Mid-priced 48in 4K/UHD TV gets most things right only to come a bit of a cropper in motion
Samsung has already set the 2015 TV world alight with the High Dynamic Range (HDR) glories of its UE65JS9500 LCD/LED flagship screen (reviewed here). Sadly, though, the £6,000 price tag attached to that ground-breaking TV makes it nothing more than a pipe dream for most AV fans. Cue the £1,400 Samsung UE48JU7000, which preserves some of the key features of the JS9500 series for just a fraction of the price. Let's be honest – this is a 4K screen that many more people will seriously consider buying. There's even a 40in version for the space-constrained 4K fan.
The key shared features I'm talking about are a native 3,840 x 2,160 resolution, Samsung’s PurColour technology for enhanced colour resolution, a direct LED backlight system with local dimming, and Samsung’s new powered-by-Tizen Smart system, which streamlines the interface compared to last year while retaining the content richness. All told, this is a seriously strong feature roster by any standards – so what doesn’t it have that the JS9500 models do?
Well, it isn’t curved, for starters, which may or may not bother you. Personally, I think this new on-trend form factor is suited to screens above 65in, so its absence here is no concern.
A bigger issue is its lack of HDR talents. The screen used doesn’t offer the peak brightness (around 1,000 Nits) or Nano Crystal colour dynamics of the JS9500 series, and so its images never get close to the brilliant – in every sense of the word – images delivered by those TVs. But, of course, foregoing HDR-readiness and fully 17 inches of screen size to secure the still healthy feature list of the UE48JU7000 will look like a very fair trade in return for a saving of well over £4,000. As long, of course, as it makes the most of the features it does have.
Looks-wise, the UE48JU7000 just isn’t as pretty as Samsung’s step-up TVs. It shares the chamfered frame of the JS9500, but a cheaper-looking, darker grey finish reduces the impact of this chamfering to the point where you don’t really notice it. Build quality is fine, but not premium.
One bit of good aesthetic news, though, is the way many of the set’s connections are found on an external One Connect box that connects to the TV by a single, tidy cable. Oddly, though, this ‘Mini’ One Connect doesn’t include the set’s twin Freesat and twin Freeview HD tuners, and since it doesn’t contain the TV’s quad-core processors it also can’t be swapped out in the future to update the UE48JU7000’s features and connectivity. This is something you can do with the full One Connect offered with Samsung's pricier screens.
The screen comes with two remotes – a standard zapper and a largely button-free clicker which will be your main port of call.
With a little judicious use of its rich selection of calibration tools (tweakers can immerse themselves in everything from backlight adjustment to 10-point white balance control), the UE48JU7000 initially makes its £1,400 ticket look like a serious bargain.
For instance, its direct LED lighting (where the lights sit directly behind the screen rather than around its edges) helps it deliver a superb contrast range. This is founded on gorgeously deep black levels of the sort that once used to be the exclusive preserve of plasma TVs, but crucially the inky blacks share the frame with impressive punchy colours and white tones. This works wonders with the contrast-rich night-time shots of Memphis in Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods & Kings.
And the UE48JU7000 leaves the vast majority of the competition trailing with its colour handling. The shots of the Nile river running red with blood from countless crocodile attacks are rendered with a stunning combination of almost visceral colour intensity and terrific subtlety, thanks to a combination of the screen’s UHD resolution and Samsung's PurColour system.
Images are bright, too, by typical LCD standards – something which helps the screen retain more colour tone accuracy than usual during dark scenes.
Also outstanding is the 48JU7000’s upscaling of the high-definition content you’ll still have to watch for most of the time while we wait for more native UHD sources. This adds all the millions of extra pixels required by the HD-to-UHD conversion process without exaggerating source noise, without making edges look stressed (despite the screen’s extreme contrast) and without making grain look unnatural and meshy. This deft source handling is a major strength.
Feeding in The Life Of Pi in native UHD from a Samsung UHD Video Pack, though, confirms the existence of a fairly serious picture quality flaw I’d also noticed while watching the Exodus... Blu-ray. While the UE48JU7000 renders relatively static 4K footage, such as Life of Pi's early zoo montage, with that gorgeous combination of extra depth, extra detail, extra density and extra colour resolution we’ve come to expect from UHD TVs (even relatively small ones like the UE48JU7000), the clarity takes a disturbing hit when there’s much movement in the frame.
During Pi’s tussles with the tiger on the lifeboat, for instance, all the moving parts of the image not only lose resolution but also exhibit signs of smearing and trailing that significantly diminish the 4K effect. None of the provided motion processing controls satisfactorily solve this problem, and the issue remains regardless of whether you’re watching UHD, HD or standard-definition.
The only time I didn’t feel distracted by motion blur, oddly, was when watching 3D, which actually looks pretty spectacular by 48in TV standards. The screen’s brightness, contrast and colour intensity, and Samsung's persistence with the pixel-retaining Active format, pay dividends. I’ve seldom if ever seen Exodus and The Life Of Pi looking so intense and natural in 3D on a non-HDR TV. There’s a touch of crosstalk, but it’s not severe enough to diminish a classy 3D effort.
Joining the UE48JU7000’s pictures is a respectable audio performance that scores highly for detail and vocal clarity, but lacks bass compared with the best-sounding TVs. And, during boisterous moments during Exodus, like the closing of the Red Sea, everything sounds a bit compressed.
When details of Samsung’s 2015 TV range first appeared we picked out the JU7000 series as potentially a real highlight. But if other JU7000 sizes can’t put right the motion flaws so apparent on this 48in model, the series could sadly turn into one of the year’s biggest disappointments. Its price tag and accommodating size will surely tempt many, and in many areas its imagery excels, but it's far from perfect.
Price: £1,400 approx
Highs: Superb contrast performance; outstanding colours; good Smart features; impressive Active 3D
Lows: Distracting motion blur; minor 3D crosstalk; One Connect box can’t be upgraded
3D: Yes. Active
4K: Yes. 3,840 x 2,160
Tuner: Yes. 2 x Freeview HD and 2 x Freesat HD
Connections: HDMI x 4; USB x 3; Freesat and Freeview tuner inputs; optical digital audio output; composite video input; component video input
Brightness (claimed): N/A
Contrast ratio (claimed): N/A
Dimensions (off stand): 1,087(w) x 631(h) x 68(d)mm
Weight (off stand): 12.6kg
Features: Direct LED lighting with local dimming; 1300 PQI (1,300Hz emulation); Game mode; BBC iPlayer/ITV Player/4OD/Demand 5 catch-up support; Netflix and Amazon 4K streaming support; Tizen-based Smart TV interface, point and click remote control; PurColour processing
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