It's been almost one year since we reviewed our first Ultra HD TV, the Sony XBR-55X900A. That 55-inch TV had an MSRP of $5,000, and the only UHD content I had at my disposal was a demo reel that Sony supplied. Since that time, we've seen the introduction of many UHD models, at a wider variety of screen sizes and lower price points. We've also seen the mass-market arrival of HDMI 2.0 and HEVC decoding within these TVs, to better support UHD content of both the served and streamed variety. Speaking of content, it has progressed from non-existent to a slow trickle, in the form of UHD movie servers like Sony's FMP-X10 and streaming options like Netflix and YouTube.
Today we're going to look at one of Samsung's newest UHD models, the 65-inch UN65HU8550, which carries an MSRP of $3,299. This is one of the company's top-shelf TVs, sitting just below the HU9000 Series. The primary difference between the two is that the HU9000 (which is $800 more expensive) is curved and the HU8550 is flat. Samsung was wise to send me the flat model, given my already well-documented dislike of the curved design. The HU8550 Series includes screen sizes of 50, 55, 60, 65, 75, and 85 inches.
As a top-shelf model, the UN65HU8550 carries all of the expected bells and whistles in terms of smart TV services, voice control, and performance technologies. This LCD TV uses edge LED lighting with Samsung's Precision Black local dimming, Clear Motion Rate 1200 technology to reduce motion blur and film judder, and the Ultra Clear Panel to improve contrast in a brighter room. This is an active 3D TV, and four pairs of glasses are included in the package.
To keep this review from being 5,000 words, I'm going to cover Samsung's 2014 Smart Hub platform and all of its associated services in its own review (coming soon). Here, we're going to focus on performance, so let's get to it.
Given some of Samsung's recent design efforts, the UN65HU8550's aesthetic is surprisingly traditional. As I said above, it's thankfully flat and sports just a quarter inch of black bezel around the top and sides of the screen. A brushed-aluminum accent strip runs around the outer edge of the TV frame. The matching, non-swiveling, brushed-aluminum stand has a traditional rectangular shape that extends about five inches in front of the screen, with an additional support base that extends six inches behind the screen for added stability. Indeed this TV feels more secure and steady in its base than some of the previous and admittedly more stylish stands. Without the stand, the UN65HU8550 measures 1.4 inches deep and weighs 54.2 pounds.
Unlike the more expensive HU9000 that comes with the separate One Connect box to house all the inputs, the HU8550 has an actual input panel on the TV itself. Connections include four HDMI 2.0 inputs (MHL and ARC are supported on certain inputs), one shared component/composite input, one standard composite input, optical digital and analog audio output, an Ethernet port (built-in WiFi is also onboard), and three USB ports for the addition of peripherals and media storage devices. This TV lacks an integrated camera, but you can add one via USB (the HU9000 Series has a built-in camera). The HU8550 is also compatible with either a USB or wireless Bluetooth keyboard, if desired for faster text entry and Web navigation. You'll notice a One Connect port on the back panel, which will support the future addition of an Evolution Kit to add new features in 2015 or beyond. The UN65HU8550's EX-Link output allows for integration into an advanced control system, while the IR output allows you to connect the supplied IR blaster cable to control other AV sources like a set-top box and/or disc player.
Samsung includes two remotes with the UN65HU8550: the standard, backlit IR remote with the traditional full-button layout and the smaller, egg-shaped, Bluetooth remote with a touchpad slider, a motion-controlled pointer, and a built-in microphone for voice control. Compared with the touchpad remote that came with last year's UN55F8000, this one has a smaller form and a much smaller touchpad area, and the buttons are crammed closer together. It looks more like LG's motion remote, and frankly I liked last year's version a lot better in design, responsiveness, and general functionality - although I did appreciate that Samsung added transport controls (play, pause, forward, and reverse) to this year's version. The touchpad remote also backlighting, so it's more difficult to use in a dark room compared with the IR remote.
As with last year's UN55F8000, you can set up the Samsung remote(s) to control your cable/satellite set-top box and disc player using the supplied IR blaster cable. Setup takes place via a very simple onscreen wizard, and the system did a fine job controlling both my Dish Network Hopper DVR and Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player. Last year's version did not have the correct channel numbers for Dish Network, so I could not use Samsung's program guide and search recommendations as much as I wanted, but that problem has been fixed this year. The addition of transport controls on the touchpad remote makes for an improved DVR/playback experience, but you still have to use its Keypad button to pull up an onscreen virtual remote to access a lot of set-top box and DVD/BD functions. You can use voice command to tune to a certain channel, but the remote's Guide button pulls up Samsung's program guide, not your DVR's. Overall, I preferred using the old-fashioned IR remote to control my other devices because of its dedicated number pad and STB menu/guide buttons. Also, its amber backlighting makes it the better choice for nighttime use.
Samsung has also released a new iOS/Android control app for its 2014 smart TV lineup, dubbed Samsung SmartView 2.0. We'll cover most of its network-friendly features in our review of the Smart Hub platform. As for general control of TV functions, the app worked great, sporting all of the necessary buttons and including a virtual keyboard for text entry.
All of the picture adjustments typically found on a high-end Samsung TV are here, including two- and 10-point white balance, flesh-tone adjustment, multiple gamma presets, multiple color spaces, an adjustable backlight, a full color management system, noise reduction, and more. You can choose how aggressive you want the local dimming to be through the Smart LED setting (off, low, standard, and high), and you can adjust the type/level of blur and judder reduction through the Auto Motion Plus setting (off, clear, standard, smooth, and a custom mode in which you can independently adjust blur and judder and turn on LED Clear Motion - more on this in the next section).
On the audio side, the TV has two front-firing speakers and two woofers, and the menu includes five sound modes, with a virtual surround option, a dialog clarity tool, a five-band equalizer, and the ability to mate the TV with networkable speakers. I actually found the sound quality to be above average for a flat-panel TV; I didn't have to push the volume too high to get good dynamics, and vocals did not have that hollow, nasal quality that's so common in today's TVs.
Click on over to Page 2 for the Performance, The Downside, the Competition and Comparison, and the Conclusion . . .