Powerhouse HDTVs

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Best New 50- to 55-Inch HDTVs

At the largest screen size we considered (we also scrutinized HDTVs in the 40- to 42-inch range and the 46- to 47-inch range), Samsung again came through with a winning model, albeit in this case a rather expensive one. In a field where every set in our Top 5 earned an admirable image quality score of Very Good, the Samsung UN55C8000 came through with a mark of Superior, making it the only HDTV in our cohort of 18 sets to merit that designation.

Image quality: With the UN55C8000 ($2900), Samsung completes its hat trick, capturing the top spot in all three screen-size categories. The UN55C8000--which also ranks as one of the best products of the year (page 86)--blew away the other 50- to 55-inch TVs in color, brightness, contrast, and skin tones. Despite getting penalized for some of the same image-processing quirks (such as animated ties and moving windows) that we saw elsewhere, this TV garnered the highest overall image-quality scores of any set we've tested in the past year. It may be pricey, but it's worth it.

The Vizio XVT553SV ($1700) does give the Samsung a run for its money despite costing approximately $1200 less. Though the Vizio never quite managed to match the Samsung on im­­age quality, it earned high marks across the board, particularly for brightness, contrast, and color. Nipping at the Vizio's heels was the Sharp Aquos LC-52LE820UN ($2000), thanks to impressive color and good motion handling; but this set's display was a bit dimmer and less detailed than the others'.

The LG Infinia 50PK950 ($1500) and the Sony Bravia KDL-52NX800 ($1900) trailed the other three HDTVs in this category by a fairly slim margin. The LG matched the Vizio in assessments of color fidelity but came up short in the remaining tests, especially those for motion and detail. Unfortunately, the LG's image texture was unusually grainy across all of our tests, too. Imagine watching TV through a subtle filter of translucent sandpaper, and you'll have an idea of the texture problem. The Sony won plaudits for its above-average color but didn't do as well with motion, contrast, or detail; and its edge-lit LED backlighting produced subtle localized shadows in certain areas near the bottom of the screen.

Features and design: Most of the televisions in this screen range looked very similar-big, black, and sleek. The silver sheep in this flock is the Samsung UN55C8000, which is far thinner than the others (just under 1 inch thick) and has the slick silvery look characteristic of the company's high-end TVs.

The LG and Samsung HDTVs share the tweak-friendliness award. The LG Infinia 50PK950 comes with 20-point white-balance controls, and the Samsung counters with 10-point white-balance controls (if you don't want to calibrate the LG set at each of the 20 points, you can skip every other point on the scale, for the equivalent of a 10-point white-balance TV). The LG also features a THX Mode in case you don't feel like spending several hours fine-tuning your HDTV's image.

Bizarrely, neither the Samsung nor the Sharp set includes Wi-Fi. If you've already invested this much money in a television, having to pay $50 extra for Wi-Fi so you don't have to see a $3 ethernet cable sticking out of your $3000 HDTV is like having to shell out for power windows on a Porsche--it should be included in the sticker price.

We also had a few problems getting the Sony set's Internet video services working; ultimately, we called tech support to walk us through the process of manually updating the firmware via flash drive, which was a pain. We ran into other glitches with the Vizio set--as it turns out, you can plug whatever you want into one of its three USB ports, but the company won't be adding support for actually playing media from USB drives until a future firmware update arrives.

For head-to-head comparisons of the five highest-ranking 50- to 55-inch HDTVs we evaluated, see our "Top 5 50-, 52-, and 55-Inch HDTVs" chart.

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