Every year since 2010, Samsung has been an easy go-to for top-end LED TVs. They have always been slim, easy on your power bill, look great, and have a wealth of ground-breaking features.
- Great picture
- Clean, speedy interface
- Unparalleled feature-set
- Minor backlight bloom
- Options can be overwhelming
Samsung’s latest Series 8 is the best LED TV we’ve tested -- the company continues to excel with its top TV, which is thin, quick, has a great picture, and is chock-full of features. It is quite expensive, though, and the plenitude of options can be overwhelming and superfluous.
Each year tends to bring a slight overall improvement — advances in picture quality, leaps in design, increases in the reliability of wireless connectivity. The 2013 edition of Samsung’s Series 8 LED is the fourth evolution, and makes some big progress in the areas we mentioned.
Samsung Series 8 (F8000): Design and setup
Samsung’s LED TVs have always looked good. This year, the Series 8 looks great — the four-legged chrome stand is gone, replaced with a low, sweeping arc that barely protrudes at the TV’s front.
The TV’s bezel is even thinner, with a thin chrome accent around the edge, and a small Samsung logo at the lower centre.
One thing to note, though — although the stand doesn’t stick out much at the front, it extends quite far back behind the rear of the TV, so you’ll need a fair amount of free space behind it.
The TV is mostly extremely thin, with a rear bulge on the lower half of the panel that houses various connections, speakers and processing hardware. There’s a bulge at the top, too, which houses the F8000’s built-in camera. The camera, which as a resolution of 5 megapixels, doesn’t pop up automatically — we happen to think this is a good thing, since there’s no is-someone-spying-on-me paranoia if you don’t have the camera raised and constantly watching you. The camera has a number of uses, which we’ll cover further along in our review.
In terms of connectivity, the Samsung Series 8 has the same setup as we’ve seen on most high-end TVs for the last couple of years. Hidden behind a cable management panel you’ll find four HDMI ports, three USB ports, digital and analog audio outputs, break-out ports for component and composite A/V input, wired Ethernet networking, and built-in 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi.
Above that is the TV’s Evolution Kit port; just like its 2012 TVs, the premium (Series 7 and 8) models in Samsung’s 2013 TV line-up can be upgraded in 2014 and beyond with new processors and software — keeping them up to date with most of the new features that Samsung’s TVs generally evolve over time. The Evolution Kit for 2012-era TVs is $299, so we’d expect the same for next year’s models as well. Samsung says it’ll include Evolution Kit support for a further five years for each generation of TVs it produces — so this 2013 Series 8 should continue to support Evo Kit upgrades until the end of 2018.
The F8000’s LED-edge-lit LCD panel, 55-inches in size on our test model (although 60-, 65- and 75-inch models are also available), is moderately glossy. It’s not as bad as most plasma TVs, or LG’s top LM9600 from 2012, but it is a long way from anti-reflective. Just like last year’s top TVs, it’ll reflect any bright light source directly in front of it, so we’d advise investing in some heavy, dark curtains if you’ve got the TV facing directly towards a window.
Samsung Series 8 (F8000): Smart Hub and features
We’ve reached a point where TVs are more about the software that they run than the hardware that they’re built around. Instead of thinking of a TV with some extra features like Web browsing or Skype, it’s easier to think of the Series 8 as an all-in-one PC running Samsung’s own-brand operating system.
Samsung’s Smart Hub on the Series 8 is split into four segments, divided by different panels that can be accessed by moving to the side of the screen with the cursor, or your hand if you’re using gesture control via the camera.
The Smart Hub, and the TV itself, opens by default on the On TV screen. This is basically an integrated TV guide, with a live TV window taking up the upper left of the grid, and a listing of what’s on your favourite digital TV (tracking your TV-watching habits to find out what you like watching most) channels now, next and later. There’s a full, traditional electronic programme guide as well, and a list of all your recorded TV which you’ll be able to access if you record from the Series 8 to a USB-connected external hard drive.
One screen over to the left is the Apps panel, which is a simple grid layout — any Android or iOS smartphone or tablet user will be instantly familiar — with access to Samsung’s app library, letting you install only the apps that you want your TV to have. You can also set favourites, which appear on the top line of the panel for quick access. Samsung’s range of apps is second to none — our favourites, as usual, are the video-on-demand services. ABC iView, SBS On Demand, and the other Australian catch-up TV services join Quickflix and Foxtel’s Internet TV app in giving you a lot to watch. If you’ve got a half-decent broadband connection, you’re never going to run out of things to watch.
There’s a Photos, Video and Music screen that draws from any connected drives you’ve got — it scans your home network to find any shared folders on your PC or laptop, checks any USB hard drives or flash drives, and looks for any shared smartphone or tablet files as well. This is where you’ll go to watch any movies or TV you’ve got on your external hard drive, but if you’ve got a home network set up it’s possible to keep everything on your PC or a network-attached storage drive and access it remotely.
We really like the Smart Hub on the Samsung Series 8. We think it looks great, is quick to respond and easy to operate, and has a huge amount of potential — and plenty of extra content just waiting to be watched.
Beyond the Smart Hub, there are two features that you’d choose the Samsung Series 8 for against any other TV of its size and price. S-Recommendation is Samsung’s engine for helping you find new content on your TV — whether it’s a TV program that you haven’t heard of, or a Foxtel show that’s just started (a feature that’s slated to be added in coming months). S-Recommendation in its current guise tracks the TV shows that you watch, building a profile of your favourite genres, actors, channels, and so on. When you’re stuck for something to watch on digital TV, S-Recommendation picks out the most appropriate program, currently airing or coming up, for you.
This feature ties in with Samsung’s revamped voice and gesture control. Using the pop-up camera on the top of the TV, and a built-in microphone in both the TV and Samsung’s touchpad remote control, you can talk to the TV using natural language — like “Hi TV, what’s on later tonight?” or “Hi TV, switch to Channel Nine news”, and so on — and it’ll interpret your commands. It’s a little finicky at first, but if you can learn the best way to structure your requests, it works reasonably well as a remote control substitute.
Similarly, gesture control is useful if you’ve got the camera popped up. You can use one or two hands, in the same way as you’d use one or two fingers on the touchscreen of a smartphone or tablet or touchscreen PC — one to navigate, and two for multi-touch commands like pinching-to-zoom or swivelling to rotate an image. The 5-megapixel camera of the F8000 works by recognizing the palms of your hands with fingers outstretched — move your hand around and it’s replicated as a cursor on-screen, and close your hand into a fist to ‘click’ and select whatever you want. It works as well as it can, and if you’re in good lighting it’s a novel way to control your TV without the remote control, but as usual we can’t help but think it’s only a secondary feature and that the good ol’ fashioned remote control is still the best way to go.
If we had a complaint, it would be that the learning curve for all the Smart features is quite high, and there’s a lot to get your head around. Try to learn the ins and out of the S-Recommendation system, voice and gesture control, the dauntingly large range of apps, the TV’s Smart Hub, and you’ve got a big job on your hands. The TV generally guides you through most of this, especially on your first run-through, but it takes a bit of practice to learn how to drive properly.
Samsung Series 8 (F8000): Performance and picture quality
The Series 8 is one of Samsung’s top screens for 2013. It’s a 200Hz LCD panel, with backlight blinking and scanning to further increase the effective refresh rate, and a result it looks incredibly smooth when displaying high-quality video sources. Conversely, you can put on a Blu-ray movie and it’ll display at the as-the-director-intended 24 frames per second, giving that film-like look that purists crave.
Contrast levels are excellent for an LED TV, courtesy of Samsung’s frame-by-frame-adjusting Micro Dimming Ultimate picture processing engine. The same processor takes care of sharpening, up-scaling and all other picture processing as well, and the overall result is excellent. If you’ve got a library of Blu-ray movies, or a high quality digital TV source like ONE HD, the Samsung F8000 does them justice. Even if you’re showing lower-resolution DVDs or compressed video like a YouTube HD, Quickflix or Foxtel on Internet TV stream, or a downloaded movie or TV show, the TV’s smart up-scaling and sharpening does a good job of extracting the best possible detail without making videos blocky or grainy.
We generally had the Series 8 set in its Movie mode, which gives the most realistic picture without making things seem dull or boring. Samsung has simplified its picture settings since last year’s models, so you can just swap between video modes as you like without having to adjust multiple options. The Movie mode is a safe go-to as long as you’re able to control the level of light in your viewing room, ideally keeping it to a minimum to raise the relative brightness of the TV’s screen.
Being an LED edge-lit TV, the Series 8 can’t avoid having a small amount of backlight bloom at some points around the display’s edges. This is a very minor issue that’s present in some ways on almost every LED edge-lit (and some back-lit) screens we’ve tested, and it’s not at all visible unless you’re in an entirely dark room, staring at the screen, looking for patches that are slightly brighter than average. It’s a minor complaint, but if you want an absolutely consistent screen with theoretically-better image quality, you’ll have to choose a plasma instead. Of course, Samsung would prefer that plasma be this Series 8’s close sibling, the Samsung Series 8+ (F8500).
One of the less-obvious things we noticed with the Samsung F8000 is the outright speed with which the TV operates and responds to inputs. Select an item from the Series 8’s App panel, and it’ll open within a second. If you’ve got a keyboard connected and you’re typing in the Web browser or YouTube app, hit a key and it comes up on the screen instantly. These might seem like small things, but overall the television’s performance is a huge step from the good-but-not-great we’ve become used to from TVs of previous years.
Samsung Series 8 (F8000): Conclusion
The Samsung Series 8 LED TV is an extremely impressive device. If you’re looking for a new TV, and you want the best of the best, the Series 8 currently occupies that top spot. The quality and variety of its Smart features are unparalleled, and it’s a great-looking TV — both turned on and turned off.
It is a complicated and comparatively expensive TV, but if you’re committed to actually using its Smart features, we think the Series 8 (F8000) is worth the asking price.