REVIEW: Samsung's 40-inch Flagship TV

Written by John Archer      15/04/2013 | 10:59 | Category name i.e.REVIEWS

Key Features: 40in LCD TV with edge LED lighting; Active 3D support with 2 pairs of glasses included; Smart TV platform with extensive online video support; Touchpad remote, gesture and voice control options; New 'learning' interface and upgradable chipset Manufacturer: Samsung

REVIEW: Samsung
If you're not in the market for a particularly large display but you're after a TV with smart features and premium picture quality then the slender 40-inch Samsung UA40F8000 might be for you. Praised for it's space saving design and advanced functionalities this market leader is adding more pressure to its rivals' shoulders with this outstanding offering. 

Samsung UA40F8000 - Design
The Samsung UA40F8000 is the Korean brand's flagship 40-in TV for 2013. And it wears its premium status right there on its sleeve with a design that's borderline miraculous. If you can spot the frame of the TV in the picture below then you've got better eyesight than most.


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The black bezel is less than 0.5cm thick. It's barely noticeable, which makes it so much easier to become immersed in what you're watching. That's doubly true if you're taking advantage of the set's built-in active 3D capabilities - two sets of glasses are included in the box.

The high glamour of the UA40F8000's design continues on its rear thanks to a spectacular polished metal finish so lovely it makes you want to put the TV in the middle of the room so people can walk all the way round it rather than shove it into a corner or hang it on a wall.

The boldly curved stand is very pretty too, though you do need to make sure whatever furniture you're going to sit the TV on is as wide as the screen, otherwise the front edges of the stand will hang off the edges and cause the TV to topple unceremoniously forwards - a silly, if manageable, design oversight.


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If you decide you can live with hiding the luscious rear away completely by wall-hanging the set, you'll be pleased to find all the connections are accessible from the side. Even the power cable can be slotted in vertically.

Samsung UA40F8000 - Connections
The connections on the 40F8000 are prodigious in number. Samsung has returned to four HDMIs after an unwelcome flirtation with three last year, and its extreme multimedia ambitions are abundantly obvious in its three USBs, LAN port, and built-in Wi-Fi. 

As you would expect from these jacks, they let the UA40F8000 play back a wide range of photo, music and video files from USB devices, DLNA-enabled PCs (via Samsung's AllShare software), and Samsung's Smart TV online service. 
Samsung UA40F8000 - Online Features and Interface
The online services are outstanding in their number and variety, especially when it comes to the number of video platforms on offer. When it comes to catch up services, as well as the BBC iPlayer and ITV player, 4oD is now imminent too, plus there are subscription services galore, including Netflix, LoveFilm, Acetrax, Blinkbox, and Curzon On Demand. 


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It's not just the extent of Samsung's multimedia facilities that stands out from the pack, though. The interface used to help you access all your myriad content sources is also unique and extremely clever. Almost too clever for its own good, in fact...

So radical is this interface that we've already done a two-part, in-depth exploration of it in an earlier feature - read part one of our Samsung 2013 Smart TV review. Here we'll limit ourselves to pointing out the basics, starting with the fact that it uses five different home screens devoted to five different types of content: TV, on-demand, social media, personal file sharing, and Samsung's App store, from where you can download any apps that take your fancy.

What's more, the TV and on-demand menus are built round a recommendations system derived from the face that the TV can learn what sort of programmes you like by analysing your viewing history. Nifty.

All this said, at times the interface is a little impenetrable and vague, especially when you first get the TV - sometimes it feels as if the TV is dictating to you what to watch rather than simply helping you make more informed choices. The social page's curious obsession with simply showing recommended videos from people in your Twitter and Facebook feeds seems a bit bizarre too, and doesn't reflect the way most people use social media.

Samsung UA40F8000 - Interface and Picture Quality

Samsung UA40F8000 - Control Systems
The UA40F8000's also supports both control by and content sharing with second screens in the shape of Android and iOS apps. These let you share what's showing on your TV - or even what's on the TV's built-in second tuner in Android's case - on your second device, as well as letting you share multimedia on your portable device to the TV screen.


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Finally where the interface is concerned, while we quickly became fans of Samsung's latest touch-pad remote control (provided free with the UA40F8000), we still didn't find ourselves often feeling compelled to use Samsung's gesture and voice controls, thanks to the former being too tiring and the latter being too prone to 'hearing errors'. Despite the fact that both systems are actually considerably improved in effectiveness from their debut states last year.

Tucked away in a more straightforward set of onscreen menus is an outstanding collection of picture adjustments, including the colour management, white balance and gamma controls that would surely have been enough to earn the TV the endorsement of the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) had Samsung wanted to secure it. 

Samsung UA40F8000 - Picture Quality
All the adjustment tools in the world wouldn't matter, though, if using them didn't result in excellent pictures. So it's a relief to find the UA40F8000 rewarding your set up efforts spectacularly well, with what we'd argue are the finest pictures seen from any 40-inch LCD TV to date.


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The most immediately striking aspect of the 40F8000's performance is its outstanding contrast. We're accustomed now to Samsung's top-end TVs delivering spectacular colours and brightness, but while Samsung has also previously been able to produce a strong black level colour, it's always come with a rider attached in the form of backlight clouding, whereby some parts of dark scenes look unnaturally brighter than others.

Previously, dodging this distraction has required you to take out a fairly hefty chunk of backlight brightness from Samsung's TVs. But this year Samsung's engineers have pretty much completely removed backlight inconsistency, so that the UA40F8000 can deliver startlingly deep black colours with almost total consistency even when you're using one of the TV's far-too-aggressive picture presets. 

To get the best black levels, colours and detail response from the UA40F8000 we'd still recommend that you reduce the backlight to as low as between six and eight using Samsung's scale. However, the key point here is that you don't HAVE to use such a low-brightness set up on the UA40F8000. So if you prefer to watch pictures with colour and brightness levels ramped up - as Samsung's presets seem to think you do - then dammit, you can, without dark scenes turning into a distracting, uneven mess as a result.

Perhaps because of its improved black level response, the 40F8000 turns out to also be a terrific colour performer, achieving that dream combination of extremely punchy colours and superb tonal subtlety. Even peak whites manage to contain subtle shading differences rather than 'flaring out'. Colours can be made to look very accurate too - once you've calmed the backlight and contrast settings down from the levels used in the presets - for film fans keen on trying to get a TV which produces pictures as close to the established video industry standards as possible.


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The Samsung UA40F8000's sharpness, meanwhile, is nothing short of sensational, thanks to a brilliant mix of an almost uncannily accurate approach to detail portrayal and one of the finest motion handling systems we've seen from an LCD to date. Even without calling into play Samsung's motion compensation processing the '1000Hz' engine exhibits scarcely a trace of the resolution loss over moving objects you still get to some extent with almost every other LCD TV. 

Actually, the image's sharpness is so aggressive in the TV's out of the box state that we toned the sharpness setting down a bit when we first started using the TV to stop things looking a little noisy and 'forced'.


Samsung UA40F8000 - Picture Quality and Conclusion
Returning to motion, it's also great not to see any obvious judder beyond what might be natural to a movie source. In fact, using the word 'natural' there is the key to what Samsung seems to have been focussing on in improving its pictures for its 2013 flagship sets, with the set's post-calibration contrast, colour, sharpness, subtlety, and motion all working together to create a picture that draws you in while doing next to nothing to generate any artefacts that might throw you out again.

This even applies to standard definition sources, which Samsung's upscaling engine converts to the screen's full HD resolution with real aplomb, adding detail and sharpness without emphasising noise or losing any control of colour tones.


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Samsung UA40F8000 - 3D Picture Quality
Samsung is now the only mainstream brand exclusively pursuing active 3D technology in its TV ranges. So it's rather handy to be able to report that the UA40F8000 delivers a spectacular exhibition of what active 3D can do. In particular, even though its 40-inch screen isn't the biggest, the amount of detail on show with full HD 3D Blu-rays is remarkable, giving 3D scenes a sense of definition and depth accuracy that's the best we've seen to date. Especially as the set manages to deliver its 3D scenes with exceptional amounts of colour punch and brightness, making you forget about active 3D's tendency to remove pretty extreme levels of luminance from its pictures.

Motion looks much better with 3D content this year than it did on Samsung's previous 8000 series, with much less judder, which again plays a big part in making the 3D experience more convincing. We have a suspicion that there's some undefeatable motion processing going on in 3D mode, perhaps, but if so it's handled so well by Samsung's Quad Core processing engine that we really didn't mind it.

There is a touch of crosstalk ghosting with 3D images over sharply contrasting distant objects; slightly more than we've seen with some 3D plasma sets. However, it's not aggressive or overwhelming by any means, and the UA40F8000 has its aforementioned outstanding brightness and colour saturations in its favour over those plasma rivals.

Our main issue with 3D viewing, in fact, is that if you use the provided 3D audio option, dialogue can tend to sound dislocated from the mouths of the people speaking whenever there's some musical accompaniment to a scene. Returning to a normal stereo setting more or less fixes this issue, though.

Samsung UA40F8000 - Gaming
The UA40F8000 might well find use as a gaming monitor in many households. ts innately good motion handling and exceptional contrast and brightness serve it very well in this regard. Our measured input lag figure of 47ms on average (using the TV's Game Mode) is a touch higher than we'd have liked, though, and serious gamers should note that this average measurement was derived from an input lag that curiously shifted between a good 32ms and an occasional unimpressive measurement of 66ms. 



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The UA40F8000's audio is generally rather good, as it happens - especially when you consider how incredibly slim the UA40F8000's frame is. A newly designed 40W down-firing speaker system tucked into the slightly deeper section of the chassis' rear produces a surprisingly open mid-range that gives the TV a little headroom to play with when it's asked to expand to handle a dense movie soundtrack. 

It also stretches far enough to deliver more bass than most super-skinny TVs as well as plenty of treble detail without making this sound harsh.

There are TVs out there that can deliver a cleaner and more bassy sound during action scenes. But overall the UA40F8000 is a substantial step in the right direction for Samsung's audio department, and seldom delivers a sound that isn't perfectly satisfying.  

Verdict
In terms of its design, smart features and best of all picture quality, the UA40F8000 is the most advanced 40in TV we've seen. In some ways, perhaps, it's almost too advanced, with some aspects of its interface leaving us mere humans feeling a little bemused in its wake.

Aside from some tweaks to its interface, though, it's difficult to see how Samsung could do much to improve on the UA40F8000. It's a truly outstanding TV, and puts extreme pressure on the shoulders of its rivals this year.

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Pros & Cons

Pros:

Superb picture quality Stunning space-saving design Video-rich online services

Cons:

Interface impenetrable in places Picture presets favour high contrast over natural colours Superfluous gesture and motion controls