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Samsung UNKU7000 series review: Heavy on style and smarts, lighter on picture quality

The KU7000 offers all of Samsung's newest convenience features, including a slick Smart TV system and the ability to control your gear, and it cuts an attractive figure. But the picture quality doesn't match similarly priced sets.

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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9 min read

Samsung TVs deserve credit for Smart TV innovation and futuristic design, and the KU7000 combines both for an affordable price.

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7.0

Samsung UNKU7000 series

The Good

The affordable KU7000 series showed accurate color and a good picture in bright rooms. Samsung incorporates unique device and smart-home control features, tied together with a simple remote and interface. The design is sleek and minimalist.

The Bad

In overall image quality it lags behind some similarly priced TVs.

The Bottom Line

Midrange buyers seeking a stylish, feature-filled 4K TV from a well-known brand will find plenty to like about the Samsung KU7000, but picture-first shoppers should look elsewhere.

It's the least expensive TV to feature the company's cool automatic device control system, which lets you command connected AV equipment using the TV's simple remote and zero programming. It can operate SmartThings-compatible smart home devices like lights and thermostats, and even simplifies your cable box and streaming-app interfaces. All with style that's sleek and modern.

So far, so good, and for many buyers, especially those who value Samsung's brand cachet, that's plenty. Right about now, however, I'm imagine a typical CNET reader would mutter: "Stop talking about the design and features, Katzmaier, and tell me about the picture." Soon enough, but first, look at these slides.

Samsung UNKU7000 series (pictures)

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Back? OK. Remember that Samsung has a premium line of TVs it calls SUHD. But in 2015, the company's JU7100 -- technically a step down from the SUHD line -- actually delivered comparable picture quality to its SUHD big brother, the JS8500. But that happy occurrence isn't being repeated for 2016: Comparing the KU7000 reviewed here directly with the 2016 SUHD step-up, model KS8000, the latter model was the clear winner. It gets brighter and darker, looks better in a dim and in bright rooms, and has better color. (And, of course, it costs a lot more.)

Then there's Vizio. The 2016 M series costs about as much as the KU7000, and Samsung trounces Vizio in design and ease of use -- despite Vizio's included Android tablet-based remote, it feels less futuristic to use than the KU7000. On the other hand, the Vizio beats the Samsung at the most important thing a TV can do: producing a beautiful picture.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 65-inch Samsung UN65KU7000, 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.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Signature sweet Samsung style

One of the main reasons to pay up for Samsung is for nice design, and even the midrange KU7000 benefits. The dark gray metallic frame is thin, but not razor-thin like on some other sets. The small Samsung logo matches the quiet discretion of the rest of the TV, and the stand is a svelte splayed pedestal in darker black.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

I also like the remote. It's small enough to fit any hand yet feels substantial. Bumps, depressions and logical placement make finding keys by feel with a thumb as easy as on any clicker I've ever used. I'm an especially big fan of the raised flanges for volume and channel. I would have appreciated backlighting, however, as well as a few more keys -- in particular dedicated fast-forward, rewind and skip keys.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Automatic control, smarter TV

Samsung's novel control system allows the TV's remote to command a lot of your home theater gear, including a cable box, without any tedious setup. Simply plugging in a device during initial TV setup is often enough to get the TV to recognize it and completely set up control using Samsung's TV remote. This unique auto setup ability worked for a little over half the ones I tried when I reviewed it with the KS8000 (I didn't retest it for this review).

You'll need to plug your stuff directly into the TV, so if your setup incorporates an AV receiver it won't work. The system mostly relies on infrared commands sent from Samsung's remote, so you'll need line-of-sight to control most devices (if your stuff is hidden in a cabinet, it won't work).

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Sarah Tew/CNET

In the end I'd stick with my Harmony, but people with simpler systems that use supported devices should be fine using just Samsung's remote to control everything.

Samsung also revamped its Smart TV system with a friendlier design. App coverage isn't as comprehensive as on Android TV (on Sony sets) or Roku TV, but it's better than LG. If your streaming tastes go beyond the basic apps, you will probably still need to connect an external device like a Roku or Apple TV.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung incorporates content more seamlessly than other TVs, though. Click the Home button and you'll be able to browse content from within apps like Netflix and Hulu while your current video keeps playing in the background. The menu even serves suggestions and, on some apps, lets you resume stuff you were watching previously.

For more details on the control system and Smart TV, check out the KS8000 review.

Key TV features

Display technology: LED LCD
LED backlight: Edge-lit
Resolution: 4K
HDR compatible: HDR10
Screen shape: Flat
Smart TV: Tizen
Remote: Standard
3D-capable: No

Features

The KU lacks most of the picture-related extras of its SUHD compatriots, including Quantum Dots, "1,000 nits" of brightness and local dimming. Instead is a relatively standard 4K resolution set.

The "UHD Dimming" feature on this TV isn't true local dimming, but rather an algorithm Samsung says enhances contrast, color and detail. The KU7000 has an edge-lit LED backlight as opposed to the direct or full-array units found on some other TVs, which helps thin the cabinet but can negatively impact screen uniformity. has a panel with a 60Hz native resolution, not the 120Hz of step-up sets, which has an effect on motion handling. See the picture quality section for more on how these features affect the image.

The set supports HDR (high dynamic range) content in HDR10 format only. It lacks the Dolby Vision HDR support found on Vizio's and LG's 2016 HDR TVs. It's still too early to determine whether one HDR format is "better" than the other, and I definitely don't consider lack of Dolby Vision a deal breaker on this TV--instead it's just one more factor to consider.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity

  • 3x HDMI inputs with HDMI 2.0a, HDCP 2.2
  • 1x composite/component video input
  • 2x USB ports
  • Ethernet (LAN) port
  • Optical digital audio output
  • RF (antenna) input

No complaints here, and all three of its HDMI are state-of-the-art. Unlike the KS8000 and other more expensive Samsung TVs, the KU7000 actually includes an analog video input.

One of the USB ports, labeled IoT Extend, is designed to accept the company's SmartThings Extend control dongle. The dongles will allow the TVs to control SmartThings devices via an app on the TV. They were originally expected to ship this September, but now won't be available until early 2017, according to Samsung. They're free to owners of this TV who redeem a coupon included in the box. Maybe the integration of the platform into TVs will push Samsung to iron out some of SmartThings' glitches.

Picture quality

The KU7000's image was good, but not up to the standards of many TVs I've tested this year. Its relatively light black levels and subpar video processing were the biggest issues, and while I appreciated its accurate color and solid HDR image, they aren't enough to push its picture into "very good" territory.

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.

Dim lighting: In a dark home theater environment the KU7000 was the second-worst performer in the lineup. It produced a relatively light shade of black that made most video look less impactful and more washed-out than on every set but the Sony, which was the worst of the bunch.

Watching "Kingsman: The Secret Service," the letterbox bars and dark scenes, such as the barracks in Chapter 13 before they flood with water, didn't show the same level of contrast as seen on the others. A slight brightening along the edges of letterbox bars as also noticeable. Brighter scenes were less of an issue, but the difference in contrast between the KU7000 and the others was still apparent.

Shadow detail was very good, for example along the walls and the bedsheets of the recruits before they're rudely awakened by the rising tide. Of course, the lighter black levels made the shadows appear less realistic overall than on the others.

Bright lighting: In a bright room the KU7000 was solid but certainly not in the same league as the KS8000. Its light output was middle-of-the-LCD-pack, as you can see below, and like all TV's I've tested recently it's plenty bright for just about any room. With HDR sources it performed on par with the others, without the peak light levels of the KS8000.

Light output in nits

TV Mode (SDR)10% window (SDR)Full screen (SDR)Mode (HDR)10% window (HDR)
Samsung UN65KS8000 Dynamic618480Movie1346
Vizio P65-C1 Vivid502572Vivid486
Vizio M65-D0 Calibrated456450Vivid507
Samsung UN65KU7000 Dynamic452453Dynamic441
Sony XBR-65X850D Vivid427461HDR Video432
LG 55OLEDB6P Vivid367115HDR Vivid651

The KU7000's semimatte screen dimmed reflections better than a glossy one, but was still a bit worse at reducing reflections and maintaining black levels than the Vizios. The KS8000 and LG OLED were even better.

Color accuracy: The KU7000 measured well in this category both before and after calibration, and in my lineup colors looked quite accurate with program material. During "Kingsman," skin tones in indoor scenes and bright colors outdoors, for example the grass of the manor grounds and the blue sky during the dog training scene, looked true, if slightly less saturated and punchy than on many of the others. The difference was minor, however, and likely invisible outside a side-by-side comparison.

Video processing: Typically Samsung TVs are very good in this category, but the KU7000 is not. I'm guessing a lot of its issues have to do with its native 60Hz panel. The biggest issue? Unlike most other TVs I've tested it's incapable of correctly reproducing the smooth but not too smooth cadence of 24-frame film and video, the default frame rate for movies and scripted TV shows.

Watching my go-to test clip for 24p, a pan over the aircraft carrier from "I Am Legend," the KU7000 showed either the too-smooth motion properly derided as the Soap Opera Effect (as seen in the Auto setting under Auto Motion Plus) or an overly jerky stutter (as seen in the Off setting). None of the Custom settings helped either.

This issue isn't a deal-breaker for most people, but film buffs and other videophiles might well be annoyed by the KU7000's motion handling, and all of the other TVs in my lineup passed this test with ease.

The KU7000 also fell short of the competition in motion resolution, scoring only 300 lines in all modes unless I engaged the LED Clear Motion setting. That setting evinced flicker, a dimmer image and other artifacts in my test pattern, however, so I wouldn't recommend using unless you're highly sensitive to blurring and can live with those other tradeoffs.

One bright spot was input lag in game mode, which measured an impressive 20ms.

Uniformity: The KU7000 was middling in terms of maintaining the same brightness across the screen. While there were no bright spots, the upper and lower edges appeared brighter than the middle, in particular the bottom corners, behaviour typical of edge-lit LED backlights. Off-angle viewing was standard for an LCD, with visible black-level drop-off and discoloration when I viewed the image from seats other than the sweet spot directly in front of the screen.

HDR and 4K video: The HDR10 4K Blu-ray version of "Kingsman" showed an improved image overall compared with the standard Blu-ray version, but not by much. The maxed-out backlight called for by the TV's default Movie mode with HDR caused even brighter black levels than with the standard version, which severely hampered its impact.

The KU7000 was good a bit better than the Vizios with HDR10, roughly equal to the Sony and short of the KS8000 and the OLED. It was actually second-brightest in highlights, according to my spot measurements, trailing only the OLED in this film. This runs counter to what I measured in test patterns, and proves once again that HDR is sort of like the wild west. Colors looked better than on the Vizio M series, with a more vibrant green in the grass for example, although the two Samsungs looked very similar in terms of color.

The biggest disadvantage of the KU7000 compared with the KS8000 was, once again, black level performance. HDR video looked a lot like standard SDR video with the backlight turned all the way up, as opposed to the higher contrast and overall punch of the KS8000. Chalk another win up to local dimming.

As I've seen in the past with Netflix's HDR, the improvement was more subtle. Watching "The Magnificent Six" the image didn't show the same level of pop and improved highlights, and colors also looked very similar to the SDR 4K version. Since the SDR version showed better (darker) black levels, it actually looked slightly better overall. Of course you could always reduce the backlight control with HDR to improve those black levels, but then you'd be losing the brighter highlights.

The KU7000 was able to pass the full resolution of 4K from YouTube. The TV also played through a suite of 4K test patterns from Florian Friedrich with no issues, aside from the fact that a text scroll stuttered slightly, similar to what I saw with 1080p/24 film-based video.

Geek box

Test ResultScore
Black luminance (0%) 0.015Average
Peak white luminance (100%) 132Average
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.32Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.703Good
Dark gray error (20%) 1.207Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.419Good
Avg. color error 0.652Good
Red error 0.513Good
Green error 0.609Good
Blue error 0.973Good
Cyan error 0.365Good
Magenta error 0.787Good
Yellow error 0.663Good
Avg. saturations error 3.22Average
Avg. luminance error 2.01Good
Avg. color checker error 2.89Good
Percent gamut Wide (DCI/P3) 88Average
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) FailPoor
Motion resolution (max) 1200Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 20.3Good

How we test TVs

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Samsung UNKU7000 series

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 6Value 7