Design and Connections
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.
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.
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.
- 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")
- 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
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.
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