The latest innovations in smart TV will still take a while to reach South Africa, but some earlier-model smart TVs are already available. SEAN BACHER tried out the Samsung D8000 55‚ 3D LED smart TV.
A major electronic trend to emerge from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was the rapid evolution of smart TVs, and the way TVs will change the way we interact with them (Read Arthur’s column on “The TV set reinvented””
Although many of the smart TV innovations showcased at CES are still on the production line, and will only be available in South Africa later this year, major electronics companies have already been delving into the smart TV arena.
Leading the pack is Samsung, and their high-end unit, the D8000 55‚ 3D LED smart TV, is already available here. Although it is not nearly as smart as those unveiled at CES, it definitely is more than just a TV.
We put it through the Gadget Five Question User Test to find out just how clever it really is.
1. Ease of use (including set-up)
The minute the Samsung D8000 55‚ 3D LED TV is removed from its box, it will give leave most TV fanatics in awe. From the top of the 55‚ LED panel, all the way down to its chrome, 4-pronged stand, the TV just oozes style and sophistication.
In fact, calling it a TV does it a bit of injustice. When many people think TVs, they think big, bulky, black CRT (cathode ray tubes). The D8000 is so far away from CRT, it is more of a hi-tech LED panel than a TV set.
Despite its good looks, the Samsung D8000 is also really thin and exceptionally light. To put things into perspective, a 42‚ LCD bought four years ago will weigh anything between 40 and 45kg (make and model dependent), and it will measure about 14cm in depth. The Samsung D8000 55‚ 3D LED TV weighs a modest 21kgs and measures just over 2cm in depth. It can be hung with a bit of picture wire and a 4‚ nail in the wall. No complicated processes of securing a TV mounting bracket to the wall to hang the TV. (We do however recommend following the mounting instructions in the manual.) Its light weight and its small stand also allow the TV to be placed on almost any cabinet or table.
Setting up the D8000 isnot difficult. It offers four rear HDMI inputs, two USB 2.0 ports, an RF input and a range of other outputs to connect devices like surround sound systems, media players and DVD players. However, due to its slim size, connecting RCA cables (the ones most often used by surround sound amps) requires converters. At the one end of the converter cable are inputs for the RCA cables and at the other end are 3.5mm audio jacks that plug into the TV. But, even though Samsung supplies you with the converters, you will end up running out of them – as I did.
Once everything is connected and plugged in, using the TV is no different to any other. Change inputs, channels and volume on the remote control and that’s all there is to it. Analogue channels such as SABC 1,2 and 3 are automatically programmed in when the TV is first turned on. Should the remote be out of reach, the TV can be controlled via the buttons on the bottom right of the panel.
Programming channel inputs and the like is only one part to the setup process. The D8000 TV is a smart TV, and therefore does more than just display DVDs and soap-operas.
Hit the Smart Hub button on the remote and an entirely new screen is launched, asking for network settings. A dialogue box is presented when first launched, asking for local network settings. The D8000 has the option to connect via the standard wired RJ45 jack, which is included at the back, or wirelessly, like a notebook or tablet connecting to a home network. Either way, if you know your network settings, there shouldn’t be any problems connecting.
It is clear from the D8000’s good looks, and ease of setup and use, that Samsung has put a lot of effort into its design and functionality. Besides the converters that need to be connected to standard RCA plugs, there is no faulting this LED.
2. General performance
The Samsung D8000 uses a backlit LED panel. This offers a range of benefits, including lower power consumption, the ability to make the TV thinner and better heat dissipation. But, most importantly, the use of a backlit LED panel offers a brighter picture and better contrast levels. A good example of this is when comparing it to a LCD TV. A LCD TV would offer a contrast ratio of up to 50 000:1, the D8000 boasts a contrast ratio of 8 000 000:1. The high contrast ratio means the D8000 has a brighter white colour and a darker black colour than any LCD, and instead of black pixels merely being a very dark shade of grey, they are actually as black as a dead pixel.
3D and 2D movies are crisp, sharp and bright, and when the high-definition factor is added, there is not a part of the screen that does not show in perfectly detailed quality.
The big question many people have on their minds is the number of times the panel refreshes ‚ measured in Hertz (Hz). A slow refresh rate will make a fast action scene almost freeze as the panel refreshes itself. Although Samsung does not provide an actual refresh rate in Hertz, it does measure the screen using Clear Motion Rate (CRM). According to Samsung, this measurement takes into account the backlight technology used, the speed of the image processor and the panel refresh rate ‚ making it a far more accurate measurement. The D8000 features a CRM rate of 960, which is around the same as 960Hz.
Rugby games, car chases and high-speed video games were displayed fluidly and without any jittering, which may be experienced on TVs with a lower refresh rate.
In the sound department, the Samsung D8000 falls a little short. It features two rear mounted 15-watt speakers that deliver a good sound, but are nowhere nearly as good as most surround sound systems. The limitations of the TV’s speakers can be attributed to the thin form factor that they have to fit into, and the TV does allow for them to be switched off, letting only the sound from the surround sound speakers be heard.
The Smart Hub’s range of applications that are pre-installed all look and feel like their PC or Mac counterparts. Unfortunately, the D8000 does not allow much in the way of personalisation. The social apps, such as Twitter, Facebook and Skype, are all placed where Samsung believes they should be, and there is no way to re-arrange them. I found using the apps a bit of a pain too ‚ especially when using the included remote. Typing URLs and messages took forever and navigating the Web through the included browser can only be described as tedious. Things were a little easier when I used the Samsung QWERTY remote ‚ an optional extra that costs R650, but is still time consuming.
The D8000 offered a great picture, both in terms of quality and responsiveness. Unfortunately the unintuitive Smart Hub made life a misery. More than often, I would revert to a tablet, smartphone or notebook to look up something on the Internet or check my Twitter timeline before launching the equivalent TV app.
3. Does it add value to your life?
Just having the D8000 perched atop a counter or mounted on your wall will add a sense of elegance to your lounge. The larger-than-life 55‚ screen gives new meaning to a rugby game when watching with friends, and video games are taken to a new level on the TV. Besides that, though, the most value you will gain from it is for the few hours you sit in front of it every evening watching TV.
If Samsung had put more effort into the Smart Hub, the D8000 would add a lot more value to your life. Imagine being able effortlessly to type a quick e-mail or tweet, or even check up on Facebook when the ads are on. Now that would be effectively using your time instead of watching some lame advert for some lame product you will never buy.
The D8000 does offer this functionality, but the key word is ‚Äúeffortlessly‚ . The awkward layout of the Smart Hub, combined with the time consuming way of performing basic tasks, will make it one of those features you show to your friends and then forget.
The features offered by the D8000 are the same as those on any other Samsung Smart TV or any smart TV currently available ‚ even a similar interface, resembling the Samsung Smart Hub, is available on other models.
With a screen size of 55‚ , the TV is just about one of the biggest available in South Africa. But this is more of a WOW factor, and is by not in itself innovative.
5. Value for money
Here is where things really come undone for the Samsung D8000. Doing a few Internet searches and wandering through a few local consumer electronics shops, the TV’s cost ranges from R48 888 to R51 000. I suspect the slight price fluctuation has something to do with a shop’s rent.
One way to consider the price is that 1‚ of the LED panel costs just under R1 000. Even with the great picture quality and the spectacular design, the D8000 is just not worth it. But of course, that price will fall rapidly over the coming year.
Total score: 73%
The D8000 is clearly a step in the right direction. You can’t get much better in terms of picture quality, and its elegance and easy to use are definite benefits. But, it comes with two major drawbacks: the high price and the badly designed Smart Hub.
Although the Smart Hub gives us an idea of what we can expect in the smart TV future, at this stage it is just not smart at all. It is more of a novelty than a tool and the next generation of Samsung’a smarts cannot come soon enough.
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