We’re used to seeing feature-packed TVs from Samsung, but the UE55ES8000 is so advanced, so jam-packed with clever, futuristic technology that we’re slightly worried it might try to take over the world.
Perhaps we’re exaggerating, but the UE55ES8000 is the Stephen Hawking of smart TVs. It’s equipped with voice and gesture control, face recognition, a raft of online content, web browsing, network functionality and a touchpad remote, not to mention 3D, Freeview HD and Freesat – all for a not so cheap £2,500 (although you might find it for less if you shop around).
Design and connections
It’s also a sublimely beautiful TV set, with a tiny ‘super narrow’ black bezel taking up very little screen space. The silver frame around the very edge oozes glamour and the illuminated Samsung logo beneath the screen is enough to make a man go weak at the knees. The lip at the top contains the built-in camera for face recognition. Naturally, the screen is naturally wafer thin at 30.8mm.
Connectivity is comprehensive, although it’s a surprise to find just three HDMI v1.4 ports on the back when most premium TVs at this price would offer four. They’re sideways facing, as are the Scart input (which requires an adapter cable) and three USB ports for media playback and TV recording on external HDDs. You’ll also find optical digital audio output and a headphones jack.
Below them are downward-facing component, composite and analogue stereo inputs, an Ethernet port and aerial inputs for the terrestrial and satellite tuners.
The UE55ES8000 is one of the most generously specced and most innovative TVs on the market, but if the spec gets even more advanced next year, you can upgrade it using the expansion port on the back.
For now though, no stone is left unturned. There’s built-in Wi-Fi for the on-board Smart features, dual core processing to speed up the picture processing (of which there is a considerable amount) and Edge LED backlighting.
Smart TV, Samsung’s online content portal, is very much aimed at the whole family, offering a brilliant blend of lifestyle functions, games, puzzles, educational tools and, of course, video streaming. Sure there’s loads of stuff you’ll never use, but the selection is definitely more hit than miss.
Apps include BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, Netflix, Love Film, YouTube, Acetrax, Box Office 365, BBC Sport and Samsung’s own 3D streaming service. But what makes it so special is gorgeous presentation and the way it breaks content down into user-friendly zones.
There’s a Fitness zone that offers workout videos and progress-tracking tools (showing you how many calories you’ve burned, for instance); a Kids area that groups together educational apps and videos, with a virtual reward chart; and Family Story, which lets you privately share photos and messages with family members who may not indulge in Facebook and Twitter – both of which, coincidentally, are also included in Smart TV’s app roster. Skype is included too, made all the more easy to use by the integrated camera, while Your Video helps you choose movies to watch and a search tool finds content by keyword.
If you’re going to pad out your smart service with stuff that isn’t free video streaming, then this is the way to do it. Bright, breezy, easy to use and fun, Smart TV is an unmitigated success.
Away from smart content, the set is fully versed in the art of 3D, throwing two pairs of active glasses in for free. These are lighter and more comfortable to wear than previous Samsung glasses, eliminating one of the main grumbles about the 3D viewing experience. The set will also convert 2D material to 3D, which means you can, at long last, watch Huw Edwards reading the news in all his stereoscopic glory.
You get both Freeview HD and Freesat tuners, and in terms of picture processing the set boasts Samsung’s 800 Clear Motion Rate (which, it should be stressed, is not 800Hz).
There’s a wealth of picture adjustments to play about with, giving you as much control over image quality as possible without straying into the nerdier realms of the Imaging Science Foundation or THX.
There’s a level of sophistication about the UE55ES8000’s onscreen design that sets it apart from most rivals. Every menu, from the Home screen to Smart Hub, is designed with maximum user-friendliness in mind – that means bright colours, crisp HD graphics and smooth operation. The Freeview EPG is particularly good, offering a programme grid, synopsis and a small box playing live TV.
Elsewhere, jazzy dialogue boxes lavish you with info, banners slide in from the side of the screen and icons spring to life when selected. It’s a veritable carnival.
There’s so much to explore that it can get a little overwhelming, but Samsung arranges everything with such panache and logicality that it doesn’t take long to work out where everything is. What’s also pleasing is the super-fast response time when moving from menu to menu or loading up web pages in the built-in browser.
There are many ways of operating the set but the best (and most enjoyable) method is voice control. The set will perform commands simply by saying the words into the microphone, and it’s surprisingly successful at recognising them.
Sometimes you might have to say things a couple of times or use a posher voice than usual – plus it’s inevitably weird shouting phrases across the room like a tramp with Tourettes – but on the whole it’s an effective way of operating your TV.
Alternatively there’s a gesture control system, which uses the built-in camera to respond to arm movements. I found myself flapping my arms around like an idiot and making duck-like hand movements with limited success, as the set often failed to identify the actions correctly.
You get two remotes in the box, a regular zapper and a smaller handset with a built-in touch pad. There’s a microphone for voice control on this handset too, which you can speak into instead of shouting across the room.
It’s a genius little device, with a responsive touch-pad that makes it easy to skate around menus. There’s a decent selection of buttons dotted about, including programme up/down, volume, return and Smart Hub.
The main remote isn’t bad either, with large, spongy buttons, a logical layout and clear labelling. The direction keys are obviously more cumbersome to use than the jazzy touchpad, but it’s still a great example of remote design.
Finally, Face Recognition uses the camera to access Smart Hub apps that require a log in, while the supplied IR Blaster enables you to control other devices connected to the TV using voice or gesture control.
Don’t settle for the built-in picture presets, which look uniformly garish. You need to spend some time tweaking to make it more natural, and thankfully that’s easy to do in the detailed Picture setup menu.
Do that, and you’ll be treated to some remarkably deep and solid-looking hi-def pictures for an LED set. Black level is particularly good, allowing dark areas of the picture to look genuinely solid and three-dimensional. But that’s not at the expense of shadow detail – dark scenes remain remarkably busy and lucid without you having to tweak the backlight or brightness (and unwittingly reducing black density in the process). Any light that punches through the gloom looks crisp, showing off the set’s excellent contrast range, helped along, no doubt by the competent micro dimming technology and the dual-core processors controlling it.
Colour reproduction is also excellent, bringing out the richness of bold hues without making them look garish, while displaying subtler tones with a lovely sense of balance. It’s utterly realistic.
The smooth, seamless colour blends hint at the set’s vast colour palette, and when you combine this with the intensely sharp detail reproduction you’re left with pictures so clear that they border on the hypnotic. Tricky textures and patterns are rendered with ease.
The dual-core processing gets a firm grip on motion, making the edges of fast-moving objects look nice and tight. We watched some test clips of fast moving trains and the set’s Clear mode does a fabulous job of draining blur and judder from the picture.
You get more of this pleasing quality from 3D discs, with the added depth making the images even more absorbing to watch. The glasses don’t dramatically reduce the brightness of the image, making everything look punchy and vibrant.
The layers are composed and thankfully there’s very little crosstalk to worry about aside from a few traces of ghosting on some straight lines in the background. The slick motion processing stops you feeling giddy when watching 3D pictures for too long too.
I wasn’t as impressed by Samsung’s performance with DVDs though. The many dark scenes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 are riddled with noise, which swirls around in the murky backgrounds, while edges suffer from jaggies. SD Freeview pictures fare slightly better but our advice is stick to HD.
The UE55ES8000’s sonic capabilities are reasonably good given the slim dimensions of the screen. It can go fairly loud without distorting and speech is rendered with terrific clarity. Treble sounds clean too, but the problem – as is so often the case – is that there’s no bass depth, so you’re left with a rather lop-sided sound that’s biased towards the mid to high frequencies.
Make no bones about it – the UE55ES8000 is a magnificent TV. There aren’t many sets that can match its incredible feature list and level of innovation. Voice and gesture control, touch-pad remote and face recognition make it feel like a TV from the future, while the generous online content and slick streaming functionality puts a wealth of entertainment at your disposal beyond TV and Blu-ray.
But all this would count for nothing if its images weren’t up to scratch and thankfully they are. The Samsung is an assured LED performer, making hi-def Blu-ray and Freeview look fantastic, although it’s not quite as impressive with DVD.
- Features and innovative control systems
- Superlative pictures
- Stunning design
- Inaccurate gesture control
- Noisy DVD playback
£2,499.99 inc. VAT