Samsung LN-T5281F LCD 1080p HDTV Page 2
Yes, I know, that's the title of a classic but depressing Bette Davis weeper. But as used here it's anything but depressing. It's a reference to the Samsung's deep blacks—the deepest blacks I've yet seen from an LCD television. In fact, with a full screen, video black image viewed in total darkness you often can't tell if the set is on or off; the screen is as dark as the frame and the surrounding blackness of the room!
This is an uncanny effect. Some viewers might even find it a bit unsettling. We're accustomed to using the screen as a frame of reference, even when a scene fades to black. Even in a movie theater a full screen black "image" is always dark gray.
While some might argue that pitch black this is not what a filmmaker saw/desired/anticipated when he or she created the show, I would argue that they simply accept the dark gray you normally get as a natural limitation of the film process.
If they did have access to absolute black, however, they could make use of it. Leaving the audience completely in the dark for even a few seconds can have a dramatic effect in the hands of a creative director, particularly when combined with a well-crafted soundtrack.
Enough Film Philosophy 101. On a more practical level, the fade to complete black effect on the Samsung is dependent on the setup. For more on this, see the addendum "Fade to Black" in the Measurements section.
LED SmartLighting also includes the Samsung's local dimming feature, described earlier. It can increase the contrast between light and dark areas of the picture by illuminating areas of the image selectively. While it can't make the dark areas quite as deep as you'll see when the screen is entirely black, it's still very effective. I expected to see bleed-through between the different backlighting zones, but this never materialized to an obvious degree. There was some visible brightening of the areas immediately around white titles on a black background, but this is likely unavoidable if the local dimming is done at anything short of the pixel level!
You can see the effect of LED SmartLighting for yourself, particularly on scenes with a mix of dark and light areas. Turn it off and the dark areas become lighter, with more than a hint of the "gray haze" that affects digital displays with less than the best black levels. Turn it back on and the haze disappears. In fact, this haze was visible on the Samsung only in the very darkest, low contrast scenes.
There's also a menu option called LED Feature Demo. When you turn it on, it presents a split screen, with the LED Smartlighting engaged on one side and turned off on the other. But be careful. When you call up this feature the image is automatically switche to the Dynamic mode. You can, however, manually set it back to Movie mode for a more realistic comparison. With this feature, the SmartLighting side didn't always look better, but on average I found it to be a definite plus. I left it on for all my testing and viewing.
I did feel that the set was sometimes crushing the darkest grays into black. Tech-heads would phrase this by saying that the gamma is perhaps too high at the very bottom of the brightness range. Samsung says that this is not so, and that the gamma of this model was designed to emulate that of a CRT professional broadcast monitor.
Still, on some material it required a delicate balancing of the brightness and gamma controls to provide the best combination of deep blacks and shadow detail. A one step change on either control could sometimes make the difference between an acceptable image and a compelling one.
But even in dark scenes where I felt that there should perhaps be more detail in the deep shadows, the Samsung's blacks could be striking. A great example of this is the below decks scenes near the beginning of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. As a crewman conducts a night inspection around the sleeping sailors and idle cannons, he carries only a dim lamp to light his way. On most digital displays you can see the important details in these scenes, but the surrounding gloom is often a dark to medium gray rather than inky black, depending on the quality of the set. On the Samsung, these dark areas are near total black, and while you can't see very deep into them, all the important details are visible in each shot. You really have to see this quality in a darkened room to appreciate how much it can enhances the dramatic effect of the scene.
The same is true of other dark program material as well. To see true black where there should be true black, instead of gray, puts us into the action in ways that are almost subconscious because we so rarely see black fully and properly reproduced.
Great blacks, combined with the Samsung's more than generous (but, when properly set up, not excessive) brightness also give the LN-T5281F's picture impressive depth. This varies from program-to-program and, not surprisingly, is most effective with computer animation. But in my experience of video displays, this set's subjective depth has only been exceeded (barely) by a few projectors and, among flat panel digital displays, the newest Pioneer plasmas.
The Samsung's black level is the star of the show here. But while nothing else about the Samsung's performance jumps out and grabs you quite so dramatically, there are a lot more plusses than minuses.
I'll start with the down side. The Samsung's shiny screen has already been mentioned. But the screen—or more precisely the LCD panel—is also the source of a common LCD problem: degraded off-axis viewing. As you move away from a position directly in front of the Samsung the image starts to wash out, getting progressively paler as the offset angle increases. You can still see the picture from extreme angles, and even completely follow the on-screen action from there, but the image lightening starts to become serious beyond about 20 degrees. Most viewers will spot it at or beyond that point. Within about 10 degrees no one is likely to complain. Good seats for viewing the Samsung will be located at all positions on, say, a typical three-seat sofa positioned about 10 feet from the set (the closer you sit, the narrower the best viewing width). But the middle seat will always be the best in the house.