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Samsung LN55B650 55" 120Hz LCD HDTV: A Layman's Review

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SKYMTL

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Samsung LN55B650 55” 120Hz LCD HDTV: A Layman’s Review




Product Number: LN55B650T1FXZC
Price: Approx. $3000CAD
Warranty: 1 year
Manufacturer's Product Page: SAMSUNG Canada



Yes, TV reviews seem to be few and far between here at Hardware Canucks but there is a good reason for that: in our opinion, it takes a hell of a long time to properly evaluate what a customer’s experience will be like with a television set. There are countless settings to tweak, videos to watch and games to play in order to formulate a clear opinion about a modern HDTV. The myriad of settings on modern sets also means that opinions about a certain product can and will vary from person to person. Indeed, due to variances in identical panels we have found significant differences when it comes to comparing two HDTVs with the exact same product number. That is why this review will be based on my personal viewing experience of this Samsung TV over the course of the last 45 days. When push comes to shove, I’m like the 90% of you who will be reading this review; I don’t know all the technical terms for the prevailing technology behind this product and its settings, nor do I really care about them. What I do care about is that my hard-earned money was well spent on a product that will give me the best picture quality possible with a minimum of hassle. As such, don’t expect any technical mumbo jumbo in this review unless it is preceded with a darn good explanation and be ready for a lot of subjectivity.

Now that I have all that off my back, let’s get to the star of this review: the Samsung LN55B650 which is one of the newest TVs on the market and comes from a company well known for quality and attention to detail. Before we get on, I think a little explanation about Samsung’s nomenclature is due right about now. Basically, the “L” tells you that this is an LCD (a “P” here would mean Plasma),”N” signifies that this model is for the North American market, the “55” refers to the diagonal screen size in inches, the ”B” denotes the series and finally the “650” refers to the model. The B-series of LCD TVs replaces Samsung’s outgoing A-series across all model ranges but the 300 and 400 series are still the budget-conscious models while the 500, and 600 models stride are slightly upscale products and the 700 and 800 series units are for particularly discerning customers.

Unlike the high end LN52A850 we reviewed earlier this year (and is still regarded as one of the best LCD TVs to date), the LN55B650 finds its roots planted firmly in the middle of Samsung’s lineup. Its feature set is well rounded with technologies like Auto Motion Plus 120Hz, Game Mode, [email protected], and DLNA wireless and of course the largest screen size available on any current Samsung LCD HDTV. We’ll go over all of these features in detail a bit later but I am sure you are all wondering one thing right now: what’s this thing cost? Believe it or not, due to its additional screen real-estate the LN55B650 retails for approximately the same price as the LN52B750: between $3000 to $3300 CAD. If that price brings tears to your eyes, bear in mind that newer LED backlit panels of the same size are presently retailing for a mind boggling $4500 and more.

Instead of having a certified ISF technician come and calibrate the set for me, this review is being done using my own personal settings which I found best suited my viewing environment. As such, you can consider this one of the most subjective and slightly off-the-cuff reviews we have done here on Hardware Canucks.

LN55B650-47.jpg
 

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Resources & Terminology

General Resources:


Panel / processor specifications: 10-bit panel backed by Samsung’s Crystal Engine dual core, 18-bit video processor

Product Manual (direct download): Click Here

Samsung Content Library Flash: Click Here

Samsung LNxxB650-series Thread on AVS Forums: Click for Direct Link


Calibration Resources:

Clickable links

Digital Video Essentials (DVE)

Burosch Display Adjuster (Free, must burn to a DVD)

Tweak TV: Site where people upload their calibration setting for a large number of HDTVs

LNxxB650 Calibration Thread on AVS Forums


Terminology Links:

Clickable links

Below are some links to some of the terminology we will be using in this article.

Judder

Ghosting

Picture Noise

1080/24

Input Lag
 
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SKYMTL

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Specifications & Features

Specifications & Features


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A Closer Look at the Samsung LN55B650

A Closer Look at the Samsung LN55B650


LN55B650-25.jpg

While the overall design of a TV is rarely a deciding factor for most people, the LN55B650’s look caused some pretty strong reactions with friends and family. Personally, I love Samsung’s “Touch of Color” design with the thin red border as it goes with the décor of my room quite well. Reactions from other people ranged from love at first sight to instant hate with many questioning the use of red.

This TV also has a bit of a chin (or “jowls” as my significant other likes to call it) with its bottom portion sweeping slightly downwards directly below the Samsung logo. Another thing that should be mentioned is that both the plastic bezel and the screen itself have a glossy finish and are dust magnets. Luckily, the glossy “Ultra Clear” screen doesn’t adversely affect viewing when in a brightly-lit room but if there is a window directly opposite from the TV, we can see it this high gloss panel leading to some picture quality issues.

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The base of this Samsung HDTV is a flat plate which has a glossy finish that will reflect any messy cabling job you may have done. Directly below the Samsung logo is a small LED that glows red when the TV is turned on. This may be a distraction when watching in a dark room so Samsung has wisely decided to include a menu option to control it.

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At around 80mm deep, the LN55B650 is far from the thinnest TV on the market but when compared to similarly-priced LCD panels, it takes up surprisingly little space. Just remember that the slim design hides some heavy-weight components so proper reinforcement is an absolute must when mounting this set to directly to a wall.

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When it comes to input connectors, there are some notable omissions but the addition of side-panel connectors is a welcome addition. The side of the TV includes two USB 2.0 connectors, a HDMI and a composite audio / video input.

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Meanwhile, the back of the TV includes a horde of additional inputs and outputs. They include three additional HDMI connectors, a section for a PC’s VGA and audio inputs, a LAN jack for internet access, additional audio headers if you are using a DVI to HDMI cable that does not support audio pass-through and an EX-Link connector for future Samsung accessories. Outputs include left / right analog connectors and an optical audio output. Finally, closer to the bottom of the panel there are a pair of composite video inputs with their corresponding audio inputs and a single antenna jack.

So what are we missing? I would personally like to see an S-Video connector and a headphone jack. The lack of a headphone jack is a particularly odd omission since there are plenty of people out there (myself included) who lack a stand-alone amplifier and don’t want to have the TV blaring late at night.

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The remote included with this HDTV is easy to use and extremely straight-forward in its functions. The keys are clearly marked and can be illuminated with the press of a button. The top portion consists of all the direct input buttons for channels, volume and video sources, the middle buttons allow you to navigate the menus while all the buttons in the bottom portion are used for media viewing and controlling other sources. All in all, it is a pretty ergonomic remote but I am sure that many of you will probably want to replace this with a Logitech Harmony some time down the road.
 

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Menus and Options: The Highlights

Menus and Options: The Highlights


Instead of bringing you through a painstakingly long tour of all the menu options, we have decided to take a closer look at the menus which will impact most upon picture and sound quality. It should be noted straight off the bat that nearly a year ago we found the menus on the LN52A850 hard to navigate due to extremely sluggish controls and the LN55B650 suffers from the same issues. Even simple actions such as input selection quickly become a lesson in frustration as the TV sometimes reacts to a button presses on the remote while other times it just chooses to ignore them. Changing the remote’s batteries and cleaning the IR receiver on the TV did nothing to change the lethargic menu navigation.

One thing I really did appreciate about this TV is the fact that the picture settings for each input can be done separately. Unfortunately, I kept wishing that unique color profiles could be saved on the internal memory since I use my Playstation 3 for movie viewing along with gaming and the picture settings for each of these uses tended to be different from one another. This forced me to retweak the settings every time I went from watching a movie to playing a game and vice versa.

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The main picture menu is broken down into some main categories and then several large subsections for easy navigation. The main determining factor for both picture quality and settings is the preset or “Mode” which will shift your TV’s natural color balance towards four different pre-determined settings. Naturally, you can modify your picture accordingly after you select any of these but you should be aware that the Advanced Options is only available in Standard or Movie modes.

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The sub-categories are self-evident and contain settings to further refine your picture quality. As mentioned above, the Advanced Settings are only available in certain picture modes but the“Warm” color tone settings are only available when using the Movie picture mode. PC mode (selectable in the Input menu) also results in much less settings being available in the Picture Options section.

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In past Samsung “120hz” HDTVs, only basic settings were available when it came to enabling the Auto Motion Plus 120Hz but the LN55B650 brings things to a whole new level. Not only are there the usual basic presets but there is also a custom setting where you can control both judder and blur reduction separately.


The Sound Options menu is set up very much like the Picture menu with a number of preset Modes to help you on your way. Unfortunately, none of these modes suited my listening preferences and I was forced to spend hours tweaking things through the custom equalizer. As with most other TVs in this price range, SRS, Auto Volume and output selections are also included.
 

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Media Features Testing

Media Features Testing


Before we get into the nitty gritty of the image quality testing for the Samsung LN55B650, we are going to go off the beaten track and take give the media features of this TV a quick test drive. Sure, both you and I will probably spend 99.9% of our time in front of a TV watching a movie, playing a game or watching programs but many of us seem to forget that most current HDTVs are designed to be multimedia powerhouses. They feature Ethernet ports for internet access, USB connectors for uploadable content and many other bangs and whistles which are usually bragged about on a company’s product page. But do they actually work as advertised? Let’s find out.


DLNA Wireless

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Digital Living Network Alliance or DLNA is a home networking standard adopted by an expanding group of about 250 companies. The LN55B650 uses this standard to give you the ability to wirelessly stream content directly from your PC to the TV. All you need to do is install the included Samsung PC Share Manager software onto your computer and plug in the wireless LAN Adaptor into on of the USB ports on the TV. Wait a second; I didn’t see a wireless adaptor included in the box, did I? That’s because you have to buy it separately and the best price we have seen for it is about $130CAD but if you are willing to look around south of the border it can be found for slightly under $80 USD.

Samsung didn’t ship one of these adaptors with our review unit so we weren’t able to test this feature. However, if you are someone with a large media collection on your PC we think that paying about $100 is money well spent as long as it works. The only thing I would be slightly worried about is the possibility that a wireless network could lack the bandwidth necessary to stream a HD signal from your computer to the TV. We will be testing this wireless adaptor in the following weeks as it is currently winging its way over from Samsung.


[email protected]

Many new Samsung TVs have a LAN / RJ45 connector which can connect to the internet to download additional content, software updates and even give you the latest stock and weather updates. You can also use the optional wireless adaptor for internet access if you can stomach its added cost.

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Once set up, you can bring up the internet toolbar at any time regardless of the source content you are watching. The selection is limited to News, Finance and Weather.

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Each of the categories pops up as a widget on the left side of the screen but unfortunately Samsung relies on Yahoo! for all the information their [email protected] provides which in my opinion is a mistake. While the stock ticker is handy if you watch your investments religiously, I found it to be updated a good 10-12 minutes after sites like Google Finance and the Wall Street Journal’s Market Data page. To anyone that actually cares to use the Finance widget, this type of delay is totally unacceptable.

The weather widget is also lacking since even though it lists most population centers with a population above 10,000, in its current form it only shows the current weather and temperature. If I wanted to know that, I’d have a look out my window. What I really want to see is the weather tonight when I want to go to an outdoors restaurant or tomorrow when I am planning a bike trip.

All in all, the ideas behind [email protected] seem to be well grounded but the execution is somewhat lacking. Yahoo! needs to be thrown to the curb, the menu transition needs to be much smoother and the widgets need customizability instead of being done in a cookie-cutter fashion.
 

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Media Features Testing pg.2

Media Features Testing cont.


USB 2.0 Movie / Music / Pictures

If you don’t have the cash for a $100 wireless dongle after purchasing a $3500 TV, I know where you’re coming from and so does Samsung. As such, they have built into this TV the ability to play movies, view pictures or listen to music directly from a USB 2.0 flash drive. All you have to do is upload the file to a drive which is formatted with a FAT16/32 or NTFS file system (all flash drives use one of these by default), then plug the drive into the LN55B650 and you’re off.

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When you press the Media button on the remote, you are greeted with a simple and pretty much self-evident screen listing different media options. Photo sends you in to a simple photo gallery which is great if you want to show off pictures from your recent trip. The Music option works very well if you have a proper sound system hooked up to the TV but otherwise, you will be left with the LN55B650’s somewhat anemic speakers trying their best to pump out decent sounds.

While the ability to view pictures and play music is interesting, it is the USB movie capabilities of this TV that are most advertised.

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In theory, being able to view a movie directly from a USB flash drive or hard drive without a PC running is great. Indeed, in our testing there were very few files that it could not play but you should be aware of the limitations. It is important to note that even though many video formats are supported, a limited number of audio codecs can be used per video type. For example if you are playing a movie in .mkv format which has a WMA3 audio track, you will not get any sound. Other than those few hitches, Samsung’s USB 2.0 Movie player works flawlessly. It should also be mentioned that Samsung seriously handicaps the video calibration settings when using a USB drive to play video so you only get a few basic settings to tweak.


Content Library Flash

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The content library consists of items that are downloaded directly from Samsung’s website onto a flash drive or to the 128MB of internal memory located within the LN55B650 if you have it connected directly to the internet. Categories run the gamut from recipes to games to workout routines to children’s storybooks. There are even pieces of downloadable artwork which can turn your TV into a virtual art gallery.

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While my girlfriend insists on picking up every cook book known to man and we enjoy experimenting with new recipes on a nightly basis, the books took a back seat to the LN55B650’s recipe library while we tried out some of the offerings from Samsung. Believe it or not, out of the 7 main courses we tried, they are all being added to our list of favorites. The clear directions and simple steps will appeal to everyone from novice cooks to anyone who feels pressed for time after a hard day’s work. If anything, try out the Cashew Chicken and you won’t regret it.

I feel that the Content Library could prove to be a huge attraction for people looking to do something out of the ordinary with their “boring” TV but Samsung needs to keep adding new content or the current library will stagnate very quickly. In a world that changes seemingly at light speed, no one wants to go looking for new content only to find the same old items from months ago.
 

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Viewing Conditions & Calibrated Settings

Viewing Conditions


Before we get to the calibrated settings, it should be mentioned that my viewing environment isn’t exactly what you would call optimal for TV watching. During the day, we get a ton of light coming in from our monstrous second story window while at night there is a street light directly opposite the viewing room. If anything, this emphasizes that even though I have included my somewhat finalized settings below, everyone’s viewing conditions will be different and as such you should take these as a starting point rather than an end-all of calibrations.


Calibrated Settings


Mode: Movie
Backlight: 5
Contrast: 96
Brightness: 49
Sharpness: 15
Color: 50
Tint: Default

Advanced Settings
Black Tone: Off
Dynamic Contrast: Off
Gamma: -1
Color Space: Auto
White Balance: Default
Flesh Tone: 0
Edge Enhancement: Off
xvYCC : On

Picture Options
Color Tone: Warm1
Size: Screen Fit
Digital NR: Off
HDMI Black Level: Normal
Film Mode: Auto1
Blue Only Mode: Off
Auto Motion Plus:
Custom: Blur Reduction = 7
Judder Reduction = 0

Game Mode: Off
Energy Savings: Off


The following changes were made when gaming:

Brightness: 55
Sharpness: 30
xvYCC: Off
Game Mode: Off
 

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Picture Quality: Blu Ray

Picture Quality: Blu Ray


All subjective testing was done with the settings mentioned on the last page in addition to a Sony Playstation 3 being used as the primary Blu Ray player. In this example, the screen captures you see are from the IMAX scenes in Batman: The Dark Knight and Transformers.

Please remember that no digital camera (Digital SLR or otherwise) is capable of accurately reproducing an image from a HDTV as the human eye would see it. As such, the pictures below are for illustration purposes only.

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Click on image to enlarge

Once the settings had been tweaked away from the over-saturated factory specifications, the overall picture quality of this Samsung TV was able to shine through. The color saturation and reproduction was spot on while the whites were never washed out. The IMAX scenes in The Dark Knight provide some truly stunning visuals and the LN55B650 was able to keep up without any perceptible problems.

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Click on image to enlarge

The only real issue we found with the B650’s performance when displaying 1080/24 content was an almost imperceptible amount of motion blur in fast-moving scenes. Increasing the Blur Reduction setting alleviated it but you should remember that engaging any of the default Auto Motion Plus settings (Clear, Smooth, etc.) resulted in the hated “soap opera” effect where camera and character movements seem to be overly fast. In addition, the default AMP settings nearly always introduce slight artifacting in some scenes along with a slight halo around characters when they were interposed against a light background.

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Click on image to enlarge

Black level performance is extremely impressive to the point where we can say that the LN55B650 displays some of the best contrast we have seen in a TV to date. Naturally, plasmas and CRT (if you can find one) units still boast better black levels, this set comes very close to matching them. While some people have reported blacks with a slightly blue hue to them on lower-end B-series sets, this one doesn’t seem to suffer from this problem at all.
 

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Picture Quality: Gaming

Picture Quality: Gaming


All subjective testing was done with the settings mentioned on the calibration page in addition to a Sony Playstation 3 being used as the primary gaming platform. In this example, the screen captures you see are from the Killzone 2 and LittleBigPlanet. Both games are rendered at 720P resolution.

Please remember that no digital camera (Digital SLR or otherwise) is capable of accurately reproducing an image from a HDTV as the human eye would see it. As such, the pictures below are for illustration purposes only.

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Click on image to enlarge

Even though many gamers balk at the thought of using a relatively “slow” large-sized LCD panel for gaming, I was actually stunned when I first started to play Killzone 2 on this set. There was none of the usual ghosting or motion blur associated with fast-paced shooters and the LN55B650’s wide contrast range had me finding my way through the darker areas of this game without any issues. Lesser sets always seemed to muddy the dark passageways on Helghan to the point where I found myself guessing where the exit was.

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Click on image to enlarge

If anything, Killzone 2 is an atmospheric game that relies on its environmental effects to impart a certain feeling upon the player. When calibrated to the best of my (and DVE’s) somewhat limited skills the LN55B650 was actually able to make the atmosphere draw me in just a bit more to get a true feeling of the game.

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Click on image to enlarge

Looking around the internet, it seems like some people are experiencing a fair bit of input lag (a miniscule delay between when a command on the controller is made and when it appears on the screen). Many people forget that using the wireless controllers from a PS3, Xbox 360 or Wii will impart a measure of input lag upon gaming. Granted, with a wired controller there was still some lag but not enough to seriously affect your performance in a fast-paced game. Unfortunately, there are some issues when it comes to Gaming Mode but those will be discussed later.

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Click on image to enlarge

Before being calibrated, the LN52B650 tended to have a bit of color bleeding in high contrast areas such as with the glowing orbs in the picture above. In side-scrolling games like LittleBigPlanet there was also some telltale ghosting when a light-colored character was moving against a dark screen but this was taken care of for the most part by adjusting the custom AMP settings. Unfortunately, even this didn’t eliminate it completely and just made it less noticeable.
 
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