Review: Hisense H9E Plus TV Is A Colorful Bargain
Holiday shoppers looking for a reasonable bargain on a better performing 4K Ultra HD LED-LCD TV should consider the Hisense H9E Plus series, which is currently available in screen sizes of 55- and 65-inches.
The Hisense H9E Plus is very good at presenting most content, from movies, to sports to standard television fare. It also works acceptably well in either dark rooms or somewhat bright rooms. The 4K picture is sharp and detailed, but high dynamic range (HDR) lacks enough peak brightness to give pictures much punch.
For this review, we tested the 55-inch version, which is almost identical to the 65 inch, and found a television that presents an excellent 4K standard dynamic range (SDR) picture with good colors and nice dark blacks. Other than size, the primary difference between the two is the on-board sound system. The 55-inch comes with a better Harman Kardon-designed system, while the 65-inch has only the standard dbx-TV platform.
In either case, sound is not the television’s strong suit. Sound tends to be too boxy and directional from the small internal speakers, although dialog is clear and understandable in most cases. We recommend getting a soundbar or home theater surround sound system with either model.
Picture-wise, these are some of the company’s top performing models for 2018 as Hisense seeks to build a reputation as a manufacturer of top-level performing products.
The Hisense 55H9E Plus can be found this holiday season for around $599.99 ($699.99 suggested retail price). The while 65H9E Plus is available for $899.99 and carries an $1,199.99 suggested retail price. Note that this is a better performing and somewhat more expensive series than the Hisense very similarly named HD9E series, which might get confusing for some on the showroom floor. Remember to look for the “Plus” in the model number.
In recent years, we’ve found Hisense televisions to be well built and we expect them to remain reliable for at least the average life expectancy of an LCD TV (around 6.5 years). All Hisense televisions now have one-year warranties.
In addition to the bright contrasty picture in SDR, the 55H9E Plus offers typical mid-range 4K HDR performance. In addition, these sets provide a very slick new Android Oreo smart TV OS which has a clean and easy-to-use app layout with a good selection of some [not all] of the most popular streaming services. Those who like voice-powered AI control can choose from between Google Assistant (built in) or the Amazon Alexa platform, which requires a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo or similar device to use voice control for basic TV functions and home automation devices.
The television supports the HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR profiles, but it does not support the HDR10+ or Advanced HDR by Technicolor versions, both of which still lack much available content. Dolby Vision has a pretty robust content library today and offers dynamic metadata for a greater range of color and brightness grading scene to scene, where standard HDR10 is found on almost all 4K/HDR content but grades at one level of parameters throughout a movie or program.
Part of the reason for the lower HDR performance is that the H9E Plus series uses edge-lit LED panels. This does not provide the localized control of brightness levels across the screen that full-array LED backlight systems do and contributes to haloing around bright objects on dark backgrounds. The set’s local dimming system is also incapable of overcoming such issues.
However, the H9E Plus series does use native 120 Hz refresh rate panels, which when coupled with the 240 Motion Rate system, does a decent job at minimizing motion blurring and judder in live video and sports, but the sharp resolution of the screen can add slight soap opera effect to film-originated content even with the 240 Motion Rate system turned off.
In addition, the television tends to crush some shadow detail in very dark portions of an image, both in HDR and SDR viewing. Some blooming and light bleed through can be seen around white targets on black backgrounds despite the local dimming circuitry.
The television’s upconversion and noise reduction are good, as is standard dynamic range (SDR) color accuracy. We measured an average Delta E error level of 2, where anything below 3 is consider imperceptible. This is very good, considering most of the content anyone will be watching for a while will be graded at SDR levels.
Unfortunately, off-axis viewing angles are typical of VA-type LCD panels: color and contrast quality drops off quickly moving to left or right of dead center screen. The same is true for low and high angle viewing, which might be a consideration if the television is to be wall mounted high or low relative to the focal plane.
The Hisense H9E Plus has an elegant design. It features today’s standard thin-bezel framing around the screen in glossy black with chrome outter edges and a matching sleek metallic stand with forked feet. These extend to nearly the full width of the screen. The rear of the TV is made of plastic with a textured finish.
The 55H9E Plus has four HDMI 2.0 inputs, each of which can be set to “enhanced” mode for higher level 4K video games and other content. It also includes two USB inputs, an antenna input, a set of composite RCA AV inputs, an Ethernet port and an optical audio output. All of these are found on the rear of the set on the stage right side. Most ports face out to the side, but one HDMI input, the composite inputs and Ethernet port are positioned facing straight out toward the wall.
The H9E Plus series adds the Android Oreo TV operating system which features an extensive library of supported streaming apps. However, the Amazon Prime Instant Video app is not one of them. For those with Prime accounts, there is a work around to add the app via a software download to a USB drive. This can be plugged into the USB port on the TV to install the app on the set, but this is certainly not as simple as adding an app from the Google Play Store library.
The H9E Plus TVs also have a pair of options for using voice control including built-in Google Assistant voice AI technology that lets users hold a button on the remote and speak simple commands to make basic TV adjustments and perform program searches. It will also control compatible home automation-enhanced appliances, like Hisense portable air conditioners, networked thermostats, lighting and smart cameras.
Those with Amazon Alexa smart speakers, like the Echo, can also connect these devices to the television through a wireless network to speak commands for the TV and other Alexa-skill-enabled smart devices. Commands can be spoken into the speaker’s always-on far-field microphones. This capability can also be used with an Alexa app on an Android smartphone.
Just keep in mind that the Alexa mic in smart speakers is always on and potentially listening in to conversations. (Despite the company’s claims to the contrary, hackers can do just about anything to a connected device). In the case of the Google Assistant AI, Hisense places a mic in the remote control that requires a button press and hold in order to awaken voice collection.
The smart TV platform made setup easy when using an Android phone or tablet. Android applies the user’s Google information to make the necessary settings, even setting up a pre-registered YouTube account on the YouTube app.
We found the Google Assistant voice AI to be very responsive and quickly executed spoken commands like “switch to HDMI 1,” or “call up YouTube.” Upon selecting YouTube, the system automatically begins playing a recommended program based on user viewing preferences. This can be quickly dispatched by asking Google to play a specific title or channel by voice. We found the system to be very accurate at finding and displaying programs for a topic of interest, without having to type a single letter. However, the system can be tripped up by terminology, so it’s not usual for the Google Assistant AI to ask for re-phrasing a command from time to time.
Unfortunately, we found the HDMI-CEC control, and hence, Google Assistant, did not interact well with DirecTV satellite boxes, requiring us to use the default DirecTV remote to find and select programming on that service.
The multi-colored-dot button on the remote activates the Google Assistant voice control.
The remote control is about the size of a full size candy bar and includes six fast access keys to popular streaming video apps including Netflix, Sling TV, FandangoNow, Google Play, YouTube, and TikiLive. Under those is an up-down-left-right arrow toggle with a center execute button. The remote is small, light and mostly flat on the surface, which makes it comfortable to hold in one hand, but it lacks lighting and buttons can be hard to find in the dark. Further, the arrow keys aren’t well defined to the touch and accidental presses are easily made. As mentioned, the mic for Google Assistant is located in the top right corner of the remote where it will pick up voice commands to search for a variety of programs and topics from the Internet. Voice commands can be used to control volume or select inputs.
As mentioned, the H9E Plus series will play most popular HDR content, but the weak peak levels (just over 400 nits measured in a D65 10% white window pattern) left us wanting more. The brightness didn’t get any higher with wider window targets. The 25% window measures 241 nits and the 100% window measured 275 nits. We had to boost the contrast and brightness controls to full (the backlight is set to full when HDR is present by default) to get the measurements we did, and that is not recommended for regular viewing, unless you want your black levels to look washed out. On the plus side, the HDR brightness levels are sustained at a good consistent level without ramping down too quickly. However, thanks to the set’s good color capabilities, all of those 4K pixels still go to good use.
The freshwater dolphin scenes from Disc 3 of the BBC’s 4K/HDR Blu-ray set of Planet Earth II display rich and natural colors without over saturation, but peak highlights from reflected sun on the water surface appear a bit clipped.
Similarly, colors and texture details are more visible in the HDR10 Ultra HD Blu-ray version of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but the brilliantly bright and colorful HDR specular highlights from explosions and spaceship interior lighting is almost as flat as the SDR standard Blu-ray version.
Black levels look dark and rich, but fine shadow detail is pretty well engulfed by the surrounding black shadows.
Full star field backdrops, such as the deep space sequences in the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version of The Martian show crushed details, with fewer visible stars compared to brighter televisions, and flesh tones in faces of astronauts inside brightly light cabins are more washed out. Again, the color and overall picture quality is still good for SDR performance expectations, but in HDR you don’t get the full monty.
As mentioned, the H9E Plus series uses LED edge lighting which doesn’t produce the best HDR effects in most applications. In addition, the local dimming system that Hisense uses is inadequate to reduce haloing or blooming, which are particularly noticeable in dark room viewing.
The Hisense 55H9E Plus has premium-level color gamut coverage at 93.1% (uv) of the DCI-P3 recommendation for professional movie theaters. Ninety percent or higher is considered “premium” level performance by the Ultra HD Alliance.
After calibration, the television’s SDR performance is spectacular, with an average Delta E error of below 2, where anything below 3 is considered imperceptible.
The 55H9E Plus has a nice clean picture when playing most scenes from standard 1080p Blu-ray Discs. Low-light background noise in the Asian night time harbor scenes of Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End, are remarkably clear.
Like most 4K televisions, the 55H9E Plus uses a 10-bit LCD panel, however, we did see some visible banding issues in difficult sky transitions, underwater scenes and bright graphics on solid colored backgrounds. This is the case with some Ultra HD Blu-ray content and upconverted SDR.
Upcoverson from standard definition 480p DVDs is relatively clean and clear considering the original source material. The black & white DVD version of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho looks much as it does on 720p displays, with little added edge noise around on-screen lettering, while the deep blacks in SDR help to mask much of the film grain.
Both black screen and gray screen uniformity could be better. Due to the subpar edge-lit LED local dimming system, some light bleeding is present on solid black screens and we noticed that when white objects appear on solid black surfaces, significant blooming appears both above and below the object, while the outer edges of the screen remain black.
On gray screen patterns some dirty screen effect is present and occasionally shows through in scenes with pans with bright backgrounds. This isn’t distracting, however, unless you look for it.
Video gamers will like the low input lag of the Hisense 55H9E Plus, which measured both 4K with HDR and 1080/60p signals at under 34ms. This is good enough to present clear images for most games, including those with fast action. However, the television does not support forthcoming new gaming technologies like ALLM, FreeSync or Variable Refresh Rate at this time. These enhancements which are present in some advanced gaming consoles and PC graphics cards reduce image tearing and other artifacts and are features built into the new HDMI 2.1 Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) system appearing in select HDMI 2.0b products, and will be a staple of the forthcoming HDMI 2.1 connector expected in the second half of 2019 and beyond.
The Hisense 55H9E Plus is one of our recommended value 4K televisions of the year in the entry to mid-range of 2018 4K Ultra HDTVs. The set has significantly above average picture quality, and a very good smart TV platform at a reasonable price. For a few extra dollars, we think the H9E Plus is a better pick than the Hisense H8E and H9E series and most bargain basement entry level 4K models. For those looking for a television that displays HDR the way film makers intend it to be seen, this probably isn’t the right pick. But anyone who needs to stay within budget and wants a brilliantly clear picture with a lot of rich colors, deep blacks, and respectable gaming capability, this might be exactly what you’re looking for.
We therefore award the Hisense 55H9E Plus 3.5 out of 5 hearts.
The Hisense 55H9E Plus used for this review was a company loan.
By Greg Tarr
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