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Samsung LN55C650 120Hz LCD HDTV Review

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SKYMTL

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Throughout the last few years, we have brought you several reviews of Samsung TVs which may look out of place considering the PC-centric theme of Hardware Canucks. The reasoning behind this slight shift in focus is to bring readers greater insight into technology-oriented products that are being talked about. You’ll likely see a fair bit more consumer electronics gracing our pages in the coming months but the focus will likely stay the same: affordable products which bring some higher-end features to lower price ranges. To that end, we will be looking at one of Samsung’s much talked-about C600-series LCD TVs today.

The LN55C650 is one of the many products that bridge the gap between lower-end, sub-$1300 units and the ultra expensive cutting edge sets that make up the high end market. Priced at $1999 here in Canada (we have actually seen it retailing for $1700 recently) the C650 looks to offer the excellent picture quality aficionados expect while discarding unnecessary fringe features like 3D and 240Hz technology. Basically, it is supposed to strike the perfect balance for those of us who are unwilling or unable to put up money for features with questionable benefits yet still want a great viewing experience.

It should also be mentioned that while we are looking at the 650 model of Samsung’s C-series, when taken at face value there is very little to differentiate it from the C610/C630 which retails for a few hundred less. Naturally, the feature set between the two is slightly different but the main difference is in the panels used. So any observations we make in this review about the LN55C650’s picture quality and performance just won't be carried over to the LN55C610/630 as well.

With Sony’s lower-end Bravias and Toshiba’s newly revised G300 series, Samsung’s C650 really does have an uphill battle to fight. Nonetheless, with features aplenty and the legendary picture quality Samsung has become known for, this TV stands a good chance to come out on top.

Even though LED panels have been making a splash into the market and gaining popularity at a quick pace, pricing has remained high and users routinely complain about panel uniformity Plasma TVs have their own list of

 
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SKYMTL

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Dimensions & Specifications

Dimensions & Specifications




 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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A Closer Look at the Samsung LN55C650

A Closer Look at the Samsung LN55C650



Once you’ve seen one LCD TV, you’ve pretty much seen them all with a few exceptions when it comes to the more unique sets currently on the market. The C650 isn’t in any way different from most other Samsung sets released over the last few years in terms of overall design and aesthetics. Unfortunately, one thing that has remained constant from generation to generation is the copious amount of reflective coating applied to the whole fascia. This makes viewing in bright rooms (which I happen to have) next to impossible during the day without increasing the backlight to insane levels.


One of the small touches Samsung has implemented on many of their TVs is what they call a Touch of Colour and the effect is actually quite stunning. While the bezel around the C650 makes due with a muted red finish in addition to its predominantly black finish, the base gets a vivid highlight around its edges. Granted, this may not go well with some people’s décor but thankfully the bezel itself steers clear of any loud displays of colour.


There are only a few LCDs on market that boast the truly thin designs usually reserved for their LED brethren and the C650 isn’t one of them. This isn’t a thick-boned TV in any way but the truly slim products are usually left to the higher echelon price ranges anyways.


The inputs and outputs on the LN55C650 are located in two places: the right-hand bezel edge and on the right side of the TV’s back. The side gets a pair of USB ports (for updating the TV’s firmware, attaching a WiFi dongle or file sharing) along with composite A/V hookup and a single HDMI 1.3a port. Meanwhile, the back I/O panel gets a laundry list of connectors including three more HDMI inputs and connectors for VGA, Composite, Component and audio inputs. There are also an output for optical audio cables and a remote jack for Samsung’s optional motorized wall mount bracket. A LAN port is in case you wanted to hook the TV up to the internet without resorting to a costly wireless dongle. The only issue we have with this is the location of the 3.5mm headphone jack as it would have been far more convenient had it been on the side instead of on the back.

If you are anything like me and have most of your HD signals going through a home theatre receiver there is really no need for all of these inputs but for others, 4 HDMI inputs may actually not be enough.


The remote which comes with this TV is similar to the others we have seen from Samsung in the past with a few minor changes. Gone is the clumsy directional wheel which is replaced with straightforward and responsive directional arrows which makes it oh so much easier to browse through the menus. Otherwise, the remote stays the same with the standard number pad at the top, volume / channel buttons along with menu navigation buttons in the center and finally media navigation at the bottom. There is also a light senor which enables the backlight whenever you room is below a certain light level.
 
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SKYMTL

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Menu Layout

Menu Layout


For any of you who have read our other Samsung TV reviews, you can pretty much skip this section because Samsung’s menu layout hasn’t changed at all for the last few years. In our opinion, this is a good thing since the system used is extremely straightforward and user friendly. Each input can also be customized independently so you don’t have to worry about settings for one device mucking with those from another one.

The only problem is that virtually nothing has been done to address some of the concerns we have had in the past. The clunky navigation is still there and some of the necessary options like Game Mode are buried under layers of improbably named items.


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.

One thing which sets this TV apart from past Samsung LCDs is the fact that the backlight setting has a much wider range of intensities. While older TVs had a mere 10 levels, the C650 allows for fine tuning with up to 20 levels of backlight brightness.


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. I did however appreciate the accessibility of the Expert Pattern which allows for the fine tuning of your picture through the use of standard color patterns.


In past Samsung “120hz” HDTVs, only basic settings were available when it came to enabling the Auto Motion Plus 120Hz but the LN55C650 (like 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 adaptability is actually quite amazing and we highly suggest you play with this setting if none of the presets are up to your expectations.


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. There is also a full-band equalizer which allows for very precise changes to be made to the sound output. As with most other TVs in this price range, SRS, Auto Volume and output selections are also included.


Stuck down closer to the bottom of the main menu is an unassuming item named Setup. Here you are able to modify time, language and network connectivity but it also includes a somewhat cryptic item called “General”. Herein lies what is in my opinion an important setting for us gamers: the Game Mode. This mode basically shuts down the vast majority of post processing the TV’s hardware does in order to decrease input lag and make games much more playable. Unfortunately, as we will see in an upcoming section enabling game mode also incurs a massive impact upon picture quality even though some are more than willing to make that sacrifice. My main issue with this is the actual location of the Game Mode toggle since it is for some reason buried outside of the normal Picture Settings in an area where not too many people will think to look for it. Having a button on the main remote for it would have also been a good idea for those whose game consoles pull double duty as media players.


The final little area we wanted to hit upon is the Support section because it holds quick and easy access to firmware updates and diagnosis programs. There is also a handy setup guide as well as a Contact section if you happen to have issues with the set and need to find customer service numbers quickly. Trust me, having this could be a life saver.
 
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SKYMTL

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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: 95
Brightness: 47
Sharpness: 10
Color: 51
Tint: G45/R55

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

Picture Options
Color Tone: Warm2
Size: Screen Fit
Digital NR: Off
HDMI Black Level: Normal
Film Mode: Auto1
Blue Only Mode: Off
Auto Motion Plus:
Custom: Blur Reduction = 10
Judder Reduction = 4

Game Mode: Off
Energy Savings: Off


The following changes were made when gaming:

Brightness: 58
Sharpness: 35
xvYCC: Off
Game Mode: Off
 

SKYMTL

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General Picture & Image Observations

General Picture & Image Observations


Before we get into the real meat of this review where we take a tour of this TV’s performance within games and high definition content, there are a few general observations that should be put forward regarding its overall picture quality.

One of the most important things we had to remember throughout testing was the fact that the LN55C650 just can’t be considered a high end TV due to its middle of the road pricing. Nonetheless, we do expect certain things of a product that costs about two grand and for the most part this TV did live up to most of our hopes. As with most other HDTVs being offered, the C650’s out-of-box performance was absolutely atrocious with image settings which were likely geared towards a sales floor rather than a home environment.


Thankfully, calibration proved to be extremely easy since in my opinion only a few settings needed to be changed. The result was a picture I was quite happy with even though as you will see below, there were still some areas where reproduction could have been improved slightly.


For the most part and to a somewhat trained eye the colour reproduction displayed by the LN55C650 was very good with only a slight shift into the green end of the spectrum. No amount of calibration would totally remove the slight green tinge to some scenes but it was hardly noticeable in most situations and the latest firmware did alleviate most of the color shift. Saturation however was absolutely spot on without any of the bleed we used to see on earlier Samsung modes.


Contrast has always been one of the Achilles’ tendons of LCD HDTVs and continues to cause some issues with even the latest generation. Samsung has mostly avoided the pitfalls here without any of the odd bluish tint some of their lower-end TVs are known for and in our opinion, the C650 actually performs well in scenes where other similarly-priced products would fall flat.

Its record here isn’t spotless as its limitations did pop up in movies like Transformers and The Dark Knight where excellent black level performance is a must. In these and some other situations we experienced a fair amount of black crush (sometimes confused with "inky blacks") which tended to detract from the overall enjoyment of the movie. Oddly enough though, it seems like only some movies experienced black level and contrast issues because in others like Avatar, 300 and Watchmen (all movies with numerous dark scenes) the TV performed beyond expectations.

<object width="640" height="480"><param name="allowfullscreen" value="true" /><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always" /><param name="movie" value="http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=13989538&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=1&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0" /><embed src="http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=13989538&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=1&color=00ADEF&fullscreen=1&autoplay=0&loop=0" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" allowscriptaccess="always" width="640" height="480"></embed></object><p><a href="http://vimeo.com/13989538">Hesitation on Samsung LN55C650</a> from <a href="http://vimeo.com/user4453469">SKYMTL</a> on <a href="http://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p>​

Overall, the image quality of the C650 is above what we would expect of a TV in this price range but it also has one issue that could be a deal breaker. Every few minutes the picture will “jerk” as if it is skipping a few frames. We have seen reports of this on various forums and unfortunately not even the newest Samsung firmware seems to help the situation. It is especially noticeable during long camera pans or when watching fast-paced sports broadcasts and will likely will drive you to distraction. This issue is apparent on every HDMI input.

Unfortunately since the timings seem to be random and varying in severity, getting a clear video of it is extremely hard but in the video above, you will see a slight stutter between the 17 and 20 second marks just as the spaceship begins floating past the camera. From our perspective, what seems to be happening is a general over-saturation of Samsung’s Crystal Engine processor since the problem seems to be exasperated when viewing 1080P content. There are some of the same problems at 1080i but interestingly enough, when watching standard definition or 720P videos, there don’t seem to be any issues. In addition, when enabling the game mode’s elimination of signal processing (not something you want to do) with 1080P content, every sign of image hesitation disappears.

There was also some ghosting still apparent even with the blur and judder reduction settings pushed as far as we could comfortably allow. I’m personally counting down the days until true 120Hz panels begin filtering down into the lower price ranges of the HDTV market. Until that time, we’ll all have to deal with either some blurring / judder or image artifacts due to excess processing since it seems impossible to get rid of both.
 
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SKYMTL

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Picture Quality: Blu Ray & HD

Picture Quality: Blu Ray & HD


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 Batman: The Dark Knight, Avatar 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.


If you don’t already own it and want to show off your new HDTV, Avatar is the movie to buy since it offers one of the best film to Blu Ray transfers currently available. It can also uncover some pretty drastic shortcomings as well if your TV isn’t up to the task of displaying some of the eye-bleeding high definition content.

This may become a reoccurring theme over the next few pages but the LN55C650 does have simply amazing HD picture quality when properly calibrated. The images were sharp and even though there is a significant amount of processing going on behind the scenes, there were no images artifacts I could discern. It should be noted however that pushing both the judder and blur reduction sliders near their maximum values did cause some telltale flickers in certain scenes.


While contrast may not be one of this HDTV’s redeeming qualities, it still doesn’t have any issue showing better than expected black levels in movies that aren’t excessively dark. Noise isn’t an issue either even without enabling Samsung’s own digital noise reducer which says a lot about overall performance.


Overall, the LN55C650 performed quite well throughout the high definition testing but there were still some issues; particularly when watching sports. As I mentioned on the previous page, two of the biggest issues with this TV like in its ability to display a smooth moving picture. These shortcomings are only accentuated when watching sports in high definition since there was either excess judder / blurring or the image hesitations reared their ugly heads. Let me put this bluntly: there are plenty of better options out there if you want to watch sports on your HDTV.


All in all, the LN55C650 actually ran the gamut in terms of HD picture quality but it ended up impressing more than disappointing. In most situations it displayed simply stunning images that did Samsung’s technology proud while in a few cases, it wasn’t what we were hoping for. This mostly had to do with the motion performance as well as the processing hiccups that occurred along the way. It is unfortunate because in all other things picture-related, I think this HDTV actually has what it takes to compete against some of the best currently on the market.
 
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SKYMTL

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Gaming Performance

Gaming Performance


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 Uncharted 2. All 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.


Gaming on an LCD HDTV isn’t usually recommended by “people in the know” and with the LN55C650, this couldn’t be closer to the truth. Playing games on this set is virtually impossible without resorting to the dreaded Game Mode (which we will get into on the next page) due to absolutely horrendous amounts of input lag. Naturally, the PS3 wireless controller does in itself impart a small amount of lag but even when using a wired mouse hooked up to a high performance PC, input hesitations were measured at slightly more than a quarter SECOND. This is just unacceptable and caused more than one spectacular crash in racing games like DiRT 2. Do you want to play twitch-style first person shooters? Forget about it because you will always find yourself one step behind when aiming.


If it wasn’t for the input lag, Samsung would literally have a winner on its hands in terms of in-game picture quality. The colors displayed by the C650 are just stunning and even in notoriously difficult to display levels like the wastelands in Killzone 2 showed near-perfect saturation.

One thing I will recommend is to increase the judder and blur reduction to their max when gaming (even if you can stomach the input lag) since it will eliminate the obscene amount of motion blur while not incurring many of the downfalls seen when watching movies with these settings cranked.


Unfortunately, you will likely have to increase the brightness setting or some games will tend to become an inky black mess in short order on the C650.

As I mentioned on a previous page the odd frame skipping issue this HDTV displays never occurs (or at least it didn’t occur during the hours of gaming I did) when viewing 720P content. This means most games are blissfully free and clear of any fluidity problems.

Since I pass most of my outputs through an Onkyo receiver which means I have only a single HDMI input going to my TV, I constantly found myself wishing for an easy way to quickly switch with between image settings. Unfortunately, there is no way to set up multiple picture setting profiles on a single input so my game settings always carried over when watching a Blu Ray from the PS3. Hopefully in the future Samsung will implement the ability to have switchable setting profiles on every input so as to save people like me the painstaking process of navigating through the menu every time we want to change content.
 
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SKYMTL

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Game Mode: Best Friend or Worst Enemy?

Game Mode: Best Friend or Worst Enemy?


Samsung has advertised their Game Mode for some time now and we put it through its paces. Supposedly, this setting will speed up the display refresh rate while optimizing contrast / brightness and eliminating the ghosting, input lag and other issues inherent when gaming on LCD TVs. That’s a tall order of business for one simple setting but according to the documentation, it also comes with one drawback: a loss of image quality.


Input lag is a simple reality when gaming on most LCD TVs but the LN55C650 displays an excess amount due to the heavy amount of image processing its hardware does. When Game Mode is enabled, you get to see just what the image would look like without this additional processing and let’s be honest: it looks like absolute crap. Color accuracy, contrast, smoothness and most other qualities get thrown to the wolves in order to eliminate as much lag as possible. Does it work? Absolutely. Is the sacrifice worth the end result? I personally don’t think so simply because I think it is ridiculous that after years of LCD technology “progression”, modes such as this even need to exist.


Not only does Game Mode make the image look like an over-exposed freak show but it locks out the vast majority of image adjustments as well. So you’re basically stuck with the few cursory options that are left in order to somehow tone down the headache-inducing image. The only positive thing I could possible say about game mode is that it virtually eliminates much of the C650’s excessive lag.

If you want to game on your HDTV, look somewhere other than the C650 because there are plenty of other products that exhibit acceptably low levels of input lag without having you resort to nerfing image quality. Sorry Samsung; swing and a miss on this one.
 

SKYMTL

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Picture Quality: SD Upscaling

Picture Quality: SD Upscaling


Like it or not, the vast majority of satellite, OTA or cable television shows are broadcast via standard definition signals. This means for many of us the ability of HDTVs to upscale a standard definition image is paramount to our viewing enjoyment.

Our testing was done with a Bell 9242 HD PVR hooked up to the TV set via a DVI to HDMI adaptor.


I have personally had some absolutely horrible experiences when it comes to upscaling standard definition content but the LN55C650 actually excelled in this respect. It provided one of the clearest upscaled pictures I have seen in a long time even with a sometimes less than optimal signal. One thing which is lost though is some of the color accuracy we have come to love from this TV. In addition, Samsung’s Wide Fit option unfortunately extends the picture beyond the edges of the screen which results in a fair amount of image stretching.


The C650 doesn’t give you any option to adjust the actual size the image size Wide Fit option displays so things like PVR menus get cut off across every edge of the screen. Annoying? Yes, but watching Giada in HD is more than worth it.

When it comes to scaling of lower definition images, its best not to expect any miracles in terms of overall picture quality or fidelity but the LN55C650 is better than most other products we have seen in the past. I just wish there was the option for a bit of fine tuning for the overall size of the displayed image.
 
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