Digital Trends Reviews Samsung’s Latest Curved TV
By Caleb Denison, DigitalTrends.com — July 17, 2014
Samsung UHD 4K HU9000 Series Smart information: This review is based on our hands-on experience with the 65-inch UHD 4K HU9000 TV. However, our observations also apply to the 55-inch and the 78-inch models in the UHD 4K HU9000 Series. According to Samsung, the 3 sets differ only in dimension and weight and offer identical features and performance.
The first Ultra HD 4K televisions worth considering are finally on display in electronics stores across the country. If you haven’t seen them yet, you will soon, and we’re fairly confident you will be mesmerized.
Leading the charge for Samsung this year is the HU9000 series, the company’s flagship, curved Ultra HD television, and arguably one of the best televisions we expect to see all year. That’s right: If you want the best Samsung has to offer this year, it comes with a curve — and a plumped up price tag to go with.
Part of what makes the HU9000 such a desirable television is that it is one of the best executions yet of LCD-based TV technology. But the other important factor is that this TV is one of the few options discerning video enthusiasts have as a replacement for high-end plasma televisions, which are officially done for.
Here’s the spoiler: This is a wildly spectacular television – easily in the top five for 2014. It does have some stiff competition this year from Panasonic, Sony and LG, though; and what about the curve and any other quirks? Dive into our review to find out.
Out of the box
The HU9000’s gentle curve strikes you hardest as you lift the first piece of protective packing foam. Even though flat-panel televisions are relatively new in the grand scheme of things, most of us have gotten used to them, so the curve comes off as a bit curious. If you pull the trigger on a curved TV, then it’s safe to assume you’ve opted to embrace the design and will be excited to see the laid-back radius of the HU9000 peering back at you as you remove the TV from its box.
We’re also pleased with Samsung’s stand design for this series. The stand’s brushed metal appearance and slight curves are as relaxed as the television’s, complimenting the rest of the TV’s design; it happens to be very stable as well.
The HU9000 comes with two remotes — a standard wand and a new style discussed later — a One Connect box with associated cable, an IR blaster, and four pairs of active 3D glasses. All of these accessories are packed in high-quality, matte-black boxes with magnetic flaps, giving the un-boxing experience the premium feel this television owes to its owner.
A new way to control
Samsung changed up its remote-control design this year, and we think it’s a significant improvement over prior years. The remote is now a three-way combination of familiar buttons, a clickable trackpad, and a motion controller, which lets you point and click as if it were a Wii controller. The remote feels great in your hand, with curves in just the right places and a textured, rubbery pad on the underside.
This is a wildly spectacular television – easily in the top five for 2014.
Of course, Samsung still offers voice and gesture recognition in case you enjoy talking to your TV and waving at it. If you haven’t already gathered, we’re not huge fans of these features, but then again, we’ve had time to get over them. Initially, we think owners will have fun playing around with these futuristic features, but over time the novelty wears off and it’s nice to have a more conventional means of controlling the TV.
As with previous iterations, Samsung’s TVs like to control your cable or satellite service’s set-top box to better integrate into the Smart TV interface. It does so using an IR blaster, which could just as easily be reassigned to control another device like a Blu-ray player. To operate the connected component, Samsung offers a virtual on-screen remote rather than stuff a ton of extra buttons on its compact clicker. For some, this will be an easy adjustment, but others may find themselves lunging for the set-top box remote.
As smart as ever
While we’ve already given LG the nod for offering the most ground-breaking Smart TV platform this year, Samsung’s flavor of interface is just as inviting and familiar as ever, with snappy response time, colorful graphics, and a recommendation engine that aims to learn your TV-watching preferences and suggest shows it thinks you’ll like from a variety of sources.
Samsung’s voice search feature is also fairly effective, but it won’t poll Netflix and other VOD apps the way Roku and LG’s webOS software does.
One of the more entertaining features to play with is Samsung’s Multi-Link screen, which splits the screen down the middle so you see whatever is on the input you’re tuned into on the left side, with the option to load a handful of apps – including YouTube, Amazon Instant and Vevo — on the right. If you use Samsung’s On TV feature to launch the show you are watching, it will toss recommendations for other shows to watch as a series of tiles below the actively playing content on the left.
Samsung UN65HU9000FXZA curve base apps
The extra features On TV can bring to the Multi-Link experience do bring an added level of convenience, but even if you don’t enable On TV, Multi-Link is still very handy. It’s best used for watching two programs at once, with the ability to alternate between either feed’s audio stream. This is a great feature for parents who want to keep tabs on the game while their kids get their TV time in watching Amazon Instant or YouTube videos. You can also browse the Web in the Multi-Link environment, and while we still aren’t fans of in-TV Web browsers, Samsung’s remote makes navigation easy enough that we found ourselves using the built-in browser more often than usual.
Let’s talk about the curve
The curved television’s emergence has been maligned by many a tech journalist as unnecessary, gimmicky and even detrimental to a television’s performance. Samsung maintains it gives the viewer a more enveloping experience and is a fun design element.
We’ve found that the truth is somewhere in the middle. We’ll be publishing our full assessment of the curved television phenomenon soon, but for now you can check out our first impressions in the video below.
There’s a $500 to $600 premium for a curved screen – no wonder Samsung is so delighted with it.
Here’s what you need to know: In terms of picture performance, the curve’s effect is negligible. Any distortions imposed by the curve are minute, and not likely to be picked up on by the average viewer. Those video enthusiasts who look for that sort of thing have likely already taken a position on the curve anyway, so we see little point in poring over its implications on such a micro level.
The curve’s impact on a television’s price tag, however, is more substantial, and that tends to hit home with just about everyone. Samsung’s high-end flat-screen Ultra HD television series is the HU8550, with a street price of $2,300 for a 55-incher and $3,200 for a 65-inch model. By comparison, the step-up HU8700 series (which sports a curve and otherwise very similar specs to the HU8550) costs $2,800 for the 55-inch model and $3800 for the 65-inch option. So, there’s a $500 to $600 premium for a curved screen – no wonder Samsung is so delighted with it.
If the HU9000 were flat, it might cost $3,900 instead of $4,500. So the question then becomes: Is that curve and associated price delta enough to put you off owning one of the best-performing TVs of the year?
Let’s not mince words: This TV has a glorious picture. Much of its strong performance can be attributed to Samsung’s increasing mastery of various LED edge-light dimming schemes, which contribute to outstanding black levels, impressive screen uniformity and eye-grabbing contrast. It’s also a satisfyingly bright TV, which makes it a great candidate for a room that sees a lot of sunlight.
Color performance is also excellent right out of the box (we were pretty satisfied with our set’s Movie pre-set) but the HU9000 does offer a comprehensive set of controls for calibrators, including a mind-melting 192-point color management system.
With Blu-ray disc-sourced 1080p content playing, the HU9000 appeared to do a solid job of up-scaling images to 4K resolution without introducing any artifacts or noise. We’re in the process of comparing 1080p content on a 1080p Samsung TV alongside this Ultra HD model for deeper commentary and will update this section with our findings, but we suspect the visible difference will be negligible. What’s more important is that the HU9000’s stellar picture quality makes everything look great, whether it’s over-the-air broadcasts, streaming video or you cable/satellite service’s highly compressed video.
With native 4K content playing on the TV, there does appear to be a noticeable improvement in fine details. In addition to the UHD video pack that Samsung is currently offering as a free add-on to this television series, we used two other 4K content servers (which are used by retailers for display purposes and are not available for purchase by the public) as well as Netflix’s assortment of Ultra HD content, which includes Season 2 of House of Cards, the entire Breaking Bad series , Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2, and a handful of nature documentaries produced by Louie Schwartzberg.
In short, the HU9000 displayed Ultra HD content as well as any television we’ve seen so far. At a micro level, the Ultra HD advantage is most obvious when viewed from a close distance — say, under 6 feet – where ultra-fine details such as the frames of windows, veins in flower petals, and suspension wires on bridges took on sharper lines. Any opportunity for viewing surface textures also seemed to expose the added detail well.
On a macro level, however, the addition of detail is less stark. Sitting from 9 or 10 feet away, the HU9000’s heightened resolution was less intense, but we still got the overall impression of a sharper picture. This evaluation, however, is hardly scientific. To more accurately gauge the differences between a 1080p image and an Ultra HD version of the same footage, we intend to pit the HU9000 against Samsung’s F8500 plasma and open the evaluation up to a sampling of DT’s staff to get a better feel for how 4K strikes less scrutinizing viewers.
It’s no plasma or OLED
We do have a few criticisms we’d like to tender, but they are all centered around LED backlight issues inherent to LCD-based televisions. Backlight halos remain a problem, even though Samsung has done much to mitigate them. For instance, when there’s a bright image toward the bottom of the screen, that brightness is going to wash out any darker images at the center. This issue was unfortunately highlighted by the fact the UDH video pack Samsung provides currently comes with subtitles on by default. Not only is that an annoying inconvenience, but the bright white words displayed at the bottom of the screen caused a nasty washout for anything that was happening above it, and since subtitles aren’t always on-screen, the shift between the richer, darker picture and the milky one was jarring. Granted, this is an exacerbated example of the issue, but proof that it very much still exists.
The HU9000’s stellar picture quality makes everything look great.
Also, discerning viewers will sometimes see “zones” created by the backlights. These often appear as faint vertical lines that run the length of the screen. Casual viewers may never notice them, but discerning viewers will.
Finally, judder remains a problem for any LCD television. Without backlight scanning and motion interpolation features turned on, you will see judder, most obvious during horizontal pans. Turn the features on, and you’re going to get some level of “soap opera effect.” We’ll grant that Samsung’s de-judder and anti-blur can be individually adjusted, and that some level of each may provide sufficient smoothing with a minimum of the soap opera look, but for us, those features are two frustrating for us to deal with at all. We’ll take the judder instead … or an OLED TV, an admittedly expensive TV technology that doesn’t suffer from any of these problems.
If we simply take a step back and regard this TV for what it is – Samsung’s best effort for 2014 – then we have to say Samsung knocked it right out of the park with the HU9000 series. No, the curved design isn’t going to be for everyone, and we have tested at least one TV so far that has slightly better picture quality (Sony’s X900B series, review coming soon), but Samsung ‘s unique combination of cutting-edge design, unique features like the One Connect box, premium picture quality, solid on-board sound and user-friendliness makes this TV series one of the best around.
If the curve strikes your fancy, and you’re ready to take an early step into the world of Ultra HD 4K, the HU9000 is easily one of the best options at your disposal.
Outstanding picture quality
Bright images with great black levels
Sleek, eye-catching design
Excellent remote control
UHD content included free
Curved look isn’t for everyone
Curve is expensive
LCD panels have limitations
Read more on DigitalTrends.com