Samsung UN55ES8000 LED/LCD HDTV

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Samsung UN55ES8000 LED/LCD HDTV

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Samsung_UN55ES8000_3D_LED_HDTV_review.jpgWhat 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.

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• Read more 3D HDTV reviews from Home Theater Review's writers.
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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.

Samsung_UN55ES8000_3D_LED_HDTV_review_smart_touch_remote_control.jpgSpeaking 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.

As usual, 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.

The 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 conversion.

Samsung_UN55ES8000_3D_LED_HDTV_review_smart_hub.jpgIn 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.

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