After finalizing my picture adjustments, I gathered up a pile of Blu-ray Discs and DVDs and went to work. Not right away, actually. My kids were nagging me to let them watch one particular Blu-ray, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. Sticking around to view the funny opening scene where Scrat the lovesick squirrel loses his acorn after being outfoxed by the female Scratte, I was struck by the Samsung's punchy, super-clean picture and abundant detail. Ice and snow in the background showed a wide range of subtle highlight shadings, and both cartoon squirrels' fur had a fine, very realistic texture. Even with my overhead room lights on, the Samsung didn't suffer from screen reflections when I watched Ice Age, although I did notice some issues later on when viewing movies with darker images.
Turning next to director J.J. Abrams's Star Trek revamp on Blu-ray, I remained impressed - this time by the Samsung's handling of the film's many dark scenes. The set's excellent rendering of shadow detail helped to flesh out structural details in exterior shots of the massive Romulan ship, which had such a dark and sinister appearance as to seem part and parcel of the black void it floated through. And in a subsequent shot of Nero (Eric Bana) in repose - repose for Nero being a steady quiver of barely suppressed rage - the contrast between the Romulan commander's deep black eyes and the velvety shadows surrounding his head, with his taut, tattooed skin, created a powerful sense of depth.
The Samsung's accurate color rendition made colors look balanced and skin tones natural. For example, in a shot of the young Kirk (Chris Pine) speeding through Iowa farmland, the green fields in the background looked like real grass as opposed to fake Astroturf. And in a later sequence where the now-grown Kirk is discovered cavorting in bed with a fellow cadet by her roommate, Uhura (Zoe Saldana), the subtle hues of both Kirk's pale, pinkish skin and Uhura's toffee tone could be easily seen. (The green flesh of the alien cadet looked neither subtle nor natural, but that wasn't the Samsung's doing.)
To test out the TV's Auto Motion Pro 240 Hz feature, I selected the Custom mode's Blur adjustment and set it at a moderately high level. It was easy to spot the effects of the Samsung's processing with motion test patterns here, all of which looked notably crisper. When I viewed a Boston Celtics vs. San Antonio Spurs basketball game on the TNT-HD channel, however, the results were not as clear-cut, although the numbers on the players' jerseys did look slightly more legible on fast breaks. As with other TV judder- reduction modes, Samsung's tended to add a video-like appearance to filmbased images: Pushed to high setting in Custom mode, it made Star Trek look like a reality TV show shot in outer space. But when I knocked it back to relatively low level (4 or below), the effect was considerably subtler.
So far I've mostly had only good things to say about Samsung's UN46B8500. But here's a catch: Like other local dimming LED-backlit LCDs, this one has serious offaxis viewing limitations. In short, once you move beyond 15° off from a center seat in front of the screen, the outstanding picture contrast and color that you observed when situated dead-center starts to fade. The severity of this issue will ultimately depend on viewing conditions in your home. (I tend to watch most movies alone, so it didn't affect me.) Finally, the Samsung's video upconversion was very good, with standard-def cable programs and DVDs looking solid and noise-free for the most part.
Samsung has managed to pull off a hat trick with its UN46B8500. Here, finally, is a truly flat LCD TV that's capable of delivering consistently deep blacks and strong shadow detail, and also provides good color accuracy right out of the box. And its Widget collection is also impressive, especially now with Samsung's recent addition of Blockbuster OnDemand movie streaming. The only issues that would temper my enthusiasm are its limited viewing angle and its price - at $3,600 list, you're definitely paying for the UN46B8500's performance. But if you're swayed by neither of those issues, you can rest easy knowing that this slim Samsung is the best LCD TV we've tested in the past year.
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