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!

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