As we hurtle through the closing half of 2012, we have seen most of the significant TVs of the year: from the joyous highs of the Panasonic TC-PVT50 to the ignominious lows of the Panasonic TC-LDT50 and everything in between. In this case the in-between is the Samsung UNES6500. While we still have a couple of Samsung stragglers to go, the one we were really anticipating was the ES6500 after liking the UND6400 so much last year.
But you know how it is: the more you look forward to something, the more likely it is you'll come away disappointed (Duke Nukem Forever, anyone?). While the 6500 is not the spectacular failure the long-vaunted return of the Duke was, it still doesn't live up to the promise of its predecessor.
While color is very good and almost a carbon copy of the previous model's, the 6500 just isn't as capable in other areas, and seems to follow a trend we've seen constantly this year: while plasmas are better and cheaper than ever, LCDs are actually worse than in 2011.
The ES6500' black levels are about average for its price, and shadow detail is excellent, while its 3D is just OK. The so-so nature of the TV's overall performance means that at its price and above, Samsung no longer has the dominance it once had; look to unexpected upstarts like Sharp and Vizio at this level instead.
While color performance was generally excellent on both models, lighter black levels brought the newer UNES6500 down. It did get slightly darker than the more expensive ES8000, but there are plenty of TVs less expensive than the ES6500 that can perform the same feat. Shadow detail was very good, though; this means that even if the UNES6500 doesn't lead the way in absolute contrast, darker images did have a depth and stability that outdid the otherwise better Vizio M3D, for example.
In terms of image quality the UNES6500 fell almost exactly halfway between the Samsung ES8000 and the Vizio M3D550KD and it was initially difficult to determine on which side of the fence it should go, that is until I spotted a strange flaw (see video processing in the full review for more details).