Review: Hisense 65R8F 4K Roku TV Brings Bang For The Buck
Late last year we covered the launch of Hisense’s latest budget 4K Ultra HD R8F Roku TV series, and after recently receiving a 65-inch review sample we had the pleasure of taking one through its paces. What we found was an impressive performer at a fantastic value.
The Hisense R8F series is available in two screen sizes: a 55-inches 55R8F ($449.99 average selling price) and a 65-inches 65R8F ($599.99). Both can be described as lower-mid-range 4K LED-LCD TVs, but the model we tested provided a picture quality experience that is better than we expected for the money.
Part of the reason for this is that Hisense employs in these sets its ULED technology. This is Hisense’s terminology for a suite of features that produce important parameters for picture quality. The technology feature package is all processed by the Hisense Hi-View chipset. Hisense is pushing this processor since only about three other manufacturers use their own proprietary chipsets to drive picture and sound performance. At the time of launch last December, the R8F stood as one of the highest performing Roku sets in the Hisense ULED product line. It has since introduced significantly better performing and more expensive lines, which we hope to get to soon.
The Hi-View 4K HDR processor is said to drive the optimization of picture and sound in real-time. The set employs AI-powered upscaling to present lower-resolution content in near 4K/HDR picture quality, the company said. We measured the 65R8F at a stable peak brightness level of 743 nits and a contrast ratio of 6,850:1.
These models do not qualify as 4K UHD “premium” televisions under the Ultra HD Alliance definitions, but they aren’t too far off of the premium measurement criteria for both peak luminance and 4K Ultra HD/HDR performance. The sets are based on direct full-array LED backlighting which presents reasonably good black level performance for a TV of this class. But due to the relatively few number of LED backlighting zones compared to better-performing (and more expensive) models — 60 local dimming zones (65 inch model) and 56 dimming zones (55 inch model)–the TV does have some issues with blooming/haloing around white objects against black (or very dark) backgrounds.
This tends to throw off contrast performance in some dark scenes.
As with any Roku TV the R8F’s strong suit comes from the fully-integrated Roku smart TV operating platform. Everything from the diminutive remote to the well-laid-out user interface makes these televisions both easy to use and familiar, if you’ve had the chance to use a Roku media streaming device or a Roku TV in the past.
Almost no other smart TV or media streamer can boast of the size of their app libraries as Roku can, and the company even provides its own Roku Channel that is packged with ad-supported free-to-stream movies and programs along with access to various premium streaming app service channels that can be subscribed to through Roku. The Roku OS service itself is subscription free, and therefore makes an excellent choice for anyone looking to cut-the-cable cord. But certain app premium services that it aggregates and sells subscriptions to through its channel might require a monthly fee.
The Hisense Roku TV sets, like Roku TVs under most other brands, include a decent ATSC 1.0 over-the-air broadcast TV tuner that brings access to all of the free stations in your local area (from nearly 70 miles away as the crow flies depending on hills and obstructions) when connected to an optional antenna. Roku provides a conveniently positioned channel grid guide to help navigate and tune in over-the-air channels using listings data supplied to the guide through the broadcast signal. It’s all free.
If the local and national broadcasts don’t have anything of interest, viewers can tune in one of literally hundreds of popular streaming video apps, some free and some subscription-based. Some of them also offer 4K/HDR content and others are limited to HD or even SD resolution levels, depending on the service and the amount of available bandwidth available on the user’s Wi-Fi broadband network. All of the major streaming apps are here, including newcomers like Apple TV+ and Disney+, alongside the requisite Netflix, Amazon Prime, CBS All Access, Hulu, YouTube etc.
Finding channels and programs is a pleasure, and for an added perk, Roku has improved the spoken command system in its TVs to make it a breeze to find a specific program by simply pressing a mic button on the remote and speaking the name of a program, movie or actor. In addition, by connecting with an Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speaker equipped with far-field microphones, the TV can also be controlled through Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant voice control platforms.
For 4K video watching, Hisense also supports three of the most popular high dynamic range (HDR) profiles including baseline HDR10, dynamic metadata-based Dolby Vision HDR and live broadcast HLG HDR.
The design of the TV is nice though somewhat similar in appearance to a lot of televisions in this price class. It’s not as slim as a pricey OLED TV or as elegant as the contemporay styling of a higher-end Samsung or Sony TV, but for this price it looks pretty darned nice. The panel depth measures just about 3-inches deep at its thickest point. That’s about what we’d expect for a lower-end full-array LED TV.
The television offers two claw-style feet for its stand. These screw into the base of the panel, one on each end. To accomodate a wide range of table top and credenza surfaces. Hisense nicely provides a second set of mounting slots to position the feet more inward toward the middle of the screen. This way, on the 65-inch model for example, a less broad piece of furniture can be used, with the screen length extending out beyond the sides of the cabinet while retaining stablility.
The stand design in general is very stable with only slight screen wobble when nudged from the rear of the set.
Inputs and outputs are positioned on the rear and to the left side of the screen. Hisense provides four HDMI 2.0 ports, three positioned out to the left side and one positioned straight out of the back of the set. Other connections include a USB port, an optical audio output, an antenna/cable connector, and a reset button, the latter group face directly left to the side of the TV. Next to the lone HDMI port facing directly out of the back of the television are an Ethernet port, a set of analog RCA composite video inputs, and a 3.5mm audio port. This is a nice collection of inputs and outputs for this money, though Hisense is not supporting the new HDMI 2.1 standard or any of its features on this set. That means no eARC, ALLM, VRR, etc, which might be important to those looking to avoid obsolence or to have the TV serve as an up-to-date gaming display.
All Roku TVs offer virtually the same diminutive remote that has been popular with Roku users for years. It holds just 13 buttons plus a top center located up/down/right/left directional control pad for menu selections. It also includes a mic to pick up spoken basic commands and search words when the trigger button is held down. Roku also includes on this model fast selection buttons for ESPN+, Hulu, Netflix, and the Roku Channel to get directly into those services without going through the homescreen. TV volume is controlled with a side-mounted rocker button accompanied by a mute trigger. We’ve long found this remote design to be highly intuitive and comfortable in the hand. However, it lacks any backlighting, which makes it sometimes difficult to use in the dark.
The Hisense 65R8F model we tested came remarkably well calibrated for standard dynamic range (SDR) color, gamma and white balance in our dimly lit testing conditions. This was after we put the television in Movie mode and ensured the color temperature setting was “warm”. This sets the white point closest to D65 (6500 degrees Kelvin) which gives colors a slightly yellowish (and natural looking) tone. However, even with the picture mode set to Movie, we found we had to dial down the black light control from 100 (which is the best setting for high dynamic range, but too strong for SDR). For our room conditions, we placed the general brightness setting in “Normal”, and dialed back the backlight setting from 100 to 35 to get a reading close to 50 foot lamberts and a pretty flat gamma curve at the desired 2.2 levels — all recommended settings for moderately well-lit rooms. We also needed to bring down the contrast setting from 50 to correct for clipping at peak brightness. (We suggest you not attempt setting the television’s peak brightness without a light meter, test pattern generator and calibration software, like the latest version of Portrait Displays’ CalMan that we use in our reviews). Lighting conditions in every room vary and this impacts the way the image appears. It’s very hard to get this right by eyeballing it.
The television hit most of the BT.709 (SDR) color gamut points close to dead on without further adjustment. Fortunately, the set’s 11-point white point settings were very close to where they needed to be out of the box. For advanced settings, Roku TVs require the use of the Roku smartphone app to adjust color temperature and color management levels. Sadly, the system does not provide a 2-point grayscale white balance adjustment. We found the app-based white balance controls were not very responsive in our attempts at tweaking the picture slightly, although the color management system worked well. It’s not a deal killer, but we prefer all of the picture setting controls to be onboard in the television. Having some of the more advanced settings in a mobile device app is clunky and harder to use in a thorough calibration. Again, anyone without the proper tools should leave this control alone.
Overall, upconverted Full HD and HD SDR pictures, which will represent a great majority of what most people will watch, were excellent for a television of this size and price.
In real world viewing we found colors and clarity to be excellent for the Full HD 1080p SDR presentation of the BBC’s Planet Earth I streamed from Vudu. Pictures of the coral reef scenes were vibrant and well saturated. This high quality source material also helped the television’s ability to present pleasingly dark shadow detail without some of the milkier look we noticed viewing certain HDR content, which we describe later.
The television did have some problems in general presenting fine shadow detail from both SDR and HDR content. We noticed significant detail crusing in the dark scenes of the Full HD 1080p version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2 (about 1:25 in) streamed via Vudu. This night scene where Voldemort amasses his legion of dark wizards on a mountain cliff was so dark we could hardly see the swirling dark cloudy effect we look for when assessing a display’s ability to show fine shadow detail.
For high dynamic range (HDR), the Hisense 65R8F 4K Roku TV was a generally good performer for a mid-level television. We measured peak luminance at just under 750 nits (1000 nits is the threshold for premium level HDR performance according to the UHD Alliance). For wide color gamut, our review sample measured 85% of the UHDA-P3 recommendation (90% is the threshold for premium 4K TV level performance).
The television’s EOTF PQ gamma performance was slightly brighter than the curve used by content creators for contrast and color grading, meaning that image brightness levels and color volume will be somewhat brighter than the artistic intent and some clipping of bright highlights can be seen ocassionally in some scenes.
In real-world viewing, we found the Hisense 65R8F did a nice job of presenting visibly brighter specular highlights than many other TVs in this price range generally do. Missing was some of the punch of color and brightness we are accustomed to seeing from higher-end HDR sets. Still, we found the HDR experience enjoyable for a television of this price. As we saw in our SDR analysis, shadow detail was crushed in very dark scenes from HDR content and turning up contrast or backlighting throws off the handling the brightness levels.
The starfield scene in the opening credits of the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version of The Martian presented fewer visible stars than are present watching on LED-LCD TVs with denser LED local dimming zones.
But, in general, the television did a very good job presenting rich, dynamic colors in specular highlights, such as the campfires scattered throughout the deep wooded settings one 4K HDR Blu-ray disc version of The Revenant.
Our biggest complaint is with the television’s ability to mitigate blooming or bright objects against dark backgrounds. We found black levels in HDR contrast to take on a somewhat washed out overall look compared to 4K OLED televisions and higher-end full-array LED-LCD TVs with a larger number of local dimming zones. The degree of cloudy haze around groups of stars in the moving starfield pattern from the Spears & Munsil UHD Blu-ray HDR Benchmark test pattern disc was quite pronounced in some sequences.
Darker scenes in the 4K HDR version of Men In Black showed some haloing around specular highlights in shadowy scenes while some details were crushed in the darker areas. At the other end of the scale, bright HDR pinpoints exhibited some clipping of detail.
On the other hand the 65R8F did a nice job of keeping blooming/flashlighting from spilling into the letterbox borders of 2.40:1 formatted 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray movies. Furthermore, HDR colors were electically vibrant in the opening credit scenes of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Overall, color us impressed with the picture quality from a television as inexpensive as the Hisense 65R8F.
Noise Handling and Motion
For motion handling, both R8F television models have native 60 Hz refresh rate LCD panels, and both units employ 240 Motion Estimation Motion Compensation (MEMC) circuitry that provides smooth motion images for sports and live video viewing when activated. However, this can cause the image lose a couple of steps of brightness, presumably from black frame insertion. As with most motion smoothing tricks, the system does produce some noticable soap opera effect when turned up high, but for movie purests it can be defeated entirely to avoid this distraction.
Using the Hisense processor, the set leverages AI-powered upscaling to present lower-resolution content in near 4K/HDR picture quality with minimal added artificats. Lower resolution Blu-ray and even DVD content was acceptable for images on a screen this size.
The Hisense 65H8F had some dirty screen effect on 100% white and gray screen test patterns. Faint smudging appears at the top and bottom of the screen near the frame, and a faint jail bar pattern can be seen across the screen. However, very little of this was visible when viewing real world video content with panned scenes. The television otherwise has excellent uniformity on black screen patterns.
View Angles and Screen Reflection
This is an LCD TV and as such the Hisense 65R8F has some limitations with off-axis viewing. However, the television’s VA-type panel is better than many at holding color and contrast performance when moving to left and right angles from center screen until about 50 degrees. This is because the series this year employs a special filter that significantly widens the viewing angle. Unfortuately, the television loses some picture performance when viewed from high and low angles, which should be considered if you intended to mount the television on a wall at a high angle to people seated around the screen.
The television does pick up screen reflections when room lights are on above or in front of the screen, and depending on the intensity of the brightness of the room lights this can be distracting viewing dark scenes.
The Hisense 65R8F lacks some of the latest features for gaming–such as Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) and Variable Refresh Rate (VRR)–available through the HDMI 2.1 spec. However, in Game Mode the set does offer an excellent 17.7 ms refresh rate for 1080p and 4K Ultra HD source input.
The sound system built into the Hisense 65R8F includes built-in Dolby Atmos 3D sound shaping to help the TVs’ built-in down-firing speakers provide an expanded sound stage with immersive virtual surround effects. Like most budget television sets, the on-board sound in the Hisense 65R8F lacks some bass punch and takes on a somewhat boxier/hollow sounding quality. This makes the quality of the sound experience a little below level of the picture quality. The Dolby Atmos sound processing does widen the soundstage some, but as with most TVs today, the set’s thin speakers make the overall experience less convincing than we’d like. If you can afford the extra money we highly recommend the purchase of Roku’s excellent and affordable soundbar, subwoofer and wireless surround speakers to make both the sight-and-sound experience more immersive. The Roku-designed audio components also integrate seamlessly with the on-board Roku TV platform, making for a simple- to use and set-up package.
We found the Roku 65R8F 4K Ultra HD LED-LCD TV to be one of the best values for anyone shopping for an affordable 4K Ultra HDTV this year. It has excellent picture quality for the money and includes the excellent Roku TV operating system, which is one of our favorite platforms for ease of use and app selection. That’s not to say it’s a perfect television; There are some tradeoffs in lost shadow detail and specular highlight oompf compared to more expensive higher-performing 4K television sets, but for a 65-inch 4K TV selling well-below $1,000 this model is hard to beat. Gamers will find the set’s quick response time excellent for most titles, especially where consoles are used. Overall we found the television to be an impressive performer for the money, and we can highly recommend it to anyone looking for a solid mid-range 4K Ultra HDTV.
We therefore award the Roku 65R8F 4K Ultra HD LED-LCD TV four out of five hearts.
The Roku 65R8F used for this review was a company loan.
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By Greg Tarr
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