This is the first guide of a series explaining what's new from each major TV brand in 2014. Feel free to ask any questions that you have.
To say Samsung had a successful 2013 would be an understatement. It dominated the global HD TV market as the number one selling TV brand, and after a slightly slow start it also ended up taking the lion’s share of the new UHD/4K TV market. But how does the Korean giant intend to build on this remarkable success?
Based on its showing at CES 2014, with 4K and curves. Pretty much every public statement Samsung made at CES 2014 about its TVs focussed on either the UHD native resolution of some of its TVs or the benefits of ‘the curve’ in TV design.
- Sony TVs in 2014: Everything you need to know
- Panasonic TVs in 2014: Everything you need to know
- LG TVs in 2014: Everything you need to know
5 things you need to know about Samsung TVs in 2014
1. Samsung is going big on the curve
What is it? Having introduced the idea of curving TV screens with its debut OLED set last year, Samsung has gone curve crazy for 2014 introducing curved models to both its UHD LED and HD LED TV ranges. In fact, it even dared to claim the world’s ‘curviest’ TV in the shape of a 105-inch UHD TV hero set – a model introduced more to grab headlines, mind you, than with any real hopes of launching it to market.
What we think: As we noted in our first look at the Samsung 65U9000, the impact of curving a TV seems very dependent on the size of screen you’re applying it to. With small screens – by which we mean anything below 60-inches – introducing a curve creates more problems than benefits. Issues like poor geometry and a very limited viewing 'sweet spot' dominate.
However, above 60-inches the sweet spot grows, geometry issues diminish, and you’re thus more able to absorb the potential benefits of curvature – namely a greater sense of depth, less colour and contrast loss during off-axis viewing, and even a marginal boost in clarity as the TV curve tracks the curve of your eye. It also has to be said that curved TVs tend to be pretty easy on the eye. We’re still not completely convinced the world really needs curved TVs, but some of Samsung’s large new models have at least started to open our minds a bit.
2. Samsung is going even bigger on 4K / UHD
What is it? UHD – or 4K as it’s also known – is a picture format that quadruples the number of pixels from a Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 resolution to 3,840 x 2,160. Samsung had only a couple of UHD TVs for 2013, but it’s introducing two and possibly three new UHD ranges for 2014. It’s also having a stab at solving the lack of 4K content by offering 4K films to buy on HDD from 20th Century Fox and Paramount on HDD, and compatibility with Netflix’s upcoming 4K streaming service.
What we think: We’re huge fans of UHD here, and fully embrace Samsung’s decision to offer more UHD TV options this year. And provided the films don’t cost too much and are readily available, the provision of 4K films on HDD – as many as 50 may appear in the first 12 months – could prove a great reason to turn to Samsung for your UHD TV.
3. Samsung has a new Smart Remote
What is it? A total revamp of the track pad second remote shipped with many of Samsung’s 2013 TVs. Its most useful new features are a new point and click system, a centrally positioned, remarkably small trackpad you can control with just small moves of your thumb, and slightly more buttons.
What we think: For the most part we’re all in favour of this new remote. The point and click addition is particularly welcome, adding a new brilliantly intuitive option to Samsung’s already impressively wide-ranging control eco system. The extra buttons are welcome too as they reduce the amount of submenus you have to use without making the remote feel complicated or cluttered. We’re not convinced about the thumb trackpad yet, though, as we found it a little unresponsive and hard to use with precision. But maybe it’s something you get used to with more practice.
4. Samsung’s 8-series HD range isn’t flat
What is it? Samsung has elected to make its 8-series HD (as opposed to UHD) platform curved, and hasn’t provided a flat alternative.
What we think: The 8-series has consistently delivered better picture quality than the step-down 7-series you’ll now need to go for if you don’t want a curved screen. So by making the new HD 8-series curved Samsung has prevented picture enthusiasts who don’t like curved TVs from being able to get their hands on Samsung’s premium 2D picture quality. It’s worth adding, though, that when we questioned Samsung about this situation, it was suggested that Samsung decided not to do a flat version of the 8-series because its flat UHD series, the 8500s, won’t cost that much more than the 8 series.
SEE ALSO: Our round-up of the best TVs
5. Samsung has gone cold on OLED
What is it? Despite launching an OLED TV in 2013 (pictured) and waxing lyrical about OLED’s quality, Samsung has been conspicuously silent about any OLED plans for 2014. After some probing we discovered that they have a single 55-inch new OLED model, due for launch at a currently undisclosed date. It hasn’t mentioned OLED in any of its main press materials, nor featured it on its stand at CES 2014.
What we think: We guess we can understand Samsung’s decision to step back from OLED (at least for now). If OLED manufacturing yields still aren’t great meaning prices are still going to be high, maybe it makes sense to just focus on UHD for now and come back to OLED when it’s more stable. But that doesn’t mean we’re not disappointed, for OLED remains a technology capable of mesmerisingly brilliant picture quality – as underlined, ironically, by the explosive quality of the new OLED range on the CES stand of arch rival LG…
Samsung Smart TV 2014: First Impressions
At first glance Samsung’s Smart TV system hasn’t changed much from last year. It still uses the same five-screen multi-hub system, and the layout and level of graphical presentation is more or less the same too. Look closer, though, and there are some significant changes.
First, Samsung has made it easier to see which user (the system supports multiple users) is logged in at any time, and switching between them is easier too. This immediately makes the system’s ‘Recommendations’ engine feel more effective, immediate and personal.
Samsung has also made its online login account system less heavy-duty, and replaced its social media online Hub with a screen that focuses on online games. This is a very worthwhile change for Samsung to have made given that we really didn’t ‘get’ the social media page that appeared at the same Smart hub location in 2013.
Also impressive is the way the quad-core Plus processing engines in Samsung’s new flagship UHD range enable the TVs to display four different apps onscreen at once, by dividing the screen into four quarters (models lower down the range can show two apps at once).
It’s worth adding here, too, that using the onscreen menus for the Smart TV system has undoubtedly been enhanced by the new touchscreen remote control.
In terms of content, aside from stressing that its new UHD sets will be compatible with Netflix’s imminent UHD streaming services – and most likely any other upcoming UHD streaming services – Samsung didn’t have much in the way of new content it was able to talk about for the time being.
Samsung TVs in 2014: Key Models
Samsung UH9000 (Estimated price: £1800-£3,500)
- Available in 55 and 65 inches
- Native 4K / UHD resolution
- New depth enhancement processing engine, enhanced colour performance
- Curved screen
Samsung U8000 (estimated price: £1400-£2,300)
- Available in 55 and 65-inches
- 1920 x 1080 HD resolution
- New depth enhancement processing engine, enhanced colour performance
- Curved screen
Samsung TVs in 2014: John Archer's First Impressions
I came away from my time delving around in Samsung’s new TVs and TV features feeling that the brand is going to have another strong year. Picture quality has been improved by a wider colour range and some interesting depth enhancement processing on its curved models, and the new Smart TV engine is subtly but effectively improved. I like the new ‘smart’ remote control with its helpful point and click system, too, even if the jury is out on the touchpad part.
With the prices of UHD models likely to plummet too versus 2013 levels, the only potential issues I can see are greater Smart Engine competition from LG and Philips in particular, and the unknown quantity that is the willingness of the public to embrace curved TV designs.
Next, read all about Panasonic's 'plasma beating' Studio Master 4K LCD demo