Samsung ES8000 (UE-55ES8000) 55 Inch 3D LED LCD Smart TV Review
Was Samsung's flagship LED LCD TV worth the wait?
IntroductionSamsung must be feeling sincerely flattered this year, as it would seem almost every manufacturer is in some way imitating the Korean giant's designs and features. The dominance of the world's largest TV manufacturer can't be underestimated and, in a saturated market place, the other manufacturers are no doubt hoping some of the magic can rub off. As for Samsung themselves, they appear to be continuing with the same game plan that has served them so well over the last few years. So we can expect smaller bezels, striking designs, ultra-thin displays with LED edge lighting and more features than you can shake a motion controller at.
Like Panasonic, and to a lesser extent LG, Samsung produce both LCD and plasma displays but it is the former technology that constitutes the majority of their sales and upon which their strategy is based. Yes OLED is waiting in the wings and will make its grand entrance in the marketplace later this year or early next but it will remain a niche product for some time. Until production costs fall enough to hit mass market price points, the main Samsung product will remain their line-up of LED LCD TVs. Although you can't help thinking that the Koreans are going to have difficulty marketing OLED to confused consumers, who will wonder how the new technology differs from the 'LED TV' they've just bought.
Heading up this year's range of 'LED TVs' is Samsung's UE-55ES8000 and regardless of whether you agree with the misleading nomenclature, there's no denying its capabilities are impressive. In fact, the ES8000 has to rank as one of the best specified TVs on the market, with a list of features as long as your arm. Thanks to the LED edge lighting it's slim of course and the bezel has been reduced to a mere sliver of silver but there's so much more besides. The ES8000 has a built in camera and microphone, which offers the possibility of both voice and motion control, as well as Skype video calls. It comes with a second remote which, when combined with the provided IR 'blaster', becomes a universal controller. There's dual core processing and one of the best Smart TV platforms on the market and whilst 3D might be little more than a standard feature these days, the ES8000 comes with two pairs of Samsung's latest RF active shutter glasses. There’s even Samsung’s new add-on ‘Evolution Kit’ which promises to ensure that the 55ES8000’s internet capabilities remain up-to-date.
Of course this is all just window dressing if the images the display produces aren't up to scratch but the ES8000 has plenty of features in this department too. With an ‘Ultra Clear’ LCD panel, ‘Micro Dimming Ultimate’ technology, a ten-point white balance control and a full colour management system, the 55ES8000 certainly show’s promise. Once you combine all that with Samsung's excellent video processing and effective ambient light filters, the ES8000 has potential to really deliver the goods. However there's only one way to find out, so let's get down to business.
Design and ConnectionsIf there's one area that Samsung truly excel in, it's style and design. You only have to look at the latest TVs from just about every manufacturer to see how influential Samsung's look from last year was. Not a company to sit on their laurels, Samsung have advanced their designs this year and taken them to the next level. At a mere 2.8cm deep the 55ES8000 could give some credit cards a run for their money and at 19kg including the stand, it is remarkably light for a 55 inch screen. The chassis does widen out to 4cm deep at the bottom and this is where Samsung have hidden the largely ineffectual speakers. Sound isn't the only area that is sometimes compromised in the pursuit of a size zero frame; the use of edge LEDs to illuminate the LCD panel can often result in clouding and uniformity issues with the backlight, as well as light spill at the edges.
Speaking of which, if you thought that last year's TVs were 'bezel-less' just wait until you get a look at the 55ES8000. The bezel has been reduced to a silver strip only 5mm wide that surrounds the entire frame, although if you look closely, there is a black border around the panel that is also about 5mm wide. So in actual fact there is a 1cm space between the panel and the edge of the chassis. However we're not going to quibble about a few millimetres, the fact is that the 55ES8000 is about as bezel-less as a screen can get because there needs to be something to hold the display together. Whether you like the idea of a bezel-less display is largely down to personal preference. Some people enjoy looking at an image suspended in space, whilst others feel that a black border improves the perceived picture by offering a reference to black, reducing reflections and light spill and covering a multitude of sins at the edges.
The front of the 55ES8000 is glass, giving the impression of a black mirror when the display is off. It's often been said in jest about Samsung displays but the 55ES8000 really does look beautiful when it's off, a fact that might prove useful when trying to convince you're significant other that you need a new TV. Thankfully, whilst the screen is slightly reflective when the 55ES8000 is off, the filter does an excellent job of rejecting ambient light when the display is actually on. We were never big fans of last year's 'quad foot' stand, so it's good to see that Samsung are using a different approach this year. The new stand is called an 'arch flow' and is metallic in finish, reminding us of the tracks on a toboggan. This gives the 55ES8000 a very sleek appearance and a much reduced footprint, making the entire display including the stand only 21cm deep. However due to the nature of the stand, the 55ES8000 can't be swivelled and it might get in the way of a soundbar, should you use one.
One of the most interesting additions to the 55ES8000 is the inclusion of a built-in camera and microphone, which allows you to not only make Skype video calls but also means you can control the 55ES8000 using voice and motion commands. On Samsung's new flagship plasma, the camera and microphone are hidden in the bezel but this is obviously not an option on the 55ES8000. Instead Samsung have opted for a 1cm by 8cm bump at the top of the frame, which houses the camera and microphone. It also houses the remote control sensor, so you need to get into the habit of pointing the remote at the top rather tha the bottom of the display, which is where IR sensors tend to be hidden. At the rear of this housing is a small wheel for adjusting the angle of the camera. To make the bump housing the camera appear more symmetrical, there is a corresponding bump on the bottom of the frame which has an illuminated Samsung logo on it. Thankfully this illuminated logo can be dimmed and turned off if you, like us, find it annoying.
The rear of the 55ES8000 itself is composed of a black metal casing and at the bottom right hand rear corner there is a joy stick like button that you can use to perform basic controls on the TV, without needing the remote. Also at the rear and on the righthand side are the connections, which include three sideways facing HDMI inputs. Last year's displays had four HDMI inputs and quite why Samsung has decided to drop one is a mystery. Although whilst we're on the subject of missing connectors, the 55ES8000 also has no VGA input or RS232 serial connector. The three HDMI inputs that are included have specific functions assigned to them, with HDMI1 allocated for use with a DVI cable. There is a 3.5mm audio in jack next to HDMI1 for passing the audio if you are using a DVI cable. HDMI2 is allocated as the ARC (Audio Return Channel) and HDMI3 is assigned as the MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) port. The MHL functionality can be enabled when the TV is connected by a HDMI-MHL cable to a device that supports MHL.
There are also three USB ports, with one of them allocated for use with an external HDD. Other sideways facing connections include an optical digital audio output, a RGB input with provided Scart adapter and a headphone socket. The sideways facing connections are about 16cm from the edge of the frame, which is a bit too close. Ideally we would like to see the connections about 20-25cm from the edge, so that cables aren't visible from the front. Facing downwards there are connectors for an external aerial and a satellite dish, inputs for composite and component video and stereo analogue audio. There is also an Ethernet port, although the 55ES8000 has built-in WiFi. Finally, on the lefthand side there is the power cable socket, which uses a detachable 1.5m long two-pin cord.
The standard remote control has had a minor face lift but the basic layout is very similar to last year. The remote is made of black plastic and is comfortable to hold, well laid out and easy to use. There are all the usual buttons but strangely Samsung has dropped the Aspect Ratio button found on previous remotes. This means that you have to go into the picture menu and then into the screen sub-menu in order to change the aspect ratio, making it a very long winded procedure. There is a button for accessing the Smart TV functions which is in the shape of the Smart TV logo and there are also four new buttons. These buttons are called History (which shows you the most recent channels or inputs selected), Family Story (which accesses Samsung's Family Story feature), Camera (which activates the built-in camera) and Support (which brings up the e-manual and other support features). Personally we would rather that Samsung drop one of these buttons (ideally Family History) in favour of providing direct access to the aspect ratio menu.
The 55ES8000 also comes with a second remote control that has a touchpad to make navigating the Smart TV features easier. There are simple controls for changing the volume and channel, as well as buttons for accessing the Smart TV features and the voice control menu. There is even a microphone built into the remote to enable you to use the voice control without shouting across the room. Although if you have the remote in your hand, it is probably just as easy to use it in the more traditional manner. We found that once we had got used to using the remote and learning all the shortcuts, it was actually quite effective, especially when navigating the numerous Smart TV features.
At first we were confused as to the purpose of the strange black cylinder that was in the box and thought it might be part of the stand. Once we had established this was not the case and that it actually needed batteries, we opened the manual to discover its purpose. It turned out the small black device was actually an 'IR blaster', to use Samsung's terminology, and once you have paired it with the TV you can use it to convert the second remote into a universal controller. You can then use a menu wizard to set the second remote to control your make of set top box and Blu-ray player, thus minimising the number of remotes lying around. We setup the second remote to control both our STB and BD player and whilst it certainly worked, we found the implementation a bit slow and the number of available controls is limited.
The 55ES8000 comes with two pairs of 3D glasses but when we first saw Samsung's latest version, we thought someone in the design team had been having a bad day at the office. However, over time the glasses grew on us and eventually we began to appreciate their strengths whilst accepting their limitations. First of all the glasses are very light, even lighter than Panasonic's latest RF glasses, which means you can almost forget that you're wearing them. Another good feature is that there is very little tint to the lenses which means that colours on 3D material appear more accurate. The glasses also use the new RF standard for 3D glasses which a number of manufacturers, including Panasonic, have adopted. We happened to have a pair of Panasonic's RF glasses and we were pleased to see that they did indeed work with the 55ES8000. We also had the new RF extension module for the XpanD X104 glasses and once again these worked very well with the 55ES8000. It might well be too late for 3D but it is good to see the manufacturers finally embracing some form of compatibility. In terms of the negatives, we did find the new glasses to be a little fragile, an unfortunate side effect of their lightness and we also didn't like the fact that can't fold the arms of the frames in. The rectangular lenses look a bit silly but they are reasonably large and did just about fit over regular glasses. Our real problem with the glasses was the lack of any sides to the frames which meant they couldn't block out ambient light. For this reason alone we ultimately preferred the design of Panasonic's RF glasses.
MenusThe 55ES8000 uses essentially the same menu system that Samsung have been using on their TVs for the last couple of years. This is good news because overall, the Samsung menu system is well designed, pleasing to look at and provides a clear and concise series of choices. The main menu offers a basic set of options including Picture, Sound, Channel,Network, System and Support but within these main choices are a large number of sub-menus. When a menu option is selected it is highlighted with a light blue overlay and the various sub-menus are listed and can then be selected using the directional keys on the remote control. One useful feature is that when you select the various menu options an overlay appears to the right which briefly explains what that particular control does. This can be very useful when dealing with some of the rather more esoteric features that are found on modern TVs. Starting off with the Channel menu, this obviously controls tuning the 55ES8000 and includes options relating to the DTV and satellite tuners as well as showing a list of all the available channels. Here the menu choices include selecting the Aerial, your Country, Auto Tuning, Manual Tuning, the type of Programme Guide, Genre Selection, Transfer Channel List, Fine Tuning and Crosstalk Noise Reduction.
The Network menu allows you to set up your network, check your network status and select your AllShare settings. The 55ES8000 has built-in WiFi that is very easy to set up and worked flawlessly during the review period, however if you don't have a wireless router you can also use an Ethernet cable. The 55ES8000 also includes WiFi Direct which means that it can connect directly to any WiDi enabled device. The Sound menu contains a fairly comprehensive choice of modes such as Movie, Music, Standard, Clear Voice etc. as well as controls for Sound Effect, 3D Audio, Broadcast Audio Options, Additional Settings, Speaker Settings and a reset button. As we mentioned earlier, the speakers on the 55ES8000 are hidden away at the bottom of the chassis, so the fact that the sound produced by the 55ES8000 was rather mediocre didn't come as a huge surprise. Unfortunately poor sound quality is one of the sacrifices you must make if you want a display this thin but there are options available, such as using a 5.1 system or a soundbar like Samsung's own HW-E551.
The System menu contains controls for the Time, Language, Device Manager, the Voice and Motion Control features, the Eco Solutions, Subtitles, Digital Text and Security. This is also where you can turn off the illuminated logo on the front of the bezel. As with all previous Samsung TVs it is here, hidden away in the General sub-menu, that you will find the Game Mode. Despite us pointing this out every year, Samsung persists on putting the Game Mode here rather than with the other modes in the Picture menu. So, if you want to bypass all the processing and keep the input lag to a minimum whilst gaming, this is where you'll find the best mode. The last of the non-picture options is the Support menu and in here you will find the very useful e-Manual, a Self Diagnosis function, the Software Upgrade sub-menu, a Contact Samsung feature, Remote Management options and the Smart Hub settings.
From the perspective of image fidelity, the Picture menu is the most important and offers a choice of four types of viewing Mode - Standard, Natural, Dynamic and Movie. The latter is designed to approximate industry standards and thus it offers the most accurate out-of-the-box settings. Both the Picture Mode and the Sound Mode can be accessed directly using theTools button on the remote control. There are also all the usual basic controls that you would expect to find on a LCD display such as Backlight, Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness, Colour and Tint. From the Picture menu, you can also access sub menus for Screen Adjustment, 3D, Advanced Settings and Picture Options.
The Screen Adjustment menu allows access to the Picture Size options, which in the absence of a dedicated button on the remote is now the only way to change the aspect ratio. There are a number of different choices but for watching high definition material, Screen Fit is the best option as it shows the content without zooming in and adding unwanted scaling. You can also change the images position on the screen, as well as select if you want to watch 4:3 material in its original ratio or stretched across the 16:9 panel.
Within the Options sub-menu, you can choose the Colour Tone (really colour temperature) which gives you a choice of Cool, Normal, Warm1 and Warm2. We found that Warm2 comes closest to industry standards. There is also a Digital Noise Filter and an MPEG Noise Filter, both of which we would recommend turning off. In this sub-menu, you will also find HDMI Black Level for choosing between PC and Video levels and the Film Mode option for cadence detection. Finally there are options for both Motion Plus and LED Motion Plus both of which we will address later in the review.
Within the Advanced Settings sub-menu there is Dynamic Contrast which varies the Contrast on-the-fly and thus boosts the perceived dynamic range, Black Tone which is best left off as it crushes shadow detail, Flesh Tone which primarily adjusts the luminance of magenta, RGB Only Mode which allows you to see each of the three primary colours individually and is a useful for checking correct colour decoding, Expert Pattern which provides a series of test patterns and Black Enhancer. In Movie mode most of these controls default to off which is good as we recommend that you leave them that way. Within Advanced Settings there are all the key calibration controls, starting with gamma which globally adjusts gamma across the entire image. Then there's a choice of a two point white balance control or a ten point White Balance control which will allow for very accurate calibration of the greyscale.
Finally, there's an option called Colour Space which gives you a choice between Auto, Native and Custom; if you choose Custom you have access to a full colour management system (CMS). This allows for the accurate calibration of the colour gamut by adjusting the luminance, saturation and hue of the three primary colours (red, green and blue) and the three secondary colours (cyan, magenta and yellow). The 55ES8000 allows you to save all the settings (including White Balance and Colour Space) for each input individually, which is a very handy function as it allows you to correctly calibrate each input specifically for the device that is connected to it.
The final sub-menu within the Picture menu contains all the 3D related controls and can be accessed directly by using the 3D button on the remote. This sub-menu allows you to choose the 3D Mode (2D to 3D, Side by Side, Top and Bottom etc.), the 3D Effect (which adjusts the parallax), L/R Change which swaps the images for each eye, 3D-2D which shows 3D content in 2D, 3D Auto View which automatically selects the correct 3D Mode when it receives a 3D input and 3D Optimisation.
Test ResultsAs we mentioned in the main part of the review, we chose the Movie preset for these tests because it is the closest to industry standards. We also turned off all the unnecessary features, selected a Colour Tone setting of Warm2, a Colour Space of Auto and set the Backlight, Brightness and Contrast controls to suit our viewing environment.
As you can see from the graph above the RGB tracking was rather mediocre, with a large excess of red below 50IRE, an excess of blue above 50IRE and green tracking about 5% too low across the entire scale. This resulted in some sizeable DeltaEs (errors) and there was a definite pinkish hue to the overall image. The gamma measured between 2.4 and 2.6 which is slightly darker overall than our general target of 2.2 for an average viewing environment. However the inclusion of a ten point white balance control should allow us to vastly improve this performance.
The colour gamut performance was actually much better than the greyscale, with the majority of the colours measuring quite close to their targets. The overall errors were all either at or below the threshold of 3 and the luminance errors were all quite small. There was a sizeable error in the colour of blue and the hue of cyan but these will doubtless improve once the greyscale has been calibrated. Since Samsung includes a highly effective Colour Management System we would expect to be able to improve this performance still further with calibration.
To calibrate the 55ES8000 we left the majority of settings as they were and then used the two-point and ten-point White Balance and the CMS to set the Greyscale and Colour Gamut as accurately as possible. We started by using the two-point white balance control to correct the large errors and then used the ten-point white balance control to fine tune the greyscale. As a result we were able to deliver a reference performance with all three primary colours tracking around the target of 100, resulting in DeltaEs below 1. Using the Gamma control we were also able to produce a gamma that measured between 2.2 and 2.3 which is ideal for a normal viewing environment. Overall this is an excellent performance from the 55ES8000 and is essentially perfect.
As you can see on the graph above the colour gamut is now measuring almost exactly at the industry standard of Rec.709. The overall DeltaEs are now all less than 1 which is a degree of error that is imperceptible to the human eye. Thanks to the calibrated greyscale the colour of white is now also measuring at the industry standard of D65. In fact the only errors left are a tiny error in the hue of blue and a slight under-saturation in the colour of red. Overall this is a reference colour gamut performance and coupled with the equally excellent greyscale they should provide the essential components for a very accurate image.
Samsung have delivered some very impressive video processing in the past, so we were expecting similar performance here and we weren't disappointed. As always we started the video processing tests on the PAL and NTSC HQV benchmark discs which the 55ES8000 had absolutely no problems with, correctly scaling the full 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. The 55ES8000 also performed superbly when it came to video deinterlacing with jaggies only appearing when the line was at a very acute angle in the first test. In the second test the motion adaptive deinterlacing was also excellent with only very slight jaggies appearing on the bottom most extreme of the three moving bars. The 55ES8000 had no problems displaying all the fine brickwork in the detail tests and quickly locked onto, and displayed, a solid image in the film detail test (provided the Film Mode is enabled). The 55ES8000 also had no problems displaying film material with scrolling video text when Film Mode was set to Auto2. In the cadence tests the 55ES8000 had no problems correctly detecting the 3:2 (NTSC - USA/Japan) cadence, producing rock solid images that were free of artefacts. However, as we noticed with some Samsung displays towards the end of last year, the 55ES8000 was unable to correctly detect the 2:2 (PAL - European) cadence, which will result in some jaggies and other artefacts. We're not sure why Samsung displays no longer correctly detect 2:2 cadence because they had no problems previously but it isn't a major problem.
The 55ES8000 also performed extremely well in tests on the HQV Blu-ray benchmark disc and with the player set to 1080i the 55ES8000 correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests. The 55ES8000 also had no problems handling 24p material either, reproducing the test images smoothly with no judder or other artefacts. One observation we did make was that very occasionally there would be a momentary stutter in the image. This seemed to happen on a variety of different content and there appeared to be no pattern to when it would, very infrequently, occur. We were unable to replicate the anomaly in testing and we can only assume that it is a bug in the processing software. It didn't happen often enough to be a problem but we will report our findings back to Samsung.
Finally we moved on to the Spears and Munsil test disc which contains a number of very useful test patterns to measure the overall performance of the display and needless to say the 55ES8000 sailed through all the cadence and deinterlacing tests. We find that the ‘Image Cropping’ test is useful for checking if there is any overscan and the ‘Luma Multiburst’ is handy for making sure that the full 1920x1080 resolution is being displayed. These tests are particularly useful for demonstrating why you should always use the Screen Fit aspect ratio instead of the 16:9 ratio. If you leave the 55ES8000 set to the default 16:9 ratio then the image is cropped by up to 30 pixels and the scaling involved results in reduced resolution that is easy to see on the multiburst test. It is therefore important to make sure you use the Screen Fit picture size with high definition material in order to see all the detail in the image.
In addition we were able to use the ‘Dynamic Range High’ test to check we have the contrast set correctly. As long as you didn't have the contrast set too high the headroom performance from reference white (video level 235) up to peak white (video level 255) was excellent with and no signs of clipping. On the ‘Dynamic Range Low’ test the 55ES8000 also correctly showed detail down to a video level 17 and reference black below that to video level 0 which confirmed that we had also correctly set the Brightness control. This test also showed why you should leave the Black Tone, Black Enhancer and Dynamic Contrast controls off because engaging them immediately resulted in lost video levels at the bottom of the dynamic range.
In previous reviews of Samsung LCD displays we had discovered that using the custom settings on the Motion Plus frame interpolation control could provide some benefits, especially with fast paced sports content. Despite trying different custom settings for judder and blur we found that the resulting images had a detrimental effect on film based content and ultimately we left it off. Rather confusingly there is also a control called LED Motion Plus which can be either set to on or off. Whilst this did initially help with motion we once again found that it also introduced artefacts and we ultimately left it off too. In fact we found that the 55ES8000 handled motion reasonably well without the use of any of its additional interpolation systems and LED dimming functions so we found it best to avoid them.
In Game mode the input lag on the 55ES8000 measured 50ms which is something of a disappointment and whilst it might be acceptable to the casual gamer will almost certainly be too slow for the more serious enthusiast. As mentioned previously the Game Mode itself is hidden away in the General sub-menu of the System menu.
Considering the screen size of the 55ES8000 it was very energy efficient, which just shows one of the major benefits of using LED lighting on LCD panels. The consumption figures in Movie Mode using 0, 50 and 100 IRE windows were 46W, 99W and 101W and in standby the usage was less than 0.5W. The average power consumption when watching actual full screen material in Movie mode was about 100W which is excellent. In 3D mode this increased to around 150W but this is still an impressive performance.
Picture Quality - 2DOverall the 55ES80000 is a great performer in terms of 2D picture quality and this is in no small part due to the picture accuracy. Thanks to the excellent calibration controls that Samsung include in their TVs we were able to produce a reference performance in terms of both greyscale and colour gamut. These picture elements form the backbone of any good image and if they aren’t accurate then nothing will be. Once you add in the excellent video processing the results are some very impressive images, regardless of whether the content you are watching is standard or high definition.
The 55ES8000 uses Samsung’s SPVA panel and as such it manages to deliver some quite impressive blacks for a LCD display. We measured the black level using a 0IRE window at 0.05cd/m2, although if you used a full 0IRE raster, the panel just turned the LEDs off, resulting in a measurement of 0cd/m2. Of course this kind of ‘global dimming’ is a bit of a cheat because you are never going to be looking at a completely black screen but even a measurement of 0.05cd/m2 is excellent for a LCD TV. This performance was equally as good using an ANSI pattern, where once again we measure the blacks at 0.05cd/m2 and white at 144cdm/2, resulting in a genuinely impressive dynamic range. If you engaged the Black Enhancer feature a lower black level could be measured but at the expense of shadow detail so our recommendation is that you don’t use it.
Unfortunately, whilst the 55ES8000 can deliver some impressive blacks, where the use of Samsung’s SPVA panel has its downside is in terms of viewing angles. Sadly these were very limited and if you were sat anywhere but dead-centre to the 55ES8000 the colours and blacks would immediately begin to wash out. The same was true if you stood up and looked down at the 55ES8000, so you will need to be very careful when positioning the display, especially somewhere high such as above a fireplace.
One of our big complaints when it comes to ultra-thin displays that use edge LED lighting is that there are often serious backlight uniformity issues. We’re happy to say that whilst there was some clouding and a small amount of light spill at the edges, overall the 55ES8000 delivered a surprisingly uniform backlight. Given the size of the screen and the narrow depth of the panel this is an excellent performance from Samsung and we were also glad to see that the 55ES8000 was free of the banding that plagued last year's models. Of course when watching a dark scene at night you could sometimes see some clouding but with most content it was never apparent. This was especially true when watching content during the day, when the 55ES8000's filter was really effective, delivering some fantastic blacks.
Our only other issue with the 55ES8000 in terms image quality was that Samsung are still sneaking some noise reduction in through the backdoor. It is far less aggressive than last year and at times it is barely noticeable but it did show up in testing. We wish Samsung would understand that grain is supposed to be there and by trying to remove it with picture processing just robs the image of detail. However in fairness, it never really detracted from our enjoyment of the 2D image produced by the 55ES8000 and overall the performance was very good.
Picture Quality - 3DThe 3D performance of the 55ES8000 was also very good and a definite improvement on last year. The 3D certainly benefited from the larger screen size and the increased brightness , whilst the bezel-less design also added to the effect with the lack of a border adding to the sense of depth. The 55ES8000 handled 3D Blu-rays very well producing detailed images that had plenty of punch and almost no crosstalk. We tried a few torture tests like Happy Feet Two with all its black penguins against white backgrounds and overall the 55ES8000 stood up very well with only minimal crosstalk. Watching the BBC's side-by-side 3D broadcast of the Men's Final at Wimbledon was also very impressive and although there was a little bit of crosstalk, it never became intrusive.
In fact we found that despite being a LCD TV, the 55ES8000 was capable of producing a 3D performance that was remarkably free of crosstalk and thus delivering an enjoyable and artefact free 3D experience. The 55ES8000 also handled motion very well and overall we found watching 3D to be an immersive and enjoyable experience. The new glasses worked flawlessly and thanks to the use of RF we never lost sync with the display. The glasses were incredibly light and comfortable to wear, so much so that we almost forgot we were wearing them and we were never really aware of flicker. The only area of weakness with the glasses was that they tended to let ambient light in at the sides which could sometimes be distracting.
We also found 3D gaming to be quite enjoyable and whilst there was still occasional crosstalk, overall the 55ES8000 handled motion very well and produced images that had plenty of depth. However when compared to watching a movie we did find game play to be far more fatiguing but perhaps this is because viewing a film is a more passive activity. In the end the 3D performance of the 55ES8000 was very impressive for a LCD TV and there's no question that Samsung have made definite improvements in this area since last year.
FeaturesThe 55ES8000 has a truly impressive list of features, so many in fact that it might be difficult to cover them all but we'll try. First of all it includes connections for both an aerial and a satellite dish and it includes a Freeview HD tuner. The programme guide is the standard version found on all Samsung TVs and it is well laid out and easy to follow. There is a thumbnail image and audio of the channel you are currently on and if you attach a HDD via the appropriate USB connections you also have a recording functionality that can be accessed via the Smart Hub.
The Smart Hub acts as an excellent central point from which to access all the other smart features. From here you can access Samsung Apps, Your Video, Family Story, Fitness features, Kids content and Social TV. You can also access the TV channels, the Programme guide, the web browser, the schedule manager, the source list, any Allshare content, the camera and Skype. It’s all totally customisable and it's easy to create folders and move content around to avoid the pages looking cluttered. Along with the ubiquitous iPlayer and YouTube, there are also VoD services from Netlfix, LoveFilm and many more. Newly added are the ITV Player and, just in time for London 2012 is the BBC Sport App which, throughout the Olympics, will deliver 2,500 hours of content and up to 24 simultaneous events including audio options, and medal tables.
One of the best features in the Smart Hub is the 'Your Video' section that actually uses a recommendation engine, where your viewing habits are tracked and suggestions made based on genre, subject matter, director, actor/actress etc. The engine will search for material from the various VoD services, including iPlayer and YouTube too, as well as from the programme guide and any attached HDD. In terms of apps that aren’t VoD, Samsung has an impressive selection available in the Samsung Apps store. For those that can't bear to be away from Facebook and Twitter, there are apps for both of them, as well as the Social TV feature that allows you to enjoy programming with your friends via a chat tab down the right hand side of the screen, although they will need to have a compatible Samsung TV in order to enjoy this feature.
Given the limited amount of 3D content that is available, we found Samsung’s free 3D streaming service, Explore 3D to be quite useful. It has quite a lot of decent content and despite our limited broadband service, we didn't experience any problems with streaming the 3D content. One of the best new features is the inclusion of a built-in camera and microphone, which allows users to make and receive Skype video calls. We tested this feature with the Samsung E8000 plasma that we were also reviewing and found that the feature worked surprisingly well. The audio and video was certainly very passable and making calls and chatting was very easy, although texting was a lot quicker if you had access to a keyboard.
The Family Story feature appears to be a kind of family blog where you can post photos, write comments, make diary appointments and share content with other members of your family. The 55ES8000 also includes a full web browser and thanks to the dual core processing, it was very responsive and effectively presented. We found that the touchpad remote was very handy for a speedy and fairly accurate scroll around the browser but inputting text was still quite laborious. We found that the smartphone and tablets helped here by providing a keyboard, although if you want, Samsung sell an optional wireless keyboard.
It's no surprise that the 55ES8000 works extremely well as media player and we had no problems with anything we threw at it using a variety of media servers including Samsung’s own Smartshare software. Owners of mobile devices – either iOS or Android - can benefit from an app that turns it into a remote control that works through your Wi-Fi home network and those with Galaxy Tab’s are able to even stream content from the TV to the tablet using the Smart Share app. We tried both the iOS and Android versions and whilst they worked we didn't find them as well implemented as they are by other manufacturers.
If you've seen any of Samsung's TV adverts recently, you'll have noticed that they are making a big deal about their new voice and motion control features. So are these features worth the hype? The short answer is no but to we will try and elaborate. As far as voice control is concerned, you can either speak directly to the TV or as mentioned previously, you can talk into the touch pad remote. Whichever approach you choose, in order to activate the voice command feature you need to address the TV with the words "Hi TV" at which point you might get some command choices such as switching off the TV, changing channels, adjusting the volume or calling up a number of the Smart TV features. We say might because more often than not, nothing happened even when we shouted at the TV. Frankly we felt rather stupid and given how quiet our review environment was, we started to get annoyed when the TV continually asked us if we were in a noisy environment. Sometimes we found the TV would suddenly respond, even when we weren't trying to address the TV but thankfully you can turn the voice control feature off. We found that the voice control feature did work better when using the touch pad remote but as we said earlier, if you've already got the remote in your hand, why bother with voice control, it is far quicker and easier just to use the remote!
Moving on to the motion control feature, well that made the voice control seem useful and highly effective by comparison. In theory, if you point your hands toward the camera built-in to the frame and begin waving them, an on-screen menu will appear. As with the voice control feature, there are the basic controls plus the choice of accessing some Smart TV features but unless you are at the right distance and there is plenty of light in your room, you'll find the only motion you'll be doing is reaching for the remote control. We found this feature to be utterly useless at night, unless we left the room to make a cup of tea at which point the TV appeared to magically detect us. The motion control feature got very annoying very quickly but luckily, as with the voice control, we could turn it off. There is also a face recognition feature that is designed to act as a management tool for the storage of user preferences on the Smart Hub but it appeared to become quite confused once there was more than one face to remember, which rather defeats the point of having the feature in the first place. In fairness to Samsung, these features are still developing and it's early days but for the time being, don't lose those remote controls.
- Excellent colour gamut out-of-the-box
- Reference colour gamut after calibration
- Reference greyscale after calibration
- Excellent video processing
- Impressive array of calibration controls
- Well designed and responsive menu system
- Well implemented Smart TV platform
- Attractive design
- Built-in WiFi and camera
- Touch pad remote control
- Two pairs of 3D glasses
- Some clouding on the backlight
- Some minor undefeatable noise reduction
- Very occasional stutter in image processing
- Poor performance with off-axis viewing
- HDMI inputs too near the edge of the screen
- Only 3 HDMI inputs
- Voice and motion controls are a bust
Samsung ES8000 (UE-55ES8000) 55 Inch 3D LED LCD Smart TV Review
When it comes to looks, the 55ES8000 is a clear winner, delivering the kind of design panache we have come to expect from Samsung. The bezel-less frame and ultra-thin chassis give the impression of a black mirror that looks as striking when its off as it does when its on. The quad stand of last year has been replaced by the new 'arch flow' design that is reminiscent of the tracks on a toboggan and whilst it looks attractive and provides a narrow footprint, it does mean you can't swivel the panel. At the top of the frame there is a small bump that contains a built-in camera and microphone, allowing you to make Skype video calls and to utilise the voice and motion controls.
The 55ES8000 comes with two remote controls, one is the standard Samsung remote and the other is a touch pad remote that makes navigating the Smart TV features easier. Overall the remotes work very well but the removal of the aspect ratio button from the standard remote is a real nuisance. The 55ES8000 includes an IR 'blaster' which when paired with the TV allows you to use the touch pad remote to control your set top box and blu-ray player as well. The 55ES8000 also includes two pairs of Samsung’s latest RF active shutter glasses and although they look strange at first we found they grew on us thanks to their incredible lightness and the lack of tint to the lenses. At the rear there is a reasonable set of connections, although there are only three HDMI inputs, compared to four last year.
The features on the 55ES8000 are truly impressive but some are more useful than others. The Smart Hub is superb offering an excellent entry point to all the 55ES8000's smart features and its design and layout is attractive and easy to navigate. There is an extensive selection of VoD services as well as an impressive range of apps available from Samsung's app store. The dual core processing results in a fast and responsive platform, a decent web browser and the Your Video feature is genuinely useful. The 55ES8000 has all the usual social networking features and the inclusion of a camera and microphone means that you can easily make Skype video calls. The camera and microphone also allow the 55ES8000 to include voice and motion control features, although in practice we found them to be slow and frustrating to use and we ultimately ended up resorting to the remote control.
The picture performance of the 55ES8000 was very impressive, especially in terms of image accuracy, which thanks to the superb calibration controls was of a reference standard. The video processing was excellent and the backlight uniformity was surprisingly good for an ultra-thin display that uses edge LED lighting. Whilst there was some clouding it never became distracting, even during dark scenes and the panel was thankfully free of banding. The use of Samsung’s SPVA delivers some great blacks for a LCD TV and the filter really paid dividends during the day, delivering some very impressive images. The only real downside to the SPVA panel is that it has a very poor viewing angle so you will need to take care when positioning the 55ES8000. Our only other issue with the 55ES8000 in terms image quality was that Samsung are still sneaking some noise reduction in through the backdoor. It is far less aggressive than last year but we wish Samsung would understand that grain is supposed to be there.
The 3D performance was a definite improvement on last year and thanks to the size and brightness of the screen, the 3D was suitably immersive. There was very little crosstalk, especially when watching 3D Blu-rays and the motion handling was also very good. As a result the images were generally free of distracting artefacts that might otherwise impact on your enjoyment of the 3D. Game play was also great fun in both 2D and 3D although even in Game mode, we measured an input lag of 50ms, which will probably be too high for serious gamers. In terms of its eco qualifications, the use of LEDs resulted in an impressively low power consumption, with the 55ES8000 only using 100W in its calibrated mode.
The Samsung UE-55ES8000 represents the zenith of modern TV design and capabilities, offering a genuinely breathtaking range of features. Some minor complaints aside, it backs that capability up with a very solid picture performance that is sure to please all but the most demanding videophile. If you're looking for a TV that combines smarts and performance, we recommend you check out the Samsung UE-55ES8000.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £2,499.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
3D Picture Quality9
Ease Of Use9
Value for Money9
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