We are on the cusp of what could be the next revolution in television technology. You guessed it - I’m talking about 3D TV. It’s been more than two years since the first 3D TVs were demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and now 3D sets are finally beginning to appear on store shelves. Samsung became the first manufacturer to start shipping its 3D TVs at the end of March. Its 3D LCD TV line-up spans the 7000 and 8000 series, ranging in screen sizes between 40 and 55 inches. The major difference between the two series is the screen backlight. The 7000 series uses an LED edge-lit backlight. The premium 8000 series uses Samsung’s Precision Dimming technology which merges the benefits of LED edge-lighting with the control of local dimming technology. To coincide with the release of the new TVs, Samsung has also introduced the BD-C6900 3D Blu-ray player ($399). By the time you read this, Samsung 3D plasma TVs should also be available in stores.
In this review I take a look at the 55-inch UN55C7000 ($3699) 3D LCD TV from the 7000 series. This series uses an edge-light LED backlight, meaning that the LEDs are arranged in strips which run along each edge of the display. The LED backlight not only allows the UN55C7000 to achieve a higher quality picture than a typical CCFL backlight, it also makes the TV super slim - measuring just 26.5 mm deep. Of course the ground-breaking feature of the UN55C7000 is its ability to playback 3D content. In order to watch a 3D picture each viewer has to wear a pair of 3D glasses - Samsung includes one pair with the TV. To enjoy 3D Blu-ray discs you will also need a 3D Blu-ray player, like Samsung’s BD-C6900.
Like many other TVs available today, the UN55C7000 can be connected to a home network to provide some additional functionality. The “[email protected]” feature provides access to downloadable apps, widgets and games, while “AllShare” allows it to connect wirelessly with compatible DLNA devices for sharing movies, photos and music. Another feature called “ConnectShare Movie” allows you to enjoy movies, music and pictures from a connected USB or hard drive on the TV screen. The TV’s video input options include 4 HDMI (ver. 1.4), 1 component video, 1 composite video and 1 VGA. An Ethernet jack allows the TV to connect to the home network and is compatible with a wireless adapter.
The thin bezel around the screen made this TV seem not as large as other 55-inch TVs in my room which I appreciated. To put it into perspective, this 55-inch TV was only slightly larger than my 43-inch Pioneer plasma which has a much wider bezel and side-mounted speakers. The speakers in this TV are built into the rear and radiate at the rear wall. Aside from its 1920 by 1080 pixel resolution, the only other technical specifications listed on the product website are a 240 Hz refresh rate and dynamic contrast. The chrome remote has a completely unique design and solid feel. It does away with typical rubber buttons and instead offers an almost completely flat face, with the exception of slightly protruding markings on volume and channel buttons, as well as dividing lines between buttons. The buttons are well organized and responsive, although the essential volume and channel buttons could be easier to find by feel. The inclusion of a full backlight is much appreciated. Overall, I enjoyed using this remote.
Samsung sent us the UN55C7000 3D TV, the BD-C6900 3D Blu-ray player, one pair of 3D glasses and a “Monsters vs. Aliens” demo 3D Blu-ray (which contains only about 20 minutes of the actual movie). Contributors Jeremy Phan and Octavio Umana helped me set everything up and evaluate the performance. Due to space limitations, this review focuses mainly on picture quality.
We began by watching the 3D “Monsters vs. Aliens” demo disc. This is currently the only movie available on 3D Blu-ray. We all agreed that the 3D effect was very impressive - the addition of a sense of picture depth substantially enhanced the viewing experience. The 3D picture was immersive and satisfying. The depth and detail of the computer animated characters and objects looked just as good as it did at the movie theatre. Every character looked truly three dimensional, as did the environments around them. Characters and objects that moved from the background toward the foreground did so in a realistic manner. Unlike earlier generations of 3D in movie theatres where things jumped out at the viewer (somewhat unrealistically), the current implementation focuses on picture depth. Personally I find this approach adds a valuable aspect to the viewing experience, rather than being just a gimmick. With that being said the current implementation can still pop images off the screen towards the viewer, if the movie director chooses to do so. The two aspects that make this generation of 3D really attractive is the fact that each eye sees a full 1080p resolution and that no colours are filtered (as with red/blue anaglyph glasses).
There was however one significant issue with the 3D picture - image crosstalk, which appears as ghost images around characters and objects. Even though most scenes of the 20 minute demo displayed image crosstalk, there were a few scenes that were completely free of it. All three of us agreed that this was quite annoying and interfered with the enjoyment of the movie. Fortunately rumor has it that this can potentially be corrected with a firmware upgrade for either the Blu-ray player or the TV. If this can be fixed, I’m completely sold on the idea of 3D at home. Samsung needs to get a firmware update out there as quickly as possible.
Samsung’s 3D active shutter LCD glasses (model SSG-2200AR/ZA) are light weight and actually quite comfortable. They have a 3.7 volt lithium ion battery built-in which is said to provide about 50 hours of use, and takes about 2 hours to charge. To charge, they must be connected to the USB port of the TV or the Blu-ray player.
One area where the UN55C7000 caught us completely off guard is its 2D to 3D conversion. I was skeptical when I first learned that Samsung offers such a feature but seeing it work made me a believer. The UN55C7000 offers a Depth control (ranging from 0 to 10) for this 2D to 3D conversion feature - we found a setting of 5 to produce most desirable results. First we tried The Killers: Live From the Royal Albert Hall Blu-ray. The UN55C7000 clearly placed the lead singer directly in front of the viewer and the drummer just behind him. Other parts of the stage were noticeably further in the background. When the camera focused on the audience the effect made the picture look a little artificial - the part of the crowd that was jumping appeared to be in a single layer in the distance, while the rest of the crowd was in a different, more distant single layer. The processing wasn’t able to place the faces of the crowd with gradual 3D depth. Nevertheless, the effect was surprisingly pleasant especially considering that this 2D to 3D conversion was done “on the fly” and that this is Samsung’s first generation engine. Samsung is the only 3D TV manufacturer to offer such a feature at this time.
Terminator Salvation on Blu-ray offers completely different camera work but the conversion to 3D also worked well for many of the scenes. Characters and objects closest to the camera were placed in the front of the three dimensional environment, with the background objects at varying depths behind them. After some 30 minutes of watching, we concluded that the UN55C7000 converted 2D content to 3D largely based on the picture sharpness and contrast. For example, it calculated that the sharpest objects should be in the front and blurry objects were parts of the background. It also picked up cues from the picture contrast to decide where in the 3D environment a person or object should be placed. This approach of course isn’t perfect and did translate into some parts of the picture having an incorrect depth. In one Terminator Salvation scene where half a character’s face was covered by a shadow, the light part of the face appeared closer but the dark part incorrectly appeared to be further away. There’s no question that some viewers will enjoy 2D to 3D conversion for movie watching, especially if Samsung continues to improve the way this feature works. The good news is also that in this 2D to 3D mode there is absolutely no image crosstalk.
I found 2D to 3D conversion to produce best results with video games. When playing Gran Turismo 5 Prologue on the PS3, the simulated 3D effect went a long way to enhancing the enjoyment of the picture and making the racing experience even more realistic than before. Using the external camera view, the car I was driving was unmistakably in front of me, while the track and other cars were ahead. In general, the sensation of driving seemed more real thanks to the increased depth of the picture. I enjoyed the effect enough that I ended up revisiting this game for a few hours.
Of course since a very limited amount of 3D content is available at present time, you’ll be watching mostly good-old 2D content on the UN55C7000. Using the movie mode, Body of Lies on Blu-ray had good colour saturation and accuracy. Skin tones of various characters looked natural, as did primary colours. On occasion, I noticed colours to be slightly oversaturated. The picture sharpness and detail with 1080p content were excellent. As we’ve come to expect from LED backlit models, the black level and contrast were very good. However shadow detail in dark parts of the picture was not as good as I’ve seen with other LED backlit sets. In some dark areas of the picture the UN55C7000 simply displayed a black area, concealing shadow details which are visible on other TVs. Deep blacks and a high contrast ratio are achieved partly thanks to the dynamic contrast setting. When turned on, this setting automatically adjusts the brightness of the picture based on the on-screen content. I found the lightening up and darkening of the picture a little distracting so I changed this setting to off. The backlight uniformity is the UN55C7000’s only notable shortcoming. Nearly a dozen hotspots are visible, some in the corners of the screen, some closer to the middle. These hotspots appear as light gray areas on a completely black screen. With bright content on the screen the hotspots will likely go unnoticed but with dark scenes and letterbox bars, the hotspots are quite obvious. Due to these hotspots, the UN55C7000 isn’t a good choice for those who like to watch movies with the light turned low or off. Most viewers may not be bothered by this, but video enthusiasts won’t be thrilled about it. The UN55C7000 offers extensive user picture controls which allow its picture to be refined substantially for those who wish to do so, although this cannot improve the backlight uniformity.
Like most current TVs, the UN55C7000 offers a dejudder feature which Samsung calls Auto Motion Plus 240 Hz. This feature helps to eliminate picture judder, especially in panning scenes, and offers five options: Off, Clear, Standard, Smooth and Custom. Personally, I can’t stand what this feature does to the picture, not just on this Samsung but on all TVs. Enabling this feature makes the picture unnaturally smooth and adds some picture artifacts. The only time you may find this feature useful is while watching sports, although I recommend setting this feature to Off.
Standard DVDs looked good on the large 55-inch screen, although expectedly not nearly as sharp as Blu-ray discs. Standard definition programming from my Rogers box was watchable but looked very soft on such a large screen. Of course, this is an issue with all big screen TVs, not just this Samsung.
Samsung’s first 3D Blu-ray player, the BD-C6900 is sleek and comes in a surprisingly compact chassis. Its most distinguished feature is 3D Blu-ray disc playback (via HDMI ver. 1.4) but it also plays regular Blu-ray discs and up-converts DVDs to 1080p. Additionally, it also plays music CDs and Divx HD files. The BD-C6900 is a profile 2.0 player which offers BD-Live and BonusView features. Like the TV, when connected to a home network it allows access to the [email protected] and AllShare features. In addition to the Ethernet jack, this player also has a built-in wireless LAN card. The BD-C6900 can decode DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD, and can also send the bitstreams of these formats to an AV receiver. In addition to all the standard video and audio outputs, this player also has 7.1 analogue audio outputs. A local storage of 1 GB allows space for downloadable BD-Live content.
I was very happy with the BD-C6900’s really fast start-up and loading times. During the brief time that it spent at my house, I did not experience any lock ups or functional issues. It delivered a great quality Blu-ray picture and reasonable up-conversion of DVDs.
The Samsung UN55C7000 gave us a wonderful taste of what 3D content will look like as it trickles out slowly this year. If the issues with image crosstalk can be eliminated, I’m all game for 3D at home. Further improvements to the 2D to 3D conversion feature should make Samsung’s 3D TVs more attractive over other manufacturers. The UN55C7000 delivers a respectable 2D picture and is most suitable for brighter rooms, due to its lack of backlight uniformity. Personally, I’m really curious to check out Samsung’s upcoming 3D plasma TVs (due out in mid-May). Look out for a review of one of these in our next issue.
Samsung UN55C7000 55-inch 3D TV
Samsung BD-C6900 3D Blu-ray player