Samsung UE42F5000 £399
8th Jan 2014 | 10:05
This low-priced 42-inch TV is let down by poor performance
Introduction and features
We make no apologies for discussing the latest and greatest 4k and OLED TVs, but we're keenly aware of how wide the appeal is of a good-value 42-inch telly – and that's precisely what this Samsung is all about.
With an RRP of £559.99, but selling widely for a touch under £400 online – and even spotted on some websites for £369 at the time of writing – Samsung's 42-inch UE42F5000 is at the sweetest spot in terms of price, but it's not got the latest in smart TV apps.
Despite the no-show for Samsung's awesome Smart Hub user interface, that builds-in the best collection of catch-up TV apps in the UK, as well as a lack of Wi-Fi, the UE42F5000 seems poised to appeal to those who couldn't give a fig for smart TV.
It's likely owners of third-party set-top boxes are after a simple, good value and slim-looking LED-backlit telly with Full HD, and Freeview HD purely as a back-up. This TV seeks to fulfil that simple desire.
Built around an LCD panel backlit by LEDs, the UE42F5000 boasts a Full HD resolution and Samsung's HyperReal picture engine, the chief wizardry inside that being Wide Colour Enhancer Plus circuitry.
It's hardly Samsung's best-looking TV, but with a slim gloss black design and a bezel that measures a mere 18mm wide, it looks good from afar. The 49.4mm depth compares well to a similarly-sized plasma TV and gives a decent side-on view, too, and only those getting close enough to touch the UE42F5000 will notice its rather plasticky, lightweight feel that just doesn't feel substantial enough for a telly – but that will make wall-hanging a cinch.
Meanwhile, the optional screw-on desktop stand is rectangular and non-offensive. Sound is dealt with by a couple of 10W amplifiers, though in such a slim chassis we're not expecting audio fireworks.
Despite the UE42F5000's expected appeal to Sky, BT and Virgin box owners, it's become essential to fit all UK TVs with a Freeview HD tuner by default. That's exactly what the UE42F5000 has, guaranteeing 50+ channels.
Add some basic support for digital music, video and photos via USB, and for UK living rooms needing a great-value solution, the no-frills UE42F5000 looks – on paper – a competitive candidate.
The UE42F5000 is among the most basic sets in Samsung's 5 Series. As well as the bigger 46-inch Samsung UE46F5000 (£700), the F5000 range also includes the 22-inch UE22F5000 (£230), 32-inch UE32F5000 (£269) and 39-inch UE39F5000 (£510), all of which lack Smart Hub and Wi-Fi.
The step-up – and slightly costlier – variant F5500 Series adds an extra slot apiece for both HDMI and USB, as well as Wi-Fi and Smart Hub apps, and can be bought in the same sizes: the 32-inch Samsung UE32F5500 (£480), 39-inch Samsung UE39F5500 (£600), 42-inch Samsung UE42F5500 (£650) and 46-inch Samsung UE46F5500 (£850). The 50-inch Samsung UE50F5500 (£1,030) is also available.
Before we get into the UE42F5000's features, it's worth pondering that Samsung did, until this year, deal only in 40-inch TVs, so the extra two inches in 2013 are welcome, though hint at outsourcing.
Once considered a big-screen TV size, 42-inch is now pretty normal, thanks in part to the designers at Samsung squeezing LCD panels into ever-tighter designs. At just 49.4mm deep and with recessed edges, the UE42F5000 has a far smaller footprint than its forbears.
However, so small are current TV chassis that designers are clearly having more and more trouble fitting in the range of AV connectors we're used to. It's also apparent that the chassis used for the UE42F5000 is the exact opposite orientation to all others we've seen in 2013, with all of the ins and outs ranged on the side and back of the TV's right-hand side as it's viewed.
It's not a particularly impressive collection of ins and outs. The main concern in this department is the UE42F5000's measly two HDMI inputs, both of which are on a side-panel. They are, at least, easy to reach and swap over, and the panel itself is recessed more than enough to hide protruding connectors and cables. Sandwiched between the HDMI inputs is a lone USB 2.0 slot, while below is a Common Interface slot and an RF in to feed the Freeview HD tuner.
The dedicated rear panel – which is alarmingly flat, thus possibly disrupting any plans to hang the UE42F5000 flat to a wall – comprises a set of component video inputs and associated stereo phonos, a full RGB Scart for those stuck in the past, a digital optical audio output, and a wired Ethernet LAN slot, which not only flags up the UE42F5000's lack of Wi-Fi, but the absence of any web-fed dimension; that LAN is purely for firmware updates.
Technically, there's also a composite video input for owners of the Nintendo Wii or an older laptop; the green component connector has double duties.
It would have been far more convenient to swap over the RF in and the headphones jack, both of which are in woefully unsuitable spots. However, what really would have improved matters would have been a third HDMI slot. After all, the UE42F5000 might be throughly affordable, but at £400 it's hardly bargain basement.
Which is why we're increasingly demanding that all TVs have some element of digital file support. The UE42F5000 doesn't exactly disappoint here, though it's a second-rung treatment. Gone is the silky, joined-up integration of its higher-end TVs, replaced by a very basic page divided up into a choice of video, music and photos. Called ConnectShare, this basic user interface doesn't link to a home network (yes, it's rather mis-named) so the only way of getting digital files onto the UE42F5000 is via a USB stick or HDD.
Though it's good to see both Wide Colour Enhancer Plus and 100 Clear Motion Rate onboard, the latter isn't the anti-blur 100Hz mode it sounds like; it's actually a backlight blink that attempts to mimic the 100Hz effect – this is resolutely a basic 50Hz panel. Other picture tech includes Game mode and a Basic Sports mode.
Even the most affordable TVs need core picture quality, but it's here that the UE42F5000 falls short. Our biggest concern is a lack of detail. With Simon Reeve's Pilgrimage on BBC One HD playing, the UE42F5000 produces a soft image that lacks any kind of wow factor, with standard definition channels faring even worse, even with both Digital Clean View and MPEG Noise Filter on their highest settings.
Low-bitrate TV channels are blocky and almost wobbling with softness; we're actually glad there's no way of watching YouTube on the UE42F5000.
A spin of Game Of Thrones on Blu-ray and things do get a little better, though close-ups not only lack ultimate detail but as soon as the subject moves the resolution drops dramatically. A shot of Lady Stark walking against a white background is worrying; the movement of her head leaves after-images and is uncomfortable to watch.
We're not hugely surprised here – the UE42F5000 is a 50Hz screen and the ineffective 100Hz Clear Motion Rate is purely marketing jargon – but it's a shame nonetheless.
This kind of motion blur is endemic to the UE42F5000 and applies to all sources, and unfortunately can't be cured by such basic motion processing circuitry onboard. Although we've seen it employed successfully on other Samsung TVs, LED Clear Motion – accessed via the Picture Options menu – immediately dulls the backlight and removes the lustre from colours, but doesn't appear to add any extra sharpness to camera pans and fast-action sequences.
Motion blur is what you have to put up with at this low level of the market, but it makes the UE42F5000 less than ideal as an HDTV. It might be one of the few 42-inch TVs of this price with a Freeview HD tuner, but it doesn't have the skill to use it.
The picture presets also need some work; only the Movie mode comes anywhere near watchability, and even then it's too bright. There's a need to delve into the picture settings, something that many buyers just won't get around to.
Colours are well judged on the Movie setting, but the bright panel plays havoc with contrast and black levels. Even with the backlight toned down, we noticed some blotchy areas of light on the panel – LED clusters – most noticeably along the right-hand side and in the corners.
With below-average contrast, mixed brightness scenes lose their dynamism to a levelling-out by the UE42F5000, while colours lack zing and black never gets beyond a grey mush. Watch from the wings and the images lose contrast, which badly affects colours, too.
Ease of use, sound & value
Ease of use
There's not much to the UE42F5000. Bereft of the integrated Smart Hub platform, it gets by using an ordered, traditional-looking but basic blue-and-white-and-yellow set of tabs and lists of settings.
The Freeview HD seven-day electronic programme guide is impressive, with schedules over two hours for seven channels shown simultaneously on one attractive, hi-res page.
There's a live TV thumbnail in the top left-hand corner amid a mix of yellow, blue and white graphics on a grey background; it's attractive, fully featured and easy to skip around, with scheduled reminders possible (once set they're signalled by a small green clock graphic next to the programme title in the EPG grid) from the programme information page. Our only slight complaint is that most programme titles are cut off and difficult to read.
There's not quite the processing power behind it to make using the UE42F5000 as silky smooth as Samsung's higher-end dual core TVs, but we've got no serious complaints.
One thing we're really not fans of is Basic Sports mode. It can be toggled on by delving into the Apps section of the onscreen menus (also in this misleadingly-labelled section is Media Play – a mis-name of ConnectShare – and Source List), or by selecting Tools on the remote, but the effect is quite horrid; as well as tripling the volume of the UE42F5000 – a very unwelcome move – it just as suddenly switches to a garish, over-ripe colour palette that's far too bright and downright dirty.
Worse still, trying to disengage Sports mode is long-winded, and delayed further by a message that flags up a warning and a yes/no option that defaults to leaving Sports mode engaged. We're not sure what Samsung's engineers were thinking with this one.
Digital files are handled well; we got the likes of MKV, AVI, MPEG2, MPEG4, MOV and WMV video to play, as well as MP3, M4A,WMA, WAV, OGG and FLAC video and JPEG photos, though the file structure applied to a USB stick is rudimentary and long-winded.
While better than most TVs of this size and depth, the onboard audio on the UE42F5000 isn't much of a match for a dedicated audio device or a home cinema system. Two 10W speakers spit out dialogue-heavy programmes with reasonable clarity, but there's not much width and certainly not enough range and depth for movies.
In terms of separate audio modes, there's just a basic choice between Music, Movie, Clear Voice and Amplify. Happily, these settings are also available during the playback of digital video files from a USB stick via ConnectShare, which certainly didn't used to be the case.
A really basic 42-inch LCD TV with middling picture quality and a standard Freeview tuner ought to cost no more than £300, so the UE42F5000 – selling for about £100 more – isn't great value. Standalone Freeview HD boxes cost about £50, and the UE42F5000's picture quality certainly isn't good enough to warrant any kind of special status. The provision of just two HDMI slots confirms that.
With LED backlighting, a traditional gloss black design, a Freeview HD tuner and more, Samsung's start-up UE42F5000 appears to be a bargain on paper, but it's sadly flawed.
Digital file support is good, and in the case of music, excellent; virtually all lossless music we threw at the UE42F5000 was played, let alone basic MP3 files. There's also an excellent Freeview HD interface, complete with a live TV thumbnail in the schedule grid.
Build quality is relatively poor – the UE42F5000 weighs very little indeed – though there are bigger issues. Poor contrast and soft images rule, with motion resolution worsening problems. With just two HDMI slots and a single USB slot, there's isn't much flexibility on offer.
Samsung TVs of all prices are usually very reliable, but the UE42F5000 is an exception; endemic motion blur, poor contrast and LED light leakage make this a great argument for spending more – or buying an entry-level plasma.
That most plasmas of this low price sport HD-ready panels isn't really an issue, since the UE42F5000 wastes its Full HD detail time and again by showing us soft images that lose a lot of detail during any kind of motion.
An excellent Freeview HD user interface and great handling of digital files from a USB stick are the highlights, though the provision of just two HDMI slots and a single USB convince us that the UE42F5000 isn't the great-value cheap TV it could – and should – have been.
Though close competitors in the LED TV market come from the Sony KDL-42W653A, Panasonic's TX-L42E6B and Toshiba 39L4353 (we've reviewed the 50-inch here), which goes for the same price as this Samsung. However, the quality of the Sony and Panasonic efforts far outweigh the Toshiba. It could also be worth hunting out the Finlux 40S8070-T online, though the really good value bargains at this level of the market are plasma TVs from Panasonic, LG and Samsung.