Unless you have had your head in the sand for the past few months - you're no doubt aware that 3D is the new "it" thing in the world of consumer electronics and entertainment. Both manufacturers and Hollywood have begun falling all over themselves in an attempt to bring 3D into your life in a big way. While it's still early, the 3D assault in theaters appears to be working, thanks in part (or perhaps exclusively) to James Cameron's Avatar. However, 3D in the home has not been as fluid a transition, though all signs point to a full frontal attack on your senses, not to mention your wallets, that is coming...soon.
On the forefront of the 3D movement is Samsung with their focused lineup of 3D enabled HDTVs and peripherals. One such model, the 55-inch UN55C7000 3D LED HDTV reviewed here, is available now at Best Buy stores and retails for $3,299.99. The Samsung UN55C7000 is an LED lit LCD HDTV with a 1080p native resolution for its 55-inch diagonal screen. Though a true 3D display, the UN55C7000 doesn't look any different than many of Samsung's current crop of LED or LCD based HDTVs.
The UN55C7000 is super thin, measuring in at only an inch deep without its included table stand. The UN55C7000's total dimensions are 30 inches tall (without the stand) by 50 and a half inches wide and it weighs in at just under 50 pounds. The reason the UN55C7000 is so thin is due in part to its use of LED backlighting over florescent, which is what was used in earlier or cheaper LCD displays. The UN55C7000 is not a fully backlit display; instead it utilizes LED edge lighting whereby the LED lights are positioned alongside of the display, versus being arranged in a full matrix-like panel. Previous edge lit designs, especially those from Samsung, didn't float my boat. However, all things consumer electronics get better with time and it appears with the UN55C7000 that edge lighting isn't going to be its Achilles heel. I should also point out that the 7000 series displays don't employ local dimming or Samsung's own Precision Dimming; instead the LEDs inside operate at a constant or fixed level. If you're looking for an LED HDTV with local dimming or the equivalent, you'll want to step up in the Samsung product line to their 8000 series. Besides cutting down on the display's overall girth, LED backlighting also helps cut down on the display's power consumption, saving you money, over time, on the meter. The UN55C7000 is also Energy Star Compliant.
In terms of connectivity the UN55C7000 has a host of options and features. The UN55C7000 has four HDMI 1.4 inputs located on the display's back panel, mounted sideways near the left side (when looking at the front of the UN55C7000) of the display itself. The UN55C7000 also has inputs for component video, a PC as well as RF for its built-in DTV tuner. The UN55C7000 has two USB 2.0 inputs capable of displaying or playing back video, music and photo files. Along with its USB connectivity the UN55C7000 can also connect to your home network wirelessly or via its Ethernet port, allowing you to stream content from your PC to the UN55C7000 as well as take advantage of Samsung's Web-Connected Apps. The UN55C7000 can also stream Blockbuster, Netflix and/or YouTube movies.
The UN55C7000 has a reported dynamic contrast ratio of six million to one with a 240Hz refresh rate, which Samsung's uses to its full potential to provide the consumer with crystal clear motion on fast moving scenes and sporting events. The UN55C7000 also has what Samsung calls Auto Motion Plus, which essentially extrapolates frames between the frames providing a smoother, judder free image. Personally, I cannot stand the "effect" and wish manufacturers would stop implementing it or at the very least not make "on" the default setting. However, to Samsung's credit they make disabling the Auto Motion Plus feature easy enough and even provide a greater level of control over the effect that what I've seen from other manufactures.
Let's face it - the real reason I'm reviewing the UN55C7000 isn't because it's a next-gen LED HDTV; it's because it's a first generation 3D LED HDTV. The UN55C7000 uses active shutter glasses (sold separately) to pull off the 3D effect. Thanks to its super-fast refresh rate (240Hz), the UN55C7000 when placed in 3D mode can display what the left and right eye sees in a variety of different ways, be they side by side, top and bottom, line by line, vertical stripe, checker board and frequency, though the latter four settings are only utilized when the UN55C7000 is connected to a PC. Where the active shutter glasses come into play is their ability to sync with the UN55C7000 via a transmitter that allows them to shut off or block the light from entering either the left or right eye in the proper sequence in order to pull off the 3D effect. This "shutter" effect happens faster than the human eye can blink so its virtually invisible to the viewer, though that hasn't stopped Samsung from including almost a full page of warnings in the UN55C7000's manual about the adverse effects of watching 3D content.
The UN55C7000 can also convert 2D source material to 3D, though it's a faux 3D really and not as effective or clear as true 3D content. Nevertheless, the 3D conversion requires the use of Samsung's active shutter glasses.
And what about these active shutter glasses? Well, for starters they're about as 1985 as they come: large, plastic, and cheap. Okay, they feel cheaply made - but they're hardly cheap to buy, ranging in price from $149 to $199 each. Did I mention they're NOT included in the UN55C7000's purchase price?
Samsung is currently offering what they're calling a 3D Starter Kit for free when you purchase a new Samsung 3D LED HDTV and 3D Blu-ray player, which consists of two pairs of 3D active glasses and a copy of Dreamworks' Monsters vs. Aliens on Blu-ray 3D. Samsung says the free kit is valued at $350, which sounds like a good enough deal until you realize that if the glasses are $149.99 each that means the Blu-ray disc of Monsters vs. Aliens is going for $50. Ouch. Will all future 3D Blu-ray discs be this expensive? Of course the free gift is for a limited time only and while supplies last, which is to be expected, though Monsters vs. Aliens is the ONLY 3D Blu-ray available today and is sold exclusively in the Samsung 3D starter kit. What happens when the promotion is up?
Since 3D displays are in their infancy, some just hitting consumer shelves as I write this, there hasn't been a great deal of, if any, review samples made available to the press. However, I couldn't simply sit around and wait for sets to become available when everyone wants to know about whether or not to jump on board the 3D bandwagon now.
So, I arranged for a private viewing of the UN55C7000 at my local Best Buy/Magnolia store where it was connected to Samsung's own 3D Blu-ray player, the BDC6900, which retails for $399 as well as their 3D compatible A/V receiver (HWC700B) retailing for $399. The Samsung receiver was feeding a host of in-wall speakers, though since this was video review I didn't think to pair the speakers down to a single manufacturer.
Doing basic calibration on the UN55C7000 was simple and straightforward, thanks to Samsung's excellent menu architecture and control functions, though the Best Buy salesman who agreed to let me review the set privately wasn't too keen on me futzing with the picture controls. I assured him I'd set everything back to how it was, which wasn't going to be hard considering that Best Buy had the UN55C7000 set at the factory default settings when I arrived.
After familiarizing myself with the remote and various menu options I was ready to begin my evaluation in less than twenty minutes.
Since true 3D content is still months away, minus the copy of Monsters vs. Aliens the store had on hand for me, I went ahead and started my demo with some true 2D material. While 3D is all well and good, the UN55C7000 has to be a good 2D set first and foremost for the investment to be worth it buying today.
I started my evaluation with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on Blu-ray (Criterion). Right off the bat the UN55C7000 didn't disappoint. Black levels were terrific and rife with detail and subtlety. Skin tones, even those of the computer generated Benjamin, played by a motion captured Brad Pitt, were organic feeling and incredibly lifelike in their saturation and texture. Speaking of saturation, the UN55C7000 has some of the best, most natural color saturation and tone that I've seen from a LED HDTV in recent memory, provided you do a bit of calibration. Out of the box the UN55C7000, like all Samsung displays I've come across, tend to be overly sharp, wildly saturated and way too bright, making everything appear as if it was rendered from a single box of 12 crayons. Motion was smooth (I disabled Samsung's Auto Motion Plus) and natural and produced no motion artifacts as far as I could see. Edge fidelity was superb as was the UN55C7000's ability to render the finest details like textures and patterns in various weathered fabrics worn by the actors. The separation between each element on the screen, be it actor or set piece, was amazing and provided a level of dimensionality that didn't require active glasses to impress.
Switching gears, I cued up JJ Abrams' Star Trek on Blu-ray (Paramount). The opening scene is an orgy of lens flares, rich-deep blacks, saturated colors and rapid motion, all of which the UN55C7000 rendered beautifully. There was no blooming or bleeding of the colors or whites even when the image itself was teetering on the edge of broadcast safe levels. The blackness of space, though void of any real color, still felt rich and dimensional. Though the color pallet of Star Trek isn't what I'd call natural (what Hollywood blockbuster is?) it still felt appropriate and accurate to the director's and director of photography's visions. Once again motion, be it character or camera, was smooth as silk and very natural with no visible artifacts or display flicker present.
For my last 2D test I inserted Twister on Blu-ray (Warner Brothers) and chaptered ahead to the climax between Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt and the giant F5 tornado. The level of detail, especially the small bits of dirt and debris, that the UN55C7000 was able to render was incredible; the giant tornado looked less like a column of brown Legos and more like the violent fender of God that it was. The UN55C7000's ability to separate the various elements, like the tall stalks of corn against the large twister, was impressive and again added a level of depth and dimension to the image that didn't need 3D active glasses to be totally and wholly engrossing. Though Twister is largely a sepia toned film, the colors were still very rich and natural. Black levels were the most impressive on this demo, for there was an incredible amount of delineation and detail in the dark ominous skies with little to no excess pixilation or compression artifacts, just the grain of the film itself. Motion again was smooth and looked far more natural with Samsung's Clear Motion Rate Technology turned off then with the feature turned on.
All in all, judging the UN55C7000 solely as a 2D LED HDTV, the UN55C7000 was an exceptional performer. The added benefits of Internet and USB connectivity only add to the display's already stellar performance.
I experimented with the UN55C7000's 2D to 3D conversion and found it to be a novel idea and in some instance even effective, but nowhere near as engrossing or accurate as true 3D captured and encoded content. However, the idea of being able to convert 2D source material to a sort of faux 3D is another way I'm sure Samsung is hoping to lure potential customers into buying a 3D set when there is no real 3D software currently available. Keep in mind that in order to view faux or converted 3D content you'll need to wear a pair of Samsung active shutter glasses.
Since true 3D content is virtually non-existent I had no choice but to use Monsters vs. Aliens (Dreamworks) on Blu-ray 3D that comes packaged with the Samsung 3D starter kit. Remember, the starter kit is only available while supplies last so if you happen to purchase a UN55C7000 after the promotion is over you're going to have to wait a while before you're able to get your hands on another true 3D film on Blu-ray. I didn't see Monsters vs.Aliens in theaters so I have no basis for comparison between theatrical 3D and home 3D - I had to judge it solely on its own merits.
That being said, I have to say I'm quite impressed. Obviously (it is a CG animated film after all) the colors were rich, saturated and nicely detailed. Black levels were very solid and rich throughout and there was little to no visible noise or artifacts throughout my demo of the film. All that being said, I did find the overall brightness and "punch" of the true 3D image to be a bit duller. I'm not saying the image was dull or washed out but there was a bit of vignette around the edges and the highlights weren't as brilliant as before. Now this is not uncommon for 3D fare and has been observed even in theaters and is far from a deal breaker. The 3D image's depth was incredible and really 3D's party piece, though I did notice a strange anomaly that I wasn't expecting. Monsters vs. Aliens is a 2:35 aspect ratio film, meaning there are black bars top and bottom when viewed on a 16:9 display. Since the bars are not 3D they became a sort of window frame for the image that almost appeared to float out from the screen at times while the action happened much further back. I'm not sure I can fully explain this sometimes weird effect but at times I felt as if I could hook my finger over top of the bars themselves, for they seemed disjointed or separated from the film. Again, not a real deal breaker, just a strange phenomenon and observation I wasn't expecting.
Speaking of floating away from the screen, elements of the film that were designed to come out or attack you, like the main villain's gun, never really broke free of the UN55C7000's screen. Instead it appeared to be coming at you because the rest of the image seemed so much more recessed. Samsung has informed me that there is a firmware update that adds a function called 3D Viewpoint that allows the user to determine how far in front of the screen they want their 3D to protrude.
Rapid motion, be it camera or action happening on screen, did cause some minor vibration and rainbow-like colors around the edges to become visible but nothing to distracting and again it's something I've witnessed in theatrical 3D viewing. Dimly lit or dark scenes, like the inside of the alien spacecraft, seemed to be more difficult for the UN55C7000 to render in 3D. In dimly lit scenes, the edge fidelity seemed to suffer, causing for a bit more of the edge vibration and rainbow color effect to be visible, thus introducing a bit of flicker to the 3D characters or elements as they moved about the space. While noticeable for brief moments I don't think it's anything any avid fan of 3D hasn't seen before and hasn't been able to live with.
The most impressive scene in the 3D edition of Monsters vs. Aliens, for me, was during the air strike on the alien craft. Everything really clicked during this sequence and showcased that while 3D for the home may be in its infancy the writing is on the wall for greatness.
As far as being a 2D LED HDTV, the UN55C7000 has few if any downsides in my opinion. I found it to be a stellar performer in almost every regard when it came to viewing 2D native content, especially 1080p Blu-ray discs. However, there are far cheaper 2D LED HDTVs out there, even ones by Samsung, which will do everything the UN55C7000 can without the added bonus of being 3D ready.
Read more about the downside to the UN55C7000 on Page 2.
In terms of its 3D performance, I found the UN55C7000 to terrific as well. However it's a king with no kingdom, for there is no true 3D content available at this time other than Monsters vs. Aliens, which is available through a special promotion. No official word has been given as to the number of true 3D titles consumers can expect this year but rumor has it the roll out of content will be slow maybe only reaching a dozen titles by year's end. Also, if you look at the price of Samsung's 3D Starter Kit, the inferred price of Monsters vs. Aliens on Blu-ray 3D disc is right at $50. In a dwindling economy are consumers really going to shell out $50 or more to watch a film in 3D? Time will tell, but I don't think so. DirectTV claims to be 3D ready and will begin broadcasting select events and shows in the summer; however they're doing so in partnership with Panasonic not with Samsung, so that might get a bit tricky.
• Read LED and LCD HDTV reviews from HomeTheaterReview.com here.
• Learn more about Samsung's LED 3D sets from Samsung's website.