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First impressions of the B8000's picture quality with two of our favourite HD sources of the moment (Dead Space on the Xbox 360 and the Blu-ray of Quantum of Solace) were almost unbelievably disappointing. Both suffered from black levels that looked unexpectedly washed out and - shudder - deeply uneven across the screen, with the edges of the picture tending to look much brighter than the middle. Yikes. Suddenly Samsung's extravagant claims for its edge-based LED lighting were starting to look very stretched indeed.
Thankfully, though, it quickly occurred to me that Samsung has a nasty habit of shipping its TVs using the most rubbish presets imaginable. And this proved to be the case with the UE46B8000 - with knobs on. Though, just to keep me on my toes, the solution to each source's black level problems was quite different.
With Dead Space, the single most important change was to adjust the screen's ‘HDMI Black Level' setting from Normal to Low. With the greyness clouding, the nightmarishly dark corridors of the infested space ship suddenly turned into something you could genuinely called black, while the uneven backlight became all but non-existent. Now, at last, I was wrestling with the monstrous alien mutations and my own nerves rather than murkiness caused by the TV's initial backlight flaws.
Also helpful in turning the set from zero to hero in the gaming black level department are the Backlight level adjustment (I personally would leave it set no higher than four for HD gaming) and the Black Tone adjustment (which I set to Dark).
You also need to adjust the TV's image preset option from the horrifically over-aggressive Dynamic factory preset the TV ships with to a Game preset (weirdly tucked inside the TV's Setup sub-menu rather than the main picture one!), before tweaking the game settings for better black levels in the ways discussed a moment ago.
You can, if you wish, achieve many of the same picture characteristics found with the Game setting if you just use the picture's main Standard preset. However, the game mode crucially also takes much-needed measures - including deactivating the 200Hz engine - to reduce lag between a source signal arriving at the TV's inputs and it then appearing on-screen. Fail to use the Game mode while gaming and your performance will very likely diminish. You have been warned!
Turning to the TV's HD movie black level problems, the first thing to say is that oddly the option to adjust the HDMI Black Level is greyed out and can't be used while watching a Blu-ray. Thankfully the black level problems aren't nearly so bad to start with as they were with our Xbox 360, so pulling down the backlight (I personally went as low as its ‘2' setting!), setting the Black Tone to Dark, keeping brightness to below 50 and reducing the contrast to below 85 got black levels looking pretty much as good as I might have hoped for and certainly way better than anything you'd get from the vast majority of standard LCD TVs.
In fact, pictures really do look as dynamic in contrast on the UE46B8000 as they do on the best backlit LED TVs. What's more, the edge-based LED system seems to have largely eradicated the haloing around bright objects noted with last year's Samsung LED models - or most other ‘direct' LED models, come to that.