Black Level & Contrast Performance
Historically, Samsung has led the way in terms of contrast performance in the LCD world, thanks to their use of the SPVA (Super Patterned Vertical Alignment) panels. While it doesn’t appear to be too difficult to make an LCD-based TV with plenty of brightness (just increase the light output of the LEDs which illuminate it), making one which can go bright AND at the same time hold on to a convincing shade of black is no small feat. This is where VA excels compared to other LCD technologies such as IPS, although the trade-off comes in the form of off-axis viewing angle performance (more on that later) and motion quality.
The UE55F8000 does a wonderful job in the contrast department. As usual, we aligned the light output of the screen so that a white window pattern measured as closely to 120 cd/m2 as possible (in your own environment, we recommend setting the television up so it gives you a satisfyingly bright image, but we align this property on each HDTV we review so that we can assess the contrast performance on a level playing field).
Under this configuration, the black centre patch of an ANSI checkerboard test pattern measured 0.049 cd/m2. Interestingly, there is still some form of contrast or backlight processing going on, because the white window we had previously aligned to 115 cd/m2 (the closest [Backlight] setting to the 120 cd/m2 target – we could have gone brighter, but chose not to) now came in at 105 cd/m2 when placed on screen beside black patches. A totally black screen causes the F8000 to shut the LEDs out, but we can defeat the auto dimming by keeping a small amount of lit pixels on screen. In that scenario, blacks also came in at 0.05 cd/m2.
In a nutshell, the contrast performance of the Samsung UE55F8000 is very good by LED LCD standards, and is a good bit darker than the same-sized Sony KDL-55HX853 we reviewed last year (its blacks came in at 0.07 cd/m2). Samsung’s own traditional CCFL LCD (that is, non-LED LCD) televisions of years past managed to go a little deeper, typically coming in at about 0.03 cd/m2. And, it’s some way off the best Plasma TVs, which are still more suited for movie watching in dark rooms.
That means that while the Samsung UE55F8000 produces a satisfying shade of black when viewed under darker conditions, it’s at its best in a brighter room, which is a recommendation we make for most LED TV sets. In very bright environments, even the best plasmas need to work hard to produce enough light output to compete with their surroundings, and the anti-reflective screen coatings applied to the front glass can often block some of the panel’s own self-generated light from ever getting out. In comparison, cranking up an LCD TV’s LED luminance is trivial. Thanks to its contrast performance, the 55-inch F8000 is a good all-rounder for most viewing environments.
There is one last thing to add when it comes to blacks on the F8000. If you look back to the before calibration and after calibration greyscale tracking charts, you’ll notice that at the 0 position (leftmost side of the chart), there is only a small excess of blue being registered. Unlike many other measuring devices, the Klein K-10 can measure both luminance and colour at this dark level with high accuracy (and just in case, we used many read samples and had Calman 5 average the results), so the measurement here is legitimate. If you look at similar charts in our other LED LCD reviews, you’ll typically see an off-the-scale blue tint which can also sometimes even creep into the 10% area, too. Purpley-tinted blacks and shadow areas are a real problem on many edge LED TVs.
However, the blacks on the UE55F8000 are much less tinted. They’re not totally colourless, but they are much more neutral-looking than those on most of the competition. Although it’s not 100% of the way there yet, it does help in creating a believable shade of black.
“Cinema Black”, “Micro Dimming Ultimate”, “Precision Black”… what does it all mean?
There’s a decent amount of head-scratching going on when it comes to the dimming capabilities of Samsung LED LCD televisions. In Europe, the Korean manufacturer promotes its F8000 series as featuring “Micro Dimming Ultimate”, which it claims “controls colour, contrast and detail levels within sub sections of each image”.
The use of the phrase “dimming” in the context of an LED LCD conjures up images of local dimming LED backlight arrays. The UE55F8000 is an edge-lit LED LCD, meaning that providing actual dimming of localised areas of the picture is not possible – at least not with any huge deal of precision. “Micro Dimming Ultimate” is purely a video processing feature, and given how we’ve seen it promoted at trade shows, we don’t think it’s unfair to say that it’s a little cunningly named. Actual physical local dimming would mean an end to the ultra-slim chassis design, which has done very well for Samsung.
The UE-55F8000′s LED edge-lights appear to be mounted to the left and right of the panel. These two strips of LEDs, together with a light guide plate, illuminate the entire panel. Since the LEDs are mounted vertically, an approximate local dimming effect can still be provided over rows (groups of lines) on the panel. This doesn’t sound useful at first, but Samsung provides a feature called [Cinema Black] which means that the LEDs responsible for illuminating the areas of the LCD which show letterbox bars at the top and bottom of 2.35:1 scope ratio movies (that’s almost everything coming out of Hollywood) can be dimmed.
Given that adjusting this control requires a trip into the menu, which fills most of the screen, it can be difficult to appreciate the difference between the settings. Therefore, we set up a locked-off camera and shot some pictures of the letterbox areas on all four settings (Off, Low, Medium and High). In the scene we chose, Off and Low gave the same result, as did Medium and High. This did have the intended effect of dimming the letterbox bars, but during motion, it also caused the light output from the entire screen (not just the letterbox bars) to increase and decrease, occasionally “popping” after a scene change. We tested the feature with tests specifically designed to reveal such video processing, and found that the Medium and High settings have some dynamic gamma behaviour included. In our view, that’s a more noticeable characteristic than the letterbox bars not appearing jet-black. As a result, we stayed with “Low”.
Update on 21 June 2013: The newest firmware update version 1102 released by Samsung appeared to have improved the [Cinema Black] function. Specifically, the “Medium” setting no longer exhibited any global brightness fluctuations, and so can be used to darken (albeit only slightly) the top and bottom letterbox bars in cinemascope films.
One last thing: the American version of the 2013 Samsung Series 8 LED LCD television is advertised as having another feature, on top of “Micro Dimming Ultimate”, called “Precision Black Local Dimming”. We should point out now that this is our own research, and that Samsung UK has never mentioned such a feature. However, we live in the age of the world wide web (obviously if you’re reading this), and this has led to European buyers wondering if they’re being short-changed given that no mention of it is made in Europe. To clear up some of the confusion: neither the American model nor the European versions feature a fully local dimmable backlight array. European buyers are not being short-changed in this way: they are all edge LED TV displays. Samsung’s US site claims that the mysterious feature “produces a much greater increase in contrast and black levels by dimming LEDs behind dark areas of the picture thus making blacks darker without affecting brighter elements of the picture”.
Our first instinct upon reading this is, “How?”. It seems impossible to provide any hugely useful degree of localised backlight control without actually having a matrix of LED clusters behind the LCD module. Attempting it without this hardware would likely result in other side-effects, so even if there was such a feature, we would likely end up disabling it anyway. So, as far as we can ascertain from behind our desks, European F8000 buyers should feel no remorse. This is certainly something we’ll pay attention to on the equivalent USA version when we’re invited to speak at the May 2013 Value Electronics Shootout in New York.
As with previous Samsung LED LCDs, the Samsung UE55F8000 can show all 1080 lines in a scrolling resolution test chart, provided that the [Motion Plus] system is engaged. With this feature off, you’ll see the usual LCD motion performance, which delivers just 300 lines worth of clear details. That’s enough for 24fps movies to appear without much in the way of discernable blur, but fast, high motion content like televised sports will still appear with some.
Thankfully, Samsung’s [Motion Plus] system has individually controllable deblur and dejudder parameters. That means that we can benefit from the increased motion resolution, but still watch movies with their original, characteristic, filmic motion, without the TV generating new interpolated inbetween frames and converting them to high-motion (the so-called “soap opera effect”).
We used our own custom-built Motion Interpolation Detection test sequence to confirm that, sure enough, the UE55F8000 doesn’t partake in any motion interpolation unless you tell it to (in 2D mode). However, that doesn’t mean that the process is immune to artefacts – complex patterns could occasionally still result in some minor “shredding” around moving object edges. We’d take this very rare and hard-to-spot occurrence over the stock LCD blur any day.
There is a minor motion “hiccup” after film-derived content begins playing when [Motion Plus] is configured in this way. We scrutinised 24p content from Blu-ray at length to double check, and did occasionally see this happening after a scene cut. It’s very subtle though, and if it does pose a visible problem for eagle-eyed viewers, you can simply turn the system off (which is really no big deal for 24fps movies given that their low frame rate doesn’t pose any real motion challenge for the panel).
The downside of LCD motion enhancement systems is that they’re not a good idea for video game use. The calculations that allow the higher motion resolution also cause a large amount of input lag (as with any LCD-based TV), and for gaming, responsiveness is key. More on this later.
After engaging the 3D mode and donning a pair of Samsung’s lightweight active-shutter glasses, we jumped into the “Movie” mode and did basic setup (which involved making sure any Sharpening, overscan and dynamic contrast features were off).
Our first observation was that 3-dimensional images were bright, involving, and largely free of crosstalk. In short, they looked very good indeed. The only problem is that, regardless of how we had the [Motion Plus] control set, the Samsung F8000 was performing motion interpolation (that’s the “soap opera effect”). If you want to defeat it, you can step into the “Game Mode”, which needs a lot of picture adjustments to look good, but can be calibrated for accuracy (yes, we’ll share our settings, because they’ll be an improvement on the defaults). However, in “Game Mode” the UE55F8000 can’t reproduce 24p content in 3D without a bit of stutter, which, combined with the extra-dimensional depth, might be a little hard on the eyes for some. In other words, we can see why Samsung attempted to conceal this limitation some gentle motion interpolation. The choice is up to you, in either case, but in the future we’d love to see genuine 3D 24p playback on a Samsung LED LCD, because the three-dimensional image quality otherwise is stunning.
Update: The forced motion interpolation in 3D mode may have been fixed in the latest software update 1102: it was absent on the UE46F8000 we reviewed, although it can be due to different screen sizes rather than firmware.
It’s also worth mentioning that Samsung’s implementation of active-shutter glasses (ASG) 3D is remarkably free of flickering. We’re not sure how that’s achieved, but given that the 55F8000 delivers a full HD 3D image without the flicker normally associated with the ASG system, we’re inclined to say that this 3DTV will please users who have chosen passive 3D in the past.
Our Klein K-10 calibration meter, with the 3D eyewear in front of the light path, revealed that the “Warm1″ colour temperature preset was the closest to yielding an accurate industry standard colour of grey (on our specific unit and glasses, that is). With that as our starting point, plus full calibration, watching extra-dimensional video became like looking at 2D + depth. After so many murky cinema 3D presentations, seeing 3-D like this is a revelation.
The Samsung UE55F8000 still doesn’t feature native support for 50hz motion playback in 3D, meaning that with the [Motion Plus] system disabled, 50hz content with fast motion will appear with some motion stutter. Enabling the [Motion Plus] system will turn on inter-frame interpolation, which essentially means that the TV will be performing an internal standards conversion to its favoured update rate (which is surely 60hz or a multiple thereof). Tellingly, US and (South!) Korea-style 60hz 3D video is reproduced perfectly.
One other thing to note is that the 55F8000′s tri-dimensional images are truly silky. The extra right-eye data is shown on the panel at full precision, without any screen drawing shortcuts. We’ve seen some other LCD-based 3D TVs which have some strange artefacts in 3D mode, such as faint vertical lines running through the image, but the F8000 has nothing of the sort. And it has none of the lessened gradation, dither noise, or half-resolution sub-frames that some 3D plasmas exhibit. The picture quality in the third dimension is almost a match for 2D, which is some feat.
Samsung’s SD processing has been top notch for some time now, with some minimal hiccups previously along the way relating to film mode detection. The UE55F8000 excels in every area, correctly identifying film-to-PAL (European standard def TV) content and adjusting its deinterlacing accordingly so it doesn’t draw jaggies where there should be none.
It also features a scaling algorithm which is the most sympathetic to standard-def content we’ve ever seen. It favours smooth spatially interpolated pixels instead of ringy, aliased, “sharp” edges. That strategy makes a lot of sense, because nearly all SD content has been lowpass filtered (basically, blurred) anyway to reduce the transmission requirements, meaning that there’s very little high frequency detail to preserve. By avoiding emphasising high frequencies in this way, Samsung’s scaling engine avoids exaggerating mosquito noise and block edges in compressed video. It does, however, mean that the incredibly rare well-mastered, fully detailed SD DVDs and other standard-definition sources might look a little smoother compared to how they look when played through some other devices.
That didn’t bother us in the slightest; in these cases, we just used our Blu-ray player’s own internal upscaling, and left Samsung’s more sympathetic in-TV processing to work its magic on ropey digital television broadcasts. Once again: the best of both worlds.
Movies from high quality Blu-ray Discs looked brilliant on the Samsung UE55F8000 after a basic setup in the Movie mode, and especially after a full calibration (which is made possible thanks to the HDTV’s extensive picture setup controls and the linear greyscale tracking which the panel appears to achieve naturally prior to any software correction).
Samsung has done away with the constantly-running “Digital Noise Filter” (thank you!!!) found on some of the company’s previous HDTVs, which put a dent in our enjoyment of film content due to lessened detail. Unless you want to enable the [Digital Clean View] feature (which is a high quality temporal noise reduction mode, which as always, can be a good idea for old, noisy, nth-generation dubbed analogue footage), the full texture, detail and clarity of HD sources is plainly visible on the UE55F8000. For example, with one of our favourite mastered-from-film Blu-ray Discs, the second (rescanned) release of Gladiator, the entire movie now appears alive and textured, rather than looking overly smoothed and “soggy” with “sticky” motion or smeared details.
Set the Sharpness control neutrally (for high-def content, the lowest setting, “0″, results in perfect pixel transitions without any edge enhancement, but if you’re sitting far back you could get away with a little more if you really want), the film’s undisturbed natural grain texture gives the F8000′s images a sharp, film-like, detailed, textured appearance which is only attainable by leaving the image alone and letting the UE-55F8000′s excellent LCD panel work its magic. What’s on the disc is near-perfect and doesn’t need “fixed” (most of the shots are scanned from the original camera negatives on CCD-based film scanners, so are as pure as can possibly be), so congratulations to Samsung for giving users this level of control.
Moving away from temporal resolution and onto colour science and perception, the orangey sun-drenched skin-tones and blueish-silver backgrounds and armour during the Colosseum scenes work as a really satisfying collection of complimentary colours. In the Movie mode, the Samsung F8000 leaves this creative decision alone, thanks to its accurate greyscale and colour performance. Samsung TVs have excelled in this area for some time, but the full detail reproduction makes us appreciate it all the more – it’s a full package now. The UE55F8000 doesn’t distort the colour, as we discovered during greyscale and gamut calibration – only a very small lack of accuracy in the extremes of the blue colour gamut is present.
Although we still crave the supremely deep blacks and absolute lucidity of plasma televisions, Samsung’s 55F8000, with its SPVA LCD panel and effortlessly high brightness (should your viewing environment demand it) provide a glossy, glassy feel which is nice in its own way. The fact we’re even making that comparison should serve as a reminder that the UE55F8000 is in the top tier of the LED LCD world. Fill the screen with video, sit on-axis, and soak it all in, because set up right, the images it puts out are really special.
One of the biggest reasons for our good feeling about this HDTV is the uniformity. A lot of edge-lit LED LCD TVs have been marred by uneven light distribution across the panel surface, which leads to a very unappealing “dirty screen” effect. This problem was nowhere to be found when viewing actual content on the F8000, and hardly appeared when looked for in flat greyscale test screens. Even the usually difficult 20-30% grey tests didn’t give us any great cause for concern: only a very small amount of unevenness could be seen lingering around, but this probably is just an inevitability of managing polarised light over such a large screen surface.
By the way, there is an even subtler change in the LCD Panel design. Some of last year’s SPVA panels from Samsung featured a subtle “scanline”-ish effect which was visible on saturated patches of colour if you were sitting close to the screen (orange tones really seemed to make it visible). It was never an issue for us, but it’s not here on the UE55F8000. It’s not really relevant for most users in itself, but we mention it because any sign of changes in the LCD world is interesting (improvements to picture quality are happening at a slower pace than with plasma tech, with the focus for LED TV apparently being on design and internet features). It does also mean that the picture might seem perceptibly clearer for users hooking up PCs and looking at fine pixel details on the screen.
Samsung has redesigned its Smart TV user interface for 2013, and we thoroughly welcome this
move. The new UI reminds us of a sort of blend of Windows 8′s “Metro” interface and Samsung’s own (superior) design sensibilities. Navigating the five key sections (which are Social, Apps, On TV, Movies & TV Shows, and Photos, Videos & Music) is achieved by swiping left and right on the Smart Remote’s touch pad, or by pressing the left and right arrow buttons on the traditional remote.
In the past, we’ve experienced sluggish operation with Smart TV platforms. The Quad-Core processing does away with that: zipping between the pages is incredibly fast. This is essential, from our experience, and means that the Samsung UE55F8000′s new internet-connected portal will see more use than older and slower competition.
As well as features you’d expect, like an apps launcher, embedded YouTube content, a photo viewer, and access to online movies, the 2013 Smart Hub sports a really slick page called “On TV”. During setup, the F8000 asks you for a postcode and uses this to determine TV service providers in your area. If you subscribe to a cable or satellite television provider, the 55F8000 will actually communicate with your set-top box, using a plug-in Infrared Blaster (supplied). That means that the TV itself can change channels on the cable/satellite set-top box, and show you one centralised “what’s on” screen – which, pardon us for saying it, truly is smart. In particular, it will be a great help to users who simply want to see what programming they have access to, and even for more tech-inclined users who are used to the realities of a multi-provider TV world, is much more convenient than manually switching inputs and traversing multiple providers’ programme guides.
In case you’re wondering, this supplementary information is downloaded via the internet, rather than being “snuck in” to the TV piggybacking in the unused area of the television signal. Given our experience with that alternative method of downloading metadata to TVs, we commend Samsung on that choice.
What if you don’t subscribe to any other services, and just use free terrestrial (Freeview) or free satellite (Freesat) feeds, directly into the UE55F8000′s own tuners? The feature still works, although of course in this case, its reason for being (effortlessly controlling external set top boxes) isn’t here. You’ll still get to look at the content on offer to you via the slick new interface, of course.
The voice controls and gesture controls introduced on select Samsung HDTVs last year once again make an appearance on the F8000. The gesture controls, from our point of view, are a little on the superfluous side, but the voice controls (which allows you to bark orders like “Sound Off”, “Volume Up”, “Channel 200″ at the television) are a nice feature.
It probably speaks for the quality of the Smart Remote, though, when we say that we found ourselves enjoying interacting with the UE-55F8000 using this most of all. For our in-depth picture calibration, we preferred to use the tried and trusted old-style remote, but once that initial setup was done, we found ourselves using the new version more and more. Its biggest strength is the built-in touchpad, which acts basically like a laptop trackpad, only is designed to be used with your thumb. This makes the TV’s own web browser, whilst not a match for a smartphone, tablet or laptop, infinitely more usable.
Armed with integrated WiFi connectivity, blazingly fast navigation, and of course class-leading Smart TV content in terms of apps availability (BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm, Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Skype are all present), the Samsung F8000 does better than most competitors in encouraging use of the on-board smart functionalities.
We generally don’t talk much about sound quality on flat-screen HDTVs, unless it’s unusually good or unusually bad. In the case of the UE-55F8000, it’s the former. Samsung has added two 10-watt woofers to accompany the two 10-watt speakers, giving a total audio power output of 40W. While we obviously wouldn’t suggest anyone watches movies or episodic TV in this way, it does mean that everyday casual viewing will sound that bit better.
The UE55F8000 does have a Game Mode, but it still feels laggy when playing fast-paced games. Labelling the HDMI input as “PC” from the Input Selection menu cuts the input lag down to half that of the Game Mode. We measured it at 44ms using both the Leo Bodnar input lag tester AND the high-speed camera method (we’re investigating how both methods react to different display technologies).
This results in a good level of responsiveness, enough to keep us satisfied during fast-paced online competitive gaming, but not enough to make us abandon our favoured ultra-speedy gaming displays, most of which are plasmas. Of course, being able to game on the 55F8000 LED TV for hours without worrying about image retention was very nice too!
The Samsung UE55F8000 is a true upgrade over last year’s ES8000 series, and is the best LED LCD television that we’ve ever tested when it comes to picture quality. After a basic setup in the “Movie” mode, it produced excellent overall colour reproduction. Calibration, using the extensive controls provided by Samsung, took the measurable accuracy attributes up to basically perfect levels.
The SPVA LCD panel type, pioneered by Samsung, has long excelled at LCD contrast performance, and its strengths are visible here. As an LCD-based display, the F8000 is still best seen in a bright room (the ability of “Ultra Clear Panel” to reject ambient light is another strong point which makes it especially suitable for use in such an environment). For a darker home cinema environment, the UE55F8000′s black depth is very good by LED LCD standards, but its best attempt at deep blacks still aren’t quite on the level of the CCFL-backlit LCD TVs that Samsung was producing back before they lost their “cool”, and naturally are still in a different category to Plasma televisions. Let’s not mince our words: for unparallelled picture quality, plasma is still in the top spot, although let’s not pretend that either display technology is perfect.
None of that changes our opinion that the UE-55F8000 is the best LED-driven LCD TV we’ve seen thus far as far as image quality is concerned, now that the company has improved the screen uniformity, greyscale linearity, and last but absolutely not least, has done away with the undefeatable noise reduction which previously smeared textures and fine details in high quality HD movies. (On a more personal note, the acid test, as always, is to run some of your own work on screen. Looking through a film-to-video transfer I supervised, I was delighted with how the Samsung UE55F8000 was faithfully reproducing it, allowing its high quality panel to carry the presentation without introducing superfluous alterations).
Not only this, but the Smart TV features are enhanced by the Quad Core processor. We’re used to snappy responsiveness from smartphones and computers, so we find that sluggish Smart TV systems end up being ignored by our readers in the long run. That’s not a problem here – the speed gifted to the Smart TV platform by the Quad Core processor makes it much more appealing. On top of its speed, we especially appreciate Samsung’s method of controlling an external set-top box by means of a packaged infrared blaster, which ties all your channels – no matter how they come into your home – together in one slick interface.
We’re now left with a product which we feel couldn’t really be much better than its components allow. Judged as a home cinema display, there is almost nothing we can think of that Samsung’s engineers could do to build a better HDTV out of these components, than they have. This is LED LCD technology as good as we’ve ever seen it, and we can’t ask for much more than that (okay, we’d still like to see black level reach the depth of Samsung’s older CCFL backlit LCDs, as well as lower input lag, and native 24p support in the 3D output mode). Now we’re left wondering how much of this goodness is going to filter down to more affordable Samsung LED TVs – and also about what we can look forward to on the Korean manufacturer’s upcoming F8500 plasma…
Note: If you’re interested in buying this TV, please support us by considering making your purchase from our advertising partner Hills Sound & Vision – call 01273 411698 for competitive prices and first-rate service.
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