The Samsung UA55D8000 is a superbly realised TV, which combines cutting-edge design with top-of-the-heap picture performance.
Did you ever take a long, hard look at your TV and say: "It's so boxy, can I have one that's a little less oppressive?" Well, you can be sure that Samsung has, with its 2011 range arguably the best-looking TVs that have ever been invented. The D8000, or Series 8, flagship isn't as minimalist as the barely there D7000 , yet it still features a ridiculously thin bezel. This one is covered in brushed faux-aluminium echoing last year's over-achieving Series 9 TV. For our eyes, we prefer the way the D7000 bleeds into the room courtesy of its clear plastic bezel, but the flagship still looks very special.
As the bezel is quite slim there isn't much room for controls so they're mounted around the rear of the set and armed with a proximity sensor. When you put your hand behind the edge of the TV, small on-screen icons appear by the side of the bezel. Unfortunately, the sensor isn't very sensitive and if too close to a wall or cabinet (say a foot or less) we found that the icons would slide on and off randomly. Thankfully, the icons are only a couple of inches tall, and aren't too obtrusive.
Like most TVs Samsung has released this year the TV includes the "four-legged space octopus" stand, which is relatively sturdy.
The Series 8 ships with the reversible QWERTY remote, which works for text input in some apps and not in others. It features a fully working remote control on the other side.
The 55-inch D8000 is a smart TV and features web access and video on demand, with search and DLNA streaming available as standard. One of the biggest drawcards for sports fans is the inclusion of AFL and NRL Game Analyser, in addition to dedicated sports channels. BigPond Movies and TV also make an appearance.
The Samsung boasts the 3D HyperReal Engine, which is used for picture processing in both 2D and 3D. We've had some experience with it previously and have been very impressed with its ability to clean up noisy signals.
The D8000 also features active 3D, and if it floats your boat it also includes 2D-3D conversion — though, we like our vessels with a bit more water. The bundled glasses are much less like welding goggles and are actually quite slim. The glasses are designed to be charged through the TV or an a dedicated stand, but it's regrettably not available in Australia.
At a Samsung launch earlier in the year, the company said it was developing a "Second Screen" function that would let you use a Samsung smartphone or tablet in a similar way to the TV screen remote to last year. At the time of publication the feature was yet to be announced.
The Samsung comes with a whole lot of connections giving you access to a wide range of content. Network functions are provided via Ethernet and on-board Wi-Fi, while you can connect your gear to one of the three USB ports, four HDMIs, component, VGA or two composites.
Whether it was a movie, a bit of free-to-air or a game, the Samsung D8000 simply sparkled in response. The Samsung Series 8 is the televisual equivalent of standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon: deep, natural and yet incredibly panoramic vistas.
After testing a lot of screens that work very capably in their natural HD resolutions but suffer terribly at DVD replay, the Samsung's performance was quite refreshing. King Kong looked fantastic with sparkling, gleaming images. As the giant ape climbed to the top of the Empire State Building you caught glimpses of the East River, which looked much cleaner than it would have in the actual 1930's.
The good news kept coming with Blu-ray movies, with Mission Impossible III looking just as natural as we'd seen it on the D7000; though, with some of the over-smoothness toned down and a bit of the grit allowed back in. The upshot was that movies regardless of source looked great. If we're going to sit down and watch a movie we want it to be with the new Samsung range.
Our suite of HQV test discs further reinforced what we had seen with movies — that film and video material were smooth and glitch-free, and has a firm grip on the digital noise. While our D7000 struggled in one noise test by leaving a vapour trail behind a flock of birds, the D8000 behaved much better, and could suggest there has been some software tweaks of the noise reduction strength.
While we wait for Godot to bring us some quality 3D movies, the Samsung will play what there is available now. Cross-talk is the bane of any 3D TV, and the Series 8 offers significant performance improvements on last year's models. Despite this, it's still a visible artefact and Sony's HX925 fares much better. On the flipside, the Samsung offered a more naturalistic 3D effect and didn't suffer from the flicker problems we saw with the Sony.
While image quality is a career highlight for Samsung, the TV isn't without a couple of niggles. For example, the BigPond Movies service is a little bit limited in its content offering, we had a couple of random crashes, and the QWERTY remote wouldn't work with it.
Colour is also a weak point; while movies and TV look great, it struggles with reproducing solid colours. The vivid blue disclaimer screen at the start of many Blu-rays wasn't consistent across the screen with lightening at the sides, and the same occurred on all-black screens such as credits. Turning the backlight down to 1 (from 20) helped a little with this, though.
Every year, the mantle for "best TV of 20xx" passes between the same companies: Sony had it last year and Panasonic the year before. This time the focus is back on market leader Samsung and the excellent effort it's made in 2011 to produce products that are at least 12 months ahead of its competitors'. While we'll wait to see what the rest of the year can throw at us, it's indisputable that the Series 8 LCD is a truly cutting-edge television with performance at the very heart of it.