Review: Samsung E8000
- — 14 June, 2012 22:00
|Name||Plasma TV: Samsung PS64E8000|
|At a glance:||Full HD (1080p) 600Hz Plasma display,Active (shutter-glasses) 3D (two pairs included),Web browser, YouTube and other Smart TV functionality,Controllable by voice and gestures|
|Summary:||A quality plasma TV coupled with some of the best 'smart' functionality we've seen to date.|
|RRP:||$2,500 (51-inch), $4,500 (60-inch), $5,500 (64-inch, as tested)|
Samsung’s E8000 series of big-screen plasma TVs boasts one very novel advantage over the competition: its ‘Smart TV’ internet functionality can be operated not just by remote control, but also by voice commands and gestures, much like Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360.
We tested the largest of the E8000 series, the 64-inch PS64E8000, in the PC World labs, and we couldn’t wait to put voice control to the test.
Voice commands are by now a well established mechanism available on many smartphones, PCs and other gadgets, albeit with varying degrees of usefulness and accuracy. Seeing the feature on a TV is new, but not surprising.
Having recently tested Samsung’s Galaxy S III smartphone with its ‘S Voice’, I found the Smart TV interaction very familiar. With the feature enabled, you start a command by saying ‘Hi TV’ or another phrase of your choice. (More than once I found myself saying ‘Hi Galaxy’ by mistake.) A bar appears at the bottom of the screen with suggestions for relevant voice commands, and you then speak your piece.
Most of the voice commands are trivial – ‘Smart Hub’, ‘Web Browser’, and so forth will launch the named apps. ‘Volume up’ and ‘Volume down’ are useless, as they change the volume by one point, on a 100-point scale. To effect any real change, you’ll be left saying ‘volume down’ twenty times in a row – by which time you might as well have found the remote.
Where the voice functionality astounds is the TV’s ‘Search All’. Speak a phrase, such as my “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter” and the TV finds all available content for it – including YouTube. The accuracy was surprising, particularly as I’m used to voice command systems having all manner of trouble with my accent.
While the rest of the voice features are little more than a neat party trick, the search function is truly useful. I found it made the TV’s YouTube app worthwhile; on previous models I’ve written it off largely due to the annoying experience of searching for videos.
The motion control features of the E8000 series had my gimmick detector going off like a smoke alarm in a chimney. Still, I’ve seen Minority Report. The tiny chance that I could play Tom Cruise in front of a 64-inch screen was enough to keep my mind open. A good thing, because I just about got my wish.
The feature relies on a tiny HD camera built into the bezel above the screen. The camera can be tilted up or down via a wheel on the rear to find the optimum angle, and it’s also ideal for video calls with the freely downloadable Skype app.
Motion control is usable from the ‘Smart Hub’ home, within many of Samsung’s own apps (though not most third-party apps), and in the standard ‘text entry’ screen used for search terms, usernames, passwords and similar.
To start the feature, you just raise a hand – either left or right – to shoulder level, with a closed fist. Open your fingers, palm toward the TV, and you get an on-screen cursor that you can move around just by moving your hand. To ‘click’, you close your fist briefly. It’s a little jerky and takes some getting used to, but it works.
As sceptical as I was, I found it more effective to use my motion-control hand movements to enter long usernames, passwords and other text via the on-screen keyboard than using either of the included remote controls. It also made navigating web pages easier, adding a touch of usability that Samsung’s Smart TV web browser was previously lacking.
To supplement the voice and motion controls, the E8000 series TVs include two remote controls. One is a conventional TV remote with all the buttons you’d expect and not much else. The other is a wireless touchpad, which is a good way to get around the Smart features if you’re not using motion. I found the touchpad is far more useful than the conventional remote, particularly for text entry.
Novel controls aside, the PS64E8000 is a TV, and what matters above all else is how good things look on-screen.
The 1920 x 1080-pixel (1080p) plasma panel provides a beautiful picture, with rich colours and great contrast. One side of the screen can be the pitch-black of outer space, while a brilliantly luminescent planet lights the other side – and there’s not a hint of light bleeding between the two. This is one of the advantages of plasma displays compared to LCDs – very deep blacks, and high dynamic range.
The presence of 600Hz subfield motion makes for smooth, clean video without ghosting or movement artefacts.
Active 3D is supported, with two pairs of lightweight rechargeable shutter-glasses included in the box. Results are good, without too much of an impact on screen brightness while viewing in 3D.
If you’re going to spend $5,500 on a television, you’ll probably connect it up to a sound system – whether it’s a 5.1-channel surround setup, or a high-end stereo. The two 10-watt speakers built into this TV are a token gesture, though they pump out enough volume to fill a mid-sized lounge.
The high end is a little tinny and the bass severely limited: if you want to watch the late-night news without firing up the thousand-watt stereo and waking the neighbourhood, it would be perfectly sufficient. For a movie night or console gaming? Not so much.
Design & build
The 64-inch model is hefty at almost 38kg with its stand attached. That’s nothing compared to early plasma TVs, but you’ll probably still need a couple of people to get it unboxed and set up.
A narrow metallic bezel and a clear plastic outer edge make the screen the main focus. The entire rear panel is black metal, and the unit can be wall mounted or free standing. Wall mounting requires an optional bracket.
Inputs are all in a recess on the rear – there are no quick-access HDMI or USB ports on the side as you’ll find on many smaller models. Connections include three HDMI inputs, digital optical audio output, analogue audio input, component and composite video inputs, antenna connection, three USB ports and a wired Ethernet port (Wi-Fi is built-in).
The TV can certainly dominate a room with its sheer size, but it’s an elegant design that should fit in with almost any decor.
Samsung’s 64-inch E8000 TV is an admirable display panel, with some of the best ‘smart’ functionality we’ve seen to date. The internet features themselves aren’t new to Samsung’s range, but the new control options – voice, motion and touchpad – make them more accessible than ever before.
For the first time, I can see myself using one of these TVs to watch YouTube videos, check the news online, and Skype my friends abroad. You’re paying a premium for the added interactivity, but if it’s the ‘smart’ in ‘smart TV’ you’re looking for, it’s worth it.