Inky blacks and vibrant colors from any angle, high contrast yet natural colors: Sounds like what you get a with a high price LED TV (or energy gobbling plasma)? Without resorting to expensive, exotic technologies, the Samsung LN55C650 55″ 1080p web-enabled LCD TV turns in a great video performance at a very attractive price.
Nov 18, 2010 by Mike Chin
55" LCD HDTV
SPCR’s first look at a HDTV was of the Samsung UN55B7100 55" LED/LCD TV nearly a year ago. That was a near-top model from one of the giants in big flat panel TVs. This time around, a more affordable model is examined: The LN55C650L1F, with a Manufacturer’s Suggested Price of $2,099 in the US, found on the market today for as low as <$1,500. The target market is a buyer who wants solid performance, viewability and versatility but not the multi-thousand dollar price tag associated with high end models.
Some basic differences between this high value midrange model and the top models in Samsung’s lineup:
- It is not a 1" wafer-thin TV but still pretty thin at 3.4" depth for the main screen. As we mentioned in last year’s review, the true benefit
is questionable. The stand or wall mount still takes up room, as do the
cables and connectors. Whether it’s 3.4" or 1" thick is probably
moot for the average user; the stand will take up a foot.
- It is not designed to play 3D movies. Last year’s big technology development was an LCD that uses LED backlights rather than the usual fluorescent
bulbs for backlights.
This year, the big news is 3D-capable TVs, with 3D-films and 3D glasses. After the Christmas 2009 launch of the blockbuster movie Avatar, the quick tranfer of 3D technology to the big screen TV was virtually inevitable. Samsung offers nine 46" to 65" 3D-enabled TVs — LED, LCD and plasma types — but the one under review here is not one of them.
- Its LCD screen uses CFL backlighting, not LEDs, neither edge lighting and local dimming, the two types of LED backlight LCD TVs in current use. The latter allows dimming to occur locally, creating specific
areas of darkness on the screen, which show truer blacks and higher dynamic
contrast, but less detail in small bright objects on a dark background. Edge-lit
LED LCD panels, in comparison, can be made extremely thin; the light is diffused by
a special panel which produces a uniform color range across the screen, but
they tend not to show black as convincingly as the local dimming LED screens. Samsung was a big winner with both LED backlit and edge-lit LCD TVs, being the first to bring them to market in volume. The usual disadvantage of a standard CFL lit LCD is blacks that aren’t as dark as they can be with plasma or local dimming LED screens, and color accuracy that is usually not up to that of the best colored backlight LED TVs (which of course have much higher price tags). Viewing angles should be as good as the others, except perhaps the best local dimming LED models.
Samsung LN55C650 LCD TV: Minimalist bezel, high-gloss black, virtually invisible controls — like so many Samsung TVs. Note touch of color in the frame, just above the center post/base.
Here is a quick run through the specifications and feature highlights, from
Samsung’s web page about this product. It’s notable that the marketing hype on the various features seems somewhat more subdued than it was a year ago. Perhaps some of the technology is so commonplace now that it’s just a checklist for most consumers.
Samsung LN55C650 Specifications (with our comments)
|Video|| Screen Size: 54.6” |
Resolution: 1920 x 1080
Dynamic Contrast Ratio: 150,000:1
Picture Engine: 1 tuner PIP
Auto Motion Plus 120 Hz
Wide Colour Enhancer: Wide Color Enhancer Pro
|Audio|| Speaker Type: Down Firing |
Sound Effect System: SRS TruSurround HD & Dolby Digital
Sound Output (RMS) 15 W x 2 Audio channels
|Features|| * Samsung Apps Platform |
* AllShare™ DLNA Networking
Feature that wirelessly syncs a PC and other digital devices to a TV for full screen playability.
* Wide Color Enhancer Plus
Technology that optimizes hues on a TV and expands the color range for a more vivid viewing experience.
(Sounds like wide color gamut.)
* Ultra Clear Panel Screen technology that brightens colors, enhances contrast, and reduces reflection for optimal TV viewing.
(Refers to the glass itself. )
ConnectShare™ Movie Technology that enables a user to access camcorder videos and music libraries directly on a TV screen.
* BD Wise Automates the best resolution setting possible for viewing Blu-Ray DVD products.
* Game Mode Mode in which a user can play video games on an LCD television.
Anynet+™ (HDMI-CEC) Allows one remote to control all digital devices in a home theater/entertainment system.
Allows two or more programs to be viewed on one TV screen via inset windows.
Wireless LAN Adaptor Support (Adapter not suppied. )
* Auto Channel Search
seeks out available channels and automatically programs them for easy cycling.
* Auto Power Off automatically powers down television to save energy if no signal is present.
* Auto Volume Leveler
caps volume on loud advertisements so that they’re more consistent with programming.
* Clock & On/Off Timer
* Closed Captioning
* HDTV Tuner Built-in
enables a TV to utilize Digital Television technology.
V-Chip allows parents to block inappropriate movies and programs based upon their FCC rating
|Dimensions|| Set Size (WxDxH) with Stand: 51.2" x 33.3" x 12.0" |
Set Size (WxHxD) without Stand: 51.2" x 31.5" x 3.4"
Package Size (WxHxD): 62.8" x 35.7" x 8.7"
|Weight||Package weight: 79.1 lbs |
Set weight with stand: 72.1 lbs
Set weight without stand: 61.9 lbs
|Accessories|| ANT- Cable – No |
Power Cable – Yes
Batteries – Yes
Vesa Wall Mount – Option
Ultra Slim Wall Mount – Option
Remote Controller – Model TM1060
Instruction Book – Yes
|Power||Exceeds ENERGY STAR Standards|
|Input & Output|| HDMI: 4 (side) |
Component (Y/Pb/Pr): 2
Composite (AV): 1
PC input (D-sub): 1
Digital Audio (Optical): 1
PC Audio Input (Mini Jack): 1
Ethernet (LAN): 1
USB 2.0: 2
RF Input: 1
DVI Audio input (mini jack): 1
Some notes about the specs:
Thin is in but…
Compared to some of Samsung’s incredibly svelt 0.9" thick TVs, the LN55C650 is downright overweight at 3.4". Thin profile
The promotional photo on the left shows the reality: The depth of the stand is the real "thickness" of the TV, and this is true whether the TV is 1" or 6" thick. This stand is typical at 12" deep. It is only when the TV is wall mounted that the benefit of extremely thiness really shows up; no one stands to the side of the Tv to watch it.
A more tangible benefit is obtained when the TV is wall mounted.
The carton is fairly heavy at ~35kg, and its dimensions make it
awkward for a single person except perhaps someone with very long arms. Once out of the box, the TV can
be handled by one person, but it is still awkward, and much easier
with two people.
The sturdy Samsung LN55C650 carton,
behind 8′ sofa.
The LN55C650 was connected to several video signal sources, and to the local
area network via both hard wire ethernet and the optional wireless USB device
provided by Samsung. A list of all associated components used for the review
- Samsung BD-P1500 Blu-ray Disc Player (1080p) — via HDMI
- Shaw Cable HD PVR/ Receiver (1080i) — via component
- Home Theater PC (AMD780G chipset, w/ A64x2 4850 CPU -1080p) — via HDMI
- Seasonic Power Angel AC power meter
- Home LAN network — via gigabit ethernet cable
- USB flash drives, cameras, and external USB hard drives
with various video, music and photo content
The sparsely furnished viewing room is a modest size, 12′ x 10′ with a standard
8′ ceiling. Viewing distance was 8~9′. There were no hiccups during initial
setup, and cable TV viewing proceeded within minutes.
Setting up the TV after the stand installtion was mostly a matter of hooking up all the cables and connections, placing it where you want it, and turning it on. The LN55C650’s elegant black finish allows it to fit easily into most decors. Its high reflective glossy finish can be annoying to sit in front of without any image on the screen, but this is not likely to happen often. When the TV is turned on, the vividness of the picture overcomes the reflectivity. In a bright room, especially with lots of daylight, the glossy finish will probably require turning up the backlighting or brightness of the TV. In our moderately lit TV room, this is rarely an issue. In general, the best big screen TV viewing is experienced in room that are not too bright.
An annoying computer-like "broing" chimed loudly upon turn-on or turn-off; this feature was quickly turn off. We don’t need yet another machine talking at us; we’re not yet in the world of Terminator.
The onscreen menu overlays atop most programming, with logic that’s easy for most people to follow. The degree of menu transparency can be adjusted.
MENUS & CONTROLS
There are controls on the LN55C650, but they are so subtly marked to be virtually invisible. Surprisingly, we found no way to light these controls up. In any case, no one wants to fiddle with TV controls right at the TV; these big screen TVs are too big for that. Everything is done with the remote control.
With the extensive features of this modern TV, it’s almost impossible to cover every aspect of the menu system and the way you access them via the remote. More than 70% of the 60 page English language manual covers nothing but menus, and there no point duplicating that here. Our main points regarding the remote control and menu interface:
- All the main TV functions such as input source switching, picture control, volume and channel selection, etc, are logical and transparent. If you’re just watching TV via cable, satellite or antenna and watching video from a Bluray player or some other media device on the network, the control system is nice and simple. Netflix and other web app access is mostly quite straightforward as well.
- As you drill down into the more detailed menus, both the menu system itself and the way the remote works with these menus become increasingly convoluted. Our assessment is that its is probably typical of most modern TVs. The more esoteric controls are not expected to be used by many people, so they probably get the least amount of beta testing. The very worst experience was encountered at the user name + password screen for Picasa web album account access: The alphanumeric data entry logic switched back and forth from one to another several times in the course of just two input screens. We gave up on this one after a couple of tries. In contrast, trial signup and access to Netflix was effortless.
1. GENERAL — The video presets on the LN55C650 were tried with many different program materials;
Movie and Natural were the choices that provided
the best results, with Normal or Warm1 color balance. Some tweaking in the video settings menu
— mostly brightness, color saturation or backlighting — could enhance specific program material, but the defaults were usually good enough
to leave alone. The slight reduction in sharpening in Moview also made it the better choice for less than pristine HD material; for example, 1080i broadcast TV under higher compression conditions (such as prime time on the Shaw cable TV network in Vancouver).
2. HD — With a high quality HD signal, the video performance was consistently excellent. Vivid and natural come to mind. The quality of the signal and the programming affected the video far more
than minor changes in the TV controls. With poorer quality material, the artifacts and flaws of
the original were easily seen, much like with poor sources and a high quality
audio system. In general, the Samsung video processing handles
the deinterlacing, upconversion and other tasks very well, with great transparency. These comments held true for 1080i TV broadcasts, 1080p Bluray discs, as well as a wide range of 1080p and 720p digital files.
The Auto Motion Plus 120Hz motion
smoothing feature seemed to work better than in last year’s Samsung UN55B7100. Engaging
the presets or manually adjusting the 10-step controls gegerally improved the clarity
of the foreground in fast moving scenes. However, it was not 100% consistent. In many high action sports, the motion on the screen occurs in
multiple directions simultaneously — for example, players sprinting
in opposite directions, while a ball is moving in yet another arc, with
the camera tracking the ball, and sometimes with the camera moving as well.
In such scenes, the quest for perfect clarity seems downright silly.
Tests for film resolution, video resolution
loss, signal filtering ("jaggies") and HD noise in the HD HDQ Benchmark Blu-ray disc by
HQV Silicon Optix were all easily passed by the LN55C650.
3. BLACK — The depiction
of black was superb, even when well off to the side, in excess of 30 degrees off axis. There was simply no fading to gray of black portions on the screen viewed from anywhere in the 12′ width of the room. This is clearly superior to last year’s much more costly Samsung LED LCD TV, UN55B7100, whose blacks tended to slide towards gray when viewed more than 20 degrees off axis.
4. STANDARD TV — No one buys a HD TV capable of 1080p resolution video to watch 480i programming but it still happens from time to time. When it does happen, your eyes will not be insulted by this Samsung TV’s video processing, which does a good job of making the lower quality signal watchable. Amazing that we watched 480i TV most of our lives!
The speaker system and ampliers in the LN55C650 will not win high end audio awards, but they are good enough to allow immersion into a decent program. There is plenty of volume available before any distorition occurs, extended enough highs, and adequate bass. Clarity with dialog is good, though of course, it varies with program material. If you are not planning to view HD music videos on a regular basis, the speakers and amp in this TV will do fine. The standard audio profiles (Movie, Clear Voice, etc) are equalizer
presets which can be improved upon by directly tweaking the 5-band equalizer. The internal speakers can be turned off when using an external amp and speakers.
NETWORKING, MEDIA SHARING
Samsung’s home networking function, called DLNA (Digital
Living Network Alliance) in the past, is now called AllShare. It provides
networking to access media files on any number of networked devices and PCs from the TV. No software needs to be installed in any of the other devices; they just need to be connected to the TV in one way or another.
Access to/from PCs was somewhat spotty. In our network, there is a mix of Windows 7, XP, and Vista machines. For whatever reason, the Samsung TV only ever saw the Windows 7 PCs in its network. The manual lists an impressive range of supported files: AVI, MKV, ASF, WMV, MP4, 3GP, VRO, MPG, and TS. In actual use, the TV’s ability to recognize media files was considerably more limited than any Windows HTPC. There’s was no clear rhyme or reason why one MKV file would be recognized and played but not another.
Generally, access to non-PC devices connected via USB (such as external hard drives, cameras, etc) with flat, simple folder structures were always more consistent than files in PCs, which invariably have more complex folder systems. Such directly connected devices are accessed via a single button on the remote called Media Play.
One consistent result was that a digital HD video file played directly on the LN55C650 always looked slightly better than when that same file was played from our reference Home Theater PC, whose video output is generally excellent. The difference was generally subtle, but it was there to be seen. Compared to direct play using AllShare on the Samsung TV, the HTPC feed always looked a bit too contrasty with too much sharpening. Samsung TV made the same video file look softer and smoother without losing sharpness or detail, more natural without losing vividness. The Samsung’s video processing simply seemed a touch superior to that of the embedded GPU in the AMD 780G chipset of the HTPC. Two other PCs with recent Intel and nVidia GPUs were also tried briefly; the Samsung TV’s internal processing of the video files was always the winner. It’s unfortunate that not all video files in all connected devices were recognized consistently by the TV.
Samsung has been incorporating good power management in its TVs for some time. The typical measured maximum power consumption of 120W is quite
low compared to earlier CFL LCD TVs, any
plasma screen TVs or even last year’s UN55B7100. The most obvious aspect of power management is reducing the brightness of the screen.
Power measurements shown in the table below were taken at the AC plug with
many different types of source material on the screen. The actual readings
varied somewhat with the mix of dark and light on the screen at any given
time. The brightest sequences caused the great power consumption. When turned
off, the AC power dropped too low for it to register on the meter, like last year’s
Samsung 55" TV Measured Power Mode AC Power LN55C650 UN55B7100 Power Off 0W 0W Standby (w/ no active inputs) No standby mode; TV turns off w/o signal after 15, 30, 45 or 60 mins 32W Power Save Off 110~135 110~132W Power Save Low 84~90 90~94W Power Save Med 66~82 78~84W Power Save High 56-62 65~68W Power Save Auto 96~120W 62~132W
The reduction in brightness in Low Power Save mode is perfectly acceptable as the picture is still very nice. The
power saving here is a significant 25~50W. Over the long term,
this will add up. The Med and High settings
are too dim to consider seriously. The Power Save Auto mode is a good compomise
between reduced power and ideal video performance. The brightness is varied
dynamically with a sensor to measure ambient room light.
The overall power savings might be a bit less than with the Low setting,
but close, and the drop in image brightness is very difficult to discern,
similar to a well-chosen compression mode for MP3 audio.
Internet TV Content — When the TV is connected to a network
with access to the web, this feature places a number of
widgets across the bottom of the screen for access to yahoo! news, weather,
financial info, flickr, youtube, etc. There are many widgets to choose from,
and many of them can be uploaded and ready to go instantly. These functions generally worked more consistently and with better logic in last year’s UN55B7100. Access to NetFlix quick and easy, requiring driing down from just one main menu screen, for example.
One button press gets you to this menu. From here just click on the Netflix logo, and there you are.
TV Monitor for HTPC — The LN55C650 works very well in this mode.
Even a modest, cheap PC is far more flexible in its digital file management
than any TV we know of, and issues such as video or audio codecs are solved easily
with quickly downloaded updates. Virtually any movie file can be made playable. The
1080p movies via the reference HTPC provided
stunning video and audio indistinguishable from the original Blu-ray disc,
especially with some mintor adjustments in the TV picture settings to complement the video output of the PC. The video and audio connection via
HDMI worked perfectly.
Noise… What noise? — We wrote about last year’s UN55B7100 that, "when the speaker is muted, if you stick
your head behind the TV, you’ll hear some of the high frequency buzzing
that comes from every TV ever made." Samsung has improved on this in the LN55C650: There is virtually no high frequency buzzing audible from this sample, even with an ear pressed right up against the back of the TV. Given the apparent difficulty of suppressing high frequency electronic noise, this is a fantastic result.
Samsung has achieved a quiet triumph with the LN55C650 LCD TV. Without resorting to expensive, exotic technologies, it has produced a big screen TV that exceeds the performance of last year’s much higher priced UN55B7100 LED TV in almost every tangible way. The most notable improvements are:
- Extremely convincing blacks
- No change in colors, including blacks, at over 30° off axis angle
- Exceptional picture quality
- Better connectivity to LAN networks
- Virtually no electronic noise
- Slightly lower power consumption
- Price reduction of over 40%
The fact that this TV is available for as low as $1,500 in the marketplace makes it a bargain. The rock-bottom current price for any 55" 1080p TV is $1,100, never mind a top performer like this one. It’s no wonder that the Smasung LN55C650 is already on so many of the best TV lists in this season’s reviews.
Much thanks to Samsung Canada for the product sample.
Samsung LN55C650 55" LCD 1080p TV
SPCR Editor’s Choice Award
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