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Samsung UNES8000 review: Samsung UNES8000

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Samsung also has a few relatively rich proprietary apps, like Family Story, which is a way to "share photos, memos, and family events stored in the cloud," Fitness and Kids (both with custom VOD), and a Social TV app combining Facebook, Twitter, and Google Talk in a bar alongside live TV. There's also a new AllShare Play app coming soon to enable the TV to grab files from the cloud. Samsung still boasts the best browser we've tested on any TV, although it's slower and more frustrating to use than the browser on a laptop, tablet, or phone.

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Our favorite proprietary app is Your Video, because it features a cross-app search that can now hit Netflix in addition to Vudu. HBO Go and Hulu Plus don't show up in its results, however, and neither do your own TV listings. It shows other information, too, like biographical and production notes, acting as a sort of IMDb Lite. There's a separate "search all" option that hits local files (DLNA/AllShare), Your Video, YouTube, Facebook, Samsung Apps, history, and the Web browser -- and happily you can disable any of those search targets.

I complained that Samsung's interface was too crowded and overwhelming this year, and that's still the case. You can only customize the bottom half, and even then many of the icons can't be deleted. While response time could be speedy, just as often I encountered hitches and balkiness, despite the dual-core processor (and I bet the single-core Smart TVs run noticeably slower). I prefer the simpler look and customization of Panasonic's interface, for example, but there's no denying that Samsung's is more advanced.

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Picture settings: As in previous years Samsung provides one of the best picture adjustment suites for both 2D and 3D sources, delivering extras like a 10-point grayscale and superb color management that many TVs lack. As usual I appreciated the Custom setting in the Auto Motion Plus dejudder control, which let me dial in my preferred amount of smoothing (none) and motion resolution (full). Full adjustments are also available in Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu and HBO Go.

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Connectivity: The back panel includes three HDMI ports, which is one fewer than last year and may necessitate employment of an external HDMI switch or AV receiver in more elaborate home theaters. Three USB ports should satisfy even the most inveterate accessory mavens, however. The single component/composite-video input doesn't require use of a breakout cable, while the second composite-only input does. There's no VGA-style PC input, so you'll have to use HDMI if you want to connect a computer.

Picture quality (How we test TVs)
Last year I complained that Samsung's then-flagship LED TV, the UND8000 series, failed to live up to its flagship TV picture quality promise, and that's again largely the case with the UNES8000.

The new ES actually delivers slightly worse black levels than its predecessor (I'll chalk that up to its new nondimming Micro Dimming scheme) but outdoes its color and screen uniformity. Despite its strengths, the UNES8000 was outperformed not only by less-expensive plasmas, but also by the similarly priced Sony HX850 and the much cheaper Sharp LC-60LE640U LED sets.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration. Update August 1, 2012: I tried an alternate calibration after learning of a potential issue with how Micro Dimming behaves. It doesn't change this review substantially since Movie, the mode I used for the original evaluation below, is still the best mode for this TV. I have updated the settings post with more information.

Comparison models (details)
Sony KDL-55HX850 55-inch LED
Panasonic TC-L47WT50 47-inch LED
Sharp LC-60LE640U 60-inch LED
Samsung UN55D8000 55-inch LED
Samsung PN60E8000 60-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P65VT50 (reference) 65-inch plasma

Black level: The UNES8000 did not produce a very deep shade of black. Among the TVs in our lineup it was outperformed by all aside from the Panasonic WT50, which was significantly worse. The UND8000 got a bit darker, but the two were close enough in most scenes to be indistinguishable outside of a side-by-side comparison.

The UNES8000's weakness came through most in very dark scenes, such as the pan over Central Park at night from "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" (5:25), where its shadow-shrouded trees and letterbox bars appeared quite a bit lighter and less realistic than either the Sony or the Sharp, not to mention the plasmas. When Oskar runs the metal detector over the ground (5:46), the set showed that characteristic cloudy quality of light black levels -- a quality the blacker sets lacked.

Shadow detail was OK; those tree branches appeared with better detail than on the two other Samsung sets, for example, and about as realistically as on the Sharp, although the rest of the sets looked marginally better in this area.

Like many LCDs, and some plasmas, the UNES8000 fades completely to black (its backlight shuts off) when fed a black signal. The abrupt backlight switch-off, and then back on, happened quite quickly and became distracting when watching certain program material, like the black-fade-happy intro from "Watchmen." Interestingly the UND8000 didn't have this issue, although the E8000 plasma (along with the Sharp and the Panasonic WT50) did.

Color accuracy: Certainly the Samsung's strength, color looked extremely accurate and lifelike overall. Unlike most LED TVs I've tested the Samsung avoids the trap of appearing slightly blue in comparison to plasma TVs. Watching Wimbledon tennis in a brighter room, the UNES8000 looked more saturated and pleasing than any of the other LED sets, for example in the green of the grass and the dark blue of the backdrop.

I saw similar excellent colors in skin tones, for example the faces of Oskar and the school children heading home in "Incredibly" (9:46). In comparison, the D8000 looked a bit ruddy; both the Sony and Sharp evinced slightly paler, bluer touches, while the Panasonic WT50 again trailed. Only the VT50 looked better in this scene, and that was mainly due to its superior saturation.

Very dark areas, particularly in the letterbox bars and other near-black sections; did bring out the bluish tinge on the UNES8000. The Sony and Sharp LCDs, helped again by their deeper shades of black, looked more accurate.

Video processing: The UNES8000 has the best video processing of any TV this year, mainly because of its numerous options that perform well. First and most important, it delivers the correct cadence for 1080p/24 film-based material, namely when Auto Motion Plus (AMP) is set to either Off or Custom with a 0 on the "judder reduction" slider. Other AMP settings affected film cadence negatively to my eye; Clear showed the slightly halting cadence of 2:3 pull-down, which is still preferable to the buttery smoothness of Standard and the buttery-while-listening-to-Kenny G smoothness of Smooth.

If you happen to like smoothness, aka the "soap opera effect," you'll appreciate that Custom's "judder reduction" slider actually works well to gradually make the image smoother in subtle stages as you move from 0 to 10 -- in contrast to other makers' TVs, which don't offer nearly that level of customization. The move from 0 to 1 on the slider was actually so subtle that I, an admitted film cadence purist, was half-tempted to watch at 1 instead, since it took a bit of the "edge" off the most juddery sequences.

In terms of motion resolution all modes, with the exception of Off, delivered the full 1,200 lines in my test, and Clear looked the best of the bunch, with a bit less trailing than the rest. To get the full resolution I set Custom's "blur reduction slider" to 10. If you've been paying attention, that means that in Custom, at 0 "judder reduction" and 10 "blur reduction" the UNES8000 actually delivered full motion resolution and correct film cadence, a feat few TVs can match.

Finally the Samsung passed my 1080i de-interlacing test with its Film Mode set to Auto1, not to the default Auto 2 setting.

Uniformity: Last year's UND8000 has some of the worst screen uniformity I've ever seen, so by that measure the ES8000 sample I reviewed showed a big improvement -- but it's still not very good. Its edges were still brighter than the middle but in most dark scenes the difference was only discernible in the bright corners of the letterbox bars, not the content itself. That changed with darker full-frame films, like "Hugo," where those brighter corners were clearly visible at times. The extreme bottom edge also appeared brighter than the rest of the screen, but it was subtle.

The ES8000 didn't show the banding and brighter splotches nearly as badly as I saw on the D8000, and also looked a bit more uniform than the Sharp -- although it was almost a toss-up between the two, which both still show minor splotches in the darkest scenes and test patterns. The Panasonic WT50 and Sony were both better at maintaining a uniform image across the screen, as as usual the plasmas were best.

From off-angle the UNES8000 was about average for an LCD, with no clear advantage over the others. The Sharp and Sony, I believe by virtue of superior starting black level, looked best in dark scenes from either side. The WT50 did a better job than any of the other LCDs at maintaining fidelity from the sides, but it was so poor at initial black level the others still looked better -- unless I sat at a relatively extreme angle.

Bright lighting: Like the other glossy screen LCDs, the UNES8000 captured reflections like a dim mirror. Watching dark scenes under overhead lighting, I could see my reflection (and that of other bright objects in the room) quite clearly, which was a distraction at times. The Sony, Panasonic WT50, and UND8000 were very similar in this regard, while the matte Sharp and both of the plasmas showed dimmer, and thus less distracting, reflections.

Conversely the UNES8000 was superb at maintaining black-level performance under the lights; in dark scenes its disadvantage compared with the Sony, for example, was much less obvious, and it clearly outdid the Samsung plasma. That said the other LCDs also maintained black quite well, as did the VT50 plasma which, after the Sharp, had the best overall bright-room picture in the lineup.

3D: Since the predecessor to this TV, the UND8000, is my reference active 3D TV for crosstalk reduction, I expected good things from the UNES8000. I wasn't disappointed; both are equally good at delivering 3D images that are nearly free of ghosting.

My crosstalk torture test is "Hugo," and both Samsung LEDs looked better than any of the others in my lineup when I viewed problem areas like Hugo's hand as it reaches for the toy mouse (5:01), the tuning pegs on the guitar (7:49), and the face of the dog as it watches the inspector slide by (9:24). In these areas the ghostly double-image was almost invisible. On the other hand I did see more crosstalk on Méliès sleeve (4:18) both Samsung LEDs than on the others -- but this instance was rare compared with other places where the Samsungs clearly excelled.

I also appreciated that the default image in the ES8000's Movie mode was brighter than any of the others, which gave it more impact in the dark room, especially over the dimmer plasmas. Of course the other LEDs can also be brightened by adjusting the picture settings -- I don't perform calibrations for my 3D tests, so I judge everything using the default settings. In those settings the ES8000's color was also very good, with superior saturation over the two Panasonics. Black levels were so-so, and compared with the lineup about the same as with 2D.

One downside to the brighter image was that it revealed the UNES8000's uniformity issues more plainly than if its picture was dimmer. I saw brighter corners in many places, for example, like when Hugo stares out of the clock's 4 (3:54).

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0108 Average
Avg. gamma 2.24 Good
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.2902/0.3012 Average
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3116/0.3269 Good
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.3134/0.3289 Good
Before avg. color temp. 6575 Good
After avg. color temp. 6482 Good
Red lum. error (de94_L) 0.1585 Good
Green lum. error (de94_L) 0.1489 Good
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 0.3712 Good
Cyan hue x/y 0.226/0.332 Good
Magenta hue x/y 0.3196/0.1521 Good
Yellow hue x/y 0.4182/0.5094 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 1200 Good

---- Samsung UN55ES8000 CNET review calibration results

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