It's as stylish as LED TVs get - but is there more to this flagship screen than its sultry design?
Of Samsung’s forty new screens unleashed so far for 2013, the UE46F8000 is the flagship 46in model. Bestowed with a raft of new measures designed to deliver the best TV pictures the company has ever mustered from an edge-lit LED screen, it also ups the ante in terms of Smart TV and multimedia interaction.
As well as its slim design, the Samsung also features an almost impossibly small bezel and a new 'Arc' stand that allows the screen to almost float when viewed in low light. It’s a distinctive, chic look, but the stand requires a surface the full width of the TV, which means you'll need to think about your setup before you take the plunge.
Cosmetic changes are one thing, but there are more significant improvements to last year’s E8000 series going on beneath the surface. For starters, the UE46F8000 utilises a quad core processor. This gives the screen the power to run multiple apps and for owners to move around its operating system faster than Usain Bolt running for a bus; more importantly, it also allows more complex picture processing algorithms, with particular relevance to backlighting control and Motion Plus judder and blur reduction.
The extra processing power, combined with the provision of secondary Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners, provides the option to simultaneously watch one channel and record another to a USB-connected hard disk drive. Or you can mirror one channel or recording to a Samsung smartphone or tablet whilst watching something else on the TV.
And whilst the TV's audio is not the primary concern of HCC enthusiasts it’s good to find that the built-in speaker performance has been boosted by the provision of two 10W subwoofers. This makes it adequate for non-critical viewing if you want to give your AVR the evening off.
The UE46F8000 does nothing to diminish Samsung’s reputation for being at the vanguard of Smart TV development, improving on what was already a feature-packed system. My colleague John Archer has covered this aspect in greater depth in his review of Samsung's PS64F8500 so I’ll just say that the new five-screen Smart Hub interface is a neat idea, especially the App page and the useful TiVo-style recommendation engine.
Control hasn't been simplified, however. Rather, it's been diversified. There are now four means of operating the screen, including two remote controls. The traditional handset, which is a decent if rather dull affair, is complemented by a minimalist brushed aluminium job with trackpad and built-in microphone. The latter is for using the screen’s voice control. Although better than last year's effort it remains unrefined. Maybe it’s my Essex accent, but when I asked it to change source it displayed ‘Change thoughts’ onscreen, which is as helpful as an airbag on a bicycle. As for gesture control, I’ll happily wave goodbye to that, although I can't see Samsung or any other brand giving up on the notion.
Using the primary remote, there are a lot of tweaking options available, despite the absence of ISF certification. Most parameters, such as gamma levels and noise reduction, allow you to see the effects of each setting before being selected or finalised.
Performance across a range of sources shows that Samsung has upped its game for its top-line LED sets. Most obvious, when compared with previous models, is that clouding from the screen's illumination system has been significantly reduced, allowing you to choose a backlight setting that suits your room's own ambient lighting rather than having to reduce it to clear away the clouds. Also, local dimming control makes it possible to totally blacken the letterbox bars during 21:9 widescreen viewing without affecting the rest of the picture.
With or without the black bars, the Samsung's pictures are hugely satisfying, with contrast, brightness and colour fidelity reaping the benefits. Well-mastered Blu-rays come across punchy yet natural, and are a delight to watch. Skin-tones, I found, were particularly well-judged. At times the picture seems on a par with a top-notch plasma, albeit with the benefit of brightness in abundance.
If ever a movie needed a screen with excellent shadow detail it was The Dark Knight Rises. Here, the Blu-ray has incredible clarity even when Batman is lurking in the shadows of Gotham’s unlit rooftops. And so effective is the screen at squeezing out every last drop of detail that excessively grainy material, such as Argo’s scenes in Tehran airport, may have you reducing its Sharpness setting.
Samsung's new screen also does a fiendishly good job with 3D material, almost eliminating crosstalk from the tortuous Golden Gate Bridge sequence in my venerable Monsters vs Aliens platter, and giving a fantastic sense of depth to Derek and his groomsmen at the church. The brand is persisting with Active 3D while much of the competition is adopting Passive, but at least it's making a good fist of it.
Motion processing has also been improved, with greater control available for tweaking blur, judder and drag. Artefacts seem less common but the higher settings still make filmic material look unnaturally like cheap video footage and should be completely avoided.
Happily, the screen is a dab hand at fast-moving action anyway, its '1000Hz' processing helping to keep judder and blur at bay, while maintaining clarity and detail to a good degree. As such, the UE46F8000 is an excellent screen for watching sport, such as live Champions League footy on Sky HD.
I cannot, however, recommend the new Sports mode, which is accessed from the Smart Features menu, and cranks up the brightness, adopts a weird stadium sound mode and launches a social media interface. The idea is that you interact with friends on Twitter or Facebook during a live event, but it’s hard to imagine anything more annoying.
The price here is high for a 46in display, off-axis viewing causes contrast levels to take a nose-dive, and the very wide desktop stand could throw up some installation problems, but overall the UE46F8000 is a hugely rewarding screen to own and operate. And in terms of LED picture performance, it raises the bar very high indeed.
Price: £1,800 Approx
Highs: Superb HD pictures; refined backlighting control; slick Smart TV; stunning design
Lows: Unreliable voice and gesture control; somewhat expensive; bizarre sports/social mode; wide desktop stand
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