Wanting to see what was up with the UN55D8000's black level performance, I cued up Zodiac on Blu-ray (Paramount), which was shot digitally on the Viper camera system giving its blacks a slightly unique look. The film also has a rather subdued color palette that is a good test of contrast for any HDTV. Skipping ahead to the scene where Jake Gyllenhaal's character ventures into the basement of a suspect's home, it became clear what was wrong with the UN55D8000. The UN55D8000 simply can't reproduce blacks. I'm not saying its black level was more charcoal grey, I'm saying it's black level is non-existent. Sure it goes dark, even black, but in the absence of light another light becomes readily apparent, the UN55D8000's LED edge lights. The UN55D8000's LED edge lights are so visible during low light scenes that they actually cause light streaking from one side of the screen to the other. This anomaly in turn destroys the UN55D8000's contrast, especially in the darker regions, and makes for poor image uniformity. Even when the action returned top side and things brightened up a bit, the edge lights were still visible, creating a reverse vignette effect whereby the edges of the UN55D8000 were brighter than the center, which appeared more or less accurate. I'm certain, given the UN55D8000's poor black level performance that this is where some of Samsung's trick contrast and localized dimming features would help so I went ahead and re-engaged them. While they did help in some regards their presence was completely noticeable and equally distracting (seriously you can watch areas of the image go from bright to dark) as the UN55D8000's LED edge lights are without all the gimmicks. Furthermore, the UN55D8000 didn't like Zodiac's subdued color palette, for it had difficulty discerning between all the various earth tones and yellows featured throughout the film's production and costume design.
To see if it was Zodiac's digital pedigree that was throwing off the UN55D8000, I quickly cued up Pearl Harbor on Blu-ray (Disney) and skipped ahead to the scene between President Roosevelt, played by John Voight, and his war cabinet. This scene has a little bit of everything in terms of visuals, thanks to Director of Photography, John Scwartzman's brilliant cinematography. The characters sitting nearest to the windows in the scene were presented naturally with all the detail, contrast and natural tone one could ask for. The rest, seated opposite the window, weren't treated so well. Many of the generals clothing bled into the surrounding areas, making them appear more or less like floating heads. As for the UN55D8000's contrast in low light situations, it too failed. One of my tests for contrast in this scene is the difference between Voight's wardrobe and the wardrobe worn by actor Dan Aykroyd. Good HDTVs (and projectors) will show the weave, stitching and material of both despite their differences in color and lighting. Not the case with the UN55D8000, for Aykroyd appeared to be wearing a solid black suit where Voight's was merely medium grey, both of which were casualties of the UN55D8000's LED edge lighting.
Disappointed in the UN55D8000's performance with just about everything not made by Pixar or broadcast on one of the four major networks in HD I decided to test its 3D capabilities. Right off the bat, let me say this - I am not a fan of 3D and of the two current 3D formats, I dislike active 3D most of all. So, if you are a fan of 3D, especially active 3D, feel free to skip ahead for this isn't going to be pretty. I cued up Resident Evil: Afterlife on Blu-ray 3D (Sony), put on my pair of Samsung active 3D glasses and braced myself. I know many claim newer generation active 3D sets have improved over those available at 3D's launch, but I just don't see it for the whole presentation flickered, had ghosted and rainbow-like effects along the edges of characters and foreground elements alike. In fact, everything about the UN55D8000's 3D performance reminded me of those first generation, active 3D displays I reviewed a year ago. Nothing about the UN55D8000's 3D performance clicked for me and I had to stop watching after a mere 15 minutes for the experience became nauseating. Now, my experience with the UN55D8000's active 3D performance may not be your experience, for it's been shown that we all see 3D a bit differently and in some cases not at all. I will say this in praise of the UN55D8000's 3D performance: it's black level issues and edge lighting problems were less apparent, thanks in part to my calibration being thrown out the window by its internal video processor, for when viewing 3D content both the UN55D8000's brightness and contrast are automatically maxed out.
I ended my evaluation of the UN55D8000 with some streaming content courtesy of both my Apple TV and Samsung's own Smart TV platform. Things really went from bad to worse, for the UN55D8000 really isn't kind to standard definition material, never mind the highly compressed and often washed out visuals of streaming content. If you're big on Netflix streaming then the UN55D8000 is NOT for you, in fact I'd steer clear of any big screen employing the use of LED back or edge lighting if I'm honest. Truthfully, the UN55D8000's streaming performance and Internet capabilities are somewhat irrelevant, for its performance is just so limiting that I'm not sure it's worth owning the UN55D8000 for the few things it does right.
Competition and Comparison
With regards to its industrial design the UN55D8000 has no equal in my humble opinion, for as I said earlier in my review it's the best looking display I've ever seen in terms of its physical appearance. However, based on price and performance the UN55D8000 faces some stiff competition. The first challenger being Panasonic's VT25 Series of 3D plasmas, which come in sizes ranging from 50 to 65 inches and like the UN55D8000, the VT25 series utilize active shutter technology when it comes to 3D.
Another comparable 3D HDTV to consider is Toshiba's 55-inch 55WX800U LED HDTV. Retailing for a little less than the UN55D8000, the Toshiba features the same active shutter technology, is an edge lit LED design and has Internet capabilities too. However, unlike the UN55D8000, the Toshiba includes two pairs of active shutter glasses, which is a $340 value compared to the Samsung.
Lastly, there's Vizio and their new 65-inch, passive Theater 3D display. Retailing for the same money as the UN55D8000, the 65-inch Vizio includes four pairs of 3D glasses, is an edge lit LED design and, well, is ten inches larger than the UN55D8000. If the latest crop of passive 3D displays from Vizio are any indication of their big brother's performance - I'd say it's a better value.
For more information on 3D and 3D HDTVs, including the latest news and reviews please check out Home Theater Review's 3D HDTV page.
The sad reality facing the UN55D8000 is the fact that despite its supermodel good looks, there's a lot wrong with its performance. For starters its LED edge lighting is too apparent, especially in low light scenes such as those found in Star Trek. Also, the UN55D8000's overall black level performance is okay at best, possessing deep rich blacks in some instances, often near the center of the screen, and charcoal grey blacks in others. Furthermore, the UN55D8000's black level performance was often rife with banding, streaking and had difficulty transitioning from dark to light. Now, I'm sure Samsung would argue that had I left some of their image features, including local dimming, on - the UN55D8000's black level performance would've been better. This very well might be true; however the local dimming feature was so noticeable in its operation that I consider it to be a downside and a feature not yet ready for primetime.
The UN55D8000's 3D performance wasn't as good, in my opinion, as some of today's passive 3D designs. Consumers and journalists seem split on which 3D technology is best, with half preferring active 3D and the rest siding with passive. I prefer passive, because I can see too much flicker when viewing 3D content via active glasses. Along with the excessive flicker, the UN55D8000's 3D performance had poor edge fidelity resulting in ghosted images and rainbow like effects throughout. I'm not 3D's biggest fan but realize that it has its place and that a lot of consumers like it, but I wasn't able to sit through an entire 3D movie when viewing it on the UN55D8000. It was nauseating.
The UN55D8000's screen wasn't as anti-glare as I had hoped for. During daytime viewing it wasn't hard to see myself reflected back in its 55-inch screen. In low light situations things improved, though if my wife turned on our living room lamp the reflections returned.
The UN55D8000's side-mounted HDMI inputs are also difficult to work with and may require special HDMI cables in order to get a proper connection. Luckily, I think cable companies are getting wise to the issue and are beginning to make LED HDTV-friendly HDMI cables.
Lastly, the UN55D8000's remote is cumbersome and because of its dual functionality, offering system control as well as a QWERTY keyboard, it manages not to succeed at either. Plus, I don't know why a lot of these dual function remotes require you to mash on the keys with everything you've got in order to get them to work.
So is there anything redeeming about the UN55D8000 performance? If you're a sports fan (think NBA or NHL) or watch nothing but romantic comedies on Blu-ray, then my friend - the UN55D8000 is tailor made for you. In fact, it's brilliant. If you like to watch films like The Dark Knight or shows like Deadliest Catch, then I'm afraid the UN55D8000 is going to disappoint, for its black level performance is not only poor, it's distracting. I won't even summarize its 3D performance for active 3D displays are simply not my bag. As for the remaining features shoe horned into the UN55D8000's narrow frame, they need a bit more time in the oven before I'd say they're ready.
I really wanted to like the UN55D8000, hell I bought it from my local Best Buy, at full retail, in hopes that it would become my new reference display. I mean - what's not to like? It has a beautiful form factor, Internet connectivity, 3D capability and looks brilliant with brightly photographed HD content - like what was being played in the store. So imagine our collective disappointment when I returned to the store and to the salesman who sold me the UN55D8000, so that I could return it. If you value function over form - you can do better than the UN55D8000.
• Read more 3D HDTV reviews from Home Theater Review's staff.
• See our LED HDTV Review section for more related reviews.
• Find a Blu-ray player to get the most out of the UN55D8000.