There are some real standouts in Samsung's massive 2013 LCD TV range, particularly true when you're looking to spend a little money (the F5000), or a lot (the F8000). In the middle, things are little less clear-cut.
Our review of the F6300 and F6400 revealed so-so picture quality, and the F7100 is more of the same. The only picture quality improvement is slightly better black levels, and they're not deep enough to vault the 7100 into the next tier of LED LCD performers.
If you have your heart set on an LED LCD TV, better choices, such as the Sony W900 at 55 inches for a bit more money, or the Vizio M-series for a lot less, abound. Both will offer a better picture than this television. If you want a Smart Samsung LED LCD, the F6300 is a better value. If your mind isn't made up about getting an LED LCD, however, get a Panasonic ST60 plasma while you still can.Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch Samsung UN55F7100, 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 UN55F7100 (reviewed)
If you think about a television in clothing terms, the screen is the outer-layer, while the bezel is the underpants. Most people don't care to see your "tighty-whities" unless you're Mark Wahlberg, so TV designers are similarly doing their best to give us the least amount of bezel possible. The F7100 offers a "barely there" bezel trimmed in silver instead of the black of the cheaper F5000 -- think of these as your flashy Calvin Klein undies. The F7100 offers a sturdier swivel stand than the cheaper 6300, though it's still the love-or-hate it "Hell is Chrome/Spiders" legs.
The heart of the 2013 Samsung interface is the five-panel Smart Hub which offers cable-box integration, apps and DLNA content. With the dual-core processor onboard, the screens move pretty quickly back and forth. The settings menu is fairly familiar, since it's the one the company has used for at least five years and is as easy to use as ever.
The new remote control is one of Samsung's most accomplished, with a touch pad and shortcuts. While it doesn't include a shortcut to Netflix, or include number buttons, it does have a link to the Smart Hub and supports a number of gestures. I'd still rather see a standard remote included in the box, but if you're doing lots of Web browsing, or inputting text with the onscreen keyboard, this is a pretty nifty remote.
|Key TV features
|3D glasses included
|Dejudder (smooth) processing
|Other: Voice control; cable box integration and control via IR blaster.
The Samsung comes with a lot of features, but how useful you'll find them depends on what you're looking to do with your television. If you just want to hook up a Blu-ray player or game console, then cable integration will probably mean very little to you. But if you're looking for a TV that tries, not necessarily successfully, to replace your cable box, then it might be appealing.
The TV features microdimming, which is an electronic dimming system; it doesn't control the backlight, it's software only. The "Dynamic Contrast" is designed to offer better contrast but, as per the calibration notes, it behaved similarly to the same mode on the F6400 (that is, it caused crushing), and I ultimately opted not to use it. The F8000 on the other hand uses Micro Dimming Ultimate and Precision Black Local Dimming which turn the backlight on and off in hundreds of zones in response to onscreen content.
The panel has a "Clear Motion Rate" of 720, which according to Samsung is a combination of backlight scanning (running the backlight at a high rate to reduce blur) and frame interpolation. Ignore that gobbledygook. In real-world terms it has a 240Hz refresh rate.
If you are one of the few who still hankers for 3D content then the F7100 will play it, and it comes with four pairs of RF 3D glasses (SSG-5100GB). Of course the TV is compatible with other goggles bearing the Full HD 3D logo.
The TV comes with a comprehensive selection of apps including the recent addition of -- arguably the best -- music streaming service Spotify. Also on-board are the "big 4" video apps Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus and YouTube, as well as notables HBO Go and Vudu. For a look at the apps offered by Samsung and its competitors, try our big chart from 2012, which is basically the same this year except that Samsung doesn't offer a Google Maps app anymore.
If apps are the future of TV, then the Samsung tries to reinvigorate the "past" with its "On TV" feature. It offers an "On TV" guide to current and upcoming shows on your cable or satellite service, as well as cable control. The Samsung includes a IR dongle for this purpose though I like the integrated IR blaster of the LG TVs much better.
Smart View is an extra that allows users to view over-the-air TV or one of the HDMI inputs on a compatible Samsung phone or tablet. Based on my testing it doesn't work that well with significant lag, crashes and corruption of the TV screen itself when I was using a Samsung Galaxy S4 on CNET's wireless network. As with many other TVs, traditional screen mirroring -- where the phone/tablet's screen contents appear on the TV -- is also offered.
While it lacks the webcam of the F8000 and therefore the gesture controls, the F7100 does include voice interaction via a microphone on the touch pad remote. I didn't test advanced functions of the Smart TV interface like cable control and voice interaction, but I expect it would behave very similarly to the F8000. Check out that review for a comprehensive look.
Picture settings: The Samsung F7100 offered most of the settings you'd expect for a TV at its price, with a number of high-end calibration controls, including a 10-point grayscale, and a Color Management System. 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: Four HDMI ports is pretty standard for a higher-end TV, while three USB ports is almost overkill, but they may be useful if you opt for a keyboard, Skype camera, and/or attached hard drive. The 7100 also includes component and composite inputs with an 3.5mm audio out and optical output also thrown in. An Ethernet jack and onboard wireless complete the unit's connectivity options.
The Samsung UNF7100 offers acceptable picture quality but nothing exceptional. Compared to the company's own televisions, such as the much cheaper F5000 it comes off looking second-best, but it slightly outperforms the company's own F6300/F6400 series, although the improvement in itself is not worth the extra money. Compared to other brands' best TVs, the value-to-picture quality proposition of the F7100 seems even more suspect.
Black levels were just OK, and while shadow detail was pretty good overall, some uniformity issues marred darker scenes. Color was generally excellent with only a little warmness to skin tones, and video processing was another strength. Off axis performance was solid, with blacks kept fairly intact without going purple and only an overall muting of colors.
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)
|55 inch local dimming LCD
|55 inch plasma
|40 inch LCD
|55 inch LCD
|55 inch local dimming LCD
|55 inch local dimming LCD
Black level: The F5000 series, with its very good black level performance, is a bit of an anomaly in Samsung's lineup, but from the 6 series on up, there's a noticeable improvement in black levels as you ascend in price. While the F6300/F6400 had just OK blacks, the F7100 looks a little bit better with a little more solidity to images. But the 7 series isn't exactly halfway between the 6 and 8; it's more like a 25 percent improvement on the television below it. No other Samsung LED LCD can compete with the black-enhancing local dimming offered by the F8000 and F9000 series.
On the most testing scene from the very dark "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," you see an army amassing on a hill top. On the F7100 you can barely make out what the TV is trying to show you, compared to the superior low-level performance of the F8000 or Panasonic ST60, which showed the entirety of the scene, including the hilltop and the faces framed with black darkness, and not gray as on the Samsung.
While the black levels weren't very deep on the F7100, its shadow detail was pretty good. Compared to the overly crushed Vizio M-series, for example, you could see more of the valley behind the hill.
Color accuracy: The color performance of the Samsung F7100 kept up well with the competitors in my test room, including heavy hitters like the Panasonic ST60 and Sony W900. It was able to communicate colors with high degree of naturalness and a lack of oversaturation. The only knock was in reds and skin tones, with a slight pinkishness to cheeks. It wasn't unpleasant enough to be a big deal, however, and I noticed the same characteristic in the F6300 as well.
During the the Mother scene from "The Tree of Life", greens looked appropriately verdant. The secondary colors were also close on both the Samsung and the Panasonic ST60, with the cyan of the mother's dress looking almost identical on both TVs.
Video processing: Like most Samsung LED LCDs we've tested, the UNF7100 performed very well here, passing all of our synthetic and real world tests.
In the motion resolution test, it was able to do 1200 lines with all settings on, but there were significant artifacts at the group of lines denoting 600. I tested the television without any motion compensation as the benefits can be difficult to discern with most material. However, if you want the security of knowing you're getting the maximum motion resolution, you can choose to enable the LED Clear Motion toggle under Auto Motion Plus. The other tests were passed without any issues.
In Game mode, the 7100's input lag tipped just over the 40ms threshold from Good into Average with a score of 42.17.
Uniformity: The Creation sequence from The Tree of Life is quite unique as it displays a series of colors over a dark grey background, and if the TV isn't capable of very good blacks or has uniformity issues it shows very clearly. Unfortunately the scene demonstrated that there was a purple blotch in the bottom left-hand corner of our unit. The corners were also subject to "spotlighting" of the backlight with dark material onscreen.
When the 7100 was viewed off-axis colors were muted yet pretty good, and blacks were also reduced, but not "purple" like on the F6300 (likely a function of the latter's worse black levels). Of the three Samsungs I tested, predictably the 8000 had the best color retention and blacks off-axis.
Bright lighting: When viewed in a brightly lit room, the F7100 had a fairly impressive image, with bold colors and decent contrast. The screen coating of the TV very reflective, however, even more than on the F8000. I was able to see way too much of my sun-shy face bouncing back at me.
Sound quality: Despite the presence of the Spotify app and DLNA streaming, I wouldn't use the Samsung 7100 as a music system. Bass response was quite flatulent with Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand," but at least the 7100 covered more of the sound spectrum than the F6300. In the default Movie mode, vocals were distant-sounding, and, though there is a Music mode, it was actually Standard that sounded best, however, the accompanying bass guitar was still distorted.
Movies, though, are what the F7100 is made for. It delivered clearer dialogue and heftier explosions than the Sony W900, for example, with our "Mission: Impossible III" test scene.
3D: I found the performance of the F7100 to be quite acceptable in the third dimension. There was a little cross-talk on the "ghostly hand" from Hugo as we see him reach out across a black background, but it was in line with that exhibited by the excellent F8000. There were also fewer crosstalk issues than on the W900.
|GEEK BOX: Test
|Black luminance (0%)
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)
|Near-black error (5%)
|Dark gray error (20%)
|Bright gray error (70%)
|Avg. color error
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)
|1080i De-interlacing (film)
|Motion resolution (max)
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)
|Input lag (Game mode)