Samsung UE55F8000 review

Pros

  • Outstanding feature list
  • Superb picture quality from any source
  • Slick operating system

Cons

  • Hit and miss voice control
  • Needs wide TV stand
  • Price

The UE55F8000 is the first of Samsung’s 2013 TVs to emerge blinking into the sunlight, and a glance at its glittering spec sheet reveals the company is going all out to impress.

This 55in edge-LED LCD set crams in more features than ever before and boasts a snazzy new operating system that takes Smart interaction to a whole new level.

It sits at the very top of Samsung’s TV tree – hence the eye-popping price tag – and comes equipped with active 3D technology and a wealth of Smart features, including voice and gesture control.

Design and connections

The moment you whip the UE55F8000 from its box you know it’s a stunner. The black bezel surrounding the screen is so slim it’s barely even there, somehow making the screen look even more expansive than its 55in size suggests.

The glinting metallic trim around the outer edge takes it into true supermodel territory, and with a depth of just 34mm, it’s obscenely thin to boot. From the front, the only visible detail is a dinky illuminated Samsung logo at the bottom.

The ‘deep arc’ stand adds to its sense of allure. It’s a metal crescent that bolts onto the back and makes the screen look like it’s floating – seemingly the Holy Grail for TV designers these days. It’s absolutely gorgeous, exuding the sort of luxury you’d expect from a £2,500 set.

But there’s a snag. The stand is the same width as the screen, and if you try placing it on a surface that’s narrower than the screen it tips forward because the stand’s edges aren’t supported.

On the back is a comprehensive selection of sockets, spearheaded by four HDMI inputs, one of which supports Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) for viewing hi-def smartphone videos. There are also three USB ports for media playback and recording TV, Ethernet, RGB, component and composite video inputs (using an adapter cable), inputs for the built-in Freeview and Freesat HD tuners, a common interface slot and optical digital audio output. The connections are all downward or side-facing, which is ideal if want to wall-mount it.

Also on the set’s solid, brush-finished back end is a slot for Samsung’s Evolution Kit. This optional chipset upgrades the TV with the very latest features or firmware, keeping key components bang up to date in the future without you having to replace the whole TV.

Features

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Where do I start? Well, a good place would be the F8000’s phenomenal range of Smart features, accessed through its built-in Wi-Fi connection. The Smart Hub system has been completely revamped, and is now built around a collection of five different screens – Social, Apps, On TV, Movies & TV Shows, and Photos, Videos & Music.

By default, it displays the On TV menu, which plays whatever you’re watching in a small screen and surrounds it with recommended programmes based on your viewing habits. In the ‘Coming Up’ section, it displays programmes that are about to start – select one and you can view it, record it, like it on Facebook, post on Twitter or peruse related content.

You can also switch to a snazzy timeline view, check the EPG or peruse recordings on any connected USB drives.

Social is a hub for YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Skype. You can watch videos posted by your friends on Facebook and Twitter, as well as popular YouTube videos.

The Apps menu offers a top-drawer selection of Internet content, including BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, Demand 5, 4OD, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Acetrax Movies, Netflix, LoveFilm, BBC Sport, BBC News, Spotify and Blinkbox. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can download all sorts of other content from the Samsung Apps menu, including games, kooky lifestyle apps and educational tools for the kids.

The Movies & TV Shows section offers on-demand content to rent or buy, provided by Acetrax and Samsung’s Video Hub. It’s a more convenient way of finding movies than visiting the individual on-demand apps, and the choice is terrific.

Photos, Video and Music lets you stream files from networked PCs and other servers running Samsung’s Allshare software. It also works with Windows 7 and 8, but I found file compatibility was better using Allshare. The software supports pretty much any format you throw at it, including MKV, WMV, DivX HD, AVCHD, AVI and XviD, while on the music side it supports MP3, WMA, FLAC and AAC. You can also stream JPEG photos.

The Smartness doesn’t stop there. The UE55F8000 also features voice and gesture control, providing a cool, futuristic way of operating the TV. For gesture control, there’s a built-in camera that flips up on the screen’s top edge and can be tucked away when not in use. It can also be used for Skype and face recognition.

Less hi-tech but more important is the inclusion of twin tuners, which is a real bonus when recording onto USB. You can record one programme and watch another, which is a first for a Samsung TV. It also lets you watch two channels at once using picture-in-picture, and when connected to a network you can even stream one tuner to another device (running Allshare software).

Being at the top of Samsung’s range, the UE55F8000 is packed with powerful picture processing, including 1000 Clear Motion Rate to eliminate blur and judder and Micro Dimming Ultimate to optimise black performance.

These are complemented a new picture mode for 2013 – Cinema Black. This dims the backlight in the black bars above and below the picture when viewing 21:9 movies, which aims to deliver a more immersive viewing experience as there’s no clouding to divert your attention.

Finally, there’s a built-in web browser, which works with a USB/wireless mouse and keyboard, Active 3D support with two pairs of glasses in the box and 2D-to-3D conversion.

Operation

With a quad-core processor churning away inside, the UE55F8000 handles with pleasing speed and smoothness. It’s a joy to see it in action – menus roll from one to the next then fold away when you exit them, and you can download and run apps in the background while you get on with watching TV or surfing the web. It’s by far the most sophisticated set I’ve encountered.

I also love how the new interface looks. Samsung has simplified the layout, using huge thumbnails and bold, engaging colours across the board – a little reminiscent of Windows 8.

Unlike last year’s busy Smart Hub menu, the new Apps menu uses a simplified grid of thumbnails (My Apps), with Recommended apps along the top. The ‘More Apps’ option at the bottom of the screen lets you rearrange the icons and group apps into folders.

Helpful dialogue boxes and setup wizards pop up when setting up and using the various features. The Tools menu provides access to key functions while you watch, plus there’s an onscreen manual that explains everything. Stuff like this makes the UE55F8000 easy to master despite the vast array of features on board.

The Freeview EPG is the same as last year, but that’s great news. The layout is easy to follow, with a live TV screen and synopsis at the top, and a seven-channel programme grid below it. The set’s Freeview info banners are thorough and allow you to search through the entire schedule, not just ‘now and next’.

The set’s gesture control works well. The little onscreen cursor traces hand movements accurately, and responds quickly when you clench your fist to select an option. You can also swipe in mid-air to scroll through Smart Hub menus, and use two hands to zoom in and out of pictures, which is beyond cool.

It’s fun and futuristic at first, making me feel like Tom Cruise in Minority Report, but after a while my arm began to ache and I switched back to the normal remote.

Voice control is more hit and miss. It’s better at recognising words than last year’s system, calling up core Samsung functions quickly (Smart Hub, for instance). But it often failed to find relevant results, and shouting out random words at an inanimate object made me feel like a tramp in a bus depot.

Talking of remotes, there are two to choose from. One is a classic Samsung handset, with big rubbery buttons and an ergonomic shape. The other is a brushed silver touchpad remote, which makes operation feel intuitive.

You can move the cursor around with a swipe of the thumb, press the pad to select and swipe the lines at the edges of the pad to scroll quickly through menu pages. At the bottom of the touchpad are two buttons – Recommended, which brings up a menu banner with suggested apps and movies; and Search, which lets you look for content by keyword. Elsewhere a smattering of buttons cover the other key functions.

Finally, the web browser is easier to use with the remote than expected. Pages load in a flash and the cursor moves around quickly, which makes it just about tolerable – although I’d still much rather use the laptop.

Performance

Whether you’re watching 2D, 3D or Freeview, the UE55F8000 delivers stunning picture quality across the board, a big step up in quality from last year’s E series.

What jumps out is the sheer depth and punch of its pictures, thanks to a wonderful contrast performance that blends pristine whites and profoundly deep blacks within the same frame.

Play a bright Blu-ray movie like X-Men: First Class and the visuals are exhilarating. Bold colours blaze from the screen, while black objects look solid and three-dimensional, lacking the grey mist and blue tinge that so often taints black reproduction.

Although it’ll smack you for six with striking colours when called for, its pictures are always grounded by a natural, convincing palette that allows skin tones to look as nuanced and subtle as they do in real life. That’s quite a feat.

Switch to a moodier movie like The Dark Knight Rises and the Samsung dishes up the sort of assured dark scene handling that AV enthusiasts can really get on board with. During Batman and Bane’s tête-à-tête in the sewers, Batman’s rippled suit and background shadow detail are clearly defined.

There’s no need to constantly fiddle with the brightness or backlight settings to see what’s going on – which could compromise the deep, cinematic feel of the picture – as the Samsung is naturally gifted at picking out the different levels of darkness.

This is helped considerably by a consistent backlight that ensures uniform brightness across the screen. There are no cloudy pools of light to spoil the integrity of dark scenes. Cinema Black also works well, sucking every last scrap of light from the black bars without affecting the balance of the actual picture.

Detail looks incredibly sharp, resulting in some of the crispest, most pristine pictures we’ve clapped eyes on, and they stay that way even when there’s lots of movement in the picture.

The set’s native 200Hz refresh rate, combined with its Clear Motion Rate and quad-core processing grunt mean that motion is handled with impressive smoothness and freedom from artefacts – even when you select the Standard or Smooth settings. Of course, this level of brilliance can only be achieved with some prodigious picture tweaking, and on that score the UE55F8000 is well-equipped for even the most ardent picture purist. The Picture menu goes into great detail (including white balance, gamma and colour management) but you can get some stunning pictures just by using the basic tweaks.

With 3D material, the set’s assured implementation of the active system combined with its expansive screen size means you’re virtually swallowed up in the picture. This wondrous sense of depth and immersion is enhanced by intense detail, rich colours and an almost complete lack of crosstalk. There’s a hint of it here and there, but nothing that’s likely to snap you out of your stereoscopic trance.

The icing on the cake is that Freeview pictures, both SD and HD, look amazing – even on a normally punishing 55in screen. Hi-def channels are dazzling (although Loose Women is a tough watch with this much detail on show) while SD shows look cleaner and sharper than I’d ever have expected on such a big screen.

Sound

The UE55F8000 bucks the slim TV trend with an audio performance that is, dare I say, excellent. Key to its success is the amount of bass on offer, which comes from two woofers in the set’s back end. This gels everything together and provides a more satisfying sonic balance than you normally get from LED TVs, particularly when it comes to boisterous action scenes.

Mids and treble are also smooth and open, topping off an unexpectedly good audio performance. It can be spiced up further by 3D Audio and Virtual Surround modes, but these don’t bring much to the party – I preferred straight-up stereo.

Verdict

The UE55F8000 is a staggeringly good TV in every department. Drop-dead gorgeous looks, an extensive and sophisticated feature set, fabulous picture quality from any source and a new operating system that oozes user-friendliness. Even its sound quality is up to scratch, for heaven’s sake.

The only real negative I can find is that voice control is a bit hit and miss, but that’s a negative drop in an ocean of positives.

Samsung has set the bar high in 2013 with this amazing TV and its rivals will have to come up with something pretty special to better it.

Specifications

Manufacturer and model

Samsung UE55F8000

Screen size (inches)

55

Screen Type

VA LCD

Resolution

1,920 x 1,080

Backlight technology

Edge LED

Picture engine

3D HyperReal Engine

Digital tuner

Freeview HD & Freesat HD

3D ready

Yes

3D technology

Active

3D glasses supplied

Two pairs

2D-to-3D conversion

Yes

Wi-Fi

Yes, built-in

Online content

Smart Hub

DLNA streaming

Yes

Smartphone control

Yes

Contrast ratio

Not given

Brightness

Not given

Refresh rate

1000 Clear Motion Rate

Speaker power

40W (2 x 10W, 2 x 10W woofers)

Energy efficiency class

A+

Dimensions (with stand, W x H x D)

1,224.2 x 741.9 x 310.3mm

Dimensions (w/o stand, W x H x D)

1,224.2 x 707 x 34.9mm

HDMI

4

Component

1

Composite

1

Scart

1

Digital audio output

1 (optical)

PC input

Yes

USB

3

SD card slot

No

Ethernet

Yes

CI slot

Yes