Last year's five-star rated CNET UK's Editors' Choice award on design alone.was a thing of beauty. It was the first time I'd seen a TV with such a thin bezel, and ignoring its excellent picture quality, it could have won
But Samsung knows that a thin bezel isn't enough for this year's follow-up, so it's gone one step further with the UE55ES8000. For an eye-popping £2,500, this 55-inch 3D TV can be controlled by your voice and hands, offering the promise that you will never have to hunt for a remote again.
The model I tested was a few weeks away from being completely finished, so there were some glitches and things that I couldn't test properly. But it was ready enough for me to get a clear enough idea of its strengths and weaknesses, and for Samsung to be happy for me to review it. The company said that picture quality was as it would be in the final version, so I have given the TV a score.
Should I buy the Samsung UE55ES8000?
This TV is beautiful, it's incredibly powerful and has loads of features, but it's insanely complicated. There are six ways to control it. Six. No piece of consumer electronics should have that many ways of controlling it. It feels like Samsung's design committee couldn't agree what to do for the best, so it decided to put everything in, because it could.
That would be fine, but the voice and gesture controls still feel like a work in progress. Add that to the complicated Smart TV software and I can't help but feel that you'd be better off waiting until next year's model if you wanted a voice-controlled TV.
Then again, if you view the voice and gesture stuff as a gimmick anyway, this set's picture quality is mostly great, and the built-in camera works well with Skype. So if you're not bothered about the rest of it, spend away and you won't be disappointed.
The most interesting control method is voice. LG and Sony will also be releasing voice-controlled TVs this year, but Samsung's is the most adventurous. This is the only set that you can control by yelling at it, rather than talking into a remote control. I really like this idea, but in practice it's patchy.
To start controlling the TV, you have to say "Hello TV". That temporarily made me feel like Scotty in Star Trek IV, but then I just felt like an idiot. A shouting idiot. But it's for a good reason -- there needs to be a trigger phrase to activate the voice control, or it will start responding to whatever is playing on the TV. I want to be able to change the trigger phrase to one of my choosing, so I can break out my best William Shatner impression and yell "Khaaan", but unfortunately the TV doesn't support that. You can choose "Smart TV" as the trigger instead but that's not as much fun.
Sometimes the TV didn't hear me, and the louder I turned the volume up, the less my voice could cut through the noise. Sometimes it would spontaneously react to something being played on the TV, which it isn't supposed to do.
A more reliable way of using voice control is with the included touch remote. Hold down a button and speak into the microphone at the top, and it transmits your voice to the TV over Bluetooth.
Once I had mastered that, I found I couldn't actually control that much with my voice. I could do things like change the volume, start a particular app (such as Skype) and switch the channel, providing I knew the channel number. What I wanted to be able to do was to say "watch More4", but it doesn't understand that, just "channel 104".
The other area in which voice would have been really useful is anywhere I needed to type something in, such as when I was searching for on-demand TV. But I couldn't just say "watch Mad Men" and have the TV go off and find it for me. Instead, I needed to open the on-demand video app and type it in myself. Boo.
Weirdly, although I couldn't use voice to search the on-demand content, in some areas of the TV I could use voice to fill in text boxes. Checking with Samsung, this is how the final version will be when it hits the shops.
One of the coolest things about this TV is the built-in camera. That means you can make Skype calls (more on that later), but it also means you can control the TV with your hands. It's similar to, if you've ever used that. Place your palm out flat in front of the TV and move your arms to shift a cursor around the screen. To select something, you close your hand into a fist. To go back, make a swooping motion with your hands.
Provided the room is bright enough, it mostly works, although sometimes I would have to wave at the TV fairly frantically to get it to recognise that I was trying to control it. If you like to keep the lights low when you're watching a movie though, it will be less effective. When it's working, it's very sensitive, so you only need to make tiny movements for the cursor to travel a long way. Perhaps after a few weeks I would get used to it, but I much preferred the remote for controlling the TV.
Touch remote and web browser
Did I mention there are two remote controls in the box that are completely different from each other? Well, there are. One is a normal remote for people that want familiarity, and the other is the touch remote with a microphone built in that I mentioned earlier.
Samsung says that its touch remote is way more intuitive to use than the normal one, but for the most part, it's wrong. For example, if I want to look at the electronic programme guide (EPG), on the normal remote I simply press one button. On the touch remote, I have to press a button, swipe around a bit then select an icon on the screen. More button presses to do the same thing isn't progress in my book. The one thing the touch remote is useful for is the web browser -- it's a lot easier to slide around a web page than with the normal remote.
Speaking of the web browser, it's pretty good. Websites are never going to look that great on a TV unless they are designed for their resolutions, but this TV did a good job of rendering the sites I looked at. It's also the first TV web browser I've seen that supports Adobe Flash, so most video you stumble across online should work. The TV dealt with the Flash videos on CNET UK with no problems, and could play them full-screen. Whether it will work for you will depend on the site you're looking at.
In case you lose both remotes or they run out of battery, there are some controls on the back of the set you can use, which work pretty well.
Smart TV software and EPG
This sort of TV isn't really a TV at all -- it's more like a computer with an unfamiliar operating system. One you'll need to spend some time with before it makes sense. Samsung is a leader in Smart TVs and this set is no exception, but although it can do a lot of things, sometimes it's not the easiest to use.
One thing that does work well is its EPG. That's laid out well and is easy to navigate, with a look that takes advantage of the high-definition display.