(Pocket-lint) - 'The TU8500 Crystal UHD is a bread and butter Samsung 4K LED set that outperforms its upper-budget price point. While Samsung's QLED range claims the technology high ground, this generously specified LED telly occupies the more affordable mainstream. We reckon this slick looking set is going to end up on a lot of affordable TV shortlists.

The TU8500 comes in an accommodating range of sizes. We've got the 50-inch model on review here, but it's also available in 43-, 55- and 65-inch screen sizes if any of those better suits. Whichever you choose, the price is attractive.

Design

  • 3x HDMI, 2x USB
  • Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

The TU8500 looks fashionable enough square-on, even if not particularly slim. A wide V-shaped central pedestal makes it easy to home in a living room. The bezel is minimal, wrapping the panel in a dark frame. The stereo audio system fires downward, out of sight.

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Rear connections comprise three HDMI ports - one of which offers an eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel), on top of regular ARC - two USB ports, and analogue sound and vision inputs. There's also an optical audio digital output for hook-up to a soundbar or home cinema system if you need it, and an Ethernet jack for a wired network connection. Wireless options include Bluetooth and dual-band Wi-Fi.

There are two tuners on board: one satellite, the other terrestrial. Although as is Samsung's wont, the latter doesn't support Freeview Play.

The screen ships with two remote controls, one simplified, the other standard with dedicated buttons for easy access to Netflix, Amazon and Rakuten TV. 

Smart OS

  • Tizen smart platform
  • Freeview HD
  • Ambient Mode
  • Voice control

Smart functionality is comprehensive. The TU8500 runs Samsung's Tizen OS, which comes with a healthy number of streaming services, including Apple TV, Britbox, Disney+, plus all the mainstream catch-up TV players.

There's also access to Samsung TV Plus, an exclusive IP delivered collection of themed channels, including sports, archive TV shows and special interest.

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If voice control is your bag, there's a basic command and control option via Bixby, Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. 

Tizen also offers Smart Things device compatibility, so you can use the TV as a hub for any networked devices. Samsung's unique Ambient mode, which allows the screen to function as a JPEG gallery or arty display when it's in Standby. Multiview, meanwhile, pops your mobile display onto the TV as a picture-in-picture window for simultaneous viewing - which is useful for following a tutorial on YouTube, if you're struggling to complete a game.

Picture performance

  • Dual LED backlight
  • HDR10+, HLG HDR support
  • Low latency Game mode

The TU8500 can be considered an entertaining all round picture performer for the price. Pictures are capable of gratuitous fine detail, with vibrant colour reproduction and good contrast.

Unusually, the set uses a Dual LED backlight. Rather than offer a uniform colour temperature, the LED array illuminates with two different colour temperatures (2000K and 5000K). Why the mix? It improves contrast, which is often a weak point with low cost LED LCD screens.

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Image presets are limited to Standard, Natural, Dynamic, and Movie. For the best go-to image mode, we'd suggest Natural, which is a little more punchy than Standard. It gives images a little more bite when viewed at distance.

However, if you want to delve into the Expert settings, you'll have to hop over to Standard, which opens up access over things like gamma and colour space adjustments.

Overall screen uniformity is very good, with no obvious splodges of uneven brightness.

HD content in standard dynamic range (SDR) looks consistently good. Pictures are detailed and solid, and the overall picture brightness is high. 4K upscaling, courtesy of a Crystal 4K upscaler, is nicely handled, with no obvious jaggies.

But swap to a native 4K source and you'll notice the additional, genuine clarity. The image really pops as a result.

Inevitably, the set's high dynamic range (HDR) performance reflects its mid-range positioning, so it should come as no surprise that it falls some way short of its higher-end (and much pricier) QLED stablemates when it comes to HDR peak brightness.

Samsung

We measured HDR performance at just under 300 nits - that's less than some laptop screens these days. So while HDR compatible in the broadest sense, it doesn't really have the chops for specular highlights to burn brightly.

There's no Dolby Vision support (Samsung hasn't adopted this dynamic metadata standard on any of its screens), but we do get HDR10+, HDR10 and HLG support to cater for all the other high dynamic range handling.

Long story short: pictures look sharp and bright, but there's a limit to both this TV's black level performance and HDR highlights. So it's not one for cinephiles.

The screen offers two levels of Game mode. Game mode with Game Motion Plus reduces image lag, but retains some of the image enhancing processing employed on the Standard and Normal image presets. For most gamers it'll be the preferable option, as images just look prettier.

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Image lag is 26.7ms (1080/60), which is relatively good (to put this in context, image lag in Standard mode is 84.4ms). However, if you're playing fast-moving shooters, or simply want the most competitive advantage, disable the Game Motion Plus option, and image lag improves to 11.7ms (1080/60) - which is outstanding.

Sound performance

  • Dolby Atmos support
  • 2x 10W power output

We never felt short-changed by the TU8500's sound system. It uses a time-honoured downward-firing audio system that will play loud enough in the average living room. There's also an Adaptive Sound feature, but this is more a dialogue clarity aid than audio improvement.

As with most screens of its ilk, the noise the TU8500 makes is largely monophonic, but the good news is the telly can bitstream Dolby Atmos from one of its streaming apps or connected sources, out over HDMI ARC and to a compatible soundbar or home cinema receiver. So that's an easy win in the upgrade stakes.

Verdict

If you're looking for a well specified 4K smart TV that doesn't come with a premium price tag, the TU8500 is well worth a shufty.

Its Tizen smart platform delivers the goods when it comes to streaming services and catch-up TV, and there's the bonus of additional tricks like Ambient mode and Multiview. It's AV performance is a cut above, thanks to that contrast enhancing Dual LED backlight, and Dolby Atmos pass-through.

And last but not least is its remarkable gaming performance. Opt for the hardcore Game mode without the Game Motion Plus frills, and you'll enjoy best-in-class latency.

Also consider

Panasonic HX800

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A formidable competitor. It's slightly pricier, but justifies the increase with sharper design sensibilities, Freeview Play and universal HDR support.

Writing by Steve May. Editing by Mike Lowe.