One for the future. And the here and now.
What is the Samsung UE55HU8500?
We’ve already had a taste of Samsung’s Ultra HD HU8500 range when we reviewed the 65-inch version, and it didn’t disappoint.Some slight concerns over the wisdom of injecting some curvature in to the screen aside, the HU8500 was exactly what we’ve come to expect from a top-tier Samsung. It produced supremely accurate colours, great black levels and it was powered along capably by some superb video processing. That’s not to mention a magnificent Smart TV platform and the inclusion of HEVC decoders to facilitate 4K streaming.
In fact, on that very subject, the UE55HU8500 presents us with our very first opportunity to tap into Netflix’s recently launched (admittedly small) catalogue of UHD content and we’ll be grabbing it with eager hands. Aside from the viability of 4K streaming, we’ll also be able to re-examine the question of whether 55-inches will really cut it, in terms of screen size, from ‘sensible’ viewing distances to appreciate the extra resolution. Only this time, with actual, publicly available content…
Design & ConnectionsHmm, where to start? Of course, we’re going straight to the curve and, from a cosmetic point of view, it is undeniably striking and utterly gorgeous to behold in the flesh. We’ll address any concerns over its impact on picture quality later, but it won’t fail to draw admiring glances and comments from anyone visiting. Should you have it facing a window, you might find the distorted reflections distracting during daytime viewing but that’s never an ideal placement for a TV, in any case. It’s beautiful and so is the matching two-tone black and silver base-stand which is made from real metal and bends slightly in sympathy with the screen. Whatever you might say about this current trend, it is 100% eye-catching and we can definitely envisage it doing very well on the shop-floor.
To maintain those drop-dead-gorgeous looks and sweeping lines, the One Connect box is a superb solution as you can hide it away, and thus all the cables of connected equipment with it, and then hook it up by means of a single cable. This is an approach we wish more would replicate and the fact it’s upgradable to keep up with evolving standards, is a huge plus. The One Connect gives you four HDMI 2.0 inputs which include support for HCDP 2.2, aerial and satellite connectors, two USB ports, an Ethernet port, an IR extender, a 3.5mm audio jack and an optical digital output.
Samsung clearly wants owners to make use of their new Smart Control handset as the other is bland, small and out of keeping with the rest of the high-end package. The new controller is great, actually, and allows users to easily switch between Smart Hub panels, scroll webpages and also boast a really effective Motion Control sensor to move the on-screen cursor to navigate and enter screens. There are also playback controls, Menu, Standby and Guide (EPG) buttons, plus one that activates the new ‘Football Mode’ which has been included in preparation for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil and produces probably the worst picture we’ve ever seen from a TV. Avoid it – what were you thinking with the undefeatable ‘Stadium’ picture mode, Samsung?
We really like the new controller
FeaturesWe promise, our very next port of call on completion of this review is a dedicated piece on Samsung’s 2014 Smart TV platform. For now, we’ll say it remains vast and very slick and contains more desirable Video on Demand services than any others competing. Samsung has somewhat rationalised the interface and, by default, you will be greeted with a selection of app and service’s shortcuts at the bottom of the screen, presented in a card style format. In fact, it looks not unlike the interface of LG’s new webOS platform but we’re sure that’s purely a coincidence. The short version of the Smart TV system story is one of supreme comprehensiveness, mixed with some small concerns over accessibility but, as we say, more to follow soon!
The default Movie mode was already in excellent shape prior to making any adjustments beyond optimising Contrast and Backlight for the environment. The greyscale was just a tad green-tinged but the highest delta errors were between 4 and 5, near white, so not a great deal over the tolerable threshold of 3. All things considered, we opted for a gamma target of 2.3 with the HU8500 and it wasn’t too far off that at the default setting. Considering the controls on board, it should be fairly easy to have it tracking flat to target. The out-of-box adherence to the Rec. 709 HD colour standards was even more impressive, with not one of them registering a dE of over 3 but, again, there are some excellent calibration controls, so we will expect even better.
As ever, the Samsung controls are a joy to use and in short order we were able to eradicate greyscale errors, almost totally. The ‘highest’ dE of 0.52 at 70% grey is not something to lose any sleep over and we deliberately left in a tiny bump in gamma response at 10% stimulus to show we weren’t cheating.
Moving on to the colours, and at full stimulation levels it was a similar picture of perfection. Our largest error here was 1.1, for red, owing to the fact we had to slightly under-saturate to balance out the luminance error. Our eyes are more tuned to picking up errors in brightness than saturation although, to be fair, neither error would have been large enough to register.
Looking at the picture below, plotting performance at lesser stimulation levels, we can see that the slight under-saturation of red continues but, again, not at levels likely to be picked up by the human eye. Elsewhere, colours are tracking pretty much exactly where we would want them, with the majority of measures hitting their target boxes.
Contrast, Black Levels and Screen Uniformity
Samsung hasn’t quite managed to conjure up a 4k TV capable of plunging the depths of blackness their 1080p panels can but we have very little complaint here and there is some perceived improvement by using the Smart LED dimming system. In all honesty, we weren’t quite so impressed with Smart LED as we were when reviewing the (flat) F9000, in 2013, as its undoubted technical excellence seems to be stretched by the curvature. This is evidenced by the fact the extreme corners of the screen never appear as dark as the rest of the screen, even in the sweet spot. As one moves away from the centre, this effect becomes even more noticeable although we still opted to leave it on the Standard setting for the most impactful performance.
Looking at the measurements taken from a chequerboard above, we can see that there’s quite a spread in black level readings, with the lowest taken at 0.046 and the highest at 0.087 cd/m2. Effectively the latter of those measurements gives a contrast performance nearly half that of the former so it would be good if Samsung could improve the light dispersion across the curved display. We are sure they are working on that very thing and it would be good to see some improvement on the ANSI contrast ratio of 1537:1 next time around. That’s still a good figure and, as we said, the dimming system gives a very good perception of deep blacks but there is room for improvement.
As ever, video processing is excellent. Which is good, because it needs to be with a 4K panel.
The processing capabilities of the 55-inch are just the same as those of the 65-inch we’ve already tested, meaning they are superb. With the lack of native content borne in mind, it’s obviously the scaling of lesser signals that is of key importance and the HU8500 does a staggeringly good job. Even horrible old SD can look palatable on this panel and that really is no mean feat. Obviously, if you envisage your viewing future to mostly be comprised of Freeview and a few DVDs, there are better choices but with 1080i and 1080p – in fact anything 720p up – it can, and generally does, deal with it in tremendous fashion. Samsung’s new Auto Depth Enhancer processing is designed to manipulate contrast, in certain of areas of the image, to create an extra sense of depth. We’ve seen this done by many a manufacturer – and even a dedicated device – but it’s always been an option previously, whereas it’s a permanent feature of the HU8500. Fortunately, it’s a very subtly applied process and not something we were able to clearly identify as being applied with patterns or everyday viewing.
Either the 55-inch panel is less laggy than the 65” or Samsung has released a firmware update in the intervening period between now and our review of it. By editing the name of an HDMI input to PC, using the Tools button the remote, input lag comes down to a fairly manageable 44.6 milliseconds, from a figure unspeakably large, without doing so. It’s good news, in a way, as it means you can retain the Movie picture mode and there’s no need to dig out the dedicated Game mode in the Setup menu but it’s probably not something the average owner will ever think of doing.
- Standby: 0W
- Out-of-the-Box – Normal Mode: 103W
- Calibrated – Professional Mode: 97W
- Calibrated - 3D Mode: 147W
Samsung 55HU8500 Picture Quality - 2DCurve
Let’s deal with the curve, first of all. It doesn’t really have any major negative impact on viewing from reasonable angles and there were times when it did add just a whisker more of a sense of depth. For instance, a scene from the first episode of House of Cards, Season 2, with Doug and Rachel uses a depth of field shot up a corridor and the bend genuinely added something to the scene, albeit fleetingly. There was but one other instance where we thought the curve added anything to any content and that was with one of the 4K documentaries available through Netflix (more on that later) but, otherwise, its existence went generally unnoticed. It can cause a small distraction when looking at something likes a sports pitch with horizontal markings but the brain soon becomes accustomed. In short, we have no actual major objections to the idea, when put into practice, but it’s certainly not something we’d deem either necessary or mind-blowing to watch.
Ultra HD 4K – AKA Netflix
As we alluded to above, the HU8500 afforded us our first opportunity to check out Netflix’s 4K content. There isn’t a great deal of it, and by the time most of you read this review, I will probably have watched it all but, still, there was a landmark feeling to the experience. And what of it? We have to say that it was highly impressive and incredibly quick to reach the full 3840 x 2160 streaming resolution. For context, we have a reliable 20Mbps cable connection, so not the fastest available but better than a lot of people can get and the minimum Netflix suggests you’ll need for a stable experience.
It’s fortunate I’m a huge fan of House of Cards, having already watched Season Two only three months ago. At the time of writing, I’m up to Episode 7 in 4K and it’s an almost surreal experience watching streamed content that looks so good. For comparison, we simultaneously had Netflix running through the TiVo which, as it has its own dedicated internet connection, ensured neither stream would be bandwidth constrained, and there was a real difference when switching between the two.
The curve doesn't really harm but then it doesn't make a big difference, either
Without spoilers… there is a scene at the end of Episode One with Frank and Zoe in a subway station where the latter engages in dialogue with the former whilst leaning against a wall. From the 4K stream, from around 5-6ft, we could clearly see a couple of zits on Zoe’s nose that were supposed to be hidden behind concealer that weren’t apparent on the Super HD stream. OK, that’s not exactly going to sell Ultra HD to you - and nor is the best tarmac you’ve ever seen during the opening credits - but there is an extra gleam and sparkle about it all.
We have to remember that we are only comparing streamed content, for the moment, and to see that extra fine detail on a 55-inch screen, we had to be within what would be considered normal viewing distances but obviously on a larger panel the benefits will be more apparent from further out. Roll on Breaking Bad in 4K, coming to Netflix in June 2014, as the documentaries – search Moving Art to find them, if you must - aren’t the best advert for an emerging format, which is probably why they were so difficult to track down.
HD & SD
Of course, most of the above is all a bit pie in the sky and there’s nothing like enough 4K content to satisfy anyone for a sustained period so it’s how the TV handles the bread and butter content that really counts, at this stage. Fortunately – well, by design - the 55HU8500 does a splendid job with all of it. As noted above, the scaling is so good that even a decent quality DVD can look very watchable and material with 1080 lines of resolution can actually give the impression it’s something more. That’s only really the case with Blu-rays, as broadcast HD is probably still best viewed on a quality Full HD TV but there has been progression with 1080i handling since the F9000 last year.
With the World Cup imminent, and the subsequent spike in TV sales it brings, how a set handles the demands of fast moving sports content will be a major purchasing factor. There’s no doubt that all those extra pixels do cause some added blur and the HU8500’s Clear Motion Rate processing does occasionally stutter and start but the footy still makes for a great watch and you can mitigate some of the blurriness by utilising the Motion Plus processing but, be warned, it ruins films with an unnatural processed look.
It handles 1080p nearly as well as a top-notch Full HD TV does, so you don't have to wait
Samsung 55HU8500 Picture Quality - 3DIt’s a footnote in this review and now a features footnote – sometimes not even that – when the manufacturer’s release the specs for their latest models, but that doesn’t stop the HU8500 putting in a sterling 3D performance. The supplied glasses are not my personal favourites as they have little to nothing in the way of protection from outside light sources but they are, more or less, tint-less so the convincing colours of the Movie 3D Viewing Mode are able to shine through. Those extra pixels are put to great use by some super 3D scaling too, and we only saw the faintest whispers of crosstalk effects during a run through of some of our favourite scenes from recent releases including Gravity and the latest Hobbit movie.
Samsung 55HU8500 Video Review
- Good native contrast performance
- Excellent colour palette
- Great scaling and processing
- A highly usable dimming system
- Vast Smart TV feature-set
- It looks stunning
- 4k Netflix!
- The curve seems to impact the dimming system slightly
- New Football Mode is a miss
Samsung UE55HU8500 (HU8500) Ultra HD 4K LED TV ReviewThe Samsung H8500 is an utterly striking TV set, not least because of the curved screen and if it doesn’t get folks talking on the shop floors, then we don’t know what will. The sweeping gorgeousness is ably abetted by the One Connect box which keeps cables hidden, whilst providing an upgrade path for the evolving 4K standards. As it is, it already has 4 HDMI 2.0 capable ports and just about every other input/output option one could reasonably expect.
The brace of remote controls supplied are in stark contrast to one another. One is sleek, ergonomic and very smart by virtue of touch, gesture and voice control whilst the other is short, stubby and downright mundane by the standards of this cutting edge package. Whichever you choose - and they both actually work well – it will allow you to scroll the well-presented menus with ease but the Smart features are better served by the Smart Control. No surprises there.
And those Smart features are enormous in scope, encompassing gazillions of VoD and streaming services, a fabulous media player, a content recommendation engine and a new batch of games that utilise the new handset. There’s plenty more besides that, too, and the HU8500 also boasts a built-in camera for Skype video calls, as well as a new Football Mode designed to maximise the stadium experience for the home viewer. Alas that’s a bit of a missed step as the picture is unbelievably poor but there’s little else to fault the Smart TV system on.
Our favourite new Smart feature is the 4K Netflix app, for obvious reasons. It’s the only game in town right now for accessing Ultra HD content you may actively want to see, provided you’re a House of Cards fan that is, as the Netflix original is the only series currently available. Still, beggars can’t be choosers and we were absolutely amazed at the quality of video presented to us by the Netflix app. There was a clear margin of superiority when we back-to-back compared against a Super HD stream but, on this 55-inch screen, you’d need to be no more than 6ft away to really appreciate the extra detail.
Future concerns aside, the UE55H8500 also dealt with the demands of more lowly resolutions excellently. The scaling capabilities built into Samsung’s processing chip are simply excellent and Blu-ray discs could actually look something beyond 1080p, at times. The effect is lost during motion, however, and the lack of native resolution shows up with an increased blurriness but, all things considered, you’re very unlikely to have any complaints.
The UE55HU8500 has all the ingredients needed of a TV. Great native contrast performance, extremely accurate colours and brilliant picture processing so there’s little to moan about. If you’re buying for the here and now and don’t really see your future as one involving much Ultra HD, you can be ever so slightly better served by a top-notch 1080p TV but if you’ve one eye on the future, this baby will serve you well for years to come. Highly Recommended.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
2D Picture Quality9
3D Picture Quality9
Ease Of Use9
Value for Money8
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