The Samsung UNES8000 LED TV boasts stunning design and more features than any TV on the market. For that you'll pay dearly, but if you can afford it and want the cutting edge of TV technology in your living room -- pre-OLED, at least -- then stop reading now and buy an ES8000.
But maybe you're wondering about how its picture stacks up against the competition, or about how much further your TV experience will be taken by spending the extra dough. OK, fine, keep reading. The Samsung UNES8000 isn't a bad performer by any means, but it's not much better than many LCDs and plasmas, and worse than you might expect from Samsung's highest-end LED TV. It's also more expensive than just about any TV available today, with the exception of afewmodels with full-array local dimming. Finally its standout feature, which allows you to control the TV with a wave or a word, just don't work all that well. Few TVs can approach the Samsung UNES8000's "wow" factor, but how much that matters to you depends on your tolerance for its significant caveats.
Samsung's daring U-shaped stand requires a wider tabletop than some of its pedestal-supported competitors, and seems less stable to the eye than Samsung's trademark four-legged spider, but in person it looks great, lending a smooth, organic flow to the sharp rectangular panel while providing plenty of support (but no swivel). I do prefer LG's more compact 2012 stand, though.
The bezel measures a half-inch from the edge of the picture to the edge of the frame. The LG LM9600's frame around the image is similarly thin, and both seem to disappear against pretty much any background. If you're counting, I expect the final designs of LG's and Samsung's OLEDs to both boast thinner bezels still.
In addition to a standard clicker, there's another that omits numerous buttons in favor of a touch pad that's supposed to ease navigation of the menus and Smart TV functions, especially the Web browser. It's a great idea in theory, and I loved that its Bluetooth connectivity meant I didn't need a line of sight to the TV.
In practice the touch pad is frustrating to use, alternating between too twitchy and unresponsive. The clicker is denuded of most buttons, relegating the number pad to a kludgy onscreen version and eliminating the Menu key altogether. The lack of buttons also made it necessary to select from annoying onscreen mini menus for functions as basic as Pause, Menu, and Chapter Skip. For using the browser, the pad is better than gesture control, but not by much.
I ended up using the normal remote whenever possible, although it's still not very good. The grid of buttons lacks sufficient differentiation, there are too many promotional keys (such as Family Story and Camera), and the central Smart Hub button is annoyingly just a logo. At least there's full backlighting, a feature absent from the Touch remote.
I also tested a preproduction version of Samsung's optional wireless keyboard with touch pad, which ships soon, according to Samsung. Its touch pad was much more responsive than the one on the remote, and the full-sized QWERTY keyboard makes data input a cinch (but not in the dark; again, there's no backlight). Unless you're intending to use the browser extensively, however, it's not worth getting.
The final design of the keyboard may differ from the preproduction model shown here.
Accessories abound in the box. Samsung includes a battery-powered Bluetooth-to-IR blaster (above) that allows the TV to directly control a cable box or Blu-ray/DVD player or both. The idea is to use voice and gesture commands, as well as the touch-pad remote, with these external devices. I didn't re-review that blaster for this review but when I tried it with the PNE8000, it didn't work nearly as well as third-party universal remotes like Harmony.
Like all Samsung 3D models, and unlike other major-brand TVs that use active 3D technology, the UNES8000 actually comes with 3D glasses: four pairs are packed into every box. They're actually the SSG-3050GBs from 2011, not the newer Samsung SSG-4100GBs from 2012. Both retail for a scant $20 and they look exactly the same -- the main difference is that the 2012 glasses support the universal standard, so they should actually work with universal-certified 3D TVs like 2012 Panasonics. Check out my 2012 3D glasses comparison for more information.
The back panel includes three HDMI ports, which is one fewer than last year and may necessitate employment of an external HDMI switch or AV receiver in more elaborate home theaters. Three USB ports should satisfy even the most inveterate accessory mavens, however. The single component/composite-video input doesn't require use of a breakout cable, while the second composite-only input does. There's no VGA-style PC input, so you'll have to use HDMI if you want to connect a computer.
In the image you can also see the removeable panel hiding the company's Evolution Kit. The TV's processor and memory can be swapped out and upgraded at a later date (as early as 2013) and for an unspecified fee to allow improved functionality.
The company's TV app store is the biggest outside Google's. Samsung is the only TV maker with a cloud gaming service, Gaikai, although it's not active yet. Other offerings include videos from The Daily, a 3D photos app, images from National Geographic, MTV Music Meter and ESPN ScoreCenter as well as umpteen less impressive paid and free games, educational apps, screensavers, and so on.
Samsung also has a few relatively rich proprietary apps, like Family Story, which is a way to "share photos, memos, and family events stored in the cloud," Fitness and Kids (both with custom VOD), and a Social TV app combining Facebook, Twitter, and Google Talk in a bar alongside live TV.
Extras like a 10-point grayscale and superb color management are options that many TVs lack. As usual I appreciated the Custom setting in the Auto Motion Plus dejudder control, which let me dial in my preferred amount of smoothing (none) and motion resolution (full). Full adjustments are also available in Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Vudu; I couldn't test the absent HBO Go, however.
Last year I complained that Samsung's then-flagship LED TV, the UND8000 series, failed to live up to its flagship TV picture quality promise, and that's again largely the case with the UNES8000.
The new ES actually delivers slightly worse black levels than its predecessor (I'll chalk that up to its new nondimming Micro Dimming scheme) but outdoes its color and screen uniformity. Despite its strengths the UNES8000 was outperformed not only by less expensive plasmas, but also by the similarly priced Sony HX850 and the much cheaper Sharp LC-LE640U LED sets.