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Samsung LN37A550 Review
37" 1080p LCD HDTV, $1199
RedLine

Samsung LN37A550

Dick De Jong
July 24, 2008
HDTV Solutions


Introduction

Currently, the LN37A550 is the top of Samsung's line of 37" LCDs. The newer Touch of Color A650 and A750 models opt for the 40" size. They also include a 120Hz playback capability. Otherwise, the A550s contain all the features and performance that you would expect from a Spring 2008 Full HD 1080p HDTV.

We are in the midst of a roundup of 37" LCD HDTVs from different manufacturers. We will review each individually and then aggregate our opinions in a comparison article. This Samsung is the second one in the corral. (You can read the review of the first, the LG 37LG50, here.)

(Editor's Note: Samsung produces four other models in their A550 Series, the 32-inch LN32A550, the 40-inch LN40A550, the 46-inch LN46A550, and the 52-inch LN52A550. They have similar specs to the LN37A550 and this review can be applied to them also.)

Our Star Ratings
Performance: 4.0 4.0 Star Rating
Once I solved a green tinging artifact, I found a new respect for the LN37A550's picture quality. But I never fell in like with the audio. Considering that many 37" TVs are being placed in rooms that may not accommodate a separate speaker system, I put more emphasis on the sound integrated into the TV. If you are planning to use a dedicated receiver and speakers, add a half a point.
Features: 4.5 4.5 Star Rating
With an extensive toolbox of picture controls, a very good USB photo and music interface, and Picture-in-Picture, this Samsung contains a solid set of features. I don't especially miss 120Hz playback, but I would like to see an Ethernet port.
Ease of Use: 4.0 4.0 Star Rating
Basic setup is straightforward, but to obtain your ideal picture, you may find yourself exploring some of the Detailed Settings sub-menus. Fortunately, Samsung provides helpful on-screen hints and a good manual.
Value: 4.0 4.0 Star Rating
If you are shopping for a 37" monitor with a bright rich picture, then add the LN37A550 to your list. If you don't require a good integrated audio system, add a half a point.
Star Ratings Description
Ratings are relative to when the review was written. The obvious example is Value, what you could purchase for $2000 two years ago or even two months ago would seem like a bad value for that price now. We have given only a precious few 5 Star ratings, which we reserve for truly outstanding accomplishment.

Out of the Box

Judging from the five TVs we have lined up in our testing facility, it seems 37" TVs did not receive the text message about the new fashions. They all are sporting a rather ungainly two inch black bezel on the top and sides.

Samsung LN37A550

Looking at the front, the only thing that really distinguishes the LN37A550 from the other four is the Samsung logo in the center on the bottom. This three and a half inch deep (without the stand) TV weighs 39.5 pounds with the swivel (about 30 degrees left and right) stand attached.

This Samsung provides two connection panels. The smaller convenience panel is just around the back left edge and contains an HDMI Input, a Composite Input with matching stereo Audio Ins, an S-Video In, a Headphone Out (stereo mini-jack) and a USB port, which Samsung brands Wiselink, where you can upload JPEG photos and MP3 music files.

Samsung LN37A550

Right next to this mini-panel on the back and facing out, the larger panel supplies two HDMI inputs, two Component inputs (YPbPr) with matching stereo Audio Ins, one VGA (15 pin D-Sub) with a minijack Audio In, one Composite (with Audio), a digital Audio Out (optical) and a stereo analog Audio Out.

The one RF antenna input connects to integrated NTSC/ATSC/QAM tuners. Since the tuner system is Clear QAM compatible, you can attach your cable TV signal directly into the RF connector and tune in unscrambled cable stations.

The LN37A550 does include a Picture-in-Picture feature. It gives you good control over the size and position of the inserted picture, but it is limited in the combinations of sources. Basically, your main picture can come from a Component, HDMI or PC input. The sub-picture can only be from an analog TV broadcast.

If you desire that your Samsung LCD TV be connected to the Internet, then you will have to move on up to at least the A650 series that provides an InfoLink RSS feature. To be clear, the LN37A550 does not have an Ethernet port.

I liked the performance of the software that handles JPEG and MP3 files downloaded through the Wiselink USB port. It allows you to classify and sort your photos and music files.

Samsung LN37A550 Remote

The manual also discusses some other functions in the interface, like the ability to play a song with your slide show, that I couldn't fully test. The instructions kept referring to a Tools button on the remote control and no matter how hard I looked I couldn't find that darned button. I finally realized that Samsung had packaged the wrong remote in my box.

I greatly appreciated the ability to change picture settings when engaged in this Wiselink program. With most TVs that I have reviewed that have a photo viewing option, the picture defaults to a Vivid like setting and you cannot alter it. With the LN37A550, you can pick any of the Picture modes, which allows you to fine tune the TV to play back your photos. This is great for serious photographers who rely on a properly calibrated display.

I still have not received the correct remote control, therefore I can't give you a hands-on opinion. I've attached a diagram of the remote. That long lost Tools button can be found lurking up and to the left of the navigation wheel.

Power Consumption

We have begun to measure the power consumption of our review units. Our process is straightforward. We plug the TV into a watt meter, called Watts up? Pro, and take a simple sampling of readings during the playback of a full screen video clip.

The first measurement is at the TV's default picture settings, which are often some form of Vivid. For all of their 2008 models, Samsung has set the default as Standard, which is not as bright as their Dynamic mode.

For example our Power Consumption measurement at the Standard default was 137 watts. At Dynamic, it goes up to 198 watts. In their specifications, Samsung states Power Consumption at 190W.

We also take a reading after we adjust the picture to our preference, which is a much less bright image. The power consumption dropped to the range between 112 to 113W. Of course, depending on how you like to set up your TV, your mileage may vary.

Samsung does supply a Energy Saving feature, which adjusts the brightness of the TV to reduce power consumption. When the TV was set to Dynamic, engaging the function was dramatic. With Energy Saving set to Low, the reading dropped to 147W. At High, it hovered around 101W.

At our adjusted picture settings, the effect was not as pronounced, but at High, power dipped to 88W. Of course, the picture may darken too much for your tastes.

Finally, we turn off the TV and measure how much power it is using. Many older TVs still suck a lot of electricity even when they are switched off. With the LN37A550, the meter usually read 0W. Though occasionally it would blip to .1W. Samsung states the Stand by consumption as less than 1W. Start up time from Stand by is less than ten seconds.

Setup

To calibrate the monitor, we use the Blu-ray version of the Digital Video Essentials DVD called HD Basics. We are playing the DVD on a Pioneer BDP-94HD Blu-ray player connected to the HDTV with an HDMI cable.

We use the test patterns to adjust black level, white level, and color bias. The player is set to output a 1080p signal, which is the native resolution of the LN37A550.

The Picture menu provides the basic adjustments, Contrast, Brightness, Color (Saturation), Tint (Hue), Sharpness, and Backlight. Also, you have Picture Mode presets labeled Dynamic, Standard and Movie.

When you first pull the LN37A550 out of the box and turn it on, a screen comes up and asks about your viewing environment. You have two choices Home and Shop. The Shop mode defaults to Dynamic. If you pick Home, the TV will default to the Standard mode. Unless you are planning to set up your family room like a show room in a Big Box store, opt for Home.

I still found Standard a tad too dynamic. The first order of business was to lower Backlight from 5 (on a scale from 1 to 10) to 2.

Samsung LN37A550

Next, I turn to Color Temperature, which used to be easy to find in the main Picture menu, but the TVs that I've reviewed recently seem to delight in hiding it. I discovered it in the Picture Options sub-menu labeled Color Tone.

The five choices in the list are Cool2, Cool1, Normal, Warm1 and Warm2. But if you choose to work in the Standard mode, Warm1 and Warm2 are grayed out, you cannot pick either one.

Since I usually pick Normal anyway, I didn't figure there would be a problem. But when I compared Gray test patterns among the lineup of the five TVs, the LN37A550's Normal was noticeably cooler than the Normal setting on the other TVs. If I wanted the Warm options, I would have to choose to tweak the Movie mode.

(Editor's note: In a response from the Test Manager at Samsung, he noted, "We recommend Movie as being most accurate which is why the Warm 1 and 2 Color Tone settings are only available in the Movie mode. That was a conscious choice to try to push the person that might want those options to use that setting.")

I bumped Brightness up a notch. Contrast was preset at 95, which makes whites really pop, but the effect was a little too much for my taste. I pushed Contrast down. You may decide otherwise.

To assist in adjusting Color and Tint, this Samsung offers a nifty feature that you don't normally find. The Blue Only Mode sets the TV to display only blue, which allows you to easily adjust the Color and Tint controls while you are looking at a color swatch test pattern.

Tint was right on. Interestingly, dialing Color down to 46 looked right in Blue Only, but when I flicked back to a full color display, the picture seemed too desaturated. So I moved it back to about 49.

(Editor's note: In a response to this point, the Test Manager wrote, "If you use the TV's blue-only mode to calibrate the TV, the picture will be far more accurate than a TV calibrated with a color filter. Our default Color setting is adjusted with a filter, so as to compare equally with other sets. By turning the color down on our set to match the blue-only mode, you essentially make other sets more colorful. The 'desaturated' image is more accurate.")

Samsung LN37A550

Samsung provides you with a toolbox overflowing with fine tuning adjustments like White Balance and Color Space. I fiddled with them to solve a green shading problem and they delivered the results I wanted.

(Editor's note: After reading the notes from the Test Manager at Samsung, I went back and setup the TV in Movie mode. I just couldn't force myself to pick Warm2. It's just a little too warm for me. Warm1 seemed like a good balance between the red of Warm2 and the blue of Cool1 or even Normal. At Warm1, with Color turned down, the picture was more subdued but still quite appealing. You may not to wish to watch the Olympics in Movie mode; but for DVDs, you definitely should try it out.)

If you are adventuresome, I suggest you experiment with the different advanced settings. For example, I liked the HDMI Black Level switched from Normal to Low.

I really appreciate that Samsung supplies short on-screen descriptions of each of the features. Of course, if you need more guidance, you can thumb through the well written and informative 103 page manual.

Performance

I agonized more than usual over this TV. Partially because, in a way, it is more difficult to judge a TV when you have four others next to it staring back at you. Then again, you do have references to what the content can look like. And don't feel too sorry for me since I just had an excuse to watch again a good part of the wondrous Once. (Bravo to the Academy for giving them the Best Song of the Year.)

Samsung LN37A550

Anyway, jumping (jack flash) from the sacred to the profane, I just popped in the Blu-ray of Shine a Light, the new Martin Scorsese film of a Rolling Stones concert. The LN37A550 does a glorious job of flourishing the scarlet and sequined shirted Mick as he struts across the stage. The images are bright and the colors are bold. I have no qualms.

But with less pristine content, even HD broadcast TV, the shadows tended to be more green than gray. I was able to rein in the mossy artifact by sliding down the Green Offset control, which is in the White Balance sub-menu. But if the TV leans one way or the other, it's towards green.

Standard definition material looked about as good as could be expected, occasionally even a little better. As always with SD, blacks tend to be crushed and sharpness, fuggeddaboutit.

To one extent, the viewing angle on the LN37A550 is not bad. Even when sitting way off to the side, the picture looks OK. But if you do sit in the sweet spot in front of the TV, the image is much richer and the blacks much deeper. The sweet spot is narrow, maybe fifteen degrees either way off center. Luckily, the TV swivels on its stand making it easier to locate yourself at that perfect angle.

I connected my laptop through the VGA Out to the TV's VGA In. With an assist from the Auto Adjustment on the Samsung, the 1920 x 1080 resolution was properly centered. I lowered Backlight and Brightness from the PC mode default and the picture, whether from the Internet or Photoshop, looked great.

Alas, we come to the audio portion of the review. I must report that the integrated speakers did not perform well. I tried every setting. Finally I settled for pushing the sliders in the Equalizer. The sound always was tinny to my ear, therefore I raised the low end and lowered the high end.

Samsung LN37A550

I wish I could say that it was satisfactory. Let's just call it adequate and leave it at that. If you plan on enjoying any DVDs of concerts or musicals, please employ a separate audio system.

Conclusion

The Samsung LN37A550's lush picture, especially with HD content, will not disappoint. I can't become as excited about its audio fidelity.



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Reader Comments

Posted Apr 12, 2011 5:17:24 PM

By Glenn Fry

We, (my wife & I), just purchased this Samsung tv yesterday, (04-11-11), and we are deighted with its performance! We stood in front of about 10 different brands while deciding, and we both settled on the Samsung LN37D550. And the remote is easy to use with PLENTY of control features! Sound is adequate for the bedroom, but in a living room setting... definitely needs an external source hooked up, but that's, (I think), normal with any set if you want concert sound. Your review matches what we feel is very accurate!

Posted Jan 15, 2010 8:58:17 PM

By probes

I will never buy a sumsung TV again. Sumsung has a design problem with there power supply boards and will not stand behind there product. My 46 inch LCD samsung TV had a power suppply problem 2 months after warranty. Do your research on this problem!!

Posted Mar 5, 2009 6:53:48 PM

By SR1972

For anyone looking at hooking a new HDTV directly to cable. Please not that in most cases you do not need to subscribe to Digital cable to receive some digital channels on your new HDTV set if it has a ClearQAM capable digital tuner.

The FCC requires cable companies provide certain network channels be freely and readily available to customers who have sets of this type at no additional charge but will in most cases not provide this info to you.

From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QAM_tuner QAM-based HD programming of local stations is sometimes available to analog cable subscribers, without paying the additional fees for a digital cable box. The availability of QAM HD programming is rarely described or publicized in cable company product literature. If cable providers provide rebroadcasts of locally aired programming, they must also carry rebroadcasts of high-definition digital locally aired programming, in an unencrypted form, that does not require the customer to use leased equipment, per FCC Sec. 76.630 and CFR Title 47, §76.901(a). These usually include the local affiliates for CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, and FOX, and the cable providers comply by rebroadcasting them over QAM channels. The law does not require the cable provider to advertise their availability, and the cable customer service representatives are known to unequivocally (and incorrectly) insist to customers that a converter box is mandatory to view any HD channels.

Posted Jan 23, 2009 2:38:42 PM

By bob

I want to purchase a 550. I do not want to purchase more channels from Time Warner but i have no choice if i want the HD box. I have read about an open cable card which is a much lower monthly fee, but this model does not have the slot. I have heard that there is also a device that is compatable with an open cable card. anyone know anything about this?

Posted Jan 20, 2009 9:36:26 PM

By Doug

Hi Dick, I am in the process of buying a HDTV. I'm really need your opinion about getting this one versus the Sony Bravio which you reviewed on http://www.hdtvsolutions.com/Sony_BRAVIA_KDL-37XBR6_LCD_HDTV_Review.htm. They both all seem to have equal in review's score.

Amazon.com lists the Samsung about $260 cheaper than the Sony. If I can spare that extra amount, what would you recommend the bang for the buck? Thanks

Posted Jan 7, 2009 9:40:52 AM

By Diarmuid O'Flynn

Would like to know about glare on these new LCD tv's, which make has the best anti-glare, c.37" model?

Posted Oct 13, 2008 5:08:58 PM

By matt

Thanks for replying to my above stated comment. Your input made sense, and ultimately, i think the most powerful element to consider for me personally, IS the darker blacks, for that is what brings about TRUE contrast ratios, so I believe I will, as you said, 'Walk The Plasma Path'. Again, you do fine a job with your reviews, and i hope to see more coming soon. Thanks again.

(as a sidenote, i'm fairly convinced that if one only wants to consider an LCD, i think they would be hard pressed to surpass those from Samsung, mainly the series 6 groupings of tv's, or above)

Matt

Posted Oct 5, 2008 4:54:42 PM

By Dick De Jong

Matt,

I addressed your black level question in my roundup article that I posted last week. Here is what I said,

"I've been asked to discuss the black levels of these LCDs. I could quote their stated Contrast Ratios, but those figures are reaching the imperceptible at best and misleading at worst. So I'll ignore them.

Part of the other problem with comparing black levels is that almost all the TVs have some form of Black Level and Enhanced Contrast settings, which confuse the discussion.

I can tell you that I just finished looking at a Bang & Olufsen plasma and to my eye, none of the LCDs matched that black level. Even the new LED backlit LCDs with local dimming still have a step or two to reach the best plasma level, though they are closing the gap. If black levels are critical to you, then walk the plasma path."

I know it doesn't give you the definitive answer that you want, but whether you have Black Level On or Off can make a difference. Some TVs have this feature, others don't. And then sometimes, I prefer it turned off. It can become difficult to find a standard.

And now, with LCDs bragging about 100,000 to 1 Contrast Ratios, those numbers are beyond our level to perceive.

Posted Oct 1, 2008 1:11:57 AM

By matt

Hi.

Just wanted to say, that i really think it could be useful in the reviews, to specify whether or not the tv being reviewed has a glossy screen, or not, since clearly some tv's do in fact have this. To me, this seems to be, and could be, a very large element of any tv, as to whether or not someone even bothers wanting the tv to begin with. For instance, i know some samsung models have the gloss, but does the 37" 550 u reviewed have it? It does not say. Nor do we know if the sony has it, which i dont think it does, but still. Shouldn't be guess work for us reading these reviews. Keep up the good work, however. You do a find job. Oh, and more thing. I wish ....the reviews were able to a go a bit deeper into the subject of BLACK LEVELS per tv, since this is a huge element of picture quality. In other words, we, the readers, do not get to see THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ONE TV'S BLACK LEVEL COMPARED TO ANOTHER TV....and i think this would help ppl make decisions if they could KNOW how one tv goes blacker than another one..etc. Anyway....keep up the good work. I enjoy reading ur reviews.

Posted Sep 2, 2008 11:35:49 AM

By Dick De Jong

Mike,

I'm glad you like it. Your Bose system sounds like a great solution to the Samsung's could-be-better audio.

Posted Sep 2, 2008 10:47:48 AM

By mike b

thanks, this was truly a helpful review, i totally agree with everything you've said about the samsung LN37A550... im on cloud 9 with this hdtv, UPS delivered it a couple hrs ago...

total upgrade from my old crt 90s tv from my dads garage.. now i have a cool dorm..

and the sound was a little disappointing esp compared to the awesome picture quality.. but thats not really a problem for me since i hooked it up to my bose 3.2.1 system.

thanks again for such an accurate and insightful description, you really hit the nail on the head. and today im happy with my new tv!!!
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