Last Updated: November 2, 2013
UNB8500 Samsung LED TV Series
Full Product Evaluation Part 1: Features
Samsung best LED LCD TV with local dimming technology
Samsung edge-lit LED LCD TVs released earlier on this year have so far proved to be among the most popular - mainly thanks to their ultra slim design and their LED lighting technology.
Yet the best LED LCD TVs had still to come - with Samsung's new UNB8500 series. These use LED lighting with local dimming - a totally different beast to edge-lit based backlight LED TV technology. But as expected, the best in LED TV technology does not come cheap; these LED TVs are extremely expensive.
The issue is... do the UNB8500 features and performance justify their expensive price tag?
Samsung UN60F8000 60-Inch 1080p 240Hz 3D Ultra Slim Smart LED HDTV
This high-end feature rich LED HDTV comes with Samsung's Micro dimming Ultimate LED backlight technology - among the best in its class for black level performance. It is also the TV with the best feature set.
Introducing the new Samsung UNB8500 LED TV Series
Released in October this year, the new UNB8500 Series HDTVs represent Samsung latest addition to its popular LED TV lineup. It is a replacement to Samsung's 2008 highly performing A950 series of LED LCD TVs. Like the A950, the new UNB8500 series comes in two screen sizes, the 46-inch UN46B8500 ($3,100) and the 55-inch UN55B8500 ($4050).
Samsung's 2008 series was renowned for its inky blacks and overall picture performance, yet it was not proclaimed as the king of LCD TVs. That place was reserved for Sony's XBR8 LED LCD TVs - which also used local dimming. Instead, the new UNB8500 Samsung LED TV series seems set to become the new king of LCD.
Main highlights - apart from local dimming technology - of the new B8500 Samsung LED TV series include a 7,000,000:1 mega contrast ratio; this is the highest ever quoted by a TV maker. These sets also come with an ultra sleek 1.6-inch thin profile, Samsung's Medi@2.0 interactive internet-enabled TV content, 240Hz processing technology, and 2msec pixel response time. The latter is necessary to support the 240Hz refresh rate.
As expected, Samsung is making the whole world know that the latest addition to its 2009 LED TV line comes with local dimming technology. This means that individual groups of LEDs behind the screen can be dimmed and even turned off - depending on the brightness of the content at the respective screen area - to achieve exceptional black levels that no conventional LCD or edge-lit LED TV can attain.
Instead, when the first edge-lit LED TVs appeared earlier on this year, like the majority of TV makers, Samsung simply referred to these as LED TVs - without differentiating between edge-lit LED technology and the superior local dimming LED technology.
Simplistically speaking, edge-lit LED TVs are nothing more than standard LCD TVs with LED (light-emitting diodes) as their light source instead of CCFL. In other words, while these LED TVs are definitely capable of an excellent picture with deeper blacks than conventional LCDs, yet they cannot produce the same deep backs as LED TVs using local dimming technology.
We were among the first to point out this matter when we first published our Samsung LED TV 2009 product guide for B6000, B7000, and B8000 edge-lit series.
Unfortunately very few consumers are aware of the technical differences between these two LED backlight technologies, least imagine the implications of such differences. We would not be discussing these differences here (for this, please check out our guide to LED LCD Technology). Many consumers simply associate LED with the latest hot spec of the day and go on to buy an edge-lit LED TV without actually knowing what they are buying. We are not saying that edge-lit LED TVs are not good - they definitely are. But the issue remains that TV makers seem to enjoy taking a ride over consumer ignorance and often play around with words and numbers to help sell their products.
Note: This is not a hands-on review followed by an in-depth technical evaluation of the new Samsung LED TV B8500 series. Our product evaluations take a detailed look at the product features and analyze the technical implication of the product specs with respect to performance. This should lead to a better understanding of what to expect in terms of functionality and performance.
However, we do not stop there. We also confront our technical analysis with what other experts are saying about this new Samsung LED TV series, as well as see what lucky owners of the new king of LCD are saying following their purchase. We hope that our researched approach and technical evaluation be of some assistance to you in your search for an HDTV that best fits your needs.
The B8500 Series LED HDTVs in detail...
More than just thin
The UNB8500 Samsung LED TV series can be regarded as an extension to Samsung less expensive edge-lit UNB8000 LED TVs. In fact, Samsung classifies both as Series 8 LED TVs; both share an almost identical look and feel as well as an almost identical feature set - with a few differences though.
Main aesthetics: Like Samsung Series 8 edge-lit LED TVs, the new B8500 Samsung LED TVs share the same minimalistic design. The real differentiating factor between B8500 and B8000 HDTVs is the presence of a clear plastic reflector just beneath the Samsung logo, which further enhances the blue light from the power LED. However, the blue light can be disabled from the setting menu.
Touch controls are included on the bottom right (with respect to viewer) of the frame for source selection, menu, volume, and channel control - all labeled in faint white markings.
B8500 Samsung LED TVs are extremely thin - at no more than 1.6-inch irrespective of screen size. It is true that B8000 edge-lit LED TVs are even thinner at 1.2-inches. But for an LED TV with local dimming, this represents a truly technical advancement over corresponding 2008 models - with Samsung A950 at 4-inch thick and Sony XBR8 at 5.9-inchs.
The slightly slimmer profile of the B8000 series arise out of the difference in the backlight itself. LED TVs using local dimming employ a full array of LEDs directly behind the LCDs display panel. Instead, edge-lit LED TVs use LEDs along the edges of the panel - and then use a special dispersion layer behind the display panel to send light towards the full area of the screen.
To complement the thin profile of these Samsung LED TVs, Samsung provides an ultra slim fixed wall mounting bracket - the Samsung WMN1000B low-profile wall mount. This is suitable for all 40-inch to 55-inch Samsung LED TVs and Series 8 slim Samsung plasma TVs.
Compact and Light: The B8500 Samsung LED TVs are relatively compact and light for their screen size - lighter than conventional LCDs and much lighter than plasma TVs. The 46-inch UN46B8500 Samsung LED TV weighs 41.2 lbs without the stand while the corresponding 55-inch UN55B8500 weighs 61.7 lbs. In contrast, Samsung 55-inch Series 6 LN55B650 LCD weighs almost 65 lbs while the smaller 50-inch Series 6 PN50B650 plasma HDTV weighs over 73 lbs.
Size of the 46-inch UN46B8500 is 44.5-inch x 27.1-inch x 1.6-inch while that of the larger 55-inch UN55B8500 is 52.1-inch x 31.4-inch x 1.6-inch.
Feature-wise, B8500 Samsung LED TVs share the same specs sheet as other Samsung high-end LCDs - in particular Samsung Series 7 LCDs and Samsung B8000 LED TVs. In fact, these all come with 240Hz refresh rate technology, a similar set of user controls and connectivity options, and Internet-enabled TV content. The only real difference is the presence of a 7,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio on the new B8500 HDTVs as against the 3,000,000:1 found on Samsung B8000 edge-lit LED TVs.
Mega Contrast: Many TV makers are touting about their latest mega contrast ratings - with Samsung being the No. 1 HDTV manufacturer that is boasting of the highest dynamic contrast ratios around. It was with Samsung's A950 series that the HDTV industry saw for the first time ever a quoted ratio of 1,000,000:1.
A high dynamic contrast performance is typical of LED TVs - which unlike conventional CCFL backlights - can be dimmed and even turned off in synch with the displayed content. This helps achieve a deeper black instead of the dark gray characteristic associated with CCFL-based LCD HDTVs. This year, most TV makers followed suit - with numbers averaging 2,000,000:1, which is still much lower in absolute terms than the 7,000,000:1 quoted for the latest Samsung LED TV series. Truly impressive; we cannot but remark that the latest cutting edge LED light technology has brought about a new standard in contrast performance. But...
What these big numbers really mean in practical terms is another issue and for this we advise you to check our article on contrast ratio. Do not let these mega numbers impress you - they mean much less than what manufacturers are trying to imply with their impressive ratings. And remember, the limiting factor is your eye. In addition, neither Samsung nor any other TV maker has ever come up with a documented methodology of how they measure their dynamic contrast ratings. In the absence of standard references, numbers mean nothing and this is in reality what is happening with the HDTV dynamic contrast number game. Switching off the backlight to get pitch black and then adjusting to full brightness to get mega contrast ratings is not some exceptional feat.
Yet, while TV makers are boasting of mega contrast numbers, most - including Samsung - fail to quote the static, or on-screen contrast rating. This is more important than dynamic contrast as it represents the set's ability to display very dark and bright white content at the same time - which is more representative of actual content. This is much lower, often in the region of no more than 3000:1, and if a set is really capable of 2000:1, it means exceptional contrast performance.
Interactive Suite: B8500 Samsung LED TVs include a full set of interactive features with Internet-enabled TV content - termed 'Internet@TV' in the form of TV Widgets. Current widgets include content from eBay, RallyCast, Twitter, Flickr You Tube, apart from the latest news, weather information, stock information, and sports updates. In addition, Samsung has recently added Blockbuster and amazon video-on-demand services to its suite of Internet-enabled content.
Typical of Samsung, these TVs come with a built-in content library. This includes recipes, games, workout guides, and a slideshow of high-definition art and photos with music. To what extent this is of any use is another issue but this forms part of the package you get with the more expensive Samsung HDTVs.
And as with high-end Samsung HDTVs, these Samsung LED TVs can stream videos, photos, and music from DLNA-certified devices via the network connection, apart from their USB ports. The latter can play multimedia contend from a USB thumbdrive or a USB mass storage devices, digital cameras and MP3 players.
The only problem with Samsung's interactive content is that TV widgets are slow to load - slow to the point that one customer on amazon said that these are 'pretty much worthless' - in particular the video-based widgets. But the general feeling among customers is that these are still usable
240Hz: Termed 'Auto Motion Plus 240Hz', this higher refresh rate is complemented by a 2msec pixel response time. The latter is necessary to support the 240Hz processing. This higher refresh rate on the Samsung is brought about by interpolating three extra frames for every video frame of real content for a smoother movement when viewing fast-motion video sequences. As expressed elsewhere on our site, Samsung uses the so called ME/MC (motion-estimation/motion-compensation) system to generate the 240Hz frame rate for a virtually blur-free motion.
There are four presets to choose from - clear, standard, smooth, and custom, in addition to an 'off' setting. The latter is important as the extra smoothness brought about by the 240Hz refresh rates is not for everyone in that some may consider this extra smoothness when viewing movie content, as unnatural.
This faster refresh rate results in improved motion resolution, but here again, the manufacturers' number game continues. It will be hard to perceive any improvement over 120Hz systems as the actual difference between 120Hz and 240Hz is mainly one that can be identified through the appropriate test patterns. This also explains why marketing of the more expensive 240Hz refresh rate technology relies heavily on special graphic patterns.
Directly related to 240Hz technology is Samsung's dejudder processing. This is one of the best dejudder implementations every found on any TV - thanks to a two-slider custom setting under the Picture Options Menu. These settings let you adjust the desired blur and judder reduction controls separately. Increasing the blur reduction slider towards the maximum increases the number of lines of motion resolution while increasing the Judder reduction leads to more action smoothness - making 24p movie content more video-like. In general, increasing blur reduction towards maximum and reducing judder control towards the minimum gives the best results. And if this smoothing action is not for you, you can always set the judder slider to zero.
It is important to take note here that the resultant smoothing action with 120Hz and 240Hz judder reduction applies to film-based (24 frame-per-second) content. It helps eliminate judder (jerky movement) resulting from the use of 2:3 pulldown processing that would otherwise be necessary to view 24p content on a 60Hz frame rate HDTVs. More information on this issue is available in our LCD Response Time article; this article also discusses motion blur and 120Hz operation.
As with the A950 Series of Samsung LED TVs, on the B8500 Samsung combines its Auto Motion Plus technology with Samsung 'LED Motion Plus' technology, which scans the array of LED backlights from top to bottom at very fast rates much like a CRT. This helps further improve motion resolution and virtually eliminates any motion blur during fast action movement, so much common with LCD TVs.
However, with the LED Motion Plus feature activated, the resultant picture is somewhat dimmer due to the LED scanning process. You would have to adjust the 'Backlight' control under the picture settings menu towards the maximum to maintain the same level of picture brightness. As Cnet points out in their UN55B8500 review, the added benefit of activating both Auto Motion Plus and LED Motion Plus is a motion resolution of 1080 lines, namely the maximum supported by the 1080i/p HD standard. Switch off the auto motion plus and according to Cnet, motion resolution falls to less than 400 lines - same as any standard LCD TV!
Energy-Efficient: One important aspect of LED backlights in LCD TVs is that these have also brought about significant improvements in power efficiency, and this irrespective of any energy saving options included with these Samsung LED TVs.
Samsung indicates that these LED TVs are some 25% more efficient than the latest CCFL-based LCD TVs - without sacrificing image brightness, this apart from being Energy Star 3.0 compliant.
You would not find any power requirements figures within the B8500 Samsung LED TV specs sheet. But in their review of the UN55B8500, Cnet states that this is the 'most efficient 55-inch HDTV' - apart from Samsung's edge-lit LED TVs - they have ever tested. Cnet quotes 124W after calibration to an output brightness level of 40ft-Lamberts, and 77.66W in Power saver mode. According to figures published on the Cnet website, the new 55-inch B8500 Samsung LED TV is some 14% more efficient than Sony 55-inch KDL-55XBR8 LED TV, and more than 250% more efficient than Panasonic 54-inch TC-P54G10 plasma TVs!
This means that the new B8500 LED TVs should also run a lot cooler than conventional LCDs and plasma HDTVs.
Ultra-Clear Screen: As has been typical of Samsung during these last years, the latest Samsung LED TVs also come with a shiny screen surface - termed Ultra-Clear Panel, the same as used on other Samsung mid-tier and high-end LCDs.
Often a hotly debated issue, yet glossy screens help render blacks and color depth better. This also explains why Samsung glossy display panel is capable of doing a very good job in preserving black levels in dark scenes even under bright lighting - while delivering an image that looks brighter and that exhibits fuller color clarity. As many expert reviews would tell you, Samsung Ultra Clear panel is capable of doing a lot better than most of the competition in this respect.
Unfortunately, glossy screens do pick up reflections of bright objects in the room more than matte screens especially when displaying predominantly dark content. In this respect, the ultra clear panel found on the B8500 Samsung LED TVs is no exception. The reality is that if you really want to enjoy the very best picture, then you need to enjoy your TV viewing under a controlled light environment - and this applies to any HDTV irrespective of the screen finish.
Apart from the judder and reduction controls already referred to earlier on in this discussion, these Samsung LED TVs come with a complete suite of picture settings besides the usual standard adjustments for contrast, brightness, sharpness, color, and tint as found on most Samsung HDTVs.
Starting with, there are four adjustable picture modes - Dynamic, Standard, Natural, and Movie; the Movie mode - with its default Warm 2 color temperature preset, represents the most accurate out-of-the-box picture setting. All these picture modes come with independent memory inputs; this greatly eases optimization of picture parameters specifically for different connected devices.
Five selectable settings are available for color temperature - cool, normal, warm 1, warm 2, and warm 3, that can be further customized via the 'White Balance' menu, while additional picture adjustments are also available under the 'Advanced Settings' menu.
These include a black level adjustment that affects shadow detail; a dynamic contrast control adjusts the picture contrast on the fly, while edge enhancement helps introduce selective sharpening of image detail; a flesh tone setting enhances the pink flesh color on the screen; a seven-position gamma adjustment controls the progression from dark to light; three Color Space settings - including a custom setting - to adjust these Samsung LED TVs color gamut; three varieties of digital noise reduction, including an automatic setting; a film mode to engage 2:3 pull-down and that works also with 1080i sources; and xvYCC Color to increase the color space when watching movies from an external compatible high definition source.
There are six aspect ratio modes. These include a 'Wide Fit' mode which enlarges the aspect ratio of the picture to fit the entire screen and a 'Screen Fit' mode that lets you display 1080i and 1080p content directly on the screen on a 1:1 pixel mapping without any cutoff (overscan).
These Samsung LED TVs also come with a Blue Only Mode setting - available under the Picture Options menu to help you adjust the color and tint to the preferred values by switching off the red and green colors. For an explanation of how to adjust the color and tint using the Blue Only Mode feature, please refer to our Samsung LED TV review article.
B8500 Samsung LED TVs should be able to fulfill all your connectivity needs as long as your connections are mainly digital. It is clear that like the rest of Samsung ultra slim LED and plasma TVs, the B8500 Samsung LED TV shallow connection panel imposes some limitations in this respect.
In these circumstance, the obvious solution for the Samsung designers was to do away with the bulkier analog video connections. In this respect, you need to be rather selective with your choice of AV cables as cables with a larger diameter than 14mm may not fit in the shallow connection bay. In any case, connectivity on these Samsung LED TVs is rather complete with four HDMI ver. 1.3 inputs with CEC support, placed vertically along the side - labeled 1 to 4 with HDMI 1 being used also as a DVI input.
You also get two USB 2.0 ports with media playback (movie) support, one component video input which also accepts composite video (on the Y/Video input), an optical sound output, an analog audio output, PC input, an audio input for PC or DVI, Samsung's ex-Link (a USB type port used for servicing), antenna in and an Ethernet port.
As expected, Samsung follows with the present trend of doing away with the S-video input, which may be a bit limiting for some. Also, analog audio out comes only in the form of a 3.5mm jack. OK, this is more of a headphone output but should you need it to connect to your AV receiver, you will require an additional adapter unless your AV system supports optical audio connectivity.
There is no built-in wireless connectivity on these Samsung LED TVs but you can add wireless support for under $60 through Samsung USB Wireless Adaptor (WIS09ABGN) - supporting up to 802.11n.
If there is one thing that surely does not match these Samsung LED TVs cutting edge display technology is their sound. As with the rest of Samsung's HDTV lineup for 2009, the B8500 Samsung LED TVs come with down-firing speakers, delivering 10W per channel for 46-inch HDTVs and 15W per channel for the 55-inch version.
Down firing speakers always carry a disadvantage over front-facing ones and this year implementation over these Samsung LED TVs is no exception and surely not a match to the best that the latest display technology can offer.
The issue with this year 'thin' Samsung LED TV lineup is that the new ultra slim design imposes additional limitations over speaker placement and size than previous years. This result is sound quality that seems to be a little worst than before. Many 2009 Samsung HDTV owners would tell you that sound quality 'per se' is not bad and does not deteriorate with an increase in volume. But if you really want to enjoy these Samsung LED TVs at their best, hooking these HDTVs to a proper surround sound system is necessary.
Top in the list is an 'Energy Saving' mode with its four different settings in addition to 'off', and which adjusts the brightness of the TV to reduce the set power consumption.
Equally important is the possibility to download firmware updates direct to these LED TVs (when connected to the Internet) instead of having to visit the Samsung website on your PC and then transfer the software update using a thumbdrive.
Samsung also provides a basic picture-in-picture feature. In view that these Samsung LED TVs 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. PIP does not work the other way round.
The menu system on these Samsung LED TVs is that same as that used on 2008 sets. As expressed elsewhere on this site during our 2008 product evolutions for Samsung HDTVs, the Samsung menu system is surely one of the best - with big, highly legible text placed against a transparent background. Navigation is easy and intuitive while helpful explanations are available along the bottom of the menu screen. One welcome extra over last year menu system is a built-in 'product guide' that takes you through the load of features available on these Samsung LED TVs.
Like the menu system, the backlit remote control comes with a similar key layout to 2008 models with big bottoms that are easily identified by their shape and size even in a darkened environment. A dedicated Tools button on the remote also gives you direct access to the E-manual, sound, video controls and timer.
There is one major difference though. For its high-end LED TV series, Samsung remote comes with RF support - which means that you do not need to point the remote to the TV to work.
As with the less expensive edge-lit LED series, B8500 Samsung LED TVs come with a second 'pebble' shaped mini remote that enables the user to handle basic functions - mainly power On/Off, channel selection, and volume adjustment.