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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.
We appreciated the three power-saver modes, which further reduce energy use. As far as other conveniences, Samsung throws in picture-in-picture, an "E-manual" on a USB stick that displays the manual on-screen, and even a customer care screen that includes the firmware version for when you need to call the company. We're also big fans of the new-for-2009 capability get firmware updates via an online download, rather than making you go to the Web site, as was the case before. Another nice touch: the last firmware version is retained by the TV automatically, so you can return to it if you don't like the update.
The UNB8000 series offers good connectivity, as long as your AV system doesn't have many analog components. The highlight is four HDMI inputs, arranged vertically along the shallow connection bay on the back of the TV (note that fat cables might not fit the nearly flush sockets very well). You also get two USB inputs, a VGA-style PC input, and a single component-video input that can be converted to accept composite video instead. An RF input for antenna or cable, an optical digital audio jack and the Ethernet port complete the picture. If you need to connect more than one analog device, you'll need to use a switcher or an AV receiver.
The Samsung UNB8000 series delivered very good picture quality, which has improved significantly with a new firmware update, but it's still not up to the standards of the best local dimming displays and plasmas we've tested. It evinces very good black level performance and solid color, but each of these building blacks still has some flaws. Uniformity and off-angle performance are also still weaknesses. Despite the improvements afforded by its firmware update, the 8000 still earns the same overall performance score as the pre-firmware 7000 model. That said, we'd expect that current owners of both sets, especially those bothered by the fluctuating backlight, will appreciate the update.
Firmware update information The following performance observations were made after we updated the firmware on our UN46B8000 review sample. We went from the original firmware that shipped with the sample (firmware version 2009/03/30_001007) to the new firmware released in mid-September (version 2009/09/14_001013). At the time of this writing, however, the 001013 firmware was not available for download directly to the TV--instead, we had to go through the manual route of downloading it from the company's Web site, saving it to a USB thumbdrive, and uploading it to the TV from one of the side-panel USB ports. Samsung's reps say the 001013 firmware may soon be made available via direct connection, but at the moment only older firmware (version 2009/09/07_001012) appears when you utilize the TV's built-in download function. We also checked out that firmware and it did little to affect picture quality as far as we could discern.
According to Samsung, the 001013 firmware update is designed to address the fluctuating backlight we saw on the UNB7000 and UNB6000 reviews. To test this claim we had a UN46B7000, with its original firmware, set up next to the 8000 we reviewed. See Black Level below for the details on how the two compared. It's worth noting that a similar firmware update is also available for the 7000, but not the 6000--yet. We'll update the 7000 review when we have the chance to test it).calibration, in addition to reducing light output to our nominal 40ftl, tamed some of that blue cast (albeit not as well as we would have liked, especially in midbright areas) and brought gamma closer into line (2.17 overall versus our target of 2.2), especially in those dark areas. Unlike with the 7000 we reviewed earlier, we didn't have to resort to the most-aggressive gamma setting on the 8000--perhaps the difference has to do with the sets' different firmware.
For our comparison we included a range of cutting-edge sets to pit against the edge-lit Samsung 8000, including the Samsung UNB467000, the company's standard-backlight LN52B750, a few LCDs equipped with local dimming LED backlights--the LG 47LH90, Toshiba 46SV670U and Sony KDL-55XBR8--as well as a couple of plasmas, the Panasonic TC-P50V10 and the Pioneer PRO-111FD. This time around the image quality tests were performed primarily using the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, the same Blu-ray we employed in the 7000 review.
Black level: The UNB8000 performed well overall in this category, delivering deep blacks that nearly matched those of the best displays in our comparison. In dark scenes, like the shot of Manhattan at the beginning of Chapter 4, black areas like the letterbox bars, the darkness between the buildings and the shadowy East River all appeared extremely deep and realistic. The 8000 was basically tied for second-blackest in our comparison after the Pioneer plasma and the equaling the 7000, the Sony XBR8 and the Panasonic V10, and surpassing the other LCDs in depth of black. Shadow detail, such as the fatigues of the army guy or the curly black hair of a researcher, was pretty good although a bit darker than the ideal, and not up to the level of most of the other sets.
The new firmware definitely cut down on the distracting backlight fluctuations we complained about in our reviews of the 7000 and 6000 models. One good example came during the intro to "Watchmen," when the screen fades to black between the comic-book-like tableaus. Where the 7000 faded completely to black and then abruptly brighter as the backlight switched on and off, the 8000 stayed slightly brighter in all-black scenes, thus avoiding those abrupt fluctuations when the scene brightened.
We also appreciated how the 8000 didn't lose as much contrast in dark areas as the 7000. In the opening scene from "Earth," when the camera pans down over a starscape to find a full moon and the titles, we saw the full array of stars on the 8000, whereas the 7000 obscured many of the dimmer stars. On the other hand the brighter stars, moon and titles still appeared noticeably less bright on the 8000 than on the non edge-lit displays. The same held true for other scenes, such as the sequence in "I Am Legend" when Will Smith locks up his apartment in Chapter 4; the door at the beginning of the chapter still appeared dimmer than the other sets, albeit not as dim as on the 7000. In other words the firmware seems to have improved this aspect of the Samsung's picture, but it's still not as good as we'd expect from a TV this expensive.
Comparing the 7000 and the 8000 we also noticed that the new firmware seems to have brightened black levels slightly on the 8000, an effect that was visible in the star field intro from "Earth," for example. The difference wasn't drastic, and the 8000's blacks were still quite inky, just not as deep as on the 7000 in very dark scenes. In other scenes, even mid-dark ones, the difference between the two was negligible. However, people who like their TVs to fade completely to black between scenes, are willing to sacrifice some contrast, or who absolutely must have the deepest blacks at all time at the expense of the other picture quality factors mentioned here, might want to skip the update.
Color accuracy: As we've seen from many Samsung TVs we've reviewed the 8000 delivered accurate color for the most part, with spot-on primaries and secondaries. The slightly bluer cast to the middle of its grayscale, however, came through in certain areas, especially in skin tones. As Jennifer Connelly turns to face her class in Chapter 2, for example, her face appears slightly paler and less realistic than on many of the other sets, and the paler parts of her skin seemed just a bit bluish. Saturation was also less impactful next to our reference model or many of the better displays in our comparison.
On the other hand we appreciated that near-black areas avoided the deep bluish tinge we saw on the 7000 and many other LCDs we've tested. In fact the 8000's dark areas were mostly neutral, albeit not up to the standards of the plasmas in this regard.
Video processing: The effects of the 240Hz refresh rate on the UNB8000 were similar to what we saw on the LNB750, the LG and the Toshiba LCDs--in other words, difficult to discern (at best) when watching regular program material, but providing a noticeable reduction in blurring during test patterns. The Samsung's advantage, and one it shares with Toshiba, was the ability to remove the smoothing effects of dejudder processing while keeping blur reduction.
With the LG and most other dejudder-equipped 120Hz and 240Hz displays we've tested, you must engage the smoothing effect of dejudder if you want to minimize blur. With 2009 Samsungs you can separate the two using the Custom setting. In fact, we got the best results by choosing Custom and setting blur reduction at 10 and judder reduction at zero. Compared to the other 240Hz displays the Samsung 8000 was slightly below-par on our test pattern, resolving between 800 and 900 lines, compared to the 900-1000 line range we saw on the Samsung B750, the LG and the Toshiba. Not that anyone would be able to tell the difference without the test pattern.
In that Custom setting the proper cadence of film can be preserved. We confirmed this by feeding the Samsung 1080p/24 content during the flyover of the Intrepid from "Legend," where the characteristic judder appeared more and more obvious as we decreased the judder reduction slider.
Engaging dejudder when watching the film made motion appear more video-like to our eyes, and we preferred to leave it off. As usual, increasing judder reduction and thus apparent smoothness with film-based material also increased the incidence of unwelcome artifacts. In Chapter 11 when the camera follows Kathy Bates around the command post, for example, we saw the telltale halolike distortion in the background near the edge of her body with judder reduction maxed out, while distortions largely disappeared when we reduced that control to the halfway point.
In our still resolution tests the Samsung performed as expected, delivering every line of 1080i and 1080p sources and deinterlacing film- and video-based sources properly. The TV must be set to the Screen Fit aspect ratio and Auto 1 Film mode, respectively, to pass these tests.
Uniformity: We complained about the uniformity of Samsung's edge-lit screens previously, and the 8000 will get the same treatment. In particular, we noticed slightly brighter areas in the middle of the bottom letterbox bar, which as usual became more noticeable in dark scenes. We also saw, again in very dark scenes primarily, that the left side of the screen appeared brighter than the rest.
In gray fields (from 10-70 IRE on our Sencore test pattern generator), we noticed more brightness variations across the screen, including a darker area across the top and subtle brighter splotches elsewhere. We didn't notice these variations much during program material, but they were more noticeable in test patterns than on any of the other displays in our test. It's worth noting that these issues can vary more than others from review sample to review sample.
When seen from off-angle, the 8000 washed out to the same degree as the 7000, which is to say quite a bit. It wasn't as bad as the Toshiba in this regard, but worse than the LG, the Sony XBR8 and the Samsung B750 at maintaining black level integrity when seen from angles as tame as one seat to the right or left of the sweet spot on the couch. Color shift was minimal, however, and bright areas, as usual, maintained off-angle integrity better than dark ones.
Bright lighting: When we turned up the lights and opened the shades in our testing facility, it became obvious that the 8000's glossy screen behaved much like those of other Samsung sets. It reflected significantly more ambient light than the matte-screened Sony and LG LCDs, or even than either of the plasmas. As a result, lights that were caught in the screen, or brighter objects like this reviewer's light blue jeans, appeared brighter and more distracting than on those other displays. On the flipside, the Samsung was definitely superior to the plasmas, and to the matte LCDs to a much lesser extent, at preserving black levels and contrast under bright lighting.
Standard definition: The UNB8000 evinced generally solid standard-def picture quality. According to our tests, the display handled every line of a DVD source, and the shots of grass and steps from the detail test looked good. The set eliminated jaggies from video-based sources well, and its noise reduction cleaned up the lowest-quality shots of skies and sunset with aplomb. Finally it passed the 2:3 pulldown test by eliminating moire from the stands behind the race car.
PC: Samsung's UNB8000 series delivered excellent performance with both HDMI and VGA sources from comp