There’s a huge amount of good news to report about the Samsung UE46ES8000. It's a fantastic-looking 46in LCD TV with great picture quality and oodles of features. But we’re going to start off this review with a moan, for it’s yet another Samsung TV that sells itself short out of the box with its crazy default picture presets.
None of the four main picture presets provided get even close to delivering a really satisfying all-round picture - or rather, a picture that actually shows Samsung’s LCD panels off to their best advantage. Even the Movie preset on the Samsung UE46ES8000 uses backlight and contrast settings that are far too high. And as always, driving these two key picture components too aggressively reduces black level response, increases incidences of backlight inconsistency, makes colours look over-aggressive, and exaggerates source picture noise.
Presumably, Samsung favours its aggressive presets because it wants to make its pictures look vivid, bright and bold. But while this might show off one dimension of the brand’s LCD panel talents, it sells them seriously short in other ways. Certainly if you’re a movie fan like we are, basing picture settings around such aggressive presets means the whole picture tone is built on a fundamentally flawed foundation.
This all looks even more inexplicable given that the Samsung UE46ES8000 has separate Shop (for displaying in high street retailers) and Home modes. Hmm. Not for the first time it occurs to us that it might benefit Samsung to follow the lead of its Korean rival, LG, and seek the endorsement of the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) so that it’s better equipped to cater for the tastes of hardcore AV enthusiasts.
It might seem like we’re labouring the point a bit here, but it’s a simple fact that the vast majority of people who buy a TV never look beyond its picture presets. Which means that arguably most people who buy a Samsung TV don’t ever get the best out of it. And that can’t be good for either consumers or Samsung.
The good news, thankfully, is that provided you’re not afraid to make some actually very straightforward adjustments to the picture settings yourself, you can transform the Samsung’s performance in an instant. Seriously, all you have to do is reduce the backlight to somewhere between its 6 and 8 setting, and get the contrast down to somewhere around 70-75 percent, and suddenly you can truly see the goodies the panel is capable of delivering.
While working out these settings it did occur to us that it would be nice if Samsung provided more backlight options than the 20 steps currently on offer, to allow you for more subtle adjustments. But even using the values described above you suddenly find that the picture enjoys much deeper, richer black colours with minimal shadow detail crushing; suffers only marginally with backlight consistency problems; and enjoys a more subtle, expressive colour range.
In short pictures go from being intense-but-flawed to subtle, believable and far more immersive/less distracting. This means, too, that you’re better able to appreciate all the other things the UE46ES8000 gets right in picture terms.
For instance, the TV sports a clearly much improved dynamic contrast system, over last year’s Samsung models, due, we presume, to the TV’s introduction of dual-core processing. This enables the TV to study twice as many segments of the picture as last year’s equivalent models. This more localised picture assessment means that the TV’s impressive black levels depths can be accompanied within the same frame by bolder, brighter light elements than you got with last year’s panels.
We’ve seen suggestions that the Samsung ES8000’s contrast performance is actually worse than that of the D8000 series, but this doesn’t ring true to us. For while just sticking a contrast measurement device on the screen might deliver a reduced result, the much more accurate application of the TV’s dynamic contrast controls means that in truth, the minute by minute contrast performance of the screen strikes your eye as being much better than last year’s models. A fact that’s easily confirmed by looking at the UE46ES8000 side by side with a D8000.