Samsung UN55HU8550 UHD 4K TV Review
Anyone shopping for a new television today may be tempted to future proof their display investment by choosing a model that features the new high-resolution technology, dubbed Ultra High Definition 4K. UHD feeds you eyeballs with four times the number of pixels compared to 1080p screens. The Samsung UN55HU8550 UHD 4K TV delivers an impressively detailed picture with superbly calibrated imagery right out of the box, and its cutting edge features and integrated tech should please the forward-looking and currently-contented alike.
Read the review after the break.
Styling and Design
Framing the HU85550’s high-contrast glossy screen is a narrow brushed-black bezel that measures 5/16-inch wide and is elegantly accented with a thin strip of brushed silver trim encircling the outside edge. The 8550’s inky dark-colored LCD panel (at least when turned off) is offered in sizes ranging from 50-inches on up to 85-inches. A matching low profile base stand measures 25-inches wide, making it suitable for setup on narrower surfaces compared to the full-width stands included with some of Samsung’s previous offerings (including the F8500 plasma and F9000 LCD. Standard VESA wall mount hardware is compatible with the HU8550.
Inputs located on the TV’s stylishly textured backside include 4 HDMI, 3 USB, RF, and Samsung’s proprietary One Connect port for future upgrade options. All of the HU8550’s HDMI ports were compatible with video signals up to 2160p at 60Hz – as confirmed with the DVDO AVLab TPG – 4K Test Pattern Generator. HDMI port 3 is MHL enabled, and the rear-facing HDMI port 4 provides Audio Return Channel (ARC) support for use with compatible receivers and soundbars. ARC support provided a handy work-around for an audio sync issue I encountered…more on that later. Samsung’s premium televisions, including the 8550, feature WiFi, Bluetooth, and Ethernet connectivity.
The HU8550 is Samsung’s highest-spec non-curved LCD TV for 2014 (at least that’s less than 110-inches in size). The 8550-series incorporates the company’s latest edge-lit LED backlight technology with advanced video processing that minimizes unsightly artifacts such as glowing halos around objects on dark backgrounds. It also improves image contrast by dynamically adjusting the light output within the picture across “an incredible amount of zones.” No word what number “incredible” is. One notable exception in this series will be the 85-inch model that will feature a direct-lit backlight system with otherwise similar features. Unlike Samsung’s premium curved-screen HU9000, the 8550-series lacks the company’s Cinema Black feature that detects the black bars of letterboxed movies and disables the LEDs affecting that part of the screen for enhanced perceived picture contrast.
Multimedia file support is strong with the HU8550 and includes most popular lossy and lossless image and music file formats. Video codec support is impressively extensive and includes, naturally, support for UHD/2160p formats in the h.264 and h.265 formats at bitrates up to 50Mbps.
The HU8550 includes two remote controls: one standard baton-style design that is fully backlit, and a palm-sized gem dubbed the Samsung Smart Control. The updated Smart Control features a built-in mic for use with the TV’s optional interactive voice control.I found myself mostly using its motion sensor control feature, which provides an accurate on-screen cursor to quickly navigate even the most buried menu options. LG’s similarly functioning Magic Remote was first to the scene with this very Nintendo Wii-like control scheme, and Samsung’s version strikes a near-perfect balance between functionality and simplicity.
For 3D enthusiasts, Samsung remains firmly in the active-glasses camp and the HU8550 includes 4 sets of 3D glasses in the box. Aside from some minor crosstalk observed with extremely contrasted elements within a few scenes, the HU8550 did a good job with 3D playback from Blu-ray and streaming sources.
The HU8550’s stereo speakers (2x10W) and subs (2x10W) feature a new waveguide for improved audio reproduction, and the resulting output was good for a thin TV. However, connecting the TV to an AV receiver via an ARC-enabled HDMI connection enabled multichannel output from the TV’s selection of integrated apps. This ARC-enabled connection also exhibited none of the distracting lip-sync errors noted with Netflix UHD/2160p playback when using the 8550’s built-in speakers. Sync errors weren’t observed with Netflix 1080p and Super HD streaming video samples.
Cordcutters will appreciate the HU8550’s built-in ATSC/Clear QAM tuner that provided the fastest channel scan I’ve experienced from any over-the-air (OTA) tuner product. I expect good sensitivity from Samsung OTA tuners, and the 8550 did not disappoint in its ability to pull in local stations. The TV’s channel guide provides a crisp looking grid layout for browsing, and programmable channel shortcuts made for quick access to favorite stations via an attractive overlay along the right third of the screen.
However, all was not perfect with the HU8550’s OTA prowess. I was disappointed to find the HU8550 overscanning 720p broadcasts (ABC, ESPN, FOX) resulting in softened image quality from the unnecessary image scaling. HDMI inputs at 720p could be configured without overscan. I also kept thinking about how this TV would benefit from an OTA DVR app, and it turns out that Samsung provides this very functionality in the 8550…just not for units sold in the United States or Canada. Odd, that.
The default color and grayscale quality of the HU8550’s factory-calibrated Movie picture preset was very good with all measurement errors falling well below Just Noticeable Differences (JND). However, I was able to use the TV’s 2-point and 10-point grayscale setup for further improvements – especially in the brighter grays where a very slight green hue dominated.
Luminance uniformity was good for the HU8500’s edge-lit LCD technology – no signs of “dirty screen effect” or banding that plagued Samsung’s D-series a few generations ago. Letterboxed movies did reveal increased brightness in the corners, and just a hint of glow was noted along the bottom edge of the display where the screen meets the bezel. Neither of these artifacts proved to be a significant distraction and could be minimized with careful screen/seating placement.
Off-axis viewing at 20-degrees or greater resulted in diminished contrast and color saturation, but the image remained watchable out to nearly 180-degrees. The similarly priced Samsung F8500 plasma, that will continue to be offered throughout 2014, remains my pick for anyone who desires inky dark black levels with near-LCD brightness (I deleted this because the power difference is negligible according to the FTC, feel free to undelete).
The HU8550 motion resolution enhancement tech includes adjustable motion compensation/estimation (aka Auto Motion Plus) as well as black-frame insertion (aka LED Clear Motion). I appreciate Samsung providing a custom configuration for these controls that can apply blur reduction to video sources while disabling judder reduction for more faithful, un-smoothed, film reproduction. One benefit of enabling the LED Clear Motion (LCM) feature is that it can enhance image clarity of film-sourced video without introducing unnatural smoothing to on-screen motion. While very effective, LCM introduced flicker into the picture that I found annoying enough to finally disable the feature.
My arsenal of video processing tests proved the HU8550 was resolving every pixel of detail from Blu-ray and DVD sources. 2160p test patterns generated by the DVDO AVLab TPG were also resolved in perfect detail. The fine detail made possible by the HU8550’s UHD screen proved useful for spotting compression artifacts, and the TV was able to effectively tame them without softening fine picture detail.
UHD streaming via the built-in Netflix app was painless and detailed, and other sources of UHD material I sampled also appeared admirably crisp. However, until we can easily feed UHD televisions like the HU8550 high-bitrate UHD video, I hesitate to say the viewing experience was any better than 1080p Blu-ray (minus Blu-ray’s awesome lossless audio options!)
Dark detail was another strength of the HU8550. The intro scene to Big Buck Bunny on the Spears & Munsil v2 test disc shows a slow zoom into a dark rabbit hole that can easily appear muddied on lesser screens. The same went for other challenging scenes in movies like The Dark Knight and Samsara. The latter’s incredible natural detail highlighted the TV’s consistent grayscale performance although film-mode processing (1080i input) briefly lost lock on a couple of vertical panning shots.
Response time as measured by the Leo Bodner lag tester was about 120ms (Movie picture preset) that dropped to a more reasonable 60ms with Game Mode enabled. If competitive console gaming is your thing, you may want to consider a Sony as they offer some of the best response times from any TV manufacturer.
The Samsung UN55HU8550 ($2297.99) UHD 4K TV is positioned as the company’s best flat-screen LCD for 2014. However, compared to it’s pricier curved-screen cousins, it lacks image enhancing backlight tricks like Cinema Black that could have elevated its performance with letterboxed content. Also, the issues with 720p OTA overscan and audio delay with Netflix streaming are annoying, but likely correctable in an upcoming firmware update. Speaking of overscan, it’s time Samsung and other manufacturers, make this detail destroying “feature” easier to disable. It has become an annoying game of whack-a-mole to test and configure every HD video format to eliminate this scourge. And while we are at it, the HU8550’s initial setup includes a whopping 145 pages of terms and conditions that it ominously asks if you “…agree and understand ALL of the terms and policies…” (emphasis theirs). Please. For all I know, I probably gave away my first born and/or some internal organs by clicking OK to all of that digital goodness.
Disclosure: Review sample was obtained as manufacturer’s loan.
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