Solidly representing the mid range of Samsung’s extensive lineup, the Samsung A550 includes many features that are considered essential or desirable, while forgoing the fancier features, such as 120 Hz processing. You have to focus on your bread and butter, and Samsung certainly has – by including a lot of desirable features, and making sure that the TV itself performs well in all the important areas – contrast, black level and color accuracy amongst others.
The A550 doesn’t include the “Touch of Color” styling concept found on the higher-end Samsungs, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – many people I know are turned off by the reddish bezel of the A650 series LCDs. Some more extreme examples, such as purple, have been shown at trade shows, and while I’m a fan of the different colors, I’m not sure everyone is. One thing’s for sure, if Samsung designed a way to make the bezel removable (and changeable), everyone would be happy.
A glossy black bezel borders the screen and looks quite attractive. On our 40” example, the bezel was bordering on being too thick, but looks just fine on 46” and 52” models. A smooth fascia hides even the speakers and buttons, which lends the TV a polished, higher-end look. There’s a bluish light near the Samsung logo, and I presume its purpose is shameless self-promotion, a la Sony and their glowing logos, but perhaps there’s some humility in there somewhere as it can be turned off. The TV rests atop an oval base that swivels, a pleasant surprise in this mid-priced class.
Samsung includes a slightly simplified version of the remote they include with their better TVs, and we love it. It’s perfectly sized, attractive and easy to use. All the buttons are laid out well and have a pleasant tactile feel. We really liked that it was backlit as well.
This A550 series includes Samsung’s newest GUI, which is probably the best in the industry in terms of functionality and capability, but is also easy to use for both the novice and the expert. Extensive adjustments abound, which really helped in closing in on the TV’s optimal settings. If you’re not inclined to adjust much, just set the mode to “Movie,” the backlight to 5 and you’re within 10% of optimal settings.
The A550 series includes more adjustments, native 1080p resolution, a remote and more connectivity over the A450 series, and lacks the better video processing, 120 Hz processing, 24p input, more connectivity, networking options, better black level and aesthetic upgrades of the A650 and higher models. This may not be a problem for everything, as many of those upgrades pertain only to movies (and don’t apply as much to standard TV viewing), are negated in a bright environment or are not easily noticed by the average person.
The A550 has three HDMI inputs, just like the A450 series. That’s average in its class (it’s good for the budget segment the A450 competes in), and like other Samsung TVs, two component inputs and a VGA input are also included. I wish Samsung would understand that VGA is pretty much outdated now, and that people use DVI (or DVI to HDMI) – not because you can’t connect that way (you can, and DVI-to-HDMI offers the best picture quality), but because the audio input that works with VGA can’t be used with HDMI. This may not be a problem if you’re using a receiver, but the audio input should be assignable to HDMI as well. A USB port and headphone jack are nice touches, and are located well too.
After we found and applied the ideal settings, the A550 delivered the best black level in its class (of LCDs). At around 0.018 ft-L, it’s roughly equal to most 2008 Panasonic plasmas, an excellent result for an LCD. Dark room performance is good, but not the best – but then again, the price is very reasonable too. Like most LCDs, this one looks best in a room with at least some light, but at least its decent in a dark room. While black level was good, shadow detail was not so good. Most plasmas, including Samsung’s own A550 series plasmas showed a good deal more in the shadows, something that is quite important for movies.
Contrast on the A550 series was quite good for a midrange LCD, at around 2200:1. This beats most LCD TVs and is overshadowed only by Samsung’s better TVs and Sony’s XBR8.
Color accuracy was excellent on the A550 series TVs, as it is on most recent Samsungs. After calibration, we were able to obtain a result that tracked within 75k of the 6500k standard, and all the primary colors were spot on. Saturation was good too, but overall, the TV didn’t quite have the pop of the best plasmas. However, it looked superior to other LCDs in its class by a sizable margin.
The A550 shares a lot of good traits with the uplevel A650 series, but video processing is not one of them. Where the A650 excels at upconverting SD and DVD, the A550 struggles a bit. SD and DVD are softened quite a bit, and just aren’t presented as well overall. The A550 series, not having 120 Hz and interpolation, also loses a lot of motion resolution, dropping to around 500-600 lines. That’s still a better result than Sony’s recent XBR6 (with processing off). The A550 deinterlaced 1080i quite well, and as usual for 1080p LCDs, could resolve every line of resolution just like a monitor would.
As LCDs get larger, the backlight spread gets more uneven, and this is one of the most annoying traits when watching a dark movie in a dark room. The A550 series wasn’t too bad, but at 40”, this effect (also called clouding or mura) was noticeable to some extent. There was no banding or any other uniformity issues, and the image shifted less (in color and contrast) with viewing angle than with some other LCDs, including more expensive Samsungs.
Bright environments are where LCDs usually shine, and this is no exception. For an ideal result, you’ll need to modify your settings slightly (turn the backlight up, adjust the contrast), but you’ll be presented with an excellent image in a bright or daylit room. The matte screen, good viewing angles, bright backlight and good contrast make this very easy to recommend for such an environment.
The Good: Great performance in bright rooms, good performance in dark rooms, good contrast, good color accuracy, nice remote, swiveling base.
The Bad: Another HDMI input wouldn’t hurt, thinner bezel might look better, PC sound input should be assignable to HDMI, fair amount of backlight spread/bleed.
Overall: An excellent choice for those who don’t need 120 Hz processing and/or are on a limited budget.
Buy the Samsung LN40A550 at Amazon.com
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