So, here it is: Samsung's new line of LED TVs has finally arrived--and this huge 55'' UE55B7000 certainly makes a formidable first impression.
This TV's main strength, though, is how thin it is: less than an inch and a half thick from front to back. Looking at it from the side is quite simply stunning, especially when you think how large it is from the front. In that respect, it's like the PN58B850 that we also tested recently, and we suggest you have a look at the video in that test to get an idea of how just how thin these screens really are.
The screen itself, though, is classic Samsung, with the same glossy finish that all of the manufactuer's high-end TVs sport. It looks nice, and gives a great picture when you're in a dark room, but if there's either a window or a lamp in between you and the TV, then things are soon spoiled by the appearance of reflections. The onscreen interface is also standard-issue Samsung: practical and easy-to-use, the menus sometimes suffer from a little lag which slows navigation down. The colors used have been updated to match the frame.
Let's look at the thorny issue of the day, the LEDs themselves. For a lot of people, those three little letters mean 'perfect pictures' or '100% black', but it's not as simple as that.
To start with then, it's important to note that the LEDs in question replace the traditional fluorescent tube backlighting system found in today's TVs and monitors. The screen itself, in front of the backlighting, still uses LCDs. So, what is the benefit of replacing fluorescent lamps with LEDs?
There are two main advantages:
- LEDs give a more even light, spread across a grid of LEDs rather than fluorescent tubes. With a score of 3.7/5 in our test for the homogenity of whites, the B7000 is the best LCD TV to date according to this measure; only plasmas do better with some enjoying a perfect 5/5.
- LED backlighting also enjoys a reputation for providing a perfect, absolute black. Well, that's partly true ...To achieve this perfect black, the dynamic backlighting system needs to be activated, allowing those LEDs that are behind darker parts of the image to be turned off. In such zones, our equipment did indeed measure a light reading of exactly 0 cd/m². Unfortunately, there is an adverse impact on white levels. If just a small part of the screen lit by one LED is light, then that particular LED will be considerably dimmer in favor of the darker areas. White levels fall from 195 cd/m² to 53 cd/m², which is closer to grey than it is to pure white. Besides, this TV doesn't push LEDs as far as it can, because they are only found around the side of the screen (Edge-fit LED), meaning the final result isn't very different from what we would expect from traditional dynamic backlighting powered by a fluorescent tube. Of course, the easy solution to these concerns would be to turn off the dynamic backlighting ... which, strangely, is impossible on the B7000.
That, actually, is our biggest criticism of this TV. Home Cinema fans, who are used to tweaking their systems to the Nth degree appreciate a stable picture. From the first frame right through to the last of any film, they want blacks, whites and every tone of grey and every shade of color at the same brightness. Here, though, it's quite simply impossible to a achieve that kind of stability.
Samsung has plumped for dynamic backlighting and there's not much we can do about it. This decision is partly justified by the use of LEDs, which produce perfect blacks using the system, but it also helps contribute to the low power consumption that LED backlighting is known for. An LED 'backlighting' a black part of the screen is an LED that isn't on, and so it doesn't use any electricity. These positive effects come at the price of being able to configure the screen yourself.
During our tests, the upshot of this was that scenes shot mostly in the dark were too
dark, while any highlighted details suffered a lack of brightness. On the other hand, more 'average' scenes, the B7000 proved to be an impressive display with great contrast. That's why many people are impressed by LED TVs when they see them on show in store, with incredible contrast (around 3380 to 3700:1), or even 'infinite' contrast when black levels fall to zero. But is it really that impressive when whites remain at 53 cd/m²? Ultimately, it's a real shame that a TV of this quality doesn't allow you to deactivate dynamic backlighting as plenty of fans would have appreciated this option.
Everything else went very well, with even colors, the 120 Hz Motion Plus mode for more fluid movements and a total absence of clouding all very welcome findings. Test after test, a series of excellent results conspired to put the B7000 at the very top of our selection. Even in PC mode, we only measured an input lag of 46 ms, with the aspect ratio matching perfectly immediately; a computer monitor wouldn't have done much better. Overall, the image quality is sufficiently impressive to wow the majority of viewers who aren't going to pick faults with the glossy screen, the slightly narrow viewing angles or the slightly clunkys upscaling of SD sources. The quality of your input really does matter at 55'', though.Sound Quality
The speakers on Samsung's TVs have always been the manufacturer's Achilles' heel, and the UE55B7000 is no exception to the rule. The sound quality is quite frankly mediocre, especially for such an advanced TV. We do have to admit that fitting a powerful speaker in such a thin screen is practically impossible. Even with the volume at 80%, voices suffered from a noticeable vibration which then remained as we turned the volume down. It is possible, though, that this was a problem with the sample we were testing.Power Consumption
Put simply, the B7000 is the very first TV to reach our maximum score for energy efficiency. That's largely helped by the dynamic backlighting, which allows it to turn off a large number of LEDs when displaying our test card which shows an average brightness of 25%. That does match its real consumption, though, meaning the B7000 can boast of a very low consumption. It's one more argument in favor for anybody who is willing to put the environment ahead of being able to adjust the backlighting on their TV.Conclusion
All in all, Samsung's B7000 is an excellent TV for inexperienced customers who won't be able to pick up the problems caused by dynamic backlighting which won't fool somebody with a trained eye. Experts will be glad to hear that a hidden menu does indeed allow you to deactivate dynamic backlighting ... and lose your guarantee at the same time. For that reason, we can't encourage its use, and remain disappointed that it wasn't included as part of the standard interface; if it had been the B7000 could have earned five stars.
That's why Home Cinema fans are likely to seriously consider the Sony Bravia WE5 and W5500 as alternatives to the B7000 which will allow them to decide for themselves.