Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Samsung 8000 TV shopping adventures

When I last bought a TV, things were pretty simple; you just bought the largest Sony you could afford (!) Of course, that was last century.

But now you're presented not just with the question of what size TV you want, and what manufacturer produces the best sets. You also have to pick between LCD, LED, Plasma, 720 or 1080, 120/240 Hz, 3D, did I miss something? Definitely. There's also "TV applications" and Internet support, contrast ratios, power consumption, and much, much more. It's getting way too complicated.

And buying a set this year is particularly difficult because you have to make the 3D decision; do you spend the extra for a 3D capable TV, or do you - like me - hope that 3D goes away and you can save your money?

Fortunately, I'm not in the market for a new TV at the moment. My HD tube set from the last century (yes, they had HD back then!) is still working! But over the weekend I was visiting some friends who still have a 27inch 4:3 tube set that's probably a quarter of a century old, and they have been thinking about replacing it for the last...well, all of this century.

We ended up checking out both Best Buy and Sears to look at sets. My friends were leaning towards a Samsung set, partly because of online reviews, and partly from forum comments about reliability and customer service. Unfortunately, they couldn't decide whether to get a high-end 3D set, or something more budget conscious. As reticent as I am to encourage the 3D stuff, if you are buying right now - and you typically keep a set for 10 years or more - then maybe you have to spend a little more for the 3D capabilities, just in case.

After about half an hour staring at dozens of sets, I came to the conclusion that I had no better idea which set to buy than when I came in. Maybe seeing them this way gives you some general impressions, but even those can be misleading. Even more troubling, many of the store installations seem to run counter to what you read about in reviews. Most reviewers seem to think LED sets are better than LCD sets; but in the store several of the LCD sets looked better than the LED ones next to them. Don't even ask about the Plasma sets.

Yeah, I was confused - and glad I wan't making the decision.

With so many LARGE sets on display, you can - perhaps - see a difference between three sets that are next to each other, but it's much harder to see all but major difference when one set is on one wall, and one's on another. And the source material itself - and store lighting conditions - can make it hard to discern how the sets perform; another friend recently bought a Samsung set, and he's convinced it looked even better at home than it did in the store. Unfortunately there's dozens of reasons why that might be so.

Finally, with so many models and combinations, it's much more likely that they won't have the models you are interested in on display.

Despite all the confusion; one thing seemed clear; the Samsung UN55B8000 55-Inch 1080p 240 Hz LED HDTVwas one of the most impressive looking sets in the store; the picture was vibrant, color's looked accurate, and the set with it's polished metal surround looked very high-tech. Unfortunately, you're paying over $3,000 for such wonders. And even then, it wasn't a knock-out win. Another set next to the Samsung was practically as good, but the two rendered colors slightly differently. It wasn't clear though, which one was more "correct." At different times, different colors on each set would feel closer to what you'd expect. It was most disorienting when I was watching one sequence and it seemed the skin tones on both sets would shift in and out at different times.

But while the differences were noticeable when looking at them side-by-side, they wouldn't be noticeable when looking at the set at home on it's own.

After getting confused by the hundreds of choices at Best Buy, we went to Sears to see if things were more understandable there. Unfortunately, they only had the Samsung 7000 series TVs - though they could order an 8000 - and they didn't seem to know what the difference between the 7000 and 8000 sets were; other than the 8000 sets are thinner. Asking if they could find out just wasted ten minutes. [The 8000 has a contrast ratio of 8,000,000:1 vs the 7000's 6,000,000:1, and the 8000 also has "precision dimming" - a form of pixel dimming that improves LED black level performance, though isn't quite as good as full-array local dimming - whatever that is!]

In the end, my friends went home, did some more web searching, and ended up ordering the Samsung UN46C8000 46-Inch 1080p 3D 240 Hz LED HDTV. It was partly a compromise; it was $1,000 less than the 55-inch model!

They ordered it from Amazon, as Amazon has a deal on the Samsung glasses. Right now - and I don't know for how long - Amazon has a special offer where if you order the Samsung UN46C8000, the Samsung BD-C6900 1080p 3D Blu-ray Disc Player, and the Samsung 3D Starter Kit SSG-P2100T- which includes two pairs of glasses - you get $309.88 knocked off the price i.e. the cost of the glasses.

Annoyingly, to see the discount (and the price of the TV) you have to actually go to final checkout because "Some manufacturers place restrictions on how prices on their products may be communicated." I've seen Amazon require that you add an item to the cart to see the price, but this is the first product I've encountered that you actually have to go through the process of setting up the order (specifying payment options, etc.) to see the price. It's a little unnerving.

But right now, the price on the Samsung UN46C8000 46-Inch 1080p 3D 240 Hz LED HDTV at Amazon is just a fraction under $1X99 [where X equals 8], and with the Blu-ray player and glasses it's just under $N,N00 [where N = 2].

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