Samsung UN55ES8000 LED HDTV Hands On Preview
Late last year, we took an in depth look at the UN55D8000, an ultra expensive flagship 3D HDTV from Samsung. For the most part, the picture quality was superb and its focus upon aesthetics was second to none but we didn’t pull any punches. The D8000 fell directly into the same rut as previous LED-based sets by exhibiting atrocious panel uniformity and excess clouding.
Samsung is now trying to build upon the lessons learned over the last few generations with a new lineup. We had a few short days to go hands on with the D8000’s follow up, the $3,500 UN55ES8000, and for the most part, our experience was a positive one.
To understand where Samsung is coming from with this product, you have to go back a few years. They were one of the first companies to institute a truly “connected” experience that brought popular web applications and closer component integration into HDTVs. Since then, the competition has followed suit and Samsung is now on a search for the next big thing to differentiate their products from those of Sony, Panasonic, Sharp and every other manufacturer. Instead of taking an evolutionary step forward in the picture quality department (which is a shame considering the issues that plague LED panels), Samsung’s focus for this generation is to implement a host of new features that could very well change the way people interact with their TVs.
The UN55ES8000’s exterior continues Samsung’s tradition of forward thinking design elements with an ultra slim bezel that literally disappears once the TV is turned on. This is sure to start up some conversations among your friends, as will the ES8000’s minimal 3cm side profile.
When compared against the product it is supposed to replace, the ES8000’s base as also been thoroughly reworked. However this is one area where we think Samsung missed their mark. We don’t miss the D8000’s pivot function all that much (though it did come in handy when trying to access the rear ports) but the new sweeping design lowers the panel far too much. As a result, the center channel speaker of our 7.1 audio setup –which is normally mounted in front of our TV- ended up blocking part of the picture.
Samsung also includes an integrated webcam and a stereo microphone atop the bezel, which can be used for gesture controls but also comes in handy for Skype chats.
By leveraging their SoC production might, Samsung is set to début a new feature for their high end TVs called Smart Evolution. In plain, non-marketing speak, this means upgrades can be installed by the end user in order to keep the ES8000 up to date. A slot located on the TV’s backside allows for the addition of a standalone Evolution Kit, which can be purchased separately starting in 2013.
An Evolution Kit can supposedly contain anything from a processor upgrade unit to new functionality to picture quality enhancements. The idea is certainly a novel one but we have to wonder how Samsung will handle this without killing the sales potential of upcoming, next generation products. In addition, a price for these Evolution Kits hasn’t been set but each one will likely cost several hundred dollars.
The most substantial changes to this year’s 8000-series are its numerous Smart Interaction features. Instead of relying solely upon infrared remote input, Samsung allows users to interact directly with the TV through a combination of gesture controls, vocalized commands and facial recognition.
In our experience, the Kinect-like gesture control portion hadn’t been perfected but it still allowed for easy web surfing and cursor movement across many of Samsung’s built-in apps, particularly within Netflix and Youtube.
The vocalized commands may seem like nothing more than a cheap party trick and you’ll look like an absolute idiot talking to your TV. But the laughing will abruptly stop when the ES8000 starts responding to your commands. Once the trigger words are memorized, you’ll have no issue controlling nearly every one of this TV’s features with the sound of your voice. Line many things, this feature wasn’t perfect and we constantly found the ES8000 turning itself on while we carried out a normal conversation. In addition, it was impossible to control the TV with its volume turned up as it seemed to listen to the onscreen actors rather than us. Hopefully Samsung can perfect this, because if they do, it could be one hell of a selling point.
Two brand new items that Samsung has included are the IR Blaster and the Smart Touch Remote. The IR Blaster connects to the TV via Bluetooth and translates vocalized Smart Interaction commands for your other devices. In our limited experience, it was able to fully control our Bell ExpressVu set top box’s channel selection but we couldn’t use any of the PVR functions. Turning on our Onkyo TX-NR515 receiver also proved to be a bridge too far for Smart Interaction so even though it allows for some functionality, there’s just no way this feature will be used regularly.
The Smart Touch Remote is more of a nuisance than practical. It features a touchpad that doesn’t work all that well and only includes the most basic TV / STB inputs. Luckily, it pulls double duty as a mic for the Smart Integration console and can be waved around to control the gesture-based features.
Samsung’s Smart Hub has received something of a facelift with a better interface and HD graphics. It is very, very responsive and includes a wide ranging selection of pre installed and downloadable applications. While this may be a small step towards further integration of online content, Samsung is quite obviously the market leader in this area. From the way we see it, the basic stand-alone computer may be becoming somewhat redundant, especially if Samsung achieves in their goal of implementing the full Android Market, word processing, mouse interaction and keyboard support into upcoming TVs.
Even though we can’t comment much about the picture quality since our sample came with a pre-production panel, this preview would be pointless if we didn’t at least mention it. The UN55ES8000 featured excellent colour reproduction, good black levels, top notch motion performance, very little crosstalk when in 3D mode and surprisingly decent viewing angles. It also includes a robust menu system which continues to set new standards for the HDTV market. However, the usual ghosts of LED technology have once again come home to roost: panel clouding, backlight bleed and poor uniformity are still around. Since this is a preview, we won’t hold it against Samsung but these ever-present issues do point towards a worrying trend that sacrifices high end picture quality in favor of a sleek, stylish design. In our opinion, anyone paying over three grand for a new HDTV shouldn’t have to worry about any of these points to begin with.
The Samsung UN55ES8000 may be what many have been waiting for: a great looking HDTV filled with forward thinking technology that will impress just about anyone. If the inherent edge-lit LED issues can be fixed or at least improved in retail units, this could be one of the best HDTVs we’ve seen in the last few years.
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