First impressions of the UE65HU8500’s 3D performance are a bit mixed. Using the default settings there’s some backlight clouding over dark scenes, and areas of highly contrasting detail – such as Bilbo’s writing on the parchment at the start of The Hobbit, and any distance shots over cities or landscapes – tend to suffer with a distracting glowing halo.
On the upside, though, the fact that you’re seeing a UHD 3D picture thanks to Samsung’s active 3D system rather than the mere full HD 3D picture you get on passive 3D UHD/4K TVs is immediately obvious. In fact, it’s almost too obvious, as the incredible amount of detail in the picture draws a bit too much attention to the tiny elements of the picture rather than letting you just become absorbed in the picture as a whole.
Happily it’s easy to sort out the UE65HU8500 slightly over-egged 3D preset simply by reducing the backlight and sharpness settings, as described in the set up section. Once you’ve done this it becomes much easier to appreciate the incredible pixel density, texture, clarity and curve-enhanced sense of depth in the 3D picture. For us UHD 3D continues to make us feel more immersed in the 3D world, despite it being largely created by upscaling.
There are traces of crosstalk in the UE65HU8500’s 3D pictures, but they’re actually surprisingly slight and subtle considering how bright 3D images look. What’s more, this brightness joins with a continuation of the stellar contrast performance noted with 2D footage to produce a gorgeous sense of depth and ‘layering’ in 3D scenes.
Samsung has clearly worked very hard to boost the sound quality of its TVs for this year – as it needed to given the big advantage Sony racked up in the audio department in 2013.
The UE65HU8500 can go seriously loud without sounding the slightest bit cramped thanks to a much-expanded dynamic range, and the amount of bass the set can deliver is not only a vast improvement over previous Samsung TVs but some of the richest bass we’ve heard from any built-in TV speakers .
The result is a soundstage big enough, detailed enough, open enough and flexible enough to do justice to the quality and scale of the pictures the UE65HU8500 is producing. This is a significant achievement for a TV that uses down-firing speakers, and comes about through Samsung's introduction of a new longer duct system that gives the speakers much more room to operate in – something that’s especially useful for bass reproduction.
The push for bass occasionally goes a bit far, leaving some male voices sounding a touch muffled. Also, on our first test sample extended bass tones, such as the rumble behind the Dark Knight Rises menu screen, caused a distracting ‘fizzing’ noise from the chassis. However, we've now received a second sample that did not exhibit this audio flaw.
We suspect from demos we’ve had of the speakers in Sony’s upcoming ‘Wedge’ TVs that these may retain an audio edge for the Japanese brand. But that only detracts slightly from Samsung’s achievement here, and don’t forget that Sony’s audio results depend on your living room accommodating much more chassis real estate around the screen than you have with the Samsung set.
Unfortunately it remains the case that any review of a 4K/UHD TV has to talk about the continuing lack of readily available native UHD content. Due to the remarkable lethargy of the Blu-ray Association and the difficulties associated with streaming quality UHD content, we still find ourselves testing the UE65HU8500’s UHD capabilities with the same two hour or so demo reel we cobbled together for our 2013 4K/UHD TV tests.
However, some hope is on the horizon. Not least in the shape of Samsung’s own HD media server: a 1TB HDD pre-loaded with five UHD movies and with as many as 50 more being made available for free download in the course of 2014. At the time of launch – which we’re lead to believe is imminent – the five movies available will be World War Z, Wolverine, The Counsellor, Night At the Museum, and GI Joe: Retaliation.
Less exciting but still worthwhile is a UHD Zoo photo series available through the UE65HU8500’s Smart menus.
Netflix is set to launch a 4K streaming service in the UK at some point in 2014, and we live in perennial hope that Sky might suddenly drop a UHD broadcasting surprise on us before Christmas. And hey, maybe even the Blu-ray Association might have something to talk about by the time this year’s IFA show in Germany rolls round at the end of summer.
Still, it seems likely that you’re going to be very glad of the UE65HU8500’s outstanding HD upscaling capabilities for at least another year yet.
In our discussion of the UE65HU8500’s new Smart features, we left out one rather key item: Samsung’s new ‘smart’ remote control. Shipped alongside a more straightforward remote, the new handset is a remarkably flexible beast, supporting touchpad navigation, normal cursor button navigation and even, in a new move for Samsung, point and click operation.
It has to be said that all this functionality puts quite a lot of ergonomic strain on a very small bit of remote real estate. But over time it does start to become reasonably intuitive – especially once you start to figure out which control approach suits you best for different types of use.
We do still feel, though, that a trigger on the bottom side to activate the point and click system might have been a good idea.
Naturally the prospect of gaming on the UE65HU8500 mouthwatering – especially given the immersive qualities of its curved screen. So it’s slightly disappointing to find that input lag – even when using the TV’s Game mode – comes in at around 62ms on average. That’s around twice as high as we’d really like to see.
It’s obviously (very) early days in the 2014 TV race, so it’s impossible to say yet how well the UHD (and curved) competition might shape up in the coming weeks and months. However, one thing that we can already say for absolute certain is that the UE65HU8500 sets a monumentally, high bar for the chasing pack to target.
Picture quality is sublime with both native UHD and upscaled content, and the new Smart engine delivers some very significant improvements to what was already the TV world’s most sophisticated Smart engine.
The ongoing shortage of native UHD content may mean you’ll need to factor in the cost of one of Samsung’s UHD servers on top of the £4,000 you’ll need for the TV, and we guess there’s still some potential for the curve to prove divisive. However regarding this latter point, having lived with a Samsung UE65HU8500 ourselves for the best part of a week, in both living room and test room conditions, our feeling is that precious few people will actually have real problems with the curve while many may actually experience tangible benefits from it.
We thought last year’s Samsung UHD TVs were good, but the UE65HU8500 improves on them – often substantially – in practically every way. And it does so, moreover, while costing a cool £1,000 less than the equivalent set last year. A new 4K/UHD price war? Don't mind if we do...