faith to believe the company's claim that last year it spent a fairly staggering $6.3bn, or almost 10% of its total revenue, on research and development.
But with R&D also comes testing, and the building also goes five floors down, with labs to test products for EMF radiation and RFI susceptibility, electrical and mechanical safety, at extremes of temperature and humidity, and for compatibility.
I visited the lab where the company tests its displays and TVs with an impressive range of products from other brands - set-top boxes, DVD and Blu-ray players and the like - and another where testing is done with stacks of computers and video cards.
I also spent time in the optical testing department, illustrated at the top of this piece, where a highly automated system checks sample TVs - and those from other brands - for colour, brightness, contrast and even power consumption.
SAMAS - Samsung Automatic Measurement and Analysis System - works with an industry standard colour analyser, but bolts onto it a suite of in-house tools designed to measure and combine all the parameters of a TV's picture into one report.
It can take separate measurements for each colour, different picture modes and even a variety of inputs, and analyse them to give a complete overview of what the set is doing, as well as drilling down to the real nuts and bolts stuff.
But that's only step one.
The lab also uses VAS - its own Visual Analysis system - to compare a wide range of real pictures, stored on the computer and viewed on the TV under test, with reference measurements made on an optimised set kept in the lab. The testing uses a Canon digital SLR, its zoom lens set to 70mm to fill the frame with the TV picture, connected back to the computer.
The system cycles through a wide variety of off-air stills, from film scenes to a lot of lip-glossed and big-haired US TV anchors - and that's just the men - taking pictures and referencing them back to its database. 157 items are checked, covering factors such as overall tone, greyscale handling, skin tones, red/blue/green colour fidelity, saturation, noise and so on.
But it's not just picture quality that's tested. In a large anechoic chamber, the audio output of TVs and other products can be checked, both on and off axis,
And there's also a large listening room, with variable reverberation time, another measuring system and electronics including several pairs of B&W speakers for reference use.
Both facilities would have most specialist audio companies casting envious glances, but when I visited the listening room, testing was underway on a smallish CRT TV, a reminder that such sets still make up a significant part of the company's TV business, especially in some Asian countries.
If testing all of Samsung's consumer electronics products for sound quality wasn't enough, the audio test engineers have a sideline.
In the noise room they check everything from air-conditioners to washing machines, working to reduce the amount of noise the products make, and eliminating any wayward squeaks or rattles.