Samsung sells more 4K, aka UHD (Ultra High Definition), TVs, and has more different 4K models in its 2015 lineup than ever before. The choices can be bewildering, perhaps intentionally so, but once I got a look at the company's full lineup I penciled in this TV right here, the JU7100, as closest to that elusive sweet spot between price and picture quality. After reviewing it, I'm changing pencil to pen (er, words on your screen).
The JU7100 is still expensive, but not totally outrageous. It lacks the curved form of even more expensive Samsungs, and it also fails to qualify for the company's high-end, newfangled nanocrystals and all. It doesn't support the kind of next-generation content those SUHD sets do, but given how long it's taking to get going, I think it'll be a few years at least before such support is worth the extra money it requires.
I compared the JU7100 directly to, and the picture quality of the two TVs with today's content, including 4K, is extremely similar despite the big price difference. Both put out impressive image quality, although neither could match the performance of Vizio's even-cheaper .
So maybe you're thinking: "Hey, Katzmaier, I know you like those Vizios, but I just don't want a Vizio. What 4K TV should I buy instead?"
For you, hypothetical dude who won't buy a Vizio yet doesn't want to spring for something even more expensive (ahem: SUHD) I currently recommend the Samsung UNJU7100 series. It balances a not-too-crazy price with commendable picture quality, beautiful design, oodles of features and a healthy dose of future-readiness, for what I'm guessing will be Samsung's best 4K TV value of 2015.
I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 65-inch UN65JU7100, 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.
You have to hand it to Samsung for continuing to innovate its TV designs within the narrow space afforded by today's thin frames and sleek stands. The JU71000 is a great example, with a pleasingly dark metallic bezel that angles forward from the screen like a sharp-edged picture frame. I actually like the look a bit better than the JS8500 SUHD set, but of course it's all a matter of taste.
Interestingly the two Samsungs come with identical-looking stands: metal-faced, low-slung pedestals that make the TVs appear to float above the tabletops. I vastly prefer them to the splayed-leg jobbies Vizio foists upon its 2015 TVs.
The JU7100 has a direct LED backlight, not an edge-lit one, making it somewhat thicker than most recent-vintage Samsungs, including the JS8500. That's a minor disadvantage in my book, not least because nobody watches TV from the side. If you're keeping track, the is slightly thicker and the 65-inch Vizio M a tad thinner than the 65-inch UNJU7100.
Last year I called Samsung's remote the. 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. It didn't help that the JU71000 remote, unlike that of the JS8500, has no backlit keys.
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.
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.
Key TV Features
|LED backlight:||Full-array with local dimming|
|3D glasses included:||None|
Sure the JU7100 has, but more important is that it's A) and B) the least expensive 2015 Samsung TV to offer of its LED backlight. In my experience local dimming, which allows different areas of the screen to illuminate independently, provides the single biggest improvement to LED LCD picture quality. Unlike Vizio, Samsung unfortunately doesn't denote the number of "zones" of dimming on its TVs, and I don't know that number (in the chart above "full-array" doesn't imply that the JU7100 has a specific number of zones; it's only to differentiate it from "edge-lit," and basically means the same as "direct").
Like nearly all current 4K TVs, the JU7100 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.
The cavalcade of features extends beyond the picture. One of the more interesting is the 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,/ inputs, and the VP9 and to compatible 2013 and 2014 Samsung TVs.
In a time when lots of TV makers areto cut costs, Samsung keeps it in the mix. Unlike the JS8500, however, the JU7100 doesn't include any 3D glasses. The lack seems a bit stingy on a TV this expensive, but at least Samsung's latest specs, model SSG-5150GB, are cheap at $20 list price per pair.
Here's where I mention that the JU7100 also lacks the SUHD-errific features of its step-up brothers, including support forand content. HDR video, , promises better picture quality thanks to brighter, more realistic highlights and other improvements. It's still exceedingly rare, however, and judging from my early tests of HDR on the JS8500, you won't miss it much on the JU71000.
The same goes for wide-color support. Wide color gamuts promise to better approximate the range of colors found in real life, but content is nonexistent in home video today. Moreover the nanocrystals that power it on the JS8500 didn't seem to provide any extra benefit with standard content in my tests.
Smart TV: Samsung has yet again replaced its TVs' brains, this time employing the Tizen operating system it also uses in some of its smartwatches and cameras, as well as a few. 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. The ad I complained about in my review of the JS8500, by the way, seems to have disappeared. For now.
I mentioned the improved basic menus above, and the new design of the deeper menus is also 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 forand , 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. You can still search within individual apps, but if you subscribe to multiple services cross-platform search is very useful. Web OS, Android TV andall have cross-platform search.
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.
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.
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 10 behind Roku TV. Especially if you're getting a TV this expensive, it's worth springing the $70 for a another streamer, instead of using the inbuilt system., or
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, although Netflix in particular deserved credit for continuing to release many of its original series, like "Daredevil," in 4K.