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First Look 3D: Samsung UN46C8000 3D HDTV and BD-C6900 Blu-ray 3D Player

Welcome to the first blog post from hometheatermation (HTM).  Over the coming weeks\months, we will be reviewing and showing products in the Consumer Electronic industry.

It’s been a long road from 1952’s Bwana Devil to 2009’s Avatar, but 3D in your local cineplex is now a big-time, going concern.  HDTV manufacturers are determined to bring the experience home. 3D was the star of the show at January’s CES, and 3D-capable sets are beginning to show up at your local big-box retailer. By year’s end, you’ll see 3D HDTVs from virtually all major manufacturers.

Let’s cut to the chase. Here’s a first look at the $2,800, 46-inch Samsung UN46C8000 LCD (LED edge-lit) 3D HDTV that we just received for review, along with the company’s new BD-C6900 Blu-ray 3D player ($400). The set doesn’t come with 3D glasses. Samsung is offering a Starter Kit with two pair of glasses and the Monsters vs. Aliens Blu-ray Disc through June 5 and will have additional promotions throughout the year. The Starter Kit is $350. If you heard a loud “Yikes” in the background, it’s not just you. The 3D glasses will be expensive, at least initially. Additional glasses will be $150 per pair. That means Samsung is charging $50 for the disc. According to Samsung, this 3D Monsters vs. Aliens release is exclusive to them and not available in stores (or at least not for the foreseeable future). Does that mean there will be one less 3D title available to buyers of other manufacturers’ sets this spring, or possibly none? And is this any indication of the MSRP for Blu-ray 3D titles, or merely a reflection of the exclusive nature of this particular package? If glasses are $150 per pair, and Blu-ray 3D titles list for $50 each, that could put a very big damper on 3D sales. But I digress.

The UN46C8000 isn’t Samsung’s first 3D-capable LED set to hit the stores. That would be the 7000 series. The main difference between these two lines is that the sets in the 8000 series use a more sophisticated LED dimming technology for superior blacks and shadow detail. Samsung calls it Precision Dimming. No Samsung set this year employs LED backlighting with local dimming, but Precision Dimming appears to be a surprisingly good replacement. If you can afford it, you’ll want it. The LED edge lighting in the 7000 series is fixed in level. But apart from Precision Dimming, the 7000 and 8000 lines appear to be siblings. They offer the same 3D features.

So how does 3D look on the UN46C8000? In a word—and keeping in mind the fact that we only had a single disc to check it out—spectacular. In many ways, it was even better than the best theatrical 3D presentations I’ve seen. It was brighter, and the layering and detail were more subtle. Thankfully, objects don’t constantly leap out of the screen at you. However, when they do, the result is dramatic and fully convincing. The Monsters vs. Aliens disc also includes three computer-animated 3D extra features, which are equally effective.

While the 3D effect in itself is remarkable, a 46-inch screen isn’t big enough to generate a real sense of immersion. If your budget allows, get a bigger set. The 8000 line also includes 55-inch ($3,500) and 65-inch ($5,000) models. It will be money well spent. I sat very close to the screen (just under 6 feet) for my testing, but not all of you will find this practical. It also limits the range of seating for optimum viewing. The Samsung’s off-axis performance is no better than that from most LCD HDTVs, whichis to say it’s the set’s main weakness. The 3D effect also falls off progressively as you move off center.

The picture was noticeably dimmer with 3D material than with glasses-free 2D. This is despite the fact that the 3D setup menu (separate from the 2D menus) defaults to maximum settings on both the Backlight and Contrast controls. This reduced light output wasn’t a surprise, since virtually all 3D films I’ve seen theatrically have looked noticeably dim (dual-projector IMAX 3D presentations are the only exception). As is the case with most animated features, Monsters vs. Aliens features mostly bright, colorful images. There are very few dark scenes, and certainly nothing compared with what you’ll find in many live-action films. Once my eyes adjusted, I never felt that the picture lacked sufficient punch. However, the loss of brightness in 3D could be a concern in live-action films, not to mention the lower light levels available from video projectors.

So where is the 3D source material? Good question. We’ll be lucky to see more than a dozen titles on Blu-ray 3D by the end of the year, and perhaps fewer. There’ll also be few cable or satellite 3D channels before 2011. That could put a damper on 3D sales. But two manufacturers, Samsung and Toshiba, are equipping their 3D sets with a 2D-to-3D conversion feature. Now you can see everything in 3D.

Frankly, I had low expectations for this sort of processing. But Samsung’s 2D-to-3D conversion works. I tried it on several 2D Blu-ray Discs. The effect was certainly nowhere near as dramatic as what a true 3D source provides, and it varied with the program material, but it wasn’t a joke by any means. Even simulated 3D will impress a lot of folks—not to mention help sell 3D HDTVs. And the more sets there are out there, the more true 3D source material we’ll get.

For now, even apart from the 3D experience, the Samsung UN46C8000’s overall performance appears to be excellent. In particular, it offers superb black level and shadow detail thanks to its new Precision Dimming feature.

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