Samsung UE32EH5000 £429.99
6th Mar 2013 | 14:15
Basically brilliant pictures
The Samsung UE32EH5000 appears to have been designed for one purpose, and one purpose only: to deliver good picture quality as cheaply as humanly possible.
Let's look at the evidence - kicking off with its genuinely remarkable price. It's full recommended retail price is £429.99 (around US$646/AU$634), but at the time of writing it's available online for the frankly extraordinary sum of £270 (around US$406/AU$398). That's cheaper than many of the 32-inch TVs from self-consciously budget brands such as Finlux and Kogan - yet there the 32EH5000 sits, smugly brandishing its Samsung logo for all the world to see.
Next, let's consider the television's features. Or rather its lack of features. Because remarkably for the brand that introduced gesture and voice controls and arguably the world's most advanced smart TV online service this year, the Samsung UE32EH5000 doesn't carry any support for online features.
Nor does it permit streaming from networked PCs. Hell, it doesn't even have a D-Sub PC port. This leaves the set's single USB port as your only avenue for playing back photo, music or movie multimedia files.
Which brings us to the TV's apparent focus on picture quality. This is first suggested by Samsung's decision to retain a Freeview HD tuner in the UE32EH5000, despite its cheapness. And it's reinforced by the discovery within the set's on-screen menus of a surprisingly varied and subtle selection of picture adjustments.
Surely this many tools wouldn't have been provided if Samsung thought the 32EH5000's pictures were rubbish?
The Samsung UE32EH5000 has a bigger brother in the same range, the 40-inch Samsung UE40EH5000, which has a recommended full price of £549.99 (around US$827/AU$811).
Potential rivals for the Samsung UE32EH5000 are few and far between, given how cheap it is, though we'll look at a cluster of cheap 32-inch TVs from Finlux, HannSpree and Kogan in the next few weeks. In terms of models we've already seen, the only potential close rivals would be Toshiba's 32RL958 and the Technika 32-270.
In terms of other models in Samsung's own range, you might want to consider, if you step up to the 32ES5500 - for the best part of £300 more - you will get both Samsung's smart TV online service and an ultra-slim design.
For a 32-inch television that costs so little, the Samsung 32EH5000 is surprisingly good looking - at least from the front. The main reasons for this is that its black bezel is both impressively glossy and strikingly slim by budget TV standards.
Why the 'at least from the front' qualification? Because surprisingly given the reasonably svelte fascia, the Samsung 32EH5000's rear end sticks out miles further than those of most TVs we see these days.
So much so, in fact, that it got us wondering for a moment if the Samsung 32EH5000 was using 'old-school' CCFL backlighting rather than the more common edge LED system. But no; the picture is still illuminated by an array of lights tucked within the picture's frame. Which means we're rather at a loss to explain exactly why the Samsung 32EH5000's butt is as big as it is.
The 32-inch screen's specifications include a Full HD resolution and a dynamic contrast system, though the image's refresh rate is a basic 50Hz, with no significant processing present to help tackle the potentially thorny LCD problem of motion blur. Hopefully the panel at the Samsung 32EH5000's heart will have a swift enough native refresh rate to circumvent this potential motion pitfall.
The straightforward 50Hz panel might have you thinking that Samsung isn't taking the picture quality of its budget 32-inch TV seriously. But a delve into its on-screen menus swiftly puts you right on this, as you uncover a startlingly ambitious array of picture set-up tools - way more, at any rate, than you would get with a typical budget 32-inch TV.
Among the highlights of these tools are extensive backlight controls, multiple modes for the TV's noise reduction and dynamic contrast systems, processing for improving black levels and skin tones, a few gamma presets and even a white balance adjustment via which you can tweak the RGB offset and gain levels.
We recommend that you familiarise yourself thoroughly with these various set-up tools too, because as is so often the case with Samsung TVs, the provided picture presets you're given aren't at all helpful. They routinely leave the backlight and contrast set too high, so that dark scenes look unconvincing and noise levels look high.
The Samsung 32EH5000's connectivity isn't particularly strong. For instance, you only get two HDMIs when many other budget TVs these days tend to manage three (or even four).
Also, there's no D-Sub PC port, no built-in Wi-Fi, and while there is a LAN port, a little investigation quickly reveals that this is only there to offer mandatory support for the TV's built-in Freeview HD tuner. The LAN doesn't permit you to either stream files from a connected DLNA PC or to go online with Samsung's smart TV service.
This is, of course, disappointing. But it's hardly unexpected in the context of a 32-inch TV that only costs £270 (around US$406/AU$398) at current prices.
And it's important to stress that the TV is not an absolute washout in multimedia terms, because if you really want to play back video, photo or music files on the Samsung 32EH5000, you can do so via a single provided USB port.
As you might have guessed from our Introduction page, the Samsung 32EH5000's picture quality is its single biggest strength, for numerous reasons.
The biggest surprise given the TV's cheapness is the authority with which it reproduces dark scenes. Favourite dark movie moments such as Chapter 12 on the Blu-ray of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2 appear on the Samsung 32EH5000 with black tones that look much richer than is customary at the budget end of the TV market.
There's clearly less disruption from the sort of grey overtones we would normally see with budget TVs.
What's particularly good about this is the fact that the strong black level performance seems to owe more to the innate design of the panel at the Samsung 32EH5000's heart than it does to any over-aggressive dynamic backlight control system. The proof for this assertion can be seen in the better-than-expected levels of shadow detail information the Samsung 32EH5000 reproduces in dark parts of the picture.
It's a great relief, too, to find that dark scenes are only marginally troubled by that bugbear of so many edge LED TVs, backlight clouding. There's a faint patch of extra brightness in one corner while watching very dark material, but it's not in your face enough to count as a severe distraction.
And if you're watching with any amount of ambient light in your room, then even this gentle inconsistency will likely fade out of view.
It's not unusual for relatively small budget TVs such as the Samsung 32EH5000 to be pretty limited in brightness. But while Samsung's television isn't as aggressive with its colours and brightness as sets further up the brand's range, it's still punchy enough to grab your attention even if the TV is placed in a particularly bright environment.
The Samsung 32EH5000's contrast strengths relative to the vast majority of the similarly cheap opposition knock on into its colour performance, where the realistic black colours on show provide the perfect platform for Samsung's TV to deliver a colour palette as natural as it can be punchy, even when showing relatively dark material.
Colour handling benefits, too, from some reasonably subtle banding-free colour blends by budget TV standards.
Feeding the Samsung 32EH5000 a selection of action sequences shows it to be a much better handler of motion than your average budget TV too. It's only a 50Hz set with minimal motion processing to its name, but nonetheless it manages to keep moving objects looking reasonably well detailed, and doesn't slide into the horrible laggy, smeary look you get on some budget LCD TVs.
This helps HD pictures attain a generally decently detailed, crisp look that fully justifies the inclusion of the Freeview HD tuner, and makes the TV a potentially decent option for gamers too.
Potential that's enhanced by the 30ms of input lag we measured on the Samsung 32EH5000's HDMI inputs. This figure is one of the lowest we've measured recently, and shouldn't be high enough to significantly damage your gaming skills, even when playing twitch-speed games such as Call of Duty online.
While we would, of course, always recommend that you stick with HD on the Samsung 32EH5000 wherever possible, on those rare occasions when you simply have to turn to standard definition, it's reassuring to know that again Samsung's budget maestro has got your back.
It manages to add at least a bit of sharpness to standard definition material without adding substantially to or exaggerating any noise that might be present in the source.
There are reasons to spend more money on a different TV if you care to look for them. Colours shift to a slightly more muted and basic palette in standard def mode, for instance. Also you can certainly get deeper black levels, even clearer motion, wider viewing angles (before contrast and colour dramatically reduce) and generally sharper HD images from the best TVs around.
But this situation is no more than you'd expect. After all, if the affordable Samsung 32EH5000 was as good as all the more expensive TVs out there, then the rest of the TV industry might as well just shut up shop and go home.
Usability, sound and value
There's not much you can complain about here. The Samsung 32EH5000 gets the same clean on-screen menus afforded to the non-smart areas of Samsung's high-end TVs, and the remote control is surprisingly easy to use thanks to its logical layout and responsive keys.
There are a couple of quirks in the on-screen menus. For instance, putting the 'Game' preset under a 'System' subsection of the General menu rather than with the other picture preset options seems bizarre.
And we question the need to divide the key picture settings into two separate picture submenus rather than just putting them all together in one.
Overall, though, the Samsung 32EH5000 delivers a level of simplicity that's perfectly in keeping with the likely straightforward needs of its price-driven target audience.
Perhaps inevitably, the Samsung 32EH5000's sound isn't as outstanding as its pictures. After all, small, slender-framed TVs don't have much physical space to work with when trying to provide decent speakers.
The Samsung 32EH5000's soundstage follows the small TV trend of being very short of bass, with the predictable effect that the rowdiest moments from action blockbusters routinely end up sounding thin, compressed and generally unconvincing.
However, with the more straightforward kind of material - chat shows, news shows, Bargain Hunt - that makes up the majority of normal TV schedules, the Samsung 32EH5000's audio is actually perfectly acceptable.
Voices sound clear and fairly well rounded, and treble detailing is nicely done, without audio starting to sound harsh, despite the lack of bass to balance out the treble information.
It feels like nearly every month now a new TV comes along that forces us to remap our expectations of the budget TV market. But even by today's value-driven standards the Samsung 32EH5000 looks like a bargain of genuinely colossal proportions.
Not because it does anything out of the norm with its features; in fact, its lack of online features, DLNA networking functionality and 3D playback make it relatively lightweight in the feature department.
Where it does hugely outgun budget rivals, though, is with the small matter of its picture quality, which humbles the efforts of some TVs costing two or even three times as much.
Smart features and the like are all well and good, but we've still got a soft spot for any TV driven by the traditional view that picture quality is still the most important thing a TV can do.
The Samsung 32EH5000's main attraction isn't a complicated one: it's all about the price, plain and simple. There will doubtless be gazillions of TV buyers who simply see the Samsung badge on a 32-inch TV selling for £270 (around US$406/AU$398) and know without further investigation that this must be the TV for them.
The Samsung 32EH5000's price does come with feature strings attached, though. It's not 3D ready, it doesn't have any online streaming features, and it can't even 'chat' to a networked DLNA PC.
It does, though, support multimedia playback from USB devices, and provides a startling amount of picture tweaks for a budget TV.
What really matters, though, is that its pictures are vastly superior to anything we've previously seen from a 32-inch TV at anything like the Samsung 32EH5000's £270 current selling price.
So if you happen to value picture quality ahead of all else - which research suggests most of you still do - then the Samsung 32EH5000 represents just about the best £270 you'll ever spend.
We'd have liked the Samsung 32EH5000's incredibly cheap price even if the TV wasn't actually very good. But in fact its picture quality is ridiculously accomplished for this level of the market. The set looks nice for a budget model too, and delivers a solid degree of multimedia playback via USB.
The set doesn't support online streaming or PC connection, and its sound is fairly average and thus comes a bit of a cropper with action scenes. Standard definition pictures, meanwhile, lose a little colour accuracy vs HD ones, but none of these problems are game-breakers on such an exceptionally cheap TV.
It's hard to understand how Samsung can sell the UE32EH5000 for so little. From the outside the only hint that it's a cheap set comes from its startlingly chunky rear end; from the front it looks a match for many mid-range sets.
The realisation that the TV doesn't support online features or streaming from a DLNA PC is a slight disappointment, perhaps, but you only have to watch the TV for a few minutes to realise that Samsung has deliberately sacrificed such features in order to give you the best 32-inch picture quality you can buy.
Toshiba's 32RL958 is a decent alternative, offering surprisingly contrast-rich picture quality alongside a few online apps and streaming services while only costing around £60 more than the Samsung 32EH5000. Its picture quality isn't quite as good in all areas as that of the Samsung, though.
Another option would be the Tesco-exclusive Technika 32-270, we guess. But this isn't up there with the Samsung in design or picture quality terms, yet still costs slightly more. So it's hard to see why anyone would seriously be tempted by it unless they just wanted to be able to buy a TV as part of their weekly Tesco shop.