Design and Connections
This is a section which is of particular interest with this new display from Samsung, primarily because of Scaling. The process inside this TV which resizes Standard Definition images to the High Definition resolution of the panel appears to be done in an unusual way, making use of some sort of edge-adaptive process which I hope will become the norm on video devices over the next couple of years. It ends up making standard definition video look more natural than on several competing devices (assuming everything's set up correctly, of course). Whilst other scaling processes tend to create ringing around high frequencies (small details), this TV keeps it to an absolute minimum, whilst still preserving a good amount of detail. The closest way I can describe its look is to say that it looks like a less harsh version of what the Playstation3 does for upscaled DVD (step up the Sharpness control and the image looks uncannily similar). For Digital TV broadcasts, it looks very good, and an added side-effect of the fact that it doesn't overdo high frequencies is that it also doesn't have the tendency to exacerbate MPEG mosquito noise, which is always a plus (particularly when the bar for compression quality is set so low in consumer standard-def video). It'll also please you for most DVDs, too, but for the handful of more detailed titles out there, I sometimes preferred to use my player's own upscaling.
The deinterlacing performance is great for the most part, too: 3-2 and 2-2 NTSC cadences passed, and more importantly for us here in PAL-land, the PAL 2:2 test passed, too. One area where deinterlacing could be a little problematic, though, was with the Digital TV functionality. Quite often after a scene cut, things would judder and flicker for a few seconds, as if the TV was somehow confusing the Field Order of the content. In the typically problematic scenario of mixed 25p/50i content (such as a scrolling video-speed news channel ticker running along the bottom of 2:2 film-speed content), the ticker occasionally showed combing, but this didn't happen often and is what I expected. Even if it did, Samsung's Film Mode control offers an alternative mode as well as an option to turn off film cadence detection as a compromise, anyway: the control is in the user's hands, where it belongs.
Samsung have included a specialised “Game Mode” on this TV. There's a good reason: normally, there is a high level of input lag on this TV which makes some games very hard to enjoy (this is especially the case if the Scaling and 100hz functions are operating). Selecting Game Mode cuts down this lag, but also forces the user to use the “Standard” picture mode (why?). Also, in this mode, you can only select “Cool” or “Normal” greyscale presets (again, why?) You can, thankfully, still access the White Balance controls, so it might be possible to come somewhere closer to correct Greyscale by calibrating from this less than perfect starting point.
Of course, what I really wanted to take a look at was some 1080p content. Connect a Blu-ray player, hit TOOLS on the remote, and change the “Picture Size” option to “Screen Fit” to enable pixel-by-pixel mapping, and enjoy. Just be sure that, after calibrating, you see to the “100hz Motion Plus” option, which is implemented with better control than on just about any other TV I've reviewed. (This is just as important be it with SD or HD content, by the way – I'm just choosing to mention it here). You can turn the system off entirely, which will lessen motion resolution, or turn it on to one of the hilariously awkward “Smooth” modes, which make even the most cinematic Hollywood epics look that bit closer to a made-for-TV movie (with added motion artefacts), or better yet (!), use the “Custom” option. “Custom” lets you dial “Blur Reduction” up to 10 but leave “Judder Reduction” at 0, instructing the TV to increase motion resolution via the 100hz system, but without using the “smoothing” that's usually part-and-parcel with the whole process. The only down-side of this last method is that it can cause the grain structure of films shot on very grainy film stock to “swim” around slightly, but I'd imagine people would have a seriously hard time spotting this effect.
The LE40B651 features one of Samsung's SPVA panels, which have long been the kings of contrast performance in the LCD world (still putting them behind the best Plasma displays, of course, but putting up a respectable fight and making them a potential option for people who simply have to have an LCD). On top of SPVA's natural performance abilities, Samsung has decided to include its “Ultra Clear Panel” feature, which appears to be a coating to the top layer of the LCD. This causes a small amount of reflections (still less than a Plasma's, however), but at the same time gives the picture an added gloss and depth.
More controversially, though, Samsung have included an auto-dimming feature to improve quotable contrast figures. When the TV detects that the video signal contains a certain amount of darker content, it will lower the intensity of the Backlight lamps in an attempt to create blacker blacks (but will produce duller whites as a result). This effect can be quite obvious, and we're not given any control over it. For example, there's a scene in a DVD I'm working on right now which features a girl inside a car, in silhouette: the girl is entirely blacked out by shadows, but light comes in through the car windscreen. As the girl moves around (transforming the overall picture level of the scene from a darker to lighter, and so on), the backlight brightness raises and lowers noticeably. This has the potential to be fairly annoying, depending on what you're watching.
There's also two USB ports on the side of the TV, which allow you to hook up a hard drive, Flash Memory stick, or other USB device, and play stored Music, Movies or Photos. There's also a “Content Library”. Select this option and you can access stored recipes, play a slow-to-react game, watch one of several loosely animated children's stories, or select “Wellness” and listen to low bit-rate relaxing melodies. Well, if people don't want to watch TV on their TVs any more, we can hardly blame Samsung for offering optional distractions, can we?
- Calibration controls allow for huge Greyscale improvement over default settings...
- ...and a Colour improvement, too
- Ultra Clear Panel improves perceived contrast
- Standard def video processing is excellent
- Extensive networking and connectivity options
- Game mode allows input lag to be lessened (but not totally eradicated)
- Calibrated Greyscale tracking has large error at around 20 IRE
- Auto dimming causes noticeable shifts in screen brightness and can't be disabled
Samsung B651 (LE40B651) LCD TV Review
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