The Samsung UNES8000 LED TV boasts stunning design and more features than any TV on the market. For that you'll pay dearly, but if you can afford it and want the cutting edge of TV technology in your living room -- pre-OLED, at least -- then stop reading now and buy an ES8000.
But maybe you're wondering about how its picture stacks up against the competition, or about how much further your TV experience will be taken by spending the extra dough. OK, fine, keep reading. The Samsung UNES8000 isn't a bad performer by any means, but it's not much better than many LCDs and plasmas, and worse than you might expect from Samsung's highest-end LED TV. It's also more expensive than just about any TV available today, with the exception of a few models with full-array local dimming. Finally its standout feature, which allows you to control the TV with a wave or a word, just doesn't work all that well. Few TVs can approach the Samsung UNES8000's "wow" factor, but few also come with such significant caveats.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch Samsung UN55ES8000, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|Models in series (details)|
|Samsung UN46ES8000||46 inches|
|Samsung UN55ES8000 (reviewed)||55 inches|
|Samsung UN60ES8000||60 inches|
|Samsung UN65ES8000||65 inches|
The UNES8000 is one of the most beautiful television designs you can buy, and earns the same 10 in design I awarded the LG LM9600 -- although I do like the LG a bit better.
Samsung's daring U-shaped stand requires a wider tabletop than some of its pedestal-supported competitors, and seems less stable to the eye than Samsung's trademark four-legged spider, but in person it looks great, lending a smooth, organic flow to the sharp rectangular panel while providing plenty of support (but no swivel). I do prefer LG's more compact 2012 stand, though.
As with the UND8000 last year, this flagship Samsung's real design strength takes the form of a vanishingly thin bezel, which makes the TV almost all picture. Both measure a half-inch from the edge of the picture to the edge of the frame. The LG LM9600's frame around the image is similarly thin, and both seem to disappear against pretty much any background. If you're counting, I expect the final designs of LG's and Samsung's OLEDs to both boast thinner bezels still.
The little camera/speakerphone module along the top edge is matched by an illuminated logo bulge along the bottom. Like many Samsung sets, the external controls consist of a hidden joystick on the back panel that works well to access major functions.
Samsung's 2012 TV menus look the same as they did last year and remain among the easiest to use. They're bright opaque blue with rounded edges and good-size text. Each major menu item gets a text explanation, and I noticed really snappy response time despite constant animations.
In addition to a standard clicker, there's another that omits numerous buttons in favor of a touch pad that's supposed to ease navigation of the menus and Smart TV functions, especially the Web browser. It's a great idea in theory, and I loved that its Bluetooth connectivity meant I didn't need a line of sight to the TV.
In practice the touch pad is frustrating to use, alternating between too twitchy and unresponsive. The clicker is denuded of most buttons, relegating the number pad to a kludgy onscreen version and eliminating the Menu key altogether. The lack of buttons also made it necessary to select from annoying onscreen mini menus for functions as basic as Pause, Menu, and Chapter Skip. For using the browser, the pad is better than gesture control, but not by much.
I ended up using the normal remote whenever possible, although it's still not very good. The grid of buttons lacks sufficient differentiation, there are too many promotional keys (such as Family Story and Camera), and the central Smart Hub button is annoyingly just a logo. At least there's full backlighting, a feature absent from the Touch remote.
I also tested a preproduction version of Samsung's optional wireless keyboard with touch pad, which ships soon, according to Samsung. Its touch pad was much more responsive than the one on the remote, and the full-size QWERTY keyboard makes data input a cinch (but not in the dark; again, there's no backlight). Unless you're intending to use the browser extensively, however, it's not worth getting. Check out the video for more on Samsung's remote and keyboard.
Talk to the TV remote
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit|
|Screen finish||Glossy||Remote||Touch pad|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||4 pair|
|Refresh rate(s)||240Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other: Smart Interaction suite includes voice and gesture control, facial recognition via built-in camera and microphone; dual-core processor; Smart Evolution kit; Bluetooth IR blaster for external device control; Bluetooth touch pad remote and standard multibutton IR remote; AllShare Play; optional wireless keyboard with touch pad (not yet available)|
With Smart Interaction (see below) the UNES8000 has more features than any other LED TV on the market, earning it a 10 in this category -- the same score I gave to the similarly featured PNE8000 plasma.
You might be wondering, however, why the chart above omits mention of local dimming under "LED backlight" when Samsung touts Micro Dimmimg Ultimate among the UNES8000's features. That's because, according to Samsung, Micro Dimming doesn't actually dim the LEDs along the edge of the panel -- so, according to my definition of local dimming, this TV doesn't qualify. Samsung claims Micro Dimming employs video processing that "scans zones across the image and adjusts brightness to deliver deeper dark tones and brighter whites." It also says the UNES8000's Ultimate version provides "2x the number of zones" of the UNES7500 (with Micro Dimming Pro) and an unspecified number more than the UNES7100 (with standard Micro Dimming), but declined to specify an actual number.
Samsung doesn't include mention of the panel refresh rate in its specifications, but I asked and was told it has a 240Hz panel. The company's Clear Motion Rate specification, new for this year, supposedly includes refresh rate among its calculations, along with video processing and backlight scanning. For what it's worth -- not much, as far as I'm concerned -- the ES8000's CMR is said to be 960.
Accessories abound in the box. Samsung includes a battery-powered Bluetooth-to-IR blaster (above) that allows the TV to directly control a cable box or Blu-ray/DVD player or both. The idea is to use voice and gesture commands, as well as the touch-pad remote, with these external devices. I didn't re-review that blaster for this review, but when I tried it with the PNE8000, it didn't work nearly as well as third-party universal remotes like Harmony.
The UNES8000 gets the company's dual-core processor, and can be upgraded via the Smart Evolution feature: processor and memory can be swapped out and upgraded at a later date (as early as 2013) and for an unspecified fee to allow improved functionality.
Samsung goes one better on TVs that have built-in Wi-Fi, allowing its sets to act as wireless access points. I really liked this extra since, if you take the time to run Ethernet to your living room to connect to the TV, you can get an additional WAP there to provide your nearby wireless devices with a stronger signal.
Like all Samsung 3D models, and unlike other major-brand TVs that use active 3D technology, the UNES8000 actually comes with 3D glasses: four pairs are packed into every box. They're actually the SSG-3050GBs from 2011, not the newer Samsung SSG-4100GBs from 2012. Both retail for a scant $20 and they look exactly the same -- the main difference is that the 2012 glasses support the universal standard, so they should actually work with universal-certified 3D TVs like 2012 Panasonics. Check out my 2012 3D glasses comparison for more information.
Samsung Smart Interaction: hands-on with voice and gesture control
Smart Interaction: Smart Interaction is Samsung's unique new feature that makes use of the built-in camera and microphone to attempt to recognize your gestures and voice so you can control and interact with the TV. It's found it on this LED and the UNES7500, as well as the PNE8000 plasma. Using that TV, I reviewed the voice and gesture command system back in March, so I'll start with a quote from there:
"My takeaway? Smart Interaction has promise but feels half-baked and more like a gimmick than a compelling upgrade. Once the novelty wears off, its usefulness is limited (at best) to those times you don't have a remote in-hand."
Not much has changed since. With the latest firmware the voice search seemed a tad more accurate, but it was still frustratingly hit-or-miss during my quick test using my original search terms. I continued to have trouble activating gesture control, and while navigation did seem a bit more exacting, it still couldn't hold a candle to a Wii-mote or LG's motion controller.
Smart TV: With the exception of Google TV, Samsung's Smart TV platform is the most content-rich and capable on the market. Its big Achilles' heel, aside from its cluttered interface, is lack of Amazon Instant, a service found on Panasonic, Sony, and Vizio TVs, but not LG this year.
Otherwise the available content is superb. The big standout is HBO Go, available on no other TV so far. It joins just about every other mainstream non-Amazon video service, as well as numerous niche video options and 3D-specific app. We're also happy to see the newly-added vTuner Internet radio app join Pandora and subscription music via Mog. Compare the major TV makers' app selections here.
The company's TV app store is the biggest outside Google's. Samsung is the only TV maker with a cloud gaming service, Gaikai, although it's not active yet. Other offerings include videos from The Daily, a 3D photos app, images from National Geographic, MTV Music Meter, and ESPN ScoreCenter, as well as umpteen less-impressive paid and free games, educational apps, screensavers, and so on. Skype takes advantage of the built-in camera and mic, as does a simple Camera app that you can use to, uh, save pictures of you sitting on your couch.
Samsung also has a few relatively rich proprietary apps, like Family Story, which is a way to "share photos, memos, and family events stored in the cloud," Fitness and Kids (both with custom VOD), and a Social TV app combining Facebook, Twitter, and Google Talk in a bar alongside live TV. There's also a new AllShare Play app coming soon to enable the TV to grab files from the cloud. Samsung still boasts the best browser we've tested on any TV, although it's slower and more frustrating to use than the browser on a laptop, tablet, or phone.