Update: Since our review, Samsung has informed us that the QWERTY remote is not a part of the retail package and is only shipped with the Series 8 models. It is available separately for AU$99. We apologise for any inconvenience
If you stop for a moment to think of stylish televisions, how many brands come to mind? Maybe Loewe, Bang and Olufsen, perhaps even Sony. But odds are that you just thought of Samsung. This Korean company has had an enviable reputation for cutting-edge design, in addition to cutting-edge LCD performance.
Following up last year's stunning — and stunningly expensive — 9 series TV, Samsung has brought us the D7000, one of the most distinctive televisions released by any manufacturer.
The first thing that strikes you about the UA55D7000 while it's running is that there doesn't seem to be much there. The technology is almost at the point where there's not much left to design, apart from the stand — which in this case looks like the legs of a benevolent chrome monster. Nevertheless, the designers have persevered and encased the shallow 0.2-inch bezel in a crystal shell. The cumulative effect is that the television seemingly melts into your living space. It's quite stunning to behold.
Of course, this minimalism does have its price. Namely, with controls and something as simple as a power light. Samsung has put the controls behind the TV on the bottom right-hand corner. While it seems weird at first, touching them brings up an onscreen display, and soon manipulating the television becomes quite natural. The power light is an issue, though, and when the TV is on there are no indicator lights. The screen itself is quite black when set to an empty input, and as a result it can be quite difficult to tell whether it's on or off.
The Samsung QWERTY remote makes text entry easier, for some things (Credit: Samsung)
The Samsung we received came with two remote controls: a fairly standard model and a two-sided QWERTY remote. The QWERTY is a little different from the pre-production one in that the new one has a simple LCD screen instead of an LED one. Either way, the upshot is that it's designed to simplify text input on your new smart TV. The "regular" side is backlit, while the keyboard isn't. The directional pad on the QWERTY side is a little awkward, though, and we found that it's very easy to accidentally hit the Exit button.
Over half of Samsung's 2011 televisions are Smart TVs, and the D7000 sits near the top of these, offering an embarrassment of features as a result. The big additions to last year's models, which already included video-on-demand and social media, are apps, integrated search and a Web browser that is helped enormously by the QWERTY remote. All of the many functions are bundled into a new homescreen called "Smart Hub", and most of the TV's functions can be accessed from there.
As part of Smart TV,IPTV is a focus of the Samsung, with a handful of Bigpond TV channels and Bigpond Movies on-demand. At the moment, no free-to-air channels offer catch-up services via Samsung, though ABC is reportedly in negotiations to offer up iView soon. Telstra also includes its AFL and NRL Game Analysers enabling sports fans to watch full games played in the past year or so; tennis is on the way.
Like a number of recent televisions, the D7000 offers a cut-down USB Personal Video Recorder with a built-in Electronic Program Guide (EPG).
In terms of picture, the TV offers a 1080p panel with 24p support and a renamed "100Hz mode" called Clear Motion Rate 600. Like most high-flyers, the TV also supports 3D and ships with a single set of lightweight shutter glasses (AU$149 separately).
Following the lead of LG, and the excellent automated setup routines featured on its TVs, Samsung has provided two "expert patterns" — but with no explanation of how to use them. One of them looks like it should use filters, but these won't work on an LCD.
Connections are a highlight of this television, with an almost-unheard of three USB ports in addition to four 3D-ready HDMI slots. Also, you'll receive a combined component/composite adaptor, but you'll need to push it in very firmly to get it to work. Finally, internet connectivity is provided courtesy of an Ethernet port and onboard Wi-Fi.
The NRL Game Analyser allows sports fans to get stuck into past games of their choosing (Credit: Samsung)
We've established that the Samsung has the looks and the features, but does it have the performance to match? We scooped up armfuls of disks and a remote or two in order to find out!
Setting up the TV to begin our tests was made that little bit more pleasurable thanks to the friendly new Settings menu. It consists of fluffy blue "clouds", and options are sensibly arranged.
Performance-wise, the Samsung was a little spotty, for while it performed amazingly in some, in others it was left lacking. But we'll begin with the overwhelmingly rosy news: this television is a stunner with HD content.
Looking back at the notes we took while watching Mission Impossible III on Blu-ray, we can say that there were some astonished expletives in there as we tried to grasp how good the images really were. One thing this disc ably demonstrated was how well the TV could clean up digital noise while still retaining picture detail. In Chapter 8 of Mission Impossible III, the rocket drone flies off into the distance after attacking Ethan's car. On most TVs, the sky is represented with varying degrees of digital noise or "grain". However, when viewed on the Samsung, we were dumb-founded as the sky looked like a sky and not a Pro Hart canvas for the first time. Taking this in, though, we were wary, as this may or may not appeal to cinephiles as a) it's not a true representation of what's on the disc (and not having a copy of the original film print, it's difficult to tell if the noise is film grain or unique to Blu-ray digital artefacts) and b) you can't turn the noise reduction off. Some may argue that the results are heavy-handed, but ... we loved it.
Earlier in the scene, the TV's 24p mode took a bit to get going, as motion was a bit jerky at first before becoming smooth — and the same with moire effects appearing briefly and then eradicated by the picture engine.
The synthetic Blu-ray tests, courtesy of the HQV 2.0 test disc, confirmed what we'd seen with the film material; the TV's processing capabilities are excellent — even if inconsistent in areas, such as subtitles appearing jagged instead of smooth — and noise reduction performance is the best in its class.
Black levels were very good, but we have seen better from the likes of Sony, and we found that we had to pull back on the backlight control for better performance in the dark. The backlight was set at 15/20 by default, resulting in quite a bit of light leakage with the lights off. Bringing this down into single digits gave us better results.
With most of the attention on high-definition, many manufacturers seem to forget that the majority of content that we watch is still in standard-definition. The Samsung D7000 also seemed to succumb to this problem, especially when fed a signal via the component adaptor.
When given the HQV benchmarks on DVD, the Samsung passed the video test that evaluates video-based content (think Neighbours) but it failed when given film-based content (think My Neighbor Totoro). Noise-handling as before was excellent, but other tests, such as the compression and up-scaling tests, failed quite spectacularly. These synthetic tests suggest that the Samsung isn't the best at bringing low-res content up to the panel's resolution, and it prefers to handle native 1080p material instead.
With "real world" content, we found that the TV was able to present King Kong with brilliant colours and a detailed, dynamic picture. As before, the Samsung cleaned up any trace of noise, but we found that with special effects-heavy content, it over-sharpened the edges, making some of the scenes look a little fake.
While colour was handled quite well, we did notice one quirk with all-blue screens such as those you might see on video warnings or in ads. Blue screens suffered from strange stepping effects, with blues beginning darker in the middle and then fanning out lighter at the sides.
After making a lot of noise last year, 3D has taken a backseat to smart TV in 2011. But that doesn't mean that the company hasn't made improvements in this area. Monsters vs. Aliens still had a small trace of crosstalk, but the picture was much improved on the previous models. The glasses are also much more comfortable this time around, and they're rechargeable.
Lastly, unless you're buying the new VideoWave TV from Bose, sound quality is the last thing you think about when purchasing a TV. But you should nevertheless be happy to hear that not only does the D7000 look good, but it sounds good, too. Action scenes and intimate dialogue alike were well catered for, with the sound system dealing an even hand from bass through to treble.Smart Hub
The Smart Hub offers a whole host of different options (Credit: Samsung)
As we mentioned previously, the TV contains so many features within its Smart Hub that it can almost be a review in itself. However, here we'll pick out some of the more notable ones.
The Web browser is an obvious place to start, and while it offers some of the flexibility of an iPhone — by offering multiple browser windows — the application lacks the finesse. The experience is more akin to the browser on an old-school candybar such as the Nokia 6300, only bigger. Much bigger. In fact, it's like trying to pilot an aircraft tanker. However, the ability to keep watching TV in a PIP window does work well.
This leads us to the Search All function, which could also use some improvement. It brought up some Bing search results, but we found it impossible to navigate the Bing window with the remote. In addition, some of the apps in the Samsung Apps store don't use the functionality of the QWERTY keyboard, which means that it's all alpha-numeric-style texting from the other side of the remote.
While manufacturers have dabbled with USB recording, up until now functionality has been quite limited. Thankfully, Samsung has added an attractive EPG to this year's model, and enabled you to schedule your recordings. Recording quality wasn't quite up to the level of standalone units — we'd say deliberately so — but the feature's convenience outweighs a little bit of digital noise.
If you're a nut about your picture quality, then the news isn't all good when it comes to some of the video features of Smart Hub. We found that the TV changed video modes quite often as you switched from one function to another, and some apps don't let you change video options at all. While AFL Analyser is a really good feature for fans of the sport, it's not possible to change video settings while in this mode, with the picture stuck in "Vivid" mode and noticeable haloing artefacts from the Clear Motion Rate 600 mode.
Some of the functions might be creaky, but it's very hard not to fall in love with this TV. We'll admit it; we kinda did.
While you can argue that Samsung had an "off" year in 2010, with the UA55D7000 the company has proved that it's serious about producing a quality television. It may not have the best standard-definition processing — that's Sony's bag — but the TV is able to clean up even the noisiest material to a very watchable level.
Until we test the Samsung D8000 TV for ourselves, we find it quite hard to imagine how the flagship could better this.