Andrew Robinson began his career as an art director in entertainment advertising in 2003, after graduating from Art Center College of Design. In 2006, he became a creative director at Crew Creative Advertising, and oversaw the agency's Television Division, where he worked for clients such as TNT, TBS, History, FX, and Bravo to name a few. He now has one of the most popular AV-related channels on YouTube.
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 sexy 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 crap out of the other remote. I am glad I got that out of my system.
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.
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 damn, 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.
Read more about the performance of the UN55B7000 LED HDTV on Page 2.