(Pocket-lint) - Samsung has been heavily promoting its QLED range in 2018, with the promise of better high dynamic range (HDR) pictures, meaning brighter highlights and a wider colour gamut than standard. However, while QLED goes toe-to-toe with OLED (LG's panel of choice, which has individual light-emitting pixels rather than a larger light source) at the higher end of the TV market, it's the mid-range where Samsung still dominates.
The Samsung NU8000 represents the company's main model in this middle segment, with a 4K Ultra-HD LCD panel that uses edge LED backlighting and includes HDR support, a Tizen-powered smart TV platform, and a competitive price point to boot.
The NU8000 is available in four core sizes: the 55-inch UE55NU8000, the 65-inch UE65NU8000, the 75-inch UE75NU8000, and the massive 82-inch UE82NU8000. And it's the 55-incher that we're looking at in this review.
- 4 x HDMI in, 2 x USB multimedia port
- LAN and Wi-Fi network options
The Samsung NU8000 has a similar design style to the manufacturer's more expensive QLED TVs, but this mid-range model uses a cheaper construction in order to hit its lower price point.
The look is attractive, with a minimalist appearance that retains a contemporary feel. There's a thin black bezel around the screen, and a dark silver strip with a brushed metal effect running along the bottom.
The back of the panel is made of black plastic, but uses a ridged effect that helps make the rear more attractive.
The NU8000 sits on a centrally mounted T-shaped stand which uses a V-shaped rear column, giving the impression the TV is floating in mid-air. The front of the T-shaped stand uses a dark silver brushed metal finish that matches the strip along the bottom of the panel itself, thus bringing the overall design together in a 360-degree aesthetic. There are also grooves that allow you to run connections along the back and down through the stand, for tidier cable management.
The panel is thin at the top, but widens out towards the bottom where the electronics, speakers and connections are housed. The NU8000 is deeper than Samsung's edge-lit models from 2017 because it doesn't use a separate One Connect box; instead all the connections are located at the rear on the right hand side as you face the screen.
There are two USB ports and four HDMI inputs that support 4K/60p signals, High Dynamic Range (HDR10, HDR10+ and Hybrid Log-Gamma), Wide Colour Gamut and HDCP 2.2. And if that all sounds like a load of numbers a digits, read it this way: it has all the standards you'll need to stream and playback ultra-HD images without a problem. You'll also find twin terrestrial and satellite tuners, an optical digital output, a CI (Common Interface) slot, a LAN port, and built-in Wi-Fi.
The NU8000 comes with Samsung's One Remote, a small controller that's comfortable to hold and has everything you need for day-to-day operation of the TV, including a built-in mic for voice control. Samsung also includes a standard remote, which while not as stylish as the One Remote, does include a lot more buttons and allows direct access to the Settings menu.
Crystal Colour and HDR1000
- HDR Support: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+
- Processing engine: UHD Engine
The Samsung NU8000 might not boast Quantum Dot technology like its QLED range, but that hasn't stopped the company making some fairly bold claims in its marketing.
The TV includes what Samsung refers to as Dynamic Crystal Colour, and despite the lack of the wider colour gamut offered by Quantum Dot, the NU8000 is claimed to be able to deliver one billion colours. More on that in a bit.
The NU8000 is also marketed as HDR1000, which would suggest it can hit a peak brightness of 1000nits. However – spoiler alert! – the fact that this TV is Ultra HD certified, rather than Ultra HD Premium, suggests that the peak brightness and overall colour gamut will struggle to reach that standard's target (which, for the geeks among us, is for 1000nits and 90 per cent of DCI-P3 colour gamut).
The Samsung does support 4K resolution (3840 x 2160), of course, and most forms of high dynamic rang, specifically HDR10, Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG), and HDR10+. The last of these is an open source format that has been championed by Samsung, and uses dynamic metadata to enhance the HDR experience.
There are actually two different versions of HDR with dynamic metadata: HDR10+ and Dolby Vision. Samsung don't support the proprietary Dolby Vision, but the format has gained greater traction in the market place with support from Netflix, iTunes and Ultra HD Blu-ray. At the moment the only place to access HDR10+ content is via Amazon Prime.
In terms of other features, the NU8000 uses an Ultra Slim Array, which is basically an edge LED backlight. There's also what Samsung call UHD Dimming, although this is a dimming algorithm rather than actual dimmable zones. The TV also uses an 8-bit + 2 dither 120Hz VA panel, which means the blacks levels are good but the optimal viewing angles are quite narrow.
Setting the standard (dynamic range)
The Samsung NU8000 is a solid performer overall, but despite the company's claims in its marketing, the TV is a little disappointing when it comes to HDR content.
Thankfully, however, the standard dynamic range (SDR) performance is generally excellent, with a nicely detailed Ultra HD image that boasts accurate colours, solid blacks and plenty of brightness.
The image processing is also impressive, allowing the TV to upscale lower-resolution content to match its 4K panel. As a result a good source like the Blu-ray of Star Wars: The Force Awakens looks spectacular. Full HD (1080p) content in general has well defined images that are free of any unwanted artefacts caused by the upscaling. Samsung's picture processing has always been amongst the best, and the NU8000 continues that tradition.
The Samsung uses edge lighting, which positions the LEDs along the bottom. The overall uniformity is very good, and the screen remains free of any visible clouding or other aberrations. However, the screen itself does reflect quite a lot of light, so we wouldn't recommend putting it opposite a major light source like a window.
The use of a VA panel means the black levels are also fairly good, at least for an LCD TV, but there's no local dimming to enhance them. As long as you don't go in expecting OLED levels of blackness, you won't be disappointed. The shadow detail is also a little wanting, but this isn't unusual with LCD panels and doesn't detract from the overall visual enjoyment.
In general we found that the NU8000 could deliver an image with decent contrast, i.e. the difference between the deepest blacks and the brightest whites. This is especially true during daytime, although contrast performance begins to drop off as the room darkens. You might find that a little bias lighting in the room at night can help mitigate this.
The use of a VA panel helps in terms of the black levels, but it also means the optimal viewing angles are fairly limited. So to get the best results, make sure you sit facing the middle of the screen; once you begin to move off axis, the contrast and colour performance diminishes fairly rapidly.
The motion handling on the Samsung NU8000 is very good, too, with a fast response time and 120Hz motion processing (which is double that of a standard broadcast frame-rate). To counter this doubling and create a smoother image, the NU8000 uses what's called frame interpolation, which can definitely improve the motion handling with sport - but should be avoided with films and TV dramas as it makes them look hyper-real due to the 'soap opera effect' (where movies begin to look like Eastenders). There is also a 60Hz black frame insertion feature that can improve proper Hollywood movies (which run at true 24p from high quality sources, like UHD Blu-ray) without introducing soap opera effect, although some people might see flicker.
If you're a gamer, the good news is that the input lag is exceptionally low, at just 18ms. This makes the NU8000 an ideal TV for gaming, especially with games that require extremely fast response times.
The NU8000 also supports Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) which can be beneficial to PC gamers, and there's Auto Game Mode which detects a connected games console and automatically switches into the game mode as necessary. In addition, the LCD panel means you'll never have to worry about image retention and screen burn, which can be an issue for some OLED panels.
So far so good, but where the Samsung NU8000 can struggle is with HDR content. We measured the TV's peak brightness at 875nits, which explains why it doesn't have Ultra HD Premium certification. The minimum requirement for peak brightness is 1000nits, and since the NU8000 can't reach that, Samsung's alleged HDR 1000 marketing is rather misleading.
Still, 875nits is quite bright, thus should be sufficient for an effective HDR experience. Where the NU8000 really struggles, however, is with the location of its LEDs. Edge backlighting is never ideal for HDR, especially when there's no local dimming to enhance the performance. Samsung's micro dimming algorithm does the best it can, but in reality there is noticeable haloing around bright objects (literally like a halo of light in the dark areas that shouldn't be there). As a result the black bars in widescreen movies never really look black, and there are often columns of light caused by the LEDs at the bottom of the panel lighting up a bright object in the centre of the screen.
As with SDR, the NU8000 looks better in the daytime, but as soon as the room gets darker the limitations of the backlight become apparent. Dark scenes appear grey rather than black, which negatively impacts the dynamic range of the image.
If you're watching bright HDR content like Planet Earth II or The Revenant, then the backlight is able to handle the images very well. A quick look at the Arriving in Neverland scene in Pan also shows that Samsung's tone mapping isn't clipping bright details. However, a dark scene, such as the opening of Black Panther or the end of Patriots Day, reveals the limitations inherent in the edge LED backlighting. The colour accuracy could also be better, with over-saturated reds and flesh tones that are skewed towards blue.
Samsung has delivered some of the best TVs when it comes to the HDR, which is why the NU8000's rather underwhelming performance is a bit disappointing. But it's befitting of its middling price proposition and, hey, we've generally been spoiled by just how good top-end QLED can be.
- Tizen OS with Samsung SmartThings
The Samsung NU8000 might sit further down the company's range, but it includes the full smart TV package. That means the latest iteration of Samsung's platform, with its Tizen operating system and integration with SmartThings (which provides an onscreen hub for monitoring and controlling other smart devices in your home, if you own any).
New for 2018 is an easier setup procedure, which allows you to do it all from your smartphone (iOS or Android). This actually works really well and makes setting up the TV practically foolproof. The SmartThings app does everything for you, from setting up the internet connection to adding all your relevant passwords and even tuning the TV channels.
Samsung has also made improvements to the way that TV listings and live broadcasts are integrated into the content search features. The TV Plus option combines the streaming services with the TV broadcasters, putting all your TV content in a single location. There are more TV recommendations available now, and they're given greater prominence when browsing for content.
The smart platform itself is excellent, with a very intuitive launcher bar that provides quick and easy access to all your content. Yes, it looks very similar to LG's WebOS launcher bar, but it's fast, responsive and stable. You can use voice control to find and access content quicker, and Samsung has even made a clever improvement when compared to LG's version: when you select various apps on the launcher bar, it provides a second tier with further options for direct access to content. So for example, if you select Netflix, you can then immediately select whichever programming you were last watching, without having to fully open up the Netflix app.
In terms of available apps, Samsung has you covered with just about every video streaming service you can think of, including all the UK catch-up services, Netflix, Amazon, Now TV and YouTube. In the case of the BBC iPlayer there is support for HLG, while Netflix, Amazon and YouTube support 4K and HDR, with Amazon also supporting HDR10+.
Samsung has built a 2.1-channel system into the TV, with two downward-firing drivers and a woofer in the rear. These three speakers are powered by 40W of amplification, so the TV can go quite loud.
The TV delivers a decent performance when it comes to sound quality, which is surprising when you consider how thin the TV is and the fact that the speakers fire downwards. TV manufacturers are clearly getting better at squeezing passable audio out of their ultra-thin TVs.
However, you would be wise not to drive the NU8000 to hard, as the sound can distort at higher volumes and the woofer can shake the screen. Samsung may have slightly overdone the amplification, especially in a TV this thin, but as long as you keep to sensible volume levels the audio performance is more than good enough for general viewing. There's a nice sense of stereo separation, dialogue remains clear, while effects and bass are delivered with a reasonable level of impact.
The Samsung NU8000 is a solid mid-range TV that delivers plenty of smart features and a decent all-round performance at a competitive price, under that crucial £1000 mark in its 55-inch size. It serves as a good reminder why Samsung is so strong in this segment.
The only real shortcoming is that the HDR performance could be better, with the colours suffering from inaccuracies and the edge LED backlighting impacting negatively on the picture quality. But that's representative of this price point; if you want the best-of-best then the Samsung Q9FN will cost you far more.
If you're on a sensible budget, the Samsung NU8000 offers a competitively priced package that can deliver a very watchable picture, making it worthy of inclusion on anyone's shortlist.
You can grab this TV for £1,299, which is a few hundred pounds pricier, but crucially nets you a direct LED backlight with local dimming. This means the TV can go brighter and handle the contrast performance with greater accuracy, resulting in an excellent performance with both SDR and HDR. The Android smart platform has its issues, but there are plenty of useful features and the sound quality is also fairly good. This is the mid-range TV to beat at the moment.