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It might surprise you to learn that mighty Samsung, the dominant force in TVs for the last few years, has a less-than-dominant history in CNET TV reviews. The company's last two top-of-the-line LED LCD series, the UND8000 and UNES8000, produced "just OK" picture quality on a level with many other makers' midrange sets that cost much, much less money. We expect high-end TVs to produce pictures that match their daring designs and kitchen sink features, and when they don't, we dock 'em.
Samsung's flagship non-4K LED LCD for 2013, the UNF8000 series, lives up to its price tag. This TV is the complete package, a futuristic combination that oozes coolness. The company managed to outdo the beautiful styling of last year's model with an even more minimalist panel and stand -- it even shrunk the logo, a move that probably gave the marketing department fits. No other TV boasts a better feature set, in both quality and quantity, and while some of the myriad extras don't work as well as I'd like to see, the whole feels more thoughtful and well integrated than ever. The biggest improvement, however, came in the form of deep black levels and a uniform screen, both thanks to a well-implemented edge-lit local dimming system that the company's less expensive TVs lack.
As usual the best plasmas still have it beat, but the only other 2013 LED we've placed in its picture quality league so far is the Sony KDL-55W900A -- and fresh off a massive price drop, the Sony is also a comparable value. It's available only in one 55-inch size, however, and it can't compete with the Samsung's design, features, or sheer wow factor. If you're in the high-end TV market and don't want a plasma, the Samsung UNF8000 should be among the first on your list.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch Samsung UN55F8000, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|Samsung UN46F8000||46 inches|
|Samsung UN55F8000 (reviewed)||55 inches|
|Samsung UN60F8000||60 inches|
|Samsung UN65F8000||65 inches|
|Samsung UN75F8000||75 inches|
Except perhaps for ultrathin OLEDs, I've never seen a TV more stunningly minimalist than the Samsung UNF8000. I keep wondering when the company's intrepid TV designs will simply vanish except for the picture. The hairline bezel of the F8000 is so narrow it somehow makes last year's ES8000 -- a TV I called "one of the most beautiful TV designs you can buy" -- look kinda chunky.
The bezel is not only thinner now, it's mostly black instead of silver adjacent to the screen, and the shape is no longer rounded off. A ribbon of silver runs along the edge, widening on the bottom to accommodate the admirably tiny, albeit very well lit, Samsung logo. As always I appreciated being able to adjust when the logo lit up or turn it off altogether.
Part of the magic of the F8000's design is also its biggest weakness: the stand. Depending on the height of your tabletop it can disappear, leaving the TV to levitate above. And not far above -- the TV measures just 1.5 inches between the bottom of its frame and the tabletop, the lowest profile of any TV I can remember (it has the Sony W802/900A beat by 1/8 inch). Only a pair of curved feet peek out at the extreme edges to either side; they're actually the ends of the base, most of which arcs behind the set. Needless to say, it doesn't allow the TV to swivel.
It also requires a table as wide as the TV itself. As long as you follow the manual's grave instructions to not let those little feet protrude over the edges of your tabletop, it's plenty stable. But try placing it on a narrower stand, like I did, and you risk the thing toppling ignominiously over. Like mine did. I got lucky; there was no damage, but take that as a warning.
The remote is even more remarkable than the stand. Samsung's recent flagship TVs included daring if disappointing clickers, from the chunky QWERTY flipper of the D8000 to the unresponsive touch pad of the E8000. The company totally redesigned the touch pad this year, and it's a massive improvement. Despite a few flaws and the need for a learning curve, in many ways it's the best remote control included with any TV I've ever used.
It's small, with just a few buttons above and below a spacious pad, but it fit perfectly in my hand. The remote uses Bluetooth to work without needing to be aimed at the TV. Responsiveness was superb and I found myself merrily swiping along large menus and rarely missing my selection. Convenient slider bars above and on either side of the pad worked perfectly to scroll past pages at a time. The whole pad depressed with a satisfying click when I made a selection, although (nitpick alert) a laptop touch-pad-style tap-to-click, like Panasonic's touch-pad remote uses, would be even better. In total navigation was faster, almost as accurate and, I gotta admit, much more fun than with a standard remote.
The main flaw of Samsung's clever clicker comes with its lack of buttons. The few that are included have raised, uniquely tactile shapes and useful backlighting, but to improve the remote's size, design and perceived simplicity, plenty of common keys go missing. To enter numbers, for example, you have to hit the More button, which calls up a numeric keypad (below) that requires tedious swiping around to select each digit. You can also "rotate" the keypad -- it's fastest to use the top slider bar -- to access additional controls, such as transport functions (play, pause, stop, and so on), Picture-in-picture, an Info screen, various set-top-box controls, and, well, more.
Most traditional remotes have dedicated keys for these functions, and how much you'll miss them depends on how you typically use your TV remote. For example, I rarely need to dial in channels directly, but I do use the fast-forward, skip, and play/pause keys all the time when watching TV (e.g., controlling my DVR). That's a massive pain with Samsung's remote (see below).
Like most Smart TVs, Samsung has two distinct menu systems, one for the TV's settings and one for the Smart functionality. The former are exactly the same as last year: opaque blue layers logically arranged and featuring helpful explanations, a nifty preview pane, and very quick navigation, thanks in no small part to the remote.
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit with local dimming|
|Screen finish||Glossy||Remote||Touch pad|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||4 pair|
|Refresh rate(s)||240Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
The UNF8000 series is Samsung's highest-end LED-based LCD TV for 2013 that doesn't cost $40,000 or have a 4K (UHD) resolution screen. Samsung, in turn, seems to have a pathological need to "outfeature" the competition. So you won't be surprised to learn that this TV has more features than pretty much any other on the market.
First, let's look at what I actually consider important: features that affect picture quality. The main advantage over the step-down UNF7500 series is a feature Samsung is calling "Micro Dimming Ultimate with Precision Black Local Dimming," as opposed to mere Micro Dimming Pro on the UNF7500. The difference, according to Samsung, is that the UNF8000 actually dims different areas of the backlight, while the dimming of the 7500 and lesser Samsung TVs (down to the UNF6400 series) is strictly video-processing-based. The company claims there are hundreds of different dimming zones on the UNF8000 -- down from "thousands" touted at CES, if you're keeping track.
Like the F7500, the F8000 has a panel with a 240Hz refresh rate, even though the former has a "Clear Motion Rate" of 960 compared with 1,200 on the F8000. According to Samsung, the difference is because the F8000 has superior backlight scanning, by virtue of its local dimming scheme. Otherwise the two TVs have nearly identical picture-related feature sets.
The two Samsungs share much of the same nonpicture feature set otherwise, including the pop-up camera, quad-core processor, the full Smart TV suite described below, the same remote, and voice control.
The F8000 continues Samsung's tradition of including four pairs of active 3D glasses in the box. The new SSG-5100GB specs are slight retreads of the SSG-4100GBs from last year with no real improvement made to their flimsy design, but at least additional pairs are cheap. Panasonic and Sony's throw-ins, for what it's worth, are better. Since the F8000 adheres to the universal standard, you can always purchase other glasses.
The set will also be compatible with future Smart Evolution kits. Acting as a sort of brain transplant, the kits debuted this year to upgrade the company's flagship 2012 TVs. Samsung promises a semblance of future-proofing for its most expensive TVs by offering a similar kit for the F8000 in early 2014, as well as "years down the road."
Samsung's Smart Hub offers the usual array of apps, social media hooks and access to local content, but that stuff is presented as secondary to an ambitious "On TV" section. Available from no other TV maker I've tested yet (although LG has something similar this year), it basically attempts to replace your cable or satellite box with the TV's own interface -- and when it can't do that, at least control the box via Samsung's own remote.
The Hub's new design is reminiscent of an Android smartphone, with five different home pages you can flip through by swiping the remote touch pad's scroll bar. Navigation and the slick animations were superquick on the quad-core F8000, although I wouldn't be surprised if step-down Samsungs moved a bit more sluggishly. Overall the design is refreshing, colorful, and relatively simple, a welcome change from the cluttered feel of the company's previous Smart TV suite. It's also a big step up in design from Panasonic's multipage suite, although it doesn't provide the quite same level of customization.
Setup: Like many new TVs, Samsung greets new users with a step-by-step guided setup, which I usually don't describe. In this case, however, it's unusual enough to merit mention. First, it's accompanied by strange Muzak. Second, it's quite involved, including setup not only for Wi-Fi but also for cable box control, and requires you to choose your provider from a list. I wasn't sure which channel lineup to choose between the two different options for Verizon Fios, so I just picked one.
Once you get it set up, you're taken to the default home page for the Smart Hub. Unfortunately, as with Panasonic's 2013 TVs, you'll be greeted with this page every time you turn on the TV. A tweak from the default (Menu>Smart Features>On TV Settings>Auto Start>Off) is enough to fix it, but it's still annoying. At least there are no pop-up ads.
On TV and Recommendation engine: The default Smart Hub home page, On TV, consists of a grid of TV show thumbnails along with a large window showing live TV. Below each thumbnail is a progress bar showing time remaining. You can also switch to a "timeline view," which displays a list of five shows for every hour. (New since I reviewed the PNF8500, you can also call up a traditional grid guide of channels, above, but it's so simplistic, down to its poor navigation and pointless scheduled TV channel tuning, that most cable box guides have it beat.)
On TV's default view replaces that staid grid guide of hundreds of channels with a few cozy images of your favorite TV stars. As you use the system to select shows, Samsung's "recommendation engine" kicks in to surface more shows it thinks you'll want to watch. I didn't spend much time trying to make those recs make sense for me, but as someone who doesn't watch much TV beyond sports and the occasional series like "Mad Men" and "Dexter," I probably wouldn't be a good subject. I usually know what I want to watch, and I don't need suggestions from the likes of TiVo (one service that has incorporated "suggestions" for years) or Samsung.
I also wouldn't normally use On TV to select my shows, because most of the TV I watch is stored on my DVR's hard drive. That list of recordings isn't incorporated into On TV at all, so On TV has no idea which of them I watch and can't make suggestions based upon them. For people like me, who almost never watch live TV, Samsung's attempt to replace the cable box simply doesn't work.
Even someone who watches a lot of live TV and doesn't know what they want to see will experience some hiccups with the system. One issue is that the On TV page shows just six shows each under Now Playing and Coming Up; If you want to browse more than that, you have to turn to the Guide view or, more likely, your cable box's trusty EPG (electronic program guide). I'm happy to see Samsung seems to have fixed another I experienced on the F8500: the TV now tunes to the HD channel by default, not the standard-def one (this issue may vary too, depending on your cable provider).
Cable box control: Ever the attentive readers of CNET reviews, the fine folks at Samsung made a few improvements to their cable box control scheme since I reviewed the PNF8500. They added a bunch of codes and button associations to make the system more usable with my FioS DVR box from Motorola. I have no idea whether they've also improved usage with other brands of DVR though, and while the changes are welcome, the basic problem still remains: Samsung's remote is still too inconvenient for my DVR-heavy use case. I'll stick with my favorite standard universal clicker.
Samsung's system uses a single, old-school wired IR blaster (above) to send commands from the TV to the cable box, and response times were very quick for such a system. Samsung's remote navigated my DVR's menus and EPG nicely, entered channel numbers as expected (complete with a handy channel history list) and items like a swipe-to-fast-forward were nice. Unlike when I first tested the system with the F8500, all of the cable box commands from the virtual remote -- chiefly transport controls like Forward Skip and Play, as well as the remote's formerly unresponsive "DVR" key -- now appear to work properly. Unfortunately the Guide key on the remote calls up Samsung's simplistic grid guide, not the superior EPG on my DVR.
Keep in mind that getting it right is simply a matter of Samsung putting the correct remote control codes in its database and associating them with the correct physical or virtual buttons. Since the system (unlike, say, a Harmony universal remote) doesn't have learning capability, you need to depend on Samsung to do it. Your results may vary from mine if Samsung hasn't yet added or corrected the codes for your DVR or cable/satellite box.
Even after the system has the correct commands, it's still painfully inconvenient to use the virtual remote for everyday DVR-ing. That's because transport controls reside on the virtual remote (above) instead of earning a dedicated key. Every time I wanted to Play again to stop fast-forwarding after a commercial break, for example, I had to enact the following sequence: More > [swipe right] > [down] > [right] > Select. That's a massive pain compared with just mashing a real Play button on a regular remote.
Although there's another setup routine designed to control other devices, I was unable to get it working properly when I tested it for my F8500 review (I didn't retest it for this review, however). The system failed to fully control my Denon receiver, for example, and even when it worked, the Volume keys on the remote controlled the TV's volume, not the receiver's. Again, there's no way to reprogram Samsung's remote to perform these functions.
Cross-platform streaming video browse: The second page, called "Movies & TV Shows," is a portal to Internet-based streaming video services -- despite the name, it doesn't surface any cable-based TV shows. The recommendation engine works here, too, to suggest new content based on past selections. Choose a TV show and you're taken to a page listing related shows, cast information, a description, and a "Watch Now" button. Clicking it will show you results from Netflix, Vudu, CinemaNow, and Samsung's Media Hub, along with per-episode pricing. Unfortunately, Amazon (including Prime), Hulu Plus, and HBO Go aren't included in the results; you'll have to go into the individual apps to search those.
Update: I originally wrote that there's no way to search the system without using voice commands. Turns out you can, but it's hidden. Hitting the "recomm search" area on the remote once brings up recommended shows. Hitting it a second time quickly thereafter brings up a virtual keyboard for searching. Unlike voice search, however, results from your cable service won't show up in these search results--only results from those same four Internet-based streaming video services will appear.
Media and Social: The fourth page accesses music, photo and video content, whether from an attached USB thumb or hard drive, DLNA device (NAS drive or PC) or smartphone, or the cloud. Naturally the TV is compatible with Samsung's AllShare system, and it can also access cloud storage from DropBox, SkyDrive, and SugarSynch, as well as work with MHL and Miracast to screen mirror-compatible smartphones. I didn't test this functionality, nor did I test Samsung's remote control apps for tablets and smartphones.
The fifth page is called "Social," and it's filled by default with YouTube clips. You can link it to Facebook, Twitter, and Skype accounts, which seems mildly interesting. When I did so, however, the only things that surfaced were "Friends' Pick" on Facebook, and there was no easy access to tweet or post status updates. I tried the "Friends" tab but the message "no content found" appeared when I tried to check for tweets and status updated. As it stands, except for easy Skype access, this page is even more useless than I'd expect from "social" on a Smart TV.
Apps and Web browser: Samsung's selection, available on the fifth page, is second to none, and it's still the only TV maker with HBO Go. Other notable apps among the hundreds available include Spotify, Fios TV, Amazon Cloud Player, a Camera app, and Samsung's Explore 3D app. There's a cool Fitness VOD app that you can use in conjunction with the camera to put yourself alongside a workout coach on screen, a robust multigame/activity Kids app, and many, many more.
The page design, which is basically a bunch of small icons again reminiscent of a smartphone screen, is much cleaner than before. "Recommended" apps appear above a large editable grid of "My Apps" in the bottom area. Most of the important apps come preinstalled, and the chaff is all happily hidden inside the Samsung Apps section one layer down.
The Web browser is the best I've used on any TV, thanks in large part to the touch pad remote. The scrollbars work as they should, the Return key is a handy shortcut for Back, and the virtual keyboard makes entering URLs and search terms as easy as possible with its smart suggestions for letters, terms and sites. CNET.com loaded quickly enough, including comments, and the browser passed this Flash support test.
Of course, you'll experience even less frustration if you connect an external wireless keyboard. The TV can pair with a Bluetooth keyboard or mouse; I used two versions of the Samsung Wireless Keyboard (VG-KDB1000 and VG-KDB1500) that worked great, and the set should also work with newer KDB2000 models, too. I was also able to use a cheaper wireless USB keyboard, the Logitech K400, whose touch pad worked just as well as the Samsungs'. It's true when they say that all functions might not work within all apps, however; I was unable to type search terms into Amazon Instant or Netflix using either keyboard (although arrow-key navigation and Enter worked fine, for example).
Voice and gesture control: If you got this far expecting a thorough evaluation of what Samsung claims is new and improved control via voice and gestures, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I didn't test those features at all for this review, so I can't say one way or the other whether the F8000 improves on last year's effort. Stay tuned for that.
Picture settings: In true Samsung tradition, there's plenty on tap here, including 2-point and 10-point grayscale control, an excellent color management system, and four picture presets. Samsung's class-leading Auto Motion Plus dejudder control not only turns the Soap Opera Effect on or off, it allows adjustment of both blur reduction and smoothness -- and new for this year includes a setting called LED Clear Motion that improved motion resolution further. Meanwhile there are three levels of Smart LED to control local dimming and a Cinema Black toggle designed to just dim the letterbox bars of ultra-wide-screen movies. I can't really ask for anything more.
Connectivity: Nothing major goes missing here. Four HDMI ports, three USB, and an optical digital output do the digital heavy lifting, while analog video is served by a single component-video port that's shared with composite video. There's no VGA-style PC input, but there is a port for the included wired IR blaster.
If you're allergic to plasma, an LED-based LCD that performs as well as the Samsung UNF8000 isn't a bad consolation prize. No, it can't reach the lofty heights of plasmas like the Panasonic VT60 or Samsung's own F8500, but it's still an excellent all-around performer, and the second-best LED LCD we've tested this year. The key is deep black levels, thanks to local dimming, combined with color as accurate and video processing as versatile as any TV on the market. It's not quite as good as its 55-inch rival from Sony, the KDL-W900A, but I'd be surprised if any other LED, with the possible exception of Sony's exorbitant 4K models, matched the UNF8000's picture this year.
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.
|Sony KDL-55W900A||55-inch LED LCD|
|Panasonic TC-L55WT60||55-inch LED LCD|
|Sony KDL-55HX850||55-inch LED LCD|
|Samsung UN55ES8000||55-inch LED LCD|
|Samsung PN60F8500||60-inch plasma|
|Panasonic TC-P60VT60||60-inch plasma|
Black level: The UNF8000 delivers the best performance in this category of any edge-lit Samsung LED TV yet, surpassing last year's ES8000 and its predecessors by a wide margin. That said it's still not quite as good as Sony's best edge-lit sets, namely the HX850 and W900A.
The numerous nighttime cityscapes in "Skyfall" provided plenty of good fodder. Shanghai in the beginning of Chapter 11 showed that letterbox bars of the F8000 were a touch darker (better) than those of the two Sonys -- largely thanks to the Cinema Black feature, which is specifically designed to dim the bars -- and that increased its apparent "pop" and contrast. But between the bars, where black levels matter even more, the Sonys consistently got a bit darker, for better overall impact and picture quality. The black areas of the Shanghai buildings, and later the silhouette of Bond fighting the sniper (49:27), appeared just slightly more realistic on the Sonys, although the F8000 was quite close, and the difference would be tough to discern outside a side-by-side comparison.
Meanwhile the ES8000 was the lightest overall, and vied for the Panasonic WT60 for worst in the lineup. The latter actually got darker than any other set, including the plasmas, but its aggressive dimming crushed shadow detail severely. Of course the two plasmas, in particular the VT60, delivered the best combination of deep blacks and detailed shadows.
Speaking of shadows, the F8000 was also excellent at maintaining detail therein, from the face and jacket of the doomed sniper (49:45) to Bond's shadowy stroll the dim Macau bar (56:29). Shadows looked a bit more natural on the Sonys, but that's mainly due to their black level advantage. Blooming, where a white section of screen artificially brightens up an adjacent dark section, wasn't a major issue on either the Sonys or the Samsungs, and mainly cropped up with graphical elements, such as the PS3's Play icon in the letterbox bar. The WT60 showed significantly more blooming, and also dimmed the highlights way too much -- the latter also wasn't an issue on the Sonys or the F8000.
In case you're curious, turning Smart LED (dimming) off on the F8000 isn't advisable. In addition to the much worse black levels, the TV exhibited significant dark-field uniformity errors in that mode (see below). A setting of Low or better eliminated those problems; I chose Standard for its combination of flat gamma and excellent black levels, but all three (Low, Standard, and High) performed very well, unlike the various settings on most other dimming-capable sets.
Color accuracy: The F8000 showed the most accurate color of the year according to my charts, and in person its color was likewise superb. Skin tones, from M and Gareth's well-lit office discussion (18:14) to Bond and Severine's sultry shower scene (1:06:34) maintained a natural look without the slightly oversaturated appearance of the ES800 or the opposite, slightly paler look of the WT60 and HX850.
The plasmas and the Sony W900A did have a slight advantage in richness and punch, however, and the Sony was particularly strong in the blue-lit sniper fight in Chapter 11, as well as the highly saturated colors of the fruit, awnings and other bright colors in the market from Chapter 1. Again the F8000 was extremely good, though, and it would be tough to find any fault in its color outside of a side-by-side comparison. Thanks to its local dimming, it also manages to avoid the bluish shadows and blacks that plague so many lighter LED-based LCDs.
Video processing: The F8000 had another strong performance in this category. First and foremost it's capable of delivering true 1080p24 film cadence, as expected from any TV at this level. Unlike most of the other such LED LCD TVs, however, it can also deliver full motion resolution (1200 lines) at the same time -- you don't have to engage the oversmooth Soap Opera Effect to get optimum motion resolution.
On the Sony W900 and Panasonic WT60, no mode offers true film cadence with zero smoothing and full motion resolution. The former's Cinema Smooth: Clear mode comes closest, with the same excellent motion resolution score, but it has a touch of smoothing. The same goes for Motion smoother: Weak on the WT60, although at 900 lines, its motion resolution score is a bit worse than on the other two. Granted the differences are slight, and both of those competitors come close to the F8000's ideal, but neither quite matches it.
Of course if you're a fan of smoothing you might also appreciate the F8000's 10-point dejudder control under Custom for Auto Motion Plus, which enables you to dial in as much Soap Opera Effect as you like -- from "Downton Abbey" to "Days of Our Lives."
There's also a new LED Clear Motion setting under the Auto Motion Plus menu. Engaging it reduces light output very slightly, but has a positive effect on motion resolution, improving it from about 1080 lines on our test to the maximum 1200. I noticed no detrimental effects, so I kept it on.
As usual with Samsung, you'll need to select the Auto1 setting under Film Mode if you want correct 1080i deinterlacing of film-based sources; the default Auto 2 failed our test.
Updated September 23, 2013 In Game mode as of the latest firmware update (version 1112) the Samsung showed a decent input lag measurement of 46.8ms. That's about twice as good as the original score prior to the firmware update.
Uniformity: As long as you keep local dimming engaged, the F8000's dark-field uniformity is very good, if not quite at the same level as the Sony. Turning it Off, however, reveals a large cross-shaped dark area smack in the middle of the screen, quartering four large cloudy balls. In very the darkest content, for example, the black screen as the "Skyfall" credits start to roll or as the white Bond ball crosses the screen (Chapter 32), the artifact is very slightly visible even with local dimming engaged, but it's not distracting and you have to look hard to see it. There were no other notable uniformity issues in bright or dark fields.
From off-angle the F8000 and the Sonys lost fidelity (mainly black depth and color purity) at about the same rate -- much faster than the WT60, which was among the best LCDs I've ever seen in this department. Of course, the plasmas didn't lose any fidelity from the side, and maintained perfect uniformity across the screen.
Bright lighting: Like any glossy LED-based LCD, the F8000's main issue in bright rooms is reflections. Bright objects caught in its screen, for example a lamp, a white couch or even a white shirt work by a viewer, reflect from the mirrorlike screen finish all too well and can prove quite distracting. Reflections appeared dimmer (better) in the plasmas and in the two 2012 LCDs, about the same as the W800, and slightly brighter (worst) on the WT60.
The F8000 is still a better performer in bright rooms than the plasmas, however, due to its superior light output and its ability to preserve black levels under the lights. Blacks looked slightly punchier on it (and the W900A) than on any of the other sets, although the plasmas were the worst of the bunch in this regard.
As expected the plasmas were also the dimmest in terms of "torch mode," or maximum light output. In its Dynamic picture mode the F8000 produces a searing 127 fL, the best of the 2013 models in my lineup -- the WT60 got to 123 and the Sony to 107 -- and much brighter than even the F8500 plasma at 83 fL. The LEDs also maintain that light output with full-screen white (think hockey or a browser screen), while the plasmas attenuate. To put the numbers in some perspective, however, 83fL is still plenty bright for even the brightest rooms, and the VT60's maximum of 49 is bright enough for the vast majority of normal living rooms. But as usual, if you can't control ambient light and have a very bright room, or just prefer a witheringly bright TV image, an LED like the F8000 is a better bet than plasma.
Sound quality: Aside from the VT60, the F8000 was the best-sounding TV in my lineup. No, it didn't sound good compared to even the cheapest sound bar or other dedicated audio system, but it was more than competent for a TV, especially one with this sliver-like form factor. Watching the concussive explosions of "Mission: Impossible 3," the F8000 delivered more impact and visceral feel than the chronically thin-sounding W900A and WT60, but couldn't compete with the much fuller-sounding, powerful VT60 plasma. With music, the other two LEDs sounded less distinct, like they were further down a well, than the F8000. Meanwhile the F8500 plasma also sounded considerably muddier and worse than the F8000 LED with both sources, again suffering more from the "well" effect.
3D: My reference for active 3D picture quality is the 2012 UNES8000, and while the F8000 is also very good at 3D, it doesn't quite match its predecessor in this department. The main difference is in reduction of crosstalk, that artifact where onscreen objects show a faint, ghostly outline.
I compared the F8000 to the lineup using "Hugo," my favorite 3D torture test. Compared to the ES8000, the F8000 showed a slightly more noticeable outline around certain onscreen objects, for example Hugo's hand (5:01), the tuning pegs on the guitar and head of the guitarist (7:49), and the outlines of Hugo and Isabelle as they talk at night under the snow (17:01). The difference was subtle, however, and the F8000 was still second-best in the group followed closely by the plasmas. Meanwhile, the Sony was significantly worse in terms of crosstalk. As expected, the passive 3D WT60 was the best in this area, with no visible crosstalk.
The brighter image of 3D also made the F8000's uniformity issues noted above very slightly more visible. For example I saw some clouds in the shadows of the dark bulkhead (10:04) as well as slightly brighter corners. On the other hand uniformity wasn't as bad as the ES8000 with its even brighter corners. The Sony W900A showed no major uniformity problems in 3D.
Black levels were OK; worse than the F8500 but about the same as the Sony or the ES8000, while shadow detail was good. The WT60 and VT60 meanwhile produced a slightly deeper black but shadow detail was obscured on both. The F8000's color looked quite accurate in flowers face of vendor (25:43) and seemed more accurate than the F8500 and VT60, albeit similar to the other LEDs.
Panasonic and Sony's throw-in 3D glasses fit much better than Samsung's. The flimsy temples of the Samsung 5100GB's barely kept them secure on my head, especially when I wore my prescription glasses, and the design let in a substantial amount of light from the side. At least they were very light.
|GEEK BOX: Test||Result||Score|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.001||Good|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.19||Good|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||0.417||Good|
|Dark gray error (20%)||0.238||Good|
|Bright gray error (70%)||0.209||Good|
|Avg. color error||0.853||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|1080i De-interlacing (film)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||1200||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||1200||Good|
|Input lag (Game mode)||46.8||Average|