Samsung UN46B6000 Review
46" 1080p LCD HDTV, $2699
Since the UN46B6000 is the first LED HDTV that I have reviewed, let's discuss a few terms before we dive into examining this new 1080p offering from Samsung.
To begin, in the TV display world, LEDs (light emitting diodes) and OLEDs (organic LEDs) are two distinct animals. You may have heard the buzz about OLED TVs, and currently it is mostly buzz since only one OLED TV is available, the 11" Sony XEL-1.
For years, LEDs have been used in digital signs like the type that have become popular in NBA arenas and football stadiums. More recently, TV manufacturers have begun deploying LEDs in a different way, as backlights in some of their LCD HDTVs.
Along with other advantages, LEDs require less energy than the CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent lamps) typically used as backlights for LCDs. To be clear, the UN46B6000 LED HDTV is LCD display technology with an LED backlight.
I realize that many of you don't really care if there's LEDs or lightning bugs illuminating your TV. The real issue is, does this new Samsung LED TV deliver on its claim of "breakthrough picture quality?" Yes. Definitely. With its Auto Motion Plus 120Hz feature engaged, the images emanating from this 6000 series TV can be quite remarkable.
(Editor's note: Samsung offers three other sizes of this model, the 55" UN55B6000, the 40" UN40B6000 and the 32" UN32B6000. Since the specifications are similar, this review can be applied to all four.
Samsung also makes a 7000 and an 8000 series of LED TVs. Later, I will discuss some of the features that have been added to these models that differentiate them from their less expensive 6000 series cousin.)
Our Star Ratings
Video performance is top notch. You can adjust the Samsung UN46B6000 to produce stunning, almost 3D-like images. I can't say that its audio output attains such five star heights.
Samsung provides four HDMI inputs and two USB ports. They even include picture-in-picture. But they have stripped out some Internet features like Netflix and Pandora links and you cannot connect to your home network.
Ease of Use: 4.5
With varied preset Picture Modes, with a touch of a button, you can choose a look that fits your eye and your viewing environment. Of course, with extra features like Media Player, you will need to read the instructions.
At a retail price of $2700, I must admit to a bit of sticker shock. At that price for a 120Hz 46" TV - even an LED TV with great picture quality - I would have to rate it 4.0. But a fast check of online retailers reveals a lower, more compelling price point on which I would bestow a 4.5.
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
At a mere 1.2 inches thick, the UN46B6000 is the thinnest TV that I have reviewed. The competition by manufacturers to flatten TV screens thinner than a short stack of pancakes is fascinating. But really how skinny do you need, especially if you put the TV in a cabinet or set it on a stand?
Of course, if you are planning to wall mount this 39 pound crepe suzette, then you can buy a slim mount from Samsung, which suspends the front of the TV less than two inches from the wall. With the UN46B6000's piano black bezel highlighted by an amber Touch of Color trim, the installation would look similar to framed artwork.
When attached to its Crystal Neck stand, this 46" model weighs a little over 49 pounds, light enough for the macho to manhandle. But I don't recommend it even though the TV feels sturdy.
Many of the connections are on the left edge of the TV, which makes them easy to reach and simple to see because the the TV swivels on its stand. This panel provides all four HDMI inputs, two Audio Outs (one digital optical SPDIF and one analog stereo minijack), and two USB ports for uploading JPEG photos, MPEG2 videos or MP3 songs. An Ex-Link connector is included for Service use only.
Next to that lineup is another string of connections that face down making them a bit harder to manage. This group includes one VGA PC input with an Audio In (stereo minijack), one set of Component video (YPbPr) Ins (with matching stereo Audio In).
I don't know why you would ever want to use a Composite video input on this HDTV. But if you do, then you plug the one video cable into the Component Y input. Basically, since the Composite shares one of the Component connectors, it's an either/or setup.
In the near future, I imagine that we will see this migration more and more towards HDMI and away from Composite or Component. To emphasize that point, there is no S-Video In.
The one RF antenna connector links 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.
For those concerned about the DTV transition, the ATSC tuner is the key. With the proper antenna, you will be able to tune in digital signals broadcast over the air.
Also on that lower grouping is a LAN port. As I mentioned, Samsung differentiates its 6, 7 and 8000 series by their features. One of those areas is in what content is available through the LAN. With this 6000, you can connect to the Internet but not to your home network.
Also with the UN46B6000, the only web content you can access are RSS feeds of customizable stock quotes, weather, sports and news through a service titled InfoLink. The 7000 series expands the offerings through Samsung's Internet@TV feature that adds widgets for links to content from sites like Yahoo and Flickr.
Perhaps more importantly to those who have a PC based media center, with both the 7 and 8000 series you can tap directly into your home network through the LAN port. I find this capability so much more convenient than transferring photo, music and video files from the computer to the TV via a USB flash drive. If you are like me, I would really consider the bump up to the UN46B7000. (For the 8000 models, Samsung has increased the frame rate to 240Hz.)
This TV does supply Picture-in-Picture. But like most TVs that do, you are limited in your picture combinations. One of the sources always must be from the internal TV tuner. For example, you cannot pair two HDMI sources.
Samsung's remote controls are always a fun mixture of design and technology. The long, big buttoned device ends with a dramatic curve at the bottom, which acts as a handle for the fast draw remote slingers in the crowd.
On the top right is a yellow button that toggles the remote's backlight on or off. When On, the backlight will illuminate when you punch any of the buttons. When Off, you extend the life of the battery, but the remote becomes non-backlit.
The EPA is now publishing a list of ENERGY STAR qualified TVs. (You can find it here.) The Samsung UN46B6000 is on the list.
Samsung touts their LED backlit TVs as energy savers and they are not kidding. The EPA states that this 46" LED TV's On Mode Power is a measly 104W and Standby Power Consumption is .08W. Based on the formula that the TV is on five hours a day and in Standby for the other 19, the Estimated Annual Energy Use is 190 kWh/year.
You need to check your electric bill to see how much you are paying for a kWh. The national average is 10.4 cents. Doing the multiplication, at that rate, the yearly energy cost is $19.76.
Since TV manufacturers are not attaching those yellow ENERGY STAR tags that you find on air conditioners and refrigerators, you will have to study the ENERGY STAR list to see how the UN46B6000 compares to other 46" TVs. From a quick skim of the chart, I see that its power consumption is significantly less. For example, another (non-LED) 46" Samsung LCD tips the scales at 317 kWh/year.
Power consumption will vary depending on a number of factors including the Picture Mode and the Backlight setting that you choose. I am not suggesting that you turn your TV to its darkest settings, but unless you are in a very bright room, you will not need to use the vivid Dynamic mode.
For its part, the EPA requires that in the initial setup of an Energy Star HDTV, you must choose Home Mode or Retail Mode. Retail sets the Picture Mode to Dynamic and Home puts it to Standard, which is a good starting point.
To calibrate the TV, we use the Blu-ray version of the Digital Video Essentials DVD called HD Basics. We are playing the DVD on a Samsung BD-P3600 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 UN46B6000.
Samsung provides five Picture Modes: Custom, Dynamic, Standard, Natural and Movie. Let me go out on a limb here. I suggest that you just pick Movie and leave it. A Samsung technical representative stated, "Movie mode is geared towards providing the most accurate image. The Warm2 color tone is calibrated to be closest to D6500, the most accurate color temp."
Usually Warm2 is too warm for my eyes, but with this Samsung, I found Movie to look "right." If you are in a hyper-tweak mood, you can really pump up the image on this LED TV, and the Movie settings seem to keep in check the urge to splurge.
Another reason that I like Movie is, by default, almost all of the Advanced Picture options are Off. If you choose to begin with another mode, I suggest that you go into the Advanced Settings submenu and make sure that items like Black Tone, Dynamic Contrast and Edge Enhancement are turned off because they can definitely influence your basic settings.
Before you begin setting up your TV, try Movie. If nothing else, it will give you a good reference to what the technicians consider accurate color. And if you like what you see, you can quit right there.
After noodling around a bit with the Natural and Standard modes, I broke from my usual routine and took my advice and picked Movie as the mode that I would tweak.
I began by turning down the Backlight from 6 to 5 because the light in our testing facility is subdued. Then according to the test patterns, the only other change I made was lowering Color (Saturation) to 48. I simply left everything else at its default settings.
Except I did fiddle with Sharpness. The scale runs from 0 to 100. I noticed slight fringing at 20, which was the default. I decided to drop it to 10. Sharpness is a personal decision.
Once you have worked your way through the basics, you can venture into the Advanced Settings. Without any more tweaking, I was completely satisfied with the image except for one feature located in the Picture Options submenu. At the bottom of the list lies the Auto Motion Plus 120Hz feature. And this I feel is an important one to deal with.
I've explained 120Hz playback before in my review of the VIZIO SV420XVT. If you are not familiar with motion interpolation, please refer to that article.
Without going into detail here, the video calculations involved in Auto Motion Plus 120Hz can generate startlingly sharp 3D-like images. The drawback is that occasionally, you may see artifacts such as halos around fast moving objects in a scene.
And more importantly, for old fogies like me, the picture may seem too sharp, too clean. I was watching the Blu-ray of Season 4 of Lost and there were shots that were just too detailed for me. I felt too close to the action. I realize that for some, that is exactly what you want from your TV.
As Sly Stone would sing, "Different Strokes for Different Folks." Therefore, Samsung supplies five settings for Auto Motion Plus 120Hz: Off, Clear, Standard, Smooth and Custom. (There's also a Demo option.)
I queried the Samsung technical staff about the choices and here is their response.
"The TV always runs at 120 Hz.
"When AMP (Auto Motion Plus 120Hz) is off, the TV just takes the incoming signal and duplicates it to make 120 fps. If the source is 24p, then the TV plays that back as 24x5, which means there will be no 3-2 pulldown. If it's 30 or 60p, it just plays the signal back at 4x or 2x, respectively.
"When AMP is on, various amounts of interpolation are applied.
"New for this year, the interpolation can be adjusted separately for film (24p sources) and video (30p/60i sources). Some people complain that interpolating a film image creates a higher frame-rate-image that looks too much like video, because video has an inherently higher frame rate. You lose the judder that is inherent in film (for examples, see the card-dealing scene in Casino Royale, or the Quidditch game scene in the first Harry Potter movie).
"The Custom setting offers a Blur and a Judder reduction setting. Blur reduction changes the amount of interpolation for video sources. When BR is set to 0, there is no interpolation applied to video sources. At 10, the maximum amount of interpolation is applied.
"Judder reduction changes the amount of interpolation for film sources. Similar to BR, When JR is set to 0, there is no interpolation applied to film-based sources and at 10, the max amount is applied.
"If you don't like the 'video-ish' effect on film-based sources, you can increase Blur reduction (to get the motion resolution improvement for video sources) but reduce judder reduction (to limit, or eliminate, the 'smoothing' effect on film sources).
"The preset settings apply blur and judder reduction to varying degrees:
Clear - Blur is preset to High, where Judder is preset to Low.
Standard - Blur and Judder are both preset to a middle level
Smooth - Judder is preset to High, and Blur is preset to Low
"It is possible for the interpolation, particularly when set to the maximum, to create brief artifacts in complex, fast-moving images. This occurs less than 1% of the time with regular content. If this is bothersome, we suggest lowering the respective adjustment (or switch to the Standard AMP mode, which is the default, and keeps both adjustments at a midpoint)."
I then I asked about how to tell if a source is 24p, 30p, or 60i, since if you are watching a movie on HBO, your set top box is outputting 30p or 60i instead of 24p.
The Samsung rep said, "Actually, the TV will detect the original frame rate. If you play a BD of Harry Potter at 1080p/60, the TV will still apply the Judder Reduction interpolation setting."
His final advice about adjusting AMP is, "Users should just tweak blur and/or judder and see what kind of difference it makes on the program they're watching, or use known film or video content to adjust the levels, then trust that the settings will be applied to all similar content."
Now that you have the instructions for Auto Motion Plus 120Hz, I think you will find it is a powerful tool that you shouldn't ignore. I'm not telling what AMP setting that I finally settled on. I believe that it is a decision that you and your loved ones need to make in the privacy of your TV room.
The Samsung UN46B6000 LED TV produces one of the best pictures that I have seen, with bright, rich, and sharp almost 3D-like images. For example, I was watching Forest Gump on HBO. In the final scene with Forest sitting on the bench, a feather floats up in the air. I swear it seemed so separated from the background that I could reach out and grab it.
As a backhanded compliment, the picture is almost too much for my aesthetic. Its crispness draws me in too far, as if I'm watching a documentary rather than fictional drama. But the effect can be adjusted, which is all I can ask.
Samsung claims "3,000,000:1 Mega Contrast" for these LED TVs. I know that mega number is beyond what my homo sapien eyes can perceive. With that said, LCDs like the UN46B6000 are definitely challenging plasmas in the contrast contest.
As for audio, some day a TV manufacturer will match their product's superior video quality with an equally kick-ass audio system. That day has not come for this Samsung LED TV.
Even with the addition of a subwoofer, the output from the integrated downfiring speakers at 10W + 10W cannot equal the high powered picture fidelity. The sound is good, but it just doesn't have the full richness that this TV deserves.
I know that a dedicated 5.1 or 7.1 surround system does not fit into everybody's budget or room design, but just imagine how that 3D image will be fortified with sound coming from every corner of the room.
With its UN46B6000 LED TV, Samsung has created an irresistible combination, a power conscious TV with superior image quality.