If you must have a 4K TV now, the Samsung UNHU8550 is the best overall choice.
Yes, it still costs hundreds more than non-4K LCD TVs, and the difference in extra detail between 4K and 1080p is still basically invisible at normal screen sizes and viewing distances. But unlike Samsung's flat 1080p TVs, this one incorporates the company's best picture-enhancing features, namely local dimming, leading to a better image regardless of resolution.
That appears to be the trend among all LCD LCD TV makers, as we predicted. They reserve their best picture quality for 4K TVs, so if you want a premium image, you'll generally have to get a 4K TV whether you can see the extra detail or not. That's similar to what happened with 3D TVs, and supports the trend that 4K is "just another feature" on TVs' seemingly endless lists of bullet points.
Among 4K sets we've tested, just one, the Sony XBR-X900B, has a better picture than this Samsung. The company's own HU9000 is also an excellent performer, but the curve makes it a worse choice for image-quality aficionados than the flat HU8550. The cheaper Vizio P series currently suffers a couple of flaws that likewise make it inferior. Until Vizio issues an update to that set, or actually releases an aggressively-priced 65-inch R series, the HU8550 is the best-performing option among current 4K sets with somewhat reasonable price tags.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the Samsung UN60HU8550, 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.
The understated exterior of the HU8550 does less than the typical Samsung TV to stand out, but still looks great. The low-profile stand helps 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 very attractive, albeit not quite as beautiful as the curvy HU9000.
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 HU8550 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 Home 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:||Flat||Resolution:||4K (UHD)|
|Smart TV:||Yes||Remote:||Standard + Touchpad, Motion|
|Cable box control:||Yes||IR blaster:||External|
|3D technology:||Active||3D glasses included:||Four pairs|
|Screen finish:||Glossy||Refresh rate:||120Hz|
|Screen mirroring:||Yes||Control via app||Yes|
|Other: Upgradeable processing and inputs via OneConnect box; voice search via remote; 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)|
Not quite as feature-festooned as the
Rod of Lordly Might HU9000 series, the HU8550 is nonetheless among the most "loaded" TVs you can buy.
Beyond 4K resolution, which, like all 4K LED LCDs these days, amounts to 3,840x2,160 pixels, the HU8550's most important picture-centric feature is local dimming on its edge-lit LED backlight. According to Samsung it sports half as many zones than the HU9000, but as usual the company won't specify the actual number of dimming zones on any of its TVs. It did tell us that the HU8550 matches the number of dimming zones on the HU8700 series of curved 4K TVs, that the 85S9 has roughly 20 times as many zones as the 9000, and that none of Samsung's other LED TVs for 2014 have hardware-based local dimming.
Like nearly all current 4K TVs, the HU8550 uses a panel with a 120Hz refresh rate. Samsung's specifications don't mention this number, instead going with "Clear Motion Rate 1200," 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. Meanwhile the HU9000 has a CMR of 1440, or 240 make-believe units higher than the HU8550; Samsung says the difference reflects the " reflect the different backlight scanning blocks or zones." The HU8550 is also missing some of the HU9000's fancier-sounding picture enhancements, namely Auto Depth Enhancer and PurColor, but we doubt you'll miss them.
The cavalcade of features extends beyond the picture. Probably the most unique is compatibility Samsung's OneConnect box. The HU8550 has a dedicated port that can be connected to future external breakout boxes, similar to the box that ships today with models like the HU9000. Much like the company's standard Evolution Kits , next year and in future years Samsung will sell OneConnect boxes 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.
Of course the HU8550 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 HU8550 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.
The HU8550 also has the same Multi-screen feature found on the HU9000 (below). 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 and on the right your choice of the Web browser, a handful of compatible apps (including HBO Go, MLB.TV 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. For more info check out the HU9000 review; I didn't retest it here.
The HU8550 works with Samsung's exclusive "UHD content packs," which are basically external hard drives filled with a few 4K movies. Unless you're desperate to watch 4K and are willing to pay through the nose, they're not worth buying on their own (although they're often bundled with the TV). On the other hand, Sony's FMP-X10 4K video player is now "unlocked" to work with other brands, so while it too is very expensive, especially when you figure the cost of Sony's 4K content, it's a better choice for big spenders who want 4K content today.
Smart TV and cable box control: Aside from M. Screen the UNHU8550 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 that aren't powered by Roku. 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. I prefer the simpler design of LG's Web OS suite but Samsung's visually complex, multiscreen system has its advantages. Neither one is as good as Roku TV, however.
For a much more thorough rundown 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 (see Video processing below).
The 8550 is missing a few of the extras such as the HU9000's "Cinema Black" option that dims horizontal letterbox bars, the HU8550 does get three levels for local dimming 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.
Connectivity: The back panel of the HU8550 includes everything you'll need for a modern setup. Four HDMI ports, three USB (although just one is 3.0), and an optical digital output do the digital heavy lifting, while analog video is served by a 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.
If you're getting deja vu, that's because the HU8550 impressively matches the connectivity of the step-up HU9000. All four of the 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 fourth (the MHL-compatible one) can accept 4K/60 at 4:2:0. That MHL-compatible input (Input 3, 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.
As we mentioned above, the HU8550 also has a OneConnect port, which allows upgradeable connectivity in addition to whatever newfangled Smart TV nonsense Samsung dreams up in future years.