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Samsung E550 review: Budget TV done in by soft images

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MSRP: $829.99

The Good The Samsung E550 boasts fairly deep black levels and excellent shadow detail. Colors are natural and well saturated. The 40-inch model offers particularly good value.

The Bad The TV features fairly low-quality processing, failing all of our tests, and pictures have a softness to them that can't be corrected. The TV isn't a straight replacement of last year's D550 with some functionality like Ethernet cut out. Some cheaper TVs boast even better black levels.

The Bottom Line The Samsung E550 series LCD is a decent performer with excellent shadow detail and good colors but image softness hampers a hearty recommendation.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.3 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 5
  • Performance 6
  • Value 7

Review Sections

Samsung has long been the leader in U.S. TV market share, but the manufacturer is facing some tough competition, especially at the budget end. Lesser-known competitors like Vizio and TCL are coming up with TVs that can challenge the Korean behemoth's picture quality at half the price.

The Samsung E550 is a decent television with fairly deep blacks for a budget TV and bright, natural colors. Off-axis performance is very good, making it suitable for wide rooms, and the TV has excellent uniformity, making dark scenes easy to watch. Only a slight softness -- particularly to movement -- tarnishes an otherwise solid performance.

There are two TVs in the E550 range, a 40-inch and the 46-inch; the smaller model looks like the better deal at the time of review. If you're looking to spend this amount of money, though, there are plenty of other options, including the surprisingly good and much less expensive TCL P60.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 46-inch Samsung LN46E550, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

Models in series (details)
Samsung LN40E550 40 inches
Samsung LN46E550 46 inches
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The E550 is fairly lounge-room-friendly. Sarah Tew/CNET

While Samsung's TV looks black in the pictures above, it actually isn't. The bezel uses something like Samsung's old Touch of Color design, which infuses the plastic with a faint puce glow. The TV sits on a solid stand but unfortunately, it doesn't swivel.

The remote control is a little older-looking but quite usable.

The television's menu system is straightforward and easy to use; it shares the same look as the TVs I've seen over the years.

Key TV features
Display technology LCD LED backlight N/A
Screen finish Matte Remote Standard
Smart TV No Internet connection N/A
3D technology No 3D glasses included No
Refresh rate(s) 60Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing No
DLNA-compliant No USB Photo/Music/Video

If you're paying less than $500 for a television, you can't complain about lack of features. In Samsung's case this is often a good thing as it usually means your money not wasted on frivolities. The backlight, unlike pretty much every other 2012 Samsung TV, uses old-school fluorescents and not LEDs -- not that that matters much for picture quality.

The TV does include a Clear Motion Rate of 60 according to the specifications, but this is really just a way to invent a tick box where there wasn't one before. What it really means is that the E550 has the standard 60Hz refresh rate without smoothing of any kind.

Although it doesn't have Smart TV, the E550 does offer photo viewing and music playback via the USB port.

Picture settings: The TV boasts just three modes -- Standard, Vivid, and Movie -- and lacks the gaming-specific options of competitors like Vizio and Philips. Properly adjusted, advanced white-balance controls help ensure a better picture. The TV does miss a color management system, though, and as a result its colors aren't as accurate as they could be.

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The connection count has been halved from last year's model. Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity: This TV isn't a direct replacement of the D550 and nowhere is this more obvious than in the number of connections provided. The D550 had four HDMI ports, two components, and an Ethernet port. In comparison, the inclusion of only a pair of HDMI ports seems stingy, as does the shared component/composite port. If you're looking to use the TV as a PC monitor, you'll have to use one of the HDMI inputs, as it lacks a RGB port. Also missing is a digital audio output for connection to an external amp.

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.

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