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Netflix works pretty well and appears to be in 720p

Presented at CES 2012, the Samsung ES8000 Series has been introduced earlier this year to the US market. In this review, we are taking the 60-inch Samsung UN60ES8000 for a field-test to see how new features such as voice control, motion control and face recognition work in the real world. More importantly, we will cover the image quality and smartTV aspect of this series of HDTV as it promises that you will not only need an external “box” to stream top Internet content, but also that you won’t need to change television to upgrade to the latest internal hardware, thanks to the processor upgrade option. Finally, it’s hard not to mention the industrial design that is ultimately one of the most important criteria if the “television” qualities can be established. Let’s take a closer look…

Installation (very easy)

As you can imagine, the TV has arrived in a relatively large box (11 x 58 x 38 inches), but unpacking the UN60ES8000 was quite easy. Basically, I laid the box flat on the TV’s back side and was able to pull it out from the box without having to lift it vertically.

It is protected by styrofoam and is light enough (51.8 pounds) to be turned over without much of an issue. That said, I’m 5’11, but I couldn’t grab the TV by myself just because it’s so large that it’s difficult to have a good grip.

Having a friend around to help you is probably a good idea. Unlike previous Samsung TVs that I used before, the stand came fully assembled, so there was no additional step and the TV was basically ready to be plugged. That’s it.

Industrial Design

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Without a doubt, the Samsung ES8000 Seris has a striking design. The screen itself looks similar to the previous LED 8000 series (I own a Samsung UN55D8000YFXZA which is part of that line-up), except that the stand has a new design, which helps puts the emphasis on the display. This design was since imitated by competitors…

I have measured the bezel to be about 17mm thick, but Samsung has cleverly designed it to make it look 12mm thick. When looking at the TV straight-on, the Chrome portion of the bezel is very discreet as it reflects the surrounding room. Smart.

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The computer part can be upgraded to get faster SmartTV function and better video processing

Upgradable: One of the coolest design feature is that Samsung has included the ability to upgrade the TV’s processor in the future. The evolution kit is the ticket to near-immortality from a platform standpoint. Without an actual upgrade available, it’s hard to put a real value on this feature, but the idea is very interesting given that TVs tend to have a multi-year lifespan, while processors are typically launched every year or so.

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The connectors are fairly standards. I would love having a 4th (or more) HDMI connector

Connectors: the standard connectors are present in the back, and you should notice that specific HDMI ports may have different compatibility levels with MHL or DVI, so be careful when using these types of connection. for such a big TV, I wish that there were at least 4 HDMIs, and I found that advanced users often run out of HDMI connectors. Clearly, I easily could use 5 or 6…

Depending on your particular setup, you may find the location of the connectors to be convenient or not. I don’t hang the TV on the wall, so I just manage the cables by bundling them together. If you already have a wall-mounted setup, you may want to pay more attention at where the cables are coming from.

3xUSB (5V, 0.5A)
1xOptical audio out
1xAnalog audio out
1xHDMI (MHL)
1xHDMI (ARC)
1xHDMI (DVI) + DVI audio inputs
1xEthernet
1xAntenna
1x Components In

Image quality (very good)

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The image quality is very good

Context: I seat 9 feet away and the TV is a 60”.

Obviously, the image quality is a critical factor for any TV purchase. Unfortunately, I don’t have an environment where the lighting is controlled nor the tools to measure color accuracy (spectroradiometer), but again, most people don’t calibrate their screens, have a “lab” in their living room or use 5000k white lighting. Instead, I’m going to focus on real-world things like how the TV behaves in direct sunlight, and to external light sources etc. This is quite subjective, but at least you know where I come from.

I found the Samsung ES8000 to produce a very good image quality with plenty of brightness (even in direct sunlight) and I found the colors reproduction to be good – not over saturated or otherwise. It would be nice to measure this with an actual benchmark (gotta love science), but I have seen hundreds of TVs and worked for 15 years in computer graphics, so I have some idea of what image quality means.

One thing that is almost never scientifically measured is the amount of image processing that happen in those televisions. Samsung too does apply a number of filters to the image coming from video sources (cable TV etc…), but I have to say that they don’t “overdo it”. Many TV manufacturers apply too much “Sharpening” or color saturation, but the Samsung ES8000 series looks good out of the box and that’s important because most people don’t want to tweak the settings and have no good calibration to do so. You can subsequently tweak according to your tastes, if you really want to.

Interestingly, I found the 60” UN60ES8000F to look slightly more blurry -in relative terms- than my 55” Samsung UN55D8000YFXZA. This is “normal” as it displays the same 1080p image onto a larger surface. This shows that large-size TVs would eventually need something better than 1080p resolution (1920×1080 pixel). In absolute terms, most people would call the image crisp, and unless you’ve seen many 4K demos like we did, it’s hard to complain about 1080p on a 60”. But if you come from a 50″, you may want to know this bit of information.

I have said that the image quality is “very good” (and not “excellent”), but for those who want the “absolute best” image quality, we need to dig a little deeper. Because it is an edge-lit television (the LCD light is coming from the sides), the UN60ES8000F does display visible bright spots when watching a black image in a very dim room. If you pay attention, you may see those spots in credit screens, or whenever the image goes completely black, but they are not really distracting when there is something on the screen, even a pretty dim image. Some users may be particularly picky about this, so this is an important detail.

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The brightness uniformity is the weak point of any edge-lit HDTV design. Here’s how it looks in a dark room

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Interestingly, the bright spots don’t show up even in dark scenes. Here, a shot from Rambo, First Blood

If you want better black levels, back-lit TVs, Plasma or OLED are better options, with their own trade-offs. Plasma and LCD back-lit TVs tend to be much heavier and their design is not as edgy, while OLED TVs are light and slick, but cost 4X or 5X the price of an LED TV.

As I was researching about this TV on forums and user reviews, I have noticed that a number of folks complained about light bleeding from the edges. Fortunately, I have not seen any of that with this particular unit, but this is out there in case you want to do some homework.

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The TV reacts very well to direct sunlight exposure, even with the standard settings.

If you watch TV during the afternoon, having too much light can be an issue. Years ago, TVs would have a very hard time with a direct sunlight exposition. Since then, some progress have been made, and even in the span of 3-4 years, the difference has been huge. Here is a photo of the TV hit by direct sunlight in the afternoon. You can see the shadows from the blind. Surprisingly, the TV surface does a good job of not reflecting all the light and no light/shadows streak appear on the image. That’s using the standard settings.

As you wander off the side of the TV, the colors will be distorted and will tend to wash out a little, but I don’t think that this is a real problem because you typically watch TV within a reasonable view angle, unless you are in the kitchen or in a situation where image quality may not be your primary concern. I’m adding some photos, so you can form your own opinion:

User Interface

Samsung has been experimenting quite a bit with the user interface of their TVs and this ES8000 Series pretty much has everything that the company came up with since last year, namely: a regular remote, a touch/gesture remote, voice and gesture controls (via the TV’s webcam) and a facial recognition login system.

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The regular TV remote

There is not much to say about the regular remote, except that it will be your ultimate fallback in case the fancier options don’t work out as expected…

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The fancier Smart Remote, with a microphone at the top for voice commands

The television can listen to your voice commands by its internal TV microphone or via the touch remote’s embedded microphone. As one would have expected, things work a lot better with the remote’s microphone as it is less prone to ambient noise coming… from the TV shows. As it stands, the voice recognition itself works reasonably well. For Xbox owners, I can give you an additional comparison point by saying that it’s not as good/fast as Xbox+Kinect voice commands.

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Here are the voice commands options

The usefulness of the voice commands is a bit limited at the moment as it does not really make you command the TV faster than with the regular remote. It would be great to control channels by saying “CNN” or “Fox” for example, but that example would require the TV to interact with the cable box, and it is just not happening yet. In the end, I find myself using the “dumb” remote because it’s often faster and more reliable.

The touch remote also has an integrated trackpad that allows you to replace the arrow buttons of the regular remote. It’s a great idea, but again, the responsiveness isn’t as fast as smartphones, so you mileage may vary and it is not clear when it’s “better” than the regular remote.

Additional user interface: most people don’t know it, but many Samsung SmartTVs, including this one, can support any HID (Human Interface Device) that work on PC, like Mice and Keyboards. This may be handy if you want to use the television in a conference room, store or obviously in your living room. Such devices can be connected over USB or Bluetooth, which is nice. Being able to connect PC accessories is awesome.

Smart TV and Apps

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Netflix works pretty well and appears to be in 720p

Video: of course, one of the most attractive feature of a smart TV is that it runs apps and web services. Naturally, video apps should be high on your list, so we tested a few: Netflix works very well and you can stream what I perceived to be 720p video. The video quality isn’t as sharp as a 1080p cable broadcast, but it still quite enjoyable.

Hulu is pretty good too and the user-interface is faster when compared to Netflix. However, the image quality is inconsistent as it depends on the shows you are watching (Hulu has many video sources). For instance, I found the Daily Show to have a better image than Dancing with the Stars, which seems more compressed.

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Vudu is an excellent option for 1080p movies

Vudu does provide an *excellent* image quality, which is comparable to a 1080p cable broadcast. The user interface is also responsive, so it’s nice to use. Vudu is also the service that start movies the fastest. Finally, Amazon Videos is also available, but unfortunately, the app refused to work, and was asking for a TV update which was not available…

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Skype is easy to use, but the image quality could be better

Skype: everybody likes the idea of having Skype on a big TV. A few years ago, when the first implementations were shown at CES, huge crowd of mostly older adults were lining up because they loved the idea of seeing the kids or the grandchildren on the big screen. Samsung used to sell a webcam accessory, but I think that integrating the webcam into the TV frame is a great idea.

First of all, you need to install Skype from the SmartHUB. That’s pretty easy, and most people should have no problems at all. Next, you need to login. The virtual keyboard’s slow responsiveness makes it a bit tedious, but you can save the password if you’re not worried that someone else will use it. You can also use facial recognition which works well, although it is not really secure either as one may fool it with a photo of your face. Facial recognition works system-wide so other apps may use it as a login.

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The webcam is integrated into the TV

My experience with Skype on TVs is that things are usually slow, and it works best when you don’t have a lot (100+) contacts. I have created a specific account for the TV, and I only have a handful of folks in there. Luckily, the Samsung ES8000 is one of the faster SmartTVs out there, but for comparison, it is still slower than a high-end tablet, so you need to set your expectations.

Overall, I really like the simplicity and the fact that there is no need to connect an external device. This is a great setup for my parents or “low-tech” folks in general. That said, you should not expect the image quality to rival what you would get on a decent PC. I think that this is mostly due to the fact that the webcam is so small to start with (and probably not too expensive either), but more importantly, the processing power available to compress the video isn’t comparable to what even a $600 laptop could offer. In the end, you are really trading absolute video-call quality for cost and convenience. The webcam functionality basically comes for a very low price (vs. a $600 PC or a $400+ tablet).

Remote control for support: I didn’t get to use that one, but this is basically like a Remote Desktop for computers where you let the tech support folks at Samsung take control of your TV so they can have an easier time to help you out. It’s a great idea because it’s easy to get lost in translation during support calls.

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Websites are very readable, but not easy to navigate

Web browser: browsing the web is usually tricky on a television. Most websites aren’t designed for HDTVs. Secondly, this is an activity that heavily relies on user input such as web addresses, search phrases and navigation (scroll up/down). TVs aren’t good with that.

The good news is that modern TVs such as this Samsung 8000ES series can render pages properly, so that’s a very good start. Secondly, the ability to add input devices such as mice and keyboards can greatly help those who truly want to have a desktop-like experience.

If you want to live without external input devices, there is a voice dictation option, thanks to the smart remote, but it is only as good as the voice recognition behind it. Many website names won’t be recognized however well you pronounce them.

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Data input in an essential part of web browsing

Once on the website, things are surprisingly readable and I was quite impressed by the progress made in that area since last year. Unfortunately, navigating in the page itself is quite painful and slow because without a mouse wheel, there is no efficient scrolling mechanism. My conclusion is: unless you have a mouse and keyboard, web browsing has enough “friction” that you will tend to be using a laptop, tablet or even smartphone before trying with the TV.

Misc features

As HDTVs become full-fledged computers, it is increasingly harder to cover ALL the features, however, here are a few that are worth mentioning.

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Plug a USB with media files and browse it as a “video source”. Easy.

USB media playback: it is possible to load music, movie and photo files onto a USB key and play them back on the TV. I have tried with 1080p MP4 files, MP3 (non-DRM) music files and jpg photos. It all worked well and was easy to setup: basically plug the USB key into the TV, and it will show as one of the “input Sources”. Choose your activity (music, photo or video) and the TV will launch the appropriate media player. Browse and play. That’s it. I use it from time to time because it’s very reliable.

DLNA (AllShare): Samsung’s AllShare feature is built on top of the DLNA standard (Digital Living Network Alliance). DLNA is a protocol that allows devices to communicate over a home network, mainly to stream media files (photo, music, video). AllShare is an extension of DLNA that adds sharing capabilities with mobile devices. For instance we could stream a movie file from a Samsung smartphone to the television, and you can imagine that presentations and other documents can be used in the same sort of context. The same is true for Samsung laptops.

Conclusion (Very good)

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Icing on the cake… even when there is a lot of junk in front of the TV, the remote still works

The Samsung ES8000 Series is very attractive because of its striking design and large set of seemingly very advanced features, but after using it for a couple of weeks, I fell back to the basics and I liked the TV because  the image quality was very good, even if it shows some weaknesses in very dark scenes (in a dim viewing room). Yes, the uniformity of the blacks isn’t the strong point of this TV set, but in the overwhelming majority of cases, the TV performed admirably with bright, and accurate colors. Some features like Skype (and the facial-recognition login!) can be very handy, while others like the voice and gesture controls are completely optional in my opinion.

As always, it is almost impossible to be the best in every situation, and for this particular line-up, Samsung has chosen to be excellent in design and features and very good in most image rendering situations.

The Samsung SmartTV feature is the fastest that we have seen, and it has  progressed significantly since last year. It’s great to have Netflix, Hulu and Vudu embedded in the TV set – no additional “box” required. In conclusion, I would say that this is a very good TV that is “excellent” for pretty much everything, except the brightness uniformity. I wouldn’t have any problems recommending it.

I hope that this review gave you a good sense for how it is to use the Samsung UN60ES8000 in the real world. If you have additional questions, drop a comment and I will answer while I have the TV around. Thanks for stopping by.

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