Samsung B8000 (UE46B8000) LCD TV Review

It's slim. Very, very slim.

by AVForums
TV Review

5

Samsung B8000 (UE46B8000) LCD TV Review
SRP: £1,999.00

Introduction

Samsung's controversially-named range of "LED TVs", which are of course, LCD TVs which use white LEDs as a light source, have made press lately for falling foul of Britain's Advertising Standards Authority. The said authority claims that the company's past advertisement of these displays breaches their standards for accuracy. At AVForums, we're used to having to cut through and decipher manufacturer's claims, but ultimately, the only kind of accuracy we really care about is the sort that brings us high-quality pictures. Having been impressed at some of Samsung's cheaper LCD displays lately, I was eager to check out the high-end UE46B8000 to see if it can deliver the goods.

Design and Connections

The UE46B8000 is almost unfathomably thin, a feat made possible by Samsung's use of LED side-lighting. Rather than having (comparatively) bulky rows of CCFL backlighting tubes or LED clusters behind the screen, this display places the lighting at the edges of the screen and attempts to scatter it evenly across the entire picture. We'll see how well this works later on. Of course, if you have the display up against a wall, you'll soon forget about its extreme thinness, anyway, meaning that most of the thrills are going to come during the unpacking stage: from the front, it looks similar to other Samsung displays, with a high-gloss screen and a glass-like acrylic design, which merges transparency with gloss black to great effect. Unfortunately, the review sample I received already had obvious scratches on it, so owners will have to take a lot of care during cleaning.

All of this sits on top of a solid, metal-like stand, which is quite heavy (it would have to be to stop the display falling over). The remote, too, has been redesigned slightly to reflect the slick design: it now features a transparent acrylic "curve" which gives the entire unit a "boomerang"-like shape, and appears to prop the remote up when it's resting on a table. Look on the back of the display, and you'll find the inputs tucked away on the edge. There are 4 HDMI inputs, a PC VGA input, 2 USB ports for media features, and an RF input for connecting a TV aerial to. Due to the extreme thinness, the SCART, Composite, and Component input ports are implemented somewhat differently to on other displays: these are mini-jacks, which you connect supplied break-out cables to. There's also a LAN port for using the TV's internet features with.

Menus

The display's menus are the same as other recent displays, only with some added high-end transparency and animation effects. With the LE40B550 LCD TV I reviewed lately, I was delighted with the amount of control present in these menus, and the same excellence is mirrored here. Samsung has all of the basic controls covered, as well as two more screens which feature a Gamma adjustment, a 3D Colour Management System, and White Balance (Greyscale) controls.

Other screens give the user control over Film-centric Deinterlacing ("Film Mode") as well as fine-tuning of the "200hz Motion Plus" system. This is an absolutely excellent feature, because it allows us to control "Blur Reduction" and "Judder Reduction" separately. Normally, 100hz/200hz LCD TVs assume that the user will want the extreme smoothness that comes from using frame interpolation technology, rather than the improved motion resolution (clarity) on its own. Samsung let us turn Blur Reduction up to full, and Judder Reduction down to 0, to achieve this effect. Finally, a 200hz system that we won't have to turn off!

Test Results

The UE46B8000 comes set up with the "Dynamic" picture mode, which results in very poor quality and very bright pictures. Fortunately, the "Movie" mode is only a few clicks of the remote away, and produces much better results. This preset defaults to the "Warm2" colour temperature and the "Auto" colour space, which endeavours to match mastering standards. How closely does it come? The measurements taken revealed that it produces somewhat inconsistent Greyscale results which are overall lacking in red, and colour which is very accurate for a preset, but can hopefully be improved upon later. This wasn't awful to look at by any means, and for an out of the box preset that we've barely touched, is really not bad at all.

The UE46B8000 did not calibrate quite as well as the ~£450 Samsung LE40B550 TV that I reviewed lately, which is a shame, but also not surprising when we remember that this is a side-lit display rather than a back-lit one. Most notably, the Greyscale tracking, while still not bad, is not as consistent as on that cheaper display. It might have helped if Samsung had added 10-point Greyscale control (rather than the basic 2-point seen here) to help compensate for the unevenness. LG are offering 20-point Greyscale control in some of their high end displays, which offers considerably more control.

Gamma tracked at around 2.2 for the most part, but became slightly crooked at around 80-100% stimulus. The basic Gamma control in the menu did not provide enough control to improve on this, so I left it as-is. Calibrated colour was absolutely fantastic. Thanks to the 3D CMS, all of the colours could be configured to reproduce exactly the correct values for hue, saturation, and luminance – all except for red, that is. A very small hue error there (which is probably undetectable to 99% of users) is the only tiny error with this TV's colour. This is the sort of high quality colour reproduction I've come to expect from Samsung's recent displays.

The UE46B8000 did well in the "Jaggies" diagonal interpolation test: all three rotating lines were somewhat smooth, but displayed small flickering edges. This was borne out in real-world TV performance, most of which isn't detailed enough to create highly visible jaggies. The display's video processor also successfully detected the presence of 2-2 cadence material and presented such film-derived content properly, without jaggies or loss of vertical resolution. The 2-2 and 3-2 tests also passed for NTSC content, which is rare here in the UK, but will be noteworthy to users with older DVD players and large collections of US discs. Scaling of SD content to the HD panel was good, without any obvious ringing or softening. For 1080p signals, the resolution test charts didn't show any issues with the Luminance (black and white) channel, but revealed that the UE46B8000 wasn't reproducing maximum Colour details: the thin red and blue vertical stripes became smudged into an off-purple. Turning on "Game Mode" in the "General" menu (more on this later) returned the missing coloured details, but meant that none of the TV's cadence detection features (assessed above) would work.

Picture Quality

The groundwork for worthwhile picture quality has been laid by the calibration work: we have a display with suitably accurate Greyscale tracking and absolutely fantastic Colour. So, we're basically guaranteed excellence on the basis of this, right? Not exactly. Sadly, there are a number of other issues with the UE46B8000 which spoil the party. The first issue became apparent when I was trying to set the Black Level (Brightness) control on the display. To do this, I use a test pattern which flashes on and off, which usually aids in setting the control optimally. This time however, when the test pattern disappeared from the screen, the entire screen would dim visibly. When the test pattern flashed up again, the screen would suddenly brighten. The problem here is auto-dimming. Samsung have programmed the TV to quickly dim the light output of the LEDs if a video signal of full black is detected by the built-in video processor, thus producing near-perfect black - so long as nothing else is on the screen.

A firmware update downloaded from Samsung's web site changed this behaviour to make the dimming less sensitive, but unfortunately it didn't remove it entirely: the LEDs would still dim with darker content. Although not as blatantly irritating before, the dimming is still intrusive because the light output of the panel drifts drastically. During the test period, I watched a DVD which features a scene of a girl running from a brightly lit street, then down some dark subway steps with only small details of light visible. As the camera followed her, the TV would quickly and obviously dim the light output of its LEDs to try and create perfect black, causing the small bright parts of the scene to become almost unnoticeable due to the dimming. There was a similar issue with white ending credits on a black screen: the TV would dim the LEDs to the extent that the white text was now dim grey.

With this in mind, I entered the TV's hidden service menu to turn off the Auto Dimming, as some owners of this TV have done. Unfortunately, turning off the Dimming only turns off the Dimming, not the actual light output fluctuation. In other words, the screen now cuts to full darkness instead of slowly dimming, which is even more noticeable. The next problem is somewhat related: screen uniformity. As a result of the side-lighting, the screen never looks evenly lit in all areas, especially not at around 20% or so brightness. Test patterns of flat colour had pools of uneven light scattered across the picture. By showing a 10% brightness pattern, I soon saw why Samsung have added auto-dimming in the first place: the uniformity is really not very good at all, with the sides looking noticeably brighter than the middle of the screen. This is, I suppose, a sad limitation of building a TV that's this thin.

The next strike came when I was testing the display with some Blu-ray Discs. Whilst some looked as expected, I later discovered that with certain video content, the TV would apply a Spatial filtering process to the image, shearing off the finest details and creating a very blurred, unnatural, processed look. This, by the way, is with "Noise Reduction" firmly set to OFF in the TV's menus. Apparently, "Off" doesn't mean "Off" when you buy a TV as swanky-looking as this one. I even entered the service mode and turned an "NR" control to 0, but this had no effect. Many users will probably be totally unaware of the effects of this processing and many won't notice it, but then again, many users find it hard to differentiate between SD and HD. In any case, I'd love to know the rationale for this – when it does crop up, the processing is so ugly and so bizarrely selective in what it does remove that it has to be a mistake: perhaps some MPEG noise reduction circuit that a programmer has inadvertently enabled?

A less major issue came next: chroma resolution. Whatever background video processing this display is doing, it's doing it at a lower chroma resolution, and Y/C Delay is being introduced in the process. Y/C Delay is when the Coloured component(s) of the picture don't correctly line up with the Black and white "base layer", producing colour bleed that's usually noticeable on highly stylised content, like some cartoons. Fortunately, there is some good news. Samsung do have an option to nuke as much extraneous processing as possible: Game Mode. Game Mode is Samsung's electronic "get out of jail" card, killing Noise Reduction and the aforementioned Chroma Degradation in a single stroke. It also changes the behaviour of the LED dimming. The perfect solution? No, of course not: Game Mode turns off Auto Dimming but will still cut the light output of the LEDs entirely if it detects an all-black screen, which is less annoying but still an issue, for example, during long fades to black. And, Game mode also forces you to use the "Standard" picture preset, which in turn, forces you to use either the "Cool" or "Normal" colour temperature presets, rather than the more accurate "Warm2" (silly me! Of course it does!). As a result, the default Colour Temperature is sky-high and the entire picture is blue tinted.

Fortunately, the White Balance controls are still available in Game Mode, so it's possible to make amends. Unfortunately, the controls only go up or down by 30 clicks each way, which is enough to make a big improvement to the Colour Temperature, but not enough to make it as good as it was outside of Game Mode. Fortunately, the Colour Management System is still 100% working, and I could get perfect results with colour. A few things to remember about Game Mode: first, it disables the 200hz Motion Plus system and also Film Mode detection. Second, you can't use Game Mode when you're watching broadcasts from the TV's built-in tuner, so you are at the mercy of the auto-dimming there.

Whew. So, after finally tricking the TV into keeping its mitts off the video it's being fed, how does the picture look? Honestly, so long as you're viewing face-on and are watching bright material, it's not too shabby. Samsung's SPVA panels consistently outperform their LCD competitors in terms of contrast performance, and this benefit is in full view here, as is the excellent Colour reproduction. Unfortunately, no matter how it's configured (Game Mode on or off, 200hz on or off), the UE46B8000 suffers from a common LCD flaw, but one that I've never seen on a Samsung TV before: problems with black objects during motion. If the pixels on the LCD panel have to change from a bright shade to a dark one too quickly, many LCDs produce visible smearing. The UE46B8000 does not, but instead pixels which were black in the video frame before will randomly scatter, leaving powdery black dots on-screen where there was a black object previously. The effect is minor, though, in comparison to LCD TVs which feature obvious smearing blacks.

Despite this issue, the overall motion performance of the panel is still better than several other liquid crystal based displays I've seen lately. Unfortunately, the £450 Samaung LE40B550 that I only just finished reviewing sticks in my head here: that cheap display outperforms (or at least matches) this top-range model in just about every way. That says as much about the high quality of some of Samsung's cheaper products as much as it does about the compromises and annoying software design decisions present in this one. I also checked out the 24p motion playback on the UE46B8000. Sadly, in "Game Mode" (which, you'll remember, is necessary for the best overall quality), the image appears to judder, suggesting that this mode operates around a 60hz input rate - which is logical, as modern games operate around 60hz timing. Therefore, with 24p films, the user has a choice: put up with the possibility of detail loss and annoying dimming, or escape from these problems and see judder instead.

Features

The UE46B8000 is filled to the brim with additional features. Users can connect a USB device to play back JPEG photos, music files, and movie files on the display. There's also the "Content Library", which features a somewhat intimidating amount of extra content: recipes, children's stories, and even a fun puzzle game which appears to have been "heavily inspired" by the classic "Bejeweled", called "Wise Star". There's also the "[email protected]" feature, which allows you to look at "Widgets" such as overlaid onto the TV picture. It takes so long to load up and is slow to operate, so I can't see anyone bothering with it.

Verdict

6
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • User-accessible Greyscale controls allow for easy calibration
  • Calibrated colour reproduction (thanks to 3D CMS) is excellent
  • Incredibly thin display is one of a kind
  • Great SD video processing
  • 200hz Motion Plus can be configured to increase motion resolution only, without causing smoothing effect (but can't be used when Game Mode is on, see "Cons")

Cons

  • Annoying screen brightness fluctuations with dark or near-dark material
  • Poor light uniformity thanks to sidelighting
  • Intrusive behind-your-back video processing can cause loss of detail with high definition content, requiring Game Mode to stop it
  • Small colour bleed (Y/C delay) issue, unless Game Mode is enabled
  • High input lag in all cases
  • Black objects can leave strange "pixel residue" on motion
  • Game Mode is necessary to get the best picture, which negates the use of 200hz Motion Plus (see "Pros") and also Film Cadence Detection
  • TV menu design prevents full Greyscale calibration when Game Mode is on
  • "Game Mode" is necessary for the best overall picture, but causes 24p input signals (Blu-ray Movies) to stutter
  • There is no way to lessen the Auto Dimming when using the TV's internal tuner, as Game Mode cannot be enabled there

Samsung B8000 (UE46B8000) LCD TV Review

When I reviewed Samsung products in the past, I would often close by saying that the company produced potentially great displays, with some software quirks to anticipate and work around as part of the package. The UE46B8000 is the perfect example of Samsung's "software quirks". The behind-your-back video processing and menus in the TV seem to be designed specifically to stop you from getting an unadulterated picture. Asides from its colour reproduction, which is fantastic thanks to Samsung's wonderful 3D CMS, there is almost nothing to especially like about the UE46B8000 other than its slim design. The slim display introduces so many other compromises (poor uniformity and reliance on auto-dimming to mask it) that you wonder what the point of taking it beyond "trade show floor novelty" and turning it into a commercial product was in the first place. Likewise, the flawed video processing can only be sabotaged by enabling "Game Mode", which replaces one array of compromises with another less annoying group: hardly what we should have to tolerate on a screen this expensive.

Samsung are undoubtedly the company who have done the most to turn LCD into a somewhat viable display technology for high quality video applications thanks to their development of the high-contrast SPVA panel type, but if you want to experience the potential quality that this R&D can offer, then you'll need to purchase one of their less expensive, "fatter" LCD TVs – which were never outrageously bulky to start with. £2000 is a huge price to pay for a slim design that you'll probably forget about (or at least stop being excited by) after the first week. This is doubly true when you consider that excellent Plasma displays can be had for much less money, and if you dig deep enough, there are also some LCD bargains to be had for a fraction of the price - which don't suffer from the same problems.

Scores

Sound Quality

.
.
.
.
.
5

Smart Features

.
.
.
7

Ease Of Use

.
.
.
7

Build Quality

.
.
.
7

Value for Money

.
.
.
.
.
5

Verdict

.
.
.
.
6

Picture Quality

.
.
.
.
6

Video Processing

.
.
8

Greyscale Accuracy

.
.
.
.
6

Colour Accuracy

.
.
.
7

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

.
.
.
7

Screen Uniformity

.
.
.
.
.
.
4
6
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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