The Samsung Series 8 TVs are possibly some of the smartest HDTVs in the business. Some really neat add-ons here – gesture control, face recognition, voice navigation and even a touchpad remote. But most importantly, it is the delightful performance that makes us recommend this TV to anyone who has a budget as big as Rs. 2,67,000.
Build & Design
Well, straight out of the huge box, and the Samsung Series 8 does ooze a whole lot of charisma and sophistication. There are a lot of shiny elements to the TV, without any of the truly gaudy glossy elements! The shiny metal throughout (well, mostly the table stand) has a brushed finish. Samsung calls it the One Design, and that includes the very thin bezel and a unique tabletop stand that comes with what is called the Arch Flow design. Unlike the common flat platform ones, the dual base stand and the upward arc on both sides joining back into the TV looks brilliant. Installing this is a pretty straightforward process, something that is helpful considering most people don’t wait for the installation team to come, and attempt to set up the TV, at least on the table top, themselves.
We have seen many attempts at making the bezel slim, but this one is just laughing in the face of those futile attempts! What surrounds the 55-inch display is just a tiny border, with its primary task to hold the panel in, that’s all. When you are watching a movie with the lights turned off, you will not even notice it.
On the top of this slim display is the webcam, primarily for video chats and also for facial recognition. Below the display, the Samsung branding is sort of hanging off the panel, and the biggest change is that it lights up.
All ports can be accessed on the right rear side, assuming you are looking at the TV head on. Interestingly, the likes of Sony, Panasonic and LG offer ports on the opposite side. Not that it makes any difference really, but just an observation.
Let us also talk in detail about the two remotes that come with the phone. The first is the conventional one, with a lot of buttons – albeit slightly redesigned, with the more prominent Smart Hub key, but largely similar to the previous-gen remotes. Quite functional, but the layout feels a bit cluttered. Somehow, it is plainly clear that the remote has been carried forward as it from the other HDTV series, and there is nothing special to pamper the buyers who have spent so much for the TV! The second one is the touch sensitive remote. Essentially, this is a stripped down version of the primary remote, with only the very essential buttons on it. The major part of it is essentially a touchpad, letting you navigate the onscreen display like you would with a PC mouse. The build quality of the second remote is absolutely fantastic, and feels like it is definitely a part of the package.
Overall, the build quality of the Series 8 LED TV is absolutely brilliant. Well, it had to be, considering the price tag it commands. The premium build quality does feel different – not the same old shiny black coloured finish that had become the hallmark of high-end TVs seems to have been done away with for good. And we appreciate that, considering we won’t have to wipe it clean every 5 minutes!
Features & Specifications
Lots to talk about here! Before we get to the fancy bit, let us talk about what matters the most – the 55-inch 3D display! Needless to specify, this one has a native resolution of 1920 x 1080, and is essentially a LED backlit LCD TV. However, Samsung has loaded this with the Micro Dimming feature, and that should help with detailing with certain visuals. The Clear Motion Rate of 800Hz should be really helpful if you are a fan of this feature. We say that because we do know of people who like to keep this completely turned down to the standard settings that the panel natively offers, even when watching movies. Some of us like that extra fluidity with fast moving scenes, and that is where this one will do well. However, we will talk in detail about what content it works well with, in the performance section.
This is a 3D television, with the active 3D glasses. I personally am not a huge fan of 3D, considering it makes me feel nauseated, but for whatever 3D I experienced in breaks, it was a delightful experience. Having compared it side by side to the FPR passive 3D used by LG, the picture quality of both is largely the same.
If you remember our coverage from the launch event in Bangkok earlier this year, this is the first TV range from Samsung to come with a dual core processor, letting you multi-task between apps on the TV itself. Secondly, that kind of processing power is needed to drive the goodies like motion control etc. The goodness doesn’t end there, considering you can upgrade the hardware on this TV with the Smart Evolution kit. From what Samsung has shown us, it will be pretty simple to add more features to the device, including upgrading from a dual core processor to a quad core one! We await more details on the Smart Evolution kits, and are expected to be available in markets in 2013.
No shortage of connectivity options at the moment – 3 HDMI, 3 USB ports, composite, component, Ethernet, integrated Wi-Fi and optical audio out. All ports are placed on the back panel, since these HDTVs are too slim to actually have a side spine.
After what LG has been doing with its app store, it was inevitable that Samsung would bring some stiff competition. And it has! In a straight competition with what LG offers, the Samsung Smart Hub offers a lot more variety with apps that you may actually want on the TV / know about / find useful! It is not about sheer numbers, but the quality seems a lot better. Yes, Angry Birds is there! Three new app categories – family, kids and health, if any of those interest you. Smart Hub is also where you can set up network sharing for streaming media directly to the TV. Weirdly, the colour tone keeps changing between Warm and Neutral when in the Smart Hub, and quite visibly so.
Now for the interesting bits – the unconventional methods of controlling the TV! First up is voice control. The problem with most such systems is the inability to deal with various accents. Which is why most such attempts have been failures. However, the voice control on this TV does impress quite a bit. It doesn’t have any issue with accents (trust us when we say this – we are the people who SIRI doesn’t like one bit!) at all, which is probably the perfect starting point for it. Thankfully, this one isn’t very finicky about ambient noise either, something that should help in most households considering we have something or the other rumbling in the background! Though you have the option of optimizing the setup for the room this TV is set in, it’ll work well irrespective of whether you do that or not. Even if you are 4 feet away from the TV, you don’t need to shout at it considering the touch remote has a microphone built-in. To make it convenient for the user, and not having to bother with remembering important keywords, the on-screen display will show some important ones. To start with, you need to activate voice control via the remote, and say the trigger command. This will be Hi TV by default, though you can change that to Hi Smart TV in the settings. Since this is a much-evolved version of voice control that what we have seen on TVs till now, you can actually speak phrases, something very useful when browsing the web or doing a Google search. Among all the new bits, we find this one to be possibly the most exciting one, and something that will definitely be used more than the motion control. This is certainly a very exciting element for the TV in the living room, and something that could be built on.
The second is the motion control bit. For this, the initial optimization is very necessary. The camera switches on, and you are directed to stand exactly in the middle of the frame. The setup then configures the gesture control feature, depending on the test gestures, by tracking your hand. Moving the hand means you are navigating the cursor, and closing the hand is how you select stuff on-screen. While it is all fun and interesting to use gestures, we don’t find it catching traction with the typical audience in a living room TV viewing scenario. Mostly because it is slow, needs someone to stand in the exact same spot (you might want to make a helipad landing markings on the living room floor) and its real utility is limited to only if you are browsing the world wide web on the TV.
Visit page two to read more about the Samsung Series 8 (UA55ES8000RLXL) Smart TV's performance, and the verdict!
What matters the most is how the UA55ES8000 performs as a TV, and that is where this one excels for the most part. To test the actual contrast ratio, we used the Spyder benchmark test, and this one came up with a very creditable 983:1, which is most definitely among the top 5 scores for the HDTVs we have tested till now. To start with, this is a solid base, and the rest of the performance will definitely have a link to this – particularly when the blacks will be dark and the colour reproduction will be in order.
Speaking of which, the colour reproduction on this 55-inch panel is quite even. The detailing seems to be there, somewhat more than what we saw on the LG 55-inch Cinema 3D we reviewed recently. Unlike Sony Bravia televisions that have a reddish tinge to the picture out of the box, this one is learning more towards blue/green. Before we started the contrast test, we had to equalize all the three RGB shades. The before and after results were vastly different, with the latter greatly improved, obviously.
To test how the content looks on this, we hooked this up to a bunch of devices – Xbox, laptop and a Blu-ray player, all via HDMI. We used the same cable type throughout, so that the test standard remains the same.
First up is HD content. For actual HD content with a Blu-ray disc, the results are absolutely fantastic. We have already mentioned about the excellent colour reproduction, and the dollop of crispness added to that just helps with the final result. For watching Blu-rays and even 720p rips, this TV will be a delight to use. The 800Hz fast motion engine was also set to its highest, and fast moving visuals were very smooth, at least when playing straight off the disc. That is mostly because the original Blu-ray content is not compressed, like the 1080p HD rips would be. And true to what we just said, there was a certain amount of screen tear at certain spots, with this setting at its max, when playing back downloaded rips off a USB drive. Overall, till now, we have been delighted with what this TV offers, till now.
Things do change, however, the moment we scale down to either 720p content or normal SD content that we get on the likes of cable and DTH. The moment you switch to 720p content from 1080p, the difference is clearly visible. This isn’t really a fault of the UA55ES8000, but something that is very apparent on TVs bigger than 46-inches. The crispness does reduce quite a bit, and somewhat turns into edge noise. Jaggies are clearly visible as well, something that we noticed a lot when gaming via the Xbox.
Essentially, as with most HDTVs this size, this one is meant for that little room at home that you lovingly call “home theater”! If you bother with the DTH connection, do make sure it is the HD variety!
The 3D Samsung uses with the Smart TV range continues to be the Active one, unlike the FPR passive one that LG uses with the Cinema 3D range. While neither makes any difference if 3D gives you a headache or a feeling of violent nausea, the latter is slightly more comfortable and more appropriate if you have the entire family watching 3D. Which is where the 3D offered by Samsung does have a dual disadvantage straightaway. Beyond that, the 3D reproduction is delightful. We played back 3D content off a 3D Blu-ray disc, and also up-converted existing 2D content to 3D. In both cases, the depth was quite good, and there was no real apparent disadvantage for the up-converted bit. You have the ability to control the depth of 3D content. The only issue that we noticed was that with certain up-converted content, mostly compressed and / or low resolution, we did notice certain amount of leakage leading to a phenomenon known as 3D ghosting. Usually this happens when the content meant for one eye leaks over, and is visible to the other eye as well. Considering the fact that this issue only crept up when tried to up-convert some files to 3D, this can largely be blamed on that particular video’s encoding and compression.
Now for the bad bits! The display is very reflective, and even with the backlight and contrast fully turned up, you will still see a whole lot of ambient lighting that will affect the experience. Most affected are the blacks, which enable the reflections the maximum. Unfortunately, that really puts this TV out of contention of the living room, and you will have to consider this for either the bedroom or the separate room that you have labeled as the home theater room!
We admit there are one or two issues with the Samsung UA55ES8000 Smart TV, primarily the reflective panel doesn’t work well in most living room viewing scenarios. But to blame this particular TV for it would be wrong, considering how companies keep telling us that while glossy may not always be optimal, it is what the consumers want. Apart from that, we were really impressed with this TV and the overall performance it offers, along with a feature set that impresses, excites, and does show the way for the future. At the moment, if this is in your budget, we would recommend this over the very similarly priced Sony Bravia HX925.