At CNET we often tell people that, to get the best experience out of their TV and related gear, they should invest in universal remote and a dedicated sound system, such as a soundbar. One upside of this strategy is that the remote and speakers included with the TV become irrelevant.
So when I say the Samsung UNH6400 has the best remote of any TV I've ever tested, I don't mean it's worth buying just for the clicker. Don't get me wrong: with its killer combo of superb ergonomics, fun motion control and best-in-class versatility, Samsung's new remote is simply a joy. Especially if you're into using the TV's Web browser or whipping around the menu system to take advantage of its umpteen apps.
And yes, this great new clicker can also command your other gear, including a cable box/DVR. But it still doesn't control and integrate your system as well as something like the $99 Logitech Harmony Smart Control. And if you're like me, remotes on your coffee table are like immortals in Highlander: There can be only one.
Beyond its fancy clicker the H6400 is a great-looking, full-featured midrange TV that, like the H6350 with its more workaday remote, puts those attributes before picture quality. If you're happy with their merely average performance and place more weight on their other strengths, both hold plenty of appeal. More than the price of the Harmony separates these two TVs however, so unless you demand the H6400's 3D capability, the H6350 is the better value.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch Samsung UN55H6400, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
Samsung isn't breaking any new ground design-wise with the 6 series, but the H6350 and H6400 still cut handsome figures. And their bezels seem thin enough to cut class, resulting in a pleasingly modern, almost all-picture look.
The designers gave a slight nod to the H6400's step-up status by encasing the frame in a thin layer of transparent plastic, but it very slightly thickens up the overall feel of the TV compared to the more naked-looking H6350. I did appreciate the H6400's lack of chrome accents on its body, however.
The chrome legs of the stand are slightly taller and more angular on the H6400 as well. I always appreciate when a stand lets a TV swivel.
Seen from the side, the UNH6400 is slightly thicker than many LED TVs but still pretty thin at 2.5 inches deep for all but the 65-inch version, which has a depth of 2.8 inches. That's impressively slim for a TV that uses direct, rather than edge, LED backlighting.
Smart Remote: Great, if you plan to use it
Samsung is calling its all-new clicker the Smart Touch Remote. I'm calling it the most unique and useful design for a TV remote I've ever tested. That doesn't mean it beats the best universal remotes, however, one of which I'd still prefer in my system.
For the last few years I've been very impressed by LG's motion remotes, which behaved a lot like a Nintendo Wii controller. You control a cursor by waving the remote at the screen, and once you get the hang of it, navigation can happen more easily and efficiently than with the standard method of clicking from one selection to the next, especially on a large screen with a lot of icons. Much like touchscreens seem the ideal interface for phones and tablets, and a touchpad or mouse rules the PC screen, a motion controller provides (in my experience) the best control over a lean-back Smart TV interface.
This year Samsung copied LG's idea and then improved upon it. Like LG's system, Samsung's motion remote is remarkably precise and makes navigation of most menus and selections -- especially the browser, and the onscreen, virtual remote and keyboard -- swift and even kinda fun.
But one flaw in LG's design is the need to occasionally shake the wand to activate the cursor. On Samsung's new remote, simply resting your thumb on the little concave touchpad wakes up motion control and summons the cursor. Conversely, removing it from the pad deactivates the functionality. It's a remarkably simple arrangement that takes about 10 seconds to assimilate and works beautifully in practice.
Unlike the kind found on a laptop or some other remotes, that little touchpad isn't used to move the cursor at all. Its only other major functions are to enable scrolling, particularly on the Web browser, and to serve as the main "OK" or "Select" command with a downward click, which feels sort of like a mouse button.
I loved the vibe of the small-but-not-too-small Smart Remote, especially its subtly curved shape and ribbed backside. Every key lives within easy thumb-reach, and for those apps and menus that don't support motion control, you drive between selections with a standard four-way cursor placed around the edges of the pad. The touch-to-activate-motion system is a boon here too, because menus that don't support touch become instantly recognizable: if the little motion cursor doesn't appear at your touch, it's time to resort to the four-way keys.
As usual Samsung sacrificed a bunch of direct-access keys available on its traditional clicker (see the H6350 review) to make the Smart Remote smaller and more ergonomic. Major ones include the numeric keypad, a few set-top box controls, and the Tools shortcut menu. I did appreciate that dedicated transport keys (play, pause, ffwd and rewind) are present on the Smart Remote, but wondered why Samsung elected to include "MTS" and "CC;" I'd much rather get forward/reverse skip, or even STB Menu and DVR. I was also miffed at the H6400 remote's lack of backlighting.
Commands that aren't granted a dedicated key are available via an onscreen remote, which pops up when you press the Smart Remote's "Keypad" button. It's more of a pain than direct-access keys, but a heck of a lot easier than on Samsung's 2013 TVs, thanks to motion control. How much of a pain depends on what you want to do; if you frequently type in channel numbers directly, for example, that virtual numeric keypad might soon become your hated nemesis.
So for me, despite it being the best remote I've ever seen included with a TV, Samsung's Smart Remote would still be relegated to a drawer somewhere, replaced in my system by a universal unit like the Logitech Harmony Smart Control. That's because I want only one remote, and the Logitech can control multiple devices. Yes, Samsung's Smart Remote can also command Blu-ray players and home theater systems, but I have other devices I need controlled (like my Roku and game console), and I demand more customization than Samsung's remote offers. I also need dedicated forward and reverse skip buttons for skipping commercials on my DVR, and I'd become annoyed at the need to frequently access the onscreen remote to control my cable box (see below).
That said, on a simpler system or with a someone who's more inclined to use the Samsung TV for most activities and apps, as opposed to external devices, the Smart Remote could easily render a universal clicker obsolete.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit|
|Cable box control||Yes||IR blaster||External|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||2 pair|
|Screen finish||Matte||Refresh rate(s)||120Hz|
|Screen mirroring||Yes||Control via app||Yes|
|Other: Cable box integration and control via IR blaster; Optional motion control/Skype camera (model VG-STC4000, $99 list); Optional extra 3D glasses (model SSG-5150GB, $20 list); Optional Bluetooth wireless keyboard (model VG-KBD2000, $99 list)|
The H6400 includes just about every non-picture-related option I'd consider worthwhile among Samsung's 2014 panoply of features. Yes, more-expensive 7 series sets have a nifty split-screen trick that allows simultaneous TV watching and Web browsing, but I have one, too (it's called a tablet). Until you get to real picture-related options like the local dimming found on the 8 and 9 series models -- with or without a curved screen and/or 4K resolution -- I don't think it's worth spending extra over the 6400 (although I won't know for sure until I test one of the 7 series).
While the UNH6400's excellent remote is the main step-up over the H6350, it also has 3D capability that the cheaper models lack. Samsung includes two pair of 3D glasses, and like nearly every newer active 3D set, the H6400 complies with the full HD 3D standard, in case you want to use different glasses.
Although the H6400 would seem to have a superior picture over the H6350 judging from its higher "Clear Motion Rate" (of 240 on the H6350 vs. 480 on the H6400), and Micro Dimming, both features actually have very little impact on the picture. Micro Dimming on the UNH6400 isn't true local dimming -- it's software-based only -- and in our tests showed little to no discernible benefit. The same goes for CMR, Samsung's inflated stand-in number for refresh rate . Both sets have 120Hz panels and show very similar picture quality, including similarly excellent motion and video-processing performance.
Meanwhile, the step-up UNH7150 series has a CMR of 960 and Micro Dimming Pro. The latter is once again software-based, and so unlikely to have more than a marginal effect on picture quality, while I don't expect much out of the former either.
Smart TV: The H6400 offers Samsung's full Smart TV monty for 2014: the motion remote as well as voice control and search. Those extras make the system seem more polished and easier to use than what we saw on the H6350, especially when it comes to entering searches or navigating the myriad onscreen menus. In its full form, Samsung's smart suite is arguably just as good, if not better in many ways, than my current favorite for the 2014 Smart crown, LG's WebOS. I'll know more when I can thoroughly test an LG
New for this year, pressing the main "Smart Hub" button takes you only halfway into the system, and that's a design decision I applaud. Up pops a little band of icons overlaying but not dominating whatever you're watching, allowing quick access to a bunch of apps. You can clear this list completely, and new apps are added as you use them, but the customization isn't as easy as it should be. There's no way to add apps to the band manually aside from simply starting one, and I couldn't figure out how to reorder them. In comparison to the elegance and tight integration of LG's WebOS band, Samsung's band seems like a last minute add-on -- a Band-Aid to combat Smart Hub's inherent visual complexity.
Speaking of complexity, Samsung hasn't changed much else since its 2013 overhaul. Once past the band, the main Hub interface is a multipage monster reminiscent of an Android smartphone, with five different screens you flip through by shuffling among the icons at the top: On TV; Movies and TV shows (on demand); Multimedia (YouTube videos, DLNA, USB, hard drive and cloud-based media); Games, and of course, Apps. Last year I called the design "refreshing, colorful, and relatively simple, a welcome change from the clutter of the company's previous versions" but compared to WebOS and some other, less ambitious systems, it can be visually overwhelming. Thanks to the motion remote, however, it's easy to navigate, and responses were quick on the quad-core 6400.
As you might expect the motion controller was great for browsing the Web. Samsung's browser software is among the best I've tested for a TV (albeit still worse than any smartphone, tablet, or PC), and using motion control to select links, as well as swiping down on the touchpad to scroll, worked well. Motion control also eased use of the onscreen keyboard, for entering URLs and search terms, but if you're going to be doing a lot of typing, it's worth plugging in an external wireless keyboard. The H6400 can pair with any Samsung Bluetooth keyboard, and with my tests of KDB-VG1500, it worked well. I was able to use a cheap wireless USB keyboard however, the Logitech K400, which has a touchpad that worked OK. Notably, neither keyboard's touchpad was as easy to use as the remote's motion control however.
Voice search and control is available on models from the UNH6400 series up, accessible by hitting the Voice button. I said "ESPN" and the system was smart enough to show me the channels that matched my search (ESPN News, ESPN HD, ESPN 2, and so on) rather than perform a Web search, for example. It worked just as well on some channels ("Sportsnet NY") but failed quite often ("A&E, "NHLNet HD"). It also handles a few preprogrammed commands and custom searches, from "Volume up" to "What's the weather in ___?" to "Anything interesting on tonight?" Its accuracy was very good, as long as I stuck to those phrases, but there were also plenty of failures. As with most of today's voice-control functions, you'll have to put up with more than a few misinterpretations or irrelevant results to go along with the times when it works as you'd expect. At least it's better than it used to be.
You can also perform a standard text search using an onscreen keyboard. Both text and voice searches for video titles hit your TV listings as as well as YouTube, Hulu Plus, Vudu, and CinemaNow. Samsung's search doesn't hit Netflix, Amazon Instant, or HBO Go, however, making it less useful overall than the universal search on Roku or even the Amazon Fire TV, for example.