Samsung UE40ES7000 £1300
24th Jul 2012 | 15:40
Control is everything in the star of Samsung's latest wave of Edge LED TVs
You are being watched. Like all members of Samsung's Series 7 and Series 8 collections of Edge LED-backlit LCD TVs, this 40-inch television has a built-in webcam. The advantages are many. Skype on the Samsung UE40ES7000 from the off, with no need for an expensive add-on camera accessory, is a bonus. But the other features enriched by that spy hole – housed in a ripple across the top of this super-slender screen – are less obvious.
As well as an app called My Mirror, which can record both video and stills of you watching the Samsung UE40ES7000 (eh?), that camera fuels this TV's all-new control systems, including face recognition (only as a gimmicky way to log in to a Samsung app), gesture control and – thanks to its nearby microphone – voice operation.
Although all those latter control features turn out to be a huge step forward, they will be familiar to anyone who's tried a Kinect. In fact, the tech itself is almost identical.
Just as impressive in terms of 'now' features is the Samsung UE40ES7000's Smart Hub (a clearing house for umpteen apps), its twin Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners, and its Full HD and 3D-ready Edge LED panel. And, yes, it does come with 3D glasses – two pairs, to be exact, and jolly slim and lightweight they are, too.
Just 29mm in depth, a jaw-dropping design adorns the Samsung UE40ES7000 and instantly impresses. It's not unusual for Samsung to achieve such a svelte look, and other brands – notably Panasonic and LG – have now more or less annulled their rival's lead in the design department. But the Samsung UE40ES7000 remains a stunning attempt.
With a rather meaningless moniker of 'One Design', the Samsung UE40ES7000 features a metallic strip around the edges, curved in the corners, and rimmed by a recessed 6mm stripe of transparent plastic that leads away from the fine edging. There's also 8mm of black around the panel itself, though the perception is one of a TV with a very slim bezel.
Either side of the screen's centre is a convex lip housing both webcam/microphone and a subtly lit up Samsung logo (the latter won't be to a lot of viewers' tastes, we know, but it can be deactivated), with a chrome-effect, swivelling spider-style 'quad' desktop stand beneath.
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The smallest member of Samsung's step-down 7 Series, the UE40ES7000 - priced at £1,300 (around $2,000) is joined by the 46-inch UE46ES7000 and 55-inch UE55ES7000.
The flagship 8 Series is next on the radar if you're after the ultimate in images, with more localised dimming, so more accurate, believable blacks and higher contrast) – the 40-inch Samsung UE40ES8000, 46-inch Samsung UE46ES8000 and 55-inch Samsung UE55ES8000 impressed us.
If you would like to spend a little less but still retain the key features (though you will have to forgo those modern control options), the 46.9mm-slim 40-inch Samsung UE40ES6800, 46-inch Samsung UE46ES6800 and 55-inch Samsung UE55ES6800 are good value alternatives.
The UE40ES7000 may not be Samsung's standout flag-waver for 2012, but make no mistake; this expensive television is as innovative as any in the Korean brand's arsenal.
Tech-wise, this is advanced stuff. Edge LED is par for the course, and although in terms of pure picture quality that tech is a step down from the Direct LED backlighting used a few years ago, Samsung does promise 'micro dimming'.
That may be, but its 8 Series TVs feature 'micro dimming plus', suggesting that the Samsung UE40ES7000's ability to create ultimate contrast between black and white in every sector of the screen is slightly hamstrung.
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Another key technology is the Samsung UE40ES7000's 800 Clear Motion Rate, although don't mistake this for a pure anti-blur 800Hz mode; it's actually the result of a 200Hz panel – the minimum needed for watchable 3D images – with some backlight scanning achieving some 800Hz-like fluidity (in theory).
Ins and outs just about cover the basics, with three HDMI inputs the only immediately obvious sacrifice from the 8 Series tellies. Its three USB slots, meanwhile, seem plenty, although one is likely to be occupied at all times, because the Samsung UE40ES7000 can record TV to a USB flash drive or HDD.
With only one tuner, this is limited functionality and nothing to get excited about, but it is worth considering docking a (minimum 2GB) USB flash drive to create a 40-50 minute pause live TV feature.
Elsewhere, on the rear of the Samsung UE40ES7000 is a headphones slot, component video, composite video, Scart, wired Ethernet LAN, RF ins for both TV tuners, and an optical digital audio output.
Two pairs of Active Shutter 3D glasses are included. Samsung's SSG-4100GB 3D specs won't be to everyone's taste – they're insubstantial and do still let in reflections of light from behind a viewing position – but weigh just 20.7g and are designed to fit over spectacles.
Slated to work with other 3D TVs bearing the 'Full HD 3D' label, in reality, that means Panasonic TVs. They use a CR2025 watch battery, which when inserted between the eyepieces should last around 150 hours.
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Powered by built-in Wi-Fi, Smart Hub has all the key apps you'll be on the lookout for; BBC iPlayer and BBC Sport take their place in the 'top five' apps at the top of the screen, along with Netflix, Lovefilm and Explore 3D.
The provision of the Samsung-made Family Story, Fitness and Kids apps could annoy some, especially since they dominate the centre of the Smart Hub screen. An option to remove, or least relegate them, would be handy.
Despite all that, the Samsung UE40ES7000 is only good for a year or so, right? In recent times the advent of the web-powered firmware update has brought new features and user interfaces to last year's TVs, but now we have something genuinely innovative – the Smart Evolution Kit.
This is a chip that promises to house extra processing power and all the latest picture and interface improvements still in Samsung's labs, and in the rear of the Samsung UE40ES7000 is a slot for inserting such a chip.
It should be available in 2013, which hopefully makes the Samsung UE40ES7000 future-proof. With the promise of 'transforming your TV's dual core CPU to the faster generation of quad core technology', it's an interesting concept that suggests that Samsung may have reached what it thinks is the pinnacle in terms of core performance and design, though it's not a feature we can technically pass judgement on until next year.
We'll cover the voice and gesture control options later, but also note the availability of the Samsung Remote app, which was released in 2011, but still works fine with the Samsung UE40ES7000 and even includes shortcuts to those Smart Hub apps.
Power up Freeview HD on the Samsung UE40ES7000 and the picture on standard definition channels is a tad soft, but impressively clean of artefacts and digital blocking.
We'd advise leaving alone the noise reduction tech, since it reduces the detail even more, and instead engage in some judicious lessening of the backlight and brightness. Do that and picture quality improves further, though HD channels always boast plenty of fine detailing and some particularly vibrant colours.
Overall we were impressed with upscaling; Lionel Messi: Top 10 Goals from the YouTube app featured some motion blur, but within an otherwise clean, watchable – though softened – image. Ditto The Way on Netflix, which featured a clean, reasonably detailed image, though with a sheen of picture noise.
Switching to the Movie preset and tweaking to taste from there (we switched-off Dynamic Contrast and upped the strength of Motion Plus to 'smooth'), we engaged Ironclad on Blu-ray.
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We do like Samsung's Motion Plus tech, though it must be used with caution; as a castle is attacked in Ironclad, the high octane shots are too much for the Samsung UE40ES7000 to cope with; moving legs, swinging axes and rolling heads suffer from indistinct, interrupted edges and what look like waves of blur, with artefacts around the edges of both moving objects and even the frame itself. Quick camera pans do, however, occur smoothly with no discernible judder.
With Motion Plus powered down to 'clear', jarring handheld camera pans rediscover their vigour, with the less video-like smoothness a huge plus. It does depend on what you're watching, but Ironclad isn't suited to Motion Plus-style tech – although anyone who detests slight motion blur and judder will disagree.
Meanwhile, contrast and black levels during Ironclad are shown up for what they are; excellent. In terms of Edge LED TVs, this is one of the stronger performers in this area; a sequence featuring much chain mail and dark leather coats, and another inside the murky castle walls, are both proof of that.
Shadow detail and the intensity of black areas also help the Samsung UE40ES700 excel with colour, something that spills over into a few matches of Pro Evolution Soccer 2012 from an Xbox 360, in which we managed to steer Barcelona through some matches, though with some noticeable input lag. Game mode doesn't improve that, and appears to accentuate jagged edges within a brighter, more precise, though harsher image.
With those incredibly slim active shutter 3D specs strapped to our head, we dived into Samsung's Explore 3D app for some dimensional experiments. With Alligator Kingdom 3D playing, the first drawback is some unwanted, bright reflections of light from a crack in the curtains behind us.
The next aspect we noticed was the brightness on screen, and while this is genuinely impressive, pure white areas of 3D images, such as the overcast sky, do flicker an awful lot. At least, it does to our eyes, and though we know this doesn't affect everyone, that extra brightness causes it to be more of an issue that it should be.
An interview with an alligator scientist sees motion smudges aplenty as he gestures with his hands, while back in the swamps the extremely vibrant colours – greens in particular – are starting to make our eyes tired.
It's not all bad. The 3D images themselves are crisp, crosstalk-free and frequently stunning. The detail in some close-ups of alligator skulls is almost as awesome as shots of the creatures crawling towards the camera.
Contrast is spot-on, with reflections on the black water swamps and rivers stunning in their detail and believability. At one point an insect flies from lily leaf to lily leaf, and though his darting progress is more difficult to follow accurately compared to a 2D sequence, the shot itself is otherwise hugely impressive.
Switch to a 3D Blu-ray disc and the 3D performance is even more detailed and refined, but that brightness flicker remains
If 3D does have a place in home entertainment, it's on TVs like the Samsung UE40ES7000 that it will impress enough to survive.
Incidentally, during our test we attempted to convert Ironclad into 3D, but to no avail; the resulting effect was the addition of flicker and a 3D effect so slight as to be worthless, though it did help create an even better sense of contrast. BBC One's Cowboy Trap suffered from the same underwhelming treatment.
Usability, sound and value
The electronic programme guide (EPG) for Freeview HD on the Samsung UE40ES7000 is excellent. TV makers ignore this aspect of a digital TV at their peril, and to Samsung's great advantage the EPG is smart, polished, hi-res and quick to use.
Kitted out in shades of grey, blue, white and with a shiny red Freeview logo in one corner, it presents six channels and two hours of schedules on a single screen.
Around a tenth of the screen is taken up by a thumbnail of live TV, complete with sound, while Fastext buttons manage recording schedules and eight days of data.
However, we did experience signal drop-put, as well as the TV forgetting all stored channel data after an 'environment test' for calibrating the voice and motion controls.
In our opinion Samsung's Smart Hub isn't the best, smartest or most easy to live with smart TV platform around, but it is one of the most joined-up.
Presenting both apps and app-like icons for accessing core TV functions and controls (such as changing the input source or inspecting the digital TV guide), the Smart Hub screen is cluttered, but cool.
Incidentally, it pays to take care which apps you download, since there's only around 765MB of built-in storage on the Samsung UE40ES7000, and at least half of that is taken up by the standard provision of apps.
The web browser is now a common feature of smart TV platforms, but rarely works anywhere near as slickly as on a smartphone or laptop. Here it's helped out massively by Samsung's latest control options, and in particular the included Smart Touch remote.
Armed with a swipe-friendly touchpad section and a plethora or shortcut buttons, navigating web pages suddenly becomes easy enough to contemplate with the Smart Touch remote, though it's still not anywhere near as fast as on a phone or tablet.
Using that Smart Touch remote brings up 13 icons along the bottom of the screen (Sources, EPG, Live TV and others) that are easy enough to scroll through, with the touchpad just sensitive enough.
Despite that, it's the shortcut buttons – especially the one that activates the voice control function, but also the Smart Hub logo/button – that we used most during our review.
Despite its Smart Hub looking thoroughly modern, the whole idea of a remote controlled TV quickly takes a back seat to Samsung's vast range of 'smart interaction' tech that makes its debut on its 2012 TVs.
The most impressive is voice control. Powered by Nuance tech – the same company that created the marvelous Dragon Dictation software, as well as some upcoming in-car tech that's touted as 'Siri for cars' – the Samsung UE40ES7000 responds to a series of preset spoken commands that we had to learn.
It's a very simple process, with set-up not even requiring the TV to learn your voice. It uses a mixture of embedded and server-based data, but the end result is seamless; "Hi TV, volume up" is the simplest command. It doesn't get much more complicated.
Having to say "Hi TV" before beginning any spoken word session may be annoying, but it does prevent any accidental commands being given. You won't, for instance, have any trouble if a large crowd of people – or a bunch of rowdy offspring – scream their way through a footie game. The TV won't respond to anything they say (unless prefaced by "Hi TV").
The main problem in this scenario is that the Samsung UE40ES7000's microphone struggles with ambient noise. There's another one in the Smart Touch remote, which usually prevents the need to shout commands, but even in our relatively quiet environment the TV did stumble on a few of our commands, either failing to hear us ("Is it noisy around you?" or "Try again" messages are common), not responding at all, or loading the wrong page.
We also noticed that any function that needed an online link, such as launching the web browser, or even the Smart Hub page, took a good 10 seconds longer (at least) than if we'd just used the remote.
The browser itself gets a live TV thumbnail in the corner and multiple tabs, though it's clumsy to use even with voice control enabled and the Smart Touch remote in hand; click in the text box (say, in Google) and a virtual keyboard pops up with a "Try the voice feature on your Smart Touch control" message, though it's still too slow to be anything other than frustrating.
Motion control isn't as successful. We waved a lot, but didn't manage to consistently get the TV to respond, despite a brightness test confirming that motion control was possible.
Media streaming on the Samsung UE40ES7000 is through Samsung's AllShare system, via which we managed to stream AVC HD, AVI, MP4 and MOV files from both a Samsung netbook and an iMac.
MKV and WMV files were only supported from a USB stick. Although the interface is fairly slick and quick, it's a tad deceptive; locating a file on a PC means trawling through a lot of files.
An acoustic performance by Keane of Sovereign Light Café on BBC One's Breakfast reveals some rather flat sonics that lack both bass and treble detail while using the music preset on the Samsung UE40ES7000.
It's noticeable that during normal speech programmes there's a hissy sound to 's's, and while that's cured by engaging the Dialogue Clarity option that also adds a dollop of bass, it's just as well that the Samsung UE40ES7000 has an optical output for routing everything to a separate sound system. Its built-in Virtual Surround mode just isn't at all worth the name, although that's hardly unusual on a flatscreen TV.
The provision of two pairs of 3D glasses is great, while a quality Edge LED panel and several brand new control options have to be considered good value on a £1,300 TV.
Those smart interaction options are based on some great ideas from Samsung, and some genuinely fascinating technology, but it's not quite time to chuck away the remote; there are reasons why there are two in the box.
Thoroughly modern, versatile and capable with all sources, we do like this 40-inch Samsung TV. the Samsung UE40ES7000 upscales as well as its draws out HD detail, and its smartness extends to its slim looks as much as it does to its slick Smart Hub of apps.
3D – complete with two pairs of 3D glasses – is a nice, well-rendered bonus, though this is an expensive, high-end option.
The Samsung UE40ES7000's built-in camera, backlit remote, iPhone app, Smart Touch remote and voice control all impress. A clean, contrasty and nicely upscaled standard definition image impresses, as does the Freeview HD EPG, Blu-ray detail and 3D trickery – the latter complete with lightweight specs. It's also great to see Freesat HD as an extra feature.
Pricey, but versatile, Samsung's Smart Hub can feel cluttered, while gesture control seems a gimmick. Game mode features some lag and is disappointing, as are most of the picture presets, while Motion Plus requires some care. There are a few inconsistencies in the on-screen menus that make some of the picture options hard to locate, while bright areas of 3D images do appear to cause a lot of flicker.
One of Samsung's best-looking TVs both inside and out, the Samsung UE40ES7000's Freesat & Freeview HD tuners grace a versatile and innovation-packed effort.
Voice control impresses, as does a Smart Touch remote and clever smartphone app. The Smart Hub can feel busy, but there's plenty on this high-end TV to wow – not least its contrast-rich, detailed pictures, solid upscaling and immersive 3D images.
If you're after a 40-inch Edge LED TV, your choices are myriad. A somewhat cheaper, though fairly polished attempt comes from the Sony KDL-40HX753, which lacks any of the 'smart interaction' choices offered by Samsung.
Voice and gesture control are not yet common in the TV market, but LG is trying its best, and the Magic Remote found on televisions such as the LG 42LM760T from its 760T Series work wonders – particularly for browsing the web.
Meanwhile, Panasonic's WT50 Series of Edge LED TVs experiment with a touchpad remote and a wonderful smartphone remote app within an incredibly impressive all-round performance.
Those after a 40-inch Edge LED telly with a far more basic, down-to-earth spec should investigate Toshiba's 40BL702B.