Review: Samsung UN65JS8500 4K Ultra HD LED TV
Samsung’s best TVs for 2015 are branded under the SUHD moniker: UHD for ultra high-definition, and the ‘S’ signifies a flagship product like the company’s popular Galaxy S smart phones. For the last few years, Samsung’s best LCD televisions have featured curved screen designs and this year is no different.
The Samsung JS9500 features a full-array local dimming LED backlight that delivers best in class brightness and contrast, but its level of performance doesn’t come cheap. For anyone wanting the company’s latest TV technologies in a more affordable flat screen design, the new Samsung UN65JS8500 ($2,997.99) 4K SUHD TV stands ready to deliver an improved UHD viewing experience with richer, more vibrant color and enhanced dynamic range compared to past sets.
More of our review of the Samsung UN65JS8500 after the jump:
Size, style, and setup
Unboxing the JS8500 reveals a stylishly unique design with brushed metal trim encircling a dark colored screen. Bezel widths measured a half-inch along top and bottom and slightly wider along the sides. The TV’s T-shaped base stand measured slightly more than 39-inches wide and its front-facing edge matches the bezel with a brushed finish. The back of the JS8500’s chassis may be my favorite to date with an attractive grayish-silver corrugated design that tapers to rounded edges on the sides.
Available in screen sizes of 48-inches, 55-inches, and the 65-inches of my Samsung-supplied tester, the latter weighed in at about 61-pounds without the stand and about 9-pounds heavier with the stand attached. The JS8500’s 400mm x 400mm VESA mounting interface is compatible with standard wall-mount hardware
The Samsung SUHD family of TVs feature the company’s latest display technologies that take several steps beyond the basic increase in number of pixels of the UHD standard. All SUHD TVs, including the JS8500, feature VA panel technology for superb picture contrast at the expense of a tighter viewing sweet spot compared to IPS panels. The TV’s 3840 x 2160 pixel resolution screen is illuminated by a redesigned backlight system that features “Nano crystal color” (aka quantum dot) materials that enable greater primary color purity and brightness resulting in a color palette that can far exceed the HD format and approaches the standard used in commercial cinema. Of course, the TV’s color output can be precisely controlled to accurately depict HD video content as we’ll see in the benchmark section later in this article. The UHD format also brings high dynamic range (HDR) imagery to the table, and the JS8500 is ready to decode imbedded metadata that describes this content’s expanded luminance information.
Compared to the premium curved screen JS9500 that features a full-array LED backlight system with local dimming capabilities, the JS8500 is edge-lit yet retains local dimming functionality for improved contrast performance. Compared to the highly-rated 2014 Samsung HU8550 that it succeeds, the JS8500 adds a Cinema Black option that reduces the backlight output in the bars of letterboxed movies for a more immersive viewing experience particularly in dark room viewing environments.
Owners of the JS8500 will not be disappointed by its sound quality. The 10W stereo speakers are augmented with a pair of 10W subwoofers that delivered a well-balanced listening experience without any obvious signs of distortion even at maximum volume levels. If the TV’s audio had a weakness, it was that I wanted it louder, but that’s what a good soundbar or surround sound system is for.
Input options and networking
Similar to the external input box dubbed One Connect on the JS9500 and JS9000, the JS8500 features a smaller unit called the One Connect Mini. The Mini features the same selection of four HDMI inputs including one enabled for MHL and another supporting ARC (Audio Return Channel) for use with compatible audio amplifiers. All HDMI ports were compatible with 4K UHD video sources at up to 60Hz refresh rates including those that require HDCP 2.2 content protection. The compact input box also incorporates an optical audio output as well as two USB 2.0 ports rated for 5V 1A output. The rest of the JS8500’s inputs are located on the rear of the set and include a USB 3.0 port for use with an optional camera, Ethernet, RF, and jacks for component and composite video dongles. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity are built in – the latter includes support for mice, keyboards, and headphones.
The curved compact baton-style design of the new Samsung Smart Control remote fit comfortably in my hand, and its textured and contoured backside provided a solid grip with easy orientation. The remote’s precise cursor control is similar to that of using a Nintendo Wiimote, and as with last year’s implementation, it remains one of the most stable and accurate point-and-click controllers of any TV I’ve tested. However, I found the updated design lacked the superior tactile feedback of last year’s remote control that featured a larger cursor control pad that was surrounded by raised edges that made it easier to locate by touch. A virtual on-screen remote mimics the functionality of a standard baton-style Samsung remote, but there were pleasingly few occasions that I needed to use it.
The selection of games that most smart TVs feature give me flashbacks to cell phone gaming in the ’90’s. Thankfully, a recent software update for 2014 and 2015 Samsung UHD TVs has added Sony’s PlayStation Now game streaming service. A DualShock 4 Wireless Controller is required for use (PS3 controllers are not compatible). Games are available for rent and purchase, and the available selection of titles continues to expand with something for everyone. Using a decent wired and wireless broadband Internet connection, I found gaming with the service smooth and lag free. While PlayStation Now won’t completely replace the functionality of a modern HD game console, it’s great to finally have a quality gaming experience built into a TV.
The digital TV tuner in the JS8500 exhibited excellent sensitivity with a smallish flat-style antenna I used to receive local stations that broadcast over-the-air (OTA). Useful program information is concisely displayed along the top of the screen including the time, video format, aspect ratio, and audio format information. Channel surfing was snappy, and the only other thing a cord cutter could ask for is a built-in DVR app (something no TV manufacturer currently offers), but it is a feature that Samsung offers in some of its smart TVs sold outside of North America.
Compared to a year ago with otherwise excellent TVs like the Samsung HU8550 and the HU9000, the JS8500 and its new Tizen operating system offer a completely revamped and refreshing app experience that features a high resolution interface and app icons that make the not-so-older smart sets look dated. However, there is room for improvement as not all apps utilize the remote’s point-and-click cursor control, and some apps are in dire need of a code overhaul (e.g. MLB.TV appears largely unchanged from a year ago and is much better experienced on a game console like the PlayStation 3 or 4.) App availability has improved since the launch of Samsung’s SUHD TVs with recent additions including the aforementioned MLB.TV, HBO Go, Pandora, and a Domino’s pizza order and tracking app that is sure to generate some smiles.
4K UHD streaming options continue to expand within the Samsung smart platform. M-Go, Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, and Ultraflix are all pushing detailed UHD quality video to the JS8500’s screen. I was hoping to experience the Xfinity (Comcast) Ultra HD Sampler app that’s currently available on 2014 Samsung UHD TVs like the HU8550, but it has yet to be ported over to the SUHD’s new OS.
The JS8500’s glossy contrast-enhancing screen is similar to that of the flagship JS9500 with good reflection reduction characteristics, however, the distorted reflections of curved screens are better at attenuating strong room light sources compared to a flat screen TV. Like the 2014 Samsung HU8550 and the new flagship JS9500, the JS8500 delivers its best performance when seated front and center to the screen. Moving one seat left or right (or up or down) resulted in decreased color saturation that was particularly noticeable in skin tones. Off-axis viewing also decreased the JS8500’s picture contrast by increasing the visibility of the edge-lit backlight system – a common LCD artifact. Full-array local dimming backlight systems like that featured in the JS9500 are better able to preserve picture contrast with off-axis viewing particularly in light-controlled rooms.
Test pattern examinations revealed the JS8500’s display to be impressively uniform for an edge-lit LCD. Motion video inspections including the desert fly-over sequence in Samsara were free of any obvious signs of dirty screen effect (DSE). Dark uniformity exams revealed some backlight glare along the left side of the picture that was most noticeable in very dark scenes or test patterns. I was also impressed that the TV’s uniformity remained very good with its local dimming function disabled as was required during its calibration setup (enabling it afterward).
High dynamic range (HDR) video is all about displaying dazzlingly bright highlights while simultaneously preserving the darkest details within a scene. HDR content will arrive first via premium streaming services followed by upcoming UHD Blu-ray players expected later this year. All Samsung SUHD TVs including the JS8500 fully support the decoding of HDR metadata for accurate video reproduction, however, the flagship JS9500 and its direct-lit backlight system can deliver significantly brighter highlights – a moonlit, star-filled sky scene from the Life of Pi stood out as a prime example of the JS9500 being more impactful and visually pleasing.
A recent Amazon Instant Video update exclusive for Samsung SUHD TVs enabled support for the display of a limited but growing selection of UHD high dynamic range (HDR) content. A complete season of Mozart in the Jungle has been authored for HDR playback, and it was a visual treat of expanded luminance detail. Dimly lit scenes with a lamp or other illuminating object appeared dazzlingly bright while maintaining superb dark detail including color representation. Sunlit outdoor scenes on the JS8500 appeared more natural and almost window-like with its bright highlights. Viewed side-by-side with the JS9500 and its brighter full-array backlight system, the JS8500 wasn’t able to match the intensity of highlights in Mozart’s dimly lit scenes but the differences were less obvious in more brightly lit scenes.
For maximum HDR impact, Samsung recommends configuring its SUHD TVs for maximum contrast, maximum backlight, and the Smart LED picture setting on High. Displaying the equal energy window test patterns from the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray benchmark disc, the 100% window test measured 358 nits on the JS8500 and a surprising 341 nits on the JS9500. These test patterns feature an equal number of pixels at each grayscale level (in the form of concentric rectangles around the edge) so they produce an equal amount of light energy overall regardless of the level of the central test window. This result reminded me of viewing bright scene in HDR video samples where the brightness of both TVs appeared more evenly matched. Switching to regular window test patterns with a black background, the JS9500 jumped well ahead of the JS8500’s light output. A 2% window size resulted in 707 nits vs 458 nits, and an 18% window size measured 644 nits and 376 nits respectively.
The JS8500’s factory calibrated Movie picture preset was well-optimized for an accurate depiction of the grayscale and color standards used in HD video production with an average grayscale error (DeltaE) of 1.9 (errors below 3.0 are considered not noticeable in motion video.) The TV’s 2-point and 10-point grayscale controls were effective at further improving upon this result by reducing the average error to 1.1. HD color gamut coverage was practically perfect with errors (DeltaE 2000) measuring less than 1.0 (a value of 3.0 or less considered ideal.)
The quantum dot-enhanced backlight of Samsung SUHD TVs enables richer, deeper primary colors. When configured for maximum color saturation, the JS8500 did a good job of covering the DCI color space used in commercial cinema. Like the JS9500, the JS8500’s depiction of blue and red (and magenta) were slightly oversaturated compared to the DCI standard, and 100% green on both TVs wasn’t quite saturated enough (slightly limiting yellow). However, we await consumer content to take advantage of this expanded color capability, and Samsung may have further calibration optimizations in the update pipeline.
Samsung has a history of solid video processing, and the JS8500 breezed through the classic 1080i HQV benchmark Blu-ray test disc. Diagonal filter was especially clean and jagged-edge free, and the TV was quick to detect film-sourced video within the 1080i video format that’s similar to a broadcast TV feed. The panning shot of the staircase at start of chapter 8 in Mission Impossible 3 is another good check for 1080i film mode processing, and the JS8500 proved much faster at detecting and locking onto the movie’s film cadence compared to the JS9500. Although I generally turn off all forms of video noise reduction, the JS8500 was adept at removing this artifact without smoothing fine details.
Gamers will find the JS8500’s Game Mode feature disables as much internal processing as possible to reduce video lag. Measured lag using the Movie picture preset averaged 113ms that was reduced to 38ms (2.3 frames with 60Hz input) with Game Mode enabled. This is a solid result but not quite as impressive as the JS9500’s 25ms (1.6 frames at 60Hz) response time with Game Mode enabled.
Samsung’s best TVs feature independent settings for customizing de-judder (film/24p) and de-blur (30/60Hz video). By default, the JS8500 enables some de-judder that improves motion resolution with 24p video sources (most films and prime time TV programming) at the expense of a smoothing artifact dubbed the Soap Opera Effect (SOE). Using the TV’s custom option to minimize de-judder and maximize de-blur, the film look was preserved for 24p sources while 30/60Hz video material remained crisp and detailed including the classic FPD Blu-ray benchmark that indicated a full 1080 lines of detail was resolved with only minor trailing artifacts.
It’s truly unfair to compare the Samsung JS8500 to the JS9500 side-by-side without considering cost. Both TVs produced a superbly detailed picture when seated front and center. Viewing Samsara using native 1080p24 input, the JS8500’s calibrated picture produced the film’s many natural colors with excellent detail and fidelity, but glancing over at the JS9500 and its additional peak brightness had me strongly considering saving up for its full-array local dimming technology. Also, the 9500’s extra light output made it easier to perceive dimmer colors as was noted in Samsara as well as in HDR-enhanced scenes from Life of Pi.
Loading up a Blu-ray of The Dark Knight reinforced my thoughts on the JS8500’s terrific expression of dark detail and color representation. As is expected, off-axis viewing noticeably reduced color saturation in faces and skin tones. An occasional increase in backlight glare was also noted along the left side of the screen (likely the location of the LEDs), but the TV’s Cinema Black technology did a very good job of maintaining inky dark black bars with letterboxed video.
For fans of 3D, the Samsung JS8500 delivered a more impressive viewing experience than its flagship cousin, the JS9500. 3D games like Super Stardust HD had a clarity of fine detail with the JS8500 that was lacking on the JS9500. Comparing several scenes from the classic 3D movie Hugo, the JS8500 exhibited noticeably less crosstalk than the JS9500. This was especially evident along the edges of the inspector’s brilliant blue uniform, Hugo’s face, and more static natural objects like a tray of freshly baked croissants. Fans of Samsung’s active 3D technology may be disappointed to find a single pair of glasses in the box, and additional glasses retail for less than $20 online.
Shortly after the launch of the JS8500 TVs, online retailers quickly offered discounted pricing on the series. The 48-inch model currently sells for $1500, the 55-inch model for $2000, and the 65-inch screen for $3000. These prices are quite good considering this is Samsung’s best non-curved LCD for 2015 that includes an improved OS, greater UHD feature support, a well-calibrated factory picture preset, and videophile touches like Cinema Black that last year’s HU8550 lacked.
For anyone who is looking at the JS8500 instead of the JS9500 because of price, consider your typical viewing environment. If you have floor-to-ceiling windows and the room is always bright, or if you want supremely bright peak highlights that will make HDR video look its absolute best, or you want the most visual punch with your regular HD sources (even if that ‘punch’ isn’t 100% faithful to the author’s intent), then I’d urge you to consider saving up for the JS9500.
Bottom line/take away
The Samsung JS8500 4K SUHD TV is a leading example of a UHD TV that is truly ready to express the UHD format’s potential beyond simply more pixels. While we continue to wait for TVs and content that can deliver on UHD’s inclusion of Rec. 2020 and its appreciably gigantic color gamut, TVs like the JS8500 have proven that they are ready to step beyond HD and deliver near-DCI color quality that until now was only seen in commercial cinema. Samsung’s coup in being first to feature Amazon’s HDR video streaming technology is another eye-pleasing reason to consider the JS8500 – especially for people who already have an Amazon Prime subscription.
Disclosure: The Samsung UH65JS8500 review sample is a manufacturer’s loan.
By Robert Heron
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