Samsung E550 review: Budget TV done in by soft images

Picture quality
Last year's Samsung D630 was one of our favorite budget LCDs. Here was a TV with dated styling and old-hat fluorescent lighting, but it was one of the best TVs at the price. While there are some similarities between it and the newer E550, the successor can't quite live up to the former's performance.

The Samsung E550 does offer fairly deep blacks for an LCD at the price, as well as saturated, natural colors. In cheaper sets one of the oft-compromised picture qualities is shadow detail, but here on the E550 it's one of the TV's best qualities. The E550 is able to make sense of darker scenes, placing figures in a 3D space in a way its LCD competition isn't able to. It's dark-room performance is also complemented by very good lit-room performance -- it's quite the all-rounder.

Where the TV falters is in picture detail and movement. The Samsung E550 suffers from a slight softness which could be attributed to the kind of LCD panel the company has used and/or the TV's onboard processor.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV’s picture controls worked during calibration.

Comparison models (details)
LG 47SL4600 47-inch LCD
LG 42CS560 42-inch LCD
TCL L40FHDP60 40-inch LCD
Samsung LN46D630 46-inch LCD
Toshiba 40E220U 40-inch LCD
Panasonic TC-P65VT50 (reference) 65-inch plasma

Black level: If there was one thing the Samsung does right over everything else it's contrast. Whether it was portraying the inky depths of space in "Star Trek" or the contours and depth of a dramatically lit face, the Samsung was anything but adrift. Yes, the Toshiba E220 and last year's Samsung D630 were better overall for absolute blacks, but the E550 was better than both for shadow detail.

At the 28-minute mark of "Star Trek," the Samsung gave a reasonable approximation of the Romulan mining ship, and it was the best at reproducing the next scene which is baddie Nero's face lying on a green slab. The texture of the slab was most discernible on the Samsung with a sense that he was lying on something. On the other TVs, especially the LGs, it seemed that his head simply bled into darkness with no separation at all. Despite the Toshiba coming ultimately out on top in terms of black level, it and the Samsung were very close at times, with one TV doing one scene well and then seemingly taking turns with the other.

Color accuracy: While not as vivid as the neighboring Toshiba E220, the Samsung E550 was capable of strong color performance. Whether it was the cool blues of snowy slopes or green, lush gardens, the Samsung was able to convey color quite well. It may not offer the same level as the D630, but it was regardless a good communicator.

While I was able to get secondaries to look natural with some judicious tweaking of the Tint control, the primary colors were a little off, with reds being the most noticeable with a more maroon look to the Star Trek cadet uniforms than was noticeable on other TVs. Skin tones, while a little muted, were still fine and the Samsung was one of the better TVs in the lineup for this.

Video processing: Picture processing is the single area where this TV could have used some improvement -- it failed every synthetic test I threw at it. As expected from a 60Hz TV, there was significant judder in the 24p test. There was also plenty of lost detail in movement -- both with the Film test and the motion-resolution test.

Usually these sort of synthetic tests don't translate directly to real-world effects, but this case might be an exception. The TV has a softness to its picture that can't be remedied with use of the Sharpness control. Usually LCD blur is something you can't see, but in the case of the Samsung, leading edges lack the crispness you'll see on even cheaper TVs like the TCL and Toshiba.

Uniformity: It is here is where the otherwise superior Toshiba E220 falls apart in relation to the Samsung E550. The Samsung showed very good uniformity with no discernible light leakage with consistent black levels across the screen. The Toshiba had two noticeable spotlights in the top right-hand corners, but it wasn't the worst offender in our test. To be blunt, the two LG TVs were appalling with big, crater-size watermarks in the middle of each screen. In short, if you do a lot of watching TV in the dark, the Samsung is a very good option for that.

Off-axis performance was the best of the bunch, with only minimal color shift and bluing of blacks. While its small size means that off-axis viewing will only be useful from a few feet away, it still gets a tick from me.

Bright lighting: The Samsung had the most matte screen of the bunch, and so reflections from people in the room and indirect light sources weren't an issue. While the two LGs had blue blacks in the light, the Samsung held its color well, and still showed that impressive shadow detail I'd seen in a darkened cinema environment.

GEEK BOX: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0027 Good
Avg. gamma 2.2875 Good
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.2489/0.2442 Poor
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3122/0.331 Good
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.3106/0.328 Good
Before avg. color temp. 7520.7146 Poor
After avg. color temp. 6559.117 Good
Red lum. error (de94_L) 8.6892 Poor
Green lum. error (de94_L) 8.3106 Poor
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 20.1084 Poor
Cyan hue x/y 0.2179/0.333 Good
Magenta hue x/y 0.3324/0.1465 Average
Yellow hue x/y 0.4066/0.4759 Poor
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Fail Poor
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Fail Poor
Motion resolution (max) 310 Poor
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 310 Poor

Samsung LN46E550

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Samsung LN46E550F

Part Number: LN46E550
MSRP: $829.99 Low Price: $749.99 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Enhanced Refresh Rate 60 Hz
  • Display Format 1080p (FullHD)
  • Diagonal Size 46 in
  • Type LCD
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