Samsung’s top-spec edge LED LCD TV comes in the form of the ES8000, a thin-bezel Series 8 behemoth that, at the 55-inch stature of this review model, will dominate any room.
The Pocket-lint team has seen all manner of tellies throughout 2012, but can the Samsung UE55ES8000 live up to the hype to be crowned king of the LED category?
The way a TV looks when switched off is arguably becoming almost as important as how good the picture quality is when on. Tellies are progressively more fashion-conscious, and the ES8000 is no exception.
The slender screen is surrounded by a thin, silver-coloured bezel that only expands to encompass the built-in camera and microphone at the top of the screen. We’re not keen on this protruding camera "lump" at the top of the screen - it’s a bit "creepy" and throws the balance of the design; it should have been a detachable unit instead.
The curved, compressed-U-shape stand is also impressive to the eyes and sits the whole set in a shallow-slung seated position. It doesn’t offer any swivel rotation though, so getting around the back of the screen to pop in HDMI cables or USB keys of content can be a nuisance.
There are plenty of connections on the rear, though the lack of an SD card slot is a shame.
Big screen, big bucks
Buying a big-screen TV isn’t something that can be taken lightly, especially when considering that we’re talking about a couple of grand apiece.
Samsung’s 55-inch ES8000 comes in at a weighty £2,500 - but that does undercut the likes of both the LG 960V and Panasonic WT50 series by a couple of hundred pounds at retail.
It’s not as though the Samsung has fewer features though. If anything it’s got a more expansive feature set than its competitors, thanks to the likes of gesture control, face recognition and smart evolution updates.
Gimmick or genius?
That’s right: gesture control, voice control and face detection. All those things that your current TV is missing, right? No, we’re not convinced either.
Fun though it may sound, the gesture control works by using your open hand to guide a cursor around the screen, selecting options by closing the hand. It’s slow, inaccurate and we just don’t see the point. Voice control can be reasonably effective, but it’s no Siri and, again, it’s slow with the exception of filling out search fields. It’s a TV. Pass the remote.
Fortunately the main remote is far more successful. It has backlit buttons for when it’s dark and all the controls required for guiding through channels, multimedia input and the TV’s smart interface.
Smarter than most
Samsung’s Smart Hub interface - which is easily accessed via the hub cursor on the main control - is, as the name suggests, where all the smart, connected action happens.
Whether using BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Lovefilm or any number of other apps, Smart Hub also offers a schedule manager, web browser and another way to access the guide, channels and source input too.
It’s all laid out beautifully, is easy to navigate, and includes broader breakdowns such as "Fitness", "Kids", "Family" and so forth.
The camera, too, comes into use here. Whether for making Skype calls or similar, it certainly has its place - we're just not too keen on the way the built-in design looks.
As well as automatic updates that prompt for download, the ES8000 can have its hardware upgraded. Yes, you read that right - like a desktop PC, this TV can have one of Samsung’s as-yet-unknown-priced Smart Evolution kits inserted to upgrade, say, the dual-core to a quad-core for that new app that comes out in 2014. It’s a bold idea and, assuming cost is fair, could add some life to the TV - if, that is, anyone retires a TV because it hasn't got the app they want. It’s not something we’re able to test to any successful degree, however, so it’s more a concept for the time being.
To the crux of it: just how good is the ES8000’s picture quality?
Although the TV sells itself as an "LED" TV this is a half truth, in exactly the same way all manufacturers, in our opinion, oversell the technology. It’s actually an LCD TV that gets additional backlighting from side-positioned LEDs. It’s this backlight that can assist with punchier-looking colours, or the absence of the backlight will make darker scenes look "deeper".
The technology has issues however, present by light leaks, such as the clouding above, or slight delays when shifting from a bright to a dark scene where the whole screen may have a slight - but noticeable - delay in brightness. The most uniform screen we’ve seen on an LED-LCD TV this year would be the Sony Bravia HX853 model which uses a full-array LED system rather than the Samsung's edge LED system.
Although the ES8000’s uniformity isn’t spot on - which will be a hindrance for hardened movie fans who want to watch the deepest, richest of blacks in a low-light setting - the overall picture quality can be a great visual experience, once it's set up right. But you’ll want to tweak the picture settings because the batch of presets work a little too hard and push vividness a step too far.
HD TV looks gorgeous though, and the Motion Plus technology evens out fast scenes to silky smooth visuals. Great for telly, but you’ll want to customise or switch this setting off when watching anything cinematic/24p as it becomes overly smooth and loses that cinema-like quality. And an episode of Sons of Anarchy that feels a bit like EastEnders just isn’t right. Having all these controls available is great though, as it gives you ability to process the image’s smoothness, fluidity, colour and brightness with a high degree on control.
In summary picture quality is good, but it’s not over-£2,000 good and, arguably, not even as good as some previous-generation Samsung TVs. We were expecting to be wowed based on the hyperbolic critical acclaim this model has received in the UK, but felt more pleased than astounded.
3D visuals, however, are up there with the best that you’ll find on a modern TV. The glasses may be a little bit flimsy and plasticky, but there are four pairs included in the box and the results are tip-top.
Sound-wise, the ES8000 has a full-sounding output and a variety of pre-sets to match the bass and treble to the content. There’s standard, music, movie, clear voice and amplify, though no custom option is available to tweak EQs, which is a shame.
Overall we found the standard setting to produce a very levelled audio experience - it’s not booming like the Sony HX853’s soundbar, yet still delivers the necessary guts to the full audio spectrum.
Gimmicks such as the UE55ES8000’s gesture control are best ignored, as at the core of this TV there’s some quality stuff.
Take Samsung’s Smart Hub, for example. We think it’s up there with the best smart TV interfaces and made catch-up TV via iPlayer or other apps a breeze.
Picture quality is smooth and detailed, but movie buffs are likely to want to switch off or customise the level of Motion Plus for that true cinematic experience.
Although picture quality is good, the edge LED backlight can cause uniformity issues and the blacks aren’t the deepest we’ve seen on an LED-LCD TV this year. For more than £2,000 we were honestly expecting that little bit more, hence the score - this is good, but not as great as many initial reviews scattered around the internet may have you believe.