Samsung UE60D8000 £4300
7th Sep 2011 | 12:45
LED TV is the ultimate mix of Smart technology and picture performance
The Samsung UE60D8000 is the brand's most advanced LED screen yet. A 60-inch, 3D-capable and Smart TV-enabled flatscreen with drop-dead gorgeous looks, it sports a take-no-prisoners £4,300 price tag.
With its built-in Wi-Fi, app store, web browser, media streaming and smartphone control, the UE60D8000 enters the upper echelons of the HDTV market, and faces stiff competition.
First and foremost it has to contend with Panasonic's TX-P65VT30, which claims an extra five inches of screen real estate and a loyal band of followers. Consumers will also be looking at the LG 60PZ950T, Philips' 58-inch Cinema 21:9 and Samsung's own 64-inch D8000 plasma.
While it's the flagship set in Samsung's LED range, you can get the D8000 in smaller, more affordable versions. There are 55-inch, 46-inch and 40-inch models on sale for around £2,500, £1800 and £1,300 respectively.
Once out of the box and attached to its four-footed stand (you'll need a pal to help you here - the TV isn't particularly heavy, but its sheer size means only a very rich idiot would try to lift it on their own), the UE60D8000 cuts an imposing figure.
Its monster screen is flanked by the thinnest of glistening silver bezels, and it's so slim in terms of depth that you'll find yourself wondering exactly how Samsung has put it together. There's no other TV on the UK market that can match it for sheer wow factor.
As you'd expect from a brand's flagship TV, the UE60D8000's spec sheet is longer than War and Peace. Every possible feature is ticked. In fact, it takes a while to get to grips with everything this screen can do.
At its most basic, the UE60D8000 is a 60-inch edge-LED set with a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution and Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners. Playback naturally includes 3D in all manner of flavours (frame-sequential, side-by-side, etc), plus 2D-3D conversion.
The silicon onboard is the best that Samsung has to offer. Pictures are scrubbed up by its proprietary 3D HyperReal Engine, and the set claims a Mega Contrast ratio, which I guess implies it's so high that the R&D boffins can't measure it.
Connectivity is good. Four HDMI inputs, plus component and D-Sub, is enough for all but the most overladen of kit racks. And cabling can be simplified by using the Audio Return Channel (ARC) if you want to hook the TV up to a home cinema system.
On the Smart side of things you get an Ethernet port and a trio of USB inputs. In many setups the Ethernet will remain unused as the UE60D8000 features built-in Wi-Fi. The USBs are for media playback from storage devices and recording/timeshifting broadcast telly. Personally, I think three is a bit of an overkill; I would rather have a pair of USBs and an SD card slot - the latter for quick viewing from cameras and camcorders.
Other jacks include an optical audio output for non-HDMI sound systems and two RF inputs to feed the double tuners.
Of course, the UE60D8000 offers more than just TV viewing. It's branded a Smart TV, and offers Samsung's full suite of connected features, including its App store, VOD services, full web-browser and AllShare media streaming.
These features are accessed from the Smart Hub, a gorgeous hi-res colour user-interface packed with icons. It's certainly handy having all these bonus bits accessible from one location, but it can seem a little overwhelming. At least there's a PiP window so you can continue watching television while you zip around the menus.
Now that Samsung's Software Development Kit (SDK) is open to everyone, its App store is filling up. No other Smart TV platform has as much on offer. Quantity doesn't always equal quality, however, and some of the apps are, to be fair, kind of pointless.
One that I stumbled upon, called Funny Sounds, uses a garish, cartoony interface and lets you call up around 30 different bizarre noises, ranging from gunshots to drum-rolls and, er, farts, with each accompanied by a cutesy animation. Does Samsung quality control these apps before unleashing them? I wonder...
However, amidst the dross you'll find genuinely useful apps like Google Maps and AccuWeather, so it's worth having a browse and downloading these goodies - and checking back often to see what's been added.
As for Video on Demand, Samsung has inked deals with both LOVEFiLM and Acetrax, meaning new movies can be streamed direct to the set. Both these require a subscription; free VOD is provided by BBC iPlayer and YouTube, amongst others. There's even a selection of free 3D content in the Explore 3D app. Accessing this begins with a warning that a 'high-speed' 'net connection is recommended for seamless playback. Take this warning seriously - my network proved to be below the UE60D8000's tastes, resulting in a few crashes while trying to view 3D trailers.
With a Blu-ray player connected, these minor niggles fade away, as the UE60D8000 offers some of the best HD images I've ever set eyes on, both with 2D and 3D material.
The best way to describe its performance is 'cinematic'. The new hi-octane petrol-head movie Fast Five features a fine layer of film grain that comes across with absolute clarity. As such, watching it on the UE60D8000 is akin to being at your local movie-plex.
Exquisite detail abounds. In the movie's physics-defying bank robbery sequence, I was startled by the beads of sweat trickling from The Rock's forehead, or the grains of dirt and dust thrown up by spinning car tyres. Meanwhile, edges are deadly sharp.
The UE60D8000 doesn't mind fast-motion either. Yes, there's a drop in clarity when quick camera pans occur, and 24p material exhibits a slight judder, but nothing that's going to keep me awake a night. And Samsung's Motion Plus frame interpolation wizardry manages to increase detail levels without introducing much in the way of horrible artefacts. (Although it still makes everyone look like they are on ice skates, so, as always, I prefer to leave it off.)
Another string in the Samsung's bow is its colour reproduction. With the movie preset activated and the colour temperature set to Warm 2, the palette is beautifully natural. The sun-bleached concrete buildings, light blue cop uniforms and green palm trees of Fast Five's Rio de Janeiro locations are instantly believable. I did, however, feel the need to experiment with both the backlight and brightness picture tweaks to give the Movie preset a little more punch - some people might find it too understated.
The UE60D8000's accurate colour reproduction (as long as you avoid its Dynamic and Natural modes) is matched by a solid contrast range. The screen's unobtrusive edge LED lighting is capable of displaying bright whites and inky blacks at the same time, and dark areas retain shadow detail in all but the most testing of circumstances. Again, fiddling with the set's numerous picture parameters reaps rewards.
With standard-def Freeview material, there's an immediate drop in picture quality. Images are far softer, and lose some colour vibrancy. Mosquito noise and ringing around the edges of objects becomes apparent, although macro-blocking wasn't a concern. Essentially, the UE60D8000 offers a stable standard-def presentation that will be adequate, but not awe-inspiring, for regular telly viewing.
Switching back to hi-def 3D sources and the UE60D8000 once again has the power to astound. Stereoscopic Blu-rays come through the frame-packing process with almost as much sharpness and clarity as their 2D counterparts, and Samsung's new Bluetooth glasses (of which you get two sets supplied) don't darken the image as much as I was expecting.
Furthermore, 3D distractions like double imaging and flicker were generally absent. In fact, the picture was so stable and the 3D effect so believable that I was soon chucking every 3D disc I could find into my player - Avatar, Ice Age 3, Step Up 3D, Resident Evil, various demo discs - trying to find something I didn't like. Eventually I stumbled upon some racing car footage that looked a bit ropey, but it was obvious the source material was to blame. The UE608000's 3D performance is near faultless - and the TV's 60-inch screen makes it all the more immersive.
All this 3D goodness was achieved without fiddling with the UE60D8000's 3D effect tweaks, You can adjust the depth effect if you wish, but this brought about double images at the extreme levels, so I left it on '0'. Other options include a 3D-2D mode which, er, flattens the image completely. Why? I have no idea.
The UE60D8000 also stocks 2D-3D processing, should you want to watch everything in 3D. It works, sort of, but I doubt it'll get much action - why dabble with faux 3D when the screen's 2D hi-def performance is so exquisite?
Sound, value and ease of use
While the UE60D8000's picture performance is exemplary, its sonic ability is much less noteworthy. Quite simply, its in-built speakers aren't up the job of delivering the kind of robust, inspiring audio that its 60-inch images deserve.
Just by looking at the TV you can tell it's going to struggle - there's nowhere in its slinky frame to fit any decent speaker drivers. Even high-end speaker manufacturers haven't quite worked out how to get awesome audio from a cabinet just 30mm deep, so it's no surprise Samsung hasn't either.
The result is a sound that is average at best, with a dull, compressed quality that lacks dynamism and a sense of space. None of the five presets impressed me much, particularly as the Movie setting seemed to offer less in the way of low-frequency oomph than the others. In Fast Five, an armoured truck crashing through a concrete wall sounded more like a toy car ripping through crepe paper.
Be aware that there's a Sound Effect menu that's only usable when in Standard mode. Here you can call upon SRS TruSurround, which widens the soundstage and gives it a bit more presence. There's also a five-band equalizer should you want to tweak the UE60D8000's audio at certain frequencies.
So, can the £4,300 UE60D8000 be considered good value? That will entirely depend on the size of your wallet and the size of your living room.
If you've set your heart on a 60-inch screen then its price tag is roughly in line with the competition from Panasonic's TX-P65VT30. Of course, that screen offers five more inches, and arguably an even finer image quality, but it doesn't match the UE60D8000 in terms of Smart features and sheer design flair, so there is a choice to be made.
The fly in the ointment is Samsung's own UE55D8000, a 55-inch model with the same feature set as this 60-inch beast that can be had for around £2,000 less. I suspect many shoppers will plump for that TV and sacrifice the extra five inches.
Ease of use
Considering everything it offers, Samsung's UE60D8000 is quite straightforward to use.
Initial setup is aided by a guided process that helps connect the set to your home network, tunes the analogue, digital and satellite receivers and checks for the latest firmware update.
Once this is done, the Samsung doesn't let go of your hand straightaway. All the various options in the menus are accompanied by text- and graphic-based descriptions of what they're for, which is good news for the less tech-savvy. And being in these menus is a bit of a wheeze, as they slide onto screen and shrink from view with some elan. It's a nice UI (with a cleanly presented EPG) that almost matches the premium feel of the set.
It's not all plain-sailing, though. The UE60D8000's stylish remote control is sensibly laid out and offers one-touch access to menus like 3D and Smart Hub, but it's backlighting is just odd - I could only get it to stay on for a few seconds, and the most important buttons in the centre, for moving around menus, are for some reason not illuminated. I found it a real pain trying to make adjustments in a darkened room.
Another gripe concerns the manual. The UE60D8000 ships with a basic user guide; a more detailed breakdown is available as an 'e-manual' online, but this isn't entirely satisfactory either. During my tests I found menu functions that I couldn't always activate (such as Expert Pattern) and couldn't establish why. Frustrating.
As soon as you've unboxed the Samsung UE60D8000 you're aware it's something special. The brand's One Design, with its ultra-thin bezel, is the best on the market, and its 60-inch screen just cries out for some hi-def action.
In terms of features, there's not much missing from the UE60D8000. Built in Wi-Fi, 3D support (with supplied glasses), media streaming, VOD, apps, advanced picture adjustments and USB HDD recording are all offered. It's only THX certification, and a dedicated preset, that I think it's lacking.
You could spend hours with the UE60D8000's Smart features, but you'll be missing out on a sterling picture performance. Hi-def material is routinely dazzling, with astonishing levels of detail and clarity, and 3D images benefit from sharpness, stability and the combination of huge display and thin bezel. Standard-def is naturally less impressive, but still watchable.
The UE60D8000 offers a first-rate 3D performance that markedly improves on the first wave of stereoscopic tellies, packed with depth and detail.
2D images impress even more, thanks to stunning clarity, natural colours and dynamism. Meanwhile, Samsung's Smart TV offering is a hoot, with its mixture of apps, VOD and social networking sure to make your neighbour's TV look positively stupid. Oh, and the design is simply gorgeous.
The audio performance of the UE60D8000 is a real let down - you'll want to partner it with at least a dedicated soundbar to do justice to its visuals - and the backlighting system of the supplied remote control has a mind of its own.
Getting to grips with the TV's extensive picture tweaks will take some time, too - possibly too much time for many buyers.
Finally, the UE60D8000's media file support isn't comprehensive, with DivX videos, for example, failing to play.
With products as lovingly-crafted as this, it's no wonder that Samsung is the UK's leading TV brand.
The UE60D8000 is a dangerously seductive TV. Once you've experienced its mindblowing bigscreen images, mesmerising design and class-leading smart functionality you'll be hunting around for £4,300 so you can own one. And if you can't raise that much cash, you can always check out the 55-inch or 46-inch versions.
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