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Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified. Click here for more information.
To a bargain HDTV shopper, the array of small-screened LCDs must seem inexhaustible and indistinguishable, but among recent models we've reviewed, the Samsung LNB360 stands out with the best picture quality. It's no reference-level display, mind you, but it managed to beat out the competition in the important arena of black-level performance, while remaining among the leaders in most other areas. It does cost a few more bucks than many of its competitors, and it lacks some noteworthy features (like side-panel inputs), but if you're looking for a small LCD that gives "good enough" picture for less, the LNB360 series certainly qualifies.
We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 32-inch Samsung LN32B360, but this review also applies to the 26-inch Samsung LN26B360. The two share identical specs and should exhibit very similar picture quality. The 19- and 22-inch versions have lower contrast ratio specs, in addition to other differences, so this review does not apply to those models.
Simple and handsome, the external appearance of the Samsung LNB360 series has the same glossy black frame and general proportions as many other entry-level HDTVs, but a few classy touches set it apart. Chief is the subtle protrusion of clear plastic that runs along the curved bottom lip of the frame. That curve matches the sweep of the oval stand's base, and we liked that the stand swivels.
Samsung's remote and menu system are both smaller and simplified compared with its larger sets. The many-buttoned clicker presents nearly as many options as the one on Toshiba's AV502U series, for example, but does it in a much easier way. The keys are nicely differentiated by size and color, and all of the expected buttons are present. The remote can't directly command any other devices, however, and unlike the Sony and LG entry-level sets the Samsung lacks a control-over-HDMI option.
The menus feature simple icons and a layout reminiscent of higher-end Samsungs, and we like it a lot. A separate Tools menu offers easy access to often-used functions. The text explanations under various main menu items are superb, the navigation logic makes sense, and the wealth of items under the "support" tab will be a boon for beginners. There's a Self-diagnosis with internal patterns designed for troubleshooting, a diagram for common connections, and a Contact Samsung page with a phone number, Web site, and directions to the site's firmware update section.
Like most entry-level LCD TVs, the Samsung has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, or 720p, as opposed to the 1080p resolution found on step-up models. Of course, at this screen size, the benefits of 1080p are negligible, except with computer sources, so we don't consider this feature omission a big deal.
Typically, Samsung is second only to LG in terms of picture adjustability, and the LNB360 series is no exception. Its menu offers numerous ways to tweak the image, starting with three adjustable picture modes that are all independent per input. There's also custom color temperature controls to augment the four presets, and unlike many entry-level sets, the Samsung's white-balance controls include all six main adjustments.
Other adjustments include gamma and color space, in addition to a few others we left turned off for critical viewing: dynamic contrast, black tone (both of which adjust the picture automatically), flesh tone (which affects color decoding), and edge enhancement. HDMI black level, three levels of noise reduction, and a film mode, which affects 2:3 pull-down, round out the available adjustments.
Total aspect ratio settings on the LNB360 number four with both HD and standard-def sources, and two of the four are adjustable. The Screen Fit setting available for HD sources assures zero overscan, so we recommend using it unless you see interference along the extreme edges of the screen.
We appreciated the inclusion of four-step Energy Saver setting that limits the LNB360's maximum light output, providing an easy way to reduce power use. Samsung also throws in a game mode that minimizes video processing and supposedly prevents lag between the controller and the onscreen action (we didn't test this feature).
The Samsung LNB360 series has fewer connections than many TVs in its class, and the biggest omission as far as we're concerned is found on the side. The TV lacks side-panel inputs of any kind. The back panel includes an average selection of jacks, however, namely two HDMI, one component-video, one VGA-style PC (1,360x768-pixel maximum resolution), one AV input with only composite video, and one RF input, along with optical digital and analog stereo audio outputs.
As small-screened, entry-level LCDs go, the Samsung LNB360 series outdid the others we've seen by virtue of its slightly deeper black levels and solid all-around picture quality. To complain about some aspects of its color is barely worthwhile at this price range.
In its default Movie mode, the most accurate available, the Samsung still measured relatively blue in the grayscale, quite bright (61 ftl), and with an overly aggressive gamma that sacrificed detail in dark areas for the appearance of better blacks. Our standard calibration fixed the worst of these issues, and although we still saw too much blue in midbright and especially very dark areas, gamma was much improved (2.12 versus the target of 2.2).
We compared the Samsung directly to a few other entry-level LCDs we had onhand, including the Panasonic TC-32LX1, the Sharp LC-32D47U, the Sony KDL-32L5000, the Toshiba 32AV502U, the Vizio VO302E, and the Westinghouse SK-32H640G. We also employed our trusty Pioneer PRO-111FD as a reference--obviously, it shouldn't be compared to any of these LCDs. Our Blu-ray of choice for most of the image quality tests in this comparison was the superb-looking "Baraka" played from our Sony PlayStation3.
Black level: In our lineup of entry-level LCDs, the Samsung delivered the deepest shade of black, surpassing the depth achieved by the Toshiba, Sharp, and Sony by a bit, and beating the other displays by more. As usual we could see the most difference in scenes that were nearly all black, such as the night sky surrounding the eclipse in Chapter 20 and the blackened temple archways in Chapter 21. In brighter scenes the difference between the Samsung and its three closest competitors dwindled to near-invisibility, but on the still-lighter sets--the Vizio, Westinghouse, LG, and Panasonic--we could still easily see the difference in our side-by-side comparison.
Shadow detail on the Samsung was very good, but we'd give the slight nod in this category to the Sony, as evinced by the slightly more natural look of the sculptured stone faces under the twilight sky in Chapter 21.
Color accuracy: Evidence of the Samsung's accurate color reproduction appeared most obviously in places like skin tones, such as the faces of the meditating man in Chapter 3 and the woman looking out of her window in Chapter 10. The woman's face did appear a tad too pale, an issue we attribute to the Samsung's less-accurate grayscale, but it didn't show the greenish tinge we saw on the Sony. Compared with the other sets, the Samsung tied the Vizo and fell short of only the LG in this department.
The Samsung's deeper black levels also contributed to its superior saturation, which came through most vividly when we watched the dancing tribes-people in Chapter 7. And though black and very dark areas didn't stay quite as neutral as we saw on the Sony, they were better (less tinged with blue) than the others.
Video processing: The Samsung doesn't perform much overt processing, such as the dejudder seen on higher-end LCDs, and since it has 720p resolution our motion resolution test isn't valid. We expect it would perform about the same in that test as other 60Hz displays, and as usual we didn't notice any motion blur in our viewing.
We did appreciate the lack of the kinds of moire artifacts we saw in 1080i mode on the Toshiba, the Westinghouse, and the Sharp, however, and like the other models in our comparison, the Samsung properly deinterlaced both film- and video-based sources according to our test.
Uniformity: The LNB360 performed well in this area. Unlike on the Sony there were no overt bright areas across the screen and when seen off-angle, its picture was about the same as the Sony and the Toshiba, keeping its color and black-level fidelity better than the other sets.
Bright lighting: Like most matte-screened LCDs, the Samsung performed well under bright lights, attenuating ambient light admirably. It was no better or worse than any of the other sets in our lineup, which all have similar screens.
Standard-definition: The Samsung delivered one of the best performances at standard-def video reproduction among our comparison models. It resolved every line of the DVD format and details in the grass and stone bridge of our test clip looked relatively sharp. Jaggies on moving diagonal lines were kept to a minimum, and noise reduction was quite effective, even the oft-disappointing Auto mode. As we'd expect, the display also engaged 2:3 pull-down detection effectively.
PC: The Samsung made an excellent PC monitor, albeit a relatively low-resolution one. It fully resolved 1,360x768-pixel sources via both HDMI and VGA, showing crisp text with no edge enhancement in both cases.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6476/6861||Good|
|After color temp||6510/6436||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||355||Average|
|After grayscale variation||158||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.625/0.33||Average|
|Color of green||0.279/0.605||Good|
|Color of blue||0.147/0.053||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Pass||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|