Samsung UE46ES6800 £999
3rd Jul 2012 | 13:20
Value-laden mid-range Edge LED telly with Smart Hub
LCD TV sales might have taken a global dip, but that's only served to heighten competition; the arrival of Samsung's mid-range UE46ES6800 comes in the wake of five-star TVs from the likes of Sony, LG and Panasonic.
The stakes are high. Can the UE46ES6800 deliver what we punters are after?
The initial impressions suggest so, with this Edge LED from Samsung's Series 6 offering a good value alternative to its headline-stealing UE46ES800; it somehow manages to retain the majority of its big sister's high-end attributes for less than half the price.
Core features are summed up in the UE46ES6800's rather wordy moniker: 'Smart 3D Full HD Slim LED TV', but deserve some explanation.
The key attraction is undoubtedly the UE46ES6800's Smart Hub. Slightly tweaked and added to for 2012, Samsung's smart TV platform is one of the best around.
And with LG, Sony and Panasonic's recent work, it needs to be.
Fitted with the likes of BBC iPlayer, Lovefilm, Netflix, Twitter and Facebook, Smart Hub also sees the introduction of some mildly diverting – and, dare we say, a tad 'international' in flavour – Fitness, Kids and Family Story apps.
More important by miles should be the UE46ES6800's dual-core processor, which makes it possible to move between apps without shutting them down.
As well as multitasking – i.e. using Twitter and Facebook while you watch TV – there's a web browser, and even some sample 3D content via Samsung's Experience 3D app.
It's barely mentioned in the marketing, but, yes, the UE46ES6800 does have a third dimension.
Additional pairs cost just £15 and can be purchased here.
At that kind of money can we return to comparing the passive and active shutter 3D systems without fixating on price.
Meanwhile, the UE46ES6800's AllShare Play software also means it can stream video, music and photos to and fro between itself, networked PCs and Macs, and other devices (its own phones, naturally), and all via Wi-Fi.
The UE46ES6800 take its place somewhere in the middle of Samsung's vast pantheon of Slim LED TVs with 3D and Smart Hub.
Aside from the UE46ES6800, Samsung's Series 6 for 2012 includes the 32-inch UE32ES6800 (£850), 40-inch UE40ES6800 (£1,080), 46-inch UE46ES6800 (£1,400) and 55-inch UE55ES6800 (£1,900).
If you're happy with the spec of the UE46ES6800, but want something slightly slimmer, go for the UE46ES6900, also in Samsung's Series 6; it measures 30.7mm in depth rather than 46.9mm – and that's the only difference.
The improvements offered by the ES7000 Series 7 and ES8000 Series 8 products (which are available in exactly the same sizes) are rather more comprehensive.
For example, the black UE46ES7000 (£1,700) adds 800Hz scanning, a built-in webcam and mic for instant Skype, gesture and voice control, Micro Dimming Pro and Digital Natural Sound audio, while reducing its depth to 29.7mm.
A further couple of hundred quid gets you the flagship, metallic-clad UE46ES8000 (£1,900), which oddly ups the panel depth – albeit only slightly – to 30.8mm, though does add Micro Dimming Ultimate for more localized dimming of its Edge LED backlight, a, darned attractive 'arch flow' stand and a devilishly slim bezel.
Both the ES7000 Series 7 and ES8000 Series 8 tellies include Smart Evolution, ostensibly a chip slot where an 'Smart Evolution Kit' can be attached each year to update key picture processing technologies as they're improved upon, promising to give you a 'new TV every year'.
We're not sure how extensive these will be – only the arrival of 2013's new crop of TVs and associated new TV tech will tell – and we're also not convinced of Samsung's promises to 'Transform your TV's Dual Core CPU to the faster generation of quad core technology', but the future-proofing idea is one we like.
It's also a signal, perhaps, that Samsung has finally arrived at a TV that's so slim, fast and nice looking that it doesn't feel confident of improving upon it in the next few years.
It may very well be right, though we'd still expect the majority of improvements to all of its smart TVs to come via firmware updates across the Internet.
For a seriously affordable (relative to Samsung's flagship TVs) effort, the UE46ES6800 is smart in more ways than one.
Its 46.9mm panel depth is hardly the slimmest around, but these days chasing ultimate slimness is surely a fool's game.
Besides, the UE46ES6800 comes with a premium design indeed, one that Samsung calls its 'One Design' concept. No, that doesn't make much sense, though it's certainly attractive.
Sat on a spider-style desktop stand, the UE46ES6800 has an aluminum bezel that measures 12mm, and an inner screen surround that rings the actual panel, and which measures a further 17mm.
Other hardware is provided around the back, with an ins-and-outs panel that's strangely situated on the exact opposite side to most TVs; the bottom right-hand corner as you view the TV.
On the lower rung is a set of component video ins, composite video, a wired Ethernet LAN slot, some analogue audio ins, and hook-ups for both free-to-air platforms in the UK – Freesat HD via satellite, and Freeview HD via an antennae.
That makes the UE46ES6800 one of relatively few tellies in the UK to build in Freesat HD.
Recording to a USB HDD or memory stick is also supported, as are timer recordings.
Basic one-channel stuff, but useful in emergencies.
The side-panel is where the slots are housed.
Comprising three HDMI inputs, a proprietary adaptor for attaching a Scart, a headphones slot, three USB slots and a digital optical audio output, our only concern is that a fourth HDMI slot would have been handy, though what could get really annoying is that the optical slot is near the top of the TV.
More attractive than mere looks and inputs is the UE46ES6800's Smart Hub.
Judged purely on content, the Wi-Fi-powered UE46ES6800's Smart Hub only gets better.
New for 2012 is Netflix, while Samsung's own Family Story, Fitness and Kids apps now form a central pillar of what's attempting to be a cutesy family-friendly platform.
Nothing wrong with that, though we do find it hard to get enthusiastic about any of them; Family Story is basically a photo sharing service, Fitness a Wii Fit substitute that tracks an exercise regime, while Kids Zone is bereft of truly must-watch content for the little ones.
The BBC iPlayer is hardly quaking in its boots, though we're getting increasingly frustrated by the lack of top movies on both LoveFilm and Netflix, both of which are included on Smart Hub, though that could change quickly.
Other apps include Skype, the all-new BBC Sport, Twitter, Facebook, AccuWeather, Picasa, YouTube and Rightmove.
Samsung Apps, an online store of free software, has had a few useful new apps added, including Smart LED (make your own screensaver), Guitar Chords (nice idea), Social TV (an amalgamation of Twitter, Facebook and Google Talk), Yoga Helper and the bizarre Couple Stretching ('strengthen your body with love' … though it really is just face-to-face exercises poses!).
However, it's slow to scroll through them, which is disappointing given the dual-core processor.
A web browser app makes an appearance.
Several tabs can open at once, but despite the dual-core processor it's still slow, and the remote-controlled cursor isn't exactly swift to move around the pages, either.
The answer to web browsing on a TV is via smartphone apps, not using voice commands or touch pads.
There's an Explore 3D app, though on our inspection the highlights were merely movie trailers for the likes of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Megamind 3 and Kung-Fu Panda, full-length kids stuff such as Canimals, a documentary on Stonehenge, and some Britney Spears videos. Britney who?
Talking of 3D, two pairs of 3D specs seems reasonable, though despite it costing barely £15 to add more pairs, we're not entirely happy with the SSG-4100GB specs.
Super-slim they may be, but the lightweight 100g design has gone too far in this regard; the 'fit-over' shape might mean they're technically suitable for those that already wear glasses, but there's a constant reflection of ambient light and they do feel rather unsubstantial and prone to breaking (they arrive in bits and the arms must actually be snapped into the lenses section).
What we do like about them is that they run a CR2025 wristwatch battery rather than needing a messy USB cable (at 150 hours they should last at least a decade, such is the paltry choice of 3D Blu-rays).
They also worked with another active shutter 3D TV in our possession at the time of this review – Panasonic's TX-L47WT50B (thanks, Full HD 3D Glasses Initiative), and thankfully use Bluetooth to link to the TV, so line-of-sight isn't necessary.
The latter makes a huge difference.
Incidentally, we also got a pair of Panasonic TY-ER3D4ME 3D specs to work with this Samsung.
All good progress, though neither the Samsung nor Panasonic 3D specs pair worked with a Sony KDL-40HX753 also in the test rooms. Oh, Sony.
Streaming is also on offer, with Samsung's AllShare Play software able to stream digital files from a networked PC or Mac and, theoretically, smartphones and tablets – though only those armed with Wi-Fi-Direct.
Picture-tech wise, the UE46ES6800's key traits compromise Clear Motion Rate 400Hz and Micro Dimming, the latter of which promises local dimming and, therefore, greater contrast.
Both should take the edge off LCD panel's native problems with blur and contrast, though there's nothing here to seriously test the UE46ES6800's dual-core brains.
Images from the UE46ES6800 are largely brilliant, though that's hardly the case from the off.
Treated to the usually reliable (at least as a starting point) 'natural' picture preset, our Blu-ray disc of District 9 initially suffers from poor contrast and dazzling, over-saturated colours, though after diving into the picture parameters we were able to overcome those shortfalls.
With the backlight lowered and other parameters slightly tweaked, the UE46ES6800 shines; as Wikus stands on the edge of District 9 at sunset there's noticeable fine detailing in his dark coat, and though some of that shadow detailing does disappear in overly murky scenes – such as in the alien's hut – contrast generally impresses.
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Other attributes include a distinct sharpness in a remarkably clean picture.
As the 'prawn''s spaceship hangs over the township at dawn, there's a morning haze, but the UE46ES6800 presents it in such detail and with no noise – we can even make out the fine detailing in whisps of smoke rising from the huts.
Best of all, we had a similarly clean run-through of a DVD, though BBC One from the Freeview HD tuner featured some noticeable blocking.
Meanwhile, a blast of Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 from an Xbox 360 revealed no noticeable input lag amid an enjoyably sharp performance.
Keeping that pristine picture does require virtually ignoring the Motion Plus options.
Although it's offered in various preset powers, Motion Plus is basically an amalgamation of separate blur and judder reduction settings.
And although the UE46ES6800 does suffer slightly from blur and judder when the camera pans quickly, engaging the motion processing does introduce artefacts.
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Set to 'smooth', as Wikus queues for cat food in District 9, the aliens are presented very sharply and with vibrant, carefully graded colours.
However, when we see close-ups even of faces, there are noticeable flickers during movement. Best ignored.
Attempting to transform District 9 into a 3D movie failed.
Although we did notice some depth visible along the edges of the screen, the effect is barely visible elsewhere, and engaging this mode ups the brightness at the cost of shadow detailing. It also introduces a lot of flicker.
'Proper' 3D, however, is impressive.
There's zero crosstalk, which is big news; watching tennis on Eurosport 3D with echoes of service lines each side of the real thing just isn't, well, tennis.
So it's great to see the UE46ES6800 cope with tennis, though it really shines with a sequence of flying debris during Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
The images are very bright, too, though we'd always opt for animated fare – the depth of field and general 3D angles on How To Train Your Dragon are so much more impressive, and more comfortable to watch than live action 3D.
Usability, sound and value
Before we crack into the pros and cons of the latest Samsung GUI, take note of a new remote control.
It's not the posh touchpad found on sets higher-up in the Samsung arsenal, but its touch-sensitive, brushed metallic finish is welcome – as is the use of some graphics and icons instead of the traditionally tiny typed labels.
Unlike the digital-media savviness of LG's latest crop of smart TVs, the AllShare Play software found on the UE46ES6800 is nothing more than a new look.
The same problem of having to choose between files types – music, video or photos – before doing any browsing of a PC or USB stick remains.
As well as the issue of not being able to access AllShare directly from a shortcut on the remote, it's also still possible to access the content of a USB stick from the inputs list; some closer integration would be useful.
However, in terms of file playback we've got no complaints; we managed to play MP3, M4A, lossless FLAC and OGG music files, AVC HD, AVI, MKV, MOV, MPEG4, WMV and WMV HD files, and JPEG photos.
Looking cleaner and sharper than in previous years, there are nevertheless three layers of apps on the Smart Hub home screen, and only two of them are what we would deem 'core' services.
Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Lovefilm, Twitter and, err, Samsung's own Explore 3D app are up top, and we applaud that (and we also like the live TV thumbnail, too).
However, the Smart Hub is dominated by icons for five rather less useful services; Samsung Apps, Your Video, Family Story, Fitness and Kids.
Rather amusingly, when we opted to watch a demo video of Family Story we received a curt 'unsupported format' message!
It would be great to have the opportunity to customise-out some of these apps.
What we do like about the new user interface is Smart Hub's icons for core TV service such as Channel lists and inputs sources, while a new Content Bar that remembers recent activities is useful, too.
The web browser proves largely ineffective, mainly because it's just so slow, but we did like the appearance in the bottom right-hand corner of a thumbnail of live TV, complete with sound.
It's another small step in the direction of proper, joined-up connected TV.
The picture presets are best ignored, but that's a cinch since there's plenty of parameters to tweak.
Confusingly, you'll have to dive into both 'advanced settings' and 'picture options' to calibrate the UE46ES6800, but the chance to disengage most of the processing shouldn't be missed
The colour space, white balance, 10p white balance, and gamma levels can also be changed.
The UE46ES6800 doesn't excel on audio, but we've heard worse.
An explosion outside the laboratory in District 9 has none of the power we're used to, and instead merely crackles.
That said, engaging the SRS TS HD codec is useful for movies since it does separate out some sounds; sniper fire appears to come from the sides.
However, let's not get carried away – there are zero low frequency sounds, with treble highs a little hissy, too. Head for a home cinema, people – it's what slim TVs like this were invented for.
Boasting the latest incarnation of Samsung's Smart Hub, carved in one of the freshest designs, and with a super-slim bezel that measures a paltry 46.9mm, the UE46ES6800 represents an irresistible sweetspot for anyone not bothered about achieving the absolute ultimate picture quality – especially considering that even the step-up ES7000 Series 7 upgrade costs almost twice as much.
Refreshed for 2012 and now offering almost total mastery of the TV's more regular functions, the Smart Hub screen now lives up to its name.
Here it's plastered all over a good value Edge LED panel that screams class both inside and out.
Contrast and detail impress on the UE46ES6800, which also delivers decent upscaling alongside clean, bright 3D fare using some remarkable lightweight specs.
We also liked the new Smart Hub interface, new apps like Netflix and BBC Sport, and the sleek new touch-sensitive remote control.
The 3D specs do let a lot of light in (it's a shame they don't curve inwards slightly), and for ultimate contrast you'll have to spend more.
In a dark picture the edge LED backlighting is visible around the sides, while there is a touch of blur.
Though improved, Smart Hub can feel cluttered, and rather forced; why Family Story is in a central, dominating position is beyond us.
There should be an opportunity to fully customise Smart Hub to rid it of unwanted apps and options.
Lastly, the preset picture options are poor, meaning a proper play with the UE46ES6800's (thankfully extensive) advanced picture menus is needed to have it achieve its potential.
A step down from the peak reference level sets in may be, but this gorgeous, feature-packed Samsung Edge LED TV is steeped in value.
Smart Hub sees some great new apps and helps integrate disparate functions, but it can feel cluttered. After some tweaks live TV gets treated well, as does 2D and 3D Blu-ray discs.
Other step-down examples of Edge LED TVs from the big brands include Sony's rather drab HX7 Series, Panasonic's DT50 Series – perhaps its closest match – and LG's 47LM760T Series, which swaps active shutter 3D for passive 3D.