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Samsung UN55B7100 55" 120Hz LED HDTV Review

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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Samsung UN55B7100 55” 120Hz LED HDTV Review




Product Number: UN55B7100WFXZA
Price: Approx. $3800CAD
Warranty: 1 year
Manufacturer's Product Page: SAMSUNG Canada




Before I really start with this intro, let me get one thing off my back. 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 40 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.

Up for review today we have one of the latest and greatest HDTVs from Samsung which also sports an LED-based LCD panel: the UN55B7100. LED backlights are a relatively new feature on consumer-grade televisions but have begun showing up in greater numbers over the past few months. Basically, the use of LEDs allows manufacturers to replace the power hogging fluorescent lights in standard LCDs with a more efficient alternative. LEDs are also supposed to deliver a much wider dynamic contrast range, produce truer colors and are also more environmentally friendly since they use fewer hazardous chemicals than their fluorescent brethren.

Upon first glance the benefits LED LCD TVs bring to the table look perfectly suited for the discerning consumer but they also have their pitfalls. First of all, there are two different types of LED TVs currently on the market: edge-lit and local dimming (also called an RGB Dynamic LED) and each have their pros and cons. For the sake of clarity, the Samsung UN55B7100 uses the edge-lit method which results in an ultra thin profile and is supposed to deliver a uniform color across the entire screen. Conversely, edge-lit displays usually loose out to local dimming units when it comes to things like contrast and black rendering.

What really matters to most consumers is money and this is what sets the better LED LCD TVs apart from their traditional counterparts. For example, the TV we are reviewing here goes for around $3800 here in Canada which is expensive even when compared to even the high-end LCDs like the Sony XBR9 and Samsung B750 series. Early adopters however are more than happy to pay a price premium for the latest and greatest.

Even though it isn’t cheap by any stretch of the imagination, the UN55B71000 packs a ton of features into its slip form. Everything one would expect from a high-end set -from on board internet to a 120Hz refresh rate to a cleverly designed remote- is included. That being said, what we want to know is if it warrants its sky-high price tag.


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SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the Samsung UN55B7100

A Closer Look at the Samsung UN55B7100


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Other than a few minor differences, once you have seen one TV, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Samsung actually breaks their designs into two groups: the ToC (Touch of Color) series that has a faint blue or red border and the standard series that uses predominantly neutral colors. The B7100 we are looking at here is actually an exclusive model to some retailers since –unlike the B7000- it incorporates a grey border instead of red.

One thing that I was a bit worried about was how reflective the screen and darn near everything else on this TV is. As you can probably tell by the picture above, the room where I have the B7100 set up has anything but what we can call “optimal viewing conditions”. As far as I am concerned, Samsung’s Ultra Clear Panel technology does add to the depth of the picture but it is a nightmare in higher ambient light conditions.

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One of the marquees of Samsung’s edge-lit LED-style LCD technology is how thin it allows the TV to be. In this case we’re looking at a profile that is less than 1.5” thick at most which really looks stunning when mounted on a wall. Unfortunately, the engineering of wall-mount brackets hasn’t quite kept up with thin panel technology and as such, most brackets will actually be thicker and more obtrusive than the TV itself.

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In order to maintain the B7100’s ultra slim profile, all of the connectors are attached parallel to the screen. Facing the right hand side are a pair of USB 2.0 ports, an optical audio output and four HDMI connectors while there are bottom facing connectors for the Ethernet cable, audio, component and PC VGA cables. Samsung also adds a label for where you should plug in your PC.
 

SKYMTL

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Accessories & Remotes

Accessories & Remotes


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Considering the price you are paying for the UN55B7100, it is good to see a full-rounded list of accessoies, many of which you will probably never use. There are a number of wire holders including one which is rolled as well as clamp-type self-adhesive units. A “PC Share Manager” CD with various programs to facilitate communication between your PC and TV, a microfiber cloth, wire cover and a few other tidbits round out the accessory package.

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As with most high-end Samsung TVs, there is a pair of remotes included with the UN55B7100. One of them is your traditional multi-function affair while the other is what Samsung calls their “pebble” mini-remote. This small unit has some basic functions on its svelte frame including channel forward / back buttons, volume control and a power button. Unfortunately, this makes its uses limited especially if you are already using a Logitech Harmony or have more than one source running to the TV as it doesn’t allow you to switch inputs.

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The primary remote control has the same layout as we have been seeing on Samsung’s remotes for the last few years. It is broken into four separate zones: direct input, browsing, media and extended functions but it has done away with the somewhat clunky center wheel from previous generations. It also incorporates an extended grip o keep it from tipping on a flat surface as well as fully illuminated keys.
 

SKYMTL

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A USB Stick…with a TV?

A USB Stick…with a TV?


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We are used to getting a thick, hundred page instruction manual with a TV but Samsung has gone about things a bit differently with their LED-based LCD series. They have included the whole manual along with a few how-to guides on a 1GB Transcend USB drive that can be plugged directly into the USB port on the TV. You can then browse through the guide much like you would a paper-based manual. This suited me just fine and it actually keeps pretty well with the “green” theme of the B7100-series.

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Browsing through the menu items is actually quite quick and once you highlight each header, a small thumbnail preview of the section comes up to help guide you. Personally, I find this easier than flipping back and forth through a book.

The only thing that I found myself looking for was a quick calibration guide with some test patterns. That would have been the crowning achievement of an already-complete paperless manual.

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One thing many of you will appreciate is the inclusion of a comprehensive guide for setting up the B7100 to properly display an image from your PC. There are even additional settings to really fine tune TV / PC interface for easier viewing of smaller text.
 

SKYMTL

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Samsung’s Wireless Adaptor

Samsung’s Wireless Adaptor


In our last review of a Samsung TV, I just happened to mention that I had doubts about the viability of their USB Wireless LAN Adaptor. Well, Samsung took that as a thrown gauntlet and dug one up for me to play around with. The price has remained the same at around $105CAD but south of the border (hold onto your hats fellow Canadians); it can be found for under $60.

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The adaptor itself is a sleek device that is about double the size of a flash drive and is designed to blend seamlessly into the back of Samsung’s HDTVs. It is compatible with literally every Samsung TV that sports the Internet@TV and DLNA functions.

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Installation is actually a breeze. Turn on your TV, plug in the Wireless Adaptor and then follow the on-screen instructions. You will be prompted to choose the wireless network you want to connect to followed by the network ID and password. You’re then off to the races and you’ll have a networked TV as long as the wireless adaptor is plugged in.

To be honest with you, I wasn’t convinced of this little product’s uses, especially considering its somewhat insane price here in Canada. It doesn’t add any functionality to what would come with a wired connection but it allows for all the features I will talk about on the upcoming pages to work without having to worry about another wire running to your cleanly installed HDTV. After a few weeks of running Intenet@TV with it installed, I actually think the adaptor added to the overall value of the TV and I never even touched on the potential it can bring to the table with its wireless network file streaming abilities.

Is this thing really worth its asking price? That really depends on what you want to do with your TV. Since I don’t yet have my wireless network set up for content streaming, its uses were limited but this is one product you will be seeing a full review of in the future. For now, I am going to recommend you try to get it thrown in with the purchase of a TV instead of an overpriced HDMI cable. You may be pleasantly surprised by its uses.
 

SKYMTL

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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 UN55B7100, 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.

Please note that since our last Samsung review, not much has changed with this section so this will pretty much be a rehash of what you saw in the last article.


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 UN55B7100 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 one of the USB ports on the TV.

Internet@TV

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 was limited to News, Finance and Weather but now includes YouTube (more on this later) and Flickr as well.

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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 most of the information their internet@TV 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 Internet@TV 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. However, it is expanding and that is definitely good to see.
 

SKYMTL

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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 TV 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 UN55B7100'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. This was an issue months ago and it seems they still haven't addressed it.


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 internal memory located within the TV 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 TV'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. However, it seems that Samsung is now actually keeping up with things since we have seen some new recipes added and along with some new pieces of art. Let's hope this continues.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
12,841
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Montreal
YouTube on Your Tube

YouTube on Your Tube


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One of Samsung’s newer Widgets allows complete access to YouTube through the Internet@TV interface. Browsing the featured, most popular and other sections is user-friendly and snappy but the search function is a bit of a disaster. Its main problem is how slow the remote responds to your inputs due to the widget performing a new search with every letter you select. Trust me, if you don’t want to feel like throwing something at your new $3800 TV, avoid the YouTube search function at all costs.

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As you browse the videos, you are able to see a thumbnail as well as a brief description of the video itself. Pressing Enter on the remote will allow you to select a video while you navigate with the arrow buttons.

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Playback is smooth over either an Ethernet cable or wireless and you are even able to enlarge the video to fit the screen. Unfortunately, there is no high def option that I could find so the videos don’t exactly look as good as they should on a 55” HDTV.

Even though I am not a huge fan of browsing YouTube, my girlfriend was all over this feature. It allows nearly all of a PC’s functionality without actually having to boot up your computer and burn through even more electricity.
 
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