Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified. Click here for more information.
Among Samsung's umpteen different model lines and feature variations for its 2009 HDTVs, the LNB650 series sits somewhere in the middle. It's significantly less expensive than the LED-based LCDs, like the UNB7000 series, and costs a bit less than the LNB750 series of non-LED 240Hz models, yet still commands a premium over entry-level models. Aside from a couple hundred bucks, 120Hz of refresh rate separates the B650 and B750 models on paper. In person, the B650s have significantly different styling and, it turns out, somewhat less impressive picture quality, although the difference in Hz has nothing to do with it. The LNB650 series still produces a very good picture, however, and as usual we liked Samsung's implementation of dejudder processing. Sure you'll pay a bit extra for the numerous features, but you've always wanted a TV that can suggest recipes or keep tabs on your Twitter feeds, right? All told the LNB650 series makes a solid choice for an upper- midrange LCD, as long as you can handle its unusual looks and glossy screen.
Series note: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 46-inch Samsung LN46B650, but this review also applies to three smaller models in the series: the 40-inch LN40B650, the 37-inch LN37B650, and the 32-inch LN32B650, as well as the larger 55-inch LN55B650. All of these sizes in the series have identical specs aside from screen size, and should share very similar picture quality.
Editors' note: Many of the design and features elements are identical between the Samsung LNB650 series and the Samsung LNB750 series we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review ay experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.
Much like the Samsung A650 series from last year, the frames of the 2009 B650 models look quite different from your normal glossy-black LCD in person. The company's Touch of Color scheme dictates a red fade along the edges of the frame that becomes black toward the screen. We're definitely not fans of the overt coloring, as opposed to the more muted look of the B750 models, and we're even less impressed by the obtuse-angle "V" shape along the bottom of the frame. At least the company included a matching glass-topped stand with its signature clear stalk.
Samsung used the same menu system as last year, this time with red borders, and we still think it's one of the best in the business. Big, highly legible text is set against transparent backgrounds that occupy almost the whole screen. Getting around is easy and there's helpful explanatory text along the bottom to describe the different selections.
The remote control is basically the same as last year, too, and we're definitely fans--especially since Samsung ditched the rotating scroll wheel. The buttons are big, backlit, and easily differentiated by size and shape, and we liked the dedicated "Tools" key that offers quick access to picture and sound modes, the sleep timer, and the picture-in-picture controls. We didn't like the remote's glossy black finish, however, which picked up more than its share of dulling fingerprints after a few minutes.
Pretty much the only features-related difference between Samsung's LNB650 models and the more-expensive LNB750 series is refresh rate. The 650s have 120Hz refresh rate, while the 750s refresh the screen at 240Hz. The main benefit of the higher refresh rate, according to our tests, is improved motion resolution--aka less blurring--but with normal program material the difference is nearly impossible to appreciate. See Performance for more information.
Both of the series feature identical implementations of Samsung's Auto Motion Plus dejudder processing, with its cool Custom setting that lets you tweak blur reduction and judder separately.
Samsung has added Yahoo widgets to its higher-end sets including the LNB650 series. The system gathers Internet-powered information nodules, called "snippets," into a bar along the bottom of the screen. The model we reviewed came with widgets for stocks, weather, news, and Flickr photos, plus Yahoo video, sports scores, poker, trivia, Sudoku, and Twitter--and more are sure to appear in the near future. For more information, check out our full review of Yahoo widgets. That review was based on our experiences with a Samsung UN46B7000, and our impressions of the system on the LN46B650 are mostly the same, including its sluggish response time.
Other interactive features on this set abound. It can stream videos, photos, and music from DLNA-certified devices via the network connection, as well as from its USB ports, which can connect to MP3 players, USB thumbsticks, and digital cameras (we didn't test this capability). There's also built-in "content," such as recipes, games, workout guides, and a slideshow of high-def art and photos with music. We went into depth discussing the underwhelming content features last year, which are similar this time around, so for more details check out the Interactive section of the 2008 Samsung LN46A750 review.
Aside from the adjustable dejudder mentioned above, we also liked the myriad conventional picture tweaks, starting with four adjustable picture modes that are all independent per input. There are five color temperature presets augmented by the ability to adjust each via a custom white-balance menu; three levels of noise reduction, including an automatic setting; a film mode to engage 2:3 pull-down (it also works with 1080i sources); a seven-position gamma control that affects the TV's progression from dark to light; a dynamic contrast control that adjusts the picture on the fly; a "black tone" control that affects shadow detail; and a color space control that lets you tweak the Samsung's color gamut.