Review: Hisense 50H8C 4K Ultra HD TV Offers Impressive Entry-Level HDR Performance
When we first saw Hisense’s 50H8c 4K Ultra HDTV at CES 2016 last January we were impressed. The TV presented good natural colors, impressively deep blacks, listed a 10-bit panel and had the ability to read high dynamic range (HDR) content.
If that wasn’t enough, the TV carries full-array LED backlighting with local dimming (Hisense won’t divulge the number of local dimming zones, but the number appears to be small), comes with an industry leading 4-year warranty (after registration), and currently rings in at an astounding $499.99 expected street retail price. The value alone was enough to earn HD Guru’s Best TV Value Award for CES 2016.
Eight months later, we finally got our chance to go over the TV in more detail and evaluate the set properly for picture and sound performance. What we found is that the Hisense 50H8c is a steady performing Rec. 709 4K Ultra HD TV with nicely balanced colors, good lag performance for respectably fast game play, sharp and clear 4K Ultra HD resolution and nice upscaling of lower resolution HD and SD source material to 4K resolution.
Read more of our review of the Hisense 50H8c after the jump:
Before we go further it’s important to point out that this is not an “Ultra HD Premium” performing television as defined by the multi-industry UHD Alliance, so use of the term HDR with this model comes with a caveat: you are not going have 1,000 nits of peak brightness needed to present HDR at the best possible level; the TV only supports up to about 83 percent of the DCI-P3 color space (using D65 white point) so HDR colors are not as broad or accurate as models with better than 90 percent of the professional cinema P3 color space.
The TV is capable of reading and accepting HDR 10 metadata but, as mentioned, it will only present that information to a certain level. Specular highlights aren’t as bright as they are on $3,000 or $4,000 HDR sets, and the colors are not quite as deep and rich as they will be on those models. However, these HDR benefits are significantly better than what you will see on a standard dynamic range (SDR) TV with Full HD resolution or lesser-quality 4K UHD.
To put things in perspective, if placed in a good, better, best marketing assortment, the Hisense H8C series would fit in the “good” segment of HDR supporting TVs.
What you do get from this television is a very good Rec. 709 4K Ultra HD TV with better than average contrast performance than a non-HDR display, but with the ability to play a viewable picture in brilliant 4K Ultra HD resolution with some color and contrast improvement from HDR-supporting content.
Also, before we begin the review I should point out that a firmware update delivered as we began testing the set corrected a number of issues, including incompatibility with several 4K Ultra HD source devices. In our case the new firmware enabled the 50H8c to play back HDR 10 signals from Samsung’s UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player. Previous to the update a message appeared at startup of an Ultra HD Blu-ray disc saying the HDR content would not look as good as it would on an HDR-supporting TV. The message no longer appears. Similar corrections are included for X Box One S and other 4K/HDR supporting source devices.
The H8 Line
Hisense’s H8 series is available in both 50- and 55-inch screen sizes, both of which offer 4K resolution, HDR support using an algorithm called “Hisense HDR”, 10-bit panels supporting up to 1.07 billion colors, full-array LED backlighting with local dimming and built-in Wi-Fi with smart capabilities.
The models also have an LCD panel with a 60 Hz native refresh rate. It does show some motion artifacts, but the Hisense Ultra Smooth Motion system does a fairly nice job of limiting blurring. The system uses a method called motion estimation and motion compensation (MEMC) as well as backlight blinking and scanning to reduce image ghosting in moving objects. The issues are more noticeable with the Ultra Smooth Motion turned off, however the higher the Ultra Smooth Motion setting selected, the more pronounced the Soap Opera effect. This is where movies and filmed images seem to look like overly sharp video recordings. Some people like this effect, but cinema purists who prefer to watch content in the manner intended by the creators tend not to. I found the second setting called “Clear” to be the most acceptable compromise of the four options.
Using a gray screen uniformity check, the 50H8 showed some of the typical uniformity issues we’ve come to expect from this price segment, including darkened areas in the four corners of the screen and some subtle vertical bars in the middle of the screen. This produces a faint visible smudging effect on the screen that occasionally shows through when watching camera pans across uniformly colored backgrounds.
Processing and Upscaling
The 50H8c does a competent job of upscaling lower-resolution content to meet the additional pixels (3840×2160) on the 4K UHD screen. HD (720, 1080i) and Full HD (1080p) material looks crisp and colorful. This is particularly so with live sports events. The TV handles lower resolution programming, like 480p standard definition DVDs and analog-produced TV programs adequately well. Where the TV occasionally has some issues is in processing troublesome vertical or checkered patterns that produce a moiré effect. In a recent episode of the Showtime TV series Ray Donovan, a black shirt with vertical textured bands worn by actor Jon Voight suddenly morphed into a mess of motion artifacts and appeared almost mirror like, which, of course, is a problem when trying to create a sense of realism. However, this was a rarely seen issue, suggesting there was something particularly troublesome with a particular pattern or an issue with the camera used to capture the video.
To calibrate the 50H8c we used the latest version of Spectrcal CalMan software, the SpectraCal C6 HDR colorimeter, and a Murideo Fresco SIG-6 signal generator, the latter for use with Rec. 709 standard dynamic range. To check HDR and color gamut performance for HDR-10, a special HDR-10 workflow and accompanying HDR 10 Reference Disc (on Ultra HD Blu-ray) developed by Florian Freidrich for Samsung was used. The aforementioned Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player was used for all Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD tests. The HDR 10 Reference Disc uses special test patterns with motion targets that prevent a television’s brightness limiter from ramping down peak brightness or shutting off pixel lighting when checking for black level.
The Hisense 50H8c offers six picture modes –Vivid, Standard, Theater, Energy Saving, Game and Sport. We found Theater to be closest to the preferred 6500 degrees Kelvin (D65) color temperature, and produced a nice warm tone.
We turned off local dimming and pumped up the backlight setting to full to measure peak luminance for HDR. Using several different window sizes, we found our review sample of the 50H8c to output 314.8 nits of brightness with a 10 percent D65 white window pattern size; 314.6 nits with a 25 percent window; 314.9 nits with a 50 percent window and 314.8 nits with a 100 percent window pattern.
We note that boosting the backlight all the way brightens the picture but makes the image noisy (particularly in the red color spectrum) and causes the set to clip fine details at the brightest ranges.
Recommended settings are: Picture Mode: Theater; Brightness: 50; Contrast: 45: Color: 46; Aspect Ratio: Direct; Backlight: 31 with local dimming on when not measuring for brightness and black level; and Eco Sensor: Off (unless you prefer to keep energy use low at the sacrifice of some picture brightness). Color temperature: Warm (D65).
Again, these settings are all well short of the 1,000 nits of peak luminance measured at a 10 percent window required by the Ultra HD Alliance for its certification as an “Ultra HD Premium” LED LCD TV. But this is expected for an entry-level 4K LED LCD TV with the ability to read HDR 10 (EOTF 2084) metadata. The display will play that metadata to the best ability of the TV – as is required by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) standards for an “HDR Display.”
Testing for black level we found the 50H8 measured at a very nice 0.0745 nits, which is just shy of the Ultra HD Premium Certification level for LED LCD TVs (0.05 nits).
Testing for HDR before calibration, we found the color gamut measured at 83 percent of the Digital Cinema Initiative P3 recommendation, with color points missing most targets, particularly in blue, magenta and red sectors on the CIE 1976 uv chart. We made some color calibration adjustments for HDR-10, where we could, but still weren’t able to hit some of the P3 points.
Testing for Rec. 709 SDR was a different story, we found that 50H8c was only slightly off the gamut color points, requiring very little adjustment. Colors are rich, bright and well saturated for a Rec. 709 display. It should be pointed out that the Ultra HD Premium standard lists 90 percent of the DCI-P3 recommendation, and this unit tested at 83 percent, which is very close.
The set’s Rec-709 color management is very good for content seen most often.
The 50H8c has a nice selection of input jacks including four HDMI ports divided between a pair of HDMI 1.4 ports facing out from the left side of the screen and a pair of HDMI 2.0a inputs with HDCP 2.2 content protection positioned on the back of the display and pointed directly at the wall behind it. This placement of the HDMI ports on the back of the set could make for difficulties with wall mounting. If you plan to hang the set, you might have to invest in an HDMI elbow adapter to get the panel to sit flat against the surface. The two HDMI 2.0a ports with HDCP 2.2 will support 4K signals at up to 60 Hz. You’ll need these for most external 4K UHD and HDR sources. The side-angled HDMI 1.4 ports are more practical for Full HD content. HDMI 2 (which is an HDMI 1.4 connection) offers Audio Return Channel; and HDMI 1 offers MHL support to connect mobile devices to the TV using a physical cable. The HDMI inputs also support CEC to enable control of other connected CEC-ready devices via one remote.
Other inputs include three side-mounted USB ports, one of which supports USB 3.0; one rear-positioned optical digital output; one side-positioned 3.5mm analog audio output; one set of rear-positioned component video inputs, one rear-positioned composite video input, one rear tuner (cable/ant) input and one rear positioned Ethernet port.
Setup And User Interface
The initial set-up menu is pretty straightforward and easy to use. The menu graphics are basic and responsive, with most adjustments intuitively laid out. Upon set up the TV will ask the user if they want to register the warranty. Unless you think you might be returning the set for any reason, it’s a good idea to register the warranty immediately. Hisense covers the TV for two years and throws in two additional years (for a total of four years) as a bonus for registering the set. This is like a free extended warranty and underscores the confidence Hisense has in the durability of its products. It’s also one of the biggest reasons to consider this TV over some other brands with products in the same price/feature class.
The 50H8c has a nice thin-frame design that borders all four edges of the screen with a half-inch glossy black plastic strip. This is then trimmed by a wider, silver bezel on the bottom edge. For tabletop placements, the panel is supported by a pair of arch shaped feet angled outward from the center and posited about four inches in from left and right sides of the screen. The two feet on each end of the screen provide a sturdy base that makes the TV difficult to accidentally tip over, provided the furniture it is placed on is level and stable.
The TV’s remote is long, measuring 8 inches and about three-quarters of inch thick. It holds the ample control buttons that are laid out in a very intuitive manner. Four buttons are added at the bottom of the of remote to quickly access the Netflix, Amazon, Vudu and YouTube over-the-top streaming services. The HDMI-CEC capability synched smoothly with the Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player, enabling the TV remote to control most of the basic commands of the other device. (HDMI-CEC is a tricky thing and not all devices will synch this well).
10-Bit Panel And HDR
For an entry level 4K Ultra HD TV, Hisense goes the extra mile by adding a 10-bit panel. This means the display is capable of resolving up to 1.07 billion colors compared to the typical 16.77 million colors we’re used to on an 8-bit Full HD TV or lesser-quality 4K model. But where you see the biggest difference is with the ability of the panel to show smooth color transitions without any overtly noticeable banding (like contour lines on a topographical map). This banding is typically prevalent in 8-bit panels in scenes with a consistently colored background surrounding central objects, like the sun on the horizon or objects shot from a low angle looking up toward the surface in underwater scenes.
Some 10-bit panels will also perform better with HDR images and content supporting a wide color gamut. The colors on the 50H8c were noticeably richer and brighter in HDR from our Samsung Ultra HD Blu-ray player than they were on the equivalent Full HD Blu-ray version, and bright objects like flames or explosions seemed to be somewhat brighter than the surrounding image. So at this incredible price, you certainly get your money’s worth.
As we mentioned, the 50H8c has full-array LED backlighting with local dimming (FALD), which helps it produce nice deep blacks. This feature compares with Vizio’s M Series models, in that the screen has a limited number of LED zones across the LCD back plane. (Probably fewer zones than the M series models). The set can turn off light to some of these LED sectors to create true blacks, but because of the limited number of actual LEDs, the control isn’t as localized as it is in more expensive FALD sets.
This produces some detail crushing in dark areas of the picture. For example, we couldn’t clearly make out the lapel lines on Donald Trump’s black suit jacket during the recent debate with Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University. We could boost the backlighting to help, but this caused the image to clip at the bright end of the spectrum. Overall, when it comes to setting black levels, you’ll have to pick your poison here. Black crushing is helped to some extent when playing HDR material, however, and the deeper blacks make for richer-looking colors.
Hisense is a global TV manufacturer and makes a lot of different kinds of smart TVs for different regions and markets. In this country, the company is probably best known for its line of Roku TVs, which offer some of the best OTT streaming capabilities on the market. Hisense opted to use the Opera platform instead in this model. This offers an Opera Browser and Opera Store instead of a Roku Store or Google Play store to find available streaming apps, and unfortunately there aren’t as many apps to choose from as there are on either the Roku or Android TV systems. The good news is you get the most popular ones and they are easy to find and use. The TV comes pre-loaded with: Netflix, Amazon Video, Vudu, YouTube, UltraFlix 4K, Pandora, TED, Toon Goggles, AccuWeather, Aol.on, Facebook and others. The YouTube app supports 4K Ultra HD streaming (with the VP9 codec) and the Netflix and Amazon apps support 4K and HDR streaming (with the HEVC codec). UltraFlix also provides 4K UHD streaming content for purchase including some with HDR.
Streaming 4K video of a Red Cinema camera demo on YouTube was both easy and enjoyable. At the time of our testing, we found no issues with buffering, and resolution was brilliantly sharp providing a level of depth and dimensionality that was almost 3D like. The 10-bit, direct LED back-lit panel produced acceptably bright, rich and well-saturated colors with warmer tones, even without HDR metadata support.
A late-arriving firmware update also brought a useful “4K Now” app which searches through all of the other apps and aggregates 4K UHD streaming selections showing title, streaming service and rental or purchase price (if any.)
Because many who buy a TV in this price class are not likely to buy any supporting home theater audio equipment, the on-board sound system in the Hisense 50H8c is very important. Fortunately, Hisense uses a suite of sound enhancements from DBX that produces impressively loud volume levels and simulated surround sound effects. Dialog is clear and upfront. The speakers are a little tinny and lack deep bass, but for most content the on-board system is more than up to the task.
Speaking purely on a picture quality level, the Hisense 50H8c is a commendable performer. Black levels are deep, colors rich and bright and 4K resolution sharp and realistic. The added HDR support boosts color performance above the average 1080p SDR television set or entry level 4K UHD TV. The Hisense 50H8c stands up well against any other entry level HDR display, and does so offering an impressively high level of performance.
Although this is not factored into our rating, we’ve already awarded this model Best of CES for TV Value; Flat out, at $499.99, it’s hard not to be impressed with the amount of television you get for your dollar, and the four-year warranty is nothing short of astounding.
This 4K Ultra HDTV presentation has a very pleasing picture. The HDR benefits don’t hit you over the head the way they do with more expensive models, so if that is important to you, I’d advise throwing in a few hundred or thousand more and stepping up. If that’s not possible, you won’t go wrong with the 50H8c. The Hisense 50H8c would make an excellent set for a primary or secondary room application, like bedrooms or dens, and with a four-year warranty, it seems likely that the set should hold up for a good long time. Hisense is showing us some impressive things here, and it’s not unrealistic to believe that in five years’ time we will be pointing to models like the 50H8c as a key reason for Hisense rising to a top 3 U.S. television brand.
We therefore award the Hisense 50H8c 3.5 out of 5 hearts.
The Hisense 50H8c used for this review was a company loan.
By Greg Tarr
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