Samsung B550 (LE40B550) LCD TV Review

Samsung delivers an LCD bargain, chock-full of calibration controls.

by AVForums
TV Review

65

Best Buy
Samsung B550 (LE40B550) LCD TV Review
SRP: £899.00

Introduction

Samsung's huge presence in the LCD TV market has resulted in a comprehensive range of models which stretch from 720p-centric displays, to full 1080p models with LED backlighting. The LE40B550 is part of Samsung's Series 5, which is billed as being the best choice for users who want 1080p resolution without breaking the bank. Of course, AVForums readers will know that resolution is not the most important aspect of picture quality (although it is one of the easiest aspects of a display to quantify, a point not lost on advertising departments and salespeople). Can the LE40B550 produce high quality as well as a high pixel count? Let's find out.

Design and Connections

It doesn't feature the “touch of colour” that some of the more expensive Samsungs have, but the LE40B550's looks are a million miles away from “bargain basement”. The entire bezel is glossy and is covered in transparent, glass-like plastic, and there are touch sensitive areas on the bottom right of the bezel, instead of buttons. The stand (which comes attached) is styled in much the same way as the TV.

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.

Menus

The B550's menus operate just like the rest of the current Samsung range, only because this isn't a high end model, there's none of the fancy transparency or animation effects. That ends up being a good thing, because they respond to user input more quickly. Samsung have the basic controls taken care of: the first Picture menu allows the user to alter the Backlight intensity, Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness, Colour, and Tint. There's many more useful options in the “Advanced Settings” and “Picture Options” screens, however. In fact, Samsung are putting several other industry players to shame with the amount of picture control they offer, even on an inexpensive model such as this. It's pretty funny to think that this display has more comprehensive calibration control than some considerably more expensive, high-end displays!

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”.

There's also a Chroma filter, strangely called “Edge Enhancement”. Most such labelled filters work on the Luminance (brightness) component of the video instead, as this is the area our eyes are most sensitive to. Samsung's filter instead attempts to combat colour bleed by detecting edges of colour and then using the underlying Luminance component as a guide for remapping these areas with more clearly defined boundaries. It does work, but it can also destroy some fine coloured transitions in the process, so I left it off.

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.

Test Results

After only a basic setup, the images being put out by the LE40B550 were surprisingly good to look at. Thanks to the TV's Blue Only mode, I could set the basic “Colour” control using only a test pattern and my eyes. The “Colour Space” menu also allows the user to select the “Auto” mode, which promises to reproduce colours accurately, without any attempts at expanding the gamut (which sounds like a nice idea in principle, but would only distort the colours).

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.

In the “Auto” colour space mode, colour reproduction was already great, especially when we consider than this is an out-of-the-box, uncalibrated result. The biggest issues were with the red and green primary colours, which weren't fully saturated. However, most of the colours were either on-hue or close to being on-hue. As noted, Samsung have included full calibration controls with this display, so users who have calibration know-how and equipment (or are going to hire the services of someone who does) can conveniently improve the image quality of their display. After calibration, the performance of the LE40B550 was much improved.

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.

The good news doesn't stop coming when it comes to colour. Thanks to Samsung's inclusion of a 3D Colour Management System, colour reproduction can be improved even further from the not-too-shabby out of the box “Auto” mode. The LCD panel fitted to the display doesn't seem to be capable of fully saturating Red or Green, but this is really the only downside to this display's colour reproduction. Luminance levels for each colour were correct, and each colour was on-hue and, when the panel could support it, saturated to just the correct level. Again, this is an absolutely excellent result, which is what I've started coming to expect from Samsung displays lately.

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.

Picture Quality

Prior to a full calibration, the LE40B550 was producing a picture better than the calibrated result of some lesser LCD TVs. The main reason for this is the unusually high quality panel fitted to the display. By LCD standards, it produces surprisingly deep black levels, doesn't degrade too badly when viewed from the sides, and also doesn't have any stand-out motion problems beyond the usual LCD blur. By that, I mean that there are no obvious issues with “dragging blacks”, and that the motion blur is both uniform and tolerable (depending on the individual). When we consider the bargain price point of this display, this is especially good.

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.

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • 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

It would be silly to expect the LE40B550 to set new standards in LCD picture quality, but it does make a huge statement in terms of value for money. The usual LCD issues of contrast performance and motion resolution are here, but to a much lesser extent than on several competing LCD displays. What's most impressive is the amount of control that users are given over the image: Samsung's engineers have really maximised the worth of the hardware by providing user-accessible control over Greyscale, and a 3D Colour Management system. This is true value for money - making the most of what's here, even if what's here isn't necessarily cutting edge. Even for users who won't have their LE40B550 calibrated, the image put out by the default “Movie” mode is still not too distorted and is very watchable for an out-of-the-box preset.

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!

Best Buy

Scores

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

.
.
.
.
6

Screen Uniformity

.
.
.
.
6

Colour Accuracy

.
.
.
7

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
.
7

Video Processing

.
.
.
7

Picture Quality

.
.
.
7

Sound Quality

.
.
.
7

Smart Features

.
.
8

Build Quality

.
.
8

Ease Of Use

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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