Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified..
As the most expensive horse in Samsung's stable of edge-lit LED-based LCD TVs, which the company calls "LED TVs" in most of its marketing materials, the UNB8000 series is differentiated from its cheaper herd mates by the addition of 240Hz processing. If you're wondering whether that feature is worth the cash, wonder no more: in our opinion, it's not. Other than the extra Hz, Samsung's edge-lit sets share most of the same picture quality characteristics, including deep black levels, mostly accurate color and some uniformity problems that might have something to do with the ultra-thin panels. In the plus column, however, the UNB8000's picture is still pretty dang good--especially after a firmware update--and the styling of these Samsungs just can't be beaten.
We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 46-inch Samsung UN46B8000, but this review also applies to the 55-inch Samsung UN55B8000. The two have identical specs and should deliver very similar picture quality.
[Editors' Note: Many of the Design and Features elements are identical between the Samsung UNB8000 series and the UNB7000 series we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.]
Did we mention these TVs are really thin? The UNB8000 measures just 1.2 inches deep at its thickest point, and tapers even thinner toward the edges of the panel. Samsung offers a special thin wall mount, and if you decide to keep the TV on its stand, the thin panel will look equally impressive from the side. From the front, the set is no slouch either. Unlike the red-tinted members Samsung's edge-lit LED line, the frame of the 8000 is plain old black accented by a transparent edge, which lends the whole TV a jewel-like appearance. A subtle blue power indicator, which can be disabled, provides the only touch of color on this Samsung TV.
The stand has a brushed-metal surface and a unique transparent stalk to keep the thin panel gracefully suspended above its surface. We appreciated that the stand allows the TV to swivel to either side.
Aside from the obvious thinness, the LEDs allow a couple other design bonuses. The UNB8000 runs a lot cooler than other LCD and especially plasma displays producing a similar amount of light, and the panel itself weighs less than other models.
Samsung used the same menu system as last year, and we still think it's one of the best in the business. Big, highly legible text is set against transparent backgrounds that occupy almost the whole screen. Getting around is easy, there's helpful explanatory text along the bottom, and we dug the context-sensitive menu that would pop up occasionally to provide more options.
There's a different twist to the 8000's remote compared with step-down Samsung models. In a first among HDTVs we've reviewed, the included clicker features RF capability, allowing it to work without you having to aim it at the TV, or even be in the same room. RF worked great in our testing once we had "paired" the remote with the TV (a simple first step), and we really appreciated the convenience.
Another big difference is the rotating scroll wheel, an extra of which we're not big fans. While the wheel was better than last year's model, it still took a half-turn or so on most occasions to respond at first when we navigated the menu. Combined with the sluggish widgets (see below) it wasn't a user experience we appreciated. Aside from the wheel, the remote is fine, with buttons that are big, backlit, and easily differentiated by size and shape. We liked the dedicated "Tools" key that offers quick access to the E-manual (see below), picture and sound modes, the sleep timer, and the picture-in-picture controls. We didn't like the remote's glossy black finish, however, which picked up more than its share of dulling fingerprints after a few minutes. The company also includes a small, nearly useless hockey-puck-style remote that only controls channel, volume, and power.
Edge-lit LED backlighting heads the UNB8000's feature set. Despite the "LED TV" moniker, they're actually otherwise normal LCD (liquid-crystal display) TVs that use LEDs (light-emitting diodes) instead of the standard fluorescent backlights. Check out the slideshow for more info on how edge-lit LED backlighting works, and see performance below for details on how it stacks up against local dimming LED backlight technology.
The 240Hz is twice as fast as the 120Hz refresh rate found on many other sets. Its main impact is improved motion resolution, although the improvement will be nearly impossible to discern for most viewers. Samsung's Auto Motion Plus dejudder processing is also on-board, and new for 2009 it includes a nicely implemented custom setting that lets you tweak blur reduction and judder.
Samsung's main interactive capability is supplied by Yahoo! Widgets. The system gathers Internet-powered information modules, called "snippets," into a bar along the bottom of the screen. The model we reviewed came with widgets for stocks, weather, news and Flickr photos, plus YouTube, Yahoo video, sports scores, games and Twitter--and more are sure to appear in the near future. For more information, check out our full review of Yahoo widgets. That review was based on our experiences with a Samsung UN46B7000, and our impressions of the system on the UNB8000 series are mostly the same, including its relatively sluggish response time.
Other interactive features on this set abound. It can stream videos, photos, and music from DLNA-certified devices via the network connection, as well from its USB ports, which can connect to MP3 players, USB thumbsticks and digital cameras (we didn't test this capability). There's also built-in "content," such as recipes, games, workout guides and a slide show of high-def art and photos with music. We went into depth discussing the content features last year, which are similar this time around, so for more details check out the Interactive section of the 2008 Samsung LN46A750 review.
Samsung offers its usual myriad picture adjustments, starting with four adjustable picture modes that are all independent per input. There are five color temperature presets are augmented by the ability to adjust each via a custom white balance menu; three varieties of noise reduction, including an automatic setting; a film mode to engage 2:3 pull-down (it also works with 1080i sources); a seven-position gamma control that affects the TV's progression from dark to light; a dynamic contrast control that adjusts the picture on the fly; a "black tone" control that affects shadow detail; and a color space control that lets you tweak the Samsung's color gamut.
You can choose from four aspect ratio modes for HD sources, two of which let you move the whole image across the screen horizontally and vertically. As we'd expect from a 1080p TV, one of those modes, called Screen Fit, lets the UNB8000 scale 1080i and 1080p sources directly to the panel's pixels with no overscan--the best option unless you see interference along the edge of the screen, as can be the case with some channels or programs.