Review: Hisense 55H8F Elevates 4K HDR At A Value
The Hisense H8 series has been one of our favorite value 4K TV lines for the past few years, and we are pleased to say the 2019 version is better than ever.
We found the television series to have impressive picture quality in both standard and high dynamic range (HDR) with clear and understandable dialog from the built-in sound system for an affordably priced television.
Budget-minded shoppers will find the prices to be competitively positioned against the top brands, with price points of $399.99 for the 50-inch (50H8F) model, $499.99 for the 55-inch (55H8F) model and $699.99 for the 65-inch (65H8F). We believe that the picture quality exceeds that of many products in this class and the loaded feature set brings nice bang for the buck.
Although each of these models share the same features, keep in mind that Hisense is using different LCD panels in each screen size so picture performance levels, beyond simple screen size, might vary slightly from model step to model step. For our review we tested the 55-inch 55H8F, which we expect will be the most popular screen size for the target audience.
For those who aren’t familiar with the brand, Hisense is a China-based television manufacturer (many of its products for North America are now assembled in Mexico) that has been a top-ranked TV maker in its domestic market for decades. In the United States, the company is steadily establishing a reputation as a value-driven brand specializing in smart TVs based on three different operating systems — Android TV, Roku TV and its own Vidaa.
The H8F series uses the Android TV platform, which is one of the most robust and popular platforms available this year.
Hisense H8F Series
The Hisense H8F series falls into what the company calls its “ULED” classification for televisions. Unlike other TV markers that use similar sub-brand designations to denote a particular display technology (like QLED for quantum dots or OLED for organic light emitting diode panels), ULED, according to Hisense, applies to a range of performance criteria including: more brightness, higher contrast, smoother motion handling, wide color gamut greater than 90% of P3, and peak brightness up to 700 nits for high dynamic range (HDR). Peak brightness is technically too low to qualify for Ultra HD Alliance UHD Premium certification (e.g. 1000 nits peak brightness minimum), but the 55H8F on target for most other accounts.
Each of the H8F series models use full-array LED backlighting with local dimming offering more direct control over LEDs to generate better black levels. The number of LED local dimming zones varies by model screen size, and we expect the dimming performance will generally get better as the count goes higher. The 65-inch model has 60 zones, the 55-inch model has 56 zones and the 50-inch model has 32-zones.
Hisense is also using here motion compensation techniques including a combination of black frame insertion and backlight scanning for smoother motion and reduced judder. This can be defeated for movie watching, set to “movie” mode or switched to custom settings.
This year, Hisense is using its own Hi-View processing chip to drive many of the television’s “ULED” performance features. In the case of the H8F, the Hi-View chipset version 3710 is used to drive upscaling and artifact reduction, and does the job quite well for a television at this price.
Hisense said the chipset uses advanced algorithms that automatically adjust
picture quality settings and audio performance. These PQ algorithms boost color, contrast, brightness and enhance motion.
We found the set did a nice job minimizing background noise in the low-lit Asian harbor sequences on the Blu-ray version of Pirates of the Caribbean At World’s End.
However, some banding issues were visible in the muddy underwater sequences in the fresh water dolphin chapter of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of the BBC’s Planet Earth II.
One of the strengths of Hisense is its ability to produce upscale-looking televisions that appear to cost more than they actually do. The 2019 H8F series is no exception. The screen is bordered by an ultra-thin black bezel trim that disappears against black letter box borders on the screen. The matching forked feet at the left and right ends of the screen, provide a rich visual accent while keeping the screen stable.
The remote provides clearly marked number and action keys that enhance the intuitively easy set-up and control of the television.
For the second year in a row, Hisense is using Google’s popular Android TV smart TV OS in all models in the H8 series (H8F this year). For those who prefer the Roku TV OS, Hisense will be offering a separate R8F series with similar features, just a different smart TV experiece. However, the Android TV platform is positioned as Hisense’s premium smart TV option, in part due to the wide selection of apps and content options, video games and built-in Google Assistant voice control platform. The latter makes it very easy to control many of the television’s features, find content and make selections, simply by speaking. Being part of Google’s Android platform, users also have the ability to control Google Home compatible smart home devices and appliances through the television, without the need of a separate smart speaker.
We found the latest implementation of Android on the TV’s user interface to be sensibly laid out and easy to navigate. Finding favorite apps was fast and easy, and zipping through menu selections was satisfying without much lagging.
For content, the set offers a wide selection of the most popular streaming apps, and offers an extensive assortment of online video game titles, although these are generally less graphically sophisticated than games authored for newer dedicated gaming consoles.
The remote offers quick-access buttons for Netflix, YouTube, GooglePlay, and Vudu apps. Many others are available through the Google PlayStore App. However, as we tested the 55H8F, the Android TV platform was not yet supporting the Amazon Prime streaming service app in the television’s PlayStore library. This is despite the fact that Amazon and Google recently agreed to carry each other’s apps on their Fire TV and Android devices. However, the app is available through the Chromecast-built-in feature that is supported in the set, allowing content from Amazon Prime to be streamed from a connected Android mobile device or PC running the Chrome browser cast to the television.
The previously mentioned voice control system that uses the button-activated mic in the remote was intuitive and fun to use. Google Assistant voice control is one of the most responsive and accurate voice technologies in the market and most Android phone users will find the implementation in the television to be very familiar. Hisense has designed the voice control to work only with a push-to-talk mic button on the remote. Just press, hold and speak a command. This should ensure privacy conscious users that the television is not always listening in on private conversations. (Although in this age, who really knows for sure?).
Those with an Amazon Alexa smart speaker, like an Echo or Dot, can also set up the H8F TV to be controlled by voice command with the Amazon device by adding an Alexa Skill for a “Hisense SmartTV.” Easy to use on-screen prompts take the user through the setup and connection process.
The Hisense H8F models all support the leading high dynamic range (HDR) profiles including the standard HDR10, Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) and Dolby Vision (dynamic metadata) profiles. The television nicely presents a brief flag indicated when it is playing material with one of the supported formats. It will default to Dolby Vision over HDR10 in supported content.
The 55H8F model we tested, had a reasonably bright peak luminance level for HDR sources. We measured HDR10 peak luminance at 684 nits using a 10% D65 white window pattern, 644.1 nits inside a 25% D65 window, 494.3 nits in a 50% window, and 348.2 nits in a 100% D65 full screen pattern. HDR clipping was generally minimal inside bright specular highlights. In SDR, clipping was generally well controlled although at peak luminance, RGB color accuracy was slightly impacted at the highest levels.
At these lower peak brightness levels, HDR scenes from The Revenant, showing candlight inside a dim wildnerness outpost canteen didn’t have quite the same punch as seen on brighter premium televisions like Samsungs’ Q90R or Sony’s Z9F. Still, at these prices, the performance was better than would be expected.
Black level measured an excellent 0.0087 nits metering in the center of a target window pattern with concentric bands of continuously brighter gray levels, forcing the LED zones to stay lit. However, we did notice some crushing of black shadow detail in and around the darkest black shadow areas of HDR and SDR images, like the absence of lapel lines on a dark black suit jacket televised in some live SDR HD news broadcasts of President Trump.
In HDR content, color handling is quite good. Hisense uses RG phosphor-coated blue LED back lights to achieve a 93.9% of the P3 wide color gamut. However, the television doesn’t achieve the same peak color brightness (color volume) or saturation levels of OLED or quantum dot-enhanced displays, as would be expected in this price range.
In SDR, color points were highly accurate for the BT.709 target in the pre-calibrated “Theater Day” mode. Delta e 2000 color errors were all within the virtually imperceptible 3 range as measured in the ISF work flow in Calman calibration software from Portrait Displays. We measured with a Portrait Displays-Spectracal C6-HDR colorimeter and a Murideo Six-G test pattern generator. In Theater Day (with some ambient light) and Theater Night (in dark viewing rooms) the set requires very little tweaking from the default settings. However, with the color temperature in “low” setting, which is closest to D65, images still appear a little cool (blueish) in bright content like live television programming. Overall, however, pre-set SDR color in Theater Day and Theater Night modes is very good and with little or no adjustment. This is good, since at this price level we expect very few purchasers will spring for the cost of a professional calibration.
The 55H8F we tested did have some slightly noticeable dirty screen effect on a 100% gray screen. This is occasionally noticeable in pans across bright backgrounds in real world video sequences. Black uniformity was somewhat inconsistent due to the relatively low number of LED dimming zones. Blooming and haloing around bright white objects on solid black grounds was apparent using both HDR and SDR targets, like moving star fields. But this is usually only an issue when watching dimly lit scenes, like deep space sequences or night scenes in movies like the brightly lit Manhattan street light sequences in the HDR and SDR Blu-ray versions of “Sully,” when Tom Hank’s character goes for an evening jog in Times Square. In these sequences, some bleed through from blooming around bright on-screen objects was observed in black letter box borders.
The H8F televisions employ VA-type LCD panels, which limits off-axis viewing somewhat on both horizontal and vertical angles. However, this set has a somewhat wider viewing angle than many lower-priced VA-type LCD TVs on the market. Purchasers intending to wall mount these sets should be careful not to mount the the set at an angle much beyond 60 degrees to the left or right of center axis or much beyond a foot or two above or below the center line of sight, or some diminishment in contrast and color will be experienced.
The Hisense H8F models have generally excellent input lag times ranging from 15 ms to 25 ms (the 65H8F having the lowest lag) across the three screen sizes. We measured 17.1 ms in both Full HD and 4K/60p in the Game Mode picture setting. To get the fastest times the set needs to be manually set to game mode, as the set does not support some of the newer gaming features in the HDMI 2.1 specification like Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), Auto Low Latenacy Mode (ALLM) or FreeSync. The latter two are designed to automatically put a television into the game mode setting when input from a supporting console is detected.
We expect many people who purchase this set will opt to play video games via the built-in Android TV smart TV operating system. This platform affords a wide selection of streamed video game titles which can be played using the supplied remote control, and works quite well for basic game play.
The Hisense H8F series models have a nice assortment of inputs, including 4 HDMI 2.0b inputs, 2 USB ports, a set of RCA analog A/V composite video inputs, 1 AUX port, 1 optical audio output, and an Ethernet jack. The set will also connect wirelessly to the home Wi-Fi network and to mobile devices via Bluetooth.
For motion compensation users have the option of setting Custom, Film, Clear, Standard or Smooth using an assortment of techniques including advanced black-frame insertion to simulate the look of a native 240 rate, although we rarely find such systems to actually look as good as the listed number, and this set is no exception. For a lot of content, including live television, the set handles motion quite well. However, we recommend turning the motion compensation off entirely for movie viewing to remove issues with soap opera effect. It can be turned back on in the picture-settings menu for fast action live video such as sports to reduce blurring of fast-moving subjects. The 55H8F we reviewed here has a native 60 Hz refresh rate, which isn’t the best when motion compensation is off. Some color and pixelization issues will result in moving subjects, and judder is present in pans across grid structures, like brickwork or tree lines, particularly with 24 fps film-based content. This is a problem with most 4K LCD-based sets and even OLED TVs. Adjusting for this in custom mode can reduce some issues but will gradually bring on soap opera effect if tuned up to high, making film-based material look like over-sharpened live video. This lessens the illusion of viewing content in a professional cinema, and tends to enrage content producers. People really bothered by motion issues might want to look for a step-up TV series, like the Hisense H9E or H9F with a 120 Hz native refresh rate LCD panel.
On-board sound in the H8F is good, but won’t pass for a full surround sound package or add-on sound bar. The sound is produced by a pair of 15-watt stereo speakers and dbx-TV sound processing to simulate surround effects. Dialog is clear and direct, but the sound stage is somewhat narrow and hallow or boxy, as is the case with most speakers in thin-design television sets.
Hisense has made considerable strides in improving the picture quality and smart TV functionality in this year’s H8F 4K Ultra HD Android TV series. We found the picture quality to be well above expectations for a television in this price class. The Android TV OS offers plenty of options for finding virtually any movie or television program available to stream online, and the built-in Google voice control or add-on capability using an Alexa skill to connect with a smart speaker make this a versatile and fun-to-use display. Those who prefer the also robust and fun-to-use Roku TV smart TV platform will have the option to get a similarly configured Hisene R8F Roku TV later in the year. Alternatively, TCL offers a 55-inch Roku TV in its 6 Series for about the same price. But we found plenty to like in the 55H8F Android version. You won’t get enough brightness for the full premium 4K experience with this model, but levels nearing 700 nits of peak brightness are excellent for this amount of money. The set does exhibit some blooming/haloing and artifacts like banding and image judder on some material, but the on-board processing kept this from being distracting for most content. In the end, the Hisense 55H8F is an HD Guru recommended value TV.
We therefore award the Hisense 55H8F 4 out of 5 hearts.
The Hisense 55H8F used for this review was a company loan.
By Greg Tarr
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