Samsung UN32ES6500 review

As we hurtle through the closing half of 2012, we reviewed most of the significant TVs of the year at CNET -- from the joyous highs of the Panasonic ST50 to the ignominious lows of the Panasonic DT50 and everything in between. In this case the in-between is the Samsung ES6500. While we still have a couple of Samsung stragglers to go, the one LED model we were really anticipating was the 6500, mainly because we liked the UND6400 so much last year.
But you know how it is: the more you look forward to something, the more likely it is you'll come away disappointed (Duke Nukem Forever, anyone?). While the 6500 is not the spectacular failure the long-vaunted return of the Duke was, it still doesn't live up to the promise of its predecessor.
While color is very good and almost a carbon copy of the previous model's, the 6500 just isn't as talented in other areas, and seems to follow a trend we've seen constantly this year: while plasmas are better and cheaper than ever; LCDs are often actually worse than in 2011.
Black levels are about average for its price, and shadow detail is excellent, while 3D is just OK. The so-so nature of the TV's overall performance means that at its price and above Samsung no longer has the dominance it once did. Look to unexpected upstarts like Sharp and Vizio at this level instead.
Series information
 I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 60-inch Samsung UN60ES6500, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
Models in series (details)
  • Samsung UN32ES6500 32 inches
  • Samsung UN40ES6500 40 inches
  • Samsung UN46ES6500 46 inches
  • Samsung UN50ES6500 50 inches
  • Samsung UN55ES6500 55 inches
  • Samsung UN60ES6500 60 inches

If there's one thing Samsung knows how to do well, it's design. While TVs like the ES8000 may be flashier, the ES6500 is sophisticated and elegant. The ES6500 features a slim-bezel design measuring only 0.5 inch, and it is surrounded by an opaque cap that helps it bleed into your living environment. The stand's design might be polarizing, though, as it uses the spindly four-legged design the company has had for a few years. If you like aliens or deep-sea creatures, then you'll probably love it.
The remote control is quite good and laid out logically with a much-needed backlight button for those late-night movie sessions.
The 6500 sits in the upper middle of Samsung's television range and so includes most of the features the company offers this year. The most obvious are 3D playback and Smart TV. To further facilitate 3D viewing, the TV comes with two pairs of lightweight active glasses. They're actually the SSG-3050GBs from 2011, not the newer Samsung SSG-4100GBs from 2012. Both retail for a scant $20 and they look exactly the same -- the main difference is that the 2012 glasses support the universal standard, so they should actually work with universal-certified 3D TVs like 2012 Panasonics. Check out my 2012 3D glasses comparison for more information.
On the image processing side, the TV offers a "Clear Motion Rate of 240 - 480" for improved motion resolution, according to Samsung. The company's CMR specification, new for this year,supposedly includes refresh rate among its calculations, along with video processing and backlight scanning. The actual panel refresh rate is 120Hz. The backlight is an edge-lit LED without the so-called microdimming feature of higher-end models -- no great loss since that feature doesn't seem to improve image quality as much as more traditional local dimming.
Key TV features
  • Display technology,  LCD
  • LED backlight,  Edge-lit
  • Screen finish,  Glossy
  • Remote,  Standard
  • Smart TV,  Yes
  • Internet connection, Built-in Wi-Fi
  • 3D technology,  Active
  • 3D glasses included,  2 pairs
  • Refresh rate(s),  120Hz
  • Dejudder (smooth) processing,  Yes
  • DLNA-compliant,  Photo/Music/Video
  • USB,  Photo/Music/Video

Smart TV
The UND6500 offers most of the Smart features of the 7000 and 8000 series (minus the dual-core processor and Smart Interaction) including a Web browser and downloadable apps. As far as interfaces are concerned, the Samsung and LG look similar this year, though Samsung tries to fit everything on one page.
Samsung's proprietary apps such as the social Family Story program get star billing, but in this particular app's case, unless you have family with Samsung products it's probably best to stick with Facebook. There have been no major additions to the Samsung apps store; we're still waiting on Gaikai cloud gaming and HBO Go. For a look at how this TV compares with the competition check out Smart TV models of 2012 compared.
Picture settings

While competitor Vizio offers a ridiculous number of presets on its televisions, Samsung likes to keep it modest with just a handful, including Natural, Standard, and Cinema. If you worry about how much your TV chews through electricity, you can enact the Eco Sensor if you wish.
Advanced calibration settings are extensive, with a Color Management System for tweaking individual colors and a 10-point grayscale. There's also a Custom dejudder mode that lets you dial in how much smoothing (from none to a lot) you want.
While most TVs now include four HDMI ports, and freaks like the Vizio XVT3D580CM include five(!), the Samsung ES6500 makes do with three. It has a hybrid component/composite port and three USBs for connecting peripherals (a mouse, for example, for the browser) and hard 
The TV includes onboard Wi-Fi for the Smart TV features and also includes Ethernet if your home is radio-frequency challenged.
Picture quality
Both my colleague David Katzmaier and I had great hopes for this TV after the very good performance of its predecessor, the D6400; alas, this particular TV was a minor let-down.

While color performance was generally excellent on both models, lighter black levels brought the newer UNES6500 down. It did get slightly darker than the more expensive ES8000, but there are plenty of less expensive TVs than the ES6500 that can perform the same feat. Shadow detail was very good, though, and this means that even if the UNES6500 doesn't lead the way in absolute contrast, darker images did have a depth and stability that outdid the otherwise better Vizio M3D, for example.

In terms of image quality the UNES6500 fell almost exactly halfway between the Samsung ES8000 and the Vizio M3D550KD, and it was initially difficult to determine on which side of the fence it should go; that is, until I spotted a strange flaw (see video processing below).
Comparison models (details)
  • Samsung UN46D6400,  46 inch, edge-lit LCD 
  • Panasonic TC-P55ST50,   55 inch, plasma 
  • Samsung UN55ES8000 ,  55 inch, edge-lit LCD 
  • Panasonic TC-L47WT50 ,  47 inch, edge-lit LCD with local dimming
  • Vizio M3D550KD ,  55 inch, edge-lit LCD with local dimming 
  • Panasonic TC-P65VT50 (reference) ,  65-inch plasma

Black level
If I used one of those giant thermometers they use at telethons to indicate how much they'd raised -- but made it measure the black level of any television instead -- some TVs would be closer to the target than others. While models such as the Sony HX850 would set that little bulb to overflowing, the ES6500 would only be about halfway to its fundraising goal.
On some scenes, such as the tricky cemetary scene in "Watchmen," the black bars on the ES6500 looked darker than those of the ES8000. But black bars are only the most obvious part of a TV's black-level performance. The 6500 lacks the expensive model's microdimming in favor of a universal dimmer, and on some scenes the flagship delivered scenes with more contrast.
Shadow detail on the 6500 was very good with excellent depth, but compared with last year's model, the older TV had greater oomph due to a higher background black.
Like most of the Samsung's we've seen here at CNET this year, the TV turns the backlight off quickly when the screen fades to black, and this can lead to some lag as the backlight switches back on. The credits at the beginning of "Watchmen" feature stylized 3D portraits of the main characters and fade to black each time. The Samsung would shut the backlight off each time, and it was distracting as the TV ratcheted up to full brightness again. In comparison, the Vizio I had by its side was fine, with no lag or image loss.
Color accuracy
Color accuracy was both one of the UNES6500's greatest accomplishments and its biggest problems. Due in part to the television's color management system, it was possible to dial in highly accurate color reproduction (though the master is still the ES8000). The ES6500 exhibited rich, lifelike skintones and "true" midtones with none of the green-tinged shadows that plagued some of the other TVs in my lineup -- including the Panasonic ST50. Color saturation was very good as well, with strong primary and secondary colors in bold scenes but subtle when the content demanded it.
Video processing
The UNES6500 delivers the correct cadence for 1080p/24 film-based material when Auto Motion Plus (AMP) is set to Custom with a 0 on the judder reduction slider. Other AMP settings affected film cadence negatively; Clear and Off showed the slightly halting cadence of 2:3 pull-down, which is still preferable to the buttery smoothness of Standard and Smooth.
The TV also has a flaw I hadn't seen before: moving edges demonstrated blue-tinged blurring at times. At the beginning of Chapter 7 of "I Am Legend," you see Robert Neville moving his head about in front of a doorway, and only on the Samsung did the leading edges bleed out in blue. Compared with the "haloing" artifact exhibited by 120Hz modes, though, it's much less annoying -- the problem is that unlike smoothing features, you can't disable it.
Another weak point of the Samsung's performance is uniformity, with one of the blotchiest screens I've seen in a while. Not just gray blotches on a black screen either, but some yellow and red mixed in there for good measure. At our test level of a somewhat dim 40 fL, the problem was a little reduced, but it wasn't possible to remove the spotlighting that occured in the corners.
Due to the size of the 60-inch sample I received, the image was off-angle if you sat at the edges of the screen at an 8-foot distance; this introduced some loss of contrast and a purpling of blacks. True off-angle viewing was actually pretty good considering and was similar to the other Samsungs in our lineup.
Bright lighting
Back in the day, a CRT screen was glossy, and you couldn't help that, since the ray gun needed a glass surface to bounce its TV beams off. A similar thing occurred with plasma. But with the advent of LCD you no longer need glass and the first LCD TVs were matte, and not very reflective. But in order to improve black levels the gloss has made a comeback on LCDs. While some like the LM9700 are so glossy as to be mirror-like the Samsung ES6500 sits on the dull side. Even with the shades up and the house lights on I could comfortably watch dark material such as Batman Begins without worrying too much about reflections.
While the TV includes two sets of glasses, I think 3D is an afterthought for most people. Take, as an example, the viewing figures of the London Olympics: less than 0.5 percent of Brits watched the opening ceremony in 3D according to Pocket-Lint and I can only imagine there was even less interest here. So likewise, 3D is an addendum to the ES6500 and not its best feature. During our punishing "Hugo" test, the TV showed significant cross-talk, but showed a good sense of 3D space from the objects in the foreground to the background with little overexaggeration. If you want to watch predominantly 3D material, there are better options up the Samsung (or even LG) chain.
GEEK BOX: TestResultScore
Black luminance (0%)0.019493564Average
Avg. gamma2.206Good
Near-black x/y (5%)0.2891/0.2748Poor
Dark gray x/y (20%)0.3123/0.3272Good
Bright gray x/y (70%)0.3122/0.3288Good
Before avg. color temp.7020.1466Poor
After avg. color temp.6558.7186Good
Red lum. error (de94_L)0.8525Good
Green lum. error (de94_L)0.9071Good
Blue lum. error (de94_L)113.2798Poor
Cyan hue x/y0.2189/0.3265Good
Magenta hue x/y0.3225/0.1475Good
Yellow hue x/y0.4203/0.5127Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)FailPoor
1080i De-interlacing (film)n/aPoor
Motion resolution (max)1080Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off)350Poor
PC input resolution (VGA)1,920x1,080Good