The F8000 is the flagship of Samsung's 2013 smart TV line-up, coming with all the Smart Hub bells and whistles that Samsung can pack in, plus more.
Samsung has enhanced its software offering on its 2013 smart TV range, with natural-language voice commands, gesture control and much more. As the flagship range, the Series 8 gets "the works" when it comes to these enhancements, even down to the built-in camera on top of the TV.
The F8000 comes in a few different sizes: 75-, 65-, 60- and 55-inch models are all available. We tested the 55-inch model (the UA55F8000AM) — one of the friendlier sizes for the average living room. As the flagship for Samsung, all sizes come with both motion control (thanks to a built-in camera) and voice control via the new-look smart remote.
Features and design
Set-up was quite simple, as well. Out of the box, the 55-inch version weighs just under 17kg. Attaching the stand (accomplished by attaching eight screws) adds another 1.5kg, so set-up was easily accomplished by one person, although we'd recommend getting a friend if you're trying to assemble one of the larger units.
The packaging is a masterpiece of design — everything apart from the panel and the stand can be found in just two accessory boxes, and there are only two pieces of styrofoam to keep everything in place. Packing up the TV for return was a truly simple task, and was a pleasant change from the usual TV boxes, where you have bits and pieces of weird-shaped foam left over at the end.
One thing worth mentioning is the base. Because of the broad build of the curved base, you'll need a longer-than-usual TV stand: roughly 1.2m across and at least 31cm deep. For our test, this involved some improvisation on the set-up — a big piece of plywood clamped across our too-small entertainment centre. The design of the base does make for a stylish appearance, though; the panel seems to float about the base.
The camera flicks out of the top, a little like a periscope, and you can leave it down if you're not into the motion control or don't want your TV watching you.
The F8000 comes with both the standard TV-style remote and the new, redesigned smart remote. You'll need to sync the smart remote by removing the back and pressing a button. This proved easier said than done; the rear of the remote was so tricky to get off that for a while, we assumed we doing it wrong and were about to break it.
There are four HDMI ports at the back, including designated ports for MHL and ARC devices. You'll also find three USB ports (including one 5V one for powering USB hard drives) and optical, component and composite plugs. These latter two use special adapter cables that you'll find in the accessories box.
The F8000 also has the port for the Evolution Kit hardware upgrade when that becomes available for the 2013 range next year.
Samsung's Evolution Kit promises regular processor upgrades.
The new-look smart TV hub for Samsung works around a number of "home screens". The default is On TV, where you'll find the EPG, plus a list of any TV episodes you've recorded to a hard drive via the PVR function, as well a simple overview of shows that are on right now.
On Apps, you'll see both the recommended apps and the ones you've actually downloaded. iView, SBS on Demand, Plus 7, Quickflix and more are all available by default.
Social is where you can install apps, such as Facebook and Twitter. We've always seen these sorts of things as having limited appeal, but Samsung at least includes Skype, which — when coupled with the camera and voice control — may appeal to some.
Finally, there are Photos, Videos and Music, where you can access any of the files stored around your home network.
The catch-up TV apps load quickly, and have a easy navigation across the range — they don't feel bolted on or alien to the regular navigation style of the TV.
The TV easily connected to devices around our network, and played from nearly every source we had, although we had to fiddle with the WDTV Live device a little for the files on it to be recognized as playable. Everything else — NAS, PC, laptop — all connected automatically.
Voice and motion control form a big part of the smart offering from Samsung. The voice control actually works better than anticipated — just touch the Voice button on the remote, and start speaking. Simply saying a phrase, such as "put on The Voice" (no accounting for taste), has the TV search its EPG, and automatically switch to the right channel. Trying it with a show that wasn't airing at the time gave us results from ABC's iView catch-up service, which was both unexpected and impressive.
You can even be quite vague. Asking "what's on at 7 o'clock" will find you everything showing during that time slot — from there, you can even schedule a show to watch (or even record) later.
We did experience a few moments where the voice control seemed to kick in unexpectedly — without touching the remote, the voice indicator would jump up on the screen and ask us to repeat ourselves, even though we hadn't been attempting a voice command. It wasn't clear why this was happening, but it only happened three or four times over the course of the review period.
The motion control was slightly less exciting, but still worked quite well and in much the same way as a Kinect. It did occasionally get a little "jumpy"; we found that drinking from a bottle in front of it got interpreted as a "thumbs up", letting the F8000 know that we were making that show a favourite.
There's a lot to discover with the Smart Hub, and Samsung has promised more on the way, with features such as Foxtel being integrated into the EPG from August this year. The more you use the service, the more it will learn your tastes and your language style — it's a genuinely evolving experience.
As it gets to know your habits, the S Recommendation service becomes a lot more valuable and efficient in terms of predicting your tastes.
This deserves a small section all on its own. It's small and simply designed, but has a high-quality construction, with the metal elements giving it a decent weight. The raised cut-out buttons are satisfying to press, and we definitely liked the way the touch panel has a solid feedback click when you use it make a selection.
The easy access to the voice button, and the fact that you can go directly to the Smart Hub or just to the EPG really reinforces that this is a clever and useful design for a remote control. We appreciated the fact that the lower part of the touch panel can be clicked to bring up the smart recommendations instantly.
While Samsung does include a bog-standard remote with the F8000, we think you'd be quite mad not to make the most of the smart remote.
Samsung's smart remote.
(Credit: Nic Healey/CNET Australia)
Picture and sound
Of course, all of these fancy features aren't going to mean too much if the panel isn't worth watching. Luckily, the F8000 is top quality in that regard. We found the picture to be clean and sharp, even when watching free-to-air TV.
Picture mode can be altered easily via four simple presets available from a few button clicks, with a full set of tweaks available further down the menu structure.
Watching a Blu-ray was when the TV really impressed, with the Movie mode producing great blacks and vibrant colours. Clash of the Titans (still our go-to Blu-ray for reviews) looked excellent, especially in busy fight scenes.
Downloaded and streamed files also looked smooth. Even standard-definition shows had less blockiness than we might have expected from a 55-inch screen.
In 3D, the TV performed well — no noticeable cross-talk or issues with frame interpolation. The glasses are also some of the lightest we've encountered for active glasses. They sat easily over prescription glasses — still not ideal, but certainly not as uncomfortable as other's we've used.
Motion smoothing can also be altered easily (or turned off) for people who have issues with the so-called soap opera effect or like to tweak it for when they watch sport.
Sound wise, the F8000 still suffers from the same issues that all modern flat-panel TVs have: it's just too thin for truly powerful speakers to be fitted into the frame. The F8000 does take a step up from its 2012 predecessor, however, somehow squeezing in two speakers and two sub-woofers.
Sound is certainly fine for TV. There were no issues with dialogue, and you can certainly crank it up for some quite loud (if unremarkable) sound, with little distortion.
If you want to be using the TV for Blu-ray or downloaded HD movies, however, do yourself a favour and invest in a quality speaker set-up to go with it.
The biggest sticking point for many consumers around the F8000 is likely to be the price. At the time of writing, the 55-inch model was going for AU$4179 on the Harvey Norman site.
In the current age, where you can pick up a 42-inch TV for under AU$1000 without shopping around too hard, that's a lot of money, and it only goes up from there, as you pack on the inches to your panel size.
The question is not whether it costs a lot (it does), but whether that cost represents value for money. We'd have to say that again, it does — very much so. The combination of quality panel technology and cutting-edge smart features is rather irresistible.
While you may not use or appreciate all of the features that Samsung has packed in, you will find plenty that will leave you wondering how you lived without them for so long.
This is a very smart TV, and thanks to the promise of regular software and app updates, along with the hardware upgrades that the Evolution Kit brings, it's also a TV that, if not future proof, has a good deal of future resistance.
Samsung's F8000 is a winning combination of great design and great features, and should definitely be on your shortlist if the price is within your range.