Last Updated: November 2, 2013
Samsung vs. Sony LED LCD TV Sets
A950 vs. XBR8 - Part 1
Samsung Flagship Series: The A950
1080p 120Hz LCD HDTVs with LED Backlighting
The latest LED LCD HDTVs - despite being very expensive - are stirring up a lot of interest among videophiles. Top brands LG, Samsung, and Sony have all come up with their proposals. But it is Samsung A950 LED LCDs and Sony XBR8 Series that are turning out to be the most hotly debated LED LCDs. In other words, it's Samsung vs. Sony that is really the hot issue.
In this first part of our LCD HDTV Review article, we start with a short intro to LED LCD technology; we then proceed with a detailed review of the Samsung's second generation of mass-market LED LCDs, the A950 Series. In the second and third parts, we continue with a review of the Sony XBR8 LED LCD HDTVs, and ends with a comparative analysis of the two.
Samsung UN60F8000 60-Inch 1080p 240Hz 3D Ultra Slim Smart LED HDTV
This high-end feature-rich LED LCD TV enjoys superior picture performance for a LED TV. It comes with Samsung's Micro dimming Ultimate LED backlight technology - among the best in its class for black level performance and its ability to deliver subtle shadow detail. It is also the TV with the best feature set.
It is a bit expensive but... if plasma is not for you and still want to enjoy the best picture quality and the latest interactive TV features, the UNF8000 is definitely the TV to go for!
LED LCD TVs: Main Differences between Samsung and Sony
2008 is the year of the LED LCD TV. For the first time ever, various top brands have come up with a mass market attempt to deliver LCD HDTVs using cutting-edge LED backlighting technology.
The first mass-market attempt came from Samsung last year with the release of the 81F Series LED LCD TVs. However, this year is the first time we are seeing multiple top brands competing with this new technology. In fact, apart from Samsung with its A950 series, there are Sony with the XBR8 series of LED LCD TVs, and LG with their LG 47LG90. As always, new technology does not come cheap. Samsung flagship, the 46-inch LN46A950 1080p LED LCD HDTV is presently selling at just under $3,000 at amazon while its 55-inch version is selling at close to $4,000 - expensive but still affordable for those looking for the latest in flat-panel TV technology.
LG's only LED LCD TV for 2008, the 47-inch 47LG90 is also selling within the same price bracket as its Samsung equivalent. Despite what appears to be lack of interest in LG's LED LCD TV proposal, yet it is our opinion that the leaders in the field, Sony and Samsung, should very well keep an open eye on LG. LG will surely be posing some serious competition to the leaders in the not so distant future. During the last few years, LG has been quietly gaining market share in both plasma and LCD HDTVs - thanks to a range of products that offers innovative design concepts, cutting-edge technology, and an overall best-value to price ratio.
While both LG and Samsung LED LCD versions are basically selling within the same price bracket, Sony's XBR8 LCD HDTVs using LED backlight technology come at a significantly more expensive price tag. In fact, the 46-inch Sony KDL-46XBR8 LED LCD HDTV is selling at $5,000, while its 55-inch version, the KDL-55XBR8 is selling at $7,000. These prices render the Sony XBR8 series HDTVs exceptionally expensive for their screen size in comparison to what the competition is offering.
But it is not just the price that is different. Even the way Sony is implementing LED backlighting is different from Samsung and LG. All three TV makers are using hundreds of LEDs arranged in an array behind the screen to replace the standard CCFL backlight source; these LEDs can be individually dimmed or even switched off in line with the picture content. The differences here arise in that while Samsung and LG are using white LEDs to light their screens, Sony is using a three-color LED setup.
Termed Sony Triluminos Technology, Sony's LED backlight makes use of an LED light unit powered by two green LEDs, one red, and one blue. According to Sony, this produces a wider color gamut with improved color purity. We will soon see if this is so as we proceed with our comparative LCD TV review. In the meantime, we believe that it is this three-color LED backlight unit that has pushed Sony's price above that of the competition.
More information on LED backlighting technology is available in a separate article on our site here.
As stated earlier on, despite LG valid LED LCD TV proposal, the hot issue among videophiles and home theater enthusiasts remains a matter of Samsung versus Sony. So...
Does the higher price tag associated with the latest and greatest LCD technology from Sony correspond to a superior picture performance when compared with the Samsung A950 series?
To discuss this hotly debated issue, we will first look at each of these LED LCD TV series to see in more detail what's on offer from the two leaders in the field, and then confront the two for the best LED TV title. The following links will take you to the respective sections of this LED TV review article:
Part 1: Samsung A950 LED LCD HDTV Series
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As indicated earlier on, Series 9 represents Samsung second generation of LED-based backlit 1080p LCD HDTVs. This series comprises two models, the 46-inch LN46A950 and the 55-inch LN55A950.
Samsung first widely distributed LCD HDTVs using LED backlight technology came with the release of the LN-T81F series in September last year. Though the 81F series represented a breakthrough in LCD black level performance, yet this year LED LCD lineup represents some important improvements over last year's Samsung LED LCD TVs. In particular, Samsung A950 HDTVs are capable of delivering impressive deep levels of black that literally make these sets disappear when displaying dark content in a darkened environment such as in a home theater. This is possible thanks to the use of the latest cutting-edge LED backlighting technology with local dimming. A deep shade of black is a most important parameter in image quality as it helps improve the realism of dark scenes while making colors look richer and more saturated.
Obviously, the latest technology does not come cheap and these Samsung LED LCD TVs come at a rather expensive price - the 55-inch selling at around $4,000 while 46-inch stands at $3,000.
Samsung seems to be justifying this expensive price tag by throwing in all imaginable features. But then Samsung Series 7 LN52A750 52-inch is selling at almost half the price of the 55-inch LN55A950 Samsung LED backlight LCD. Apart from the use of CCFL backlighting on the Series 7, the two Samsung LCD HDTV series share basically the same feature set.
In other words, it is not the extended feature set that is making the A950 more expensive than Samsung's Series 8 or Series 7 LCD TVs. Rather, it is the new LED backlighting that eventually pushed the price high. Ultimately, it is also this new LED backlighting technology that is capable of transforming the picture on the A950 into one that rivals even some of the best plasmas when you take the best seat.
Samsung A950 LED LCD TV Series in Detail
Like Samsung Series 6, 7, and 8, Series 9 HDTVs come with Samsung's unique Touch of Color design - except that instead of having a red or mid-night blue accent, Series 9 HDTVs incorporate a neutral, and we add, elegant, charcoal gray bezel with a honey-comb pattern using dual-injection molding technology. This process is commonly applied in the design of premium automobiles to embed color within the material. The result is a subtle yet unique look with a distinct gray and black gradation.
The bezel on the A950 is relatively thick in comparison to what you find on other LCDs, making these LED LCD TVs appear a bit bulky. Overall dimensions are 45.7 x 29.9 x 4.2 inches without the stand for the 46-inch and 53.7 x 32.3 x 4.4 inches for the 55-inch. The stand adds an extra 2 inches in overall height plus a further 7 to 9 inches in the total depth. Unfortunately, unlike the other series within the 2008 Samsung LCD HDTV lineup, the pedestal stand provided with Samsung flagship series does not swivel.
The A950 comes with a shiny screen as has been the trend with the latest Samsung LCD HDTVs. This makes these sets more prone to picking up reflections when used in a brightly lit room. But according to Samsung, this shiny screen is partly the reason behind the set deep blacks. Replacing the diffusing matte screen with a reflective screen surface appears to be the best way to increase the overall black levels so peculiar with the latest Samsung LCD TVs.
An interesting feature associated with the A950 design is the remote; this uses a rotating wheel for menu navigation, similar to the scroll wheel on iPods. Overall menu navigation is easy while a 'Tools' button on the remote makes access to picture and sound controls quick. In this respect, the menu system on the A950 is well-designed and one of the most intuitive among HDTVs.
The Samsung flagship LED LCD TV series is probably one of the most feature-rich HDTV lineups around - with 1080p native resolution, loads of picture controls, interactive content, extended connectivity with 4 HDMI, digital media playback, DLNA support, etc.
Yet, irrespective of all the features on board, it is the LED backlighting that makes these 1080p native resolution Samsung HDTVs stand out from the rest. It is also this feature that is allowing TV makers like Samsung quote a dynamic contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1. What this big number really means in practical terms is another issue and for this we advise you to check our article on contrast ratio. But it still remains a fact that cutting edge LED backlight technology has brought about a new standard in picture performance.
This is possible as unlike CCFL backlighting which remains turned on all the time, LED backlights use local dimming technology whereby individually LEDs can be dimmed or even turned off as needed, thus allowing black areas of the picture to display as true black, unlike the dark gray characteristic associated with CCFL-based LCD HDTVs.
At present, LED backlight systems have got their own issues as well with respect to the selectiveness of the local dimming technology. This leads to a sort of subtle blooming or 'halo' effect in high contrast scenes as further detailed in our guide to LED LCD Technology.
Still, LED backlights with local dimming offers superior performance in terms of black levels than that possible with any standard CCFL-based LCDs.
As with the rest of premium LCD HDTVs in this year line-up, A950 LED LCD TVs incorporate 120Hz refresh rate dejudder modes, termed 'Auto Motion Plus.' This causes the TV to interpolate extra frames between the real content for a smoother display.
Combined with Samsung 'LED Smart Motion' - which scans the array of LED backlights from top to bottom at very fast rates much like a CRT, it helps eliminate motion blur so much common with typical LCD TVs.
Interesting is that with both Auto Motion plus and LED Smart Motion on, motion resolution on the A950 LCDs is practically close to the full 1080 lines supported by the HD standard.
The interactivity suite offered on the A950 series is the same as that found the Series 7 LCDs. The set Ethernet port allows the TV to connect to a home network with internet access to display current news, stock ticker information, and local weather. Strange is that you cannot use this internet connection to download any firmware updates direct to your TV; instead, these have to be carried over your PC and then uploaded to your TV via the set USB port.
Samsung flagship series comes preloaded with interactive content, including a few games, recipes, a slide show, a children's section, and a fitness section with stretching and massage instructions. More content can also be downloaded from Samsung's Web site, transferred to a USB drive, and played back via the built-in USB port.
Equally important, the A950 can play media files like MP3 audio, JPEG photo files, XviD and MPEG4 files either via a USB thumbdrive, or direct over your home network thanks to the A950 Wiselink Pro-DLNA feature.
CNET reports that despite the Wiselink Pro-DLNA is being labeled as Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA)-compliant, these Samsung LED LCD TV sets do not support third party DLNA server software like Windows Media Player II. This implies that you will have to install the supplied Samsung DLNA server software on your PC first. We still believe however that this represents a great option that should simplify multimedia sharing in the home.
Samsung HDTVs are characterized by an extended list of picture controls. The A950 LED LCD TV is no exception. Included are three adjustable picture modes that are each independent per input. In addition, there are three more picture presets, called 'Entertainment Modes' that are not user adjustable.
Other picture controls include five color temperature presets, with the ability to fine-tune color using the white-balance menu; three noise reduction modes; a film mode to engage 2:3 pull-down; a seven-position gamma control that affects the TV's progression from dark to light; a dynamic contrast control that adjusts the picture contrast on the fly; a 'black adjust' to control shadow detail; and a new color space control to tweak Samsung's color gamut and color decoding.
The user can choose from four aspect ratio modes for HD sources plus four additional modes for use with standard-definition content. A 'Just Scan' mode is also available to scale 1080i and 1080p content directly to the panel's pixels with no overscan; this is the best mode to choose especially when handling PC generated content.
Samsung LED LCD TVs come with three energy saving modes plus an auto mode. Like Panasonic, Samsung is using the 'Standard' as the default mode for 'Home Use' instead of its brightest picture mode which is used when selecting the 'Store Demo' setting. This helps save considerable energy over the already low power consumption associated with LED LCD TVs. In fact, the Samsung A950 series power requirement is among the best and is some 100W less than typical CCFL-based LCD TVs. In reality, this Home/Store option is a requirement for all Energy Star 3.0 compliant devices.
Samsung LN55A950 and LN46A950 LED LCD TVs also come with Samsung's picture-in-picture feature in a similar manner to what you find on Samsung LCD TV Series 8, 7, 6, and 5. In view that these Samsung HDTVs come with one tuner, you can only use the PIP feature together with an external source. More specifically, you can view TV broadcasts on the PIP screen (sub-picture) only when the main picture is from an external device connected to HDMI, HDMI/DVI 2, HDMI 3, HDMI 4, Component1, 2 or PC; it does not work the other way round.
Connectivity on the Samsung A950 LED LCD TVs is among the most complete. The rear panel features three HDMI ver.1.3, two component video inputs, a VGA-style RGB PC input supporting a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, a single RF input for cable and antenna, an S-video input, a digital audio output, and an Ethernet port for connection to a home network.
There is also a proprietary Samsung connection, labeled 'Ex-Link' to connect the optional motorized wall mount bracket; this gives you the possibility to adjust the set viewing angle using the TV remote control.
The A950 side panel includes a fourth HDMI port, a composite video input, a USB 2.0 connection - labeled 'Wiselink Pro' - to view movies, photos, and listen to music files, and to install firmware upgrades.
Samsung LN-xxA950 LED LCD TVs - Overall Performance
We have already stated that Samsung Series 9 LED LCD TVs are capable of exceptional black levels - delivering one of the best overall pictures irrespective of display technology. The only real competition that the Samsung A950 HDTVs face comes from another LED LCD TV lineup, and that's Sony's latest flagship XBR8 series.
Cnet reviews stated that if it were not for some off-angle viewing issues, the Samsung performance would be on par even with the very best Pioneer KURO plasma HDTVs. During side by side tests carried by the CNET editors, the Samsung screen performed just better than the Panasonic plasma, while during instances of content where the screen faded entirely into black, the Samsung screen turned out darker than the Pioneer as the LEDs turned off completely. This is something that is not possible even with the best plasmas due to the persistence of the phosphors used in plasma displays.
In a similar manner, color reproduction on the A950 LED LCD TVs is extremely accurate with colors that remain true and accurate across the full range of shades of gray - thanks to an accurate grayscale and spot-on color decoding. This is typical of Samsung HDTVs; in this area, Samsung is definitely doing better than most other TV makers.
Video processing on the Samsung A950 LED LCD TVs is practically free from artifacts and noise - making this one of the best lineups. When it comes to motion blur, the Samsung is once again a top performer as long as you engage the set Auto Motion Plus and LED Smart Motion referred to above.
The Samsung LED LCD TVs are capable of de-interlacing 1080i film- and video-based material correctly. Similarly, standard definition content looks good on the A950 - producing sharp images without any jagged diagonals while resolving every line in the DVD format.
Equally significant is that the Samsung A950 LED LCD TVs can very well serve as big PC monitors, thanks to the 'Just Scan' mode and their ability to display crisp clear text while fully resolving 1920 x 1080 images, both via the set PC input as well as via the HDMI ports.
On the negative side, the Samsung screen seems to deliver less impact when dealing with the more average content as a result of the blooming effect referred to earlier on in this article. The blooming - more of a halo like around dark content over a bright background - on the Samsung is subtle abut noticeable.
With the number of LEDs used today in LED backlight systems, there are not enough LEDs to correspond to the individual pixels making up the image. This means that local dimming can never be selective enough to correspond to the individual pixel requirements with the result that some light will always spill over to adjacent dark areas. This blooming seems to affect all present LED LCD TVs - irrespective of brand, and becomes more apparent when the screen is displaying bright areas onto an overall dark background; in these circumstances, dark areas of the image next to bright backgrounds seem to grow subtly brighter.
Image uniformity across the screen is one of the best - with an exceptionally even light output and neutral color across the full screen area.
However, neutral colors and deep levels of black on the Samsung hold only when viewing takes place from the centermost position. The picture black levels deteriorates considerably than standard LCDs with off-axis viewing. Blooming will also worsen away from the optimum seating position - same as with the Sony LED TV. This is a true case that irrespective of the latest cutting-edge LED LCD TV technology, the substantially cheaper plasmas still hold their post when it comes to off-angle performance.
The myriad of picture controls can make the A950 calibration more demanding. At the same time, having so many user controls is surely an added bonus as these will enable the more technically minded users to zero-in on the best picture.
Overall however, the A950 default picture settings are pretty accurate. This means that if these controls are a bit too confusing, you may always opt to select one of the automatic picture settings. In particular, the 'Movie' mode on the Samsung A950 LED LCD TVs is capable of delivering fairly accurate and natural looking images.
Glare can be an issue with the A950 reflective screen surface when viewing takes place under bright lighting and especially when displaying darker scenes. The matte-screen on the Sony LED LCD TVs can do a better job here.
However, despite their reflective screen, the Samsung LED LCD TVs maintain black levels much better under bright lighting than other top LCD HDTVs within their class.
Part 2: Sony XBR8 Series of LED LCD TVs