Samsung LN55A950 55-Inch HDTV

The Samsung LN55A950 is the first LCD TV we've tested with LED backlighting. But LED backlighting doesn't come cheap. The LN55A950's US$4500 street price (as of April 16, 2009) puts it in a different league from the other TVs that PC World normally reviews, but the image quality--though good--does not.

The added expense goes largely to the LED backlighting. By replacing the conventional fluorescent backlight with LEDs, the manufacturer enables the TV to do a more precise job of dimming parts of the screen while leaving others bright, resulting in deeper blacks and better contrast. Vendors also claim that LED backlighting is more energy-efficient than traditional backlighting.

In our PC World Test Center tests, we found that the 55-inch LN55A950 had the best image quality of any TV we've reviewed so far this year--but even so, it didn't blow us out of the water. Despite scoring well with our panel of judges, the set did have some image quality issues. Judges complained about fuzzy detail in speeding cars, garbled checkered patterns, and slight pixelation. On the other hand, one judge noted "excellent balance" and dimensionality in an American Idol clip. And in a dark scene from Mission: Impossible III, I could see textures on one character's coat that I'd never noticed before (and believe me, I've watched that scene a lot). That distinction underscores the benefit of LED backlighting: increased contrast, resulting in enhanced detail.

Unfortunately, the LN55A950's image quality failed miserably where we least expected it. In a 1080p clip, the LN55A950 handled architectural details very poorly, garbling much of the detail of a brick wall in chapter 7 of the Blu-ray release of Mission Impossible III. The distortion made this 1080p video clip look like 1080i. According to Samsung, the problem is probably related to Auto Motion Plus, a feature that is supposed to remove motion blur. A Samsung representative admitted that "complex, highly-detailed scenes...can get a shimmer or even a strange blur around objects seen against a moving background."

The LN55A950's built-in audio is about as good as you can get with internal speakers (to get top-notch movie sound you need a separate amplifier and speakers). Even with the volume turned up to an uncomfortable 100 percent, I detected only slight distortion (audio was very clean at the more comfortable but still loud 60 percent). And when the sound was supposed to jump from quiet to loud, it managed the change with real oomph. The pseudo-surround was also very good.

The LN55A950 has some great features, but they're not always well implemented. The ethernet port lets you enjoy media from other sources on your home network, but its Internet capabilities are currently limited to news and weather. The picture-in-picture feature is accessible only through the main menu (there are no PIP buttons on the remote), and works only with an external source (such as a DVD player) in the big picture, and with the TV's own tuner in the little one.

On the other hand, the USB-based multimedia works fine. Plug in a flash drive, and you can view your JPEG photos, listen to MP3 music, or view MPEG-4 videos. There's also a headphone jack.

The big, long, and well-balanced remote control is truly exceptional, despite the absence of a PIP button. The main buttons are well placed, the device is programmable, and best of all it's properly backlit. Press the backlight button, and all of the buttons light up. And since the labels are on the buttons themselves, you can easily see what you're pressing.

The menus are attractive and readable, though they do take up a lot of screen real estate. The main menu includes useful explanations. Navigation is normally easy but occasionally confusing. A smaller Quick Menu offers immediate access to commonly changed settings, such as sound modes, picture modes, and aspect ratio.

The Samsung LN55A950 is a fantastic TV. But its image quality isn't quite good enough to justify its exceedingly high price. Lower-cost alternatives with higher ratings overall include the Samsung PN50A760, the LG Electronics 50PG30, and the LG Electronics 52LG70.

This story, "Samsung LN55A950 55-Inch HDTV" was originally published by PCWorld.

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