Being an early adopter of new technology earns you bragging rights, but it can also mean a future trip to the e-waste recycling center when the cool new thing you’ve invested in turns out to be little more than an expensive doorstop. Case in point: When the HD-DVD format was introduced, I paid way too much for a first-gen Toshiba HD-DVD player, something I used for only a year or so before it ended up in my basement storage room alongside other obsolete gear. (I call this area “my museum.”)
With 4K/Ultra HDTVs, consumers now find themselves in the same situation I was in when I dropped good money on a dedicated player for a soon-to-be-dead format. The questions are many. Will 4K take off? Will there be a 4K disc format? How about 4K streaming and Ultra HD TV broadcasting? Will the set I buy now be compatible with 4K in the future?
One Connect Forever
Samsung has done a much better job than most other TV manufacturers in addressing consumers’ 4K misgivings. The company’s strategy is simple. Its first-gen UHDTV lineup, which includes the 65-inch UN659000 LED LCD model ($4,498) reviewed here, comes with an outboard box called One Connect. The box contains the inputs for the TV and it links to the display panel via a proprietary connector with capabilities that go beyond the HDMI 1.4b ports found on the current version of One Connect. In 2014, Samsung plans to make a new version available with HDMI 2.0 inputs, and it will also include upgraded firmware for the set’s Smart TV GUI, which also gets updates for 2014. By relegating the TV’s connections and processor to a replaceable outboard box, Samsung has pretty much made it future-proof (until 8K TV comes along, that is).
As one of the company top sets, the UN659000 has all the top features Samsung makes available for its TVs. The list here inlcudes 3D (four pairs of active shutter glasses included), a quad core processor, Smart Hub UI with voice and gesture control (with a built-in camera for the latter) and Micro Dimming Ultimate local dimming for the set’s edge-lit LED backlight. Samsung’s Smart Hub includes a useful Search feature that lets you dig for content either by text entry or voice command across multiple platforms (cable/satellite, Netflix, Amazon Instant, Hulu Plus, etc.), and it has grid guide you can populate with your program provider’s listings. When navigating this EPG on the Samsung, you can select programs and have your set-top box or DVR automatically tune them by running the included IR blaster from the One Connect box to the front of your equipment rack.
The UN659000 has an extremely thin bezel that gives it a floating-screen look and comes with a slim stand that curves around the rear of the set. The benefit to this design is that the stand doesn’t take up much space. On the minus side, it extends the full width of the screen, which means you’ll need an equally wide TV stand to accomodate it.
Samsung gives you two remote controls with the UN659000, a regular one and a new Smart Touch version. The Smart Touch remote uses a swipeable touch pad to carry out menu navigation and most commands and only provides a few control buttons. More advanced controls can be accessed by pressing a button labeled More that calls up an virtual remote onscreen. Having used Samsung’s Smart Touch remote for a few months already with a different TV, I’ve come to like it enough that I didn’t even bother unpacking the regular version Samsung provided with the UN659000.
Samsung’s setup menu for its UHDTV includes a bunch of picture presets, including one called Movie that provides a very accurate out-of-box picture. After selecting this and making basic picture adjustments, I next chose the Screen Fit Picture Size option, which displays pictures with 0% overscan. Most of the settings in the TV’s Advanced Settings and Picture Options menu were left at their Movie mode defaults, including Standard Smart LED (a setting that enables local dimming). My final calibration included tweaks to the 2-point White Balance menu (a 10-point adjustment is also provided) and the red, green and blue settings in the Custom Color Space menu.
Ultra HD’s main claim to fame (for now) is added detail, so let’s start there. The only 4K source I had available to watch on Samsung’s UHDTV were a few cityscape clips the company had loaded on a USB stick. (Samsung has plans to soon make a UHD Video Pack, a hard-drive loaded with 4K movies and Imax docs, available for exclusive use with its TVs.) The clips looked crisp, detailed and gorgeous on the 65-inch screen, though any resolution boost shouldn’t have made much of a difference in theory at my normal 9-foot seating distance. But when I moved a few feet closer to the screen—around 5 feet—I didn’t see pixels, however, which counts as one of the benefits of 4K. (Interestingly, a recent investigation by British website, HDTV Test showed that regular an overwhelming majority of viewers could tell the difference between regular HD and Ultra HD on a 55-inch screen even at a 9-foot distance.)
With its Standard Smart LED setting enabled, the UN659000 delivered rich blacks, though its 12,223:1 measured contrast (0.0003 ftL at 0 IRE) ranked below that of other LED-backlit LCDs I’ve recently tested, including the company’s own F8000 Series 1080p model. Contrast ratio was a bit better with the High Smart LED mode selected at 18,520:1. When watching the Japanese monster-movie homage Pacific Rim , shadows were deep in the many nighttime fight scenes, and both the blacks and the white highlights in Mako and Raleigh’s uniforms popped on the Samsung’s screen as they suited up for battle.
Colors on the Samsung were mostly accurate right out of the box—any adjustments I made to the White Balance and Color Space settings only had a minor effect on picture quality. In Pacific Rim, this translated to vivid colors in the controls and holographic displays of the operations center that communicates with the giant robots, along with natural looking skin tones in the faces of the actors.
Like most other LED-backlit LCDs, the UN65F9000 had a narrow viewing sweet spot: Moving to a seat about 15 degrees or so off from dead center resulted in slight shifts in contrast and color. At 30 degrees, those changes became more extreme. Otherwise, picture uniformity was for the most part very good, with the screen’s edges only appearing slightly lighter than the center with a 5 IRE full-field test pattern, but not with regular program material. Black letterbox bars with 2.35:1 aspect ratio movies also looked uniformly black.
When comparing the Samsung’s 4K upconversion with that of Oppo’s BDP-105 Blu-ray player, the picture appeared about the same. If there were qualitative differences between the two, I couldn’t detect it, even after multiple comparisons. The upshot here is that the Samsung does an excellent job bumping 1080p conteny up to Ultra HD resolution. In contrast, when I compared the Oppo’s 4K output with the last UHDTV I tested, Sony’s XBR-55X900A, the Oppo’s upconverted picture clearly looked better.
I did notice one bug with the Samsung when feeding it a 4K signal from the Oppo, however. When the Judder slider was set to minimum and Blur to maximum in the TV’s Custom Auto Motion Plus mode (my preferred setting since it delivers both the benefits of blur-reduction and a correct 24p cadence with film-based content), the Soap Opera Effect would pop in and out. But the same effect couldn’t be seen when the Oppo was set for 1080p output, and it disappeared when I switched Auto Motion Plus to Off. Otherwise, the set’s other AMP modes delivered a full 1200 lines on motion-resolution pattern, but with varying degrees of SOE (the Clear mode showed the least amount of it).
Samsung’s handling of 3D was for the most part excellent. I did see some crosstalk on tough test discs like Hugo , but when I flipped the 3D version of Pacific Rim into my player, any ghosting artifacts were negligible. For a movie that was converted to 3D in post-production, Pacific Rim has some dramatic depth effects going on. By way of example, in a shot of Raleigh walkiing across a beam at the top of a building under construction, the skeleton-like structure receding deep into the Z-axis of the screen was one of the more striking 3D images I’ve seen.
Samsung’s UN659000 offers very good overall performance plus a savvy Smart TV UI. It’s also relatively future-proof due to Samsung’s use of an upgradeable One Connect box for video connections and other features. The only real downside is that 4K/Ultra HD resolution entails a significant price premium over regular 1080p TVs like the company’s equally excellent F8000 Series model, which can be bought in the same screen size for around $1500 less than the UN659000.
Should you buy a UHDTV? Maybe you’ll want to read this first before making that decision. But it you do decide to buy a UN659000, you’ll have an impressive set that’s compatible with the next-generation TV format. And with Netflix, Amazon, M-GO and DirecTV all announcing plans to stream 4K content as early as this spring, there will definitely be Ultra HD programming to watch on it. Who knows, according this article, we may soon even see 4K Blu-ray, too.
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