The Samsung UA55ES8000 is a TV of startlingly good looks, due largely to the very thin boundary — on all four sides — around its 139cm display panel. This edge is only 9mm wide, finished with a metal frame.
The TV offers full high-definition resolution and 3D. Since the 3D is active, this mode provides the full vertical resolution. Samsung has pushed down the price of the 3D glasses to under AU$30 per set; two pairs are included with the TV.
The TV is networkable, and has built-in Wi-Fi in addition to the Ethernet port. All of the connections are at the right rear, in contrast to the left rear on almost all other TVs.
A camera and microphones are built in to in a small, integrated housing on top of the screen. This can be used for Skype, but it also supports the new motion- and voice-control features. The regular infrared remote control is supplemented by a new touch pad-style remote. This uses RF, so it doesn't need to be pointed. It can be programmed to control a DVD/Blu-ray and a personal video recorder. A battery-operated IR blaster is included with the TV to carry the commands to those devices.
Samsung TVs come with the "Sharpness" control set at 50/100, which makes the picture look extremely harsh, especially with Blu-ray and other HD content. The best setting is 0. The default aspect ratio of 16:9 should be changed to "Screen Fit" when you're playing Blu-ray. The former scales up the picture by a few per cent, pushing its edges off the screen. Doing this to 1080i or 1080p content can lead to nasty interference patterns on some content.
We also preferred the picture with Samsung's motion-smoothing/judder-removal system switched off. This worked well enough at getting rid of judder, but left "heat haze" distortion around moving objects on the screen.
It's worth going through those steps, because then you're left with top-notch picture quality, with good blacks and great colour. Even in a fully dark room, the localisation of backlighting to the bright objects on a dark background was quite precise. There was a little breakthrough of the backlight at the corners, but it was hardly objectionable.
The 3D was very impressive somehow, despite the awful measurement on a static test pattern (this had perfect rejection for each eye of the black content belonging to the other eye, but scored a poor 50 per cent with white leaking into the wrong eye's view). This worked extremely well with Monsters vs. Aliens and with live-action 3D, but there were some sequences in Happy Feet Two that exposed the crosstalk. This was because penguins have bold black-and-white patterns, and the very deep 3D of this movie resulted in very different left- and right-eye views. Yet, even with this, there was still plenty of depth in the image.
Samsung's "Smart Hub" networking capabilities offer basically everything that's available out there for TVs. This includes Quickflix, a web browser, some Samsung-specific 3D content and a pile of Samsung apps. One of these, of which Samsung is proud, is a fitness one called, well, "Fitness". Foxtel over internet is a very recent addition, too.
Those we sampled worked well. BigPond TV uses adaptive streaming, starting off with a low bitrate and blocky text, but changing after a few seconds to higher quality. If the network clogs, rather than pausing if its buffer empties, it lowers quality to lower the bitrate. BigPond movies — another subscription service — is said to be coming very soon.
You can also talk to and wave at your TV. Which, of course, you could always do, but this TV actually responds. It has both voice and motion control. For example, we said — loudly and firmly — to the TV: "Hi TV, power on" and it switched itself on. We continued, "Hi TV". Nothing happened. "Hi TV" — nothing. "Hi TV" — and a menu bar appeared. We said "Source", then "TV", and it switched to TV mode. We said "Volume up", and the volume increased by one notch.
It is a bit finicky — taking three goes to say "Hi TV" just right to get it to respond. Some control aspects need work. It takes a good minute to get the volume from 0 up to a listenable 30, going one notch at a time. A command like "Volume up [number]" to hit a specific setting with a single command would make much more sense.
But you can use the microphone built in to the RF-connected Smart Touch remote for more reliable communication, especially when you want to enter search terms into the web browser.
The motion system uses an on-screen arrow, which responds to movements of a hand held up next to your head. Clasping your hand selects whatever it points to. This works well, if you have light in the room, and is especially useful in the "Smart Hub" page, because there are lots of things to select from. It did tend to score a few false positives, though, with the TV thinking that we were waving our hands when we were doing nothing of the sort.
The Samsung US55ES8000 LCD TV is beautiful in design, and delivers an excellent picture — once you make the adjustments. The voice- and motion-control features — which we feared would simply be gimmicks — actually worked, and will likely work even better as Samsung tweaks the firmware in light of customer feedback.