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Samsung LE52F96BD Performance
To assess HD picture quality on the Samsung LE52F96BD, I dug out my copy of Casino Royale which ranks as one of the best transfers among Blu-ray's arsenal of films. Here the Samsung LE52F96BD really showed off its enormous dynamic range empowered by local dimming LED backlight: once greyscale was calibrated to near-D65, daylight scenes were portrayed with such authenticity that it is almost scary. During the mongoose-cobra fight sequence in Madagascar, I swear there were times I thought the beaming rays of sunlight were spilling into my lounge.
The monochromatic opening chapter – in which James Bond (Daniel Craig) relives his two kills required to attain 007 status – was shot in a slightly grainy (to add some grittiness to that particular scene), high contrast black and white style. [LED SmartLighting] performed wonders here: blacks were unbelievably inky, making even the hitherto unmatched blacks on the Pioneer PDP508XD look a touch greyish under the right condition (little to no bright objects on scene; darkened room).
Given the number of bright (near peak-white) objects (e.g. lights, halftone faces) set against a black background in this sequence, I was pleasantly surprised by how little I noticed any flare surrounding these areas of luminance when viewing the calibrated LE52F96BD straight on. Move off-axis though and these lighter halos would rear their ugly heads, seeping into the blacks.
I also appreciated the subtlety and discretion with which local dimming was carried out on the Samsung LE52F96BD. At no point did the ensuing black level fluctuation distract me enough to spoil my viewing, but I do accept that it may pose a problem depending on your individual susceptibility and what's shown on screen. If your eyes are particularly sensitive to fluctuating black levels, a possible albeit less-than-ideal solution would be to increase ambient lighting to make the dimming process (and flare) far less noticeable.
With [Just Scan] engaged to allow for 1:1 pixel mapping, the Samsung LE52F96BD LCD TV preserved and presented an exceptional amount of detail from the film. As James Bond and Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) sized each other up while dining on the train to Montenegro, one could still faintly make out the labels on the Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé wine and Evian water bottles.
This is one area where the Samsung LE52F96BD LCD held a definite edge over the Pioneer PDP508XD plasma when I compared them side-by-side after calibration. More often than not, I found my eyes being attracted to the LE52F96BD simply because it looked sharper than the PDP508XD (no excessive edge enhancement applied on both televisions) from a viewing distance of 10 feet away.
My LE52F96BD review unit exhibited the same dip in gamma tracking below 20% stimulus that was observed on all the Samsung LCDs I've reviewed, which of course made shadow detail darker than it should be, but fortunately not to the extent of detracting from the overall viewing experience.
With such a high contrast ratio available at its disposal, one would expect the LE52F96BD to give a very 3-dimensional image. Regrettably this is only true some of the time because of the way [LED SmartLighting] alters the gamma configuration dynamically depending on the content on screen (think window patterns producing S-shaped gamma). As a result, the picture can look stunningly 3D one moment, but flat and devoid of "pop" the next. That said, unless you have a display device with smooth 2.2 gamma against which to compare all the time, most people wouldn't find this to be a problem as the Samsung LE52F96BD generate sufficient contrast to carry it through.
The unstable gamma caused by [LED SmartLighting] also had a knock-on effect on colour. Different gamma values lead to different primary colour intensities, which will affect all the colours derived from a mixture of the primaries, resulting in different hues, saturation and intensity. This is the reason why colours on the Samsung LE52F96BD can occasionally undergo subtle shifts in hue and saturation in spite of a well-specced colour gamut and respectable decoding. On the whole though skin tone and green foliage on the Samsung LE52F96BD still looked convincing and never threatened to lapse into chaos.
The Samsung LE52F96BD accepted and competently processed 1080p/24 signal from the PS3. Neither panning shots of the crane fight nor scrolling credits at the end revealed any hint of the dreaded telecine judder.
Freeview Digital TV
If you're going to put a television of this size in a typical British living room, you should try – insofar as possible – to source high-definition material for all your viewing. Of course, the world is not perfect and sometimes watching standard-definition content is unavoidable... there are simply more SD than HD content available at the moment.
In this respect the Samsung LE52F96BD acquitted itself well. Sure, its video processing isn't on par with the best, but sitting from 13 feet away I was never really annoyed by any significant compression/ deinterlacing artifacts unless the channel source was really poor.
Ang Lee's martial arts drama, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, was screened on Channel 4 recently. Although shadow detail could be better in dark scenes such as that where Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-Fat) was ambushed while attending to Jen (Zhang Ziyi) who was drugged, the near-D65 greyscale, class-leading blacks and realistic colours all added up to do full justice to this beautiful Oscar-winning movie.
PS3 Console Gaming
The Samsung LE52F96BD is capable of producing bright, detailed and vibrant images which are crucial to an immersive high-definition gaming experience. I did not see any significant motion blurring which is what I've come to expect from a top-tier LCD TV, but as I swerved and turned my car in Gran Turismo HD Concept, I couldn't help but notice a few faint vertical bands against the light blue sky. To be fair the banding would only intrude during horizontal panning across a lightly saturated uniform background (another scenario that highlighted the screen unevenness was on the football pitch as the camera tracked the ball/ players). I am not sure if this screen uniformity issue is specific to my set, so this is one of the rare times I recommend popping down to your local AV store for a demo to see if the problem exists.
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