THE GOOD: Slightly darker black levels than some edge-lit LED-based LCDs; mostly accurate color with linear grayscale in bright areas; handles 1080p/24 content well enough; numerous picture controls and tweaks; superb streaming and widget content via well-integrated Apps platform; sleek styling with inch-deep panel; energy efficient.
THE BAD: Relatively expensive; lighter black levels than most local dimming LED-based LCDs; subpar uniformity and off-angle viewing; inaccurate primary color of red; black areas tinged bluer; stand styling not for everyone.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Though its picture doesn't overcome the typical disadvantages of edge-lit LED LCDs, the excellent feature set and minimalist style of the Samsung UNC6500 series exhibit plenty of appeal.
Samsung's ultrathin edge-lit LED-based LCD TVs created quite a stir last year, and in 2010 numerous other makers have followed the Korean giant's lead with inch-or-so-thick panels of their own. Samsung's are generally still the thinnest, however, and on models like the UNC6500 series the company manages to pack more features and extras--the latest being Hulu Plus--into its TVs than just about anyone else. In terms of picture quality, as expected, the UNC6500 doesn't offer a significant improvement over standard LCDs, but it is mighty efficient as well as oh-so-sleek, which might be enough to justify the extra cost to buyers who don't care about 3D.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 46-inch Samsung UN46C6500, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
Like most other edge-lit LED-based LCD displays, the most striking design characteristic of the Samsung UNC6500 series is a thin profile when viewed side-on. Seen from the front, the TV's skinny design aesthetic continues with a narrow, dark gray bezel textured in a brushed, matte finish we prefer to the standard glossy black found on many TVs. A transparent edge completes the subtle look of the panel itself--a look that seems at odds with the decidedly unsubtle, four-legged, chrome-colored stand. We still prefer the UNC6500's looks to the all-silver of the UNC8000 series, but both buck the TV norm and may stand out (no pun intended) too much for many living room decors.
The remote included with the UNC6500, though similar in size, shape, and button count to the one offered on step-up sets like the UNC8000, has one huge advantage. Instead of catering to slick looks with impossible-to-use, flush semikeys, the C6500's clicker has standard, raised buttons. We don't like the new grid layout as much as the better-differentiated cursor keys on last year's remotes, but at least that fingerprint-magnet finish is gone.
Samsung didn't change its basic TV control menus from last year, and that's a good thing. The transparent, blue-highlighted graphics are easy to read and navigate, and response is snappier than last year. Text explanations are present for just about every function.
The big step-up feature of the UNC6500 series over less expensive Samsung LED-based LCDs, such as the UNC5000 and UNC6300 series, is the company's Apps platform of built-in streaming services. This is the least expensive Samsung LED-based LCD TV to offer Apps, although if you want to connect via Wi-Fi, you will have to pay extra for the USB dongle.
The UNC6500's other key options are standard for a midrange LED, starting with the edge-lit backlight (more info). It lacks the 3D found on the UNC7000 series, but if the 3D issues we experienced on the UNC8000 are any indication, you might not want to pay extra for this new feature.
In terms of video processing step-ups, the difference between the 6500's 120Hz and the 7000's 240Hz is even less noticeable than usual. Though we did detect minor smoothing with 1080p/24 sources on the 6500 compared to some other TVs, we deem it minor enough to still award a "Yes" for this feature (see Performance for more).
As of press time the ever-evolving Samsung Apps platform is the only one available with Hulu Plus, although Vizio and Sony Internet-compatible TVs are slated to get the subscription streaming video service this fall. Even after that happens, however, we're betting Samsung will still offer the largest number of video streamers thanks to options like Dailymotion, CinemaNow, and Blockbuster, which are not found on other TVs.
No major video services go missing, and audio is covered by both Pandora and Napster. With the exception of Amazon VOD and Synch TV Kids, which take the form of Yahoo widgets for some reason, all of the streaming services are integrated into Samsung's main Apps platform.
We didn't test Netflix, Amazon, Vudu or YouTube this time around, mainly because the services worked well, as expected, on previous Samsungs like the UNC8000 and PNC7000. We did check out Hulu Plus, however, and came away with mostly positive impressions. Video quality was very good to excellent overall, depending on the source, navigation was snappy and we liked the built-in search (aside from the tedium of entering terms using the TV's remote) and the App's general interface.
The one big problem we had with Hulu Plus, however, was lack of picture control. On other Apps, like Netflix, we were able to adjust basic picture parameters, choose from among picture modes, and most importantly (as far as we're concerned) disable dejudder processing. With Hulu Plus none of those options were available, and the picture looked stuck in the default Dynamic setting--otherwise known as Torch Mode, with overly bright highlights, oversaturated, inaccurate colors and the telltale smoothing effect of dejudder. We assume Samsung will update the App to include some picture controls in the future, but as it stands we prefer to get Hulu Plus from an external source (like the Blu-ray player), where picture controls remain an option.
Check out our hands-on impressions of Hulu Plus on the Samsung CD-C6900 Blu-ray player for more info.
Samsung wants you to think of its Apps platform much like a certain other Apps store from Apple. The TV version from Samsung is a far cry from the iPhone version today, but does offer more options than similar services on other brands' TVs. Since the service debuted earlier this year it has added Facebook, Google Maps, and videos with product support and info on Samsung products. On the other hand most of the games are gone, to the disappointment of absolutely no one.
In addition to Apps within the main interface, there's a separate Yahoo widgets interface with 23 total add-ons available at press time. They include weather, news, sports, and the like, along with meatier widgets like Amazon Video-on-Demand, Drivecast, Flickr and, yes, Facebook. The widget experience is much, much better than in the past, owing to faster load and response times. Now the widget taskbar comes up almost immediately, and navigating between widgets and within a widget itself is a breeze.
On the other hand we'd prefer to see one integrated interface, such as the one Vizio offers, for all interactive functions. For both Facebook and Twitter, for example, the TV has both an App by Samsung and a Yahoo widget. Both interfaces offer news, weather and even photo services (Picasa for Apps, Flickr for widgets). With all that content, juggling two interface options can become confusing.
Both Apps and widgets have profiles and universal sign-in features, which makes them easier to use. An option to input searches, passwords and other text with something other than the unwieldy onscreen keyboard would help a lot, however.
Samsung has officially retaken the picture settings crown from LG this year, at least on step-up models like the UNC6500, which offers basically the same level of control found on flagship Samsung TVs. Highlights for tweakers include a new 10-point system that works pretty well--(albeit not as well as LG's) in addition to a dejudder control system that does work better than LG's (albeit not quite as well as Samsung's own system from last year). Internal test patterns and red, green, and blue color filters also help would-be calibrators.
Not much goes missing here, although we'd like to see a real onscreen manual as opposed to the simplistic "connection guide." The troubleshooting section is nice, but is mostly geared toward easing the job of customer service reps tasked with diagnosing owner problems over the phone. We like the option to turn off the screen manually, leaving just the sound, which cuts power use down to 24.3 watts.
Since it's limited by cabinet depth, the jack pack of the UNC6500 is unusual. A horizontal and a vertical row of jacks are arranged so the cables run parallel to the panel, instead of plugging in perpendicular. The selection of analog inputs is sparse almost to a fault, with just one composite and one component port, which share a single audio input. Plenty of HDMI inputs are available however, and the second USB port is nice if you use the optional Wi-Fi dongle for one.
Though not up to the picture quality standards of local dimming models or Samsung's own flagship hybrid dimmer, the UNC8000, the significantly less expensive UNC6500 showed image quality on par with other edge-lit models we've tested. Black levels were a bit deeper than other edge-lit sets, if unspectacular overall; color accuracy was solid in bright areas and suffered as the image darkened; and uniformity showed some characteristic flaws.
Prior to calibration the Movie mode of the UNC6500 was the most accurate, as usual for Samsung. It turned in a relatively linear grayscale that was nonetheless plus-blue overall, with gamma that was too dark (2.53 versus the 2.2 target), especially in the dimmer parts of the image. After calibrating the user-menu controls, especially the 10-point Interval system, we achieved even better linearity--aside from areas below 20 IRE, which veered from plus-green to extremely plus-blue near black--and excellent gamma (2.28 average). We'd like to see finer control of the grayscale points, especially in those dark areas, but overall the final result was solid.
One exception was the primary color of red, which was unusually inaccurate for Samsung, being shifted toward blue. We did not attempt to correct this issue with the color management system, although perhaps a more thorough calibration could do so.
For our image-quality tests we looked up "The Book of Eli" on Blu-ray and compared the Samsung UNC6500 to the models below.
Black level: The Samsung UNC6500 outdid the edge-lit LED-based models from LG and Sony in this area, but couldn't match the others, including the less expensive Panasonic and Vizio models. As usual we saw the biggest difference in darker scenes, such as Eli's stay in the shack in Chapter 1. The letterbox bars, black shadows and black structures in the foreground all appeared deeper and more realistic on the other displays than on the UNC6500, with the exception of the LG LH5500 and the Sony EX700.
Overall shadow detail was solid. The somewhat lighter black levels did make shadows appear less realistic than on the deeper-black TVs, but in its favor the Samsung didn't obscure as many details in dark areas as some of the other sets, including the LH5500 and the Sony, nor did it evince the brighter shadows we saw on the Panasonic plasma.
Color accuracy: In most scenes the UNC6500 delivered solid color, although a couple of issues separated it from our reference. Skin tones in dimmer scenes, such as Solara's face when she describes her night with Eli to Carnegie in Chapter 11, evinced a bluish cast--perhaps due in part to the primary color of red's shift toward blue--which persisted in brighter areas, albeit to a lesser extent. Black areas and near-black shadows also showed the telltale bluish tone seen on many of the other LCDs, albeit not nearly to the same extent as the Sony.
On the other hand the difficult muted colors of the skies and landscapes seemed relatively close to our reference in bright areas, and in the few scenes with vibrant colors, such as the approach to the California hills in Chapter 21, primary and secondary color accuracy was mostly good.
Video processing: Samsung equipped the UNC6500 with numerous video processing settings, including three dejudder presets--Clear, Standard and Smooth--that join a Custom setting under the Auto Motion Plus (AMP) menu. Engaging any of the three presets introduces the characteristic smoothing effect, as well as some artifacts, so we preferred the freedom of Custom. That mode, which includes both a Blur Reduction and a Judder Reduction setting, lets you tweak both parameters to your liking. We prefer minimal dejudder, but having the option to dial in as much or as little as you like is very welcome, and worked much better than we saw on LG's custom system, for example.
Though the UNC6500 didn't handle 1080p/24 sources as well as some of the other displays, it performed well enough to pass muster in our opinion. The best setting we saw was AMP at Custom with Judder Reduction at 0 and Blur reduction at 10, but compared to the UNC8000, the Kuro and the VT25, for example, the UNC6500 was slightly smoother, a sign that it was still doing some dejudder (despite the zero setting). Videophiles looking for the setting that best captures the director's intent, however, will use Custom in those settings for 1080p/24 content, and they'd be hard-pressed to notice any smoothing outside of a side-by-side comparison.
In Custom with film-based 1080i sources, like our DirecTV satellite box showing an episode of Cold Case on TNT HD, we noticed occasional skips, where the whole image seemed to drop a frame or two--although rewinding to play the scene again would sometimes fix the problem. That's why, with non-1080p/24 sources, we recommend leaving AMP turned Off unless you like the smoothing effect or are especially sensitive to blur.
With AMP set to Clear or Off, the set seemed to be treating the image with 2:3 pulldown, showing the slightly stuttering cadence seen on 60Hz models (Clear looked smoother than Off, however). The other AMP settings introduced more smoothing/dejudder.
In our motion resolution tests the UNC6500 scored between 500 and 600 lines--standard for a 120Hz LCD--with LED Motion Plus turned Off, and the maximum 1200 lines with it turned on--better than any non-240Hz LCD we've tested. LED Motion Plus, not to be confused with AMP dejudder processing described above (which, aside from Custom's Blur Reduction setting, didn't affect these numbers), uses a technology called black frame insertion to improve motion resolution. As usual with such tests, however, we had a difficult time detecting any real-world differences between any of the settings, despite the large numeric discrepancies, so we left LED Motion Plus turned off for our evaluation. Notably, engaging it also dims the image considerably.
As with previous Samsung TVs, the UNC6500 only passed the 1080i film deinterlacing test when we set Film Mode to Auto 1.
Uniformity: Like the other edge-lit LED-based LCDs we've tested, the Samsung UNC6500 showed significant issues in this category. We noticed extra brightness along the bottom edge of the screen in both light and dark material, and in dark scenes larger, amorphous brighter areas were evident in the corners and on the left half of the screen. We saw the brighter corners and bottom edge most prominently in the letterbox bars, where they were the most visible uniformity defect of any TV in our lineup. In mid- and darker full-raster test patterns vertical banding was also visible, although it was more difficult to see in most program material.
When seen from off-angle, the UNC6500 lost color fidelity and black levels as it became bluer/greener and brighter/less saturated, respectively. Its color shift was among the worst in our lineup. Though black levels also brightened considerably from off-angle, in this regard the UNC6500 fared a bit better than the LG LE5500 and Vizio LCDs, and similar to the Sony, but not as well as the C8000 and especially the LE8500.
Bright lighting: With the lights turned up the Samsung UNC6500's glossy screen behaved just like that of the company's UNC8000: prone to bright reflections but very good at preserving black levels. We preferred the matte screen seen on TVs like the Vizio, the Sony and the LG LH5500 overall, but the UNC6500 handily beat the LG LH8500 in this department.
In darker scenes we could easily make out objects reflected in the screen, such as the clothing of viewers or brighter furniture, and in some cases those reflections became distracting. On the other hand the UNC6500 kept black areas looking darker than the Pioneer and Panasonic plasmas, for example, which helped preserve contrast. As usual, we recommend viewers who can't control ambient lighting, especially windows or other bright objects facing the screen, go with a matte screen as opposed to glossy.
Standard-definition: With standard-def sources the UNC6500 performed well. It delivered every line of the DVD format and details were relatively sharp. Jaggies in moving lines were kept to a minimum, and noise reduction functioned well, including the Auto settings. In Auto 1 and Auto 2 film modes the set engaged 2;3 pull-down effectively.
PC: Via VGA the UNC6500 appeared a bit softer than we expected on text and other sharp objects, and test patterns confirmed that it couldn't quite pass full 1,920x1,080. Via HDMI there were no issues.
Power consumption: We did not test the power consumption of this size in the Samsung UNC6500 series, but we did test the 46-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the Samsung UN46C6500.