Samsung’s top-end ES8000 TV reviewed
Samsung's new ES8000 range introduce voice controls and motion gestures as well as a dual-core processor and a super thin bezel. Is it worth the R35 000 price tag? By Duncan McLeod.
Is it a TV or is it an Internet-connected computer? Actually, Samsung’s new high-end ES8000 range, the follow-up to last year’s highly impressive D8000, is both. And the result is a “smart TV” that, for a price, brings many smartphone-like features into a big-screen experience in the lounge.
The key selling points of the range are its voice and motion gesture controls, meaning you can perform basic actions by barking instructions at the TV — for example, “TV, power off, okay” — or waving your arms about like Michael Jackson in a music video.
The ES8000 unit we reviewed (the 55UE8000) has a 55-inch LED-backlit LCD screen — there are 46-inch and 60-inch variants, too. The range features ultra slim brushed metal bezels and attractive styling and is super easy to install.
First, let’s look at the unit’s hardware features. Apart from the enormous, 1080p screen that displays both 2D and 3D content (using active-shutter glasses, of which a generous four pairs are included in the box), arguably the centrepiece of the ES8000 is its HD camera, mounted in the middle of the top part of the bezel. The camera is used to manage motion gestures. It’s also used by apps like Skype, whose video-calling feature seems almost perfectly suited to a relaxed lounge environment where you want to video-chat with family and friends.
The motion controls themselves are a little erratic — perhaps the lighting in our test environment was not ideal — and are available only in some Samsung apps in the Smart Hub, the menu screen where you download and open apps such as YouTube, Twitter, Picasa and Facebook. Support from other app vendors should follow over time, especially if Samsung builds motion control into a greater range of its TVs, which we’re sure it will do, particularly as the technology improves.
Interestingly, the ES8000 ships with two remote controls. The first of these is an ordinary remote for changing the volume, flipping between channels and video sources and accessing the menus. The second is much more interesting in that it includes a track pad, which allows you to control and on-screen mouse pointer. It also includes a microphone — press the “voice” button on the remote and speak into it to control actions on the TV using preset commands. Altogether it’s a neat idea, though the track pad sometimes took a while to respond to touch. We preferred the full Qwerty keyboard remote that came with Samsung’s D8000 line.
The TV itself has a wide range of ports, including optical audio-out and three HDMI ports (we’d have preferred four). There are also two USB 2.0 ports, and when we popped in a flash stick, it played back a range of popular online video file formats without breaking a sweat, probably obviating the need to purchase a set-top box like a Mede8tor or similar if you watch a lot of downloaded shows (Creative Commons-licensed content, of course).
Other ports include DVI audio-in, a 3,5mm headphone jack and an Ethernet port, which we didn’t test since the TV is also equipped with a Wi-Fi antenna.
A little oddly, there is no VGA connector for hooking the TV up to laptops, but perhaps Samsung reckons this old technology is making way for DVI/HDMI. Also, the TV supports DLNA, so it can connect and play back multimedia content from PCs that also support this protocol.
As for that huge screen itself? The clarity is about as good as we’ve seen on any LED-backlit LCD. The purists will argue that plasma is still the better screen technology, offering better contrast and deeper blacks, but Samsung’s latest LED panels are super bright, offer excellent contrast and are, frankly, pretty darn pleasing to look at. The ES8000 is no exception.
Powered by a dual-core processor, the TV offers a range of apps through the Samsung Apps Store. Some also come preinstalled, including “Family Story”, which is a really interesting concept. Though it’s a bit of a pain to set it up, it provides a way for members of a family to share items of interest, photos and other content with one another. Clearly, Samsung hopes the app will replace bits of paper stuck on people’s refrigerator doors.
Another bundled app worth a mention is Fitness, which encourages you to get off your couch and do a bit of exercise in front of the TV — we were too busy fiddling with the set to try it out but if you like the Nintendo Wii, you may find it interesting. For kids, Samsung has included an entertainment hub for the little ones. We didn’t have any rug rats to hand in the office, so we can’t say whether they’d find it appealing.
The follow-up to last year’s hugely successful D8000 range, the ES8000 is Samsung’s new reference TV design. We like the voice controls, which work surprisingly well, though the motion gesture controls seem a little gimmicky and need more work.
The screen itself — the most important aspect of a TV, let’s not forget — is superb, offering near-plasma-like quality.
If you absolutely must have the latest and greatest in TV technology with all the bells and whistles to boot, then the 55UE8000, or, indeed, its larger 60-inch brother, should be on your shopping shortlist — assuming, of course, you have at least R40 000 burning a hole in your pocket. — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media