Samsung 55-inch Ultra-Slim UN55B7100 1080p LED LCD HDTV Review
In our HDTV review segment, we’ve already reviewed comparable plasma and LCD based HDTV’s from Samsung and concluded that plasma offered the best from a picture quality and performance standpoint and that if you wanted the best possible experience; plasma was undoubtedly your best bet.
Well since reviewing the Samsung 650 Series HDTV’s just a year back, a lot has changed and further improvements have been made to LCD technology in just a short time. Please read the Samsung LN40A650 review for a more detailed overview of conventional LCD and Plasma technology.
The short description is that LCD HDTV uses a fluorescent bulb to light liquid crystals for an image to be displayed on the screen. However, this has been proved not to be as efficient because there isn’t a way to reproduce black colors as its plasma brother can achieve. So what Samsung and many other HDTV manufacturers have done to improve LCD technology is to use LED’s instead as its light source effectively creating a better solution to render deeper blacks and better color as the HDTV can selectively turn off a certain pixels light source similar to what a plasma HDTV can do. That’s exactly what has been done and today we see and share with you many more benefits of LED LCD technology.
Today we review the top-of-the-line LED 7100 series Samsung UN55B7100.
“Samsung ultra-slim LED TVs combine breakthrough picture quality, eco-friendly* design and advanced connectivity options that will keep you entertained 24/7. Including Internet@TV that allows you to receive content via Yahoo!®, Flickr®, and other online TV Widgets on screen. USB 2.0 Movie: Multi-Media Center makes it easy to watch movies, browse photos and listen to music on your TV. The Samsung UN55B7100 LED HDTV also makes it easy to be green with up to 40% less power consumption than conventional LCDs.”
After reading the features and specifications of the Samsung UN55B7100 you will be saying “damn!” The Samsung UN55B7100 is the highest model in the LED 7100 series and on paper it’s a monster. It has an absurd contrast ratio of 3,000,000:1 and I can tell you from hands-on experience that the UN55B7100 is indeed eye-blinding bright. I’ve never seen an HDTV this bright before and it’s substantially brighter than the PN50A650 and LN40A650 I’ve reviewed in the past. Those ones have nothing over the brightness the UN55B7100 can achieve. This is eye-blinding brightness on a whole different level.
The UN55B7100 is a 120Hz Auto Motion Plus HDTV (I still don’t like 120Hz technology) having four 1.3 HDMI ports which is the standard right now and it’s great to see a nice amount of these ports on the UN55B7100.
You’ll notice that the legacy composite connection is now used in conjunction with the component video input so anybody who still owns a VCR still can use it on their HDTV. My father still owns a VCR and he views his old karaoke videos on this HDTV (funny).
Rounding off is the integrated ATSC tuner so you can plug in an antenna to pull in 100% free, legal and uncompressed local HDTV channels, throwing out monthly cable or satellite charges. Be free people!
I will explain the multi-media functions later on in the review but I am stoked at sharing with you how feature packed the Samsung UN55B7100 really is in terms of integrated ability. Basically you can now get rid of similar devices because the Samsung UN55B7100 does it all!
The Samsung UN55B7100 features two down-firing speakers that have 15W total RMS totaling 30W for your audio needs. The Samsung audio supports SRS TruSurround HD and Dolby Digital. Audio power is upgraded by 5W each channel from the previous Samsung 650 series.
The Samsung LN40A650 utilizes a glossy plastic screen. The upside to this type of screen is the unlikely damage (shatter) compared to glass if something is thrown at it. The glossy film will act as a barrier. The downside is that the unit will feel warmer up front during operation. Not a big issue anyways.
First Impressions and Design Overview
The Samsung UN55B7100 comes in a large corrugated box surrounded by bodies of foam protection to prevent any damage and flex during delivery and no problems were had when delivered. The box has an elegant black sticker that displays the LED LCD HDTV and some of its features on the sides of the box. Located around the sides of the cardboard container are handles that you grab onto when lifting. When you’re ready to open the box, don’t make the mistake of cutting the top because all you need to do is remove the plastic handles in order to lift the whole box upwards.
The UN55B7100’s frame design continues the “Touch of Color” tradition but this time instead of being injected with a red color, its grey for a more subtle look but still looks very much elegant and exciting. The frame contains the straight 90 degree edge which makes it somewhat conventional in nature. It does not have a curve look. The bezel doesn’t feel cheap but rather made of a solid piece of clear plastic. Tap it and it doesn’t sound nor feel cheap but upscale and something of quality.
With the LED 7100 series HDTV, it still maintains the flush mounted front-panel controls that features commands such as power on/off, channel up/down, volume up/down, source, menu buttons, etc. This is eliminated and all you really have is the flush mounted power button in the center of the bezel below the Samsung name logo. I don’t really find the exclusion to be a hit or miss because I didn’t really ever use the flush mounted controls on the past Samsung HDTV’s. With the exclusion of these buttons on the bezel, Samsung includes a secondary remote which is a basic function volume and channel changing pebble shaped remote control. Use this pebble shaped remote control for your basic functions and use the standard full-sized remote for everything else. I found these two remotes equally useful.
The first time I lay my eyes on the Samsung UN55B7100, I was blown away by just how thin it is! This is Samsung’s slimmest HDTV yet measuring in at only 1.177” or 2.99cm! What this does is allow the UN55B7100 to weigh less than other HDTV’s. For example, the plasma PN50A650 (50”) weighed 95.9lbs with the stand but this UN55B7100 50” LED LCD HDTV with its ultra-slim thickness weighs in at only 60.4lbs with the stand. So this 55” LED LCD HDTV weighs 35.5lbs less than the 50” Plasma PN50A650! Additionally if you were to mount the Samsung UN55B7100 on the wall, removing the stand, the weight would drop down to 48.9lbs allowing you to save some money without buying a heavy duty wall mount. Factor in at how thin it really is, mounting HDTV’s on the wall never looked better.
The Samsung UN55B7100 is located right beside two large windows, so there is no shortage of light coming inside. Even when the blinds are shut, light seeps through the seams. Sitting and watching right smack in the middle of the screen presents very little problems. You simply focus on the screen and all the colors are deep and are portrayed the way intended. Viewing from the side, there are some reflections of the windows, but Samsung has done a great job on the anti-reflective coating. Overall, reflections don’t distract all too much from viewing what is on the Samsung PN50A650’s screen. I still can watch and enjoy television and not need to reposition my body in order to see the screen better. Factor in at how much brighter this UN55B7100 really is (3,000,000:1) over older LCD and Plasma’s, all you need to do is crank up the contrast and brightness and it’ll overpower whatever is reflecting on the screen.
So have viewing angles been improved with LED LCD technology? Make no mistake, this is still LCD technology and because of this, the Samsung UN55B7100 still has not solved the problem of having a better viewing angle than its plasma brethren. Once you move directly away from the front of the screen and view at different angles, the color begins to shift and loses its color and picture integrity very quickly. I have my sofa set up as an L-shaped shape right in front of the HDTV so for me when I sit on the sofa not sitting directly in front of the UN55B7100, I watch at an angle and immediately experience color shift and loss of accuracy. LED LCD technology still has not solved this issue and still has poor viewing angles. With my plasma PN50A650, none of this happens.
Another disadvantage to LCD technology is the problem of clouding. Some panels will feature more or less clouding than others. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an LCD screen that has never had clouding issues so it’s pretty common. The thing is that you want the absolute less amount of clouding as possible and this is a randomized problem. On a plasma screen, I don’t want to say that clouding issues don’t exist but they should be for the most part highly minimized or in a way that you’ll never notice them.
Unfortunately on this UN55B7100 sample, there are highly visible clouds present. It presents itself as someone screwing down the panels too tightly and is visible in the corners. This unit had three of its corners with visible clouds. And these weren’t small clouds, these were pretty big clouds. The issue of clouding still exists in LED LCD technology. I don’t think LCD will ever be free from this issue.
The rear panel of the Samsung UN55B7100 is not glossy but rather matte gray plastic which is boring and doesn’t match the design philosophy of the rest of the UN55B7100. The power cable is integrated into the actual HDTV which is pretty nifty and there is a cable tie wrap to help organize cable clutter. There are additional cable-wire holders in the packaged bundle.
In terms of inputs, you have plenty of everything you need for today’s technology. Just one minor change to the audio output connection is that now it’s just a 3.5” headphone jack instead of the usual RCA L/R jack, the latter which I prefer more.
Purchasing the Samsung UN55B7100, you will find these items located in the box…
Samsung provides a good amount of stuff with your purchase. You have an easy quick setup guide and surprisingly a 1GB USB flash drive which holds an e-manual which you view on the HDTV itself to go over all the features and menu options on the UN55B7100. Everything is clear and concise. I will say some of the things are redundant because the UN55B7100 provides on screen information already for most menu options, located at the bottom of the menu screen.
Let’s watch some HDTV!
A melody chimes to greet you the moment you turn on the Samsung UN55B7100. In the event you don’t like the melody, you are free to change the volume of the chime or turn it off in the setup menu. The first thing I did was scan for some HD channels. I headed into the menu and selected to scan for (over-the-air) OTA HD channels. Remember that the Samsung UN55B7100 contains a single dual TV tuner that can bring in the new ATSC digital channels and the older analog fuzzy NTSC signals. If you are in the US and have access to digital encrypted cable service then you will be happy to see Clear QAM support. Also remember that OTA analog NTSC content should be nonexistent in the USA already but for Canadians, that date is in the year 2011.
One of the features that I loved and found to be very important for folks who are going to pick up free local channels is the signal strength meter which is present on the PN50A650 and LN40A650. Unfortunately, with the new UN55B7100, there is no longer a signal strength meter available which is a crying shame. I don’t know who made the decision to leave it out but that’s a pretty bad decision for such a useful feature.
One of the nice things about the UN55B7100 is the PIP (picture-in-picture) mode. On the UN55B7100, PIP works for both analog and digital signals. PIP only works when you are on an external video source (say you’re playing a video game, you are able to view PIP no problem). However, Samsung still did not make a dedicated PIP button on their remote control. To access PIP, it has to be done inside the setup menu in order to enable PIP. I’m really puzzled with this and wonder why PIP is even offered if it’s a hassle just to enable. They should place a PIP button on the remote control.
Scanning for OTA HD channels only takes about five minutes which is relatively fast. I found 18 DTV (Digital Television aka ATSC) channels in HD. One of the things I was disappointed with was the fact that you aren’t able to tune into channels manually (it has to be picked up through the channel scan) and that with each new channel scan, it’ll erase your old channel list, essentially starting from scratch. The problem with this method is that I have to delete all the channels that are duplicates and the ones I don’t want. I’d like it if there were a personalized channel list that was unchanged and that by scanning for new channels would only add channels that were not previously there.
One of the great things about OTA HD is the fact that it is free and 100% legal. Another thing is that it prevents you from shelling out monthly charges to your local cable provider, saving you lots of money in the long run. Lastly, OTA HD content comes in uncompressed from the source and thus provides better quality picture than if you are watching HD content through your local cable provider. This is because there can only be so much channels going through one cable because of bandwidth limitations (check up multiplexing). So be confident that you’re watching uncompressed high quality HD content when going the OTA route with a UHF/VHF antenna.
Among channels you can view the EPG (Electronic Programming Guide) that shows information regarding the show being watched and in addition, can see the programming schedule of a specific channel looking ahead at programs you may be interested in watching. With a tap of a button you can view text captions if desired.
One of the bigger selling points of this HDTV is the fact that it uses LED technology which is known to operate with less wattage than conventional fluorescent light bulbs so in the end you start saving money. Samsung claims that its LED series HDTV utilize 40% less power than the conventional LCD set. Additionally it is said to contain mercury free back lights, elimination of C02 and VOC emissions in the manufacturing process of the TV frames by eliminating the use of spray paint.
The 40% less power under operation is reinforced by an analog power meter that can be brought up in the ‘INFO’ menu that indicates how much power you are saving over a conventional LCD. The needle will change according to your desired contrast/brightness/backlight settings and is also auto dimming when switching between channels. So when you switch channels or when the scene changes into a dark room, you’ll notice the energy indicator needle rapidly changing. This is a neat little feature but at the same time could be a little annoying for some. There’s no way to turn off the auto dimming feature unless you go into the system service menu, which only qualified personnel are able to do, and could void warranty. So I don’t suggest doing such a thing.
The Samsung UN55B7100 comes with a newer revised version of their full size remote control. No longer is there a clicker wheel system in the middle. I suppose they had complaints that it was too complicated or awkward. In replacement of the clicker system is just the conventional rubber directional pad with an OK button in the middle. The hard plastic shell is reminiscent of the Touch of Color bezel as the remote has a dark gloss color. The remote’s buttons has the ability to be illuminated into an orange color at night and works very well. All buttons are large, easy to read and rubberized. The buttons feel and perform well.
You notice those lower buttons such as fast forward, rewind, pause and play? Well now they are totally useable because the UN55B7100 is taking full advantage of them with its feature packed features such as the ability to play movies, music and photos from your USB flash drive. More on this later.
This same problem still hasn’t been fixed. There needs to be a better way at changing video sources. Hitting the source button brings up the GUI where it lays out all the connections. The input labels that are grayed out mean that there is no signal found whereas the ones that are white are moved to the top of the screen and mean a signal is found and thus can be selected. Since there are many inputs on this HDTV, sometimes switching between all the inputs take a while. Although the ability of naming each of your inputs makes it easier to know what is connected to whatever input. For example, I can name HDMI 1 “Game” and HDMI 2 “Blu-Ray” and so forth. This makes it easier but like I said, having each input already on the remote would speed things up.
The time it takes to switch between sources depends on the gear you running but for example, the UN55B7100 took about six seconds to switch from TV viewing into HDMI 1 which housed a PS3. Additionally switching from the PS3 into TV mode took only two seconds. Your mileage may vary but these are numbers you can expect.
User Interface Menu – Tweaks galore
The Samsung UN55B7100 still has the same great menu like it had in its Samsung 6 Series. It really hasn’t been changed but only a few minor changes have been made (like the signal strength meter exclusion) but I think it has gotten a little quicker to navigate. It has a user-friendly menu system that has a multitude of options and probably the most options I’ve seen yet on a television dedicated for tweaking only the image. The amount of picture options you can tweak is simply astounding. Not only do you have your standard color, saturation, contrast, and tint, Samsung goes as far to provide white balance, color space, black adjust, dynamic contrast, gamma, flesh tone, edge enhancement (like sharpening), blue mode (to tweak hues) and more. There are so many tweaks that sometimes you find things that are redundant but they all work to achieve what you want to see better.
There aren’t many audio options on the UN55B7100, but the amount of options is good enough. The UN55B7100provides different audio preset modes such as movie mode, music mode, speech mode and standard mode. It also supports SRS TruSurround HD and Dolby Digital which mimics a surround sound environment. Top it off with an equalizer to tweak the sound to your liking, there’s not much more I can ask to have on this front. The sound seems better than the Series 6 offerings because of added power output but I do suggest investing in a dedicated setup of some sort.
As this is a 120Hz HDTV, Samsung offers a dedicated ‘Auto Motion Plus 120Hz’ menu. Go inside this menu and you can choose from three pre-set selections (clear, standard, smooth), a custom mode where you can dial in how much blur reduction and judder reduction you want (I recommend a setting of 10 blur reduction and 0 judder reduction), and a demo mode showing off the differences of 120Hz mode being on or off in a half/half screen split. Turning 120Hz mode off, I do think ghosting has improved a bit but still lacking compared to plasma. But I definitely do see improvements compared to the Series 6 models.
The options I have given you here are not a total listing of options provided on the Samsung UN55B7100. For a full list, download the user’s manual provided on Samsungs website.
Here are my picture settings for HDMI input (these are similar for TV viewing as well) and I thought it would be a good idea to help out users who have purchased this HDTV. Your mileage may vary because no two units are alike; there are always subtle differences so just dial in to a setting you like.
Picture Options Menu
Multi-Media Center – MEDIA PLAY
This will probably be my favorite part of this review because I’m excited at what Samsung has managed to accomplish. They have managed to add various fun and practical ‘pre-installed’ content in the UN55B7100 and have made improvements to what was lacking in the Samsung 6 Series offerings.
This UN55B7100 is no longer just a one-dimensional HDTV; this is a full featured media-center and practical living device. I’m talking about a device similar to the Western Digital WDTV media players of this world but with even more features!
There are two dedicated buttons we must explore. The first button reads “MEDIA.P” and the second reads “CONTENT”. The second one is hilarious and I’ll explain later. The first time I went into this, I was amazed and was in unbelief!
So the first thing I want to tell you about is what is called Media Play. Media Play is basically where you have the ability to play not only music and photos off your USB stick, but now finally movies!
You know that I’ve already reviewed the Hantech SISO and the HornetTek Mirage HDD Media Players, but what if I was to tell you that this Samsung UN55B7100 can basically replace that device? I’m seriously not kidding. You can use the Samsung UN55B7100 as a media player and it works better than those that I’ve already reviewed. This is an HDTV that is in fact an 8-in-1 media device. I’ll explain more as we continue.
You can plug in your USB HDD/flash drive (FAT16, FAT32 & NTFS) and view JPEG pictures, playback MP3 songs and now play back video files better than dedicated units. The greatest thing is that the codec support is everything you could want. This thing plays all of the video codec’s that you could want natively and supports all of the subtitles you could ever need. Additionally you should know that you can play 1080p video files to your heart’s content, this UN55B7100 can handle everything you throw at it.
You can use these subtitle formats…
I pretty much verified what Samsung claimed could play. I even viewed a .ts file in 1080p glory, all without glitches, stutters, etc. Amazing! You can’t get any better codec support than this. It does everything you could possibly want.
The image quality that the Samsung UN55B7100 provided when playing back video files off of the USB flash drive is as good as anything I’ve seen. Picture quality is excellent, clean, sharp and natural. Using the HDTV’s own imaging processor, I wouldn’t expect anything less. What is cool is that under Media Play mode, you can have separate picture settings that won’t interfere with your TV picture settings or HDMI picture settings; they are all independent of each other.
Just about the only drawback to movie playback is the fast forward and rewind commands. You could only fast forward and rewind at the rate of 2x which is far too slow when other media players can do the same at 32x or more. All this is done through the full-size remote control and no other unit is needed.
Multi-Media Center – Content Library
Content Library is the second part of what is included with the Samsung UN55B7100. It allows you to enjoy various content on your TV. You can use the default content stored in the TV memory or you can enjoy new content using a USB device or via the Internet (download).
I was in disbelief when I viewed some of the things in the Content Library. But they turned out to be just beautiful. You have seven menus which include: Gallery, Cooking, Game, Children, Wellness, Others and Content Management.
You read that right, cooking and wellness! What a surprise they are. Check out my gallery to images of what to expect. You will be pleasantly surprised.
Gallery will play a slideshow full of high resolution images with background music of art, animals, landscape and more. This is very well done.
Cooking is one sweet tool to have. It’s basically an electronic cooking book full of recipes of main course; deserts or starters with full easy to follow step by step instructions along with high resolution photos for each step along the way. This too is insanely well done and presented! You can learn how to make delicious seared tuna steaks, griddled beef, deserts and much more!
The Game menu allows you to play some simple games like dice and more. They are family friendly games.
Wellness is basically a fitness training course and just ways to live healthy by showing you various kinds of stretches, etc. Again like the cooking menu, it provides full step by step instructions with pictures of what you are supposed to do. I love it!
You will be in awe of what content is available and more can be added if you connect to the internet via the Ethernet port. Just simply amazing what Samsung has done. It’s truly unique.
How does it perform?
I’m going to end off quickly and make this straight forward. The Samsung UN55B7100 is almost ‘plasma-like’ which is saying a lot. The improvements that have been made to switch over to LED has paid off big time. Not only does LED make it possible to have an ultra-slim design, it offers unheard levels of brightness (3,000,000:1) that will provide whites that are eye-blinding, and blacks that are truly deep and unseen before on LCD HDTV’s. The dark colors are reproduced very nicely giving a deep black color and still providing a level of shadow to the color.
Picture quality is very good. The amount of detail in HD content is breath-taking. Make no mistake though, I could still tell that I was viewing an LCD because the colors did not “pop” off the screen as plasmas do and the color while accurate, did look a little washed out compared to its plasma counterpart. I’m talking about the way I feel the colors are being presented. I don’t literally mean the colors are washed out. They just are presented differently than how plasmas present them. They are not yet at the same level of plasmas but almost there.
Lastly there one was annoying thing I experienced with the Samsung UN55B7100 and I found out after I returned the UN55B7100 that it was a common problem on some UN55B7100 sets but I’m not sure it has been fixed. I would venture to say that this could be fixed with a new firmware upgrade.
My UN55B7100 had a frame stuttering problem. It was random occurrences that came up frequently but at different times. This was a motion based problem. It was the occasional slowdown of frames that lasted about 5-6 seconds at a time and would disappear. Then it would re-appear at a later time. You would be watching TV or playing a video game and everything you see would be smooth and all of a sudden, you would notice everything stuttered and got slower.
It was like running a game at 60fps and all of a sudden the frame rate drops to 20fps for a couple of seconds. This was the same exact thing. It was like the image processor had a hiccup and processing what was on the screen. I know for a fact that it was not the TV broadcast because it happens on any channel and even on different sources such as HDMI when playing video games.
I really like the Samsung UN55B7100, truth be told it’s almost perfect. There so many things going for this HDTV such as its feature packed Media Player abilities (play up to 1080p movies off your USB stick, play MP3’s and view photos) and pre-installed content which includes food recipes, high-resolution gallery of images and wellness instructions (fitness). All of these things are done superbly well.
The improvements made to LCD technology by placing LED in replacement of the fluorescent bulb has paid off dividends by making it possible to shrink the depth of the HDTV to ultra-slim levels (2.99cm) while reducing weight and reducing operating wattage. What this means is that you end up saving money because your LED HDTV doesn’t need to use as much power as a conventional LCD needs to or plasma needs to. LED’s draw substantially less power and need less space to work with.
By adding LED technology inside LCD technology, it has made the transition of being almost plasma-like in terms of its image quality, black color reproduction and general color reproduction.
However, some of the things that have plagued LCD in the past still continue to be its thorn. This UN55B7100 sample had clouding issues that were present in three of the four corners of this HDTV. The clouds weren’t exactly small and unnoticeable either.
Secondly, the viewing angle still is definitely poor and needs major improvement. Any viewing of the HDTV other than front and center of the screen will result in color shift/fade/fallout.
Lastly we have this brand new issue of the occasional frame stutter that I’ve experienced with this UN55B7100 sample unit and while researching, have found out that a select number of people have this exact problem. Here’s hoping to a firmware upgrade that can fix this problem. It seems isolated though which is a good thing.
But overall, LED LCD technology has really advanced the LCD technology and has really made a lasting positive impression on me. Hopefully it’s just small number of units that have the stuttering problem and that can be addressed easily. I would seriously consider purchasing the Samsung UN55B7100 if I got a model with no stutter and minimal clouding. That’s how far LCD has improved. Before I wouldn’t go as far as thinking of purchasing one but the UN55B7100 has made me realize otherwise.
Great job Samsung.
Pros and Cons
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