Samsung UN55B7000 55 inch 1080p LED HDTV Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

 
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Samsung UN55B7000 55 inch 1080p LED HDTV Review

Samsung UN55B7000 55 inch 1080p LED HDTV

By: Andrew Robinson

[/SIZE]You no doubt by now have seen the latest commercials featuring a small hummingbird a glow with tiny lights fluttering around a magical jungle in an attempt to sell you...a TV? That's right, Samsung's latest ad campaign heralding the arrival of their latest state of the art display technology, LED, is a semi-bionic hummingbird in the jungle. Unlike other TV ads the Samsung hummingbird is somewhat appropriate, it showcases bright, vibrant colors and rapid, yet smooth movement, two supposed benefits of LED, or so Samsung says. I was fortunate enough to secure some face time with Samsung's latest LED the 55-inch UN55B7000, which retails for $3,699.99. Is Samusng's latest LED worth the hype (and premium price) compared to their own top-flight LCD offerings? Let's find out.

LED or Light-Emitting Diode is new to the flat panel display market, however as a technology it's been around since the 1920's. However LED TV's, like the Samsung reviewed here, do not use individual LED diodes, instead it is essentially an LCD panel that is back lit using an LED light source versus a fluorescent one. By using an LED based backlighting system Samsung claims more light uniformity across the entire panel while reducing the set's overall power consumption by 40 percent over traditional LCD displays. Also, by employing LED backlighting no mercury is used in the display, which is more environmentally conscious as well. LED boasts a longer life span over LCD and Plasma as well as some pretty impressive, though hard to substantiate, contrast ratios such as three million to one as stated with the UN55B7000.

Aside from the LED marketing the UN55B7000 is a native 1080p display with a diagonal screen size of 54 and a half inches wide in a 16:9 configuration. It features 120Hz Auto Motion Plus technology, which has been around for a while and though this reviewer cannot stand it, consumers seem to fancy it. The UN55B7000 has its own internal speakers though they are completely hidden from view along the bottom of the display itself so not to spoil the otherwise stunning look. Speaking of looks, the UN55B7000 is a appealing display if I do say so myself measuring in at 51 inches wide by 34 and half inches tall and a little over an inch thick without the included stand. While the display itself may be just a little over an inch thick, because of its size the included tabletop stand has to be a bit deeper, more traditional, if you will to stabilize the large screen. While the stand doesn't mar the UN55B7000's stunning appearance it is wider than the ultra thin display adding 12 inches to its footprint. The display itself weighs 48 pounds (without the stand) and due to its thin size is easily moved by a single person, however, I'd recommend moving it with two people just to be safe.

In terms of connections the UN55B7000 has four HDMI inputs (more on this later) as well as a singled digital audio output, PC input, component video input (with a pair of analog audio ins) and Ethernet port. There are two USB 2.0 inputs as well as two RF inputs. Absent from the UN55B7000's list of connection options are numerous legacy connection options, which I don't fault it for, though other reviewers and even customers have griped about this. Most flat panel displays still include two to three component video inputs, not to mention composite and S-video options as well, but not the UN55B7000. It has a single component video input and a composite video input, however the two are a bit one in the same for the Y connector doubles as the UN55B7000's composite video input. The UN55B7000 has a few options for analog audio/video connections but clearly it's designed with HDMI in mind. USB 2.0 input(s) allow for consumers to connect to digital cameras, thumb drives and even MP3 players allowing full access to photos, videos and more via the UN55B7000's remote.

Speaking of other devices the UN55B7000 can even interface with your PC or any DLNA equipped mobile device wirelessly. The UN55B7000 can even access the Net with Samsung's own Linkstick (sold separately), which connects to the UN55B7000 via one of its USB inputs. The UN55B7000 also utilizes a LAN connection for many of its widgets like Yahoo! Widgets, which can be stored on the UN55B7000's sidebar where other built in content is housed. While some of the Widgets and/or features, like cooking recipes, are a bit "cute" for my tastes the Internet connectivity and widget capability is a good thing and allows for future expansion, like Blockbuster's streaming video, which Samsung says is coming in the fall. It's all very vibrant and fairly straightforward if not a little inspired by Windows Vista and/or the PS3.

All of the UN55B7000's features can be accessed via its main remote, which is very robust and thoughtfully and intelligently laid out. The remote is fully backlit, feels good in hand and has a very solid build quality to it that feels sturdier than the display itself. You'll notice I said "main" remote, that's because the UN55B7000 comes with a secondary or less complicated remote aimed at everyday use. The river rock style remote is exactly that, stylish, though form definitely trumps function here. The best way I can describe it is to say it's like a car key remote but it's not made to the same tolerances. I'm not sure why Samsung felt the need to have a second remote when the first one is simple enough to use and understand not to mention the money they must have spent designing this red hued turd in hopes of winning some industrial design award. Seriously, the main remote for the UN55B7000 is brilliant and is so sturdy and well built you can use it as a bat to smack the out of the other remote. I am glad I got that out of my system.

The Hookup
Out of the box the UN55B7000 is gorgeous and quite large though it is so thin I was able to pick it up and move it about my home, including up a flight of stairs, with zero trouble. I installed the UN55B7000 in my bedroom system, which normally houses another Samsung display, my reference LCD display. While not as large as the UN55B7000 my Samsung LCD is pretty much as good as it gets in terms of LCD's so I did something I don't normally do. I plugged them both in. While I wanted to focus on the UN55B7000's performance I wanted to see if LED was worth the premium price as compared to traditional LCD displays.

Both displays were connected to their own Sony BDP-S350 Blu-ray players as well as ATT U-Verse HD-DVRs and finally AppleTVs. I connected all three components to their respective displays via single runs of HDMI cable from Monster, Ultralink, and a generic brand. I did this for two reasons, first, all my other HDMI cables were in use elsewhere in the house and second the UN55B7000 has a warning label by its side mounted HDMI inputs stating that certain HDMI cables with thicknesses exceeding half an inch may not work with the UN55B7000 due to its ultra thin design. This warning is necessary though doesn't fully illustrate the problem. With my traditional Samsung LCD display I could plug garden hose into the back of it so long as it had the right end on it and do a decent job hiding the cables from view. With UN55B7000 this simply is not the case. Both the Ultralink and Monster cable proved too thick to bend before they sprung out from the side of the display marring its sleek appearance. Furthermore the ends of the cables themselves were almost to thick to be used at all for the small indention the UN55B7000 gives the HDMI inputs are too shallow for most high-end video cables. The generic HDMI cable worked and fit the best and while I'm sure that's good enough for Samsung and the everyday consumer, videophiles or cable junkies are likely to be a little upset.

Turning my attention away from the physical connections it was time to calibrate the UN55B7000. Out of the box the display is going to ask you a few questions, the first of which is, "will this display be used in a store or home setting?" What ever you do, be sure to choose home. You can then set the time and date and channels etc. The whole process is pretty straightforward and necessary to complete before moving on to the main menus. Okay, so the menus, well, they're good and bad. Good, in that they are very clear, very intuitive and seem to explain every function and feature with a sort of closed captioning display along the bottom of the set, which is very cool and a Samsung staple. They're terrible in that they are full animated, chime and ping (you can turn the sound off) with seemingly every movement and are so vast you can actually get lost in them. Not to mention they are a bit slow to respond and have a few menu items that seemingly serve no purpose other than to be cute, like the energy meter, which is a small gauge (think speedometer) that shows you where the UN55B7000's energy usage is compared to traditional displays. Sounds good, though you kind of have to take the display's word for it because there are no numbers or figures just a circle that has a small green triangle section (the good part) always being considerably less than the rest of the dark gray pie (other displays) and that's the extent of it. What is the point other than now you can watch TV with the same "I'm saving the universe" smile on your face Prius drivers roll around town doing 20 in a 45 zone have. But I digress.

I broke out my copy of Digital Video Essentials on Blu-ray and began the process of calibrating the UN55B7000, which is actually very easy seeing as how seemingly every aspect of the image is adjustable. Seriously, you can tweak seemingly every facet of the UN55B7000's picture to achieve a suitable and accurate image, though be prepared to spend a fair amount of time doing so. Once dialed in the UN55B7000's image is superb provided you follow one single rule. Feed it a high definition signal or else.

Lastly, and I have to point this out, the UN55B7000 has Samsung's latest 120Hz Auto Motion Plus technology and out of the box it is active. Previous Samsung offerings offer this feature though one has to turn it on to-ahem-enjoy it. Market research must have shown that more consumers like the effect of 120Hz Auto Motion Plus processing however I still can't stand it. That being said, the UN55B7000 does have one very cool feature when it comes to the 120Hz debate and that is you can customize it. While there are presets, three to be exact, there is a fourth option where by users can essentially dial in the level of smoothness and blur reduction that best suits their tastes. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest this to all HDTV manufacturers, if 120Hz (and now 240Hz) is here to stay then please take a page from Samsung and allow the user to tailor it to their liking. I ultimately kept the featured turned off however; I did create a custom setting that was very enjoyable with older or lower resolution material.

Performance
I kicked things off with some HD television viewing via my AT&T U-Verse service starting with Rides on Discovery HD Theater (Discovery). This particular episode of rides focused on the history of Lamborghini, specifically leading to the creation of their famed Murcielago roadster. Right off the bat, the one thing that is immediately apparent with the UN55B7000 is color and color accuracy. Man, if there is a display more brilliant at displaying punchy, lifelike and beautifully saturated yet composed colors I haven't seen it. I mean , it's beautiful. Granted most Lambos are basic in terms of their coloring, but it was the way the UN55B7000 rendered the reflections and subtle design cues of the cars that just took my breath away. It was so flattering and engaging it almost made me miss a pit fall of the display. Most of the program took place in well-lit or mid-day sun type environments, which is any HDTV program's strongest suit. However, dim the lights on the scene a bit and the UN55B7000 proves to be not so brilliant. Black levels were good, but not great and although I had the dynamic contrast settings to off, there was still noticeable shifting in the black levels as the scene when from light to dark as if the internal video processor was trying to decide what to do. It's not a deal breaker here but is noticeable with the UN55B7000 and less so with my reference Samsung LCD. Black levels were solid and retained a fair amount of detail throughout. With HD material the edge fidelity and motion was very good and I only encountered minor digital artifacts when the image played host to a myriad of stark contrasting lines coupled with wide variations of light and dark in the same frame. However, I don't fully fault the UN55B7000 for this can be the fault of the signal, bandwidth, camera etc. A solid video processor or good receiver with video processing should eliminate most if not all of these minor annoyances however, for this review, I plugged the sources straight into the UN55B7000. If the image was more or less equal in its lighting be it light or dark the UN55B7000 seemed to fare better overall versus having a large portion dark set against light.

I stayed with my HD programming and switched to Law & Order: SVU on the USA Network (NBC). Law & Order is far more cinematic in its cinematography and use of cameras then the uber punchy screen saver like style of Discovery HD Theater. With SVU the UN55B7000 had more of a work out for the source material is far more muted, subtle and features a lot more dark than light. Skin tones were good, though there was a little smoothening of the details and the UN55B7000 seemed to lessen the program's natural grain structure just a bit over my Samsung LCD that made the characters appear a touch glassy. The color, in the skin tones, proved accurate though keep in mind I calibrated the UN55B7000, which was far warmer out of the box in some settings and downright cold in others. Lighter values were rendered nicely and even aspects of the image that appeared over exposed still bore detail and didn't bleed into the surrounding image. Darker scenes or environments were again, good but not great and showcased two shortcomings of the UN55B7000 LED backlighting. In darker scenes the light uniformity of the UN55B7000 isn't seamless, creating deep pits in the center of the screen and brighter areas towards the edges, this makes it so that during dark scenes aspects of the frame furthest from the center appear slightly brighter than the action happening in the center. Now, if your focus is on the characters, presumably playing out the scene towards the center of the image you're not going to notice this phenomenon as much, yet during wide establishing shots at night it's all to apparent. Daytime or indoor scenes don't suffer the same fate. Also, in darker scenes there seems to be a bit of image and/or color float between lighter values, say a rim lit face, and the dark surroundings. I decided enough with HDTV programming, though I have to say, if you're a sports fan the UN55B7000 is quite amazing when viewing everything from baseball to hockey in HD.

But enough about broadcast, how does the UN55B7000 fare against a Hollywood blockbuster? I kicked things off with the Criterion Collection edition of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button starring Brad Pitt and Kate Blanchett on Blu-ray (Criterion). Blu-ray is what the UN55B7000 is made for. The image was sharp, though not artificially so, detailed, natural and totally engaging. Light or dark the UN55B7000 seemed better suited for full 1080p/24 material than with even HDTV signals. Skin tones were accurately portrayed and rendered and while director David Fincher does like his dark scenes they didn't seem to hinder the UN55B7000 one bit. Black and low light detail was among the best I'd seen so far with the UN55B7000 and edge fidelity was top notch bringing true depth and dimension to the image than with my previous tests. Movement, including rapid camera pans, was smooth and pretty much entirely artifact free. Everything was so crisp and clean, no doubt a result of the film being shot digitally on the wonderful Viper camera system, that the UN55B7000 proved to be one thing above all others...brutal. Special effects wizards and compositors beware for the UN55B7000 is ruthless in its clarity, so much so that you can detect flaws that are otherwise covered by the nature of film. The same holds true for non-visual effects shots, especially when it comes to actors faces, for every detail is showcased with the UN55B7000, sorry Brad. However, I was sad to see that the back light uniformity issue still remained with this Blu-ray demo.

Throwing on the HD DVD version, yes I dug out my HD DVD player, of Transformers (Paramount) further cemented the UN55B7000 as a visual effects artist's worst nightmare. Tugh my Samsung LCD the composites in Transformers look far more natural where as through the UN55B7000 are a bit too crisp and the motion just doesn't seem to fully jive with the naturally filmed elements. Overall the image is stunning and I still enjoyed the film but there were a few instances where the sheer prowess of the UN55B7000 did take me out of the film just a bit.

I ended my time with the UN55B7000 by playing back a standard definition DVD by way of Godzilla (Tri Star). I presented the UN55B7000 with a true 480i signal (no upscaling) and found the experience to be just awful. I don't like car analogies in reviews but the UN55B7000 is like a super car that can corner on rails at speed but get in a parking lot going 10 miles per hour and you'll need a football field to turn around in. Colors were still very punchy though edge fidelity, depth, motion, everything went out the window. There was image float, jaggies, washed out blacks, the works present with this demo. I went ahead and set the upscaling for 1080p and while things settled down just a bit and became a little more bearable, the UN55B7000 holds true to the adage garbage in, garbage out, which is why I think Samsung doesn't include legacy inputs and why you will always see the UN55B7000 demoed with Blu-ray or killer HDTV material. On the flip side, my Samsung LCD TV was far more forgiving of standard definition DVD material, especially Godzilla.

Now I know this is going to seem a bit like overkill, but I have to mention it; the UN55B7000 is an incredible computer monitor. I know the UN55B7000 has two USB inputs for things like photo memory cards and media but plug a laptop or tower into the monitor input and prepare to be amazed. Forget YouTube videos and things of that nature for they look terrible but browsing the Internet, using programs like iPhoto, Photoshop and HD QuickTime movies are simply stunning. Now, unlike smaller LCD monitors you have to sit a fair distance away from the UN55B7000 so not to burn your eyeballs clean out, but it is another aspect to the UN55B7000's arsenal that may prove beneficial to some.
Finally, if I'm honest, and Samsung is sure to disagree with me, in all my tests my traditional Samsung LCD proved equal to the task and in some cases better than the UN55B7000. While not as punchy or ruthlessly clear as the UN55B7000 my Samsung LCD felt more real, more of the time and thusly allowed for the source material to do its job, which is to wow you with its own merits versus the merits of the display. Furthermore, my Samsung LCD didn't have the back light uniformity issues the UN55B7000 did and thusly had better black level rendering overall.

Low Points
The UN55B7000 is quite a statement in terms of performance and features however it does have its drawbacks especially if you're a consumer who hasn't yet taken the leap to HD. If you have not than this display is clearly not aimed at you and given its rather steep price I'm not sure this is the display I'd recommend you jump head first into the HD game with. That being said there are a few items that I have to point out.

First, the UN55B7000 is so thin that it kind of feels cheap. It's not, however that large of a screen with that little of mass feels a touch flimsy and wobbly when you move it about. It also makes it very difficult to plug many of today's modern HDMI cables into it. Samsung states that you can mount the UN55B7000 to your wall using low profile mount meaning it will sit closer to the drywall than ever before, however because of how the HDMI inputs are arranged that's not going to go over well when it comes to cable management.

While I normally don't comment on a display's internal speakers for I assume most consumers will mate their purchase with a sound bar or 5.1 system, the speakers that are built into the UN55UN55B7000 shouldn't be used under almost any circumstance. I say get a sound bar at the very least, however given the UN55UN55B7000's premium price point there may not be much left over in the budget for it.

The lack of legacy connectivity is bound to be an issue for some, though I applaud Samsung for being uber progressive here and essentially saying that they don't want you hooking up your VCR to the UN55B7000, for you're not going to like what you see.

Lastly, the UN55B7000 is highly reflective as seemingly every square inch of its display and frame is comprised of a high gloss finish that more or less acts as a mirror in all but darkened environments. Now the LED backlighting is so bright that it muscles through the reflections better than say LCD or plasma, but never the less it is a factor.

Conclusion
Okay, so this review has been pretty much equal parts praise and equal parts criticism that you're probably asking yourself, "should I buy the UN55B7000 or not?" Getting past all its gimmicks and features, the UN55B7000, on its picture quality and control alone, is remarkable. As I've pointed out it doesn't really like lower resolution or legacy sources that much, but Samsung gets around this by not allowing you to hook them up, all but ensuring that the signal being fed to the UN55B7000 is better than average. When compared to a traditional LCD display the UN55B7000's LED back lighting has its advantages though it's not a hands-down, no-contest winner. A good LCD properly calibrated will do most if not all of the things the UN55B7000 will do and cost you half as much in some cases.

While LED is better for the environment with lower annual operating costs the premium price of the UN55B7000 at $3,699.99 is going to need some time before those savings at the meter catch up to the premium you've paid to be more eco-friendly. And let's be honest, newer LCD displays aren't necessarily pigs when it comes to power these days. Sorry, plasma.

So once again, where do I stand? Well, I dig it but I'm not about to rush out and replace my 50-inch Samsung LCD HDTV that normally resides in my bedroom with the newer UN55B7000 reviewed here. The UN55B7000 is a great display and in some instances bests my LCD however it doesn't check enough of the "wow" boxes for me to a. want to upgrade and b. pay the extra money to do so. If you're thinking about or need a new 50 plus inch HDTV and want to ensure that you get the most for your investment while making a strong visual and environmental statement, even if that means spending a little more, than take a good look at the UN55B7000.

Chrisy

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1080p , blu-ray , flat panel displays , lcd tvs , led technology , led tv , panasonic , pioneer , plasma , samsung un55b7000

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