Samsung UN55B8500 LCD HDTV Page 2
I did have a few minor quibbles with the Samsung’s generally good onscreen menus. The most annoying thing was that some of them timed out too fast, particularly those associated with white balance and color space calibration. The remote’s joystick feature was also overly sensitive, especially on a right click. This tended to trigger the onscreen cursor to move down rather than to the right.
I’m a movie and broadcast HDTV kind of guy. I’m not yet into all the new bells and whistles that let you pull movies, music, and photos from either a USB device plugged into one of the set’s USB inputs or from a home network. But the Samsung lets you do all of these things.
I also haven’t greatly explored the bottomless pit of Internet TV. But you can do this on the Samsung as well. You’re limited to the sites that Samsung has partnered with to bring you a variety of Widgets such as YouTube, streaming Blockbuster movies, and Yahoo, with its Gallery, Weather, News, Finance, and photo-sharing features.
The UN55B8500 is a 240-hertz set; it operates at a constant 240-Hz refresh rate for all sources. If the source is film based and transferred at 1080p/24, the Samsung repeats each frame nine times (10:10 pulldown) to bring the source frame rate up to 240 Hz. If the set receives a film-based source other than 1080p/24—that is, one mastered with 3:2 pulldown—it recognizes this, converts it to 24 Hz (by eliminating the 3:2 pulldown), and again repeats frames as needed by the 240-Hz refresh rate. If the source isn’t film based, the set repeats frames as needed for a 240-Hz refresh.
The UN55B8500 also offers frame interpolation, which it calls Real 240Hz, to reduce motion lag. When it’s switched on, the set interpolates the added frames instead of simply repeating them, which cleans up motion blur dramatically. Some viewers like the result; others hate what it does to the look of film, which is smoothed out so much that movies end up looking like soap operas. However, for some films, that might be appropriate!
Real 240Hz offers four active modes. The most intriguing is Custom, which has separate controls for Judder Reduction (for film-based sources) and Blur Reduction (for video-based material). Despite the distinctive names, each of these controls dials in frame interpolation. But they let you set different levels of interpolation for each type of source. When Custom is engaged, the set distinguishes between a film and video source and automatically dials in your chosen setting, as appropriate. If you don’t like what interpolation does to movies at any setting, you can set Judder to 0 and Blur to perhaps 7 or 8. The set will then switch on frame interpolation for video programming such as sports but leave it off for films.
A separate feature, LED Motion Plus, cycles horizontal blocks of the LED backlights on and off, scrolling from top to bottom once every frame (1/240 of a second). This shuts off the backlighting while the LCD is changing states from on to off, or back, so you don’t see the lag that occurs during this transition. It also significantly reduces image brightness.
However, even without these features, I didn’t find motion lag to be a concern on this set. I only switched to LED Motion Plus or Real 240Hz to check them out; I left them off for all other testing and viewing.
The Samsung sailed through all of our HD video processing tests without a hiccup. The Video Test Bench chart doesn’t address standard-definition upconversion (all of the VTB tests are 1080i to 1080p except for Scaling, which is 480p to 1080p), but the Samsung earned a passing grade on that level as well. It only exhibited a borderline result on HD 3:2 pulldown, and it had some difficulties on the original letterboxed DVD release of Titanic—an extremely challenging test.
While many LCD sets offer matte-finished screens, Samsung’s are reflective. Like most LCD displays, the UN55B8500’s picture degrades progressively as you sit further and further off axis. But while you, the fussy videophile, will demand dibs on the middle seat, most viewers won’t be troubled as long as they stay within 30 degrees or so of center. This will cover any seat on a typical couch that’s roughly 10 feet from the set.
Before calibration, the Samsung’s black level was impressive in a way that sets local-dimming designs apart. In a darkened room, a fade to black in the program source plunged the room into complete darkness, as if the set were off. Actually, it was—or at least the LEDs were.
The calibration increased the black level a bit. I could now clearly see the screen in a black fadeout—although it was very dim—and the black bars on widescreen scope films were visible when I looked for them. There was also a slight variation in the uniformity of the blacks. The images were a little lighter on the sides of the screen than in the middle. But these variations were barely visible. They only showed when both the image on the screen and the room were very dark.
I’ve reviewed local-dimming sets that go a bit darker than the Samsung, but the visual impact of the Samsung’s black level was still first class. Plus, the measured result was about as low as our test tools will read. My favorite black-level test scenes in Spider-Man, Stargate: Continuum, and King Kong (2005) were convincingly dark, with good shadow detail and little trace of the hazy gray overlay that afflicts most ordinary LCDs. I only noticed its shortcomings in a direct side-by-side comparison with a Pioneer Elite KURO PRO-141FD on the most challenging, low-contrast scenes, such as the below-decks sequence at the beginning of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The Samsung can run neck and neck with the discontinued and fast-disappearing KUROs in terms of color, resolution, and adjustability. It can also easily beat them in available brightness and energy efficiency. But while the Samsung approaches the KUROs’ overall black level and shadow detail, and does so in impressive fashion, it still falls short—as do all of the other sets we’ve tested, to be fair.
While the Samsung’s post-calibration color tracking was good rather than exceptional, that distinction did nothing to compromise its subjective color performance. When the program material is right, the result could be striking. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is a movie that doesn’t get much love, largely because of the cartoonish mayhem in act three. But it’s filled with brilliant color. The interiors in the Plaza Hotel, Duncan’s Toy Chest, and the shots of New York’s Christmas decorations were all jaw-dropping. You won’t be disappointed with the Samsung’s color performance.
You won’t find yourself shortchanged on detail, either. While the transfer of Home Alone 2 is a bit soft here and there, the scenes that count—all of the above and a lot more—were crisp and clean. You want more? Check out the buildup to the battle scenes in Braveheart—a nearly flawless transfer. There isn’t a trace of softness from the Samsung in these scenes, even in the longest long shots of the English and Scottish armies.
The Samsung UN55B8500 doesn’t just offer a wide range of useful adjustments and other features. It also provides a natural-looking picture that impressed me and all the others who had the chance to see it. Yes, it’s a bit pricey, but there’s more to being a top-of-the-pile set than Blue Light Special status. The UN55B8500 is a superb HDTV.