Samsung B651 (LE40B651) LCD TV Review

Does Samsung's latest 40'' LCD have any surprises?

by AVForums
TV Review

48

Samsung B651 (LE40B651) LCD TV Review
SRP: £1,100.00

Introduction

You'd be forgiven for forgetting it these days, but there was once a time where the best implementation of Samsung's own LCD panels was to be found in competitors' TVs. Although the Korean giant's SPVA (Super Patterned Vertical Alignment) panels have enjoyed their position as the best LCD panels in terms of contrast for a long time, it was only more recently that Samsung learned how to build a great TV around them. Nowadays, though, Samsung LCD TV owners are no longer forced to have obnoxious image “enhancement” functions locked on at all times, nor are they stuck with having the backlight lamps behind the panel pumping out light at eye-burning levels. In fact, most of the company's displays, like the LE40B651 here, are a minefield of image processing options and tweaks which allow you to get the best (or worst!) out of them. The whole package is topped off with 4 HDMI inputs (one of them side-mounted), Ethernet/LAN connectivity, an analogue VGA input, 1 RGB SCART terminal, another standard SCART, and USB inputs, and is available for just over £800 from retailers such as Amazon. Today, we're going to take a look at how all of these come together when this 40” 1080p LCD has been configured to the best of its abilities.

Design and Connections

The LE40B651 is one of several Samsung models featuring the “touch of colour” design. In this case, a red tinge highlights the edges of the glossy black/transparent acrylic frame, and I have to say that, to these eyes, it looks fairly nice: not quite as much as the considerably more expensive but similar Sony X-Series displays, but nice all the same. The gloss doesn't stop with the bezel, though: this LCD TV features Samsung's “Ultra Clear Panel” coating, which means that the whole thing looks especially vibrant and glossy. It's clear that some anti-reflective process has been used, but it's still going to shine more than a matte panel, and as such this TV is best kept out of brighter environments. The remote control fits nicely in your hand, too, and all of the buttons are well placed, accessible, and better yet, can be lit up by an optional backlight. Again, the remote continues Samsung's love affair with gloss black, which, given its ability to pick up scratches and fingerprints, has to be one of the strangest design decisions I've seen lately.

Menus

The LE40B651 does away with the usual plainness of Samsung's TV menus. Instead, we're given a slick, pseudo-animated display with red graphics to match the TV's bezel. (You can actually choose an alternative blue-themed menu, or a faster, more basic menu, by changing an option in the service menu, but since you can also ruin the TV in here, it's not something I'd recommend the average inquisitive user does). The top sub-menu is PICTURE, which gives control over Backlight, Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness, Colour, and Tint (for all signals). Then, there are two sub-menus: Advanced Settings lets you control some gimmick modes as well as Gamma, a Colour Management system, White Balance (Greyscale) controls, “Flesh Tone”, an Edge Enhancement control, and a toggle for xvYCC colour – a very impressive selection. Then, “Picture Options” allows you to select from the different Greyscale Presets (called “Colour Tone”), Aspect Ratio/1080 Overscan, Noise Reduction, HDMI Black Level, Film Mode, 100hz Motion Plus, and a Blue Only mode for setting Saturation with a suitable test pattern.

The other menus let you control the TV's built-in speakers, as well as turn on Game Mode, amongst others. Confusingly, there are actually some options hidden away in the “Tools” menu as well, which has to be accessed by pressing the Tools button on the remote. Hidden in here are options for Power Saving as well as Picture in Picture controls (which I at first didn't know existed). All of the settings here are stored per-input, which is excellent and means that when you have a professional calibrate the display (or do it yourself if you're equipped), no compromises will have to be made across inputs. Each device can be tweaked to perfection. In fact, even the Colour Management System and White Balance/Greyscale options are saved independently, which is very uncommon.

Test Results

Using the Movie mode, I disabled the “Black Tone”, “Dynamic Contrast”, and “Digital NR” features, and correctly set Brightness and, using the “Blue Only” mode, also set the Colour control. After configuring settings as optimally as possible without using a measuring device, the picture quality was certainly improved, but was certainly far from the best “basic calibration” result I've witnessed recently. After measuring the results, it became obvious why things looked off. The Greyscale tracking, as you can see from the chart, is all over the place. In fact, the only semi-consistent problem here is an emphasis of red – ouch. It became clear from these results that the LE40B651 was likely to pose a calibration challenge.

Fortunately, Samsung have not hidden the Greyscale controls in a service menu – they're available to all. Before I began altering these settings, though, I noticed that the measured Gamma was coming in too low, at around 2.1. Not to worry – Samsung have a Gamma control here too. Nudging this up to “+1” brought an average gamma of 2.29. This is higher than the 2.2 we'd ideally want, but it evened out the Greyscale tracking a little, providing a better basis for calibration. In the end, calibrating the LE40B651 improved the Greyscale tracking to a huge extent. It's not ruler-flat by any means, and the chart always showed a strange red push of about 12% at 20 IRE, but this wasn't hugely noticeable when looking for it on real world content.

As for colour, Samsung's Colour Management System is quite strangely implemented, but nevertheless very welcome and very useful. The user is given the options of “Auto” colour space, a “Native” colour space (“Native” here means “Native to the LCD panel”, which on its own produces oversaturated and off-hue primaries), and a “Custom” mode. Interestingly, this CMS operates with RGB principles in mind, rather than the Hue, Saturation (and if we're lucky, Luminance) that we see on most systems. Unlocking Custom allows the user to raise or lower the amount of Red, Green and Blue mix that goes into each Primary and Secondary colour, which is less direct than the H/S/L system that would be ideal. By using this menu, I was able to bring Delta Errors to practically imperceptible levels and make colours look mostly natural, but it was very difficult to obtain results with correct Hue and Saturation as well as correct Luminance. In the end, I settled for whatever gave the lowest errors (which usually involved compromising Luminance). In the end, I was satisfied with these calibrated results. The Greyscale tracking was excellent at 30 IRE and beyond, and Colour was also great. Greyscale, in particular, was a gigantic improvement on all of the out of the box presets.

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.

Picture Quality

Standard-def still has the capability to impress when done correctly, and the LE40B651 has the necessary options to make for impressive SD video. The aforementioned scaling algorithm in use here looks nice, although depending on the content, you might want to give the Sharpness control a gentle nudge to the right. Using an outside scaler (in this case, the HQV processing in my own Onkyo TX-SR876 AV receiver) didn't necessarily make images look better, just different. That's a pretty impressive thing to be able to say about a TV's built-in scaling.

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.

Features

Samsung have equipped the LE40B651 with more than its fair share of added value features. Connect a LAN cable to the back of the TV and hook it up to your home router (if there's one near), press the “INTERNET” button on the remote, and you'll gain access to a Yahoo-branded service which delivers Weather, News, and Stock information to your TV. There's also the capability to download new “Widgets” and add extra features, but there didn't appear to be any new ones available, which left me wondering if there will ever be any others. All of this is fairly slow to use, and left me wondering what the point was considering that people who really want to go online while watching TV will probably have a Wirelessly-equipped laptop to get the job done faster, anyway.

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?

Verdict

8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • 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)

Cons

  • 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

All things considered, the LE40B651 is mostly good news. The way in which Samsung have tried to compensate for LCD's natural contrast deficiencies with the auto-dimming feature isn't to my liking and I'd appreciate being given control over it, but that doesn't change the fact that the TV has above average Greyscale performance and excellent colour reproduction. Nor does it change the fact that it shows standard-def TV broadcasts and other sources in a mostly favourable way. Really, this display is typical of most Samsung LCD HDTVs these days: impressive for the most part, chock-full of image processing options (both useful and not), and with a few quirks to anticipate as part of the package.

Scores

Sound Quality

.
.
.
7

Smart Features

.
.
8

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
8

Value for Money

.
.
8

Verdict

.
.
8

Picture Quality

.
.
.
7

Video Processing

.
.
8

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
.
.
6

Colour Accuracy

.
.
.
7

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

.
.
.
7

Screen Uniformity

.
.
.
7
8
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Our Review Ethos

Read about our review ethos and the meaning of our review badges.

To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.

Related Content

Bush 911 (32911FHD3D) 3D LCD Television Review
  • By hodg100
  • Published
Alba 947 (LCD32947HD) LCD Television Review
  • By hodg100
  • Published
Sony Bravia CX523 (KDL-32CX523) LCD TV Review
  • By hodg100
  • Published
Samsung C650 (LE32C650) LCD TV Review
  • By hodg100
  • Published
LG LD950 (47LD950) Review
  • By Steve Withers
  • Published

Latest Headlines

LG Display OLED only strategy sees first job losses
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
Samsung trademarks Infinity Screen TV display terminology
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
LG showcases transparent OLED displays at Harrods
  • By Andy Bassett
  • Published
Top Bottom