- Review Price: £555.00
In the past, we’ve frequently struggled to persuade Samsung to send its relatively low-end tellies over for review. It’s been tempting to see this as Samsung thinking its cheaper TVs are a bit shoddy and not wanting them to be pummeled in reviews leading to a resulting drop in sales. However, now that our persistence has finally led to us getting our hands on one of Samsung’s current ‘mass market’ models, the LE40B550, we’re suddenly reassessing our previous thoughts about Samsung’s budget ‘shyness’.
You see, the 40B550 is really rather good. So, unless Samsung has suddenly produced a quantum leap in the quality of its entry level products, we’re now beginning to think that the brand’s previous apparent wish to only send us premium-spec TVs for review may actually have been down to a paranoid obsession with being associated with cutting edge features and performance, rather than a specific desire to avoid negative reviews.
All of which conjecture is very interesting (of course!), but you’re probably more than ready for me to get down to the business of explaining just why the TV has led to so much pontification today.
Let’s start with its looks which, while considerably less glamorous than those of Samsung’s ultra-slim LED models, are still remarkably attractive for a TV costing only a few quid more than £550. Particularly pleasing are the presence of Samsung’s customary glass-like ‘Crystal’ top layer over the bezel, the subtle arc along the TV’s bottom edge, and the way the Crystal top layer is allowed to extend a touch further than the black bezel, to create a slim, light-diffracting outer frame.
This is a very well connected TV, too. Kicking things off in fine, HD-loving style are four HDMIs, with highlight support coming from a VGA PC input, and a USB jack capable of playing JPEG and MP3 files.
Unlike Samsung’s B650 LCD series and LED models, the 40B550 doesn’t have an Ethernet port for accessing either Samsung’s Media 2.0 ‘Internet’ service, or content stored on a DLNA PC. Nor does the USB handle video files, like the USB jacks of the higher spec models. But come on; the 40B550 does only cost £555. So what do you expect? A built-in Cappuccino machine?
While I’m on the subject of things the 40B550 doesn’t have, it also lacks the 100Hz processing found on Samsung’s B650 series. Though that’s certainly not to say that the TV is completely devoid of video processing, for Samsung’s multi-purpose Digital Natural Image engine (DNIe) system is on hand, as is a Wide Colour Gamut system, noise reduction routines, and an Edge Enhancement system.
It has to be said that not all of these processing tools are particularly helpful; Edge Enhancement can make edges look forced and unnatural, and the noise reduction systems can make pictures look unnecessarily soft if not used sparingly. But the presence of so many options does at least suggest that the 40B550 is a TV with ambitions above its £550 station.
These ambitions are impressively realised by the 40B550’s picture performance. For it: a) gets much closer than I’d expected to the excellence of Samsung’s step-up B650 range, and b) outguns easily anything else of a similar size going for the same sort of puny money.
Particularly unexpected is how clear and sharp its images are, as it copes much better without 100Hz than I would have anticipated. Sure, there’s a touch more judder around than you get with Samsung’s B650 range, there’s even the occasional appearance of a little motion blur, but neither of these issues is aggressive or commonplace, so the lack of 100Hz seems like a relatively small price to pay for a 40in TV that hits a sub-£550 price level.
Another facet of the 40B550’s performance that puts it leagues ahead of the vast majority of the cut-price competition is its contrast. For it manages to produce startlingly convincing black levels within the same frame as really bright peak whites and rich colours. Most budget TVs – and numerous higher-level TVs, come to that – either suffer with extensive grey clouding over dark picture areas, or low brightness levels caused by having to dim their backlight outputs to keep the grey clouding at bay. In comparison, the 40B550 suffers only a little with either issue, allowing its dark scenes to be presented with seriously impressive dynamism and punch.
This picture ‘pop’ is further enhanced by the 40B550’s colour response. Hues across the spectrum are driven out with vigour, while the screen’s Full HD resolution and video processing combine to ensure that colour blends appear free of nasty striping artifacts, and enjoy predominantly natural tones.
You’re probably best advised to avoid the Wide Colour Gamut setting if you want this naturalism to remain more consistently intact – but then I have no doubt that some people will prefer the wide colour gamut setting’s extra vividness regardless of whether it looks natural or not!
Yet more good news concerns the 40B550’s standard definition performance. This used to be a weakness for Samsung, but this year, thanks to a new chipset that’s been two years in the making, Samsung has turned into one of the best upscalers of standard def material. This trend continues even with the relatively ‘low-rent’ 40B550, which makes even low-quality standard definition sources look sharp, naturally coloured and impressively free of video noise.
There are inevitably one or two issues surrounding this remarkably affordable TV’s performance. As hinted earlier, it’s not as clear or fluid with its motion reproduction as Samsung’s higher spec models. Also, its black levels, while good, somehow don’t seem quite as profound as those of Samsung’s B650 range.
Also, in common with most LCD TVs, the 40B550’s presets need to be tweaked to produce the best picture quality, and the contrast level drops off rapidly as soon as you have to watch the screen from much of an angle – horizontal or vertical.
This set also fits the unfortunate Samsung LCD pattern of not being very hot in the audio department. If you’re just watching normal, undemanding TV it sounds okay, but there isn’t enough power or range on hand to let the soundstage open up to accommodate an action scene. Instead, action scenes sound a bit thin, forced and unnatural.
Yes, the main review of the 40B550 finished with a few negatives. However, it’s the positive points about this in some ways quite remarkable TV that really dominate, leaving the few flaws to be easily swallowed up by the allure of its astonishingly low price.
How we test televisions
We test every TV we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Score in detail
Image Quality 9
Sound Quality 6