Samsung LN55A950 55-inch LCD HDTV

The Short Form
$4,999 (list) / SAMSUNG.COM / 800-726-7864
Snapshot
Samsung scores with a new high- tech LCD that gives plasma some serious competition in the black- level department
Plus
• Deep, rich blacks and detailed shadows • Superb video processing
Minus
• Picture contrast is reduced for off-axis viewers • Glossy screen reflects room light
Key Features
• 1080p resolution • LED backlight with local dimming • 120-Hz display • Deep Color/xvYCC display options • AnyNet+ HDMI • Inputs: (4) HDMI 1.3, (2) component and (2) composite video, S-video, RF antenna/cable, USB, and Ethernet • 53¾ x 34¾ x 13¼ in; 91¼ lb
Ten months might not seem like a long time, but it's an eternity when it comes to TV technology. If you read "The Great Flat-Panel Face-off" (February/March 2008), you'll remember that we found that a state-of-the-art plasma TV can generally outperform the best LCD model. But we also said that LCD technology still has plenty of tricks up its sleeve, and that we could expect more major advances before too long. Well, with the release of Samsung's latest top-of-the-line LN55A950 LCD, that time is now.

LCDs have always been good at delivering the kind of bright and punchy image that keeps them flying off the shelves in brightly lit Costcos. But their picture contrast and shadow detail have never been quite as impressive as the finest plasmas. Unlike a plasma, where each pixel generates its own light and can be turned on and off individually, most LCDs use a fluorescent backlight that's constantly on, with the LCD crystals opening and closing sequentially to block the light. This system is less than perfect because each pixel lets a tiny bit of the light bleed through even when fully shuttered, resulting in a decreased overall black level.

One solution is to replace the fluorescent light source with an array of white LED lamps, allowing the TV to selectively turn illumination down or even off for areas of the image that are very dark or black. Samsung used this technology in the LN-T5281F model featured in the flat-panel face-off, and it can also be found in the LN55A950. While the LED backlight is probably the LN55A950's most significant feature, this flagship model also includes a head-spinning array of other features and adjustments. A 120-Hz screen-refresh rate is now pretty standard on top LCDs, but the 950's version lets you choose between three levels of motion smoothing. You can connect the Samsung to a home network and use the set's Ethernet port to stream video from your computer; you can also connect online to a Samsung server that provides constantly updated news, stock prices, and local weather forecasts.

Samsung calls its current house style "A Touch of Color," due to the thin colored stripe embedded into the frame of the TVs. With sets from the 950 series, that stripe is gray (a touch of gray?), and the frame has a very subtle woven effect that looks a bit like fish scales. The focus here was obviously more on features and performance than on trying to create a super-narrow frame or slender panel, so the 950 is actually somewhat bulkier than some of the latest super-slim models.

Along with the Ethernet connection, you get a comprehensive array of inputs, including four HDMI 1.3 ports, two component-video inputs, an RGB computer input, a USB port, and an RF connection for the set's ATSC tuner. The remote is one of the best I've encountered in a while, with a logical layout and a fully backlit keypad. You don't even need to track down the light button since a built-in motion sensor lights up the keypad automatically whenever the remote is moved. There are six aspect-ratio modes available (depending on the input-signal format), including a dot-for-dot mode called Just Scan. Unfortunately, instead of having a simple dedicated button that lets you cycle through the aspect-ratio options, you have to perform several keystrokes using the onscreen menu.

SETUP

The 950 series has the most comprehensive set of picture controls I've ever encountered on a TV. Picture settings can be adjusted independently for each input. Out of the box, the Movie mode with the Warm 2 color temperature had the most accurate picture, although as with several recent TVs I've tested, the preset color points were pushed out somewhat beyond the standard (see Test Bench).

Samsung clearly felt that it had something to prove with this set's black-level performance, since there are no fewer than four adjustments that directly affect black level. Particular care needs to be taken with the Dynamic Contrast control. At its higher settings, it can eliminate deep shadow detail completely from very dark images by turning the LED backlighting off for certain zones.

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