- Good 2D and 3D picture quality for most of the time
- Excellent online features
- Strong multimedia support
- Its price seems a bit high
- Backlight issues
- Hit and miss picture presets
- Review Price: £1199.00
- 46in LCD TV with edge LED lighting
- Smart TV functionality built in
- Active 3D playback
- Multimedia playback via USB and DLNA
- '400Hz' system
After a little delving around, though, together with a quick Q&A with Samsung’s technical people, the basic deal appears to be this. The Samsung UE46ES6540 is distributed “through selected channels” (chiefly John Lewis, so far as we can tell) and designed to offer a slightly cheaper alternative to the already-reviewed UE46ES6800. It achieves its cost savings by taking out the more expensive model’s dual-core processing, and using a less extravagant design and build quality.
The Samsung UE46ES6540’s step down to a more plasticky finish for both the bezel and its cross-shaped stand certainly does create a cheaper impression than that of Samsung’s higher TVs, even if viewed from a distance. And the fact that its bezel is nearly an inch wide makes it look instantly less futuristic. But this does not mean that the TV is actually unattractive – not by a long chalk. In fact, the combination of a see-through outer trim and the jet black of the inner bezel is quite elegant, as is the way the bezel gets slightly wider as it moves from front to back.
Well-suited to wall-hanging
The set is very slim round the back too, as well as being very light, making it a great option for wall hanging. With this in mind it’s good to find that its key connections are positioned for side access.
The connections are, impressively, up there with Samsung’s higher-end sets – including the flagship ES8000s. Highlights of the configuration are three USBs, built-in Wi-Fi (with DLNA and online support), a D-Sub PC port, and impressively both Freesat and Freeview HD tuner inputs. Freesat isn’t perhaps as compelling an option as it used to be now that Freeview HD is more widely available, but it’s still a choice we appreciate a TV giving us.
HDMI con and pro
The only surprising limitation of the Samsung UE46ES6540’s connections is that (as with all top-end Samsung’s TVs this year) you only get three HDMIs when most relatively high-spec TVs these days deliver four. At least these three HDMIs are built to the v1.4 standard, though, in keeping with the fact that this TV supports active 3D playback.
Samsung has even managed to include two pairs of free active shutter 3D glasses with the UE46ES6540 despite the TV’s relative affordability. Rival, stingier brands take note.
Turning to the TV’s screen and picture spec, it’s a full HD affair (inevitably), and it’s driven by the same 400CMR (400Hz-like) processing system sported by the ES6800 models. This should deliver reasonably crisp motion, though the motion processing is only around half as powerful as that of the Samsung’s flagship models.
The Samsung UE46ES6540 also enjoys Samsung’s Micro Dimming system, where incoming images are broken down into segments which are assessed on the fly to try and calculate the continual optimum light output of the LED lights arrayed around the TV’s edges. Please note that as with all of Samsung’s new TVs for 2012, the UE46ES6540 doesn’t use any localised LED dimming of the sort used to great effect on Sony’s HX853 series.
Despite being three or four steps below the top of Samsung’s latest TV ‘ladder’, the Samsung UE46ES6540’s headline 3D capabilities are joined by a full iteration of Samsung’s Smart TV system. Just press the colourful Smart Hub button on the remote, and you’re introduced to a spectacularly attractive HD interface from which you can readily access anything from Samsung’s extensive collection of online video streaming, gaming and information apps to all the TV’s other sources, both multimedia and AV.
As we’ve noted in other reviews, equalising the importance of multimedia and AV sources in this way is a great reflection of the way more and more of us consume our AV content, and also ensures that nobody can miss all the source flexibility on offer.
Regarding the key video streaming aspects of Samsung’s Smart TV platform, there’s a very welcome new addition to report: the ITV Player. This joins the BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm, Netflix, BBC Sport, Samsung’s 3D channel and Picture Box in what’s now a very expansive video streaming service. Other app highlights include Skype, Facebook and Twitter. There’s a huge range of other apps too, though most of these are of much less quality and interest than those we’ve already mentioned.
Picture set up
When it comes to setting the Samsung UE46ES6540 up, it has a pretty extensive suite of picture tools. They’re not especially helpfully organised, but there’s enough colour, gamma and white balance flexibility to keep all but the most extreme picture tweakers happy.
The only problem with the UE46ES6540’s settings is the range of presets. For while the Standard setting works OK for normal TV viewing, the Movie one you’d expect to deliver the best results for serious film watching is way off, thanks to setting its backlight and contrast to their maximum values.
This leads the TV to push colours and contrast too aggressively, as well as grossly exaggerating shortcomings of the edge LED lighting system. In other words, with the backlight on maximum and contrast set so high, you can see during dark shots clear evidence of backlight clouding, where some areas of the image look artificially lighter than others. This can be very distracting, and appears to be the single greatest cause of disgruntlement among AV enthusiasts with Samsung’s TVs.
Another issue with the Movie preset in its out of the box state is that blacks tend to look a bit bluish, which can make other colours in dark areas look slightly odd too.
A simple fix
Thankfully there is a relatively simple solution to these dark scene concerns, which is to reduce the backlight all the way down to its four or five (out of 20) setting, and reduce the contrast to somewhere between 80 and 85 (out of 100). At this point the clouding becomes much tougher to spot, blacks look blacker, and colours take on a much more consistently believable tone.
There is a downside to all this, though. By reducing the backlight so much, the image’s brightness takes a severe hit. This isn’t as problematic as it sounds if you’re watching in a fairly dark environment – precisely the sort of curtains-drawn, lights dimmed scenario, in fact, that you’ll likely have chosen if you’re watching the sort of contrast-rich movie that causes the TV the most trouble.
Light not so fantastic
But obviously reducing the luminance so much can leave images looking muted in light conditions. Plus there’s no avoiding comparisons with the similarly priced Sony 46HX853, which delivers deeper blacks without compromising brightness so much thanks to its excellent local dimming system.
So far we’ve sounded pretty down on the Samsung UE46ES6540, But in reality we’ve mostly just been discussing a weakness with the TV’s presets when watching dark films. For the vast majority of the time its pictures are actually extremely good for a mid-range TV.
The Samsung UE46ES6540 is much more comfortable with normal, bright, colourful day-to-day TV footage, than moody movie scenes, serving up a generally excellent image in typical living room light conditions. The UE46ES6540‘s Standard mode seems rather neatly designed to suit typical family TV conditions, meaning that if you buy this TV we’d strongly recommend that you regularly switch between the Standard preset and a recalibrated Movie preset depending on what you’re watching and the circumstances you’re watching it in.
The set’s colour performance with bright pictures is very strong, as natural tones join forces with plenty of punch and an impressively expansive colour range for a non-flagship TV.
Motion is quite well handled too, only losing marginal resolution and not suffering badly with judder. We’d recommend using the motion processing on its Clear mode rather than anything stronger, or even turning it off altogether, as blurring still isn’t a big problem even without the processing in play.
Standard definition looks surprisingly good on the Samsung UE46ES6540 meanwhile, with both sharpness and colour reproduction holding up well without the picture exhibiting heavy amounts of source noise. Samsung’s upscaling of standard definition has long been a real strength for the brand, and the UE46ES6540 continues the trend.
The UE46ES6540 is also a very impressive 3D performer. For starters, 3D images retain more brightness, colour richness and dynamism once you’ve donned a pair of Samsung’s surprisingly lightweight 3D glasses than you get with any other active 3D TV we can think of.
Motion is handled well, too, in 3D mode, plus depth levels are well judged and natural and best of all, the amount of detail in 3D Blu-rays is outstanding, providing a salutary reminder of why (aside from refusing to follow LG) Samsung is sticking exclusively with active 3D technology rather than offering anything passive.
Regarding the thorny issue of 3D crosstalk, it must be said that the Samsung UE46ES6540 isn’t wholly immune to it. You can see three lanterns where there should only be one during the famously tricky lantern festival sequence in Tangled, and there’s some very slight shading around the edges of dark objects when they appear against bright backgrounds too.
However, the extent and aggressiveness of the crosstalk is actually very limited compared with many active 3D TVs, and seldom prevents you from being immersed in what’s a truly superior 3D effort.
Tracking down the Samsung UE46ES6540’s Game preset (bizarrely tucked away in a System sub-menu) and turning off the set’s noise reduction systems (which the Game mode doesn’t do automatically), we took a few input lag measurements to test the screen’s gaming prowess. And rather surprisingly we consistently came up with around 67ms, which is round twice as high as the figures usually recorded from Samsung TVs. This is potentially high enough to slightly damage your gaming experience.
Wrapping up the UE46ES6540’s test phase with its audio – it’s not bad, actually. As usual with very slim TVs there’s a noticeable shortage of bass, and the soundstage doesn’t have much ‘expansion space’ when you want it to open up to handle a raucous action movie sequence. But the mid-range is clean and detailed, you can hit pretty high volumes without distortion kicking in, and both male and female vocals are believable and clear.
The Samsung UE46ES6540 is yet another hugely appealing mid-range TV from Samsung, combining a terrific feature count with many excellent picture performance attributes.
For all that, though, two things stop it from earning a Recommended badge. First, at the time of writing the UE46ES6540 actually costs more – as much as £300 more – than it’s more highly specified, better-built sibling, the UE46ES6800. This clearly doesn’t make much sense.
This quirk is, presumably, down to the Samsung UE46ES6540 only getting a limited release rather than being made available to any website that wants to sell it. But knowing the reason behind it doesn’t make the price issue any easier to swallow.
The other issue, as we’ve found ourselves saying many times this TV season, is that the UE46ES6540 suffers at the hands of Sony’s similarly priced 46HX853. This Sony set might lack some of the online sophistication and operating system cleverness of the Samsung, but its ground-breakingly good contrast performance could well turn many buyers’ heads – especially if they like their movies.
Score in detail
3D Quality 9
2D Quality 8
Sound Quality 7