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Samsung UN55C6500 120Hz LED HDTV Review

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SKYMTL

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Being branded as the largest consumer electronics allows Samsung to walk around the market with a healthy amount of swagger. However, all too many times we have seen a manufacturer reach this pinnacle and begin a slow and steady decline as they supplement quality with raw quantity. So far Samsung has successfully steered clear of this pitfall and they continue to produce some of the most highly regarded products around. Yes, there are always lemons here and there but for the most part we have been impressed with this one company’s technical prowess.

LED-based LCD TVs have been around for a good while but for some reason, there are still a fair number of growing pains associated with this technology. Panel uniformity, motion performance and colour saturation seem to be major issues that still pop up in even the highest-end sets. As a result, consumers have been naturally wary about taking the jump towards an LED HDTV. This could also be why some manufacturers have reported the possibility that 2010 could be the first year in recent memory that plasma TVs may see double digit sales growth.

In Samsung’s last outing here at Hardware Canucks, their LN55C650 garnered our praise in a number of key areas but still fell short in our books. The last LED unit we looked at was the UN55B7100 which also happened to be from Samsung and actually performed relatively well albeit with a healthy dollop of picture quality problems. Now we’re about to take a look at a current generation set: the UN55C6500.

While pricing for the UN55C6500 is currently pegged at $2800, we have actually seen it for under $2200 when on sale. Compared to its standard fluorescent-based LCD brethren, this is a hefty price indeed since even the LN55C650 retails for under $2000 on a regular basis. Can Samsung’s mid-range LED product really be worth this kind of price premium over a tried, tested and true technology?


UN55C6500-21.jpg
 
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SKYMTL

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Dimensions & Specifications

Dimensions & Specifications


UN55C6500-22.jpg


UN55C6500-30.jpg
 

SKYMTL

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A Closer Look at the UN55C6500

A Closer Look at the UN55C6500


UN55C6500-20.jpg

The UN55C6500 is what many would consider a drop dead gorgeous looking TV with some serious design-first looks. Samsung has done away with their “Touch of Colour” for the time being and has instead replaced it with a brushed gunmetal grey frame that is sure to blend seamlessly into anyone’s décor. This is surrounded by a thin band of clear acrylic on all four sides. At a mere 1 ¼” thick, the C6500 also happens to be one of the slimmest HDTVs currently on the market.

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UN55C6500-3.jpg

One thing that does detract from the overall experience is the look-at-me chromed base that’s more akin to a Cylon base Star than something we are used to seeing on a TV. It isn’t ugly per se but it does stand out in sharp contrast against an otherwise understated design.

UN55C6500-4.jpg
UN55C6500-1.jpg

The output and input connectors are all clustered around an l-shaped area on the TV’s backside but they are tucked away to allow for flush mounting of the C6500 onto a wall. All in all, the selection is really quite good and even includes USB headers for firmware upgrades or the installation of a wireless USB dongle. An S-Video input would have been a nice addition but it increasingly seems to be MIA on current generation HDTVs.
 

SKYMTL

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Menu Layout & Observations

Menu Layout & Observations


Note, pictures taken from the LN55C650 review as the menu options are identical

LN55C650-9.jpg

Much like Samsung’s other TV’s the menus on the UN55C6500 are laid out in an extremely logical manner with the main picture options being the first item on the list. Through this and following menus, minute details pertaining to the overall picture quality, colour saturation, black levels and other items can be fine tuned to extremely high levels of precision.

LN55C650-6.jpg

One of our favorite aspects of Samsung’s LCD TVs was and continues to be the excellent adaptability of their 120Hz motion performance. Instead of a simple on or off toggle, two sliders are available so just the right balance of blur and judder reduction can be attained without having the “soap opera” feel that many competitors’ products insert into an image.


Unfortunately, there are still some items that are effectively hidden under layers of confusing menus. For example the Game Mode which allows the reduction of input lag by eliminating much of the TV’s post processing effects is buried under the General tab way at the bottom of the main menu screen. We would also like to see Samsung either rename or rearrange the Advanced and Picture Options sub-menus since items found in one could easily be substituted over to the other.

Unlike on lower end TV’s Samsung’s C6500 series has a massive number of online options which can all be accessed through the App feature. It is this which distinguishes the $2800 C6500 from the $2500 C6300.

If you have a Samsung phone you will be able to sync it directly to the TV which will allow for certain features like SMS messaging and caller ID to be displayed and controlled from the remote. There is also an ability to sync files between media servers over a wired or wireless network but in our opinion this is mostly pointless since using the C6500 wirelessly means the purchase of an expensive Samsung-branded wireless adaptor. Otherwise, you are relegated to oh so unsexy Cat5 network cables.
 

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: 7
Contrast: 95
Brightness: 48
Sharpness: 5
Color: 49
Tint: G45/R55

Advanced Settings
Black Tone: Off
Dynamic Contrast: Off
Shadow Detail: +1
Gamma: +1
Color Space: Auto
White Balance: Default
Flesh Tone: 0
Edge enhancement: Off
xvYCC: Off
LED Motion Plus: Off

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 = 10
Judder Reduction = 4

Game Mode: Off
Energy Savings: Off


The following changes were made when gaming:

Brightness: 55
Sharpness: 32
xvYCC: Off
Game Mode: Off
 
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SKYMTL

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General Picture & Image Observations

General Picture & Image Observations


The UN55C6500’s image quality performance out of the box is very, very poor but since Samsung gives users a wide array of picture controls, things can be improved by leaps and bounds after only a few minutes of tweaking. The result isn’t anything near perfect but it will likely satisfy all but the most demanding of users.

UN55C6500-6.jpg

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UN55C6500-11.jpg

Click on images to view full size

When fed with true 1080P signals, this TV truly does shine with extremely good reproduction of highly detailed areas on a static picture. Even with careful calibration, images don’t “pop” as much as some other sets in the C6500’s price range but the effect is still jaw dropping in certain high bitrate movies. There are still some problems with the video engine’s capability of dealing with motion artifacts but we will get into that on the next page.

Colour reproduction is very close to natural looking but there was a slight shift towards the blue end of the spectrum even with the Warm 1 option enabled. Switching to Warm 2 did alleviate this somewhat but in my opinion it also made the picture TOO warm and necessitated additional menu tweaking to set a semi-correct white point. We also found that the C6500 had some particular problems recreating accurate skin tones.

UN55C6500-17.jpg

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Click on images to view full size

Contrast and black level performance on Samsung’s latest mid to high end products is usually very good and the UN55C6500 doesn’t disappoint. Blacks are ink-thick without being washed out though we did experience some black crush in certain situations.

Unfortunately, while grey and black scale performance was quite consistent, accurate reproduction of white levels proved to be an issue for this TV. As is usually the case with other edge-lit LED sets, the C6500 always displayed whites which were far too vivid in relation to the surrounding picture. No amount of tweaking could rectify this so we’ll chalk it up to one of the foibles that comes with such a slim TV.

One thing we should also mention is that in order to get uniform brightness and contrast ratios, the ambient light sensor should be turned off the second you unpackage the C6500.
 

SKYMTL

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Sports Viewing / Gaming Performance

Sports Viewing


Watching sporting events on Samsung’s UN55C6500 really boils down to a love / hate affair. The Auto Motion Plus’ controls do help eliminate most of the ghosting and judder associated with high-speed sporting events but we found the optimal setting AMP setting for sports was far too aggressive of normal TV or movie viewing. This means you will either have to live with some ghosting when watching your favorite team or accept the distracting “soap opera” camera effect in day to day programming.

The lack of white balance can cause some serious eye strain watching hockey since the white ice surface is displayed in retina-burning glare unless the TV’s overall brightness setting is reduced. Unfortunately, reducing the brightness makes the picture too dark for other types of viewing.

Based on the above observations we can honestly say that watching sports on the C6500 was anything but hassle free. Optimally, Samsung should have included a menu option that allows for the active saving of picture setting profiles which could be loaded quickly when using a common input source.


Gaming Performance


UN55C6500-18.jpg

There isn’t any good way of saying this: gaming on Samsung’s current generation of LCD and LED LCD TVs isn’t recommended unless you are willing to make some serious concessions in terms of image quality. When gaming on a PC, the input lag on the C6500 was measured at 183ms which is absolutely atrocious for games that require lightning quick reflexes.

Other than the input lag issues, picture quality was excellent and the relatively high contrast ratio on this TV allowed for a perfectly balanced viewing experience. There were some instances of black crush in the darker areas of Resistance 2 but otherwise, Samsung’s $2800 HDTV performed almost flawlessly.

LN55C650-38.gif

Image taken from LN55C650 review

We mentioned above the possibility of making some image quality concessions for decreased input lag. Much like the LN55C650, the C6500 has an option called Game Mode which effectively decreases the amount of post processing Samsung’s built-in hardware does in order to speed up response times. The result as you can see above is a drastic reduction in overall fidelity but measured lag was reduced to about 70ms.

To be honest with you, we’d feel a bit cheated if acceptable gaming performance necessitated reducing the high detail “feel” that can be achieved by a $2800 HDTV. In this respect Samsung is still leagues behind where they should be.
 

SKYMTL

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Panel Uniformity / Viewing Angles

Panel Uniformity


UN55C6500-5.jpg

Ouch. Really, what more is there to say?

For whatever reason, Samsung seems completely unable to put a stop to the flashlighting and slight clouding that plagues nearly all of their LED TVs. Some have assumed the issue can be partially alleviated by partially loosening some of the screws on the back of the TV but the issues on ours weren’t improved at all by trying this out.

The flashlighting seen on the corners couldn’t be seen in most scenes but during some particularly dark movies (such as The Dark Knight and The Spirit) it was quite noticeable. To us this is absolutely unacceptable, especially when you consider that many AV forums have pages and pages of complaints related to this issue and Samsung TVs. $2800 for this? No thanks.


Viewing Angles


UN55C6500-9.jpg
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When compared to some of the other TVs we have seen in the past, the C6500 actually has reasonably decent viewing angles. Sitting up to eight feet off center will cause some minor contrast loss and colour degradation and past that things will understandably degrade even further. Regardless of the other criticisms we have had for this TV, this is one area where its performance is above the grade.
 

SKYMTL

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Conclusion

Conclusion


Samsung has long been one of the most respected TV manufacturers on the market but over the past 12 months, finding a good sub-$3000 LCD or LED HDTV has become increasingly difficult. We’re not sure whether a movement away from the 52” panels of yesteryear towards similarly priced yet lower performing 55” products has anything to do with it but there is a trend here. It’s almost like the big players are pushing consumers towards the ultra expensive $3000+ sets for the all-round performance we used to find at a much lower price point.

When taken at face value the UN55C6500 has the chops to compete with some of the best the competition has to offer. Its colour reproduction and relatively wide viewing angles in particular stand out as a strong points while black level performance is noteworthy as well. There were times when our test product absolutely shone and we forgot about all the small issues which kept popping up. Samsung has also put a lot of thought into the design of this set and it really does show. The materials are top notch, connector options are plentiful and the remote is straightforward. Even the additional features like internet functionality and file transfers from media servers show that great strides have been made in many key areas.

Unfortunately, this generation of HDTV’s from Samsung continues to disappoint us from a number of different angles. Overall image fidelity, 120Hz motion performance and even white level performance seem to lag behind the old B-series. Want to watch hockey? Be prepared to fiddle with the picture options. Are you a gamer? Don’t expect a frustration-free experience either.

Here’s where we draw the line: I’ve had enough of successive generations of LCD and LED-based LCD TVs sporting the exact same issues as their forbearers. If anything, the market has seen a gradual degradation of quality in a number of key areas which all revolve around inconsistent build quality and poor panel design. Until Samsung and their competition fix these issues, we’d go so far as to recommend you completely avoid purchasing an edge-lit LED TV for the time being. If you do, be prepared to play a game of Russian roulette between flashlighting, clouding and less than optimal white spectrum reproduction.

Once every Samsung TV generation, a diamond in the rough is produced. For Samsung’s 2008 A-series it was the absolutely epic A850 that caught our eye and wowed us again and again. Even 2009 brought the much sought after B750 and B8500 products but after reviewing two HDTVs from Samsung’s 2010 lineup, we’re still waiting for “The One”.

While the C6500 is a capable TV which shows flashes of brilliance, its $2800 price tag doesn’t line up with reality. If you are someone who prefers form over function, then the current crop of LED-based products may be perfect for you. However, we’d gladly take optimal image quality over a design that sparks a few conversations.


Pros:

- Very good colour reproduction when calibrated
- Highly efficient
- Viewing angles better than expected
- Beautiful design
- Good contrast

Cons:

- Price of $2800 doesn’t line up with actual performance
- Some black areas have a slight blue tinge
- Severe flashlighting along with some minor clouding
- Whites far too vibrant even when calibrated
- Motion performance not up to expectations
- High input lag when not using Game Mode



 
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