Close to being a bargain but just not close enough
What is the Hisense 55K321?Perhaps we would be better addressing who are Hisense before we tackle introducing this budget 4K Ultra HD TV. Whilst the name Hisense will be new to many in the UK, make no mistake they are a global player and already the 4th largest manufacturer of TVs on the planet. In actual fact, the emergence of Hisense in the UK has taken a little longer than we expected but that has given the manufacturer the time to make sure all its ducks are in a row, in terms of creating relationships with retailers and content providers as well as raising brand awareness.
So what is the Hisense K321, then? Well, this 4K TV very much fits the bill as entry level, in terms of its pricing, with the 55-inch widely available for just under £700 and the Hisense 50K321 currently (December 2015) doing the rounds for £470. On the face of it, those attractive price-points don’t come with too many sacrifices as the Hisense TVs are equipped with all the Smart TV features and up-to-date connectivity options we would expect from the established UK brands. How long until Hisense can claim to be one of those? Probably not long at all but let’s get our first taste of what Hisense has to offer…
Design, Connections & ControlThe Hisense K321 is an attractive enough television but it’s definitely not the slimmest at 8.3cm in depth so it won’t make the sleekest wall-mounting option. It looks broadly similar to something Sony would produce with its two-footed design, although the K321 distinguishes itself by having them in splayed formation. The supplied remote control does somewhat befit the budget status of this product as it does feel a bit cheap. The rounded design fits well in the hand, however, and some will find the soft buttons appealing but it’s definitely not one of our favourites, although the dedicated Netflix launcher is useful.
There have definitely been no corners cut in terms of connectivity, with three of the four HDMI ports HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 compliant, while the other is HDMI 1.4. There are also 3 USB ports, one of which is high speed, Version 3.0 and there are a selection of legacy video connections, too, plus a Toslink digital audio out and a headphone jack around the back. The K321 also features a LAN port but there is built in dual-band WiFi and a connection for digital TV (Freeview) services from an aerial.
Hisense Smart TV appsIt’s a bit of a shame that the Roku platform isn’t available in the UK range of Hisense TVs, like it is in other territories, but the Smart TV apps on offer are reasonably decent and there is support for Ultra HD Netflix and, with an update due soon, Amazon 4K to follow. There is also BBC iPlayer and YouTube but the lack of VP9 codec support means the latter is restricted to HD, rather than Ultra HD, which is found in the Hisense XT910. There is a built-in 3rd party app store, as well, but it didn’t contain anything noteworthy but most people’s bases will be covered with the mainstream apps on offer. No doubt Hisense is busy behind the scenes striking more content deals and the major UK catchup services, outside of the BBC, would be a good place to start.
Picture Settings Out of the BoxAs this was our first time with a Hisense TV we didn’t really know what to expect, in terms of accurate picture modes, but unsurprisingly, the Theatre mode proved closest to the industry standards for content delivery. That said, it is quite a long way short of the levels of accuracy we’re accustomed to. As we can see from the charts on the left, while the mix of red, green and blue energy was reasonably good in the greyscale, the Gamma is tracking well over our target. Depending on the TV, we usually aim for a gamma of 2.3 – 2.4 to suit a dimly lit room but the Hisense is tracking well above that figure, meaning images are far too dark and murky for virtually any scenario bar, perhaps, an absolute fully light controlled (totally dark) room. We would have gone with another picture mode if the alternatives were any better but they were either the same gamma response or, worse, an S-Curve, which is even less desirable. The charts below left also shows that the colours were considerably off, too, with various sizeable errors in all measured facets.
Picture Settings CalibratedWhile the Hisense K321 does possess both two and ten point white balance controls, only the former proved useful with the ten-point option producing erratic results and, if pushed too far, blocking and banding picture artefacts. The up-shot of that was that we were almost powerless to tame the gamma response, save for some manipulation of the Contrast control which helped nearer white. We aim to get delta Errors to a level below three so the end results for greyscale can really only be ranked as just above mediocre. The colours, as measured against the Rec. 709 standard calibrated a little better but, again, the controls are erratic with just one click on almost any of the hue, saturation or brightness (luminance) controls causing massive swings in measurements. Fortunately, with just the odd click, here and there, we were able to achieve a respectable degree of accuracy. For anyone wondering and, for what it’s worth, against the DCI colour space we’re anticipating at least the first few batch of Ultra HD Blu-rays will be mastered in, the K321 achieves about 82% of full saturation, which isn’t at all bad for a budget TV.
Picture Settings Video
Picture QualityThere are some impressive things about the Hisense K321; beginning with the backbone of any good picture – contrast performance – and the VA panel produces deep and convincing blacks, which provides plenty of that. We measured black at 0.025 cd/m2, which compares favourably with even the most expensive LED/LCD TVs on the market and resultant ANSI contrast (measured from a black and white chequerboard pattern) over 3500:1; On/Off Contrast (measured with alternating full screen white and full screen black patterns) was even better at around 5,000:1. The dark screen uniformity was also above average for the technology, although there was two large ‘blobs’ of very faint light at either side of the panel, more noticeable when viewing from the sides than front-on, but they didn’t really intrude too much. More invasive, as far as the picture is concerned, is the frighteningly high gamma response near black, which crushes any details in the darker portions of the picture and noticeably stifles the dynamic range. For that reason alone, we’d advise leaving the Adaptive Contrast (dimming) setting at Off as it only further strangles the details out of the picture.
While the dark screen uniformity was good, it was a different story when pictures were brighter and especially when they were panning from side to side. That scenario revealed the Hisense K321, at least the sample provided, to have a pretty nasty dirty screen effect, as well as some noticeable panel banding to add in to the mix. This makes watching sports or any content with a lot of fast pans not an especially rewarding experience. To compound these problems, there was an issue with 50Hz sources – all broadcast TV and UK region DVDs – we could sometimes see when objects/people moved across screen, either side to side or up and down. We can’t say we’ve totally nailed down what’s causing the problem but it manifests as a temporary fuzziness/micro-stutter on that specific area of the image; the best example would be when someone nodded or shook their head when the temporary processing glitch took place, so close-up shots would be the easiest place to see it. We can only assume the K321 uses a native 60Hz panel and some optimisations on how it’s being driven for 50Hz material are needed.
Update: Just prior to publishing, we spoke to the Hisense engineers who are now aware of the issue and it is being worked on for the next software release.
There are one or two issues the Hisense engineers need to iron out
Otherwise the video processing of the Hisense K321 was very good. The scaling of lesser resolutions to match the 3,840 x 2160 panel was really good from 720p upwards but if you’re planning to watch a lot of standard definition content, there are better 4K TVs for that on the market, although it does a reasonable job with just a hint of ringing noticeable. Aside from the ‘glitchyness’ noted above, general video deinterlacing was very good with broadcast HD images (1080i) remaining fairly crisp under movement. The motion handling of the K321 was pretty average, however, with some blurriness evident on all fast-paced material; there is an Ultra Smooth Motion option in the Picture Menu with choices of Low, Mid and High but they were all too aggressive for our tastes, producing unnatural soapiness (smoothness) to the images that looked downright unnatural.
For all the negative points we’ve raised against the Hisense K321, it is only fair to say that for the most part, it can produce very decent images and some of our 4K and Ultra HD test clips looked stunning on it, especially when the action was fairly static. It should also be pointed out that we typically are sent manufacturers; higher-end models so our frames of reference at the budget end of the market aren’t as wide. Judged against the TVs we’ve seen this year in a similar price bracket, the K321 actually holds its own pretty well and if a software update can at least sort out the murky images and processing issue then it would be a formidable proposition in the sector.
Sound QualityIt is often with the built-in speakers where a budget TV can really show its roots and, duly, the Hisense K321 provides a very thin and unconvincing sound stage that is only redeemed by the fact dialogue always remains clear. For the money you’ve saved with the K321, you might want to consider an external such as a pair of active speakers or a soundbar. We also noticed lip sync issues with all external inputs, although the delay settings in the Audio menu allowed us to, more or less, fix them totally other than with externally fed Ultra HD video sources from Netflix and Amazon which were a good two seconds out..
Input Lag & Energy ConsumptionThe K321 isn’t the best choice for gamers with a lowest measured input lag of 53.5 milliseconds, which is well above the figures some of the 2015 4K TVs are recording. You will need to activate the Game mode in the Picture Menu to get it to even that number as the other modes are well above 120 milliseconds, which would account for the lip sync issues noted above. Using a full screen white pattern, we noted energy consumption at 117 watts with our calibrated settings whilst the default, Natural mode was far higher at 158.6 watts, so there’s no excuse for not watching the best possible picture.
How future-proof is this TV?
4K Ultra HD Resolution HDR Support Colour Space (percentage of DCI - 100% best) 82.5% 10-bit Panel HDMI 2.0a Inputs HDCP 2.2 Support HEVC Decoding 4K Streaming Services Smart TV Platform Picture Accuracy Out-of-the-Box (score out of 10) 6 What do these mean?
- Very good black levels and contrast ratio
- 4 HDMI 2.0 Ports
- Netflix 4K (Amazon on the way)
- Great price
- Poor bright screen uniformity
- 50Hz panel drive issue
- Picture is way too dark, crushing detail
- Lip sync issues
- Relatively high input lag
Hisense 55K321 4K UHD TV Review
Should I buy the Hisense K321?On the face of things, the 55-inch Hisense K321 outstrips much of the competition in terms of feature set to price ratio, when judged at full retail prices. The problem the K321 has, at this time, is that most of the manufacturers are heavily discounting their mid-tier and higher-end models in the run up to Christmas and as they become end of line. This budget 4K TV has four HDMI 2.0 inputs, support for Ultra HD streaming services and a panel that provides impressive black levels but, unfortunately, it has its share of flaws, too.
Chief amongst the problems was a dirty screen/panel banding effect when panning over bright colours but it is closely followed by pictures that are too tonally dark, by default; the situation is irretrievable with the picture controls. There is also a panel driving issue which manifests when objects move side to side (or up and down) on-screen that was fairly frequently noticeable with 50Hz content, which accounts for all the broadcast TV content in the UK as well as, likely, all your DVD collection. It’s a pity as were it not for these shortcomings, the Hisense 55K321 would have been a nailed on bargain but, as it is, there are just too many issues for it to justify a recommendation. We hope that Hisense can issue a software update to at least fix the processing and luminance issues for that would make it a far more enticing proposition.
What else could I buy?Probably the nearest like-for-like TV we’ve seen in 2015 would be the Finlux 55UT3E242S-T which is priced the same, at £699, but offers slightly better pictures, albeit at the expense of 4K streaming services and the loss of two HDMI 2.0 ports. But we think you’d be better stretching your budget by £50-100 and look at something like the Samsung JU6 series, which beats both the Hisense and Finlux, hands-down, on virtually every front. There’s also the Panasonic CX680, which is being very well discounted at the time of the review going live in December 2015
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
2D Picture Quality7
Picture Quality Out-Of-The-Box6
Picture Quality Calibrated7
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money7
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