Samsung LN52A650 LCD TV – spectacular performance at a fairly steep price

Looks are a distinguishing feature of the Samsung LN52A650 LCD TV.

At first glimpse, what makes this flat panel 1020p HDTV so different from its competitors is the red-tinted display.

Much like the Samsung SyncMaster T220HD monitor we reviewed a couple of months ago, this TV belongs to a line of Samsung displays that incorporates touch of colour (TOC).

TOC is Samsung’s proprietary technology by which colours are injected through into the frame of the display through a complex fabrication process. The end result is a part-transparent, part-opaque crystal-like bezel that features a hint of red blended into the dominant glossy black.

TOC is available on all Samsung’s Series 6 and Series 7 LCD HDTVs –  and subjective preferences play a big part in determining whether you like the final effect or not.

I’m one of those who did like it.

A versatile display

For most buyers, Samsung LN52A650 is likely to serve mainly as an entertainment device.

However, my guess is a limited number of users would also use it as a 52-inch PC monitor. And those who do will enjoy the experience.

When connected to the PC via either the D-Sub Cable or HDMI/DVI cable the results are awesome.

The sharp and vivid text and images would please production artists – while computer based training (CBT) application developers or videographers would find the ample real estate a boon.

Colour par excellence

For a lot of people – myself included – great picture quality is the most important feature in any TV – and if the picture isn’t up to par, then any number of additional bells and whistles would be futile.

In the case of the LN52A650, the picture quality – bolstered by the superior black-level performance and accurate colour – was outstanding.

This display offers a very deep shade of black and a fairly good level of detail.

This is true even when the footage is intrinsically bleak or includes a lot of shadow or sepia tones – such as Will Smith’s I Am A Legend – which I watched using a Blu-Ray disc playing on Samsung’s BD-P 1200 Blu-Ray player.

I connected the player to the LN52A650 via one of the HDMI port’s on the display.

The TV did a great job of displaying subtle tones and colours even in some of the really dark scenes. (But on a few occasions, I had to crank up the brightness a bit for some of the details to become visible).

Again with colour, there’s a pretty big subjective element that comes into play, and this display accommodates that by offering you a fairly wide range of picture calibration settings.

You can manually control the picture by adjusting the settings for six separate parameters: Backlight, Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness, Colour and Tint.

What’s also cool is you can make these customized adjustments separately for each external device you have connected to your TV input – and store those settings for each device.

That’s especially useful when you have several devices connected to your TV – a very likely scenario given that the LN52A650 offers a very wide range of connectivity options, including 4 HDMI inputs (three on the rear panel and one on the side panel).

Or you can either choose one of the three pre-set modes: Dynamic, Standard and Movie (accessible by pressing the green Menu button on the remote and then selecting Mode).

In addition, though, there are three other “Entertainment Modes” – Sports, Cinema and Game – accessed through a separate button (E.Mode) towards the bottom of the remote.

Here’s where things get complex.

If you’ve already selected one of the Entertainment modes (say Game) and subsequently want to opt for one of the pre-set modes you’re not allowed to. You get a message asking you to de-activate the E.Mode, which you do by toggling the button to Off. This can be pretty annoying.

It would be far better if all the picture setting controls were accessible via a single button and at a single location on the Set Up Menu.

The use of Samsung’s latest Auto Motion Plus (AMP) 120Hz technology is aimed at improving picture clarity, especially in fast motion scenes.

This technology is designed to minimize motion “judder” and image blurring (that often occurs in fast-paced movie scenes or sports broadcasts) by interposing an extra frame between the “before” and “after” frames.

While the aim is to allow “images to flow seamlessly”, in some cases users have complained the resulting picture looks unnatural and can leave trailing images – such as one fast-moving golf ball leaving a trail of two or three images behind it.

However, the judder – which was noticeable in earlier hi-def Samsung displays such as the LN-T4671F – is considerably less visible in the LN52A650. At any rate AMP can set to Low mode or turned off altogether if the judder gets too pesky.

Connectivity galore

The huge range of connectivity options is one of the best features of the LN52A650.

In addition to the four HDMI jacks you have the following ports:

  1. Antenna In – to connect to an antenna or cable TV system.
  2. Two AV In ports (one on the rear, and one on the side panel)
  3. Two Component In ports
  4. WiseLink – to connect a USB storage device from which you can access image or audio files.
  5. S-Video
  6. PC In and Audio ports – to connect your PC to the TV

The advantage of so many connectivity options is it allows you to hook multiple devices simultaneously to the LN52A650 – and shift from one to another without repeatedly detaching and attaching cables.

When testing these connectivity options I hooked up the following devices to the LN52A650 – my Cogeco cable TV system (via the Ant In), a Samsung BD-P 1200 Blu-Ray player (using one of the HDMI ports), a Sony TRV-25 mini-DV camcorder (via one of the AV inputs), a Palm LifeDrive (via the Wiselink USB port), a Panasonic VCR (via the second AV port) and a Sony DVD player (via the Component video port).

Pressing the Source button on the remote brings up the various connected devices – and then you use the remote’s scroll wheel to move to the one you want to play.

While having a clickable scroll wheel to navigate to a device is good, Samsung needs to improve the response time from when you move the wheel to when the results are actually visible on screen.

One useful feature is the automatic backlighting of the remote’s buttons – as soon as it’s picked up. The buttons themselves are nice and big – another user friendly feature.

Decent audio

The built-in invisible speakers offer you acceptable sound for most regular viewing. You can also select from one of three pre-fabricated sound modes (Standard, Music, or Speech).

Another option is to select Custom and then manually adjust parameters such as the balance (between left and right speaker), the level of different bandwidth frequencies).

When playing 5.1 multi-channel content over any two-speaker playback system, the LN52A650 allows you to select the TruSurround XT option – which Samsung says “resolves the problem of playing 5.1 multi-channel content over two speakers” – including the TV’s two internal speakers.

In my tests, turning TruSurround on didn’t produce any noticeable improvement in sound quality other than boosting the volume a bit.

All in all though, most users – save fastidious audiophiles – would be happy with the sound quality of the internal speakers. 

Final word

The Samsung LN52A650 is a relatively costly purchase. The retail price on Canadian online sites ranges from $2,998 to $3,499.99.

But those able and willing to fork out will get value for their dollar. This LCD TV’s performance is stellar in everything that matters – from the superb picture quality to the massive feature set.

And apart from a few minor irritants – such as occasional blurring when the AMP mode is engaged, and a scroll wheel function on the remote that takes some getting used to – overall it’s a great product.

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