Blu-ray Evaluation: Earth, Wind & Fire Live At Montreux
Although only recently released on Blu-ray, this concert is an ensemble of performances that were shot in high definition way back in 1997 and 1998 (Japanese national broadcaster and HD pioneer NHK is listed in the production credits, and brief glimpses of one of the main cameras reveals the NHK logo). You’d never know by looking at the crisp images of the E,W&F veterans having a ball playing their various hits are from early generation HD equipment. Choose the Screen Fit picture size to get pixel-perfect 1080p results.
With the Samsung set to Movie mode and the color temperature set to Warm 2, the 8500 goes into HD studio reference monitor mode. The color analyzer confirms the set’s colorimetry is nearly perfect, and the brightly lit concert stage is awash in color lighting that comes across with lots of vividness.
The copyright “guilt screen” message at the very beginning of the disc is simple white text against a black background, and the background is as black as can be—virtually no hint of gray at all. There’s no need to activate the Dynamic Contrast function to get these great blacks, either.
The brass players are stationed in front of a black scrim drop-cloth background, and it’s easy to see the folds in the curtain during their close-up shots. Similarly, the woofers in the various Peavey bass bins in front of the drum kit are easy to discern from behind the cabinets’ protective metal mesh grilles.
Broadcast HDTV Evaluation: NBC Nightly News (NBC)
Newsman Lester Holt fills in for regular anchor Brian Williams, and the picture quality is simply pristine. Guests visiting at the time remarked how the picture looked ever so much better than they expected from HDTV. Test patterns from a Sencore HD generator and the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray test disc confirm that the 1080i deinterlacing function works superbly, with no artifacts at all.
The Samsung offers a color enhancement feature, but I found no need to activate it, as the set delivers extremely accurate colors (confirmed by the color analyzer) with realistic flesh tones with the Movie mode and Warm 2 color temperature settings.
Numerous graphics feature boundaries delineated by jet-black borders, and during brief moments between the program and commercials, the screen is completely darkened and is totally black. This is the kind of black performance typical of plasma sets.
As Mr. Holt delivers the day’s news, the studio lighting above reveals shadows from his head on the shoulders of his dark gray suit. The Samsung’s very good white detail capability reveals he’s wearing a tone-on-tone dress shirt, with the striping clearly noticeable.
Priced for the very well-heeled, the 8500 series pretty much sets the standard for LCD flat panel performance. The video signal processing is excellent, and does a great job of upconverting and re-processing SD-originated video signals. The 240 Hz screen refresh is also similarly competent, and the ability to individually tune the processing for video-originated and film-originated content is a major plus.
Compared to some other LCD flat panels that feature LED local dimming backlighting, the 8500’s incredibly slim cabinet depth of only 1.6 inches adds to the visual appeal of the set. The remote control is also the best HDTV remote currently on the market, and the added RF transmitting function will aid in placement versatility.
The only area where the Samsung is wanting is the connectivity issue. Only one SD or HD analog input is provided, and that will be a concern for at least some buyers. The recently-added Blockbuster streaming capability puts the set in the company of other LAN-equipped models (but that service is still relatively new, with limited HD titles at this point).
From a performance standpoint, the Samsung is first rate, with a picture that comes close to what top performing plasmas provide, which is a high compliment indeed.