Samsung UNJS8500 series review: Futuristic features don't make flat SUHD TV superior today

You can adjust the local dimming via the Smart LED function, and a "Cinema Black" option dims horizontal letterbox bars. There's also a UHD HDMI Color mode, which allows the TV to "see" and display the 4:4:4 chroma subsampling content that may potentially be included in HDMI 2.0-compatible sources. Such signals are essentially nonexistent today, so I didn't test the efficacy of this mode.

It's worth mentioning here that HDR sources, at least the ones I tested, automatically change some of the the picture settings to specific parameters. They almost always changed automatically once I switched to a non-HDR source, but the switch can still be disconcerting. See the HDR tests below for details.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity: The bulk of the JS8500's inputs, namely all four HDMI, 2 USB 2.0, and the optical digital audio output, reside in a little black box called the OneConnect Mini (cute!). It connects to the TV itself via six-foot umbilical. The back of the TV does have a few inputs itself, including one USB 3.0, an Ethernet port, the RF antenna jack and minijacks for the included the analog AV breakout cables (one each for component- and composite-video).

Sarah Tew/CNET

All of the HDMI inputs are state-of-the-art, compatible with HDCP 2.2 and HDMI 2.0, capable of accepting up 4K resolution at 60 frames per second and 4:4:4 chroma subsampling rate. Samsung says those inputs will be upgradeable to HDMI 2.0a for forthcoming HDR devices, but has yet to determine the method. Hopefully it will be free, like Sony.

Picture quality

My picture quality ratings scale has been reset for 2015, placing the JS8500 squarely in "very good" territory. Its lighter black levels cause it to fall short of sets like Vizio's M and P series full-array local dimmers, but most other aspects of its image quality, including color, video processing and bright room performance, are excellent.

I was disappointed in its rendition of the sparse early HDR content I had on-hand, however. And while there isn't any wide color gamut content on the market, it did succeed in coming closer to coverage of the P3/DCI color space than other TVs I've tested. That said its advantage was only a few percentage points ahead of the others, and the nanocrystals didn't seem make standard gamut sources look any better.

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.

Black level: The JS8500 stood in the middle of my lineup at producing a realistically dark shade of black. In very dark scenes, such as the black level (and nausea) torture test from Chapter 2 of "Gravity," where Ryan tumbles untethered into space, the depth of its letterbox bars, the shadowed space suit and the void between the stars was relatively dark, but not the kind of inky quality I saw on the full-array local dimming TVs.

The Sony 950B and both Vizios delivered better black levels overall than the JS8500, especially when small bright elements appeared on the screen, such as the pause icon from my PS3. The SUHD did look a bit darker than the other two Samsungs, however, and also beat the Sony 850C -- the lightest TV in the room -- handily. Its performance in this category is very good for an edge-lit LED LCD.

Shadow detail was a strength compared to the Vizio sets, however, with more near-black details visible in dark areas, for example the details on the back of her jet pack and the shaded edge of her face inside the helmet. I still preferred the look of the darker Vizios and especially the Sony 950B (which delivered full shadow detail) in these and other dark scenes, however, because of the added pop and realism imparted by the deep blacks and brighter whites.

The Samsung's dimming isn't perfect by any means, however. One issue was I saw was occasional pulses in brightness, particularly in the letterbox bars above and below the image, where the bar would grow brighter and then dimmer briefly. I saw the pulses a few times during "Gravity," for example at 22:20 and 32:10, and they were relatively distracting. The JS8500 has a Cinema Black option that provides additional dimming to the letterbox bars, so I tried disabling it, but the pulsing remained (albeit slightly reduced in intensity). The other Samsungs also, showed these pulses, but they seemed less frequent and less obvious when they did occur.

I also noticed blooming in the form of large brightness variations with certain material. The most obvious came up when I simply hit Pause on my PS3, which cause the bottom half of the screen to illuminate during dark scenes. I saw a similar issue on the top of the screen with a spinning "loading" logo against a black background. To be fair these issues were also visible on the full-array local dimming TVs, but they were more, well, local.

Color accuracy: If you're expecting a massive jump in color as a result of SUHD/nanocrystals/quantum dots, you'll be disappointed in the JS8500. Just about every piece of content available today -- from cable TV to streaming video (4K and otherwise) to Blu-ray -- uses the Rec. 709 gamut, and with that material didn't look any different on the SUHD than on the other TVs in our lineup that don't use nanocrystals.

That said, colors on the JS8500 were superb and extremely accurate. According to my measurements it's one of the most accurate TVs I've ever tested after calibration, delivering grayscale/gamma and color errors below 1 (3 or less is considered below human perception).

That accuracy showed up in standard program material, too. Unlike "Gravity," the "Samsara" Blu-ray is a carnival of rich, saturated colors starting with the Balinese Legong dancers in Chapter 1. They looked brilliant on the JS8500, the gold of their costumes and the blue and red of their exotic makeup conveyed in stunning beauty. But those colors didn't look any better on SUHD than on the other TVs. The same went for the deep green of the vegetation and the dark reddish-brown skin of the Mursi villagers in Chapter 9, the blue of the seas and skies, and otherworldly red/orange of Kilauea.

Skin tones also looked very good, if a very slightly more bluish/reddish than on the other displays. That cast was most obvious on black and white material, such as "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For," where again the grays and near black areas appeared a bit bluer/redder than on the other displays. I was surprised to see this since my measurements indicated an excellent grayscale, and it wasn't an issue with my calibration; I zeroed out my grayscale modifications to make sure, but it didn't help. Perhaps the difference can be attributed to those nanocrystals in some way. Regardless, it was far from drastic and wouldn't be visible to most viewers outside of a side-by-side comparison.

The JS8500 also performed very well on advanced color tests, scoring average Delta errors of 1.47 for saturation and 2.23 for the color checker (anything less than three is considered below the threshold of perception). Luminance color error was also negligible. I also tested its coverage of the P3/DCI color gamut that's in line to replace Rec. 709. It scored 90.3 percent coverage. That's wider than any of the four other TVs I tested so far, including the LG 65EG9600 (87.9 percent), the 65JU7100 (82.1 percent) and the LG 55EC9300 (89.3 percent).

Thanks to Chris Heinonen of Reference Home Theater and The Wirecutter for letting me use his CalMan workflow, which made those advanced measurements possible.

Video processing: The JS8500 offers the same basic suite of processing adjustments as Samsung's standard, and it's among the most versatile and capable in the business.

As expected the SUHD is capable of delivering true 1080p24 film cadence. Unlike most LED LCD TVs, however, it can also deliver full motion resolution at the same time -- you don't have to engage the over-smooth Soap Opera Effect to get optimum motion resolution. On most other sets, conversely, no mode offers true film cadence with zero smoothing and full motion resolution.

To get peak motion resolution you'll have to engage the LED Clear Motion setting. The problem is that Clear Motion introduces a small amount of flicker, so I ultimately decided against using it in my calibration. The flicker is slight, however, so sticklers for motion resolution (and those who don't notice flicker as readily as I do) might opt to keep Clear Motion turned on. Just be aware that engaging it also reduces light output by roughly half, so you should double the backlight setting to achieve the same light output, and you may want to disable Clear Motion in bright rooms.

I ended up using the AMP setting of Custom since it was flicker-free (as long as LED Clear Motion was turned off) and also delivered true 1080p/24 film cadence and very high motion resolution (about 1080 lines), as long as you set Blur Reduction to 10 and Judder Reduction to 0. The other modes (Standard, Smooth and Custom settings with judder reduction set above zero) introduce some level of smoothing, or Soap Opera Effect. Clear produces the slightly stuttery motion characteristic of 3:2 pulldown with film-based sources.

With Game mode engaged, the JS8500 produced an impressive input lag score of 37.9ms, a few ticks into our arbitrary "Good" territory. Interestingly, its less expensive 4K stablemate the JU7100 scored a phenomenal 21.6ms, among the lowest (best) we've measured on any TV.

4K sources: 4K material is still scarce enough that I didn't spend nearly as much time testing it as I did 1080p, but it's getting more common. I enjoyed a variety of 4K clips from numerous sources, including 4K demo boxes and files (primarily supplied by TV makers) and streaming (see above). I asked Samsung for the 2015 version of its UHD Content pack, an optional hard drive filled with 4K and reportedly HDR movies, but was told it's not available yet.

I used a 4K distribution amplifier to compare the JS8500 directly against other 4K sets in the lineup, and the main image quality differences I saw were the same as in 1080p: to do with contrast and color, as opposed to resolution. The best 4K content looked spectacular on all of the TVs, as I've come to expect.

I also checked out a variety of 4K test patterns from both my DVDo test pattern generator and from Florian Friedrich, and the JS8500 looked as good as or better than the other sets in our lineup in most areas. In a couple of Florian's most challenging tests I did notice some differences, for example in the pixel phase, phase modulation and zone plate tests on a couple of the TVs, but the JS8500 passed these tests with no issues. It also looked great in the moving text test, unlike the LG 65EG9600 OLED TV I tested earlier.

HDR sources: Samsung's SUHD TVs currently have exclusive access to the first widely available HDR content, namely the first season of "Mozart in the Jungle" and the pilot episode of "Red Oaks," both Amazon original series and available only via the TVs' built-in Amazon Video app. Curious, I fired them up on the JS8500.

Mozart in the Jungle is the first content widely available in HDR. Sarah Tew/CNET

In short, neither blew me away. Episode 4 of "Mozart," titled "You Have Insulted Tchaikovsky," looked no better than the standard Ultra HD stream on JU7100 I set up to compare. I didn't notice the kind of brighter highlights and contrast boost I've come to expect from HDR demos. In fact, Amazon's HDR on the JS8500 looked a bit worse than Amazon's normal UHD on the JU7100, with somewhat more washed-out blacks and a generally cloudier, flatter image.

I switched over to "Red Oaks" and the difference was drastic -- and again I liked the non-HDR version better. Unlike with "Mozart," colors looked over-saturated in "Red Oaks" in HDR and skin tones in particular appeared ruddy with that sunburned look to Caucasians (the series is about a golf club, so there are plenty of white people). On the other hand, the green grass of the golf course, the blue of the pool and the red of a Corvette did look more brilliant and impressive in HDR, and contrast and richness were improved as well. I can imagine that many viewers would prefer the more "dynamic" (if less natural-looking) colors of the HDR version, and I have no idea which version the producers intended. Personally I wished for color somewhere in the middle of what I saw on the two TVs.

I was also supplied with some Hollywood HDR material by Samsung, including clips from "Exodus: Gods and Kings" and "Life of Pi" (which Samsung demoed earlier at CES) as well as original HDR material by Florian Friedrich.

Florian's material was designed in part to show the difference between HDR and SDR (standard dynamic range) material, and it certainly did. The HDR looked very good: the shots of clouds over water, sunlight glinting off waves and a sunset behind clouds looked more brilliant and powerful in HDR, and colors looked punchier and more vibrant. Once more however, the dark parts of the image had a washed-out quality, and when I watched the SDR versions of Florian's clip on the Sony X950B, the Vizio M-series and the LG EG9600, I still preferred them overall to HDR on the JS8500.

These early tests aren't an indictment of HDR, just this particular implementation on this TV. I won't bore you with too many details, but the short story is that the HDR content I tested with includes metadata, basically instructions that ride along with the video signal, that tell the TV to enact particular picture settings. On the JS8500 those settings include a Backlight setting of 20, the maximum. Cranking the backlight on this TV (and most other LCD TVs) washes out the dark parts of the image, robbing it of contrast and pop. I tried reducing the backlight control but it returned to max within a few seconds as a new packet of HDR metadata arrived.

I'm guessing that TVs with full-array local dimming, such as the Samsung JS9500, Vizio's Reference series , Panasonic's CX850 and Sony's XBR-75X940C, will provide better contrast (deeper blacks) with HDR content that specifies a maxed-out backlight. And of course OLED, with its perfect black levels, should make HDR look better too. But from what I've seen on the JS8500, HDR isn't an improvement.

Uniformity: The JS8500 delivered very good uniformity across its screen, outdoing even the full-array Vizios in this department and falling short of only the Sony 950B. Its extreme top and bottom edges were very slightly brighter than the rest of the screen, but the effect was visible only in specialized test patterns. I also noticed a slightly brighter lower-left corner, but only with the backlight turned up all the way.

The screen was basically free of clouding and backlight structure, aka "dirty screen effect." Some blooming or uneven brightness in dark scenes was visible as described above, but that's about it.

Like most LCDs it was typically poor at maintaining color and black level fidelity from off-angle. It washed out and took on a bluish/reddish tint from the sides relatively quickly. That said, none of the other sets in my lineup was much better from off-angle.

Bright lighting: While not quite as impressive overall in a bright room as semi-matte screens of the Vizios and the Sony X850C, the JS8500 held its own here, deadening reflections as well as the Sony and better than the LG. Its advantage came in its preservation of black areas, which it did better than any of the others -- including the other Samsungs. I'm willing to believe Samsung when it says its SUHD TVs deliver improved contrast in bright rooms.

Samsung makes a big deal out the light output capability of its JS9500 SUHD TV, but the JS8500 isn't much brighter than any other LED LCD out there. It is brightest setting (Dynamic) it measured 121 fL (footlamberts) with a window test pattern, compared to 133 for the Vizio P65, 212 for the Sony X950B and 129.7 for LG's 65EG9600 OLED. Of course, unlike OLED it maintained basically full light output even with a full-screen test pattern.

3D: The JS8500 delivered the excellent overall 3D image I've come to expect from Samsung's high-end TVs, outdoing last year's disappointing HU8550 in this category significantly. Watching "Hugo," my go-to 3D test disc, crosstalk (that ghostly double-image that plagues 3D viewing) was minimal in difficult areas like the GK Films logo, Hugo's hand reaching toward the mouse and the sleeve of Méliès.

In my lineup only the Sony 950B outperformed the JS8500, and the difference was slight: a bit less crosstalk, and more contrast thanks to its higher light output and better dimming. The JU7100 had a bit more crosstalk but still delivered very good 3D, while the X850C was a step behind, with a dimmer image that still showed moderate crosstalk.

Other aspects of the JS8500's 3D image, including contrast and color accuracy, were likewise very good. I also appreciated the fact that, unlike LG's EG9600 OLED, I could sit closer and not see too much crosstalk.

Samsung is still using the same glasses as last year, and again they felt cheap, loose and flimsy. In their favor they remained light and comfortable for long periods of time.

Geek Box

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.004 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.3 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.628 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.548 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.801 Good
Avg. color error 0.632 Good
Red error 0.863 Good
Green error 0.637 Good
Blue error 0.991 Good
Cyan error 0.343 Good
Magenta error 0.405 Good
Yellow error 0.552 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 1200 Good
Input lag (Game mode) 37.9 Good

Samsung UN65JS8500 CNET review calibration results

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