Design and Connections
The back panel features 3 HDMI inputs, with another on the side panel, where it sits alongside Composite video and Stereo audio inputs, as well as a USB port for media playback. You'll also find a single RGB SCART input on the back, alongside a somewhat useless Composite SCART which won't give you optimal quality from any modern source (come on Samsung – VHS and Laserdisc are dead!), and Component video inputs. There's also an analogue RGB input for using with a PC, an accompanying audio input, and a Digital Audio output.
The first of these advanced adjustments is a Gamma control. This can be slid left or right to raise or lower the gamma curve, which doesn't exactly provide a huge degree of control, but we might not end up needing that much, anyway. There's also a 3D Colour Management system, which is absolutely excellent to see on a TV this inexpensive (if it works correctly, that is). This CMS operates using R/G/B principles rather than the more familiar Hue/Saturation/Luminance controls, but once you get your head around this mode of operation, it's simple to use. Then, there's user-accessible Greyscale controls, tucked away in a menu called “White Balance”.
The “Picture Options” screen lets us select a “Colour Tone” (Greyscale preset). Samsung's manual interestingly recommends that users select the “Warm2” mode (which is the most accurate out-of-the-box preset) “when watching movie and dramatic TV content”. It makes no sense to cherry-pick genres in such a way, because the exact same standards are used for all professional productions. Users who aren't going to get their TVs calibrated (for shame!) should use the Warm2 mode for all material, not just genres they perceive to be worthy.
There's also a Film Mode option with an “Off” (Video mode) option, and two Auto modes, the latter of which seems to be for improved handling of mixed film/video content (it helped avoid tearing errors with news channel tickers during tests). And to top it off, there's a Blue Only mode option, which means that the “Colour” and “Tint” controls can be set using only a test pattern and your eyes – no measuring device necessary.
This level of control is exemplary for a low-cost display. All of these settings, by the way – even the Greyscale and Colour Management info – are stored per-input, so you can truly customise absolutely every device to its best (although this may take a while!) All of this from a company that, four years ago, often forced unwanted video processing on the viewer.
The colour of grey (Greyscale) appeared to have too much green present, but the most surprising thing of all was the consistency of this error. Typically with LCD TVs, I notice inconsistent levels of colour making up grey – for example, at 10% brightness there's often an excess of blue, which makes way for a red tint later on. But here, even although the mix wasn't quite right, there weren't any huge deviations, which made the error much easier on the eyes.
Most noticeably, calibrating the TV's Greyscale reproduction removed the noticeable Green tint from the image. In fact, if you look at the RGB Level Tracking chart above, you'll notice that there are very few deviations from the desired target, and errors are typically only of a few percent, which is an absolutely excellent result which is completely unexpected from an affordable LCD display. In fact, Greyscale tracking of this quality is closer what we'd expect from higher-end Plasma displays. Gamma tracking was also shockingly excellent with no further adjustments made, which means that the amount of lightness at each part of the image was just about correct, with no cheap tricks being used to try and create a "punchier" image. This really is an astonishing result from a TV that can be had for this amount of money.
I fed a barricade of test patterns to the LE40B550, and was overall fairly impressed with how it treated standard definition video signals. First of all, I ran the diagonal interpolation tests from the PAL HQV test disc to see how well the TV's video processor would filter stair-stepping artefacts that result from deinterlacing Video material. In these tests, the TV did a decent, but not spectacular job, which is what I was expecting at this price point.
Next, I tested the TV's ability to detect Film content inside a standard definition interlaced TV signal. This is crucial for the best playback of films on TV, or from a standard definition source like an SD satellite or cable box. The news here is very good indeed: the PAL 2-2 cadence test passed without any flickering or jagginess, and several of the NTSC cadences did as well (the 3-2, 2-2 and DVCAM cadences from the NTSC test disc all passed). This is excellent, and indeed is better than the video processing found in many poorer upscaling DVD players.
Finally, I had a look at some 1920x1080p HD test patterns, just to make sure that the LE40B550 was preserving all of the detail present in an HD source. Both the Luminance and Chrominance (brightness and colour) tests passed, indicating that the LE40B550's video processor is not shearing off any fine details in the picture. I also noted that the TV has no issue with 24p motion, which was handled without any juddering.
In normal usage, the LE40B550 lagged by about 47ms, which is a higher figure than most modern displays. As a result, playing games on the TV wasn't immediately satisfying, as the video display lagged behind button presses. Fortunately, the TV has a Game Mode option buried in its menus. Enabling this cuts the lag down to 32ms, which is still not wonderful, but is a welcome improvement nevertheless. With this mode on, the “Movie” mode which I calibrated previously wasn't available, so I had to re-do the calibration.
Because CCFL-backlit LCDs use a constantly-lit series of backlights, the power consumption is constant, too, and depends on the TV's Backlight setting. At its lowest setting, the TV consumed only 60 watts, and at its highest, it consumed 180 watts (Backlight setting 10). Therefore, the energy consumption will vary depending on this setting, which in turn depends on how bright the viewing environment is. In my own tests, I had the Backlight set to 8, which resulted in power consumption of 127 watts.
As a budget display, the LE40B550 has no 100hz frame interpolation system on board. Frankly, this is no great loss. 100hz/200hz systems are a flawed attempt at overcoming LCD's inherent motion issues, and often introduce problems of their own that are more objectionable than the original motion blur was to start with. Especially given that the LE40B550's motion quality is good by LCD standards already, I simply see the lack of a 100hz mode as one less option to turn off. The individual unit that I reviewed also had no issues with clouding or unevenness, so dark areas of the screen were somewhat uniform, without any misting or “hot spots” near the edges of the screen.
Things only improved after calibration. As detailed in the Calibration: Before & After section, it was possible to remove the green tint from the picture previously imposed by the slightly off Greyscale mix, for added realism. The accurate Gamma tracking and colour reproduction only added to the dimensionality of the on-screen image. Even standard definition video via the TV's digital terrestrial tuner could look surprisingly good as a result of these strengths - viewing distance permitting, of course.
Blu-ray Disc movies were very enjoyable on this display thanks to the combination of accuracy, the lack of intrusive video processing, and the better-than-expected LCD panel component. In darker viewing environments, the usual black level limitations of LCD were somewhat apparent, but to a lesser extent than on several other LCD sets. In darker environments, I preferred to lower the Backlight brightness to create a deeper black level (at the expense of dulling peak whites, of course). Amusingly enough, unlike higher-end Samsung LCDs, the LE40B550 didn't feature any sort of distracting auto-dimming, so the light output - while not always ideal - at least remained constant, without any irritating fluctuations.
- Good black level and contrast, by LCD standards
- Viewing angle falloff is acceptable
- Fantastic calibrated greyscale performance
- Very close-to-accurate gamma after calibration
- Excellent calibrated colour reproduction
- Standard definition video processing is great at this price
- Budget Plasma displays (albeit with their own different faults) can be had for a little more
- For gamers, there are displays with less input lag out there
Samsung B550 (LE40B550) LCD TV Review
Couple the LE40B550's potential picture quality with the prices it can now be had for, as well as the media playback features offered thanks to the USB port, and you have a very attractive display for customers on a budget, or for a second room. At its original suggested retail price, better HDTVs can be had, but at around £500, the Samsung LE40B550 offers a somewhat viable alternative to budget Plasma displays for users who aren't fundamentally opposed to LCD images - and it offers better picture accuracy to boot. It's an AVForums Best Buy!
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level
Ease Of Use
Value for Money
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.