Samsung UE46ES8000 £1899.99
2nd May 2012 | 15:20
Samsung's new flagship 46-inch TV pretty much rocks
If Samsung is going to retain its current position as the world's number one TV brand, it needs to set the bar high with flagship products such as the new UE46ES8000. Especially now that recently reviewed LG televisions such as the 55LM660T and 47LM670T have proved that the other Korean brand is putting up its most impressive challenge yet to Samsung's dominance.
Just as well, then, that the Samsung UE46ES8000 - called the UN46ES8000F in the US - does indeed look like it's got all the flagship TV angles covered.
For starters, it's got dazzling looks, thanks to its ultra-thin silver bezel. It's impressively connected too, and best of all it has more features than many people will probably need in their lifetime.
Heading these up are the Samsung UE46ES8000's 3D and smart TV capabilities. The 3D playback is an active rather than passive 3D system (well, you didn't really expect Samsung to adopt LG's passive technology any time soon, right?), but the smart TV services have undergone a significant revamp, as we'll see in a minute.
The Samsung UE46ES8000 is also well-stocked with picture adjustments, and is very multimedia savvy indeed, playing back most of the key file formats via either USB cards or a networked PC.
The last highlight attraction of the Samsung UE46ES8000 is its trio of alternative control solutions, based around gestures, voice recognition and a touchpad remote.
Joining the UE46ES8000 in Samsung's flagship range is the 55-inch UE55ES8000 and the 40-inch UE40ES8000. One step down in the range is the ES7000 series, which uses a black bezel colour, shifts to a 'cross' stand design from the ES8000's distinctive 'arch flow' stand design, and doesn't boast the same level of processing power that the ES8000 TVs do.
We've got an ES7000 model coming our way very soon, but for now, let's see if the Samsung UE46ES8000 lives up to its on-paper appeal.
Any TV design as attractive as that wrapped around the Samsung UE46ES8000 has to class as a feature in itself. We have little doubt that its ultra-slim silver bezel and distinctive new arch stand design will be all the temptation many people need to scrape together the asking price of £1,900 in the UK or $3,000 in the US, where it's called the UN46ES8000.
So slender is the bezel around the screen, in fact, that the only way Samsung has been able to fit in its integrated Skype/gesture control camera and its own logo is by adding little protrusions in the centre of the set's top and bottom edges.
The Samsung UE46ES8000's rear end isn't quite as slender as those witnessed on one or two of Samsung's previous Edge LED TV models, but it's still slender enough to perfectly suit wall hanging - if you can resist using the spectacular stand, that is.
Wall hanging is further supported by the Samsung UE46ES8000's connections, which are all mounted for side access. They're prodigious in number too, including four HDMIs, a trio of USBs, and both LAN and Wi-Fi network options.
The USB can be used for playing back a fairly prodigious amount of photo, video and music file formats, or you could use one for setting up a USB HDD for recording from the set's built-in Freeview HD tuner.
The same expanse of files can be delivered from a DLNA PC via the network connections too. Or, of course, these jacks could be used to get the TV jacked in to Samsung's latest online Smart Hub platform.
With most brands seeming to agree that 2012 is the year of smart TV, it's no surprise to find Samsung trying very hard to keep its online platform ahead of the rest.
Two significant improvements hit you as soon as you press the cool new Smart Hub button on the remote controls (and yes, we did mean "controls" plural - more on this presently).
First, Samsung has increased the resolution of its Smart Hub home screen, so that it a) looks much prettier and b) can accommodate more content link icons than before, without looking cluttered.
Second, Samsung has added three seemingly significant new sections of content, highlighted by their appearance in a strip of five large icons running across the centre of the screen.
The first and clearly most important of these three new zones is dubbed Family Zone. This enables you to set up a closed, password-protected network for sharing photos and messages between family members - and, we guess, close friends - no matter where in the world they might be.
Your other family members don't need to have a new Samsung TV to join your network, either; PCs can be added to the network, and Samsung is also due to launch in the coming months a Family Zone Android app for phones and tablets.
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The Family Zone interface works very nicely in a TV context, and aside from some faffing about when first setting up a network, it does an effective job of taking the confusion out of connecting people across the potentially complex and insecure world of the internet.
This simplicity is, of course, crucial if the feature is to appeal to mainstream users rather than just tech freaks and geeks.
The second new area of content is the Fitness zone. Opening this up gives you the option to set up accounts for multiple users in your home, so that different individuals can track their own weight loss and exercise regimes.
Various graphs and charts are provided to feed your health addiction, but the main 'event' of the fitness section is a surprisingly long roster of exercise videos for you to follow. Running from around five minutes to half an hour, these videos come with calories-burned figures attached to them, so that you and the TV have some sort of numerical way of tracking your activities.
Obviously the system is limited by the TV not knowing what you're eating or being able to weigh you directly, meaning you'll have to apply a little discipline and effort of your own to make the Fitness Zone really effective.
With this in mind, we await with interest Panasonic's Viera Connect fitness system, with its treadmill and scales accessories. But for now, Samsung's Fitness Zone is comfortably the most extensive fitness tool on any smart TV.
The final new zone is for kids, and is for the most part a simple aggregation exercise, where kid-friendly videos are collected together. There is also, though, a fun if basic reward system, where you can reward good behaviour with virtual stickers to go into a pretty little virtual book.
At the time of writing, the Kid's Zone is rather low on content, but the idea behind it is sound if Samsung can nurture it along in the coming months.
Alongside these new sections are more genuinely useful online features, mostly built around video streaming services. All the big names are there: Acetrax, LoveFilm, Netflix, BBC iPlayer and so on, as well as a stable and content-rich 3D channel to provide an instant 3D hit for people who buy a Samsung UE46ES8000 but don't have any 3D media at home.
There is also, it must be said, a rather extensive supply of small-scale and generally useless apps too. However, you should be able to avoid having to trawl through these too often, unless you really want to.
Shifting our focus to the Samsung UE46ES8000's 3D abilities, they're active, with two pairs of glasses provided free with the TV. Samsung also claims to have introduced a number of new processing and response time measures designed to reduce the problems with 3D crosstalk ghosting noise that showed up on Samsung's 2011 3D LCD TVs.
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The processing inside the Samsung UE46ES8000 is, significantly, produced via a dual-core processing engine, enabling the TV to handle more algorithms in real time.
This is particularly important when it comes to the accuracy with which the TV can analyse incoming images, enabling the engine to work on more segments of the image than has been possible before, so that the set's automatic lighting adjustments can deliver more accurate results.
The UE46ES8000 also enjoys Samsung's most powerful 800CMR motion reproduction processing engine, and as usual it's good to find that most of the key elements of all the TV's processing tools can be adjusted to different levels via the on-screen menus.
Samsung still doesn't seek the endorsement of the Imaging Science Foundation, but that doesn't stop the Samsung UE46ES8000 from being decently equipped with colour and gamma adjustments.
The only niggles with the set up tools are that the backlight adjustment could do with a few more settings to give you more fine-tuning options, and that all of the picture presets are more or less useless. Their bizarre preference for high contrast and backlight settings means that if you stick with any of them, you'll be selling the set's panel short.
If you just stick with the various picture presets Samsung provides on the UE46ES8000, you'll likely feel disappointed - at least in the long term. Because while the way all the presets push contrast, backlight brightness or both makes pictures eye-catching, it also leaves colours looking overcooked, dark scenes looking a little grey, and backlight consistency levels looking average.
Thankfully you can massively improve the way pictures look via no more complicated adjustments than just knocking back the backlight to somewhere between its six and nine settings (depending on the brightness of your room), and making sure the contrast setting never strays higher than its 75 level.
With these simple setting adjustments in place, the Samsung UE46ES8000's pictures go from average to excellent. Particularly impressive is the contrast performance, since the screen combines punchy, luminous colours and pure whites with one of the deepest black level performances yet seen from an Edge LED TV.
There are times when it perhaps feels as if the deepest black level from the Samsung UE46ES8000 isn't quite as profound as that of last year's Samsung sets. But instead you get a much more sensible balance between black level depth and shadow detail retention, which makes the Samsung UE46ES8000's rendition of dark scenes noticeably superior overall.
Colours seem to enjoy even more tonal subtleties than last year, without the TV's wide colour range being diminished. We're used to LED-driven LCD TVs looking bright and punchy, of course, but the Samsung UE46ES8000's images really are particularly eye-catching - even after you've toned down the crazily high backlight preset values.
Another strength of the Samsung UE46ES8000's pictures is their sharpness. HD material looks dazzlingly detailed and ruthlessly sharp, but also pretty much devoid of noise.
To see this effect at its best you have to be careful with some of the set's processing elements; for instance, the motion processing should be run at a relatively low level if at all, and all noise reduction settings are better deactivated for HD viewing.
But follow these very simple precautions, and the Samsung UE46ES8000 is unusually capable of giving you the maximum impact from HD material.
While the Samsung UE46ES8000 clearly revels in showing HD movies and TV shows, it's a talented standard definition performer too. The power and speed of its dual-core processor enables it to upscale SD sources exceptionally well, in fact, adding detail and sharpness while simultaneously removing source noise.
The good news continues once you don a pair of Samsung's impressively lightweight new 3D glasses.
The Samsung UE46ES8000 serves up arguably the finest active 3D images we've seen from a TV - certainly an LCD one. Samsung's latest panel design and processing systems have hugely reduced the amount of crosstalk double ghosting noise you see while watching 3D sources.
You can see tiny traces of it over very bright objects in the far distance if they appear against dark backdrops. But so infrequent and so minor are these crosstalk appearances that they're barely worth mentioning.
The Samsung UE46ES8000's 3D pictures also impress with their brightness. Putting on the 3D glasses results in considerably less brightness reduction than you usually get with active 3D TV systems. This enables colours to retain plenty of vibrancy and dark scenes to contain more shadow detail than you tend to see with the 3D images of, say, Panasonic's (also excellent) 3D plasma TVs.
There is one issue with the Samsung UE46ES8000's 3D pictures, though. While the set sensibly automatically shifts its backlight output up a few gears when it detects that you're watching 3D, this means that during dark scenes you can be aware of a couple of areas of backlight inconsistency down each side of the screen.
The final picture performance aspect of the Samsung UE46ES8000 to consider is its input lag - a potentially critical issue for gamers. Happily Samsung's set only takes around 35ms to produce its pictures if you use the provided Game preset, which shouldn't significantly damage your gaming skills.
Ease of use, sound and value
Samsung has introduced a trio of new TV control systems for 2012.
First there's the second remote, complete with a touchpad for simpler navigation of web pages and Smart Hub menus. For the most part this remote works admirably, with just the right level of swiping sensitivity in the pad, an ergonomic weight and shape, and even a built-in mic that greatly enhances the usefulness of the TV's voice recognition system.
The only thing wrong with it, actually, is the way you have to press the pad to select an option or web link. Quite often when you try to do this you also slightly slide your finger across the pad, thus moving the on-screen cursor before you've selected the option you wanted.
The voice control system, meanwhile, is clever on two counts. First, it only activates after you bark out a special activation phrase - "Hi TV" is the default, but you can change this. This means it's extremely rare for the system to be activated accidentally by, say, sound from a programme or film you're watching.
The other strength of the voice system is that so long as you speak clearly, the set can recognise almost any words or phrases you can think of - extremely handy when it comes to inputting data into search fields on web pages.
Furthermore, as noted before, you can quietly talk your commands into the touchpad remote rather than always having to shout them. And we quickly discovered that the less loudly you have to speak, the less silly you feel!
The weakest link in the new control chain is the gesture control system. While the TV tracks movements of your hand surprisingly easily provided you take the time to set it up right, it struggles to work at all in low light, and it's really tricky to get the cursor on the screen to make small enough movements when you get close to a link you want to select.
The best thing about the gesture system is that in conjunction with the voice controls, it enables you to use the TV without needing to use a physical remote control at all. This, we'd say, is genuinely revolutionary.
The Smart Hub menus on the Samsung UE46ES8000 do an excellent job of making it easy to navigate your way through the huge amounts of content the TV has to offer, and the TV's set up menus are attractively designed too.
There are some organisational issues with the set up menus, though. For instance, the Game preset is tucked away in a set up menu rather than sitting with the other picture presets. There are also two separate Advanced picture menus when one would have been more sensible.
Samsung has arguably tried to do almost too much with its control innovations for one generational leap, and the gesture control system feels like it's been introduced before it was quite ready.
But still, after a little experimentation the good about Samsung's latest operating system far exceeds the bad.
Accompanying the Samsung UE46ES8000's mostly excellent post-calibration pictures is a passable audio performance. As usual with such skinny TVs, there's neither enough bass nor enough dynamic range to really let it sing with action scenes.
But the mid-range is decently open, so that the speakers seldom sound harsh or muddy, and treble detailing is strong.
By today's standards, £1,900/$3,000 is a substantial amount to have to find for a 46-inch TV. But the Samsung UE46ES8000 is, after all, a flagship TV. In fact, it's a Samsung flagship TV, which means it comes sporting more bells, whistles, innovations and design prowess than you get from probably any other brand right now.
Samsung is on typically aggressive form with the Samsung UE46ES8000, combining cutting-edge features with a gorgeous space-saving design and some of the best picture quality the LCD TV world has to offer.
Particularly impressive are the set's attempts at revolutionising the way you interface with your TV, the improvements Samsung has wrought to its picture quality (especially in 3D mode) thanks to its dual-core processing, and the additions to Samsung's Smart Hub online platform.
There are issues too. The provided picture presets are all poor, there's some backlight consistency trouble when watching 3D material, and you need to be careful with the settings you use for elements of the TV's processing.
Overall, though, the Samsung UE46ES8000 is another highly desirable slice of Samsung class.
The Samsung UE46ES8000 is about as pretty as a TV can get, thanks to its ultra-thin bezel and silvery finish. Some might not like the little bumps in the centre of its top and bottom edges, containing an integrated camera and Samsung's logo respectively, but we found them kind of cute.
The Samsung UE46ES8000's picture quality is mostly excellent too after a little work, and the amount of content the TV supports via its USB ports, DLNA PC compatibility and Smart TV platform is immense.
There are occasional backlight inconsistencies when watching dark 3D scenes, and there's so much going on with Samsung's new Smart Control system that it takes a while to get used to it all.
There's scope for improvement with the Samsung UE46ES8000's audio performance too, and Samsung really ought to try to put together at least one picture preset that actually shows its own panels off to their best picture quality advantage.
When Samsung makes a flagship TV like the Samsung UE46ES8000, it usually means business. So it is that this 46-inch star boasts a gorgeous ultra-slim design, and an unparalleled feature list.
Highlights include new voice, touchpad remote and gesture control systems, an improved Smart Hub interface and a comprehensive smart TV online service that features most of the main video streaming services, as well as some interesting new family network and fitness systems.
As for the Samsung UE46ES8000's picture quality, after you've calmed things down from Samsung's ill-conceived presets, both 2D and 3D images look mostly excellent.
LG has come out swinging hard at its Korean rival in 2012, as is proven in no uncertain terms by the exceptionally good looking, feature-laden and mostly high-performance LG 47LM670T.
This matches the Samsung UE46ES8000 in many ways, except that it doesn't use such a potent processing engine and uses LG's passive 3D technology rather than Samsung's passive system.
Also worth considering is the Panasonic L47DT50. This doesn't scale the same feature heights as the Samsung, especially when it comes to online material, and its picture quality is a touch more subdued. But it's an excellent 3D performer, and quite a looker to boot.