Review: Samsung 8000 and 9000 Series LED TVs

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It's an LED stairway to video heaven as we compare Samsung's pricey 9000 Series and value-minded 8000 Series TVs, with some surprising results.


Oct. 21, 2010 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Damn, today’s video displays are good.

That’s what I was thinking as I walked out of the Woburn, Mass., offices of electronics distributor AVAD with Electronic House managing editor Arlen Schweiger. We have been privileged to use AVAD’s facilities to make technology comparisons. First we compared plasma vs. LCD 3D TVs, and during this session we pitted edge-lit vs. fully backlit LED (light-emitting diode) LCD sets.

This test was not only fun, but also a bit of an eye-opener as we spent a few hours with branch manager Mark Spector, calibrating, comparing and enjoying two excellent Samsung LED 3D TVs: a 46-inch 8000 Series and a 46-inch 9000 Series television. So were there noticeable differences between the edge-lit LED LCD 9000 Series product and the fully backlit LED LCD 8000 Series television?

Features
Despite a $3,000 price differential, the two series share many of the same features: 1080p resolutions, 240Hz refresh rates, Internet apps, full 3D compatibility, brushed titanium bezel finishes, and auto brightness/dimming based on the room’s light conditions.

It’s not surprising that the backlit 8000 Series would be specified with a higher 8,000,000:1 contrast ratio (the 9000 Series is rated at 6,000,000:1). The 9000 Series has more Internet apps, wireless Internet connection capabilities and DLNA certification, so if it shares a network with a computer that’s DLNA enabled, users can easily access photos, music and video files for playback through the TV.

Because this review ran in our October “green” issue, we were very interested in the energy-efficiency properties of the LED technologies. While Samsung states that the 9000 Series is Energy Star compliant, at press time further details could not be found on the Energy Star website; the 46-inch 8000 Series product, however, checks in on Energy Star as using 92 watts in On mode and 0.1 watt in Sleep mode (for an estimated annual usage of 168.59 kilowatt hours).

The 8000 Series does offer a third screen size option at 65 inches (both lines have 46- and 55-inch screens), as well as Skype Internet phone service.

For those considering mounting their televisions on a wall, the 9000 Series sets are slimmer at 0.3 inches (the 8000 Series are 0.9 inches), and Samsung includes its slimwall mounting hardware to facilitate the 9000 Series’ installation.

Calibration First
To get a basic idea of how the televisions stacked up from a picture standpoint, we proceeded to eliminate as many performance variables as possible. We started by watching both televisions with some HD content from DirecTV. After catching SportsCenter for a few minutes we prepped for our critical viewing by performing some calibrations using the Digital Video Essentials HD Basics Blu-ray disc, because the TVs were essentially right out of the box. First we selected the 8000’s “natural” viewing mode and then adjusted the contrast, black level and color levels.

We also verified the eco “green” auto brightness mode was off (we would test this later), as well as the extraneous video processing functions. After just these simple adjustments, we noticed immediate improvement in picture quality on both televisions, which had been sitting in “Spinal Tap” mode—every control turned up to 11.

Samsung 8000 Series Performance
We popped in the Blu-ray of Pixar’s Cars. The first thing that struck me was how much more under control the calibrated picture looked. Sure, it was still bright and vivid, but the reds and whites didn’t appear to be “clipping.” Next we noticed the tremendous color palette of the opening race scene and the incredible image depth, which looked almost 3D.

Moving on to the Patton Blu-ray, we all agreed that the real-world contrast of the flag George C. Scott stands in front of looked immense thanks to the saturation of the rich red bars against the bright white bars, and the deep hue of the blue box with white stars.

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Subtler detail like the emerald green of Patton’s jacket against the brown leather of his gun holster, and white ivory gun handle, revealed spectacular textural resolution and brightness, especially for a 40-year-old movie.

Looking to test the TV’s ability to resolve low light and grayscale detail we tested the opening chase scene in The Matrix, and, forgive the pun, the brightness and grayscale capabilities really shined. The scene contains dimly lit rooms, dark and dank city streets and Trinity in a glossy black leather outfit. With this content the local dimming feature of the backlit 8000 Series really enabled the TV to show shadow detail without washing out the image.

We concluded our evaluation with AIX Records’ Goldberg Variations Acoustica 3D Blu-ray concert disc. We saw nice deep blacks, detailed wood grain in the hardwood floor and upright bass, and a truly 3D image that showcased the distance and depth of the musicians’ stands and the microphone placement that AIX Records used to record this intimate performance.

Samsung 9000 Series performance
Before we began our 9000 Series evaluation we selected the TV’s “natural mode” and then calibrated the brightness, contrast and color levels to the same values as the 8000 Series.

The first thing we noted was that the 9000 TV isn’t as bright overall as the 8000 unit, and little difference appeared near the LED-lit edges. With that said we started with Cars and we were impressed with the image; it was still bright and colorful, but it looked slightly softer than the “aggressive” image the 8000 Series produced. As Arlen noted, that could actually be preferred by viewers whose eyes may feel fatigued by the 8000.

Once we popped in Patton, we agreed that the differences between the two televisions were less noticeable and perhaps a case could be made that the 9000’s colors were a bit more “inky” looking than the 8000’s. A case could also be made that the 9000’s colors may have been slightly more accurate with primaries like red, green and blue.
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On The Matrix, the grayscale differences were more noticeable, with some loss of detail in the dimly lit alley shown and in the room in which the police were holding Trinity.

Finishing with the Goldberg Variations Acoustica 3D disc, the brightness difference also became an issue as the 9000 lost some depth and detail. Despite the loss of depth and detail, the 9000 produced less “ghosting” noise with the 3D content when compared with the 8000 Series for an advantage there, Arlen commented.

As for the auto brightness, we turned it on with both sets at the end of each viewing session—it’s very sensitive to the room lighting, almost to the point where we felt like someone was messing with the remote control because the image brightened and dimmed as conditions changed or people moved about.

Conclusion
I thought the 8000 produced a slightly better picture than the 9000 Series. Some of those differences will vary based on content, and other factors such as room conditions and calibration, but to me it comes down to the local dimming and pure horsepower of the 8000’s light engine.

Throw in price, and the ability to produce a high-quality picture in a variety of room environments and the case gets stronger for the 8000 Series. Those concerned with style, however, may prefer the 9000 with its super-slim depth, but aesthetically, both televisions are stunners.


9000 Series
Specs:
43.4 x 26.6 x 0.31 inches
48.5 pounds (with stand)
HDMI 1.4, component, PC, Ethernet, USB inputs
Edge-lit LED
$5,999

Pros:
Slim profile for wall mounting
Attractive brushed metal bezel
Quality picture; built-in 3D capabilities

Cons:
Image is slightly soft
Slight loss of grayscale detail
Expensive

8000 Series
Specs:
42.9 x 26.1 x 0.9 inches
42.3 pounds (with stand)
Brushed titanium bezel
HDMI 1.4, component, PC, Ethernet, USB inputs
Energy consumption 92 watts (on), 0.1 watt (sleep)
Full backlit LED
$2,799

Pros:
Bright images with lots of depth
Vivid color palette
Full LED backlighting

Cons:
Image may be too “aggressive” for some people
$2,800 is still lot to spend for a 46-inch TV



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