Monday, June 30, 2008

Samsung LN52A650 LCD Calibration

The competition in the flat-panel TV market has never been hotter and LCD has taken a commanding lead over plasma in recent years. While plasma still holds the edge in image quality, LCDs are so close as to be nearly indistinguishable from even the best plasmas. Samsung has taken a strong position with their latest line of displays including the 550, 650 and 750 models. The 650 includes a 120hz refresh rate and correct handling of 24p sources with 5:5 cadence. There are 4 HDMI inputs, 2 component inputs and an attractive bezel with a hint of red tint around the edges.

I calibrated only the digital inputs on this TV so I used the side-mounted HDMI port to plug in the signal generator. Initial measurements in Movie mode showed perfect color primaries and nearly perfect secondaries. I engaged the extremely handy blue-only mode in order to set the color and tint controls. This is far more accurate than using a blue filter. I wish all TVs had this feature. I displayed a color bar pattern and adjusted color until all bars showed a uniform blue. I didn’t have to adjust the tint control. Verifying the results with my color meter showed a perfectly aligned decoder. This took me all of 2 minutes, amazing! Levels at the default settings weren’t too far off but the gamma curve was a bit high at 2.34 yet I had downward room in brightness. Fortunately, there is a usable gamma control along with the backlight adjustment available on most LCDs. I lowered both brightness and backlight and raised gamma. I wound up at a gamma of 2.2. I was able to max contrast without a color shift or any crushing. Grayscale was also no problem with the included gain and cut controls. As always, if you want to adjust this yourself, use a color meter. The Warm2 color temp was pretty close. I was able to improve on the default settings resulting in Delta C readings under 1.0 from 20 to 100 IRE. Color accuracy and grayscale tracking on this TV is simply superb. It’s so refreshing to finally see TV manufacturers providing an accurate picture mode and the adjustments necessary to maintain it. Bravo Samsung!

After color and level calibration, I was anxious to test the various motion processing options. Samsung calls theirs Auto Motion. There are three levels in addition to the off setting. Off means there is simply 5:5 pulldown applied to incoming 60hz signals. From what I could tell watching actual content, this held true. Standard DVD looked suitably film-like. Even with correct motion processing, some titles will still show a little judder. The better the transfer, the less judder you will see. I viewed the THX-certified Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope. The opening scene with the Imperial star destroyer chasing Princess Leia’s blockade runner showed smooth motion and no artifacting. Turning on Auto Motion enabled the frame interpolation feature. While things became even smoother, it was no longer film-like. On the high setting, it was positively un-natural. It’s ultimately up to personal preference. I encourage clients to experiment with the different degrees of motion processing to decide which they like best. I prefer to retain the frame rates of the original film. With more interpolation, there is some artifacting. This shows up as occasional breakup of fast-moving objects, almost like a flash of macro-blocking. It’s not huge but it does catch the attention of a video geek like myself. Some however do prefer the interpolation. My only advice: try the different settings for a few days at a time. As with any aspect of calibration, it takes time to become accustomed to a change.

Since there are now only a few major companies selling plasma panels, LCD is pretty much taking over the market by default. This latest series of Samsung LCDs is the best competition for plasma I’ve seen yet. Plasma still holds the edge in black levels and viewing angle but LCDs can put out more light, are easier to mount on a wall and consume less energy. The latest panels also boast excellent color accuracy and grayscale tracking. The advanced motion processing features make them a perfect compliment to a shiny new blu-ray player. Even prices have come down to the point where it’s either a small or no price difference to choose LCD. For the typical living room with medium to high levels of ambient light, LCD is a better choice due to its high output and less-reflective screen. If you’re shopping for a new LCD, this Samsung is a great choice.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the view!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Samsung LN32A550 LCD Calibration

I continue to be impressed with Samsung’s line of LCD TVs. Ranging in size from 22 to 52 inches, there is a panel to fit any imaginable viewing situation. The LN32A550 is one of a very few 32 inch panels that have a 1080p native resolution. It also includes a myriad of calibration controls normally only found in flagship displays. There is a color management system, grayscale, gamma control and the usual host of defeatable enhancements.

I used the Movie picture mode for all inputs. This turns off all enhancements by default and sets a correct Rec 709 color space for HD signals. I recommend using all hi-def sources with this TV as the components will likely do a better job of scaling. A quality upconverting DVD like the Oppo line and a hi-def cable or satellite box set to 1080i are the best devices to use. De-interlacing of 1080i is good. I could see no difference in zone plate patterns when an Oppo 980 did the deinterlacing versus the TV doing it.

Calibration was a breeze as all controls are available in the user menu. Drilling down from the front page, there are many options in the Detailed Settings and Picture Options menus. My favorite feature is the Blue Only mode. This shuts off the Red and Green primaries allowing you to set color and tint accurately with a color bar pattern. It took me all of a minute to achieve almost perfect decoding on all HDMI inputs. Component inputs were not tested. Brightness and Contrast were set with ease. This is where it’s important to turn off enhancements like Dynamic Contrast and Black Adjust. These controls change levels as the picture changes and can produce many unwanted effects like floating blacks and color shifts in brighter scenes. Edge Enhancement should also be turned off. Surprisingly though, the Digital Noise Reduction feature works very well on the Auto setting. I used images from the HQV test disc to verify that noise was indeed reduced without softening the picture. Sharpness was set to 0 as well. Grayscale tracking was typical for an LCD but I was able to dial it to within 150k of D65. Gamma was 2.5 at the default setting. Lowering it one click brought it to 2.2. Interestingly, the gamma setting flattened the grayscale a bit, smoothing a dip at 60 IRE.

I was very happy with the final result. The image was punchy and color was spot-on. I couldn’t achieve a plasma-class black level but my minimum reading of .04fl was quite good. Perceived contrast was quite high as the 100 IRE field and window patterns measured over 80fl! I was able to max the Contrast control without crushing or causing a color shift. As this TV was in a mid to high light level room, these settings were appropriate. In a darker setting, one could turn down the Backlight to achieve better blacks. Real world on/off contrast was 2000:1 and ANSI was about 1600:1 - all in all, an excellent display and an attractive one too. The base and bezel are finished in a high-gloss piano black, very sexy! I highly recommend this TV. LCDs are appropriate in a room where lighting conditions are less controlled and there are hotspot reflections. The anti-glare properties of the screen are superior to plasma as is the overall light output. Given the image quality and large list of calibration controls, I’d rate Samsung LCD TVs as among the best in class.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the view!