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The Samsung UNES8000 LED TV boasts stunning design and more features than any TV on the market. For that you'll pay dearly, but if you can afford it and want the cutting edge of TV technology in your living room -- pre-OLED, at least -- then stop reading now and buy an ES8000.
But maybe you're wondering about how its picture stacks up against the competition, or about how much further your TV experience will be taken by spending the extra dough. OK, fine, keep reading. The Samsung UNES8000 isn't a bad performer by any means, but it's not much better than many LCDs and plasmas, and worse than you might expect from Samsung's highest-end LED TV. It's also more expensive than just about any TV available today, with the exception of a few models with full-array local dimming. Finally its standout feature, which allows you to control the TV with a wave or a word, just doesn't work all that well. Few TVs can approach the Samsung UNES8000's "wow" factor, but few also come with such significant caveats.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch Samsung UN55ES8000, 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 UN46ES8000||46 inches|
|Samsung UN55ES8000 (reviewed)||55 inches|
|Samsung UN60ES8000||60 inches|
|Samsung UN65ES8000||65 inches|
The UNES8000 is one of the most beautiful television designs you can buy, and earns the same 10 in design I awarded the LG LM9600 -- although I do like the LG a bit better.
Samsung's daring U-shaped stand requires a wider tabletop than some of its pedestal-supported competitors, and seems less stable to the eye than Samsung's trademark four-legged spider, but in person it looks great, lending a smooth, organic flow to the sharp rectangular panel while providing plenty of support (but no swivel). I do prefer LG's more compact 2012 stand, though.
As with the UND8000 last year, this flagship Samsung's real design strength takes the form of a vanishingly thin bezel, which makes the TV almost all picture. Both measure a half-inch from the edge of the picture to the edge of the frame. The LG LM9600's frame around the image is similarly thin, and both seem to disappear against pretty much any background. If you're counting, I expect the final designs of LG's and Samsung's OLEDs to both boast thinner bezels still.
The little camera/speakerphone module along the top edge is matched by an illuminated logo bulge along the bottom. Like many Samsung sets, the external controls consist of a hidden joystick on the back panel that works well to access major functions.
Samsung's 2012 TV menus look the same as they did last year and remain among the easiest to use. They're bright opaque blue with rounded edges and good-size text. Each major menu item gets a text explanation, and I noticed really snappy response time despite constant animations.
In addition to a standard clicker, there's another that omits numerous buttons in favor of a touch pad that's supposed to ease navigation of the menus and Smart TV functions, especially the Web browser. It's a great idea in theory, and I loved that its Bluetooth connectivity meant I didn't need a line of sight to the TV.
In practice the touch pad is frustrating to use, alternating between too twitchy and unresponsive. The clicker is denuded of most buttons, relegating the number pad to a kludgy onscreen version and eliminating the Menu key altogether. The lack of buttons also made it necessary to select from annoying onscreen mini menus for functions as basic as Pause, Menu, and Chapter Skip. For using the browser, the pad is better than gesture control, but not by much.
I ended up using the normal remote whenever possible, although it's still not very good. The grid of buttons lacks sufficient differentiation, there are too many promotional keys (such as Family Story and Camera), and the central Smart Hub button is annoyingly just a logo. At least there's full backlighting, a feature absent from the Touch remote.
I also tested a preproduction version of Samsung's optional wireless keyboard with touch pad, which ships soon, according to Samsung. Its touch pad was much more responsive than the one on the remote, and the full-size QWERTY keyboard makes data input a cinch (but not in the dark; again, there's no backlight). Unless you're intending to use the browser extensively, however, it's not worth getting. Check out the video for more on Samsung's remote and keyboard.
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit|
|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|
With Smart Interaction (see below) the UNES8000 has more features than any other LED TV on the market, earning it a 10 in this category -- the same score I gave to the similarly featured PNE8000 plasma.
You might be wondering, however, why the chart above omits mention of local dimming under "LED backlight" when Samsung touts Micro Dimmimg Ultimate among the UNES8000's features. That's because, according to Samsung, Micro Dimming doesn't actually dim the LEDs along the edge of the panel -- so, according to my definition of local dimming, this TV doesn't qualify. Samsung claims Micro Dimming employs video processing that "scans zones across the image and adjusts brightness to deliver deeper dark tones and brighter whites." It also says the UNES8000's Ultimate version provides "2x the number of zones" of the UNES7500 (with Micro Dimming Pro) and an unspecified number more than the UNES7100 (with standard Micro Dimming), but declined to specify an actual number.
Samsung doesn't include mention of the panel refresh rate in its specifications, but I asked and was told it has a 240Hz panel. The company's Clear Motion Rate specification, new for this year, supposedly includes refresh rate among its calculations, along with video processing and backlight scanning. For what it's worth -- not much, as far as I'm concerned -- the ES8000's CMR is said to be 960.
Accessories abound in the box. Samsung includes a battery-powered Bluetooth-to-IR blaster (above) that allows the TV to directly control a cable box or Blu-ray/DVD player or both. The idea is to use voice and gesture commands, as well as the touch-pad remote, with these external devices. I didn't re-review that blaster for this review, but when I tried it with the PNE8000, it didn't work nearly as well as third-party universal remotes like Harmony.
The UNES8000 gets the company's dual-core processor, and can be upgraded via the Smart Evolution feature: processor and memory can be swapped out and upgraded at a later date (as early as 2013) and for an unspecified fee to allow improved functionality.
Samsung goes one better on TVs that have built-in Wi-Fi, allowing its sets to act as wireless access points. I really liked this extra since, if you take the time to run Ethernet to your living room to connect to the TV, you can get an additional WAP there to provide your nearby wireless devices with a stronger signal.
Like all Samsung 3D models, and unlike other major-brand TVs that use active 3D technology, the UNES8000 actually comes with 3D glasses: four pairs are packed into every box. They're actually the SSG-3050GBs from 2011, not the newer Samsung SSG-4100GBs from 2012. Both retail for a scant $20 and they look exactly the same -- the main difference is that the 2012 glasses support the universal standard, so they should actually work with universal-certified 3D TVs like 2012 Panasonics. Check out my 2012 3D glasses comparison for more information.
Smart Interaction: Smart Interaction is Samsung's unique new feature that makes use of the built-in camera and microphone to attempt to recognize your gestures and voice so you can control and interact with the TV. It's found it on this LED and the UNES7500, as well as the PNE8000 plasma. Using that TV, I reviewed the voice and gesture command system back in March, so I'll start with a quote from there:
"My takeaway? Smart Interaction has promise but feels half-baked and more like a gimmick than a compelling upgrade. Once the novelty wears off, its usefulness is limited (at best) to those times you don't have a remote in-hand."
Not much has changed since. With the latest firmware the voice search seemed a tad more accurate, but it was still frustratingly hit-or-miss during my quick test using my original search terms. I continued to have trouble activating gesture control, and while navigation did seem a bit more exacting, it still couldn't hold a candle to a Wii-mote or LG's motion controller.
Smart TV: With the exception of Google TV, Samsung's Smart TV platform is the most content-rich and capable on the market. Its big Achilles' heel, aside from its cluttered interface, is lack of Amazon Instant, a service found on Panasonic, Sony, and Vizio TVs, but not LG this year.
Otherwise the available content is superb. The big standout is HBO Go, available on no other TV so far. It joins just about every other mainstream non-Amazon video service, as well as numerous niche video options and 3D-specific app. We're also happy to see the newly-added vTuner Internet radio app join Pandora and subscription music via Mog. Compare the major TV makers' app selections here.
The company's TV app store is the biggest outside Google's. Samsung is the only TV maker with a cloud gaming service, Gaikai, although it's not active yet. Other offerings include videos from The Daily, a 3D photos app, images from National Geographic, MTV Music Meter, and ESPN ScoreCenter, as well as umpteen less-impressive paid and free games, educational apps, screensavers, and so on. Skype takes advantage of the built-in camera and mic, as does a simple Camera app that you can use to, uh, save pictures of you sitting on your couch.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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).
|Black luminance (0%)||0.0108||Average|
|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|