Joining these major newcomers to the Samsung Smart TV scene is a long - arguably bewildering - list of other video streaming and utlility/game/info apps. The video streaming apps now include, we’re pleased to note, Netflix, which joins the more established likes of Dailymotion, MUZU.TV, AceTrax, the Cartoon Network, Vimeo, YouTube, PictureBox, Explore 3D, Boxoffice 365, LoveFilm and, of course, the BBC iPlayer.
Among the non-video apps to catch our eye are an open Web browser, Skype (which is bolstered by the startling quality of the built-in camera), Facebook, Twitter, Picasa and Google Maps. In total there are currently around 195 apps, not including the Fitness video routines, catering for pretty much every taste and eccentricity.
We still feel many of these lesser apps are of very limited interest/usefulness, but the latest interface does a better job of presenting them so that they don’t feel as much like ‘unnecessary clutter’ as they did on last year’s Samsung Smart TVs.
One problem with Smart TV platforms is that some of their features don’t lend themselves to normal TV interfaces. But Samsung’s tried to address this problem too, by introducing a radical new combination of control systems. So extensive and illustrative of the way the industry is shifting are some of these control systems that we’re going to cover them in depth in a separate review in the next day or so. But to give you the basic idea, the UE55ES8000 a) comes with both a normal remote and a second, ‘trackpad’-style remote; b) can respond to a remarkably wide variety of voice commands; and c) can be controlled via the movements of your hand.
For a brief summary of our findings ahead of the more in-depth article, after initial resistance we eventually found ourselves thoroughly seduced by the startling flexibility of the voice control system; we were very impressed by the touchpad remote; but we were thoroughly uninspired by the gesture control approach (though see my comment below). But heck - two out of three ain’t bad. Especially when those two are enough to deliver the first fully integrated, truly ‘next generation’ control system we’ve experienced to date.
While all the Smart TV innovations are fun and exciting, though, it’s with the UE55ES8000’s picture improvements that it really begs for your attention.
The single biggest deal here is the introduction of a dual-core processor, which enables the TV to handle far more picture processing tools in real time than was possible before. Particularly significant is the way Samsung has doubled the number of picture ‘blocks’ analysed by its latest micro dimming system to an extremely healthy 576, to deliver much more accurate and effective lighting of each frame of the image.
Samsung has also done a lot of work to improve its 3D performance, with faster panel driving and crosstalk reduction routines now in play. The boost in processing power also means that you can now apply Samsung’s motion processing to 3D playback as well as 2D - something that has a surprisingly positive impact, as we’ll see soon.
Intriguingly, the UE55ES8000’s specification isn’t necessarily limited to what’s currently ‘under the hood’. For the set has actually been designed to be upgradable in the future, by ‘slotting in’ next-gen chipsets - including, potentially, a quad-core processor. This could greatly enhance the longevity of the UE55ES8000 - so long as Samsung actually produces the upgrade ‘kits’, of course!
Finally settling down to just watch what the UE55ES8000 can do, its pictures immediately look nothing short of spectacular. We’ve often found previous Samsung LED picture generations to look extremely vibrant and dynamic, but - presumably thanks to the much-improved micro dimming system - things are taken to a whole new level here. Especially, crucially, when watching dark scenes, as the set is able to combine deep blacks simultaneously with much purer, brighter whites and colours than any previous Samsung edge LED TV. In fact, we can’t think of any other edge LED TV full stop that can combine light and dark content as successfully as the UE55ES8000.
Making this all the more impressive is the fact that dark areas of the picture also contain plenty of shadow detail, showing that the screen isn’t just ‘crushing’ dark areas to produce its convincing black colours.
Sticking with the screen’s excellent contrast performance for LED technology, we were also generally impressed with how little the screen suffers with the dreaded backlight inconsistency problem that so troubled some users of Samsung’s 2011 screens. Or at least this is the case if you’re careful with how you calibrate the UE55ES8000’s images. Certainly the backlight should not be left any higher its 9 level for 2D viewing, and actually we’d recommend 7 or even 6 if you’re watching in a dark room. With this in mind though, we found 2D moments where we felt even slightly troubled by backlight inconsistencies to be few and far between.
Colours, meanwhile, are outstanding. For a start they enjoy the most natural and wide tonal range yet seen from a Samsung TV - another result, we suspect, of the more localised picture ‘scrutiny’ made possible by the Dual-Core processor. Colours are also effortlessly subtle and expressive when it comes to showing miniscule tonal differences - something that’s particularly evident in the extremely natural look of skin tones.