Until, the UE55F8000 sits at the top of Samsung's 2013 TV lineup. Of course, this means it's packed full of features, including -- deep breath -- voice and motion control technology, a smart TV system that supports all the major UK terrestrial TV catch up services, micro-dimming for deeper black levels, dual tuners for both Freesat and Freeview and active 3D support.
Phew. Unfortunately, this also means it has a hefty price tag to match, as it'll set you back a whopping £2,500.
There are actually four ways to control this TV, which is probably three ways too many. You can use the standard TV zapper, you can rely on the touchpad remote, and, as with last year's models, you can even wave your hand around Minority Report-style to interact with the onscreen menus or talk to the TV to ask it to perform certain functions.
For voice control you can either just speak directly to the TV or alternatively press the microphone button on the touchpad remote and speak into the remote. The latter tends to be more reliable, but raises the question of why bother using the voice feature when you already have the remote in your hand? Samsung says that it's because sometimes it's faster to use voice, especially for search, but that's not something I'm completely convinced by, as we'll find out.
If you're speaking directly to the TV you have to say a trigger phrase to get it to first wake up the voice-recognition engine. After a pause of a couple of seconds, you can then bark your orders. If you use the touchpad remote instead, it's more rapid, as it'll start listening to you as soon as you press the mic button on the zapper.
Samsung has rejigged the voice-recognition system so it can now have a stab at understanding natural speech. As well as commands such as, "power on" and "channel up", you can now also tell it to open certain apps or check which films are coming up on the Freeview or Freesat channels.
The problem is voice recognition still feels very clunky to use and isn't terribly good at working out what you're trying to get the TV to do. It's slow to initially respond unless you're using the touchpad remote and you often have to try different ways of saying the same thing to get it to open apps.
Also, searching for content using voice works only across certain services. It works for Samsung's own video service, for example, but not Netflix or Lovefilm.
Really I think most people will try the voice functions a few times, find it too frustrating to use and then never bother with them again. If it was more accurate and worked across more apps it would be useful for searching for movies by name -- on Netflix, say -- but that's just not the case at present.
Samsung has also tried to improve the motion-control features, but again they're still not good enough or useful enough to be a worthwhile addition to the TV. This model uses a better camera than last year's equivalent, with a 5-megapixel sensor to improve tracking and low light performance.
You can also now hide the camera away by pushing it down into the body of the chassis if you're worried about privacy or just don't want to spoil the TV's stylish lines. Unfortunately, it doesn't have an auto-release mechanism to pop it back up when you open apps like Skype, which Panasonic's VT65 does offer.
If you want to use the motion-control features you have to raise your hand with your palm open and facing the TV and then wave it over and back. The TV will then pop up an onscreen cursor you can move around to change channels or volume, launch apps and the like. The camera can track two hands now, so you can bring your hands tighter to zoom out on a picture or pull them apart to zoom in, and there's a new swiping gesture to jump between the pages in the smart TV menu.
I found the TV often struggle, however, to recognise the waving gesture to trigger the motion control feature and although its tracking was good during daylight hours, it was still very poor when used in the evening with low lighting levels.
User interface and EPG
Samsung hasn't really changed its TVs' settings menus for the last two years. I've no quibbles about this, as it remains an excellent menu system that's beautifully presented with crisp graphics and logically laid out menus. There's a wealth of picture-tweaking options too, including a full colour-management system.
The EPG also essentially remains unchanged. It's bright, colourful and easy to read from a distance. It's also speedy to navigate around and there's a video window so you can carry on watching a TV show while flicking through the programming guide to find shows you might want to watch later. Samsung has also integrated elements of the TV guide into the smart TV menu, to offer you suggestions on stuff you might want to watch.
Design and connections
The UE55F8000 is a seriously stylish telly. It's less imposing than its plasma brother, the F8500, partly because it seems to float on its arc stand rather than taking the all-in-one approach of the F8500.
It's supremely slim too, for a 55-inch model, and it's obvious the designers have paid attention to every aspect of the chassis, as even the rear is amazingly tidy, with none of the random air grilles you see on most sets. From the front it's deliciously simple, with just a narrow chrome band acting as frame for the screen.
The only slight issue that I could see is that the arc stand runs the whole width of the TV, so you'll need an AV unit at least as wide as the TV to sit it upon, whereas with most pedestal stands the TV can overhang the edge of a unit without any problems. The arc stand does look very elegant though, and helps give this set its own distinctive sense of style.
While Panasonic has annoyingly cut back the number of HDMI ports on its sets, Samsung is thankfully going in the opposite direction. Whereas last year's models only had three HDMI ports, the F8000 has four. Three of these are mounted on a downward facing panel on the rear while the fourth is found on the right-hand panel along with the TV's three USB ports. Naturally there's also a set of component inputs (although you do have to use a break-out cable to connect to them) and an Ethernet socket. As you'd expect at this price, Wi-Fi is also built-in.
The TV has dual tuners for both Freesat and Freeview HD onboard, so you'll find a pair of satellite inputs on the rear next to the RF input. This also means that if you hook a hard drive up to the set you can use it as a PVR and even record one channel while watching another.
Smart TV system
Samsung's attempts to improve its voice- and motion-control features may be hit and miss, but its redesigned smart TV system is an unqualified success. The new system used here is powered by a quad-core processor and so feels much faster and smoother than before. The presentation is much slicker too, giving it more of a smart phone or tablet feel.