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Samsung sells more 4K, aka UHD (Ultra High Definition), TVs than anyone, and has more different 4K models in its 2015 lineup than ever before. The choices can be bewildering, perhaps intentionally so, but once I got a look at the company's full lineup I penciled in this TV right here, the JU7100, as closest to that elusive sweet spot between price and picture quality. After reviewing it, I'm changing pencil to pen (er, words on your screen).
The JU7100 is still expensive, but not totally outrageous. It lacks the curved form of even more expensive Samsungs, and it also fails to qualify for the company's high-end SUHD moniker, newfangled nanocrystals and all. It doesn't support the kind of next-generation content those SUHD sets do, but given how long it's taking normal 4K content to get going, I think it'll be a few years at least before such support is worth the extra money it requires.
I compared the JU7100 directly to Samsung's JS8500 SUHD , and the picture quality of the two TVs with today's content, including 4K, is extremely similar despite the big price difference. Both put out impressive image quality, although neither could match the performance of Vizio's even-cheaper M series .
So maybe you're thinking: "Hey, Katzmaier, I know you like those Vizios, but I just don't want a Vizio. What 4K TV should I buy instead?"
For you, hypothetical dude who won't buy a Vizio yet doesn't want to spring for something even more expensive (ahem: SUHD) I currently recommend the Samsung UNJU7100 series. It balances a not-too-crazy price with commendable picture quality, beautiful design, oodles of features and a healthy dose of future-readiness, for what I'm guessing will be Samsung's best 4K TV value of 2015.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 65-inch UN65JU7100, 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.
You have to hand it to Samsung for continuing to innovate its TV designs within the narrow space afforded by today's thin frames and sleek stands. The JU71000 is a great example, with a pleasingly dark metallic bezel that angles forward from the screen like a sharp-edged picture frame. I actually like the look a bit better than the JS8500 SUHD set, but of course it's all a matter of taste.
Interestingly the two Samsungs come with identical-looking stands: metal-faced, low-slung pedestals that make the TVs appear to float above the tabletops. I vastly prefer them to the splayed-leg jobbies Vizio foists upon its 2015 TVs.
The JU7100 has a direct LED backlight, not an edge-lit one, making it somewhat thicker than most recent-vintage Samsungs, including the JS8500. That's a minor disadvantage in my book, not least because nobody watches TV from the side. If you're keeping track, the Sony XBR-65X850C is slightly thicker and the 65-inch Vizio M a tad thinner than the 65-inch UNJU7100.
Last year I called Samsung's remote the best TV clicker I'd ever used. The stripped-down wand found on the 2015 models simply isn't as good, and I actually prefer LG's clicker this year. Yes, Samsung's remote does offer that sweet, sweet motion control -- where you can whip a pointer around the screen just like a Nintendo Wiimote -- and it still has Samsung's awesome twist, where simply laying your finger on the capacitive button summons the pointer and a menu.
Again there are two different ways to move around: motion control with the pointer, and clicking from one item to the next with a traditional four-way cursor. But the new control separates them too much, placing the cursor control below the pointer, and the presence of two separate "OK" buttons complicates matters. I often had to glance at the remote, and ended up using motion control less, defaulting most often to the traditional cursor. It didn't help that the JU71000 remote, unlike that of the JS8500, has no backlit keys.
Samsung also removed too many of the dedicated buttons, including voice search, rewind/fast-forward and, the "keypad" button. Yes the new remote is aggressively lean and small, its motion control precise and slick, but I miss the old one.
The new menu system, however, is a big improvement. Just laying your finger on the touch-sensitive pointer button is enough to summon a basic menu. Icons appear on the top, bottom and left of the screen for "Menu/123," "Smart Hub" and volume, respectively, allowing you to dive into overlays for each while the main video continues playing.
The "Menu/123" overlay is the heart of the system, and it's very well-designed. It summons a number pad and full transport (play/pause/stop/record) controls for device and app control, and the top strip serves as a gateway to pretty much every major function, from settings menus to input switching to picture mode. Best of all you can rearrange the tiles along the top in any order -- including to the end of the strip, which only becomes visible when you scroll to the right. You can also move the number pad to either side. Yes, I often prefer dedicated keys for these functions, but this onscreen system is the best substitute for them I've seen.
|LED backlight:||Full-array with local dimming|
|3D glasses included:||None|
Sure the JU7100 has 4K resolution, but more important is that it's A) not curved and B) the least expensive 2015 Samsung TV to offer local dimming of its LED backlight. In my experience local dimming, which allows different areas of the screen to illuminate independently, provides the single biggest improvement to LED LCD picture quality. Unlike Vizio, Samsung unfortunately doesn't denote the number of "zones" of dimming on its TVs, and I don't know that number (in the chart above "full-array" doesn't imply that the JU7100 has a specific number of zones; it's only to differentiate it from "edge-lit," and basically means the same as "direct").
Like nearly all current 4K TVs, the JU7100 uses a panel with a 120Hz refresh rate. To its credit, the company has backed the "Motion Rate" claims down to a smaller number than in previous years, 240 in this case, which it achieves by virtue of a scanning backlight and optional black frame insertion.
The cavalcade of features extends beyond the picture. One of the more interesting is the OneConnect Mini connection box, which houses most of the inputs and offers a modicum of future-proofing. Samsung says that in the future you'll be able to buy new OneConnect boxes that may offer improved connectivity, processing and software. The company just began selling the latest version, the SEK3500U ($399), which delivers an octa-core processor, Tizen Smart TV, the new remote, HDMI 2.0/ HDCP 2.2 inputs, and the VP9 and HEVC codecs to compatible 2013 and 2014 Samsung TVs.
In a time when lots of TV makers are dropping 3D to cut costs, Samsung keeps it in the mix. Unlike the JS8500, however, the JU7100 doesn't include any 3D glasses. The lack seems a bit stingy on a TV this expensive, but at least Samsung's latest specs, model SSG-5150GB, are cheap at $20 list price per pair.
Here's where I mention that the JU7100 also lacks the SUHD-errific features of its step-up brothers, including support for HDR (high dynamic range) and wide color gamut content. HDR video, not to be confused with HDR for photography, promises better picture quality thanks to brighter, more realistic highlights and other improvements. It's still exceedingly rare, however, and judging from my early tests of HDR on the JS8500, you won't miss it much on the JU71000.
The same goes for wide-color support. Wide color gamuts promise to better approximate the range of colors found in real life, but content is nonexistent in home video today. Moreover the nanocrystals that power it on the JS8500 didn't seem to provide any extra benefit with standard content in my tests.
Smart TV: Samsung has yet again replaced its TVs' brains, this time employing the Tizen operating system it also uses in some of its smartwatches and cameras, as well as a few phones . Tizen has a rocky history you can explore in-depth using the links below, but most to users of the new TVs that's irrelevant. In the end the main thing you'll notice is the new interface.
The first thing that came up when I hit "Smart Hub" was a welcome change: a clean, simple, horizontal overlay of icons, with recently used apps and other items, like inputs, lined up along the bottom of the screen. To its left sat an inscrutable "Featured" box that seemed a bit frenetic in the way it cycled through icons, but otherwise harmless enough. The ad I complained about in my review of the JS8500, by the way, seems to have disappeared. For now.
I mentioned the improved basic menus above, and the new design of the deeper menus is also an improvement, once you figure out how to get there. To launch more apps beyond "Recent," or do anything else within the Smart system, you'll have to go to "Featured," a rather unintuitive choice in terminology. There you'll find a couple key apps like Netflix, YouTube and Hulu Plus, as well as the "apps" icon. Once you click it you're greeted by a friendly, clear list of app tiles neatly categorized and searchable. I prefer its design to the app store for LG's Web OS and Android TV , the Google-designed system used by high-end Sony and Sharp TVs this year.
Samsung also benefits from being the exclusive Smart TV provider for HBO Go, and its app selection is superb, with most of the major apps covered. Motion control worked within many of the apps, although Hulu Plus, HBO Go and Vudu are exceptions. Samsung used to offer cross-platform search, but not anymore. Searching using the main magnifying glass icon gave me results from YouTube and the Internet, but not from any of the apps. You can still search within individual apps, but if you subscribe to multiple services cross-platform search is very useful. Web OS, Android TV and Roku TV all have cross-platform search.
Of course Samsung includes a browser and of course it's nowhere near as good as using your phone, tablet or computer. Both Samsung and LG offer motion control on the browser, which helps a lot, but LG has the advantage of a scroll wheel on the remote.
Oodles of other smart features are onboard. The most useful is Sony's PlayStation Now service, allowing streaming gaming and control via a PS4 controller, just like on Sony's own televisions. Samsung's Multi Link Screen feature lets you put up the browser and other apps split-screen next to a show. Another extra is the "extra" function, which for some reason gets a remote control button even though its only function seems to be summoning halfway-related tweets alongside whatever show you're watching. Its technology is pretty cool, though, actually analyzing video content in conjunction with your provider/channel list to figure out what you're watching. It didn't always work, though.
While Tizen is an improvement over the complex multipage system Samsung used in the past, and definitely better than Vizio, it's still not as good as LG's Web OS or Android TV overall, and all are a step or 10 behind Roku TV. Especially if you're getting a TV this expensive, it's worth springing the $70 for a Roku 2 , or another streamer, instead of using the inbuilt system.
4K streaming apps: I checked out 4K streaming on the built-in Netflix and Amazon apps and they worked as expected, although as I've seen in the past, consistent 4K streams from Amazon (as opposed to "HD" and 1080p HD") are more sporadic than they are on Netflix.
As usual I didn't see a massive image quality improvement over those services' HD streams, and in previous tests I've performed, neither 4K streaming services' image quality could quite match the best 1080p Blu-rays. And of course content is scarce, although Netflix in particular deserved credit for continuing to release many of its original series, like "Daredevil," in 4K.
While the UltraFlix app is available for 2014 Samsung 4K TVs, as well as Vizio's 2014 and 2015 models, it's currently absent from 2015 Samsungs like the JU7100. Samsung says it's being optimized for Tizen and should appear soon.
New for this year, the YouTube app is said to be capable of delivering videos in 4K resolution. I checked out a few of the 4K videos there, including "Honey Bees" and "Beauty of Nature," and they looked sharp enough, but as usual it was difficult to tell from looking if they were actually in 4K.
I tried a quick experiment using Florian Fredrich's 4K resolution pattern (Mr. Friedrich drives an independent test laboratory in Munich, runs Quality.TV along with renowned video expert Joe Kane, and among other activities consults for numerous companies, including Samsung). The results were the same as on the JS8500, and rather disappointing.
Streaming via the JU7100's YouTube app, the pattern didn't deliver the full resolution, and looked worse than the same pattern streaming from YouTube on LG's 65EG9600 and the Nvidia Shield (both of which also deliver YouTube in 4K). In fact the resolution of the 2015 Samsungs via YouTube looked identical to the same pattern streamed on the Vizio M series, which doesn't have a YouTube app that supports 4K. I've asked Samsung to provide an explanation, and will update this section if I get any more information.
Picture settings: Almost nothing has changed from recent Samsung vintage in this department. In addition to four preset picture modes, advanced controls include 2-point and 10-point grayscale plus an excellent color management system. Samsung's Auto Motion Plus dejudder control is the best in the business. It not only turns the Soap Opera Effect on or off, it allows adjustment of both blur reduction and smoothness -- and includes a setting called LED Clear Motion that improved motion resolution further, albeit along with some visible flicker (see Video processing below).
You can adjust the local dimming via the Smart LED function, although the JU7100 lacks the "Cinema Black" option (which dims horizontal letterbox bars) found on the JS8500. There is a UHD HDMI Color mode, however, 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.
Connectivity: The JU7100 has the same connectivity as the JS8500, and it's superb. The bulk of its inputs, namely all four HDMI, two 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 6-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).
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.
The JU7100 scored a 7 in this category, which is very good, but not quite up to the 8 I awarded the Vizio M series. The main reason is the Vizio's superior black-level performance, which leads to better contrast, the most important aspect of image quality, especially in the darker rooms favored for home theater viewing. That said the JU7100's black levels are quite good, and its video processing and color accuracy are excellent. All told, it delivers basically the same picture quality as Samsung's SUHD TV with today's material, for significantly less money, and should outperform many other TVs available today.
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 JU7100 can deliver a relatively deep shade of black for an LCD TV, but it wasn't the deepest in our lineup. That distinction belonged to the Vizio M and P series. Compared with those, the rest of the displays were lighter and less impactful in dark scenes, showing less contrast and overall pop.
My go-to test for black level is one of the darkest scenes in any film I've seen scenes, the lingering tumble of a spacesuited Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) against the blackness of space in "Gravity" Chapter 2. The Vizio's reproduced the scene best by far, with their relatively inky black levels in the black of space and the letterbox bars, while the Sony's rendition was by far the most washed-out and lightest (alone among the TVs in this lineup, the Sony lacks local dimming).
Between the Samsungs the differences were more subtle. The JS8500 was slightly darker and better overall, mainly due to its darker letterbox bars. That said the JU7100 was very close to it, and basically tied with the HU8550, and overall it too acquitted itself well even in this extremely difficult scene.
I can only stand so much "Gravity," however, so I checked out "Interstellar" for some more examples. Again, even in extremely dark scenes like the space ship receding into blackness in Chapter 7 (53:40), the black-level differences between the Samsungs were relatively minor. Mixed-brightness scenes like Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) on the bridge in his spacesuit (49:33), for example, revealed the Sony's slightly brighter letterbox bars and shadows, but the Samsungs all looked very similar, with very good shadow detail and good pop.
The dimming wasn't perfect, however, and I noticed similar issues as I saw on the JS8500, including occasional "pops" where the letterbox bars would change in intensity. I also noticed namely large-area 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 other dimming/blooming issues were also visible on the full-array local dimming Vizios, but they were more, well, local.
Color accuracy: In this category the JU7100 was again very similar to the JS8500, and like all of the TVs in the lineup, very accurate overall. In "Interstellar" skin tones looked balanced and natural, from the pale face of Brand (Anne Hathaway) as she talks with Cooper (50:52), to his more bronzed look. A bit later, the green of the corn stalks and the blue of the sky appeared equally accurate, along with the red of Cooper's blanket.
I did see a slightly greener-bluer cast to bright whites, for example the astronauts' space suits and and the ship's exterior (Chapter 6), but it was minor and wouldn't be noticeable outside of a side-by-side comparison.
Measurements backed up these observations, as detailed in the Geek Box below, with the JU7100 measuring well below a Delta error of 3 (considered below visual perception) in overall grayscale and color accuracy. The JU7100 also performed very well on advanced color tests, scoring average Delta errors of 2.41 for saturation and 2.47 for the color checker (anything less than three is considered below the threshold of perception). Luminance color error was also negligible.
Video processing: The JU7100 offers the same basic suite of processing adjustments as Samsung's other sets, including the JS8500, and it's among the most versatile and capable in the business.
As expected it was 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, although the lower Custom settings are still satisfyingly juddery to film buffs like me. Clear produces the slightly stuttery motion characteristic of 3:2 pull-down with film-based sources.
With Game mode engaged, the JU7100 scored a phenomenal 21.6ms, among the lowest (best) we've measured on any TV. Only the Vizio M series did better so far this year, and by the slimmest of margins at 20.73. By comparison, the JS8500 measured 37.9 and the Sony XBR-65X850C came in at 36.47.
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.
In short, the JU7100 and JS8500 performed identically in this area, and equally well. I used a 4K distribution amplifier to compare the JU7100 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 JU7100 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 JU7100 passed these tests with no issues. It also looked great in the moving text test, unlike the LG 65EG9600 OLED TV I tested earlier, and didn't show the kind of interference I saw on some resolution tests on the Sony.
Uniformity: The JU7100 has no major issues in this area, unlike the Sony (which suffered significantly brighter edges), but I was somewhat surprised that, as a direct-backlit design it didn't outperform the edge-lit JS8500. In fact the two were very similar with challenging full-field test patterns, and better than the Vizios.
Each 2015 Samsung did show slightly brighter areas along the extreme edges of the screen (and in the 8500's case, the lower-left corner), and also evinced the kind of large-area blooming-related variations mentioned above, but the backlight structure I saw on the Vizios in those patterns wasn't an issue. In program material it was difficult or impossible to spot any differences in uniformity across the screen.
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 certainly no slouch with the lights on, the JU71000 tied with the HU8550 for the least impressive in bright lighting among the members of this lineup. The semi-matte screens of the Vizios and the Sony X850C were superior at reducing the intensity of reflections compared with the glossy Samsungs. Meanwhile the JS8500 showed an advantage, albeit relatively subtle, at maintaining black levels and thus contrast in bright lighting.
Sound quality: If you're buying a TV this nice (or any TV, really) you owe it to yourself to pair it with a decent external sound system or sound bar, even the cheapest of which will run circles around its built-in audio. The JU71000 didn't sound much better or worse than most of the other TVs in the lineup, but that's not saying much. Listening to Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand" it managed relatively deeper bass that didn't get as flatulent as on the Vizio M, but its treble was warbly and harsh, and its midrange too weak, issues that got worse as the sound got louder and more dynamic. The JS8500 and Sony sounded more balanced, if less powerful, and the Vizios even harsher. Overall I'd pick the Sony as the best, but that's like choosing from six different kinds of torture.
3D: The JU7100 delivered a very good overall 3D image, outdoing last year's disappointing HU8550 in this category but falling a bit short of the JS8500. Watching "Hugo," my go-to 3D test disc, crosstalk (that ghostly double-image that plagues 3D viewing) was small-to-moderate in difficult areas like the GK Films logo, Hugo's hand reaching toward the mouse and the sleeve of Méliès.
The X850C was a step behind, with a dimmer image that still showed moderate crosstalk.Other aspects of the JU7100's 3D image, including contrast and color accuracy, were likewise very good.
I tested the JU7100 with a set of Samsung's latest 3D glasses, model SSG-5150GB (not included) and again they felt cheap, loose and flimsy. In their favor they remained light and comfortable for long periods of time.
|Black luminance (0%)||0.004||Good|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.31||Good|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||0.987||Good|
|Dark gray error (20%)||0.428||Good|
|Bright gray error (70%)||0.613||Good|
|Avg. color error||1.189||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||1200||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||1200||Good|
|Input lag (Game mode)||21.63||Good|