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With so many home entertainment options available these days, television has plenty of competition. Families are playing digital content on their laptops, tablets and home computers. Children are accessing TV shows and YouTube on their smartphones, and media players such as iPods. But TV is still firmly seated on the throne when it comes to the living room, as home-movie viewing morphs from a family staple to a family-themed experience.
Television manufacturers like Samsung realize that digital content comes from many different sources these days, but they still want the television to be the focus in the living room. To that end, they’re introducing a versatile lineup of televisions that is sure to satisfy and unify any family viewing requirements.
I recently took a look at more than two dozen TVs, ranging from plasma to backlit LED, from standard sets to Wi-Fi enabled sets, from 2D to 3D units—each with something that will appeal to all levels of television enthusiasts.
The first sets I looked at were the new 7100 Series TVs. They feature Full HD 1920 x 1080p resolution for super clear and crisp images, along with a Clear Motion Rate of 720 (which translates to about a 240 GHz refresh rate in real-world terms). The high refresh rate also enables spectacular 3D viewing, because higher refresh rates are needed for the fast action and eye-tricking effects of 3D. But what really sets Samsung TVs apart is the host of features they bring to the game—things like Smart TV, Wi-Fi and a dual-core processor for multitasking on the Web. You can even control the LED backlight levels for brighter whites and deeper blacks on the screen via the micro-dimming feature.
Samsung’s Smart TV hub allows users to experience ready-made digital streaming content, like Hulu Plus and Netflix, directly from their TV set (thanks to a built-in Wi-Fi encoder in the unit). You can even access content in the Smart Hub by using gestures to swipe and navigate, or speak directly into the Smart Touch remote’s microphone to get viewing recommendations based on your viewing preferences. This feature was one of the best we’ve seen for interacting with a TV, much like the Kinect on the Xbox360, and though it can get hectic when there are a lot of people in the room, it makes the perfect companion when it’s just you and a quiet night of TV watching.
The television also delivers 5.1 surround sound from any DTS-encoded content and converts any two-channel audio content into a 5.1 DTS surround sound track. The DTS 2.0 and Digital Out lets you decode the DTS stream, and then mixes down and outputs 2-channel audio, played back via stereo speakers. Digital Out means the device can also output the DTS bitstream via digital outputs (S/PDIF or HDMI) to a receiver to decode DTS audio.
You can even maximize otherwise sub-par audio signals from Internet movies or music and other content played back from wired or wireless mobile phones, PCs and tablet devices with the Dolby Digital Plus/Pulse feature.
But let’s be honest: although these TVs feature dual 10W down-firing full-range speakers (that produced decent sound in a medium-sized, quiet room), sound will be greatly enhanced by adding a surround 5.1 channel sound system or even a sound bar.
Samsung enhances the TV experience even further with a bevy of features that let you customize your viewing, including 3D sound effects, ConnectShare USB content sharing (sharing digital files with the TV via a USB-connected device, without the need for a computer), and AllShare streaming compatibility for smartphone or tablets. This was especially useful when I wanted to show guests some recently downloaded photos of the kids.
Streaming was fluid and uninterrupted, even on my overloaded 2.4 GHz band. Another neat feature was the Eco Sensor mode, which measures the ambient light in the room and increases or decreases the screen brightness accordingly. Although I saw the screen brightness change when testing out this feature, the differences were so subtle that I barely noticed them, even under direct, intense sunlight.
The 7100 series from Samsung comes in two configurations, a 46" model and a 60" model. Plus, more sizes should be available soon. Both models come with four pairs of 3D Active Glasses. They also feature a unique quad-foot base swivel stand for greater stability (which gave me some added piece of mind when kids were running anywhere near the television), and they are less than 2” thick, so they easily blend and fit anywhere in your media room. They are mountable via optional VESA-standard mounts, so your options for placement are further expanded. They also come standard with four HDMI connections for expandability.
When looking for a TV that will serve as the hub of your entertainment center, you should look for a high refresh rate, high-definition resolution, and a slew of features that sets your TV apart from the one in the kitchen, let’s say. The Samsung 8000 Series Smart TV has all of those things and more.
It starts with a Full HD 1920 x 1080p resolution and an amazing 1200 Clear Motion Rate (comparable to a 240 Hz refresh rate) for crisp viewing and precise detail, especially with 3D. The screen images were so clear that they fool your eyes into thinking you’re seeing 3D on a standard 2D screen. The refresh rate made sport action leap, and you’ll jump when an action scene bursts right before your eyes. I did.
Samsung introduces Precision Black Local Dimming, which increases contrast by dimming LEDs behind dark areas of the picture. This allows for truer black coloring while keeping the rest of the picture color consistent. The 8000 series also includes Micro Dimming Ultimate, Samsung’s customizable dimming feature that scans zones across the image (twice, in the Ultimate version) and adjusts brightness to deliver truer colors. It also eliminates the “halo” effect and image distortion that can happen with diffused lights.
Screen imagery aside, the television is packed with all the Samsung bells and whistles, including a full roster of apps made available through the integrated Wi-Fi, and enhanced with a powerful quad-core processor. The Smart Hub lets you access social media, streaming digital content networks and other applications. You can use gesture swiping to interact via the included Smart Remote, or voice command your way through movies recommended to you, based on your preferences and viewing habits.
The television also accepts 5.1 surround sound from any DTS-encoded content and converts any two-channel audio content into a 5.1 DTS surround sound track. The DTS 2.0 and Digital Out decodes the DTS stream, and then remixes it down to 2-channel audio, played back via stereo speakers. Digital Out outputs the DTS bitstream via digital outputs (S/PDIF or HDMI) to a receiver to decode DTS audio.
The Dolby Digital Plus/Pulse feature also included lets you optimize Internet-based audio. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: although much has been done to enhance the audio on HDTVs these days, you’re going to want a sound bar or a surround sound system.
Next up were the 6400 Series televisions from Samsung. These Full HD 1920 x 1080p television sets nearly matched every spec from the 7100 series with two exceptions: the screen refresh rate and the number of active 3D glasses included.
The Samsung Clear Motion Rate of 480 (actual refresh rate of 120 Hz) is still perfectly suitable for watching 3D content, which can be viewed with the two pairs of glasses included. But every other significant feature still applies here, including built-in Wi-Fi, Smart Hub connectivity, AllShare and ConnectShare compatibility and 10W down-firing full-range speakers.
Samsung knows that not every family is vested in the 3D experience, and to that market they present the 6300 Series of TVs. When I viewed these TVs, my first thought was that they were an extension of the 6400 line. When I realized that the absence of 3D was the only feature missing from this line, I was impressed.
The TVs are rated at a Clear Motion Rate of 240 (real-world refresh rate is comparable to 120 Hz), perfect for viewing fast-action movie scenes or sporting events. On the models we reviewed, there was no appreciable blur or pixel dead zones. After watching a baseball game and noticing not only the sharpness of the images, but the smoothness of the action, I switched to a Die Hard movie and was also amazed by the screen-shattering explosions and motion tracking car chases.
The same slim design, the built-in Wi-Fi and AllShare, ConnectShare and Smart Hub connectivity and the other options are configured in the 6300 series—and the 6300 series also features a wide variety of screen sizes, including 32, 40, 55, 60 and even 65” models.
Samsung also offers a reduced-feature line of televisions to appeal to those TV enthusiasts who are simply looking for an addition to a spare room, or maybe that TV that your teen has been begging you to buy.
These 5500 Series televisions still feature Full HD 1920 x 1080p resolution, integrated 10W down-firing full-range speakers and built in Wi-Fi. Incredibly, they were able to maintain some other useful features as well, including built-in Wi-Fi and a web browser, AllShare and ConnectShare connectivity, and the quad stand.
The 5500 series of televisions nixes the voice-activated Smart Remote for a standard Samsung universal remote control, and the Clear Motion Rate of 120 (comparable to a 60 Hz refresh standard rate) is most suitable for standard TV watching. Micro-dimming has also been removed as an option, and the HDMI inputs have been scaled down to three instead of four. This series is available in 32", 40", and 46" configurations.
For an even more budget-friendly television experience with quality viewing features, the Samsung 5000 Series offers Full HD 1920 x 1080p resolution, a Clear Motion Rate of 120 (comparable to a 60 Hz standard refresh rate) and dual 10W down-firing full-range speakers.
What they don’t include is built-in Wi-Fi (which removes the AllShare feature as well), the quad-footed stand and the Smart Remote.
They also reduce the number of HDMI connections to two, USB connections to 1, and they removed the 5.1 surround sound decoding.
These TVs are perfect for the kitchen or workshop, where Wi-Fi connectivity isn’t needed, or as a gift to a loved one who wouldn’t know how to work or understand—or doesn't care about—Wi-Fi.
The differences and pros/cons of plasma versus LED are constantly being debated. Each has their plus and minus sides. But for those users who want the convenience and color presentation of enhanced plasma TVs, Samsung introduces the 8500 Series.
These 2D/3D-enabled models feature some of the same amenities as the LED TVs Samsung makes. They include Smart TV, which allows users to view streaming media websites like Hulu Plus and Netflix directly from their TV set (thanks to a built-in Wi-Fi encoder in the unit). You can once again access content in the Smart Hub by using gestures to swipe and navigate, or speak directly into the Smart Touch remote’s mic to get viewing recommendations based on your viewing preferences.
The 8500 series also features the new Super Contrast Panel, which gives your TV picture enhanced brightness and contrast. The RGB areas within the panel create a picture that looks as good as LED TVs—for the most part. Plasma TVs are best enjoyed in rooms that receive little natural light interruption (like man caves or finished basements), so enjoying the picture depends on where the television is placed. Samsung has definitely enhanced the plasma experience with the Super Contrast Panel.
They are also introducing two new innovations: the Real Black Pro filter to improve deep black levels in bright room conditions, and the Adaptive Reset Control to do the same for darker rooms.
But what puts this plasma series in a class by itself are the little extras, like the quad-core processor or built-in pop-up camera. While we thought the dual-core processor really enhanced the LED TVs, the quad-core processor really speeds the web browsing and multi-tasking aspects of the TV along. The built-in pop-up camera, which lets you Skype and interact on social media networks without ever leaving the couch, is also a plus. Although you could certainly buy and connect your own HD camera, having one always available is convenient.
Two features which make the viewing experience even better are the 600 Hz Subfield Motion, which generates a frame of video at 600 times a second, which looked great when viewing sports and fast action movies, and Cinema Smooth+, which enhances Blu-ray movies, dedicated Satellite and Cable 24p channels and 24p Internet Streamed movies. Combined with Samsung's Motion Judder Canceller, it corrects video content affected by the digital processing of film-based movies.
Sound through these TVs isn’t optimal, but Samsung has added some enhancements to make the sound a little more enjoyable (for thorough enjoyment, invest in a surround sound system or sound bar). The Digital Natural Sound Engine (DNSe+) uses various equalizer settings and signal processing to create presets for the most common listening scenarios.
These 8500 series sets also include Dolby Digital Plus/Pulse to optimize Internet-sourced audio, and DTS Premium Sound, which takes sound from any two-channel DTS-encoded content and converts it into a 5.1 DTS surround sound track.
It also includes DTS 2.0, which is an advanced audio processor that decodes the DTS stream, then mixes down and outputs 2-channel audio, played back via stereo speakers. Digital Out also output the DTS bitstream via digital outputs (S/PDIF or HDMI) to a receiver to decode DTS audio.
The plasma line of the 8500 series also is configured standard with AllShare, ConnectShare and Eco Sensor features. They are available in 51", 60" and 64" models.
The Samsung 5300 Series of plasma TVs mimics their big-brother line, the 8500 series, but downscales some of the features. You’ll still find the Full HD 1920 x 1080p resolution, dual 10W speakers and slim design. But gone are the Smart Remote, Wi-Fi and pop-up camera. You’ll also have to do without the Cinema Smooth+ and the DNSe+ sound enhancements, but you’ll still get the 600 Hz Subfield Motion rate.
You’ll also see some of the screen features of the 8500 missing, like the Super Contrast Panel and Real Black Pro Filter, but Samsung adds a Real Black Panel enhancement to provide deeper blacks and truer colors. The 5300 series is available in 51", 60" and 64" screen sizes.
Samsung’s 4500 Series plasma televisions offer quality viewing with fewer features. They are configured with a 1024 x 768 screen resolution and 600 Hz Subfield Motion. They also lack the screen enhancements that the top-line 8500 series provides. If you love the look of plasma and don’t need the encumbrance of Wi-Fi, then this may not be a detriment to you.
The television also accepts 5.1 surround sound from any DTS-encoded content and converts any two-channel audio content into a 5.1 DTS surround sound track like the 8500 series does. It also includes DTS 2.0 and Digital Out, along with the Dolby Digital Plus/Pulse feature for optimizing Internet audio.
My eyes are burning. My ears are ringing. My fingers are blistered and tired from all the channel surfing we did. But I did it. And my conclusion is this: Samsung has a TV for every type of user, from big screen 3D versions to replacement sets, from enhanced plasma to customizable LEDs. There’s something here for you, so if you’re looking to update, we suggest Wi-Fi enabled with a high refresh rate, with at least a 40” screen size. Go. Watch. Enjoy.
For more information about these Samsung TVs, speak with a B&H sales professional in our New York SuperStore, over the phone at 1-800-606-6969 or online via Live Chat.