Review: Hisense 50R7 Roku TV Offers 4K/HDR At A Value
For the past several years, televisions based on the Roku TV platform have offered some of the best values for big-screen LED-LCD TVs at affordable price points, and the 2018 Hisense R7 Roku TV series is no exception.
Like most Roku TVs, this series offers good affordable picture and sound quality, ease of set-up and use, one of the biggest and best libraries of smart TV apps and compelling prices.
What you won’t get in a Roku TV is performance that stands at the top of the market, particularly in 4K Ultra models, so anyone who buys a Hisense R7 series TV, or most Roku TVs for that matter, has to know going in that some performance trade-offs are being made to hit price points.
What You” Get In A 2018 Hisense R7
The 2018 Hisense R7 series of 4K Ultra HD LED-LCD TVs offers anyone with a limited budget in the market for a new television a highly affordable package of picture and sound benefits and one of the best smart TV platforms available today. Picture and sound quality is not exceptional compared to much more expensive televisions, but it is still quite good for what you pay for other 4K Ultra HD LCD TVs — and even other brands of 4K Ultra HD Roku TVs — in this price class. Given it includes a built-in tuner, supporting OTA program grid guide and the Roku smart TV platform, it is also a very practical tool for anyone looking to cut the cable or satellite cord.
What You Won’t Get From A Hisense R7 TV
Although the R7 series has a lot to offer a frugal shopper, it doesn’t offer the brightest or darkest picture available in the 4K Ultra HD/HDR field today. In fact, at 308 nits (peak brightness for an HDR picture measuring in a 10% white window pattern), the series stands at the entry end of HDR performance. Measuring in a 25% window, we got a reading of 299.4 nits, at 50% 298.2 nits and at 100% 295.9 nits.
Similarly, black levels aren’t as inky as those found on today’s high-end 4K OLED TVs or full-array LED-LCD 4K TVs with quantum dot color enhancement. Hisense calls the lighting in the R7 models direct back-lit LED, but these do not perform like full-array versions that cover the entire back plane of the set with LED zones. Instead, Hisense uses a new Hisense Light Module Design that disperses light in a way that improves screen uniformity and this helps maintain fairly even light levels across white and gray-screen tests, with only slight smudging or hot spots.
However it does not deliver the deep blacks seen in more expensive sets. We measured HDR black levels of 0.0895 nits. For reference, the Ultra HD Alliance requires a black level measuring a maximum of 0.05 nits for “premium” 4K certification.
Similarly, color gamut coverage was average for a lower mid-range 4K set. In the 50-inch model we tested, the HDR color gamut coverage was shy of premium 4K Ultra HD performance levels (as established by the Ultra HD Alliance), which start at 90% of DCI-P3 coverage. The Hisense R7 measured 86.1% of P3.
As stated, the Hisense R7 series Roku TVs aren’t the brightest or darkest 4K Ultra HD performers in the market, which means viewers won’t get the same degree of pop in brightness and color from specular highlights (bright points in the picture like reflected sunlight or campfires). However, HDR images do take on a visible improvement in both brightness and color over SDR versions of the same content. This makes colors–like the red balloon of the demon clown in It–pop with vibrance and brightness from the surrounding background.
Similarly, colors in the beautiful nature footage from the BBC’s Blue Plant II appear dazzlingly bright and realistic, including spectacular sequences from the Great Barrier Reef. On this screen, the Ultra HD Blu-ray version is clearly superior to the regular high-def versions carried by BBC America on DirecTV and cable.
The R7 series comes in four screen sizes: 65 inches ($799.99 suggested retail), 55 inches ($499.99), 50 inches ($349.99), and 43 inches ($279.99), all of which feature a 4K picture and support for baseline HDR10 high dynamic range (HDR), but that’s it. There is no support for Dolby Vision HDR or HDR10+, both of which offer dynamic, rather than static, metadata. The dynamic versions offer color and brightness graded on a scene-by-scene level instead of at one set level for the entire program. This is supposed to offer more lifelike images.
Connections and Controls
The Hisense 50R7 has three HDMI inputs, including one with Audio Return Channel (ARC) on input one. The default setting for each input is Auto, which detects the input source signal and switches between support for HDMI v1.4 or HDMI v2.0 automatically. Users can also switch between the two manually.
Inputs are also available for composite video, USB, Ethernet and optical digital audio.
Additional settings, which are not available via the TV menu screen, are available via the Hisense Roku TV mobile device app. These include: Picture Mode, Gamma, Noise Reduction, Color Temperature, White Balance and Color Calibration.
We found the Hisense 50R7E 4K Roku TV model we tested to be pretty accurate in hitting Rec.709 color gamut points out of the box. Hisense offers only general brightness control settings in the TV menu, accessible via the supplied Roku remote. However, the Roku TV mobile app has two layers of picture controls, including one with both an 11-pt white balance and color management system. But we found these were not very responsive at changing the default readings in our review sample.
Brightness and contrast controls are accessible via the Roku TV app and do work, but we couldn’t get our test model to come out of clipping with peak white half way up the ISF test curve in the latest version of SpectraCal CalMan software.
For our measuring tools, we used a SpectraCal C-6 HDR colorimeter and a Murideo Fresco Six-G test pattern generator.
Most people aren’t going to do extensive calibration of a TV in this price range, or have a professional calibration performed, so it’s probably a good thing that the color and white balance controls don’t have much effect. Untrained users won’t accidentally throw things off dramatically by fumbling around.
The R7 was supposed to be optimized for even lighting across the screen and for the most part, we found this to be true. However, we did notice hot spots in a black-screen pattern toward the bottom of the screen which contributed to reducing the black level of the bottom letter box frame in some bright scenes. The television’s modular LED lighting design isn’t a replacement for a good local dimming system, although it did a respectable job of limiting any large glowing halos around moving white circles on black backgrounds. When these patterns were sped up, though, the target image appeared to double.
We saw quite a bit of banding around bright objects against backgrounds with varying color transitions, like sunsets. But this is to be expected in this price class, where many LCD panels used are still 8 bits.
Picture Processing and Upconversion
In general, HDR delivers the ability to actually see all of those extra pixels you are paying for in a 4K Ultra HDTV picture, and Hisense helps that further by incorporating a UHD upscaler in the television that allows showing content produced at lower resolution and standard dynamic range in a manner that is acceptably clean and clear.
The Hisense R7E series does a very good job at upscaling 1080i and 1080p Full HD material. In addition, the set’s circuitry does a competent job of cleaning up mosquito noise from upconverted SD DVD material, and low-light noise in Blu-ray fare, like the opening Singapore harbor night scene in Pirates of Carribean: At World’s End.
The R7 Roku TVs use native 60 Hz panels, which is par for the course in this price class and not ideal. Hisense uses its motion compensation software to reduce motion blurring pretty well, but image judder was very visible in scenes panning across brick buildings. Other than this, motion smoothing was pretty good. We weren’t bothered by any overt soap opera effect.
Like almost all LED-LCD TVs today, the Hisense R7 Roku TVs suffer from off-angle viewing issues. Colors and contrast begin to drop off just a few steps to the left or right of the center sweet spot. Please keep this in mind if you plan to use the set for Super Bowl parties or other viewing events where a crowd will have to sit around the screen.
The Hisense R7 set design is what we would call pretty plain vanilla. It offers a gloss black bezel trim and matching angled feet attached to the base of the panel toward the left and right ends. The set is reasonably stable though there is a slight wobble back and forth when the top of the screen is slightly pushed. This is something to consider in environments where the set is placed on a tabletop around young children or big pets.
As with all Roku TVs and most Roku adapters, the Hisense R7 uses a Roku-designed hand-held remote. It is small, with only a few buttons and very comfortable in the hand. A central up-down arrow control helps viewers easily navigate the on-screen menus to perform tasks. However, this control does not include a built-in mic for voice searches. Those must be performed using the supporting Roku TV mobile device app or through accessory remotes being offered optionally by Roku.
In fact, the Roku TV mobile app has a number of capabilities not supported in most TV control apps. For one, users are able to listen to TV audio through the smart device over headphones, with the volume turned off on the main set.
For audio, the R7 series is equipped with DTS TruSurround which helps to give sound more depth and immersiveness, despite coming from a pair of tiny, thin built-in speakers. But this is still a weak substitute for a separate add-on soundbar or home theater surround sound system. Where that’s not possible for space or cost purposes, the 65-inch model features up to 30 watts of power, while both the 55-inch and 50-inch models offers 20 watts of power apiece. The 43-inch versions has 14 watts.
Dialog is acceptably clear for most material, but the bass is thin and narrow for most action-style movies. There’s little question that the sound is coming from the television set.
Perhaps the biggest reason to buy a Hisense R7 series television is to get the built-in Roku TV platform, which is continually being updated with new capabilities and features via firmware updates after you get the TV home. For those unfamiliar with Roku adapters that can add the smart TV platform to almost any TV, the Roku TV platform provides that same functionality in a tidy built-in configuration. This brings users more than 5,000 streaming channels or apps, and access to more than 500,000 movies and TV shows.
To quickly find programs available from this sea of selections, Roku provides a variety of search and recommendation functions, including search features that can be controlled via voice input through a supporting smartphone/tablet app. The requested program or recommendations are listed regardless of app provider in order of purchase or rental price, from cheapest (free being first) to most expensive.
Where the Hisense R7 series particularly accels is in gaming. The sets are equipped with a game mode that significantly reduces lag time. This is perfect for gamers looking for a competitive edge. The 50R7 offered a 15ms lag time in 1080p, 2160p and HDR in game mode; 45ms for 1080p and 30ms for 2160p/HDR in Standard Mode. All are respectable numbers, particularly in this price class.
The Hisense 4K Ultra HD R7 series of LED-LCD TVs are recommended purchases for anyone on a budget in need of a new big-screen 4K Ultra HDTV. These sets offer a top-performing smart TV platform, built-in tuners for over-the-air broadcast reception, very clear, evenly lit panels, and a level of picture quality that is respectably clean and clear. That said, the screen doesn’t get as bright as some step-up and premium 4K Ultra HD/HDR television models, black levels are more accurately gray levels, with a less-than-spectacular LED back lighting system. This can make dark areas of a picture look more gray than black, and has some impact on other elements of the picture, like color.
However, it does an excellent job with standard dynamic range (SDR) and Rec.709 color gamut content, which is the majority of what will be watched these days, and unless you have a better television positioned within eyeshot for comparison, it’s unlikely most people are going to notice any limitations.
Furthermore, video gamers will love the low lag time, and nice color handling here.
The Hisense R7E series compares favorably with TCL’s S401, Vizio’s D, and Philips PFL5602/F7 model series. Models are available now through Best Buy, Costco and Sam’s Club, among other retailers.
The Hisense 4K Ultra HD 50R7E Roku TV used for this review was a company loan.
By Greg Tarr
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