What do you want from your next HDTV? With all the features available in
today's TVs, it's an important question to ask before you embark on the
task of finding the right model for you. Do you just want a TV that
delivers good performance? Perhaps you'd like to add a basic Web
platform that lets you stream video-on-demand and other Internet
services. Does 3D appeal to you? Or do you want a TV that boasts all of
the features this year's models have to offer--a complete entertainment
platform that's designed to be part TV, part computer, part control
system, part video phone, part gaming console, and more? If that last
one intrigues you, Samsung's new ES8000 might be right up your alley.
• Read more 3D HDTV reviews from Home Theater Review's writers.
• See more LED HDTVs in our LED HDTV Review section.
• Learn more about apps in our Streaming, Apps, and Downloads News section.
The ES8000 Series is Samsung's top-shelf 2012 LCD offering, and
it includes screen sizes of 46, 55, 60, and 65 inches. We reviewed the
55-inch UN55ES8000, which carries an MSRP of $3749.99. This 1080p LCD
uses edge LED backlighting with Micro Dimming Ultimate technology, the
Ultra Clear Panel to reject ambient light, and Clear Motion Rate 960 to
reduce motion blur. On the features side, this is an active 3DTV that
comes with four pairs of 3D glasses. The UN55ES8000 includes the new
2012 version of Samsung's Smart Hub platform, with built-in WiFi, a
built-in camera, DLNA streaming, Web browsing, and access to numerous
Web-based entertainment options. The inclusion of a dual-core processor
allows you to multitask, and the TV also supports voice/motion control.
That's the overview; now let's take a more in-depth look at what the
UN55ES8000 brings to the table.
Setup & Features
The UN55ES8000's attractive design includes a virtually bezel-free
front face and a thin, brushed-metal frame that sits on the stylishly
curved (but non-swiveling) Arch Flow stand. I had two other 55-inch
panels in-house when I reviewed this TV (a plasma and another edge-lit
LED), and the UN55ES8000 had a more compact form than either of those
models. It weighs just 36.6 pounds (without the stand) and measures 1.2
inches deep (about 2 inches deep at the bottom, where the two
down-firing speakers reside).
The input panel includes three HDMI ports, one shared
component/composite mini-jack that requires the use of the supplied
break-out cable, a standard A/V input, and an RF input to access the
internal ATSC and ClearQAM tuners. Many competing higher-end panels now
offer four HDMI inputs and a PC input. An Ethernet port is available for
a wired network connection, and three USB ports are included--for media
playback and the addition of USB peripherals like a keyboard. You can
also use a wireless keyboard/mouse combo, thanks to the TV's built-in
Bluetooth. The back panel includes an area labeled Smart Evolution Kit:
This new feature gives you the option to upgrade the UN55ES8000's
features via an expansion slot; Samsung says that the Smart Evolution
Kit will accommodate hardware-based upgrades for the next four years.
Finally, a mini-plug IR jack (called EX-Link) supports RS-232 for
integration into an advanced control system.
Speaking of control, Samsung has provided a lot of options in
this area. The package includes both the traditional Samsung IR remote
we've seen for years and the new Smart Touch Bluetooth-based remote. The
IR remote is loaded with all the buttons you'd expect, including direct
access to a lot of desirable tools (it also offers soft amber
backlighting). The Smart Touch remote takes the opposite approach: Its
minimalist design includes a touchpad and buttons for basic functions
like power, volume, channel, and return, plus several specialty buttons
that bring up onscreen menu options. Both the TV and the Smart Touch
remote have built-in microphones for the voice-control function. You can
set up the Smart Touch remote to control a set-top box and Blu-ray
player, using the supplied IR blaster. Should you go this route, you
have the option to control those two sources via the same voice and
motion commands that exist for the TV. As I mentioned, this Samsung TV
supports the addition of a Bluetooth-based wireless keyboard/mouse;
later this year, Samsung will introduce its own model called the Smart
Wireless Keyboard for $99.99. If none of these control options appeals
to you, there's also a free iOS control app called Samsung Smart View
iOS (an Android app is also available). I guess I'm old school in that I
preferred using the basic IR remote during the setup process; it's what
I know and thus was the quickest, easiest way to move through the menus
during setup. I also liked the Smart View iOS control app, which
replicates the buttons on the IR remote, plus a touchpad slider and a
virtual keyboard for text entry. And, should you manage to misplace
every other control option at your disposal (not unlikely in my house,
where there lives a three-year-old with sticky fingers), Samsung has
even included a Jog Control joystick on the TV's back panel, allowing
you to quickly access and navigate the menus.
When you first power up the UN55ES8000, expect a slightly longer
initial setup process than usual, especially if you choose to perform
the environment tests in which the TV analyzes the room's sound and
light levels to determine if you can successfully use voice and motion
control. In regard to motion control, the room obviously needs to be
bright enough for the TV's built-in camera to see your movements. The
camera looks for the contrast between your hand and the background; so,
if the room is too dark or if there's too much sunlight shining directly
at the camera, the control won't be effective.
Samsung has included plenty of advanced picture controls to calibrate
the image. The TV is not THX- or ISF-certified, so it lacks the THX and
Expert picture modes you might find elsewhere. That makes the Movie mode
the best place to start, and you can set different adjustments per
input. You can manually adjust the 20-step backlight or engage a sensor
to automatically adjust the backlight brightness to suit your room
(located in the Eco Solution menu). Advanced adjustments include RGB
gain/offset controls, 10p white balance controls, flesh tone adjustment,
an advanced color management system, seven gamma presets, and
digital/MPEG noise reduction. As in previous models, the Auto Motion
Plus menu includes a Clear mode that reduces motion blur without
changing the quality of film sources, Standard/Smooth modes that add
frame interpolation to reduce film judder and produce smoother motion,
and a Custom mode in which you can independently adjust the blur and
judder tools. A separate LED Motion Plus control flashes the LEDs to
further reduce blur.
I immediately noticed the absence of two
controls that were offered on last year's UND8000: Smart LED and Cinema
Black. Both of these controls were tied to Samsung's local-dimming
function. Smart LED adjusted the aggressiveness of the local dimming,
while Cinema Black turned off the LEDs in the black bars of a 2.35:1
film to make them completely black. When I asked my Samsung rep why
these controls were gone, I got a surprising answer. Samsung has decided
to no longer use local dimming in its edge-lit LEDs, primarily because
of the potential for the glow/halo effect. So, while "Micro Dimming
Ultimate" technology may sound like some type of local dimming, it is
not the independent dimming of the different LED zones to suit the
content onscreen. Rather, it's a form of electronic dimming, using the
TV's Dynamic Contrast and Black Enhancer tools to adjust black level and
brightness. The one LED-dimming effect that remains is that, when the
TV detects an all-black screen (such as a transition between scenes), it
will turn off all the LEDs to make the screen completely black.
UN55ES8000 is an active 3DTV, and Samsung has wisely decided to include
four pairs of active-shutter glasses. My review sample came with the
new SSG-3050GB Bluetooth glasses, which are light (1.2 ounces) and
comfortable, with flexible, curved legs. As in past models, the TV is
set by default to automatically detect a 3D signal and switch to a new
set of 3D-specific picture modes. You have access to many of the picture
adjustments I described above, but a few are grayed out, including LED
Motion Plus, 10p white balance, and Black Enhancer. The 3D menu gives
you the option to manually adjust the 3D perspective and depth, perform
3D optimization, swap the left/right images, and perform 2D-to-3D
In order to keep this review from becoming a novel
(I may have already failed), I've decided to cover the new 2012 Smart
Hub in a separate review. Here are a few quick highlights,
though: Smart Hub includes access to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu,
CinemaNow, Pandora, Facebook, and many other services that you can
download through the Samsung Apps store (some are free, others are not).
A full Web browser is available, and the Search All function allows you
to search for content across the various VOD services, the Web, and
your personal media collection (via USB or DLNA). The integrated camera
allows for easy Skype video conferencing. The My Mirror function allows
you to see the live camera feed in a small window on the screen, which
is designed primarily for use with the new Fitness platform that allows
you to cue up exercise videos, see your movement, track your fitness
goals, and even attach a USB scale. The new Kids area includes
children's stories and sticker books, while the Family Story platform is
basically a private social network. You invite others to join, then you
can share photos, videos, notes, etc., through the Smart Hub interface.
Let's begin the evaluation in the usual place, with the UN55ES8000's
black level, contrast, and brightness. With the backlight set at its
minimum, the UN55ES8000 is capable of producing very deep blacks;
however, at this setting, I found the image to be a bit too dim. The
good news is, you don't have to raise the backlight level too much to
add a solid amount of brightness. A backlight setting of 2 or 3 (out of
20) struck a good balance between black level and brightness for a
completely dark room. I had two other 55-inch panels available for
comparison: the Panasonic TC-P55ST50 and the LG 55LM6700. The Samsung
easily bested the LG in image contrast. Going head-to-head with the
plasma, the Samsung's black levels were comparable at the backlight
setting I chose, but the brighter elements within each scene were not as
bright; to get comparable brightness, I had to turn up the backlight
and sacrifice some black level. Overall, though, the Samsung produced a
rich, well-saturated image in a dark environment.
Read more about the Samsung UN55ES8000's performance on Page 2.
In the area of black detail, I found the default gamma setting to be a little too dark for my personal tastes, obscuring some of the finest black details in my demo scenes from The Bourne Supremacy, Flags of Our Fathers, and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. I turned up the gamma to +2 and experimented with the Black Enhancer function, which is specifically designed to boost bright elements within a darker scene. These adjustments improved the visibility of the finest black details, and Black Enhancer did offer a little improvement in perceived contrast in dark scenes. The tradeoff is that, with Black Enhancer turned on, I sometimes noticed subtle brightness fluctuations in bright scenes, especially HDTV shows.
On the other end of the spectrum, the UN55ES8000 has excellent brightness at the higher backlight settings. In my moderately lit family room, a medium setting of 10 offered ample brightness for daytime viewing. In my very bright living room, I cranked up the backlight to its maximum, and the TV served up a vibrant, eye-catching image with sports and other HDTV content. The Samsung had better light output than the LG and Panasonic TVs, and the Ultra Clear Panel did a better job of rejecting ambient light to improve overall contrast and help blacks look darker in a bright room. Of course, the panel is reflective, so you have to be mindful of where you put the TV in relation to light sources.
The TV's great light output proved beneficial with 3D content, as well. One of the drawbacks to the active 3D approach is that the 3D image is usually dimmer than you'll get with a passive 3DTV, but I felt that the UN55ES8000 more than held its own against the passive LG TV in the brightness department. I saw only mild crosstalk, another potential issue with active 3D displays. The Samsung produced a lot less crosstalk than the Panasonic plasma. Plus, the lightweight glasses were comfortable to wear for a long period of time, and you get four pairs in the package. Overall, Samsung has done a nice job minimizing the drawbacks to the active 3D approach while still delivering on its strengths--a very crisp, detailed image with rich colors, an excellent sense of 3D depth, smooth diagonals, and none of the horizontal line structure that I see with passive 3D.
Both the color temperature and the color points appear to be fairly close to reference standards. Skin tones looked neutral, and colors looked accurate. The only exception is in the deepest blacks, which had a noticeably blue tinge that affected accuracy in my darkest demo scenes. I took in the Blu-ray version of The Descendants on this TV, and all of those beautiful Hawaiian vistas were just that...beautiful. The colors were rich without seeming exaggerated, image saturation was very good, and the overall level of detail was excellent.
Speaking of detail, the Samsung does an above-average job in the upconversion of 480i DVDs to 1080p. It passed all of my processing tests and rendered a slightly more detailed image than the other TVs. The UN55ES8000 produces a clean image overall, with very little digital noise in dark backgrounds and light-to-dark transitions. The Auto Motion Plus technology produced excellent motion detail in my FPD Benchmark tests. My preferred combination of the Clear AMP mode and LED Motion Plus created clean lines all the way to HD 1080 in the motion-resolution test. If you prefer the smoothing effects of frame interpolation, the Standard/Smooth modes also provide very good motion resolution.
Beyond video performance, I also want to talk a little about the performance of the various control tools. Voice control worked fine for me. When you say "Hi TV," the screen will display a menu of phrases that the TV recognizes; as long as you stick to those phrases, the feature works well. As for motion control, I was not a fan. As with LG's Magic Remote, the motion control function is imprecise; it's hard to navigate the onscreen pointer to the exact place you want, and it was more trouble than it's worth. Finally, there's the Smart Touch remote. I found it a bit cumbersome to use at first, primarily because it's a different approach than I'm used to; however, I did grow more comfortable with it over time. Compared with the standard IR remote that provides a lot of buttons to jump quickly to a specific task, the Smart Touch remote relies more heavily on the onscreen menus. Pretty much every tool is accessible through those menus, but it's not always as quick as hitting a direct button on a remote. The universal-remote function was easy to set up via an onscreen wizard, and it worked reliably with my DirecTV box and OPPO Blu-ray player; but again, it requires that you pull up onscreen menus and navigate to desired controls, which can be a distraction from whatever is playing on the screen. The system is not designed to be a true universal remote for someone who has an A/V receiver and multiple sources. My living-room setup sports a TV, satellite box, and Blu-ray player, exactly the type of setup for which the Smart Touch was designed. You do have the option of using motion and voice commands with your sources, but voice control was far less accurate in controlling my DirecTV box than it was the TV. I'd stick with the remote.
I don't agree with Samsung's decision to get rid of local dimming in its top-shelf LCDs, as I think its potential benefits in the areas of black level, contrast, and screen uniformity far outweigh the occasional glow/halo effect around bright objects. The UN55ES8000 offers good dark-room performance with movies, but it could be better. This LED/LCD couldn't quite compete with the plasma in overall contrast, but the bigger issue was the lack of screen uniformity, meaning that certain parts of the screen were brighter than others. In my review sample, all four corners showed some light bleed, and I noticed at least one other bright patch. Samsung disguises the issue a bit by having all the LEDs turn off during all-black scenes, where the lack of uniformity would be most obvious. The effect is more pronounced when the backlight is set at a mid to high level; my dark-room setting of 2 or 3 lessened the problem but didn't eliminate it. The bright spots were still noticeable in my darkest demo scenes and in a few dark scenes from The Descendants. I've certainly seen worse in the screen uniformity department, but I've also seen better...usually from a local-dimming-equipped LED/LCD.
This leads to another point: The UN55ES8000 demands different settings for optimal daytime and nighttime performance, so I wish the setup menu included two Movie modes for each input. The Standard picture mode is okay for a bright room, but it's not quite as pristine and natural as the Movie mode. If you're feeding sources directly into the TV, then this is less of an issue--you can set up one input for brighter TV sources and one for DVD/Blu-ray movies. However, if you're feeding everything into one input from an A/V receiver, you may find yourself adjusting the backlight a lot. According to Samsung, a professional calibrator can set up Cal-Day and Cal-Night modes through the same input in the service menu; if you're going to invest in a top-shelf TV like this one, I suggest calibration anyhow, as it will maximize the TV's performance potential.
The other main performance concern is the UN55ES8000's viewing angle, which is not as wide as recent LCDs that have passed through my doors. Even at about 40 degrees off-axis, the image loses a fair amount of saturation. Dark scenes, in particular, take a hit in black-level depth and overall saturation. You need to be mindful of how wide your viewing area is and take into account that the Arch Flow stand does not swivel.
The UN55ES8000 has a lot of new features compared with previous models, and that makes for a fairly high learning curve that may leave some people frustrated. Between the voice control, the motion control, the Smart Touch universal remote, and all the new Web features, I found there to be a lot of trial-and-error in the early-goings. To further complicate matters, the e-Manual isn't written very clearly. You can find some helpful how-to videos on the Samsung Product Support Channel on YouTube by going here.
Competition and Comparison
Compare the UN55ES8000 to its competition by reading our reviews of the Panasonic TC-P55ST50, LG 55LM6700, and Toshiba 47TL515U. You can get more information about all of the 3D-capable TVs we've reviewed here.
We're back to the original question: What do you want from your next HDTV? How much do you want it to do? If all you care about is video performance, then you can find other TVs that offer comparable, if not better, all-around performance at a lower price point. The UN55ES8000 serves up a very attractive image with both 2D and 3D content, but its screen uniformity and viewing-angle limitations keep it from earning my "theater-worthy" designation. Then again, when you consider this TV's complete features package, I really don't think Samsung designed the UN55ES8000 to be tucked away in a theater room. With the built-in camera for Skype and fitness programs, the kids content, the Family Story social network, the Web browsing, and the beautiful low-profile design, I see this Samsung TV as more of an entertainment centerpiece that resides in a living or family room and gets a lot of daytime use. For that, the UN55ES8000's strong bright-room performance is a perfect fit.
The current street price of around $2,500 still places the UN55ES8000 at the high end of the price spectrum, although the inclusion of the built-in camera and the four pairs of 3D glasses somewhat lessens that gap with other active 3DTVs. Still, if you find yourself dismissing features like the camera, voice/motion control, and Smart Touch remote as things you probably won't use, then you should probably keep shopping. There are lower-priced models within Samsung's new line (such as the ES7100 or ES6500 LED Series) that might better suit your needs.
• Read more 3D HDTV reviews from Home Theater Review's writers.
• See more LED HDTVs in our LED HDTV Review section.
• Learn more about apps in our Streaming, Apps, and Downloads News section.