A little over a month ago I contacted some folks at Samsung PR saying I was doing a series of articles and reviews dealing with connected television – Smart TV, in Samsung speak – and did they want to send a product loaner my way for inclusion in the series? A few emails and phone calls later, and boom, a giant box strapped to a shipping pallet shows up on my doorstep. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to be living with a Samsung UN40C7000WF 40″ 3D LED television in my office.

Due both to the nature of my series, focusing on Web connectivity more than trying to review televisions, and to the timing of Samsung’s product cycle, I’ve been checking out a 2010 “C” series model just as the new-for-2011 “D” line of even thinner, sexier HDTVs is poised to hit stores. Lucky me, Samsung’s so excited about the upgrades made to the new generation, including a new system for 3D content, they’ve hinted at swapping my current loaner for one of the new models as soon as they’re available. So stay tuned (no pun intended).

The 40″ C7000 I’ve been testing is a beaut, and the fact that it’s on its way out means you can snag a killer deal on one right now if you poke around online. I’ve seen new models being closed out for as little as $1,100, which is $900 off the $2,000 price they originally retailed for. I won’t get into buying advice since this isn’t a proper review, but the set I have is super thin, has a bright, crisp image with a 240Hz refresh rate, 3D capabilities (with an optional kit), access a ton of online content flexibility, and has generally been really pleasing to my eyes. That said, I haven’t scrutinized the picture quality as one would do in a true TV review, and a few reviewers and forum posters have taken issue with the C7000’s LED edge-backlighting system, over-saturated colors, and some motion blur issues, so do your homework before making a purchase. I do wish the set shipped with integrated wireless connectivity (Ethernet is built-in, WiFi requires an optional dongle).

As for Samsung’s Smart TV system, it offers perhaps the best combination of features and usability of any competing system on the market. At the least it’s one of the two most impressive setups I’ve tried myself, with the other being the far less powerful but also far simpler and cheaper Apple TV (second generation). Sean swears by his Roku boxes, so clearly I need to get ahold of one of those next.

Combining Samsung’s “InternetTV” apps system and Yahoo! TV widgets, Samsung Smart TV looks good and offers ways to augment your tv and disc watching with streaming content, apps, and information widgets that share the screen with whatever your viewing. Samsung’s part of the package, accessed via a dedicated [email protected] button the remote, is essentially an app store for your flat panel. The set comes with a handful of apps pre-installed, including Hulu Plus, Netflix, ESPN SC and ESPN Next Level, MLB.tv, Pandora, Napster, Hulu, and even Google Maps and Skype. Skype, however, requires an optional $150 Webcam if you want the people on the other side of the connection to be able to see you.

The apps are easy to find, easy to use, and by and large render very well on the 1080p display. Premium services like Netflix and MLB.tv, of course, require their own paid subscriptions, but work very well. Social networking connectivity, games, and even access to remote controlled shopping on HSN are either nifty ways to bring the Web to the big screen or annoying bloatware, depending on your point of view. That said, the apps don’t at all interfere with the C7000’s primary function as a viewing machine. The Yahoo! widgets system also allows individuals to set up and save their own personalized information tickers – news, sports, weather, and even Facebook updates – to be viewed as bottom or side-edge overlays while other content is viewed in the main window.

All of that having been said, Samsung’s 2011 line looks to have significantly upgraded the Smart TV user interface and functionality, including the addition of a Web browser designed for the large screen. As good as Smart TV has been on the 2010 model I’ve been testing, it looks like it might be getting better for 2011. Stay tuned.