Samsung has poured millions into research and development for its curved TVs, and millions more into marketing under the slogan, "The Curve Changes Everything." Ironically, in my experience the curve changes pretty much nothing, except the price.
Samsung says the curve increases immersion, but the UN65HU9000 feels no more "immersive" than any big, flat, excellent-performing TV. At times I was distracted by the distortions the curve introduced, but for the most part I never noticed it. The curve can be obvious in person and especially in images and video shot from the sides and above, but when you're watching it from the couch, it's so subtle it basically disappears.
Currently the curve will cost you $4,300, an extra $1,000 from a flat screen, at 65 inches. That's the difference in price between the curved UN65HU9000 and the flat UN65HU8550. Sure there are other feature differences between the two, but the curve is by far the most important. And that's a huge chunk of change for something that changes pretty much nothing.
In the UK, the curved model is UE65HU8500T, and the 65-inch model can be had for £4,000. The Australian model is UA65HU9000, and retails for around AU$7,000.
This review is a little different from most of the reviews I've done, because it incorporates experiences not only testing the TV in the lab for a week or so, but also using it at home, as my family's main TV, for a month and a half. I agreed to Samsung's request to do so because I wanted to give the curve a fair chance, and I think I have.
The HU9000 would be an impressive flagship-level TV even without the curve. Its picture quality is top-notch for an LED LCD, albeit not quite as good as the Sony X900B or the best plasmas of 2013, including Samsung's own F8500, now officially the last great plasma TV. Its list of features is the longest on the market, starting with 4K resolution and Samsung's awesome upgradeable connectivity/Smart TV suite, housed in a clever external box. It has the best TV remote ever made, more apps than anyone, a built-in camera, voice and gesture control, and more.
Despite all those extras, plus 4K, plus the curve, the HU9000 is not a good value. Even so, some high-end TV shoppers will buy this TV just because the curve is unique and the TV is gorgeous to look at when turned off. Others will refuse to buy it simply because it's not flat. The rest can read the review, or see it in person and judge for themselves. I already have, and sorry Samsung, but I think the curve is little more than a pricey gimmick.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 65-inch Samsung UN65HU9000, 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.
So, the curve. It's not as drastic as you might think in person, but once you notice it, it's pretty obvious. Seen from the side it's even more prominent, especially compared to traditional flat-panel TVs, but as you move toward the sweet seating position in the middle seat facing the screen, the subtler it appears.
The TV also appears less curved the further away you sit. And as my kids noticed immediately, the combination of the curve and the glossy screen produces some fun reflections when the TV's off. I'll discuss more about how the curve affects the image itself in the picture quality section below.
The curvature of the screen is cunningly matched by the low-profile stand base, and Samsung's designers again did a great job in making the panel seem to levitate above tabletop (although it doesn't swivel). The silver brushed metal of the base is a little gaudy for my taste, but the panel itself -- with its thin bezel, ribbon of chrome around the edge and the smallest "Samsung" logo yet -- is gorgeous.
In the HU9000 Samsung has once more produced one of the nicest-looking TVs on the market, and curve or no, it deserves top marks in this category. Bonus points for making sure that, unlike some curved sets from last year, the 2014 Samsungs can all be wall-mounted. Although I can't imagine the curve looks better than a flat TV when pinned to a flat wall.
The TV ships with a pair of remotes, Samsung's standard wand and a touchpad-equipped motion-sensitive pod that I consider the best TV clicker yet. The only difference between the one included on step-down models and the flagship version that ships with the HU9000 is the latter's silver color and the presence of dedicated button for the Multi-Screen feature.
As with all fancy TV remotes, it becomes irrelevant if you plan to use a universal model like my favorite, the Harmony Smart Control -- an even more likely scenario on a flagship-level TV like this one. Check out my full write-up and video on the remote for more details.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology:||LCD||LED backlight:||Edge-lit with local dimming|
|Screen shape:||Curved||Resolution:||4K (UHD)|
|Smart TV:||Yes||Remote:||Standard & Touchpad/ Motion|
|Cable box control:||Yes||IR blaster:||External|
|3D technology:||Active||3D glasses included:||2 pair|
|Screen finish:||Glossy||Refresh rate:||120Hz|
|Screen mirroring:||Yes||Control via app||Yes|
|Other: Built-in camera; Upgradeable processing and inputs vis OneConnect box; cable box integration and control via IR blaster; Optional extra 3D glasses (model SSG-5150GB, $20 list); Optional Bluetooth wireless keyboard (model VG-KBD2000, $99 list)|
Once again Samsung's flagship TV earns our highest possible score in this area through sheer volume of extra doo-dads and thingamajigs. It's tough to imagine a feature it doesn't have, although I'm sure a few dozen Korean engineers are doing so anyway right now.
Beyond the curve and the 4K resolution, which, like all 4K LED LCDs these days, amounts to 3,840x2,160 pixels, the HU9000's most prominent picture-centric feature is local dimming on its edge-lit LED backlight. The less-expensive, non-curved HU8550 series also gets local dimming (denoted by the "Precision Black" moniker), although according to Samsung it sports fewer zones than the HU9000. As usual, the company won't specify the actual number of dimming zones on any of its TVs.
Like nearly all current 4K TVs, the HU9000 uses a panel with a 120Hz refresh rate. Samsung's specifications don't mention this number, instead going with "Clear Motion Rate 1440," the kind of impressive-sounding-yet-fake number common to many TV makers these days. In Samsung's case, it incorporates a scanning backlight and optional black frame insertion.
A couple of Samsung's fancier-sounding picture enhancements aren't that useful if you're interested in the most-accurate picture. Wide Color Enhancer Plus sounds cool, but since pretty much all content available today adheres to the narrower color space of high-def, it doesn't add anything to a well-adjusted TVs. The same goes for Auto Depth Enhancer, said to adjust contrast on the fly to improve the perception of depth. On the other hand PurColor is said to improve color linearity at all light levels, so it may actually be a contributor to the HU9000's excellent color.
Beyond the picture, one big differentiator between the HU9000 and cheaper Samsung sets is its OneConnect box (above). In addition to the external connectivity it provides (described below), the box itself actually houses the processor and other Smart TV brains. Much like the company's standard Evolution Kits, next year and in future years Samsung will offer brainier OneConnect boxes compatible with the HU9000, featuring enhanced processing, new Smart TV features, different connectivity, and/or whatever else the company dreams up. Samsung just began selling its SEK-2500U, the 2014 OneConnect Evolution Kit compatible with 2013 sets like the S9 and F9000.
Samsung also gives the UNHU9000 a pop-up camera that can be used not only for Skype and select other apps, but also to recognize gestures. When I tested gesture recognition upon its debut a couple years ago I wasn't impressed, and it seemed more like a novelty useful only when you misplace the remote. I didn't retest it this time.
Of course the HU9000 has 3D capability and Samsung includes four pair of 3D glasses. They're kind of cheap-feeling, however, so big-spending 3D aficionados may want to avail themselves of the TV's adherence to the full-HD 3D standard to purchase nicer third-party glasses. Like every past (and likely future) Samsung TV the HU9000 uses active 3D set technology, which is too bad considering that passive 3D is one of the best uses for all the pixels of 4K.
For a "limited time" Samsung is offering a voucher for buyers of the HU9000 series to get the free "UHD content pack," an external USB hard disk with five 4K movies ("Night at the Museum," "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," "The Counselor," "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" and "World War Z") and three documentaries. I tested the pack with this review; see below for details. It's not nearly as much proprietary 4K content as Sony offers, but it's something.
Multi-Screen: Another extra Samsung reserves for its more-expensive 2014 TVs is called Multi-Link Screen. A dedicated button on the remote splits the screen in half, placing a window showing the action from the currently active input on the left (above a grid of thumbnails showing current On TV shows, if you've set up that feature) and on the right your choice of the Web browser, a handful of compatible apps (including Vevo and Amazon Instant Video -- but most, including Netflix, Facebook and Twitter, won't yet work in Multi mode) or a specialized YouTube app. Think of M. Screen as a turbo-charged picture-in-picture designed to combine regular and Smart TV on the same screen.
One neat promise of the YouTube app is that if the TV "knows" the show you're watching (which only happens if you've selected a program using On TV), it should automatically offer a list of related searches.
Unfortunately the related search functionality worked only intermittently. Despite selecting a show via On TV, the list of search terms often didn't include anything related. Sometimes it did -- once I got a "Wimbledon" search term while watching that tennis tourney, and once I got a "The Bourne Identity" term while I was watching that movie -- but on more occasions the search term wouldn't update. Of course I always had the option to enter a search manually.
Like with many Samsung extras I encountered my share of bugs during my brief test of M. Screen. The controls for the Vevo app didn't respond at all, for example, and response was somewhat unreliable on the Amazon app -- although the CNBC app worked fine. The whole TV also crashed and restarted once.
On the other hand, I appreciated that M. Screen gives you the option to select which of the two screens get audio, and you can also connect Samsung bluetooth headphones to hear the second screen's audio separately, allowing two viewers to watch two different things (one TV show and one app or YouTube video). It's also nice that, with Samsung's very capable Web browser, you can just access Web sites like Facebook and Twitter in lieu of using dedicated apps.
Smart TV and cable box control: Aside from M. Screen the UNH9000 shares pretty much the same Smart and On TV/cable box control features as the rest of Samsung's 2014 line. I tested it thoroughly in previous reviews, so I won't go over everything again here.
One highlight is that Samsung has more TV apps than anyone, including, in the US, an exclusive on the HBO Go app for TVs (although external boxes like Roku and Xbox have it too). With the motion remote and voice control the system is easy-to-use and well polished, especially when it comes to entering searches or navigating the myriad onscreen menus. 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.
The main downside of the interface compared to LG's is its visual complexity, despite the addition of a new-for-2014 band of quick-access apps arrayed along the bottom of the screen. The main Smart Hub, which you'll still need to access frequently, is a multiscreen behemoth that takes some getting used to. It also gives too prominent a position to the On TV portion, which is designed to control your cable box via an included IR blaster. Especially for frequent DVR users, said control is simply easier and more reliable using your actual cable box directly, preferably via a universal remote.
For a much more thorough run-down of the system's pluses and minuses, check out the UNH6400 review.
Picture settings: In true Samsung tradition there's plenty on tap here, including 2-point and 10-point grayscale control, an excellent color management system, and four picture presets. Samsung's class-leading Auto Motion Plus dejudder control not only turns the Soap Opera Effect on or off, it allows adjustment of both blur reduction and smoothness -- and includes a setting called LED Clear Motion that improved motion resolution further, albeit along with some visible flicker and additional issues (see Video processing below).
The HU9000 also gets three levels for local dimming, a Cinema Black option that dims the horizontal letterbox bars of ultra-widescreen movies specifically, and a UHD HDMI Color mode. Samsung says engaging this setting "allows the TV to 'see' and display the 4:4:4 content that may potentially be included in HDMI 2.0 compatible sources." Such signals are essentially nonexistent today, so I didn't test the efficacy of this mode. It's also worth noting that settings for the extras PurColor and Auto Depth Enhancer don't exist; Samsung informed us the former is active all the time, and the latter is only active in the Standard picture mode.
Connectivity: Nothing major goes missing here. Four HDMI ports, three USB (just one is 3.0), and an optical digital output do the digital heavy lifting, while analog video is served (via included breakout cables) by a single component-video port that's shared with composite video, and a second AV input with only composite video. There's no VGA-style PC input, but there is a port for the included wired IR blaster. Unlike Panasonic, Samsung doesn't offer DisplayPort, but there's no reason a future OneConnect box couldn't add that port, or others.
All of the jacks are housed in the slim OneConnect breakout box -- unlike last year's F9000, the HU9000 unfortunately lacks an easy-access USB port on the TV itself. The box connects to the TV itself via a single 10-foot umbilical that terminates in proprietary plugs at both ends. One advantage of using an outboard box is to ease installations, especially wall-mounts where the box and its connected components can be housed separately. Another is the potential to upgrade connectivity in the future.
The technical details of the HU9000's input suite are among the most advanced of any TV's we've seen. All four of the current OneConnect box's HDMI ports support HDMI 2.0, and in our tests all were capable of accepting 4K at 60 frames per second. Samsung told us three of the four can accept it at 4:4:4 chroma subsampling rate, while the 4th (the MHL-compatible one) can accept 4K/60 at 4:2:0. That MHL-compatible input (Input 4, if you're counting) is also the only one that's HDCP 2.2-certified; the others are HDCP certified for version 1.4. All three of the USB ports can play 4K video, assuming the content is encoded with one of the codecs that the TV can handle. Of course the HU9000 also offers built-in HEVC decoding to stream 4K for apps like Netflix.
Got all that? Good, on to the fun part.
I've broken my testing down into three separate sections. The first deals with the curve, both in isolation and compared to flat TVs. The second covers 4K sources and uses a smaller comparison lineup than the third, which covers the same suite of high-definition tests I put every TV through. In the latter two sections, the Samsung was generally an excellent performer, but I wasn't a fan of the effect the curve had on image quality.
How does the curve affect the picture?
As I mentioned above, this review is unique for me because I actually lived with a review sample in my own home for about a month and a half before writing it. During that time, I grew less and less aware of the fact that the TV was curved. More often than not, I simply forgot about the curvature.
In my living room at home, even on a 65-inch screen, the curve didn't have any major effect on the picture aside from reducing reflections somewhat. When seen from the sweet spot in the middle, or even a couple seats to either side, the minor distortions introduced by the curve don't really register unless you're looking for them. Yes, if you move farther off-angle the screen's unusual shape becomes more apparent, as it does if you sit closer. But from my "the daddy seat" at a standard seating distance -- remember, most people, including me, sit around 9 feet from their TVs at home -- the curve is subtle at best.