Samsung took people by surprise with its ambitious voice- and motion-controlled ES8000 and ES7000 TVs, even if we found the results to be a bit mixed. Perhaps the most off-putting thing about those two sets however, were their high prices, as they were around £500 more expensive than their main competitors like Sony's HX853 TVs.
The UE46ES6800 is a much cheaper proposition from Samsung, costing around £999 online. It dumps the slightly gimmicky voice and gesture control, but retains many of the high-end models' best features, and so looks like a tempting option if you're after a feature-packed family TV.
User interface and EPG
Over the last few years Samsung has done more than any other manufacturer to raise the standard of user interfaces on our TVs. The one on the UE46ES6800 looks identical to what you would find on the company's high-end models. It's beautifully presented, with lush graphics and slick transitions between different menu screens.
The main menu gives you lots of control over the set's key features, with comprehensive picture and audio tweaking options. Most screens have an information box too, which gives you a description of what the selected sliders or buttons do -- something that rival models lack, so it's good to see it included here.
All is not completely hunky-dory however, as the main home screen -- which acts as a portal into all of the TV's features, from Smart TV services, to media streaming, picture controls and even input selection -- is overly busy, making it a daunting prospect to navigate.
The interface also often offers a multitude of different ways of completing the same task. You can playback media files either by selecting a DLNA server as the source in the AV input list, for example, or by choosing AllShare Play from the main home screen. They both do pretty much the same thing, so this repetition only serves to make the interface more complicated than is necessary.
On the plus side, the set uses a dual-core processor so the menus are pretty zippy to navigate, and the Smart TV apps are fast to load and use compared to those on many competitors' models. We're not talking iPad or Android tablet speeds here -- the current generation of Smart TV systems are all on the clunky side -- but compared to what else is available on the market, they're pretty good.
As the TV has both Freeview and Freesat tuners it's actually got two separate electronic programming guides. Freesat tightly controls the look and feel of its guide, so the one here is identical to what you'd find on other Freesat TVs and set-top boxes. I've always found it annoying that when you open the Freesat guide you don't go directly to the list of channels, but instead find yourself at a channel genre selection screen, but it’s the Freesat way and Samsung isn't to blame for this.
Naturally, Samsung has more control over its own Freeview guide, and here it's done an excellent
job.The guide is beautifully presented and is speedy when
scrolling through the channels.
The EPG has a video thumbnail window so you can keep tabs on the programme you're watching
while also flicking through the guide.
Smart TV features
Crucial to this model's appeal are its Smart TV features. Put simply, Samsung's offering is the best there is on the market at the moment, even if it still has some weaknesses. The main benefit of Samsung's offering is the sheer amount of content available on the system. The set of course supports BBC iPlayer, but it's also got ITV Player on-board, something you just won't find on other manufacturers' TVs at the moment.
On the movie-streaming front it supports both the Netflix and Lovefilm services, and there's Curzon On Demand and Knowhow Movies for premium film rentals. You get a wealth of news, weather and information apps too, including BBC News and Sport. That said, there are plenty of fillers, including a load of iffy apps that you're likely to download, try once and then delete. This could also be said to be true for most of the apps that populate Smart TV systems at the moment.
As the TV uses a dual-core processor it can manage multi-tasking with smart apps. This means that when you want to switch from iPlayer to ITV Player, for example, as long as you have them both loaded you can just hit the History button on the remote and jump between them, rather than having to constantly exit one, return to the Smart Hub and load the other. It's not true multi-tasking as you still have to wait for the previous app to reload, but it's useful nonetheless. Panasonic has a similar system, but it's only available on its high-end sets, so it's good to see it included on a mid-range remodel like this one.
Like many of today's mid- and high-end models you can also record directly from the Freeview or Freesat tuners to USB memory keys or drive. You can only record the channel you're actually tuned to, however, so it's no replacement for a PVR.
Naturally, it has media playback and streaming features too. Samsung TVs usually have very good format support, but this model was mixed in this regard. Although it would happily play HD MKV files from USB drives, it failed to play the format when asked to stream it over a network from my Iomega NAS drive. Nevertheless, it did play ball with HD MP4 files, as well as videos in DivX and Xvid.
Design and connections
The UE46ES6800 isn't quite as stunning as the ES7000 and ES8000 models, mainly because it doesn't have such super-slim bezels. That said, it's still a very good looking TV, especially for a mid-range offering. The design is actually closer to what we saw on last year's D8000 range, with the slightly wider black bezel around the display giving way to a transparent Perspex lip. All this sits on a cross-shaped stand with a chrome finish, which looks very futuristic, even if it's not quite as pretty as the sweeping U-shaped pedestal that the ES8000 sits upon.