Samsung TV benchmark brouhaha: Scandalous cheating, or tempest in a teapot? –

Two TV review sites, flatpanelshd and HDTVTest, have accused Samsung of manipulating the performance of its TVs in order to deliver better benchmark results than they would otherwise be entitled. No one likes cheating, but the question remains: Just how much does it matter in this case?

Specifically, Samsung stands accused of boosting brightness and color to make HDR (high dynamic range) content pop the majority of the time the TV is in Filmmaker mode, and then reducing those values back to normal for certain tests that reviewers typically use to measure color accuracy. The whole purpose of Filmmaker mode, of course, is to present visual material as accurately and as close to the artist’s intent as the TV is capable, so this kind of tweaking indeed isn’t kosher.

All that said, reviewers don’t rely solely on benchmark numbers or test equipment to evaluate a TV’s image quality. We rely mostly on our eyeballs and we rely on benchmark numbers and equipment readings to corroborate what we see. We want our experiences, the information we gather, and the conclusions we make to jive with the experiences that our readers get when they rely on our opinions to make purchasing decisions.

In this case, we noted the difference in color saturation and highlights between two of the latest OLED TVs in our Samsung S95B review and our LG G2 Evo Gallery Edition review. We preferred the S95B overall, even though the LG ended up being the more accurate of the two. So, Samsung is basically being accused of delivering fantastic image through enhancement, but under circumstances that don’t call for it. Perhaps they should have simply labeled these settings Vivid Filmmaker mode and called it a day.

LG’s G2 actually presents a more accurate Filmmaker version of HDR material than Samsung’s S95B–at least before Samsung’s firmware update.

LG Electronics

A word from the defendant

At any rate, we reached out to Samsung for comment on this issue, and this was their reply:

“Samsung Electronics does not use any algorithm for the purpose of yielding specific test results. When tested under industry standards, findings from our own tests, as well as by an independent third-party organization, show that HDR content is accurately displayed on various window sizes, and not just at 10%.

“With Samsung’s industry-leading Quantum HDR technology, the peak brightness also remains at similar levels across window sizes of 10% or smaller, without damaging the panels. Samsung remains committed to providing the best picture quality to our consumers, and stands by our TV products including Neo QLED TV to offer best-in-class viewing experiences.”

Samsung’s stunning new S95B RGB OLED is at the center of the “cheating” allegations. Critics say it enhances normal material, but dials things back for certain test patterns that reviewers use for benchmarking. Or at least it did before Samsung released a firmware update.

Samsung

Being a professional cynic, I must note that Samsung uses the present–not past–tense in that statement, and that it came after the manufacturer rolled out a firmware update that promised to “fix the issue.” Being generous, I know Samsung is obsessed with brightness and detail, so I can imagine scenarios where something like this might happen by accident or out of pure enthusiasm, versus an intent to deceive reviewers.

That said, I’m not questioning the motives of either HDTVTest or flatpanelshd, either. They saw what they saw, and I have a hard time not arriving at similar–if not the same–conclusions.

Bottom line: Should you care?

If you’re the type of buyer who likes to dig deep into TV technology: calibration, extreme accuracy, artistic intent and filmmaker mode, and the like, perhaps you should care. In that case, look to see if flatpanelshd and HDTVTest revise their reviews once they’ve tested the TV after applying Samsung’s firmware update.

If you’re a more typical consumer who’s just looking for a great TV viewing experience, it’s likely that none of this will ultimately matter. Unless, that is, you think buying the S95B would reward Samsung’s possibly bad behavior. And having said that, we still think the Samsung S95B is a terrific TV.

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