Will the escalation of features in today’s tellyboxes never cease? Apparently not if we’re to judge by Samsung’s newest top of the line model, the UA55ES8000.
The TV delivers a good-sized screen with a 139cm diagonal. Full HD, with LED edge-lighting, it also provides 3D. The panel is pleasingly thin at just a little over 30mm, but more startling is the bezel, such as it is. The total width of the band surrounding the screen is less than one centimetre, including at the bottom.
The only part which is wider is a small section at the top that pokes up and in which a camera and a couple of microphones are mounted. This provides support for a couple of startling new control options. One is voice control, and the other is motion control. We’ll get to those features shortly.
The TV comes with a standard Samsung infrared remote control, but also the new Smart Touch controller. This has a small number of keys surrounding a flat area. You move a finger upon this flat area, something like the touchpad on a notebook computer, and the selection of items on the screen changes.
This assists with selecting from the extensive range of ‘Smart Hub’ network features. These include the ubiquitous DLNA content – music, video and photos – from compatible phones, cameras, PCs and audio systems on your home network plus a seemingly never-ending selection of Internet content.
One part of the Smart TV capabilities – Bigpond Movies – is still not quite ready as I write (it will become available quite soon I’m told) – but BigPond TV works.
Also available is ‘Explore 3D’ which gives you online 3D content to demonstrate your nifty TV; a Web browser; YouTube; access to the Quickflix and Wiggle Time TV subscription services, and lots more, including some interesting Samsung apps and the BigPond NRL and AFL games analysers.
There’s a ‘Fitness’ app – which works in conjunction with the camera, so you can check your yoga posture on the screen – stuff for the kids and a ‘Family Story’ app for sharing information with a limited group of people, including photos.
Unavailable during our review period, but live from today (1 July) is the Foxtel on Internet TV app. Similar to packages available via T-Box and the XBox 360, this provides streaming access to up to 30 channels from Australia’s largest TV provider. A number of packages area available, starting from $15 a month, and there are no lock-in contracts, so you can opt out at any time.
Currently a Samsung TV exclusive, the Foxtel app may appeal to buyers interested in sampling what Pay TV has to offer (minus the expensive commitment), or maybe for those who want to bring Pay TV to another room of the house without the usual installation costs.
The ES8000 also provides the usual social media and Skype, but with an added cool feature. The TV’s built-in camera is, of course, used for Skype video calls, but you can set it up so that it recognises your face and logs onto your account automatically. Likewise for others in your family.
Picture performance with this TV is an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, improvement over last year’s Samsung range. Blacks – already good – are a touch deeper. The colour was accurate and most of the switch-on settings were excellent. I wasn’t keen on the Sharpness control being up at 50. Dragging this down made the picture smoother.
Samsung backs active shutter 3D technology, and the effects were excellent. There was a little leakage from time to time of content intended for one eye to the other, so sometimes there was some ghosting, but for the great majority of material the 3D effect was deep, detailed and extremely impressive.
You have a wealth of control options with this TV. The standard IR remote, for one, and the Smart Touch remote discussed above. But the most interesting were the new options: motion control and voice control. The latter is prefaced by you saying ‘Hi TV’ to let it know that you want to do something. It shows a list of available commands across the bottom of the screen, some of which have their own sub-commands. So you can say ‘Source’ and then ‘HDMI 2’ to switch over.
This worked a bit unreliably with the TV installed in a home theatre system, where large and capable loudspeakers are competing with any commands you may say. But you can also use the microphone built into the Smart Touch controller to great effect.
The motion control function was pretty cool. You wave your hand to the side of your head and the TV displays an arrow on the screen which moves as your hand does. Point it at a Smart Hub item and grip your hand, and you’ve selected that item. Choose the channel or volume selectors that appear on screen and you can change them.
These new features are, well, new. So they sometimes didn’t work as expected – and the motion one didn’t work at all in a dark room for obvious reasons. Occasionally, for no obvious reason, the TV thought it had heard or seen something that I hadn’t done, and would bring up the relevant onscreen control instructions.
Still, these are promising inclusions, and handy for when you can’t locate the remote control, or have pizza hands and don’t want to touch the remote. We certainly see interaction feature like these becoming better and more useful as Samsung releases further firmware upgrades, but are they the beginning of an entirely new way for people to control their televisions? Maybe.
The Samsung US55ES8000 is a beautiful-looking TV with at the very least as much network capability as anything on the market, and far more than most.
The Internet-based content offerings are solid, providing a wide range of choice for expanding viewing options beyond the broadcast schedule of TV networks. It delivers great picture quality in 2D, good quality in 3D, and while its suggested new modes of control work reasonably well for now, with development they may prove indispensable.