Samsung LN37A550 Review
37" 1080p LCD HDTV, $1199
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.)
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.
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.
The Samsung LN37A550's lush picture, especially with HD content, will not disappoint. I can't become as excited about its audio fidelity.