The Samsung LN52A650 is one of the best-performing LCDs we've tested. Its picture quality, anchored by excellent black-level performance, and accurate color, surpasses that of the Sony KDL-46XBR4--and Samsung's de-judder video processing has improved to the point where it's basically equal to the Sony. We did notice a couple of minor issues, and as usual we'd avoid watching dark movies on this glossy-screened TV in rooms with lots of ambient light, but that's about it.
Our standard calibration was aided by the numerous picture controls in the Samsung's user menu. We were able to improve color temperature and dial in saturation without going overboard thanks to the blue-only mode (check this tip to see how it works). Although we attempted to tweak the color points a bit using the custom color palette controls, primary and secondary colors were already close enough to the standard that we simply settled on the default Auto in the end. Click here for a full list of our dark-room picture settings.
After setup, we placed the LN52A650 in a comparison that included our reference sets--the Pioneer PDP-5080HD, the Sony KDS-55A3000, and the 120Hz Sony KDL-46XBR4--along with the Panasonic TH-46PX85U. We checked out Spider-Man 3 on Blu-ray at 1080p from the Sony PlayStation 3.
Black level: The Samsung LN52A650 reproduced one of the deepest shades of black we've seen from any LCD. It can't quite match the champ, Samsung's own LED-based LN-T4681F, but from what we remember, it's pretty dang close. The Pioneer and Panasonic plasmas got darker by a couple of hairs, although the Samsung solidly beat the two Sonys. Of course, as with all LCDs, those deep blacks became brighter when seen from off angle (see below).
Details in shadows were quite good, although not perfect. During a shot when Flint stares into the camera after sneaking into his daughter's room, for instance, we couldn't quite make out the print on the wallpaper behind him, and the shaded half of his face looked indistinct compared with the reference Pioneer, although still more natural than any of the other displays. Cranking brightness brought back the details but destroyed black levels, and the Samsung wasn't crushing black. Its gamma was just a bit shallow in dark areas, even at the most aggressive +3 (our preferred setting).
Color accuracy: The initial color temperature in Warm2 was still a tad blue (see the Geek Box), but other than that we had no complaints. After calibration it was quite accurate, lending a natural look to skin tones and other delicate areas, like Mary Jane's pale face. Green grass in the plaza and red balloons during the parade all looked rich and punchy, and color balance was superb. One major advantage the LN52A50 demonstrated over the Sony KDL-46XBR4 LCD was its color fidelity in dark areas--where the Sony dipped into blue, like many LCDs, the Samsung remained close to true black. Overall saturation, thanks to deep blacks and fine color balance, was equal to the superb Pioneer.
Video processing: Samsung's Auto Motion Plus (AMP) processing is designed to smooth out motion--specifically the judder or faint stuttering inherent in 24-frame material such as most films. Judder can be perceived most easily in pans and camera movement, but once you notice it, it seems to pop up everywhere there's any movement onscreen. Some viewers find the smoothing effect desireable, while some think it looks too video-like and even cartoonish in some instances, particularly Hollywood films. We're of the latter camp, but we feel de-judder processing can be effective in some scenes.
AMP has been improved this year, and it suffers fewer artifacts than the version we tested on the LN-T4671F from 2007. The infamous "triple ball effect" seems greatly toned down, for one thing. We looked at one example we cited in the 71F review, a deep pass during a college football game between West Virginia and Louisville, and this time there was very little blurring and elongation of the ball. We also turned to the same hockey match between the Ducks and the Kings and noticed blurring of the puck much less frequently. It was still there in some instances, such as a flip pass into the air that spanned half of the rink before landing, but it was much less noticeable. Of course, the level of AMP made a big difference--we saw more blurring and artifacts around the puck in High mode, fewer in Medium, about the same in Low, and none in Off. For that reason, we still recommend watching hockey, and indeed all sports, in Off mode.
Comparing the Samsung against the Sony 120Hz LCD, the Samsung seemed a bit less prone to artifacts, but the Sony appeared less unnaturally smooth. During the opening of Spider-Man, for example, the camera quickly pans over a newsstand and a headline in USA Today (double-plug!) that reads "What a catch!" showed stutter and artifacts in the Sony (in Standard mode) and none on the Samsung (in any of its modes). The camera then moved to follow Peter Parker on his scooter, and the Samsung looked like the camera was on rails, while the Sony allowed a little bit of unsteadiness that made for a much more natural look in that scene. Later, the camera orbits Parker's face at the beginning of the parade, and we saw a sort of halo effect around his head. The buildings in the background bent slightly near his head as they moved by, even in the Samsung's Low mode, although these artifacts were worse in Medium and High. In this case, the Samsung's Low and the Sony's Standard were pretty much indistinguishable.
Both sets looked much better in pans over natural landscapes from the Planet Earth Blu-ray and in some other non-Hollywood movie material, especially compared with the non-de-judder-equipped sets in the comparison.
We also turned AMP off, along with the Sony's de-judder processing, and switched our PS3 to 1080p/24 mode. We really couldn't tell the difference between 1080p/24 and 1080p/60 on either of the sets, so we suspect they don't perform the perfect 5x conversion from 24 frames to 120. Samsung's engineers (along with Sony's) claim the 52LN650 can perform this conversion, but if so, it doesn't make much difference.
A refresh rate 120Hz should also cut down on blur in motion, increasing motion resolution. We compared the 52LN650 to the Samsung LN32A450, a standard 60Hz display, and with AMP in Low mode the LN650 exhibited less blur in test footage designed to expose it. The blur returned when we turned Off AMP, so you can't get the blur-reduction on this set without de-judder. The Sony performed at about the same level for this test, and neither was as sharp as either of the plasma displays or the Sony SXRD. As usual we didn't notice blurring in program material, however, including during Spider-Man.
As we expect from any 1080p LCD, the Samsung resolved every line of 1080i and 1080p sources, and unlike most sets it properly de-interlaces 1080i film-based sources as long as you leave the film mode engaged.
Uniformity: LCD will always be at a disadvantage compared with plasma in this department, and the LN52A650 is no exception. Its screen was relatively uniform for an LCD, but there was still a brighter spot visible in the upper-left corner in dark scenes or letterbox bars, and in mid-dark fields we saw that the left and right edges of the screen appeared brighter than the middle. Meanwhile, as we mentioned above, viewing the image from off angle lightened the black areas somewhat, robbing some punch from colors. The Sony LCD lost a bit less depth of black from off angle, although we still preferred the Samsung from non-sweet-spot seats because it didn't become discolored. We've seen reports on AVS forum showing purplish discoloration from off angle on some 650 series models, but we didn't see it on our review sample.
Bright lighting: The LN52A650 has a similar type of shiny screen as last year's Samsung LCDs, and compared with a more matte LCD screen, such as the one on the Sony KDL-46XBR4, it reflects quite a bit of room lighting. With the windows open during the day and shining on the screen, we could clearly make out our reflection in the screen, especially during dark scenes, and it was a good deal more distracting than on the Sony or the Pioneer. Samsung claims the screen does increase contrast ratio and produce deeper black levels, which might be true given the LN52A650's black level performance, but we still found ourselves distracted by the shine in bright environments while watching dark scenes.
Since the publication of this review, Samsung has released a version of this TV, part of the LNA630 series, with a matte screen instead of the shiny one. We assume it will cut down on those bothersome reflections, although we didn't review it.
Standard-definition: The 52LN650 performed quite well with standard-def, and although it couldn't quite resolve every line of the DVD format perfectly, we noticed no untoward softness on program material. The Samsung did a superior job of removing jaggies from diagonal edges, and its noise reduction was very effective in the low-quality shots of sky and sunsets.
PC: Via both VGA and HDMI, the Samsung LN52A650 made a superb computer monitor. It resolved every detail of 1,920x1,080 sources according to DisplayMate, and text looked crisp and well-defined.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7065/6949||Average|
|After color temp||6469/6547||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 405K||Average|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 118K||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.643/0.334||Good|
|Color of green||0.28/0.606||Good|
|Color of blue||0.146/0.054||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Y||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|
|Samsung LN52A650||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||219.9||140.8||114.07|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.19||0.12||0.1|
|Cost per year||$68.81||$44.32||$36.05|
|Score (considering size)||Good|
How we test TVs