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Samsung UNF6400 series LCD review: Midrange price, middling picture

The Samsung UNF6400 series offers attractive styling and a full complement of features, but is outstripped by rivals in picture quality at this price level.

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Ty Pendlebury
Ty_Pendlebury.jpg

Ty Pendlebury

Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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We deal with all different kinds of TVs here at CNET: expensive shiny ones, ones with absolutely stunning image quality, and sometimes they're one and the same. We even get some real stinkers.

Samsung_F6400_35647805_35670107_35650464_16.jpg
6.4

Samsung UNF6400 series LCD

The Good

The <b>Samsung UNF6400 LED LCD TV</b> sports an excellent mix of features and looks great sitting on your AV unit. Accurate color in bright scenes; solid video processing; sound quality is way above average; touch-pad remote is responsive and the comprehensive smart TV works well; includes 3 pair of active 3D glasses.

The Bad

Mediocre overall picture quality with relatively light black levels, desaturated low-level colors and some some uniformity and off-axis issues; flimsy stand.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung UNF6400 offers attractive styling and a full complement of features for the price but is outstripped by rivals for performance.

But most of the TVs on sale today fall somewhere in the middle, with neither the "wow" factor of high-end sets nor the feel-good value of a true bargain. The Samsung F6400 is a pretty good TV, it has a lot of features and the styling is lovely, but there's something lacking. It turns out that that something is above-average picture quality.

While the UNF6400 is not a bad TV by any stretch, it doesn't perform as well as many sets at the same or lower price level. Among models we've tested, for example, the Panasonic E60 and ST60 and the Vizio M series all offer better picture quality. Unless you really like the UNF6400's feature set, nameplate, or styling, there's little reason to choose it over the alternatives.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the Samsung UN55F6400, 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.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Models in series (details)
Samsung UN40F6400 40 inches
Samsung UN46F6400 46 inches
Samsung UN50F6400 50 inches
Samsung UN55F6400 55 inches (reviewed)
Samsung UN60F6400 60 inches
Samsung UN65F6400 65 inches
Samsung UN75F6400 75 inches

Design
One of the F6500's strongest qualities is design -- this is a very sleek-looking television. The bezels are very slim and black, and there's a subtle clear edging that gives a pleasing effect. When viewed side-on the television is quite shallow, which makes it a great candidate for wall-hanging. Especially given the lower quality of the attendant stand.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The stand is one of the spindly spider-legged things the company has used for years, but this year's feels horridly cheap. The steel brace inside isn't connected to the plastic sheath on the outer and it actually flexed in my hand. When the TV is sitting on the table it works fine, but the build quality still doesn't inspire confidence.

The UNF6400 ships with a single remote, the Smart Touch Remote Control. It has a responsive touch pad and enables cool features like gestures (drawing the channel number is especially fun). But you may wish for a normal remote at times, especially when manipulating a streamed or recorded program, for example: there are no transport (Play/Pause/Fast-Forward/Rewind) buttons and accessing the controls via an onscreen menu is convoluted, to say the least. The remote does have a microphone for voice search which means you may not miss having the QWERTY keyboard of some previous Samsung remotes.

Sarah Tew/CNET

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key TV features "="">Other: Cable box integration and control via IR blaster; additional 3D glasses (model SSG-5100GB, $19); optional Skype camera (VG-STC3000, $99); optional keyboard (model VG-KBD2000, $99)
Display technology LCD LED backlight Edge-lit
Screen finish Semi-atte Remote Touch pad
Smart TV Yes Internet connection Built-in Wi-Fi
3D technology Active 3D glasses included Two pairs
Refresh rate(s) 120Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes
DLNA-compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video

Features
When you move up from budget-level to mid- and higher-level televisions you often see a bit of feature creep setting in: the picture quality doesn't change much but the number of doohickeys does. That's is definitely the case for the F6400.

This is the least expensive 2013 Samsung LED LCD TV with the Micro Dimming feature, first introduced last year in models like the ES800 series. As in that model, and unlike with true local dimming, the dimming on the F6400 television is software-only and doesn't control the backlight. What this means is that it can't actually make the blacks much darker, like true local dimming can. (And in case you're wondering, the only 2013 Samsung LED LCDs with true local dimming are significantly more expensive, starting with the UNF8000 series.)

In other words, what seems to be the main picture quality advantage over the less expensive F6300 isn't an advantage at all. We'll be testing the F6300 itself soon to compare the two, but in the meantime we wouldn't recommend anyone buy this set over the F6300 expecting better image quality.

Another potential, and much less important, picture quality differentiator between the F6400 and F6300 is "Clear Motion Rate," a specification Samsung now uses instead of refresh rate. Yes, this rating seemingly belongs with Peak Music Power Output in the "numbers the marketing guy came up with" category, but Samsung isn't the only one doing it. When we asked Samsung's rep for clarification, she replied that the F6300 and F6400, along with every other F6000 LED model, use a 120Hz panel.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Beyond features related to picture quality, the F6400's main standouts are the touch-pad remote (the 6300 has a standard clicker), the Smart TV suite it shares with many 2013 Samsung TVs, and 3D compatibility. The F6400 series is the second-cheapest 3D TV in Samsung's lineup -- only the PNF5500 plasma costs less -- and it ships with two pairs of the entry-level SSG-5100GB active 3D glasses. The glasses are basically identical to the SSG-4100GB model we reviewed last year and didn't like much aside from their low price. Since like most active 3D TVs the F6400 complies with the full HD 3D standard, you could always buy better third-party glasses.

Smart TV: There are two smart-TV systems that stand above the others when it comes to both sophistication and the breadth of their offerings: Samsung's and LG's.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Although it lacks the coolness and ease imparted by LG's motion remote, Samsung's Smart TV system is arguably clearer to navigate with five well-marked panels: On TV (cable integration), Movies and TV shows (on demand), Photos, Videos, and Music (DLNA, USB, and cloud-based media), Social (Skype, YouTube, Facebook, and so on), and Apps. On the F6400 the animations were smooth and loading times were snappy, thanks in part to the dual-core processor.

Sarah Tew/CNET

This year both companies have further integrated Program Guide information and cable box/DVR control into the mix. While my colleague David Katzmaier liked the implementation better on LG TVs that include the motion remote (such as the LA8600), Samsung's is still pretty good aside from the aforementioned lack of direct DVR controls.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The TV comes with a IR dongle and a setup routine whereby you can pick your cable provider, and after that you receive a page of suggestions on "what's on." Unfortunately the suggestions are few in number and the TV isn't much good for browsing current TV programs beyond that. Controlling the cable box -- in this case a Fios DVR -- mostly worked with as much as a 5-second delay when changing channels.

Samsung has one of the most comprehensive collections of "apps" from music to video and even maps. Of interest to avid "Game of Thrones" fans will be the inclusion of HBO Go; Samsung is still the only television provider with that excellent app. But not everyone can afford a new TV and a monthly cable bill so there are a bunch of apps for you cable cutters out there. The TV includes the all-conquering Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Hulu Plus. To see how this TV compares with its competitors in apps, try our Big Chart.

Katzmaier performed more testing of Samsung's Smart TV cable box integration, as well as its browser and numerous other Smart TV features, as he discusses in his UNF8000 review. That TV's smarts should behave in most important ways like the F6400's, so check out that review if you're hungry for more detail.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture settings: If you're a tweaker and don't just want to watch your TV in Vivid mode you'll be glad to find a number of different settings to mull over. There are four preset modes including our favorite, Movie, plus a 10-point grayscale that is handy if you intend to use our settings. The Auto Motion Plus dejudder control also provides plenty of adjustability, so you can dial in exactly how much soap opera effect you want.

Connectivity: The highlight of the TV's connection options are the four HDMI ports, which is what we expect on a TV at this price. Besides that you receive three USB ports for accessories like Skype cameras and playback from USB drives. A combined composite/component drive comes next and then a digital optical output. Internet capability is dealt out via an Ethernet port and an onboard Wi-Fi receiver.

Picture quality
The effects of Samsung's midrange "micro dimming" continue to be a no-show, and so black levels, and in turn overall picture quality, aren't the best at this price level. It did handle the competing LG models well but every other TV on test, including the less-expensive Vizio M Series, whipped it mildly or soundly.

Black areas were marred by some uniformity issues on a darkened screen as well. Shadow detail would have been OK, but in combination with poor color accuracy in the lower ranges shadows the picture simply looked drab. In brighter scenes color accuracy was good, however, with skin tones and leafy, sky-y bits being vivid and well-saturated.

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.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Comparison models (details)
LG 47LA6200 47-inch LCD
LG 55LA8600 55-inch LCD
Panasonic TC-L50E60 50-inch LCD
Vizio M551d-A2R 55-inch local-dimming LCD
Panasonic TC-P55ST60 55-inch plasma

Black level: The Samsung didn't fare well against among its midrange peers. It produced the second-lightest black levels in the room after the LG 55LA8600, although the LA8600 wasn't too much better than the Samsung. The UNF6400's shadow detail was in line with its black levels, and that's to say it wasn't as fine as on some of the others and some blacks could look grayish rather than solid.

The hilltop scene in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" (Chapter 12, 45:55) is a very testing one for most TVs, as it has plenty of low-level detail and not much else. It features a slow tracking shot of dark figures as they're about to launch a final attack on Hogwarts. The scene proved too much for the competing LA6200 with a very confused image of mostly gray. The image mostly got the better of the Samsung too, though it gave some definition to the figures at least. But it was the poor black levels of the Samsung that robbed the image of the punch I saw on the Panasonic E60 and Vizio M-Series, not to mention the ST60. On these screens the hill, the figures, and the towers of Hogwarts behind them were much more sharply defined.

Color accuracy: The Samsung's color performance was mixed, like a tin of paint -- when you get the balance wrong the results can look drab and gray. In low-level colors, particularly during the hilltop sequence mentioned above, the green color palette was reduced to grays and browns, to an extent I'd never seen before. Initially thinking it was something to do with the calibration, I tried one of the other color presets and the results were worse!

When watching something brighter, though, the color mix was something Sherwin-Williams would have been proud of -- although the Samsung wasn't alone in this, with the rest of the lineup also performing well. Using the start of Chapter 5 of "The Tree of Life" we see the mother lounging in her backyard. On the F6400 the green glass was flecked with purple flowers, the mother's hair looked a natural shade of red, and her skin looked as lifelike as on the other TVs. The only subtle difference was that her dress was a bit bluer than on the others, where it looked more turquoise.

Video processing: The F6400 ably demonstrated Samsung's capabilities with image processing, acing all of the important tests. When I engaged the Custom setting under Auto Motion Plus (deblur at 10, dejudder at zero), the 24p flyby of the Intrepid aircraft carrier from "I Am Legend" was delivered without undue pull-down artfacts (stuttering) or smoothing.

In that setting the TV was also able to deliver a full 1,200 lines of motion resolution when I engaged the LED Clear Motion toggle. Doing so caused light output to fall quite a bit, but that's OK because the TV is plenty bright to begin with (in case you're wondering, leaving that setting off still delivered an excellent 1,080 lines). Of course you can turn on smoothing/dejudder if you like that effect, but one of our favorite things about Samsung's video processing is the option to choose no smoothing yet still get full motion resolution.

If you're a gamer the TV will contribute some lag to your online sniping session, but with an average of 44.6 milliseconds it still only counts as an "moderate" amount as televisions go.

Uniformity: The TV we received suffered from poor uniformity, with two lighter, kidney-sized patches in the middle of the screen. These were only visible on a very dark screen, however, and weren't as distracting as other "backlight clouding" problems on some other sets.

Off-axis viewing on the F6400 could also get fairly ugly depending on the content you were watching. The final act of "Skyfall" with its black-and-orange color mix looked awful when viewed off-axis, with the blacks turning green and the whole image almost turning into a negative. The same thing happened with the Panasonic E60. The later daytime shots looked a lot less gruesome off-axis, though blacks did turn to blue.

Bright lighting: The television features a moderately reflective screen that captured bright lights more noticeably than many of the others, leading to some distracting effects in dark scenes. On the other hand the screen managed to retain its black levels relatively well in a lit room -- better so than the LG 6200, for example, which fell apart with blue-blacks with the lights playing lazily on it.

Sound quality: The sound performance of this TV was unexpectedly good, with decent slam in action movies, intelligible speech, and almost listenable music replay. When playing Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" the sound wasn't exactly danceable, but it had decent bass weight without "buzz sawing" and the vocals sounded more present. Of all of the TVs we tested at its price it was the best at producing something that sounded like music. The LG LA8600 sounded better, but again, that TV is a lot more expensive.

Explosions in the bridge scene in "Mission: Impossible 3" had some gut impact and sounds that were lost on the LG 6200 and the Panasonic E60 -- such as the truck horn that sounds immediately after one of the rockets hits -- were rediscovered by the Samsung. Sure, I've heard TVs that have better glass-breaking effects, but the Samsung was able to deliver more of the audio spectrum than its competitors in both movies and music.

3D: For an active system at a budget price the F6400 performed fairly well in 3D, with only minor ghosting and crosstalk artifacts in the "ghostly hand" scene from "Hugo" (4:44), matching the ST60 in this department and exceeding the performance of the LG6200. As usual, the better passive TVs, the Vizio and LG LA8600, showed almost no crosstalk. Later on, as Hugo is chased by Sacha Baron Cohen's inept transit cop, the picture didn't break apart during motion. Generally, color performance and black levels were very good.

Geek box: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.019 Average
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.19 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.800 Good
Near-black error (5%) 1.419 Good
Dark-gray error (20%) 0.367 Good
Bright-gray error (70%) 0.842 Good
Avg. color error 1.851 Good
Red error 0.682 Good
Green error 2.119 Good
Blue error 3.564 Average
Cyan error 0.659 Good
Magenta error 1.595 Good
Yellow error 2.489 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1,200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 350 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 44.6 Average

Samsung UN55F6400

Samsung_F6400_35647805_35670107_35650464_16.jpg
6.4

Samsung UNF6400 series LCD

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 6Value 6
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