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Samsung UNJS8500 series review:

Futuristic features don't make flat SUHD TV superior today

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MSRP: $4,999.00
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The Good The UNJS8500 is Samsung's highest-end 2015 TV with a flat rather than curved screen. It delivers very good picture quality, with relatively deep black levels, accurate color and solid video processing. It's the least-expensive TV compatible with HDR content, and offers a wider color gamut than most other TVs. The redesigned Smart TV system and remote are simpler than ever to use, its cutting-edge connectivity and other features can be upgraded in the future, and its design is gorgeous.

The Bad Despite the nanocrystal-powered color and HDR compatibility inherent in Samsung's SUHD name, the JS8500 doesn't offer appreciably better image quality than many less expensive TVs. It has lighter black levels than some top competitors, an issue exacerbated by HDR content that requires maximum light output.

The Bottom Line The Samsung UNJS8500 SUHD TV has a very good picture for an edge-lit LED LCD, but not good enough to justify the price.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

CNET Editors' Rating

7.3 Overall
  • Design 9.0
  • Features 10.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Value 6.0

Samsung has spent a lot of money promoting its new as different, better and, above all, worth the higher price compared to regular old UHD (aka 4K) TVs. In the case of the JS8500, the company's least expensive SUHD TV and the one model that's flat instead of curved, it's not.

The JS8500 is a very good performer for an LCD TV, and its color accuracy, video processing and most other picture quality aspects are excellent. Its black levels are also relatively deep, but not as deep as some of the other TVs we've tested such as the Vizio M series , which costs significantly less. Since those black levels form the basis of contrast, the most important element of picture quality, the overall image quality of the JS8500 falls a bit short of what I expect at this price.

This SUHD has plenty of other stuff to recommend it, however: beautiful styling, cutting-edge features and a future-readiness than surpasses most other TVs. It's the cheapest TV you can buy that will handle high dynamic range (HDR), which is considered the next big advancement in video after 4K, and it's also equipped to deal with wider color gamuts, promising more realistic color than ever. HDR content is rare and wide-color content nonexistent today, however, and those extras don't seem to help the JS8500 outperform other TVs with the video you can actually watch now, 4K and otherwise.

I wouldn't be surprised if Samsung's other SUHD TVs, the JS9000 and JS9500 , succeed more seriously at screen superiority. They also cost even more than this one. Meanwhile regular old UHD TVs like the JU7100 offer similar picture quality to this SUHD for a lot less money. Just drop the "S" for savings.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 65-inch UN65JS8500, 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.

Design

Unless they're curved, most expensive TVs look pretty much the same these days: slivers of frame surrounding a big screen. Somehow Samsung still manages more panache than competitors with the handsome JS8500.

Sarah Tew/CNET
Sarah Tew/CNET

The thin bezel around the screen appears to be actual metal, in a textured silver instead of the typical black, and the top edge is mirrored enough to shave by. The "Samsung" logo is the smallest I've seen on any TV, and even the backside is subtly different, with a cool ridged texture. The low-profile stand gives the set that futuristic floating feel.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Last year I lauded called Samsung's remote the best TV clicker I'd ever used. The stripped-down wand found on the 2015 models simply isn't as good, and I actually prefer LG's clicker this year. Yes, Samsung's remote does offer that sweet, sweet motion control -- where you can whip a pointer around the screen just like a Nintendo Wiimote -- and it still has Samsung's awesome twist, where simply laying your finger on the capacitive button summons the pointer and a menu.

Again there are two different ways to move around: motion control with the pointer, and clicking from one item to the next with a traditional four-way cursor. But the new control separates them too much, placing the cursor control below the pointer, and the presence of two separate OK buttons complicates matters. I often had to glance at the remote, and ended up using motion control less, defaulting most often to the traditional cursor.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung also removed too many of the dedicated buttons, including voice search, rewind/fast-forward and, the "keypad" button. Yes the new remote is aggressively lean and small, its motion control precise and slick, but I miss the old one.

The new menu system, however, is a big improvement. Just laying your finger on the touch-sensitive pointer button is enough to summon a basic menu. Icons appear on the top, bottom and left of the screen for "Menu/123," "Smart Hub" and volume, respectively, allowing you to dive into overlays for each while the main video continues playing.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The "Menu/123" overlay is the heart of the system, and it's very well-designed. It summons a number pad and full transport (play/pause/stop/record) controls for device and app control, and the top strip serves as a gateway to pretty much every major function, from settings menus to input switching to picture mode. Best of all you can rearrange the tiles along the top in any order -- including to the end of the strip, which only becomes visible when you scroll to the right. You can also move the number pad to either side. Yes, I often prefer dedicated keys for these functions, but this onscreen system is the best substitute for them I've seen.

Features

Key features

Display technology: LCD (VA) LED backlight: Edge-lit with local dimming
Screen shape: Flat Resolution: 4K
Screen finish: Glossy Refresh rate: 120Hz
Smart TV: Tizen Remote: Motion
3D technology: Active 3D glasses included: 1 pair

A couple things separate the Samsung JS8500 from run-of-the-mill 2015 4K TVs: a nanocrystal-enhanced LCD structure, said to improve color, and HDR capability, which is designed to deliver better contrast in the form of brighter highlights, among other improvements. These extras, and an extra few hundred in UPP price, are what make it a SUHD TV.

Nanocrystals seem very similar to Quantum Dots, but Samsung doesn't want to use that term so it's going with "revolutionary Nano-crystal technology." The nanocrystals are designed to emit specific wavelengths of light, which allows for greater efficiency (more light for the same amount of power) and wider color gamuts that better approximate the range of colors found in real life. Samsung's method applies a layer of those crystals between the LED backlight and the standard liquid crystal display element inside the TV. For more details, check out Quantum dots: How nanocrystals can make LCD TVs better.

The other big feature is compatibility with HDR (high dynamic range) content.

HDR video, not to be confused with HDR for photography, promises better picture quality thanks to brighter, more realistic highlights and other improvements. It's widely viewed as the next step beyond 4K, which addresses only resolution, not contrast or color. Only a few HDR-capable TVs have been announced so far, and the JS8500 is actually the least expensive.

Beyond those bullet points it's a fairly standard 4K TV. Its edge-lit LED backlight uses actual local dimming, as opposed to the software-only variety found on some Samsung sets. Unlike Vizio, Samsung won't specify the actual number of dimming zones on any of its TVs.

Like nearly all current 4K TVs, the JS8500 uses a panel with a 120Hz refresh rate. To its credit the company has backed the "Motion Rate" claims down to a smaller number than in previous years, 240 in this case, which it achieves by virtue of a scanning backlight and optional black frame insertion.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The cavalcade of features extends beyond the picture. One of the more interesting is its OneConnect Mini connection box, which houses most of the inputs and offers a modicum of future-proofing. Samsung says that in the future you'll be able to buy new OneConnect boxes that may offer improved connectivity, processing and software. The company just began selling the latest version, the SEK3500U ($399), which delivers an octa-core processor, Tizen Smart TV, the new remote, HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 inputs, and the VP9 and HEVC codecs to compatible 2013 and 2014 Samsung TVs.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In a time when lots of TV makers are dropping 3D to cut costs, Samsung keeps it in the mix. The JS8500 only includes a single pair of active glasses, however, which seems a bit stingy on a TV this expensive.

Smart TV: Samsung has yet again replaced its TVs' brains, this time employing the Tizen operating system it also uses in some of its smart watches and cameras, as well as a few phones . Tizen has a rocky history you can explore in-depth using the links below, but most to users of the new TVs that's irrelevant. In the end the main thing you'll notice is the new interface.

The first thing that came up when I hit "Smart Hub" was a welcome change: a clean, simple, horizontal overlay of icons, with recently used apps and other items, like inputs, lined up along the bottom of the screen. To its left sat an inscrutable "Featured" box that seemed a bit frenetic in the way it cycled through icons, but otherwise harmless enough. Then, to my chagrin, an ad popped up right next to it.

It's the most prominent and annoying advertising I've seen on a Smart TV system since Panasonic tried a banner a couple years ago. At least you could disable Panasonic's ad; on the Samsung, there's no way to prevent it from appearing. Other systems including LG's Web OS have ads, too, but they're buried deeper in the system, not dancing up on the initial screen demanding your attention. Are things really that bad, Samsung?

It's also noteworthy that a recent software update has brought the new initial overlay, complete with the ad, to 2014 Samsung TVs like the UN60HU8550 I have in-house. The update only applies to that first bottom line-up though; the deeper 2014 Smart TV menus haven't changed, so Samsung doesn't get the kind of credit LG deserves for its Web OS update.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Meanwhile back on 2015 models, the new design of the deeper menus is an improvement, once you figure out how to get there. To launch more apps beyond "Recent," or do anything else within the Smart system, you'll have to go to "Featured," a rather unintuitive choice in terminology. There you'll find a couple key apps like Netflix, YouTube and Hulu Plus, as well as the "apps" icon. Once you click it you're greeted by a friendly, clear list of app tiles neatly categorized and searchable. I prefer its design to the app store for Web OS and Android TV , the Google-designed system used by high-end Sony and Sharp TVs this year.

Samsung also benefits from being the exclusive Smart TV provider for HBO Go, and its app selection is superb, with most of the major apps covered. Motion control worked within many of the apps, although Hulu Plus, HBO Go and Vudu are exceptions. Samsung used to offer cross-platform search, but not anymore. Searching using the main magnifying-glass icon gave me results from YouTube and the Internet, but not from any of the apps. Of course you can still search within individual apps, but if you subscribe to multiple services cross-platform search is very useful. Web OS, Android TV and Roku TV all have cross-platform search.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Of course Samsung includes a browser and of course it's nowhere near as good as using your phone, tablet or computer. Both Samsung and LG offer motion control on the browser, which helps a lot, but LG has the advantage of a scroll wheel on the remote.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Oodles of other smart features are onboard. The most useful is Sony's PlayStation Now service, allowing streaming gaming and control via a PS4 controller, just like on Sony's own televisions. Samsung's Multi Link Screen feature lets you put up the browser and other apps split-screen next to a show. Another extra is the "extra" function, which for some reason gets a remote control button even though its only function seems to be summoning halfway-related tweets alongside whatever show you're watching. Its technology is pretty cool though, actually analyzing video content in conjunction with your provider/channel list to figure out what you're watching. It didn't always work, though.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While Tizen is an improvement over the complex multipage system Samsung used in the past, and definitely better than Vizio, it's still not as good as LG's Web OS or Android TV overall, and all are a step or ten behind Roku TV. Especially if you're getting a TV this expensive, it's worth springing the $70 for a Roku 2 , or another streamer, instead of using the inbuilt system.

4K streaming apps: I checked out 4K streaming on the built-in Netflix and Amazon apps and they worked as expected, although as I've seen in the past, consistent 4K streams from Amazon (as opposed to "HD" and 1080p HD") are more sporadic than they are on Netflix.

As usual I didn't see a massive image quality improvement over those services' HD streams, and in previous tests I've performed, neither 4K streaming services' image quality could quite match the best 1080p Blu-rays. And of course content is scarce, although Netflix in particular deserved credit for continuing to release many of its original series, like "Daredevil," in 4K.

While the UltraFlix app is available for 2014 Samsung 4K TVs, it's absent from 2015 models like the JS8500; Samsung says it's being optimized for Tizen and should appear soon.

New for this year, the YouTube app is capable of delivering videos in 4K resolution. Unfortunately the app -- unlike the YouTube website -- doesn't indicate which resolution the video is streaming in, so it's tough to know what you're really watching. I checked out a few of the 4K videos there, including "Honey Bees" and "Beauty of Nature," and they looked sharp enough, but as usual it was impossible to tell if they were actually in 4K.

I also tried a quick experiment using Florian Friedrich's 4K resolution pattern (Mr. Friedrich drives an independent test laboratory in Munich, runs Quality.TV along with renowned video expert Joe Kane, and among other activities consults for numerous companies, including Samsung). Via the JS8500's YouTube app the pattern didn't deliver the full resolution, and it also looked worse than the same pattern on LG's 65EG9600 and the Nvidia Shield , which both in turn looked worse than when I downloaded and played it back from a local file (using the Shield), which was the only time it delivered the full resolution of 4K. I wasn't surprised that streaming isn't as sharp as downloaded local files, even in 4K, but it's interesting to see variation in streaming quality among the different 4K YouTube apps.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture settings: Almost nothing has changed from recent Samsung vintage in this department. In addition to four preset picture modes, advanced controls include 2-point and 10-point grayscale plus an excellent color management system. Samsung's Auto Motion Plus dejudder control is the best in the business. It 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).

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