Looking at the Samsung UE46ES6800’s other features, its picture set up options provide some good controls over the various processing systems the TV carries - including the key MotionPlus motion enhancement engine - as well as enthusiast-friendly touches such as gamma controls and white balance adjustments. There’s no endorsement, though, from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), and typically for Samsung, the provided picture presets are very unhelpful.
The 3D skinny
The Samsung UE46ES6800’s 3D abilities are, of course, active in nature; you get the feeling that Samsung would rather shut its TV business down than ever employ a passive system like the one developed by its arch rival LG. We were pleased to find that Samsung includes two pairs of active 3D glasses for free with the UE46ES6800 - the same number you get with the ES8000 series, and two more than you get free with most Panasonic 3D TVs this year.
Hitting the multi-coloured ‘Smart Hub’ button on the UE46ES6800’s remote calls up the same entirely gorgeous home screen witnessed on Samsung’s flagship TVs. This sensibly gives you easy access to both the TV’s online and DLNA/USB picture sources as well as the usual tuner and AV input TV stalwarts.
Dominating the centre of the Smart Hub are the same three new online feature ‘zones’ noted on Samsung’s 8 series models this year - one devoted to Fitness, one devoted to setting up a closed network of family members and friends for sharing photos and messages across TVs, PCs or tablets, and one aimed at entertaining the kids. We won’t go into detail on all these again as we’ve covered them before, such as in the review of the Samsung UE55ES8000. But while all three sections could certainly be improved, mostly by adding more content, they’re also all important first steps in changing the way we relate to our TVs.
Video Apps agogo
The Samsung UE46ES6800 also sports a strong selection of video source apps, including Samsung’s own 3D ‘channel’, Netflix and YouTube. There’s no sign of previous Samsung Smart TV stalwarts the BBC iPlayer or LoveFilm at the time of writing, but Samsung assures us that these are just going through significant updates and will be available again by the end of May.
Samsung provides dozens and dozens of small-scale gaming and information apps, though as we’ve noted before, most of these aren’t worth the screen space they take up, frankly.
Despite not having as high spec a panel or as much image processing as the ES8000 series, the UE46ES6800 is still an extremely accomplished performer with HD sources. The combination of punchy colours, fairly extreme contrast and excellent clarity and sharpness that define so many Samsung TVs, especially when watching bright, colour-rich content, is abundantly apparent, and appears initially at least to give the lie to the fact that the UE46ES6800 costs £500 less than its 8000 series equivalent.
It's not a high-end TV because...
If you look really closely during bright scenes there’s a little less subtlety in the picture’s rendition of very bright picture areas, and skin tones look a touch less life-like. But these are just the differences between a truly high-end HD picture and one that’s still enormously satisfying for a 46in TV costing only a shade over £1100.
With any Samsung TV, dark scenes need to be given especially careful scrutiny, to see if there are any backlight clouding problems caused by the edge LED lighting system. The usual situation is that areas of light ‘clouding’ is quite obvious if you stick with any of the provided picture presets, but that this problem can usually be removed by reducing the backlight to its six or seven setting, and knocking the contrast back to between 75 and 80.
However, unfortunately even these tried and tested measures don’t totally eradicate the clouding problems on the UE46ES6800. In particular there are two stubborn jets of light shooting into the picture from two points either side of the centre of the bottom edge on our review sample that were still marginally visible during dark scenes even with the backlight set down to six.
On the upside, the set’s general black level response is impressive for such an affordable screen, and it’s achieved without taking as much shadow detail out of the picture as you might expect (so long as you avoid the Natural preset, which turns dark areas of the picture into empty black holes).
It’s worth stressing, too, that the backlight clouding is only really visible with extremely dark scenes when watched in a dark room; you don’t see any problems at other times if you have the backlight under control.