Just over an inch deep, Samsung's latest 8000-series LED HDTVs are currently the thinnest flat panels on the planet. Moreover, they have an astonishingly thin bezel, a mere 0.19 inch, surrounding the screen. Besides the 55-inch UN55D8000 ($3,500) reviewed here, there are three other models: the 46-inch UN46D8000 ($2,800), 60-inch UN60D8000 ($4,200) and 65-inch UN65D8000 ($5,600). They're all share the same basic design and features; and they're all gorgeous.
When the UN55D8000 is turned on, it's as if the TV isn't there; all you really see is the picture. When it's turned off, you see a beautifully minimalist technological objet, sitting on your table or hanging on your wall. One note: the screen has a somewhat glossy finish. This is good for maximizing detail; but in some environments will lead to reflections of bright objects in your room (especially lights and windows) appearing on the screen.
Behind the Screen
Inside this impossibly thin cabinet is an impressive array of technology. The UN55D8000 LCD television uses LEDs along the perimeter to illuminate an optical grid behind the screen. The LED-edgelit design is responsible for the D8000's svelte dimensions.
Like any self-respecting modern flat panel, the D8000 is 3D-capable, employing active-shutter technology to synchronize an alternating sequence of left- and right-eye images on the screen with LCD lenses in the glasses. Two pairs of active-shutter 3D glasses are included with the set.
Like pretty well all premium flat-panel TVs for 2011, the D8000 has a broad suite of IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) features, which Samsung terms "Smart TV." Smart TV features include Web browsing, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Accuweather and a growing number of TV-specific apps. Wi-Fi wireless networking is built-in, but there's also an Ethernet jack for a direct connection to your home network and the Internet.
Many Smart TV features require some text input, for entering Web addresses and searching for YouTube videos for example. Usually, this is done by moving a cursor to choose letters from an onscreen keyboard, or by using the remote's numeric keypad to enter letters text-messaging style. Both methods are cludgy. Samsung's D8000 TVs come with a clever two-sided remote, which unlike the TV itself, is rather thick. On one side are conventional buttons for choosing sources and channels, adjusting volume, navigating menus etc. On the other side is a QWERTY keyboard for entering text, plus buttons for navigating menus.
Picture-processing features include Micro Dimming Plus and Auto Motion 240Hz. Micro Dimming Plus adjust light output of LEDs to suit picture content, dimming select LEDs to produce dark tones more convincingly, or lightening them for bright areas. Pulling this off with an edgelit design is more challenging than with a display with LED backlighting; but as noted in the evaluation below, this feature seems to be very effective.
Auto Motion Plus 240Hz generates additional frames and increases the refresh rate of the display to minimize picture blur, which is even more important with 3D content. Samsung says the total effect of the chipset, illumination and panel is a "Clear Motion Rate" of 960Hz in terms of resolving motion detail.
The UN55D8000 comes with a X-shaped swivel pedestal. Compared to most 55-inchers, unpacking and installing this TV up is a breeze, because it weighs only 36 pounds.
When you turn the TV on for the first time, it asks you to confirm language, and then configure network settings. The D8000 found my home network, and asked me to enter the security key. After the TV was connected to my network, it checked for a firmware update, and installed the Smart Hub portal, complete with a new IPTV service: Explore 3D. The last step is setting time and date and programming channels.
Along with the UN55D8000, Samsung provided its BD-D6500 Blu-ray player. With the player connected via HDTI, the D8000 television comes up in BD Wise video mode, with the backlight control set at 16 (the highest setting is 20); contrast maxed at 100; brightness reduced slightly (for deeper blacks) to 45 from the midpoint of 50; and the colour, tint and sharpness controls in the centre position. Some of the picture-processing features in the Advanced Settings menu were activated: Black Tone was set to Dark, Dynamic Contrast was set at Medium and Edge Enhancement was turned on. (Purists may want to change these settings.) In the Picture Options menu, Smart LED and Auto Motion Plus were both set in Standard, which is where I left them. The TV provides onscreen explanations of what these adjustments do, but the explanations rather cryptic. For example, the explanation for the Cinema Black control is "more immersive viewing for cinema resolution by dimming control." I was none the wiser for reading this.
I kept the TV in BD Wise mode, then used test patterns on a calibration disc, DVE HD Basics, to tweak the picture. Brightness test patterns displayed correctly with the brightness control in the default position of 45 (though in actual programming, I sometimes found it helpful to boost it to 50 to improve shadow detail) and contrast reduced slightly to 90 (the maximum setting blows out highlight). In the Picture Options menu, I set Colour Temperature to Warm 1 (for a film-like look); and in the Advanced Settings menu I set Dynamic Contrast to Low. BD Wise isn't available with other components, so I entered these settings into the Standard mode.
The resulting picture was superb, everything you'd expect from a current state-of-the-art TV. In the challenging Antarctica scene at the beginning of the Mammals episode of BBC Life on Blu-ray, there was wonderful detail and texture in the ice and snow, and also in the dark fur of a Weddell seal. The dark underwater scenes had great depth and detail. Textures and detail in plants and animals (life an elephant mole foraging on the forest floor) in the rainforest scene in Equatorial East Africa were exquisite.
Watching Brazil on Blu-ray, I thought skin tones looked a tad pinkish (though that could be the colour palette of that movie). But I was more struck by the superb blacks and shadow detail in the murkily retro sets of Terry Gilliam's dystopian masterpiece.
When you put a 3D movie into the Blu-ray player, the TV goes into movie mode with backlight set at 20, to compensate for the darkening effect of the glasses. Speaking of which, the glasses are noticeably lighter than last year's. I had no problem wearing them over my prescription glasses for entire duration of Coraline. The first nighttime garden scene of the Other world was a delight, with inky blacks, but the exotic plants vibrantly displayed.
In their own ways, these three Blu-ray titles show off this TV's ability to deliver superb blacks, and excellent detail in both shadows and highlights - even in high-contrast scenes when very dark and very bright object are present on the screen at the same time. Not only does the Micro Dimming feature appear to be very effective, I never saw any halos or other artifacts that this processing can sometimes generate.
To watch televised 3D content (not that there's much of it), you push the 3D button on the remote, and choose the icon for the 3D format being used for the broadcast. For a PVR recording of last February's Heritage Classic NHL game in 3D, I chose side-by-side (the format used for this broadcast, and the most common 3D broadcast format). The 3D presentation was very involving, and I experienced no flicker or fatigue. There was no evidence of streaking or ghosting.
House looked great in 2D HD, with superb detail, skin tone and facial modeling, and lovely warm colour.
The main side of the remote has hard buttons for Smart Hub, the portal to the D8000's IPTV features, plus Social TV, Yahoo, 3D and E-manual, which displays an electronic manual that resides in the TV on the screen.
The E-manual is a useful feature, with good explanations of features and adjustments, and a neat Try it Now function that lets you see how a feature works and what it does. One oversight: the E-manual doesn't explain what the remote control's buttons do; maybe that's just assumed.
Social TV combines a large window on the left showing live video of whatever you're watching, with a smaller pane on the right that integrates the viewer's Facebook updates and Twitter feeds. Samsung sees this being attractive for major TV events where viewers will want to exchange feedback with the show's programmers or their friends. Some people will find this fun and useful. But I think many people who want to tweet while they watch will prefer a notebook or tablet.
The Smart Hub interface is a little busy, but I think just about everyone will figure it out quickly. The home screen has a video window in the upper left that shows live video from the currently selected video source. The Your Video window in the upper middle shows available movies available through video-on-demand services. In the upper right shows available Samsung apps. Recommended apps are in the middle, and on the lower half of the screen is a large area containing icons for all your apps. This area is customizable, so that you can arrange functions in the order you want, with the most frequently used ones appearing on the home screen. You can page to the left or right for others. You can also group apps into folders.
The Smart Hub features I tried were somewhat erratic in their operation. Yahoo! Widgets took a very long time to install and configure, and didn't auto-detect my region. Once it installed, operation was quite slow.
YouTube took about 15 seconds to load. Unfortunately, the YouTube client software on the TV doesn't accept text input from the remote's QWERTY keyboard. To search for videos, you have to hunt-and-peck through an onscreen keyboard with the remote's cursor input, which is awkward. The keyboard does work with other apps like Google Maps, which provides map and satellite views, and works well. It also works for browsing.
The first time I launched the browser, it refused to work; but it was fine afterward and successfully displayed the sites I visited. The remote also has a pointer mode that lets you move the cursor freely around the screen, which makes the browser much more usable. You can place a picture-in-picture window of your current video source if you wish. The browser is Linux-based, so can be updated, which is an attractive future-proofing feature.
Netflix worked well. After launching the Netflix app, the TV gives you an activation code. You go to the Netflix activation site on a Web browser, enter the code, after which you can access your Netflix account from the TV. It worked seamlessly, and the Netflix app was very responsive. An episode of Damages streamed without hiccups; but artifacts were visible from two metres (that's a result of Netflix coding, not the TV).
I tried downloading a few apps, including Tetris. It works like the classic PC time-waster, but using a TV remote to orient falling blocks is frustrating. Most games require a suitable controller, and standard remote doesn't fill the bill.
The Skype feature requires a proprietary Samsung camera that costs $150. It attaches to the top of the TV and connects to a USB port. After launching the Skype app, you can make voice or video calls to anyone on your Skype contact list. Video is reversed left-to-right, which is mildly off-putting; otherwise audio and video quality are quite good. You can set it up to run whenever the TV is on so that you see when someone is calling you; you can respond with video or voice-only.
The All Search feature lets you enter a search term, then looks for matching content across all applications and connected devices, without you actually having to launch them. The Your Video window lets you search for information about movies and TV shows, and then watch it through supported video-on-demand services, without actually having to launch the services. That lets you compare pricing and availability. However, this feature has limited use in Canada, because VOD services like Amazon and Vudu (which the TV supports) aren't available here.
The Bottom Line
The easiest way of summing up the UN55D8000's Smart TV capabilities is to say they have a Version 1.0 feel to them. A few are flaky. The way the apps work isn't consistent. But many of these features are attractive and work well. Most importantly, the Smart TV platform will evolve over time. These features are as much about the future as the present.
But the stunning good looks and superb picture quality are something that viewers can definitely enjoy in the here-and-now.
Neat dual-sided remote with QWERTY keyboard
Some Smart TV features are erratic
Very slight pink colouration in upper grey scale
NUTS & BOLTS
Screen size: 54.6 inches
Screen technology: LCD with LED edge illumination
Resolution: 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
Frame rate: 240Hz with Auto Motion Plus processing
Technical amenities: Full HD 3D, QWERTY keyboard remote with pointing function, optional Skype camera
HD video connections: HDMI 1.4a with 3D and return audio channel support (4), component video (1)
Network connections: Ethernet and built-in Wi-Fi; 3 USB ports
Networking features: Smart Hub IPTV platform with many functions, including Netflix, YouTube and Skype; Social TV with support for Facebook, Twitter and Google Talk; Allshare network streaming from DLNA devices; updatable Web browser; All Search for finding content on network applications and devices
Size: 123.3 x 70.7 x 3 cm (w/h/d, without stand); 123.3 x 78.7 x 31 cm (w/h/d, with stand)
Weight: 16.2kg (without stand); 186kg (with stand)