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Samsung LN52A850 52” 120Hz, 1080P LCD TV: The Living Review

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SKYMTL

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Samsung LN52A850 52” 120Hz, 1080P LCD TV: The Living Review





Product Number: LN52A850S1FXZC
TechWiki Info: Samsung LN52A850S1FXZC
Price: Approx. $3200 to $3700 CAD
Warranty: 1 year
Manufacturer's Product Page: SAMSUNG Canada



Raise your hand if you still have an older tube-style T.V. I am sure that quite a few of our readers have not yet subscribed to the HD phenomenon which has seen LCD, Plasma and DLP TVs make their way in countless households across the country. Unfortunately for consumers, HDTVs are like everything else in life: they come in varying degrees of quality and are priced accordingly. Prices range from just a few hundred dollars to literally tens of thousands for those well-healed consumers out there and naturally, you get what you pay for the majority of the time. Sure there are exceptions to this rule since there are a few diamonds in the rough but keeping the old adage “you get what you pay for” in your head when HDTV shopping is usually a good idea.

In this review we will not only be introducing you to a new review format (more on that later) but more importantly, to one of Samsung’s high-end HDTVs; the LN52A850 52” 120Hz, 1080P LCD TV. This TV is a successor to the ever-popular 750 and 650 series which are still on sale (along with the older 550 series) at major retailers across the country and while it may be a newer product it is priced within spitting distance of the LN52A750 depending on where you look. I guess spitting distance is relative to the buyer since this new 52” 850-series TV will put you back between $3200 and $3700 (yeah, a $500 difference from one store to the next). This may be a biter pill to swallow but it could be eased somewhat when you look at Samsung’s marketing that claims their new set is one of the best on the market right now. Those are some lofty goals considering the price range this TV flirts with but Samsung has rarely steered us wrong in the past so it will be interesting to see if it can lie up to our high expectations.

Since there is a hell of a lot more to a TV than keeping it for a week and somehow formulating an opinion on it, we have chosen a bit of a different review format this time around. If there are any of you who bought a new HDTV and have been completely satisfied with it after a mere week then congrats because you are a lot less picky then I am. No fewer than 4 HDTVs have passed through my living room and I have determined one thing: it takes a while to configure a TV to your viewing preferences and even longer to get a good “feel” for it. That is why this review will follow my experiences with this TV over a 4 week period; from my initial impressions in this article to the changing opinions and expectations which come with an evolving experience with a product. So, make sure you tune back in every Thursday night for the next month in order to see new impressions and some new tests which will be run. Don’t worry though, this will be a review “for the rest of us” with easy to understand terminology and a very straightforward viewpoint since a mere year ago I had a minimum of knowledge about HDTVs so I know where you are all coming from.

One way or another, enjoy this living, ever-evolving review for the next four weeks.


 

SKYMTL

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Specifications & Features

Specifications & Features











 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Samsung LN52A850 Product Views

Samsung LN52A850 Product Views



Granted, this is Samsung’s own rendering but it shows a good impression of what the LN52A850 looks like. Many of you with 650 and even 750-series Samsung TVs will notice right away that the “Touch of Color” on this new 52” model is toned down and much more subtle. I personally think the thin red bezel adds a great little design element that makes this set stand out from the competition. Trust me; if you are like me and are coming from a drab black-housing TV, you are in for a breath of fresh air.

Other than the slim red bezel, there really isn’t much different about this TV other than the fact it is so damn thin. We are talking about an amazing 1.7” thick here and with the touch-sensitive front panel buttons, even your non tech savvy grandparents will be oohing and ahhing in no time flat.


Click on images to zoom

When not looking at the picture-perfect renderings, we can see that this LCD TV has a gloss finish on the black bezel and a semi gloss “anti glare” panel on the screen itself. Believe it or not, neither of these was distracting during normal viewing even with the proximity of a large window within ten feet. Many other TV’s, laptops and monitors on the market use these anti glare panels and I for one hate them with a passion since they usually cause more reflections than they prevent. That is why I was so surprised that this particular Samsung panel didn’t put me off one bit.

The LN52A850 comes with a base which allows 178° of swivel but due to the shear massiveness of the screen, I really can’t see this feature being used that much.


Click on images to zoom

The back of the TV holds the VESA mounting holes which are based off of a 600mm x 400mm pattern for those of you who want to mount this beast up on a wall. Additional thought has been given to cable routing as well with the addition of a rubber cable strap which is mounted at the bottom of the back panel.


Click on images to zoom

Here we have a bit better view of the ToC (Touch of Color) and what it looks like in the daylight. As you can see, it is quite muted but it does add a certain “je ne sais quoi” to the overall design of this set.


Click on images to zoom

The front of the TV also has a glowing red light when it is on but it can be easily turned off through one of the menu options we will cover a bit later.
 

SKYMTL

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Inputs & Outputs / Remotes

Inputs and Outputs



Click on image to zoom

The input selection on this TV is absolutely outstanding but considering its price, this is to be expected. The stars of the show are the three HDMI 1.3 inputs located to the right while other connectors include two component (Y, Pb, Pr) inputs, a PC VGA connector, a composite input which is shared with one of the component inputs and the usual S-Video connector. There is also a LAN (internet) connector for an Ethernet cable as well as an antenna input since this set contains a built-in tuner. For those of you wondering, the input next to the VGA (PC) connector is for the audio from your PC to be pumped through the TV’s speakers. There is also an optical-out audio port.

You may also have noticed a small port called the “Ex-Link”. One of its uses would be to hook up the TV to a specially-designed motorized Samsung wall mount which will then be controlled with the TV remote. Basically, this is a serial port which is used for RS-232 signals.


Click on image to zoom

But wait, there’s more connectors cleverly hidden on the panel’s side! These include another HDMI 1.3 connector (for a grand total of 4), a USB connector that Samsung labels the “WiseLink” port, a composite input and a headphone jack. Personally, I love the location of the headphone jack since I constantly find myself using my Sennheiser headphones to avoid pestering the neighbors and before you ask…no, I don’t have an amplifier hooked up yet.


Remotes



Click on image to zoom​

Some of you may have looked at the heading for this section and said to yourselves “Whaaa?”. Yes, the title is right because the LN52A850 comes with not one but two remotes. There is the usual gargantuan standard remote and then there is this wee little pod-like thing that looks like it belongs on a keychain but is in reality a remote with very basic controls. Let’s check out the cute one first.


Click on image to zoom

When we say basic controls, we mean basic. In all reality, even though this one of the coolest looking remotes I have ever seen, it is also one of the least functional. It has four basic buttons: an on/off switch and a red circle with channel up/down and volume up / down button locations. For me this thing only came in handy for changing the volume since there aren’t enough controls on it to operate a satellite or digital cable receiver which many (if not all) of us have. If you don’t have a set-top box, you are in luck but all in all, I find this to be nothing more than a conversation piece.


Click on images to zoom

Even though it was useless for me, there is no denying that this remote is compact. It easily fits in the palm of your hand since it is smaller than a pack of gum.


Click on image to zoom

The larger remote is much more functional with easy-to-understand buttons which are laid out in a thoroughly ergonomic manner and to make matters even better, nearly every button can be illuminated. Manual channel inputs are at the top while the volume, channel, menu and input buttons are in the center. Meanwhile, the bottom of the remote is devoted to secondary functions which are usually associated with other equipment like receivers, DVD players and PVRs.


Click on image to zoom

The center of the remote also holds a scroll wheel with an Enter button. This wheel can be rotated in either direction to scroll through the onscreen menus or you can press up, down, left or right in a more traditional fashion. This works great in principle but even after a week with this TV, I still wasn’t able to get over the “clunky” feel that came with navigating through the menus.
 
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SKYMTL

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Menus & Options

Menus & Options


Picture Menu

The Samsung LN52A850 has an amazingly complete set of options which are all accessible through the menu system. In this section, I will run you through the basics but this is only scratching the tip of a very large iceberg. If you are someone who loves tweaking their HDTV to the max, this is the product for you but for those of you who are new to the HDTV world, all these options will quickly become a maze of dead-end settings and frustration. So, I am going to recommend that you novices out there hire a professional (no, not Geek Squad) ISF-certified technician or grab a copy of the Avia or Digital Video Essentials calibration DVDs and do it yourself. That being said, the settings you see here are anything but final so please do not use them on your own TV.

Before we go on I think it is important to mention that each source is set up independently. Therefore, your HDMI1 image settings for your Blu Ray player can be adjusted completely separately from the other inputs and vice versa. This eliminates the “one image setting fits all” approach some manufacturers take with their HDTVs.


Click on images to zoom

When you first enter the menu, the first selectable category is the Picture options. This area is where you can make all of the adjustments to the color, brightness, tint, etc. along with a few other settings. Some of the additional settings are hidden within some sub-categories so bare with us while we go through a bit of this section.

The uppermost box contains the Mode option which is one of the most important settings Samsung has in the picture options. There are three options: Standard, Dynamic or Movie. Movie mode gives you access to additional options in the other menus and (supposedly) offers the best settings for watching TV in a dark room. Meanwhile, the Dynamic setting is typically used for watching TV in a brighter room since it enhances the definition and contrast of the image while Standard gives you the best of both worlds.

The only other option here which may be confusing to those of you who are coming from a tube TV is probably the Backlight setting. This adjusts the brightness of the of the LCD backlight which in turn will enhance or decrease the overall brightness of the picture without loosing contrast. This is typically set quite high from the factory since customers love seeing bright displays when looking in a store but trust me: you will want to turn this setting down. As we will see later, backlight also has a huge impact on power consumption.

Since the other options in the Picture menu are pretty much self explanatory, let’s skip down to the Detailed Settings and Picture Options sections.


Click on images to zoom

The Detailed Settings have a number of different options which we won’t go through here. However, I strongly recommend you play around with these settings since they can have a significant impact on your viewing experience. Just remember to change one setting at a time and then continue viewing your movie / show so you can get a handle on what is being adjusted. Both the Color Space and White Balance are completely customizable and have their own separate menu panels which are perfectly explained in the manual.

In the right photo you will notice an option called xvYCC which is greyed out since it is only available in Movie mode. When set to “on” it is used to enhance the color space and depth of video by widening the color gamut when the signal transmitted through either a HDMI or Component video cable.


Click on images to zoom

The Picture Options add yet more selection to the already-dizzying array of adjustments which can be made (novices heads are probably already spinning). Since some of these options are a bit exoteric, we will touch on a few of them. Let’s start at the top.

Color Tone allows you to choose the overall color space of the image and gives you five options: Cool1, Cool2, Normal, Warm1 and Warm2. The Warm settings are only available when the Movie Mode is selected. These settings make massive changes to the overall color reproduction of this Samsung TV so I would recommend you experiment as much as possible before applying any.

Digital NR is used to clear up static, ghosting and other image imperfections that come with a weak signal. However, I have found that anything other than Off or Auto introduces minor artifacts into some broadcasts so watch out how much you adjust this.

DNIe stands for Digital Natural Image Engine which is a technology developed by Samsung to improve the overall quality of the image and give it a more lifelike feel. It is only available when you have the TV set to Dynamic mode and when selected will allow you additional contrast options.

The final thing we will touch on here is the Auto Motion Plus setting. This is the something many people have been talking about since the introduction of 120Hz TVs and would be one of the main selling points a sales person will likely press on you. Basically, this faster refresh rate (versus the standard 60Hz seen on other HDTVs) supposedly allows for less motion blur in fast-moving scenes and removes judder in slower-moving ones. We will touch on this a bit later but for now you should know that there are a number of options available (from Off to High) so experiment as best you can.


Sound Menu


Click on images to zoom

The Sound menu has everything you would expect and then some. The first setting you have is the usual “Mode” where you can select Standard, Movie, Speech, Music or Custom depending on what you are watching. There is also an equalizer (pictured above) where you can set up a custom profile for each of the modes (Movie, Speech, etc.). Other than these areas, the rest of this menu is pretty straightforward.
 
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SKYMTL

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Menus & Options pg.2

Channel Menu


Click on image to zoom

The channel menu consists of exactly what you would expect it to: Input format, channel programming and other options pertaining to the signal going through the Antenna connector on the back of the TV.


Setup Menu


Click on images to zoom

There is also a general Setup menu containing all of the preferences which don’t directly impact your viewing experience. This includes Language, Network connections, V-Chip settings for all you concerned parents, closed captioning for the hearing impaired and even a wireless setup option. This is also where you can go to update the firmware of the TV under “Software Upgrade”.

While this glosses over the information from this section, there is one area I wanted to show you a bit more of since it will cut down some annoyances for you right off the bat.


Click on image to zoom

Believe it or not, the External Settings is one of the first things many of you will be begging for since it turns off the somewhat annoying chime which sounds whenever you turn the TV on. It also controls the slightly less annoying glowing red light at the bottom of the front panel. If you happen to have the optional Samsung mechanical wall mount, this is where you can control its positioning from as well.


Input & Application Menus


Click on images to zoom

The Input menu is self-evident in the fact that it lists all of the external sources currently hooked up to the LN52A850 and also allows you to modify the name of each source. Meanwhile, the final item we have here is the Application menu that holds access to the USB port, Anynet+ and other information.
 
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SKYMTL

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Picture Quality

Picture Quality


Right before the time of writing, my Blu Ray player went to AV heaven courtesy of my girlfriend’s rabbit chewing through the power cord. Unfortunately, the little critter didn’t fry itself and it left me with only my trusty Bell HD PVR 9242 to run HD signals to this TV. That means every picture you see here is an of a TV image which has its quality constrained to the best definition of The Movie Network HD running through the 1080i interface from the 9242. This isn’t the best situation to display what the LN52A850 can really do but it will give you a pretty good idea.

In addition, since this is the first installment of this “Living” review the images show what I was able to do with a mere 30 minutes of tweaking the settings in Standard mode on the 1000.3 firmware. I haven’t had time to mess around with the Movie or Dynamic modes yet and I am sure they will open up a whole new realm of possibilities. Granted, many more adjustments will be made but before I wrap this article up in a few weeks (stay tuned for the updates every Thursday) I will post the best settings I found on the newest 1004.0 firmware. So all in all it should be an interesting progression of picture tweaking over the next little while.

All of these pictures were taken with a Canon S3IS camera and are of the TV in operation. Just remember, these are photos so don't show the true picture quality.

Let’s start with…Mr. Bean’s Holiday!!


Click on image to zoom (1280 X 720)

I will be perfectly honest with you, when I first saw the picture quality it was love at first sight even though there were a few adjustments to make. First of all, the backlight was far too high which resulted in a washed out image but turning the backlight down to 3 solved that problem. There were a few other things I changed but there was nothing major in this first round of viewing.

I also looked for the telltale signs clouding (lighter areas of the panel which look like faint, multicolored “clouds”) and couldn’t find any traces of it. The dreaded halo effect that some people reported on the 750 series of TVs has also been eliminated with the 850 series.


Click on image to zoom (1280 X 720)

Even after only minor tweaks, there are literally no words to describe how good the picture is; from contrast to color depth, this TV seems to have it all. You can see from the picture above that even a 1080i signal from a set top box can show some stunning quality and detail.
 
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SKYMTL

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Picture Quality pg.2

Picture Quality pg.2


Next comes a movie which eats lesser sets for breakfast: 300.


Click on image to zoom (1280 X 720)

Unfortunately, it seems my settings weren’t too well received for this movie since some of the colors got more washed out than they should have been, the contrast could be better and the black levels suffer a bit but overall, things could be alot worse. If you are coming from a standard definition set, the amount of detail will simply floor you.


Click on image to zoom (1280 X 720)

We will see how these pictures can improve once I properly calibrate the LN52A850 but as it stands, the picture still looks quite good to our eyes. We also have to consider that since these are pictures of a screen, some of the detail and richness is lost.
 
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SKYMTL

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Upscaling / Viewing Angles

Upscaling


If you are using the LN52A850 as your everyday TV, of its main uses will be to upscale all of the standard definition 480i signals to fit the larger real-estate a 52” screen provides. To avoid the distortion that comes with stretching a 4:3 image to a 16:9 screen, I decided to keep the aspect ratio unchanged for incoming standard definition signals.


Click on image to zoom (1280 X 720)

Like many other things about this Samsung TV, the upscaling engine can handle standard definition signals extremely well and is able to significantly improve their overall quality. Granted, there are still some artifacts apparent but nothing like I have seen with other sets in the past which have made SD signal viewing a chore at best.


Viewing Angles



Click on image to zoom (1280 X 369)

These new generation of LCD TVs are nothing like their predecessors which were known for their horrible viewing angles. As you can see from the composite image above, there is very little contrast or color shift as you move to even the more extreme viewing angles. There is a bit of black level loss but other than that, if you are unfortunate enough to be somehow watching the LN52A850 from the side of the screen at least you will still have something to look at.
 

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Soundscape / The Effect of Backlight on Power Consumption

Soundscape


I am well aware that many of you will be using this HDTV will a full high definition 5.1 or higher audio setup so this section may be just a bit pointless for you. However, for the time being I haven’t yet set up my 7.1 Denon receiver (come on, I just moved for crying out loud!) so I am stuck using the built in speakers on the LN52A850. I shouldn’t actually make it sound like a chore because truth be told; they are pretty damn good for day-to-day TV viewing. Granted, they can’t even begin to compare to a full surround sound speaker setup and need some serious tuning before you can begin to appreciate them but they still rank pretty high on my list of built-in speakers.

There are of course some caveats. First of all, Samsung claims that there is a built-in subwoofer somewhere on this TV but for the life of me, I can’t seem to find it and turning up the bass to max resulted in very little gain in the lower-end of the tonal range. Due to this, some explosions and other special effects really lack the necessary punch and even some voices sound a tad hollow. While this may seem like nit picking (and it really is) when you pay almost four grand for a TV with a “built in” subwoofer, you want it to sound like a million bucks.

Other than that, the two 10W speakers on the LN52A850 really hit above their weight class in nearly every other category. Like I already said; the sound settings require some serious tweaking to get the most out of your listening experience but once that is done, you may become a bit less rushed to buy that perfect surround sound system.


The Effect of Backlight on Power Consumption


I had been told time and again that the backlight setting on an LCD TV can have a significant impact on power consumption but what no one was able to tell me was just how much. So, in order to find out, I pulled out my trusty UPM power meter and Tripp Lite 1800W line conditioner. Basically, the line conditioner was plugged into the wall in ensure the input voltage to the TV was regulated at a constant 121V so any fluctuations would not impact the results. The UPM power meter was then plugged into the line conditioner and the TV was finally attached to the meter. In order to keep these results constant, the opening 15 minutes of I Am Legend were played to get a good cross-section of power consumption figures. Only the peak rates were recorded.

In addition, I measured the Standby and Absolute Max power consumption as well. The Standby value you see is a constant reading instead of a Peak as all of the others. On the other hand, the Absolute Max figure you see is the result of a weekend of regular TV and movie watching while the power meter logged the maximum power consumption. It represents the highest peak power consumption this HDTV pulled from the wall with the blacklight set to 10 after about 8 hours of viewing. For all these tests, the Energy Saver was disabled.


Before we begin analyzing this, let’s all hark back to what Samsung states power consumption to be: less than 1W standby and 390W under “operating conditions”. Well, we blew the 1W standby claim straight out of the water but since there is no indication of peak power consumption in Samsung’s specifications, we will have to say their estimate of 390W is pretty close since no sane person would (hopefully) watch this TV when its backlight is set to max.

Now that I have that off my back, I can say that there should be no doubt in your minds that the backlight setting has an immense impact on the overall power consumption of LCD TVs. That was pretty much a given but what shocked me the most was that between the lowest and highest backlight setting there was more than a 200W difference. This means that lowering the backlight can have a pretty significant impact on your electricity bill if you watch more than a few hours of TV every day.

For comparison’s sake, my parents’ 32” Toshiba CRT TV uses about 150W (4.7W per diagonal inch) whereas this TV uses up to 7W per diagonal inch and as little as 3W per diagonal inch.
 
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