Samsung C650 (LE32C650) LCD TV Review
We run the rule over Samsung's ever popular 6 Series LCD
IntroductionSat a-top of Samsung's 2D 'standard' LCD range is the LEC650. It may not boast the thinnest chassis on the market right now but it promises to be a feature laden television with a highly thought of heritage. There's no LED back or side-lighting for the marketeers to pin their efforts on but, hopefully, the LEC650 will maintain Samsung's strong reputation for video processing and for their provision of some of the best calibration controls out there. There are 5 model sizes in the range, the LE32C650, LE37C650, LE40C650, LE46C650 and LE55C650. Whilst they'll all offer a similar experience, panel variance may mean some differences. Occupying a very popular sector of the market, the LEC650 finds itself in competition with the likes of Pansonics' TX-LS20B and TX-LG20B; the LED back-lit LG LE4900 and Samsung's own LED side-lit UEC5800. Read on after the summary to see how it performed in our testing.
Design and ConnectionsIn contrast to the Samsung LEC530 I recently reviewed, on unboxing the LE32C650 I was instantly impressed with the general feeling of weight and robustness afforded by the build quality. The Samsung LEC650 is certainly not a budget set and the Korean giants have paid due attention in not making it feel like one. It's hardly an enormous departure from the current trend of slim, shiny black chassis but the transparent strip, running all round the frame, does enough to give it a distintive appearance which is augmneted by the rose-tinted bezel. Samsung claim the bezel actually contains several different colours but the only one I saw was pinkish red. The supplied stand is of a heavy glass construction and swivels both easily and generously.
The supplied remote control was a virtual carbon copy of the LEC530's but with the added bonus of being back-lit, for those of us that like to operate in low light conditions. The handset is well laid out with all the important items easily reachable whilst being held one-handed. It's rather lighweight but without major issues. Moving on to the connections and we have, to the rear, a terminal for the aerial; 3 outward facing HDMI 1.3 inputs; a D-Sub PC connection that supports up to [email protected]; a RGB Scart terminal; a Component in with accompanying audio receptors; an Optical digital audio out and a, badly positioned, Headphone jack. To the side we have a Common Interface slot for premium digital content; a further HDMI input, a USB connection and RCA connectors capable of carrying composite video (if you absolutely must) together with stereo audio.
MenusSet up was a breeze with the LE32C650 and includes a best connection tutorial, that may prove uesful for the unitiated. The menus, themselves, are logically laid out (except for the Game mode option - more on that later) and are presented in a highly legible charcoal and black colour scheme with clear white text. The Electronic Program Guide(EPG) was similarly presented and displays a window, top left, carrying the audio and video from the currently viewed channel. As I found with the LEC530, I would have liked the option of displaying more programming. Naturally the menu we're most interested in is 'Picture' and contained in there are almost all the necessary controls we'll need to calibrate the picture close to industry standards, or at least, that's what we're hoping to achieve. Aside from the standard Brightness, Contrast, Colour and Sharpness sliders, we also have controls over gamma; a CMS and both a 2 and 10 point control over white balance which will govern greyscale performance. It's a generous set of controls and one that bodes well for extracting maximum performance from the Samsung LEC650.
There are some options we'd advise you to leave off, notably Black Tone, Dynamic Contrast, Shadow Detail, Edge Enhancement and Flesh Tone. There's also a handy option for turning off the video display under Energy Saving under the Tools button on the remote. Also worthy of note in the Picture Menu are options for Film Mode (cadence detection - more on that later) and Samsung's motion interpolation system, Motion Plus. The Sound Menu has various preset options; an equaliser, should you feel the need, and an audio delay setting for the Optical/SPDIF output, amongst others. As there's little point in having a separate Sound section to our TV reviews, in the majority of cases, I'll mention here that the speaker output was passable if far from impressive. The menu system also contains set up and tuning options, the ability to search for software updates, access to [email protected] and connected media devices and, hidden away, the elusive Game mode. Quite why Samsung have not included this in the Picture menu, along with the other choices, baffles me - they did include Dynamic there after all! Of course there's a raft of other options but we'll let you have the pleasure of discovering those for yourselves having covered the most important.
Test ResultsHaving evaluated the various presets and found Movie to allow the closest to industry standards, I set up the basic Brightness and Contrast controls for optimum viewing in my test room. I first took measurements of the out-of-the-box, and all important, Greyscale. Calibrating the greyscale to neutrality ensures the colours are 'painted' to an untainted 'canvas' and is critical to the delivery of an accurate image. As we can see results are actually, on paper, excellent for a preset. Delta errors were all below 3, pretty much across the board, but the numbers belie the fact that black and near black were beset by an unsightly red tinge, destroying details in dark scenes. The panel was given fair chance by being run in for 100, or so, hours but only through advanced calibration was the tinge able to be eliminated. Such calibration is beyond most owners but the effect could easily be noticed by the untrained eye.
In very simple terms, getting the gamma tracking close to the target the viewing conditions dictate is important in making sure you're not missing detail from pictures in the dark areas and, with ideal viewing conditions, can really help to give a a sense of depth to the image. In an ideal viewing environment, i.e. with low light and little hitting the screen, somewhere between a value of 2.2 and 2.4 is desirable. I chose a target of 2.2 and the results meant the picture was too dark in low brightness scenes. Having a 10 point white balance control and the Calman software at my disposal, should mean that an acceptable result would be achieved following calibration. The arch-like shape in the CIE chart, that houses the triangle, is a representation of the range of colours visible to the human eye. The triangle inside is the defined standards a HD television is expected to achieve, with the small squares being the points of hue and saturation we want to hit for the Primary (Red/Green/Blue) and Secondary (Cyan/Magenta/Yellow) colours. Results with the LEC650 are far from disastrous but the under saturation of red is a concern - we can't add to what the display can achieve - and the off hue performance of the secondary colours warrants attention.
Having had chance to adjust the generous calibration controls on offer, I was able to achieve the following result in affecting the greyscale. Thanks to the 10 point control, errors were now rendered meaningless with Delta errors measuring below 1 across the scale. Very pleasing. Gamma was similarly tracking very well, to target, as demonstrated with this diagram. The resultant image was now displaying an excellent depth from dark to light and the small errors weren't apparent to the eye. Finally, moving to the calibrated colour gamut performance, I was able to obtain the following results. Most disappointing was the failure of the panel to fully saturate Red, which would be noticeable to the trained eye and possibly for those that follow teams that play in that colour - apparently there are one or two. Fortunately luminance errors, that the CIE diagram can't show, were very low so on-screen results were still very acceptable. Pleasingly hue errors with the secondary colours were all but eradicated lending added 'realism' to familiar tones.
This is an area where the Samsung LEC650 proved very strong. The scaling of standard def images was very clean with little to no obvious ringing or artifacting and this was borne out in the tests I threw at it. Cadence detection, the process whereby the television attempts to detect if the material was shot on film and then not deinterlace unnecessarily - thus throwing away resolution and causing jaggies, was flawless with the most common 2:2(PAL) and 2:3(NTSC) cadences. Blu-ray 24p material was also displayed flawlessly when Motion Plus was disabled. I'm not normally a fan of motion interpolation features but Samsung's 'Motion Plus' system does have the advantage of being using configurable. Using the lowest 'Clear' setting - turning the judder reduction right down to zero and the blur reduction to 5, I was able to achieve a result that didn't offend the eye by making everything look like it was shot on a camcorder whilst also reducing the notorious LCD motion blur. There was still some minor artifacting and a little frame skipping but I did find it acceptable with most material.
As a gamer of over 30 years, I like to think I'm in tune with the responsiveness of the panels I use. Before performing any lag testing, with it's inherent difficulties, I like to give the screen a chance with some actual gaming. It didn't take me long to decide something was a amiss, in this department, on the LEC650. Bringing up a golf game with the old fashioned 'power bar' showing, revealed the response to my input was woefully behind and quite the worst I've encountered. Running some tests gave figures ranging between 85 and 103 milliseconds, which is several frames behind the action, whether the game is 30 or 60 frames per second. Anybody venturing online for some multiplayer action would find themselves at some serious disadvantage with the C650 before any network lag came in to play. Given that Samsung didn't see fit to include the 'Game' picture mode in the logical place and instead hid it away in an options menu, I can only conclude this isn't a set they're aiming at the gaming fraternity. To boot, the default image in Game mode is a horribly overblown and oversharpened affair that requires serious adjustment to bring it close to acceptable. Response times were better in Game mode, I got figures ranging between 43 and 60 milliseconds but, still, there are far better TVs out there for this particular pastime.
The Samsung LEC650 proved very respectable here with the following figures obtained after calibration:
- Standby: 1W
- Average: 75W
Picture QualityThe Samsung LEC650 is a great all-rounder with both SD and HD material. Thanks to the excellent dynamic range afforded by the MVA panel, that was in the review sample, images had great depth and contrast with excellent black levels. The viewing angles were slightly better than the S-PVA panel that was present in the LEC530 panel, I recently tested, but there was still a noticeable contrast drop off at around 40 degrees. Unlike the C530, where contrast would continue to diminish the further off-axis you went, the LEC650 did stabilise at approximately 50 degrees and thus may not prove too much of an issue if it were positioned in the corner of a room. Unfortunately there were issues with screen uniformity. All four corners of the screen did exhibit clouding, even with a modest backlight setting. For a lot of material, it didn't prove too distracting but I did find my eyes wandering towards it whilst viewing content with, the dreaded by some, 'Black Bars'. Anything that can take you away from what's going on in the action is a minus in my book.
Perhaps the most irksome 'feature' of the Samsung LEC650, is its propensity to 'smooth' the picture and in the process remove very fine details from the final image. I first noticed this effect whilst viewing an HD FA Cup replay broadcast from Elland Road, Leeds. I was actually side by side testing real world motion performance against a plasma when I noticed the pitch looked different to that displayed on the Panasonic. The plasma showed the grass was actually cut up quite badly whilst the Samsung was smoothing the nuances of the texture. I then back to back tested some Blu-rays in my collection that I knew contained a fair amount of film grain and, sure enough, the LEC650 was removing some of this also. I again checked that the Sharpness setting of 0 was correct, using test patterns and also that the edge enhancement setting was having no effect. Unfortunately, there was nothing that could be done to combat this processing and it's something of a mystery as to why Samsung would have done it. My best guess is that it's to make the LEC650's picture have a differentiator on the shop floor - the image did potray a false sense of clarity and some may like it. It's probably fair to point out it didn't dog all material and did some favours to poor SD content.
FeaturesChief amongst the array of features on offer with the Samsung LEC650, for me, is the inclusion of a Freeview HD tuner. Broadcast High Defnition may not be quite all it could but it's a big step up from the abysmal bit rates they've been inflicting on us over the years. The time is fast approaching where the majority of viewing, for most, will be available in HD but I digress. Internet through your television is here and it's here to stay. Samsung's web portal goes by the somewhat predictable name of [email protected] and, at the time of testing, carried 22 services including LoveFilm, a Facebook interface, BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Google Maps. It works well enough given the limitations of using a TV remote control but we know there's a lot more to come, in this area, and things will only improve. Of course the LEC650 is equipped with a USB input allowing playback of Music (MP3/PCM files); Video (including AVI/MKV/VOB/TS containers and Mpeg/MP4 files) and Photographs. It’s worthy of note that the USB device is not restricted to FAT variants and you can hook up a NTFS formatted device. Naturally there are some limitations to the files and you may be best checking the forums if you encounter problems. It's also fully DLNA compliant and can be networked wirelessly with addition of a dongle.
- Great Black Levels and Dynamic Range
- Excellent Calibration Controls
- Reference Greyscale Performance
- Superb Video Processing and Scaling
- Freeview HD built-in
- Back-Lit Remote Control
- Robust Media Playback
- Shocking Input Lag for Gamers
- Very Fine Details Robbed from Images
- Reddish Blacks Uncalibrated
- Backlight Bleed in All Corners
- Large Contrast Loss Off-Axis
Samsung C650 (LE32C650) LCD TV Review
Ultimately, the Samsung LEC650 is a very solid perfomer. With one of the best black level and contrast performances, in the LCD market, it's sure to bring plenty of pleasure to all but the most demanding of videophiles and those that don't play video games. It's a well built television that both looks and feels the part with a well presented menu system to match. With truly excellent video processing and scaling engines, the C650 copes admirably with most material you throw at it. Unfortunately there's a baby elephant in the room and that's the fact that the LEC650's processing sees fit to take out very fine details from material, which can be problematic with HD images. It's probably fair to say that most wouldn't notice and the resultant image can portray an illusion of clarity, which - if I were guessing as to why they've seen fit to include such a feature - may give it some advantage on the shop floor.
The included calibration controls are pretty much a pleasure to use but we'd like to see Samsung include individual luminance controls, of at least the primary colours, to make it a truly 3D colour management system. The ability of the panel to fully saturate red would also be an advantage, we hear there's a lot people whose chosen teams play in that colour and they might just notice! This isn't a television I could easily recommend to gamers. All but those in near zombie like states are going to notice that they could just about stick the kettle on whilst waiting for the screen to respond to the input from their controller. Add in the fact that they inexplicably hide the, just about, useable Game mode in an obscure location, and the default image you get from it is non-too-pleasing and I'd almost certainly be sending the discerning gamer in another direction. If you're not a gamer and/or a film fanatic with a very keen eye for detail, then I'd have no hesitation in recommending the Samsung LEC650 to you. If you like a broad range of viewing material with the ocassional Blu-ray, you could certainly do worse.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £499.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
Ease Of Use6
Value for Money8
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