THE GOOD: Better black levels than other edge-lit sets; accurate color with linear grayscale; numerous picture controls and tweaks; sleek styling with inch-deep panel; superb streaming and widget content via well-integrated Apps platform; 3D compatible; 2D to 3D conversion system works better than expected.
THE BAD: Extremely expensive; subpar uniformity and off-angle viewing; lighter black levels than full-array local-dimming sets; black areas tinged bluer; doesn't handle 1080p/24 content properly; 3D exhibited ghost images along edges (crosstalk); does not include 3D glasses; terrible remote.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Its 3D is still a work in progress and its 2D picture quality comes up short of the best available, but the high-end Samsung UNC8000 series still offers superb features, solid performance, and unique style.
Among HDTVs we've reviewed, the UNC8000 series is the first 3D TV, the first edge-lit LED-based LCD with local dimming, and the first example of Samsung's Apps for TV platform. It has the company's best LCD picture quality specs for 2010, packs in more features than ever before, and yet manages to measure just under an inch thick. As you can imagine, it doesn't come cheap.
The verdict? We haven't been able to compare the Samsung UNC8000 to any other 3D TVs in the lab, and until we do, our evaluation has more caveats than an ad for allergy medication. That said, 3D on this TV (with this firmware version), though definitely an impressive technology demonstration, won't satisfy videophiles, and at times even made us feel queasy. We'll take 2D Blu-ray for now, thank you, although we're interested to see how non-animated 3D Blu-ray content looks on this set.
Speaking of comparisons, in 2D mode the UNC8000 had a hard time keeping up with the better local-dimming LED-based LCD TVs available, although it does own the edge-lit crown for now. The Apps platform is probably the company's biggest win on this set, proving to be well-integrated, snappy, and chock full of useful content. Of course, it's also available on plenty of cheaper Samsung TVs. All told, despite its cutting-edge features and design, the high-end UNC8000 left us wanting better picture quality to justify its high price.
We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch member of the Samsung UNC8000 series, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and should provide very similar picture quality.
Samsung has a new chrome- and round-edge remote, which reminds us of an overgrown candy bar-style phone. It looks sexy and feels solid--too bad it's such a pain to use.
The buttons are just poorly-differentiated divisions of the flat face, and it's impossible to tell them apart by feel. We constantly had to look down (away from the TV screen) when doing anything more basic than navigating via the cursor controls. We'd trade this remote in for a universal model in a second. Select Samsung phones can apparently control the TV, as can the company's own optional touch-screen remote to better Tweet from your TV.
The UNC8000 employs the first LED-based backlight that can actually dim different sections of the screen by using LEDs arranged along the edge (edge-lit), as opposed to behind the LCD element (full array). Samsung calls it "precision dimming." See Performance for our impressions and comparisons to other backlight schemes, as well as for details on 1080p/24 testing.
Otherwise, the 8000's feature set is similar to Samsung's step-down 3D-compatible LCD TV, the UNC7000 series. Unlike Panasonic's 3D plasma, neither of the Samsungs include 3D glasses--the $350 Starter Kit available now has two pairs plus the "Monsters vs. Aliens" disc. Samsung will offer rechargeable and kid-sized glasses shortly, and like all first-generation glasses they will not work with other brands, although they will work with both plasma and LCD 3D TVs from Samsung. Third-party glasses are just a matter of time, however. Samsung (along with Sony and Toshiba) offers 2D-to-3D conversion; Panasonic does not.
Wi-Fi connectivity, available built-in on Sony's high-end models as well as Vizio's Via TVs, is missing on the Samsung. You'll need to buy the USB adapter or employ a third-party wireless bridge.
The selection here is among the most complete available. Additional audio (Slacker radio, Last FM) would be cool, but Pandora will satisfy most listeners.
Samsung integrates its streaming services into the main Apps platform (see below), which makes more logical sense than the separation between "widget" and "everything else" used by LG and Sony, and most of the major ones come pre-installed. The major exception is Amazon VOD, which takes the form of a Yahoo widget you have to download (last year's disappointing YouTube widget has been scrapped for a dedicated App). We'd like to see even tighter integration, along the lines of Vizio's apps platform, but this is certainly an improvement over last year, when Samsung lagged severely behind LG, Sony, and Panasonic.
In brief testing of each we had no problems with the streaming services. Response time and video-audio quality were par for the course with Netflix, Vudu, and Amazon (we didn't test Blockbuster). We appreciated that picture settings, including custom dejudder, were available for streaming video--although 2D-to-3D conversion was not. We did not test streaming of music, photos, or video via USB or DLNA.
Samsung wants you to think of its Apps platform much like a certain other Apps store from Apple. The TV version from Samsung is a far cry from the iPhone version today, but does offer a solid variety of options. Currently the accent is on games and information widgets like weather and sports, and key names like Facebook (present on Vizio's platform) are missing. On the other hand, we expect Samsung to release updates throughout the year, and the company plans a major upgrade in July 2010.
The platform also incorporates most of the Yahoo widgets available on previous models, which are also accessible from the main Apps menu relatively seamlessly. The widget experience is much, much better than in the past, owing to faster load and response times. Now the widget taskbar comes up almost immediately, and navigating between widgets and within a widget itself is a breeze.
As previously announced Samsung offers Skype on the C8000 as long as you purchase the Freetalk TV Camera ($149). We hadn't tested this service by press time.
Samsung has officially retaken the picture settings crown from LG this year. Highlights for tweakers include a new 10-point system that works pretty well--albeit not as well as LG's--in addition to a dejudder control system that does work better than LG's (albeit not as well as Samsung's own system from last year). A few internal test patterns are on deck, as well as red, green, and blue color filters, all to aid would-be calibrators. You can also change the dimming to more- or less-aggressive methods or change how the TV handles black-frame insertion, which is designed to reduce blurring. See performance for more details.
Samsung offers a smattering of settings for both native 3D content and 2D-to-3D conversion. With the former, you can fool around with "3D viewpoint," said to adjust perspective, whereas the latter provides a "depth" setting that gives a similar adjustment option. It's also worth noting that engaging 3D changes to a separate set of picture settings, and removes some of the options available in 2D mode (like Eco settings, aspect ratio adjustments, black-frame insertion options, and more).
Not much goes missing here, although we'd like to see a real onscreen manual, as opposed to the simplistic "connection guide." The troubleshooting section is nice, but is mostly geared toward easing the job of customer service reps tasked with diagnosing owner problems over the phone. We like the option to turn off the screen manually, leaving just the sound, which cuts power use down to 34 watts.
The input array of the UNC8000 is substantial enough, but the thinness of this TV's panel necessitates a sacrifice. Due to the tiny surface area allotted to the connection bays, most jacks require connection via mini breakout cables. Samsung includes such cables (be careful not to lose them!) for composite AV, component-video, PC-style VGA, RF, digital optical out, stereo audio out, and even LAN (Ethernet)--most are tagged with a warning that could have originated from a botched dialogue translation in the game Lineage: "Insert securely lest should be detached in set." Only HDMI and USB can be connected sans an extra cable, and even then Samsung advises you keep cable/thumbdrive width below 0.55 inch.
3D picture quality: Due to a lack of test patterns and other suitable reference material, we did not perform a calibration of the Samsung UNB8000's picture settings for 3D sources. Our observations are limited to the material noted below, observed via the default Movie mode in a dark room with a pair of the company's SG-2100AB glasses. This is the first 3D TV we've had in our lab, so we will not make any comparisons to other models until we have them in-house. We used the newest firmware available at press time (identified as version 1014.0 on the company Web site, but as 001011 in the TV's menu). Samsung has updated the firmware to affect 3D performance at least once already, and we expect more updates to come. The following are the experiences of the author, and your mileage may vary even more than with 2D evaluations. Here's what he's seen so far; we'll update this evaluation when we can view more content and make more comparisons.
The Samsung UNC8000 produced a convincing 3D effect on "Monsters vs. Aliens," the only currently available 3D Blu-ray. The made-for-3D animated children's title conveyed a sense of depth on our 55-inch TV that was undeniable. Asteroids, leaves, blowing snow, and other prominent foreground objects often appeared to float in front of the screen, and we were routinely impressed at the depth of field we saw in some long shots. Combined with the color, detail, lack of noise and other picture quality plusses characteristic of Blu-ray, it was an impressive technology demonstration.
On the whole, we enjoyed the experience for its novelty, but if we had the choice between watching it in either 2D and 3D, we'd choose 2D. 3D on the Samsung wasn't as immersive as we've seen from theatrical presentations. We place some blame the smaller screen size, but the presence of crosstalk was another distraction: it appeared as ghostly images on the edges of objects, such as the General hovering in his jetpack in Chapter 4; his legs and the struts on the pack appeared to have ghostly doubles, for example (adjusting the 3D viewpoint control wasn't much help, as it just seemed to move the crosstalk to different objects). We also had a hard time getting used to the differences in depth, particularly along the edge of the screen; the image would pop out at times in a way that was unnatural and jarring. We also felt queasiness after viewing sometimes, again, something we didn't feel in the theater.
Conversion from 2D to 3D worked better than we expected, but still not very well, especially compared with the 3D Blu-ray. Snipes, channel logos and onscreen menus gave the strongest impression of depth, followed by the foreground in the bottom part of the screen. The most enjoyable content maintained a steady camera with little movement, and still images or shots of photos in documentaries seemed to work well. Quick cuts, on the other hand, became jarring quickly, and when we cranked up the Depth control we actually experienced mild vertigo. The entire image at times seemed to be plastered on an undulating canvas, randomly closer in some parts and farther away in others. In total, we again preferred to leave the glasses and 2D conversion turned off, although some viewers might like it.
2D picture quality: The Samsung UNC8000 is a very good performer overall--just not as capable as Samsung's previous LCD flagships. Its "precision dimming" technology seems to improve black level performance, albeit not to the same plane as the better, full-array local-dimming LCDs (or plasmas). Color accuracy was generally good, minus some bluish blacks; uniformity was a weak point and video processing has a few issues we didn't see in the company's other high-end TVs.
Setting up the UNC8000 for optimal picture quality required taking full advantage of the extensive user-menu controls. First off, its best default setting, Movie mode, exhibited a bluer grayscale than we've seen on other Samsung TVs, and our standard gamma measurement was quite high, especially in the middle of the scale. Samsung's rep advised us to choose our gamma setting based on measurements made with a full raster (as opposed to windows), and by that measure default gamma was quite smooth and close to the 2.2 ideal; in either case we ended up using the "0" gamma preset for our calibration.
Once we got things dialed in, the results were much better than default Movie. We ended up with a very smooth grayscale with the exception of the extreme high and low ends, which became a bit green and very blue, respectively. Samsung's new 10-point system, though not as good as LG's, yielded a big improvement in grayscale linearity over the old gain/offset system. As for gamma, we measured an inaccurate (and non-linear) 2.49 with windows and a more accurate and much more linear 2.25 with full raster.
For our 2D comparison and image quality tests we used the models below and watched "Star Trek" on Blu-ray. See below for 3D performance evaluation.
Black level: The shade of black the Samsung C8000 could produce surpassed that of most other edge-lit LED-based displays we've tested, such as the Samsung B7000, the LG LH5500, and the Sony NX800 in this lineup, but couldn't compete with the full-array local-dimming models or the Kuro plasma. In dark scenes, such as the star fields and the Romulan ship at the beginning of Chapter 4, or the shadowy classroom on Vulcan in Chapter 2, blacks appeared relatively deep for an LCD, but without that inky, lightless quality seen on the better sets in our dark room. The differences became less apparent in brighter scenes, as usual, but the UNC8000 still trailed those sets.
In the UNC8000's favor, it didn't lose much contrast in difficult mixed scenes, such as star fields. The pinpoints of light remained relatively bright compared with what we saw on the full-array, local-dimming sets. Of course, we still much preferred the look of those full-array dimmers overall; in our dark room, their deep blacks were much more pleasing, despite some dimness in highlights.
We did notice some fluctuation in the brightness of the letterbox bars, which became brighter or darker according to the brightness of the overall scene more noticeably than local-dimming models, cutting down on the UNC8000's perceived contrast ratio. Otherwise, blooming and stray illumination related to dimming (as opposed to uniformity issues; see below) were rare. In Chapter 3, the UNC8000 didn't introduce the faint halo of light around the car driving across the fields, for example--something we saw on the LH8500. Halos were also absent from our PS3's white-on-black text and icons. Samsung has handled the paradox of dimming from an edge array better than LG did on the LG LH5500 we saw with its obvious "blocks" of illumination.
Shadow detail was solid, although shadowy areas looked more realistic on the two 8500 sets and the Pioneer thanks to their deeper black levels. We also appreciated that the backlight didn't switch off abruptly in extended fades to black, such as the opening titles at the end of Chapter 1.
Color accuracy: The UNC8000 fared well overall in this category, aside from the very darkest areas. In delicate mid-bright areas, like the face of Kirk's mom during the escape in Chapter 1, for example, the solid grayscale contributed to a realistic, lifelike palette with much of the accuracy we saw in our reference, if not the same level of saturation. Primary and secondary colors were close to spec and well-balanced, creating the lush greens and cyan we saw in the fields and sky of Iowa.
In dark areas, the Samsung again fell short of the local-dimming sets, reproducing black and near-black with a decidedly bluish discoloration. Again, the letterbox bars showed this flaw most clearly, but it was also visible in the shadows and space between stars, for example. In its favor, the UNC8000 controlled the blue tinge better than the other edge-lit models, but this was still the biggest color-related flaw in our view.
Video processing: Samsung's Auto Motion Plus dejudder controls are the same as the ones we liked so much last year, but they behaved worse with 1080p/24 sources. There are three presets--Clear, Standard, and Smooth--that provide different levels of dejudder (smoothing) effect, as well as a fourth Custom setting that allows you to dial in Judder Reduction and Blur Reduction independently. Despite all these settings, we couldn't find one that handled the film cadence of 1080p/24 as well as we expect.
We compared the C8000 to the B8500 in the same settings (Judder Reduction: 0; Blur Reduction: 10) on our favorite test material for film cadence, the helicopter flyover of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend." On the C8000 the shot looked smoother, with less film judder. We did see some judder, and certainly more than the higher Judder Reduction settings, but no changes we made could approach the true, smoothing-free look of film seen on the B8500 and the other displays in our comparison.
Turning dejudder Off or to the Clear preset actually introduced the stuttering cadence of 2:3 pulldown, while LED Motion Plus (see below) had no effect we could discern. In the end we thought Custom 0 and 10 still looked best, but we're disappointed with the inability to remove all smoothing from the process (at least as far as we can tell). We'll update this section if Samsung issues a firmware update to fix this issue or tells us what combination of settings is required to accurately handle 1080p/24 properly.
When we voluntarily engaged dejudder we didn't see much difference between the B8500 from last year and the C8000; both created more artifacts--like the occasional stutter or halo around fast-moving objects against a complex background, such as Kirk's cycle at the spaceport or the hull of the starship passing in front of the camera in Chapter 1--the higher the smoothness was set. Comparing the Standard mode on the Samsungs with the same mode on the Sony, along with Low on the LGs and Vizio, we saw fewer such artifacts on the Sony and tended to prefer its somewhat less-smooth image. Of course, with the Samsung you don't have to stick to a preset like Standard.
Motion resolution on the UNB8000 is even more complex than usual thanks to the unusual LED Motion Plus setting, which controls how the TV implements black-frame insertion. Engaging it improves motion resolution from between 900-1,000 lines to at most the maximum 1,200 lines on our test pattern, but different settings affect different areas of the screen. In Ticker, the bottom and top of the screen register 1,200 lines while the middle falls to between 800-900; in Cinema, the middle registers 1,200 whereas the top and bottom fall off slightly; and in Normal, the whole screen appears to be about 1080 lines (these numbers are quite approximate).
In the end, we left the LED Motion Plus feature turned Off for our calibration since it had no other positive impact we could discern. We don't expect any but the most blur-sensitive viewers to notice the difference between Off and the other settings, especially if Auto Motion Plus is engaged (turning AMP off made motion resolution fall to between 300-400 lines). Speaking of blur, as usual we had a difficult time noticing differences in motion resolution in any normal program material, as opposed to test patterns.
Test patterns also revealed that the UNC8000 failed to de-interlace film-based 1080i sources as well as most other displays; there was brief interference in the highest-frequency parts of our test pattern in the most favorable Auto 1 film setting--something we didn't see on the B8500, for example. Again, we couldn't find evidence of this failure in normal program material.
Uniformity: The UNC8000 didn't perform well in this category. Brightness across its screen was more consistent than what we saw on the LG LH8500, but it still had some issues. The most noticeable in mid-bright and brighter areas looked like very faint vertical bands or varying brightness, which showed up most in pans over flat fields, such as the sky in the joyride from Chapter 2. We saw them relatively rarely, but such banding wasn't present on the other sets, aside from the LH8500.
The UNC8000 sample we reviewed also betrayed brighter corners and edges than the middle of the screen, a difference that was most apparent in dark scenes and areas like the letterbox bars. The brightness on the edges wasn't as severe as we saw on the Sony or the LG LH5500, and was about equivalent to that of the Samsung B7000.
Off-angle the UNC8000 also suffered about as badly as the other LCD displays in our lineup, with the exception of the relatively good LG LH8500. Its screen became discolored toward blue in dark areas when seen from either side (or above or below), darker areas washed out relatively quickly, and brightness variations became more visible.
Bright lighting: With the lights turned up, the Samsung UNC8000's glossy screen behaved just like on previous so-equipped models like the B7000 and B8500: prone to bright reflections but very good at preserving black levels. We preferred the matte screen seen on TVs like the Vizio and the LG LH5500 overall, but the UNC8000 handily beat the LG LH8500 in this department.
In darker scenes we could easily make out objects reflected in the screen, such as the clothing of viewers or brighter furniture, and in some cases those reflections became distracting. On the other hand, the UNC8000 kept black areas looking darker than the Pioneer plasma, for example, which helped preserve some contrast in bright rooms. As usual, we recommend viewers who can't control ambient lighting, especially windows or other bright objects facing the screen, go with a matte screen as opposed to glossy.
Standard-definition: With standard-def sources the UNC8000 performed well. It delivered every line of the DVD format and details were relatively sharp. Jaggies in moving lines were kept to a minimum, and noise reduction functioned as expected (although the Auto setting didn't work as well as selecting one of the presets manually). In Auto 1 film mode the set engaged 2;3 pulldown effectively.
PC: Via VGA, the UNC8000 appeared a bit softer than we expected on text and other sharp objects, and test patterns confirmed that it couldn't quite pass full 1,920x1,080 pixels. Via HDMI there were no issues.
Power consumption: We did not test the power consumption of this size in the Samsung UNC8000 series, but we did test the 55-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the Samsung UN55C8000.