Samsung UE42F5500 £459
8th Jan 2014 | 12:16
An excellent value TV that isn't quite perfect
Overview and features
With Smart Hub apps, a dual core processor, Freeview HD and a drastically discounted price at the time of writing, have we found Samsung's sweet-spot? The search for a a good value, well equipped 40-inch (ish) TV fit for a modern, connected living room simply must encounter Samsung's line-up of LED-backlit LCD TVs, of which this 42-inch UE42F5500 is one of the most appealing.
It's bereft of pricey picture-boosting circuitry found on the South Korean company's higher-end models, and nor – at 49.4mm – does it have the ultimate slim depth, but as an everyman TV the UE42F5500 is incredibly well positioned.
Despite its plethora of front-line features, it's the UE42F5500's dual-core processor that immediately piques our interest. Likely to make the UE42F5500 a lightning-quick TV to operate and navigate, that dual-core chip ought to also give a boost to the upscaling. That's always crucial on any Full HD TV such as this, though do bear in mind that the UE42F5500 doesn't have any 3D skills. Increasingly a default feature it may be, but we're not expecting its absence to have much effect on its popularity.
However, where its 'my first flat telly' status becomes really obvious is in the UE42F5500's design. It's not ugly – far from it – but the simple gloss black styling and remarkably lightweight (flimsy?) chassis lacks wow factor. Nor are we convinced that the UE42F5500 needs a Samsung logo poking out from the bottom of the bezel, but we do like the spider-like 'quad' desktop stand that lends the UE42F5500 a simple, floating look.
Freeview HD tuners, Smart Hub and dual core processors also feature on the other sets in the F5500 Series, though Samsung has created so many tiny variants that the prices are a mine-field of confusion. At the time of writing it was possible to get this 42-inch UE4F5500 for £399 (down from a list price of £699), which, considering what its brethren are selling for, makes it the sweet-spot by far. Samsung's smaller 39-inch UE39F5500 (£449) and 40-inch UE40F5500 (£470) are priced above our bigger review sample, while bigger, pricier choices include the 46-inch UE46F5500 (£599) and 50-inch UE50F5500 (£779). Samsung also makes a couple of plasmas in the F5500 Series; the 51-inch PS51F5500 (£679) and 60-inch PS60F5500 (£949).
The UE42F5500 is an LED backlit LCD TV with a 50Hz native Full HD panel, though what most buyers will be most interested in is its Smart Hub.
A lusciously designed and easy to navigate – thanks to the UE42F5500's dual-core processor – user interface that transits between five colourful panels using virtual page turns, its pre-installed apps are surely the best around. The collection includes all UK terrestrial TV catch-up apps – the BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD and Demand Five – as well as Blinkbox, Netflix, Lovefilm, BBC Sport, KnowHow Movies and many lesser known apps.
The Samsung Apps online store hosts a great deal more apps including the likes of Plex, TED, Crackle, Dailymotion, Muzu, Spotify, Rightmove, WatchIndia, Viewster, Ustream, Curzon Home Cinema, France 24, iConcerts, Woomi, ESPN Player, Vimeo, TuneIn, BFI Player, AccuWeather and Samsung's own VideoHub film rental service among many more.
It may possess the finest choice of apps around, but what the UE42F5500 doesn't have, however, is Samsung's suite of Smart Interaction 2.0 technologies; voice and gesture control. And a good thing, too.
What Samsung calls ConnectShare (USB 2.0) Movie is simply named Media Player on the remote control; this simple software, partially integrated into the Smart Hub panels, can play digital video, music and photo files from either hardware, like a USB flash drive or HDD, or over a network using DLNA. That means Windows computers and laptops.
While budget TVs from some rival brands do have four HDMI slots available, we're pretty comfortable with the UE42F5500's three HDMIs, two of which are situated on a side panel the TV's right-hand side (as it's viewed). Around those two HDMIs are a couple of USB 2.0 slots – one of which can be used to record or time-shift programmes from its Freeview HD tuner – as well as a Common Interface Slot and an RF aerial feed. It's a slightly odd place to put the latter, but it's recessed well enough to hide any protruding cables.
A panel on the UE42F5500's back contains the rest of the ins and outs; a set of component video inputs features alongside some stereo phono outs, and its green input also acts as en emergency composite video slot. Alongside are a digital optical audio output, a full RGB Scart and Ethernet, though the UE42F5500 does also have a built-in Wi-Fi module. Also back here is a headphone jack – close enough to the side-panel not to be inconveniently positioned, as it was on some Samsung TVs in 2013 – and that third HDMI slot. Our only issue is that all connectors on this rear panel poke outwards, which might cause problems for wall-mounters.
Picture processing forms part of Samsung's HyperReal Engine, though on the UE42F5500 it's fairly limited. Mega Contrast, Wide Colour Enhancer Plus and Dynamic Contrast Ratio are joined by 100 Clear Motion Rate, though the latter makes little difference to the UE42F5500's native 50Hz panel. Some motion interpolation circuitry would have been very useful.
Picture and ease of use
The UE42F5500 is a competent, but unremarkable HDTV. Its main problem, as we had feared, is motion blur. A basic LCD panel with a 50Hz refresh rate that's long been considered outmoded among higher-priced TVs, the UE42F5500 displays fast-moving images and video with a constant ghosting and blur that makes Blu-ray discs seem less than Full HD.
During our test disc, Hugo, we encountered many camera pans that juddered, and as it does so the detail is glossed over and lost.
LED Clear Motion is the key technology here, though only in theory; engaging it while using the Movie preset picture mode doesn't cure the motion blur problems at all, but does lower the backlight's brightness, and very visibly so. However, by doing so at least the black levels and deepened somewhat and swap from blueish grey to something akin to black, though there's little shadow detail within Hugo's jet-black hair, or in pavements on the dark Paris streets.
When the images are still – largely close-ups of the faces of the station's colourful characters – the UE42F5500 does display some fine Full HD detailing, though even the slightest movement and all that good work is lost.
Colours are excellent, natural-looking and well saturated, while the LED backlighting system – which isn't the edge array normally seen – has created a uniform brightness, so avoiding any issues with clouding or light leakage from the sides of the screen.
Turn to a standard definition broadcast of Operation Hospital Food with James Martin on BBC One and the detail takes a big dive, though pleasingly there's almost no trace of mosquito noise around logos or low bitrate mess. This clean, if soft, style of upscaling appears to be a native trait of the TV since its Digital Clean View feature – available in three strengths – doesn't significantly affect the picture either way. People passing through the camera shot quickly are ghost-like blurs, but the decent colour and black levels remain.
Later on, a BBC One HD transmission of Match of the Day provides another big reason to buy the UE42F5500, which handles the green expanses rather well amid a decently detailed image despite the constant motion resolution loss.
Ease of use
The UE42F5500 is mastered by what Samsung calls its 'Golden Bridge' user interface, the central pillar of which is Smart Hub. It's a great user interface – right up there with Panasonic and LG in 2013 – and it's easy to use thanks to the UE42F5500's Wi-Fi module. It's split into five different panels: Apps; Movies & TV Shows; Social; Photos, Videos & Music; and On TV.
Once you've selected what source of TV you're using (we went for the inbuilt Freeview HD), the central On TV page comprises a live TV box on about a quarter of the screen, with the rest taken up by thumbnails of TV channels and a Coming Up section that details six TV programmes the UE42F5500 thinks you'll want to watch. This is S-Recommendation, which monitors your viewing habits and makes suggestions, but it's flawed; despite including a useful readout of minutes until the show will be broadcast, the programme's title isn't listed. We're left wondering what the UE42F5500 has selected for us on BBC One in 46 minutes … the thumbnail merely shows a bald-headed man.
Also viewable from this page is the excellent, and more traditional, Freeview HD electronic programme guide (seven channels over two hours, which works lightning-quick), a Timeline View (a pretty, but hard to comprehend grid of thumbnails ranged across 24 hours) and a list of programmes recorded to a USB stick or HDD.
The Films & TV Shows tab is another cover art-filled page, this time of seven films available on various on-demand services, though in our review everything came from a Samsung-owned app called VideoHub which – oddly – wasn't actually installed on the UE42F5500. There are various other ways to surf film content, such as via genre, as well as a link to a page of TV shows. Again, however, VideoHub is required; why isn't Smart Hub searching the plethora of on-demand, catch-up TV apps and the likes of Netflix and Lovefilm? However, if you do download and sign-up for VideoHub, you can then watch the same content on other Samsung devices.
The Social page is dominated by links to four YouTube videos and a bar listing recent Skype activity, with Video Call slightly misleading given the UE42F5500's lack of a built-in camera. Delve into the Smart Features menu and account details can be registered for Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Skype for a more personalised experience.
By far the best and most useful page is the Apps page, though it's the least impressive in terms of design. This basic grid displays thumbnails for eight apps and an advert in a top Recommended bar, above a grid of 30 additional apps up to a maximum of 1.4 GB.
Almost as impressive is the outlying Photos, Videos & Music page, which displays large thumbnails for the eight most recent videos, music tracks and/or photos viewed, which makes things easy to access. Separate tabs for music, photos, videos and recorded TV are also viewable. Crucially, file support is fantastic; we managed to play MKV, AVI, MPEG2, MPEG4, MOV and WMV video, JPEG photos and an array of lossless music files (WAV, OGG and FLAC) in addition to MP3, M4A,WMA files.
Smart Hub isn't perfect, but does it make the UE42F5500 almost irresistible? Absolutely.
Built-in audio isn't one of the UE42F5500's strong points. Despite having almost 50mm to play with in terms of depth, the two down-firing 10W speakers prove good enough only for dialogue-heavy TV programmes. Fine for watching the news – and with plenty of low frequency audio for that purpose – switch to a movie and everything falls flat. Take advantage of the UE42F5500's optical audio output and take everything into a home cinema system or soundbar.
When it comes to good value, the UE42F5500 is the bulls-eye; aside from the motion blur issue there's very little left to complain about. Unless you're wiling to trade-up to a pricier £600-or-so set, the UE42F5500 represents the best value proposition that exists in the current TV market. But it's not perfect.
The brilliant Smart Hub proves irresistible thanks largely to the UE42F5500's dual-core processor, though equally as impressive is the superb Freeview HD user interface and competent Media Player software. Wi-Fi keeps everything convenient, too, with images imbued with plenty of colour and contrast. We were also impressed with the consistency of the UE42F5500's backlight.
Though the viewing angle of the panel isn't great, it's an endemic issue with motion blur – not helped by the LED Clear Motion feature – that we found the major disappointment ton the UE42F5500. The over-reliance of Smart Hub's pages on the contents of Samsung;s VideoHub on-demand app – despite it not even being installed on the UE42F5500 – is a little confusing.
A great-value TV currently going for a very low price, Samsung's UE42F5500 makes a fine choice for a living room. Motion blur is a serious issue when it comes to picture quality, granted, but there's few other issues. It's the appearance of the Smart Hub and a great Freeview HD interface that most impress, though it's the use of a dual core processor, which speeds everything up, that makes the UE42F5500 such a joy to use. It's hardly the last word in picture quality, but the UE42F5500 makes a fine, affordable telly and a great value example of a thoroughly smart TV.
Few TVs this well equipped and this cheap exist. If you're after a 40 or 42-inch TV, however, it's worth scouring the ranges of Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba. The latter's 40L4353 (50-inch reviewed here) or step-up 40L6353 are worth a look, though neither have anywhere near the processing power – or the choice of apps – of this dual core Samsung, so can be frustrating to lose. Sony's KDL-42W653A is probably the closest challenger, combining the same lack of 3D with some excellent pictures, though it does offer just two HDMI slots. A touch pricier is the seriously good-looking Panasonic TX-L42E6B, which has a brilliantly friendly and well-organised interface and mostly excellent pictures.