Samsung UE46D8000 £1449.99
8th Dec 2011 | 11:45
Samsung's 3D LED TV justifies its premium tag
The word 'premium' gets bandied about willy-nilly in the TV market, but some sets come along that completely and utterly deserve it. And we're looking at one of them right now. The 3D-ready Samsung UE46D8000 oozes premiumness from every inch of its svelte frame, boasting divine looks, a shedload of cutting-edge features and hopefully picture quality that'll make your eyes pop out of your head.
That said, it's not the best-specced set Samsung has to offer. It hails from Samsung's Series 8 range, which is one step down from its high-end Series 9. But in anyone else's line-up it would probably be top dog, which is testament to Samsung's generosity and the breadth of its range.
The UE46D8000 takes its place in the Series 8 (8000) range alongside six other TVs, including the 60-inch UE60D8000, 55-inch UE55D8000 and UE40D8000, plus three 'C8000' models from last year – the 55-inch UE55C8000, 46-inch UE46C8000 and 40-inch UE40C8000. All of them are edge-lit LED models.
The UE46D8000 really is a fabulous-looking TV. Suave and sophisticated, its astonishingly slim silver bezel makes the screen look more expansive than it is, and it's all perched on a curvy four-pronged silver stand that brings a feeling of hi-tech elegance. This shiny design is sure to add a bit of sparkle to any living room, and as ever the LED panel has facilitated the set's obscenely slim profile (an incredible 29mm). And if that wasn't eye-catching enough, turn it on and the Samsung logo lights up below the screen.
The UE46D8000 is also well-stocked for sockets. No less than four HDMI inputs are provided – all v1.4 for full 3D compatibility, plus they're sideways-mounted and easy to access. There are two Scart inputs (both require an adapter cable), plus D-Sub PC, composite, component and two minijack inputs. These are joined by an optical digital audio output, Ethernet port, three USB ports and a CI slot for pay TV.
With its abundance of hi-tech tricks the UE46D8000 is less a TV, more an all-singing, all dancing entertainment hub. The key to this is networking functionality. It comes with built-in Wi-Fi, affording you fast, cable-free access to DLNA media streaming and a vast range of internet content without the need for a USB dongle.
Samsung's Smart Hub service is the place to find all this online content. There's so much on offer here that we can't talk about everything in depth (and we've covered it many times before), but the key apps – Samsung's zeitgeisty name, not ours – include BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm, Acetrax, BBC News, YouTube and a channel for Samsung's own 3D content, while your social networking fix comes from Facebook, Twitter and Skype (for which you'll need to plug in the optional camera). There's tons to explore, more than you'll ever have time to sample, including row upon row of games, puzzles, kids' stories and educational apps.
It also boasts some fairly nifty tools such as Your Video, a database of film and TV programme information. You can find movies available on any of the featured video-on-demand apps (with direct links to them) giving details about each release such as cast and crew, photos and so on. You can even share stuff you like on social networking sites and view recommendations based on your viewing habits.
Additionally the Search tool lets you look for content by keyword, showing you all of the results in the on-board apps and allowing you to search the same keyword in the web browser – yep, you can even browse the internet at large with a live TV picture-in-picture, although it's a real chore to use with the remote.
The AllShare feature lets you stream your own content from networked PCs and other devices. That includes video, music and photo files, and a surprisingly wide range of formats is supported, including AVI, WMV, DivX HD and MKV. Of course you can also play back media from local USB devices, and if you connect an external hard-disk drive you can turn the UE46D8000 into a PVR, setting programmes to record from the EPG and pausing live TV with the Time Shift feature.
The UE46D8000 is a fully-fledged 3D set, using the active shutter system and a supplied pair of glasses (SSG-310GB) that uses Bluetooth to communicate with the TV. The specs are surprisingly lightweight and comfortable to wear, featuring an adjustable rubber nose band.
The set can also convert any content passing through its circuits into 3D, including programmes from the built-in Freeview HD tuner – pre-empting the arrival of proper terrestrial 3DTV by years. But 3D conversion is just the tip of this TV's technological iceberg, as there's lots of other impressive processing under the bonnet.
The 3D HyperReal Engine and precise Micro Dimming (which can adjust the clarity of smallest details) aim to produce the deepest possible blacks, while the Clear Motion Rate 800Hz harnesses the LED backlight, video processing and 'Ultra Clear' panel to effectively increase the refresh rate to 800 frames per second.
Samsung's LED sets have proved their excellent picture pedigree over the last couple of years, and the UE46D8000 continues the company's fine run of form – although you'll need to carry out some serious tweaking in the setup menu before you start your movie viewing in earnest.
The Standard preset, which many users would head straight for, sees the contrast ramped right up to 100, giving the image a horribly garish and hyper-real look. Thankfully the UE46D8000 provides you with a detailed set of picture tweaks, ranging from the usual stuff like brightness and colour to more advanced tweaks like Black Tone, Colour Space and White Balance.
There are even built-in test patterns that allow you check if your calibration is hitting the spot. Next to these are the special picture modes like LED Motion Plus, Motion Lighting, noise filters… basically everything you need to get images looking exactly as you want them.
Get it right and the UE46D8000 will absolutely blow you away. With 2D discs like Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the busy 1080p pictures are rendered with the sort of forceful sharpness that draws you right into the picture. The intricate CG robots, all whirring cogs and gleaming chrome, look crisp and punchy, while humans are reproduced with equally impressive clarity, particularly the close-up shots of skin and hair with their life-like textures.
Detail doesn't greatly reduce in clarity when objects are moving either, which makes for steady, composed images no matter how busy the scene, although once or twice we noticed some brief twitching during the closing action scenes.
The movie also provides an ideal test of the set's motion processing. The constant barrage of fast, flying robots with moving parts, explosions and swarms of soldiers at the movie's overblown climax is enough to induce ADHD in any TV, but the UE46D8000 handles it all with admirable smoothness.
There are various tools in the setup menu to remove artefacts, Motion Plus having the most telling impact on picture quality (available in Clear, Standard, Smooth and Custom modes, the latter allows you adjust blur and judder reduction manually). But even without them the set manages to side-step judder and motion blur very well indeed. We recommend leaving the Smooth mode well alone, as it gives the image an unnatural feel, like it was shot with a home video camera.
What's also impressive is the amount of brightness this LED panel is able to kick out, even when you dial the factory backlight and brightness settings down to something approaching normality. That gives the image an instantly likeable, vibrant appearance.
But the best part is that it's backed up by terrific contrast and black levels, which keeps the image looking solid.Black parts of the picture are deep and realistic, not greyed over, while gloomy scenes look dark without losing that all-important shadow detail.
Checking for any backlight issues, we couldn't spot any pooling or unevenness – the black bars on 2.35:1 movies, for instance, are a textbook shade of black right the way across. The Micro Dimming really does result in an expansive contrast range, lending depth and punch to areas of the screen that need it but delivering eye-popping brightness in other parts of the same frame.
And the final piece of the 2D picture puzzle is colour, which thanks to the excellent brightness and contrast levels look sensational. Yes they dazzle when they need to – just check the Autobots' gleaming paintwork for proof – and they're never anything less than realistic, but it's the set's subtlety that really impresses, rendering gentle colour blends and tonal gradations beautifully. This lends the image an irresistible sense of depth and smoothness, as if you were watching the robo-carnage with your own eyes.
Turning to 3D, we find the UE46D8000 in fine fettle once again. That intense natural brightness pays dividends when viewing through the dimmed lenses of Samsung's 3D glasses (which, incidentally, seem lighter than its rivals' glasses). It uses the 2D qualities described above, namely superb brightness, deep black and vibrant-yet-nuanced colours, to deliver stereoscopic images that are out of this world – literally in the case of our 3D Avatar disc.
Pandora has rarely looked more spellbinding, with expertly layered objects and scenery, no obvious signs of motion blur and the sort of crisp, composed detail reproduction that'll leave you transfixed. However, there's no escaping slight traces of crosstalk in the image, which has blighted Samsung's 3D sets since day one, but it's not prevalent enough to take the shine off these otherwise superb 3D pictures.
And while we're talking 3D, the set's 2D-to-3D conversion is fairly good. It gives everything from the Transformers Blu-ray to Harry Hill's TV Burp a distinct sense of layering and depth without excessive artefacts, although it needs obvious cues to make it worthwhile – for much of the time the image just looks like a slightly warped version of 2D.
The UE46D8000 does a decent job with standard-definition material too. Pictures from the Freeview tuner are upscaled to the screen's resolution while maintaining excellent detail clarity. But the colour balance looks unnatural and slightly on the garish side, plus the set struggles to mask MPEG block noise, which makes it look a tad gauzy. There's also a touch of shimmering and mosquito noise with The Smurfs on DVD, but the strong blues are nicely handled and on the general image quality is solid.
Sound, Value, Ease of use
Quite how Samsung squeezed speakers into such a slim screen is impressive enough, but even more remarkable is how good they sound – by LED TV standards, of course. The 2 x 10W amplification goes nice and loud, with excellent speech clarity and crisp treble.
The lack of bass makes it sound fairly narrow, and the unbalanced sound can take its toll on your ears at loud volumes, but for day to day use it's fine. There's also a couple of audio modes to pep up the sound, including SRS TheatreSound HD and SRS TruDialog.
If you check the price tag before you've seen the spec sheet and clapped eyes on its pictures, you might think the UE46D8000 is expensive. But with such a generous feature list, jaw-dropping looks and a winning way with HD, SD and 3D pictures, the asking price seems entirely reasonable. It's not flawless, but thankfully those flaws are in areas that won't jeopardise your enjoyment.
Ease of use
The UE46D8000 is a real joy to use. On-screen presentation is friendly, menus are well structured and the software responds quickly to commands from the remote. That makes frequently-used functions like input selection and menu navigation an absolute breeze.
The setup menu is neither too basic nor over-elaborate, using crisp fonts and a few tasteful graphics to emphasise certain choices and options. A helpful explanation appears when you highlight any option, and it lists what's in each submenu before you actually select it, which is a nice touch.
Within the setup menu we had no trouble connecting to our network – a step-by-step wizard guides you through it, and entering encryption keys and passwords is easy enough.
Once connected, the Smart Hub feature uses a great-looking and logical interface, packed with icons for each app, as well as providing quick access to all the set's functions – web browser, EPG, DLNA streaming and so forth. It even plays the current input in a small box.
Finding your content on a network or USB device couldn't be easier, thanks to the straightforward folder-based layout of the lists.
The good news continues with the Freeview EPG, which is still one of the best around. The main reason for its success is that it manages to squeeze a live TV box, the six-channel programme grid and the synopsis into the same screen without seeming cluttered, plus the cursor moves around freely, programme names are easy to read and colour coded options make key functions easy to access.
Finally, the UE46D8000 rounds off this operational tour de force with a superb remote that sports chunky rubber buttons, an intuitive layout and easy-to-read labelling. It's so simple my three-year-old son could use it. Most of the key features have their own buttons, including the e-Manual, which explains all of the set's functions on screen.
From the moment you first lay eyes on it, the UE46D8000 is a very special TV. The thin bezel, super-slim profile and gorgeous silver stand make it an absolute stunner design-wise. But its feature list is equally attractive, offering the latest mod cons like network media streaming and Smart Hub, as well as support for 3D, external HDD recording and multimedia formats.
But there's substance behind the style too. In terms of picture quality it may not boast the direct LED backlighting of its higher-end brethren, but deploys its edge LEDs to devastating effect, bringing yousharp, nuanced and deep hi-def pictures with both 2D and 3D material.
There are few TVs that can match the UE46D8000's level of aesthetic exuberance – its drop-dead gorgeous design will make it a real talking point in your living room. Smart Hub provides a hugely generous range of apps in a slick, attractive interface, while the rest of the network capabilities are nicely integrated.
Add generous connections, built-in Wi-Fi, extensive multimedia support, 2D-to-3D conversion and you've got a set that many brands would call their flagship. And in terms of operation, it's as if Samsung designed this set for a child, but jazzed up the GUI for adults.
The set's 2D pictures are excellent by LED standards, offering inherently bright, vibrant pictures teeming with clean, sharp detail and subtly rendered colours. And apart from a few instances of crosstalk, 3D images are stunning.
Some crosstalk is noticeable with 3D pictures, and Freeview SD pictures don't dazzle in quite the same way as HD with some noise issues and slightly unnatural colours.
The web browser is a chore to use with the remote, and although it's better than some flatpanel TVs, the sound system's lack of bass makes sound quality unbalanced.
With stunning looks, a hugely generous feature list and largely knockout picture quality, the UE46D8000 is a premium TV in every sense of the word, and easily justifies its asking price.
In fact, the presence of the brilliant Smart Hub alone might be enough to make some whip out the credit card. Its few flaws are nowhere near grave enough to mar your enjoyment, making this Series 8 set an unmitigated success.
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