Part of us has been giddy with excitement about the arrival of Samsung’s new flagship TV on our testbenches, but part of us has also been dreading it. For while some of the stuff the 55in UE55ES8000 is capable of really captured our imagination when we saw it in action at the recent CES in Las Vegas, the thought of the sheer amount of time we’d need to explore every nook and cranny of these new features was frankly intimidating.
Happily the majority of the ‘legwork’ part of the UE55ES8000 reviewing process is now behind us, leaving us free to just focus on feeling excited by it. And if anything, our excitement levels are even higher now we’ve spent a few days with the TV than they were before we got it.
The UE55ES8000 sets your pulse racing from the off thanks to its stunningly thin chrome-like bezel, and cool ‘bulges’ at the centre of its top and bottom edges containing a built-in camera and cutely illuminated Samsung logo respectively.
We guess you could argue that the UE55ES8000 doesn’t really advance the cause of TV styling all that much from Samsung’s 2011 range. But frankly, it doesn’t need to. Seeing 55in of screen clad in so little bodywork is a trick that never gets old.
The UE55ES8000’s connectivity is predictably expansive. HD and 3D sources can be piped in via any of four side-mounted HDMIs, while the set’s massive multimedia potential is unlocked via a pair of USBs, a D-Sub PC port, a LAN port, and built-in wi-fi.
The USBs are able to play a wide array of video, photo and music files, with the same files also playable via a connected, DLNA-ready PC. The USBs can also be used, as you would expect with a modern flagship TV, to record from the integrated Freeview HD tuner.
The real core of the UE55ES8000’s multimedia experience, though, comes via its Wi-Fi/LAN connections. For it’s through these that you can delve into the latest version of Samsung’s Smart TV online platform.
The improvements Samsung has wrought here are obvious as soon as you hit the cool new colourful ‘Smart Hub’ button on either of the two remotes you get with the UE55ES8000 (more on these later). First, the graphics used for the icons on the screen look much more attractive and ‘HD’ - a result of them using a full HD 1080 resolution rather than the previous 720-line mode.
Second, while the general layout is broadly the same as last year’s, the central row of icons has been enlarged and now contains a trio of key new services: Family Story, Fitness and Kids.
Probably the single most innovative of these is the Family Story. This enables you to set up a ‘private’, pin-protected network with other Smart TV, Smart device or PC users of your choice - likely family members - for easy sharing of photos, calendars and memos. It’s a bit faffy to set up and at the time of writing it’s usefulness is currently limited by the fact that the PC and Smart device apps for the service aren’t live yet, while our test sample is pretty much the only ES8000 sample in the UK until the range officially launches towards the end of February! But the potential of the feature is clearly huge; it even caught the imagination of this writer’s mum, for heaven’s sake, and there isn’t much technology that does that!
The Fitness section is essentially an aggregation of fitness-related apps available on Samsung’s Smart TV system. However, it goes further than that by letting you to set up user profiles to which the provided activities can be attached.
This is a great touch, of course, because it allows you to follow your progress and have the TV provide you with a readily visible, automatically updated record of your fitness activities. Charted are your BMI measurements, your exercise progress in minutes and calories, and your ‘achievements’, which are chiefly based around weight loss goals. The system handily tells you how many calories you need to burn to produce a certain weight loss for your body mass, while the exercise apps consist of videos of exercise regimes for you to follow, with the number of calories each exercise ‘clip’ will burn displayed next to its title.
All this information is all very nicely presented, and really gives you that sense of almost hour by hour progress that’s so key to a successful fitness or weight loss regime.
Obviously there’s no way of recording your food intake on the Fitness system, so it’s not a total weight loss/fitness solution. But it goes further than expected, all the same.
The Kids section of the latest Smart Hub is a little less meaty than the other two, comprising a (currently smallish) selection of videos from the Canimals Animation series, and a rather more useful sticker book, into which parents can add ‘well done’ stickers to reward their childrens’ behaviour.
The presentation of this area is suitably child-friendly, and our own children certainly seemed to enjoy the challenge of earning stickers for the ‘cool’ onscreen book. This area definitely needs more content and activities before it really becomes exciting, but the core ideas seem solid enough.