Having already set the bar for 2014 TVs with its sensational UE65HU8500 UHD TV, Samsung is now turning its sights on the full HD market with the UE55H8000: its flagship 55-inch HD TV for 2014.
There's a danger that any high-end 'merely' HD TV this year might struggle to find an audience given that such sets are now getting squeezed by the dropping prices and the growing numbers of UHD sets in the marketplace. But this danger seems particularly acute for the UE55H8000 given that it costs a somewhat eye-watering £2,200.
Samsung sets about its task of justifying such a cost with gusto, though. As soon as you've got the UE55H8000 out of its box it hits you with a truly distinctive, highly stylised design based around a screen with a gentle curve.
This isn't the first curved TV we've tested, of course. That honour went to the LG 55EA980W OLED followed by Samsung's own UE65HU8500 UHD set. But the curve remains a source of interest and controversy - though if it makes you feel better to stick a 'first for' label on it, then the UE55H8000 is actually the first curved screen full HD edge LED TV we've tested.
The curve plays its part in what really is an attractive design, backed up by a strikingly slim bezel around the screen. The only issue aesthetically with the curve is that it doesn't work so well if you wall hang it. But research suggests that precious few of us actually do that, however much we might intend to!
Connections on the UE55H8000's rear (you don't get an external connections box like you do with the HU8500 series) are prodigious. They include: four HDMIs, three USBs, a LAN port, built-in Wi-Fi, both Freesat and Freeview HD tuner inputs, and a large bay where you could add a future Samsung Evolution Kit.
Theory of evolution
These Evolution Kits rather brilliantly enable you to upgrade the functionality of your TV with future Samsung operating systems. And we're not just talking about a few software tweaks here; the Evolution Kits replace your TV's entire chipsets to create an almost completely different TV to the one you first bought.
In other words, the UE55H8000 is truly upgradable to an extent that no other brand of TV currently is. Which, given the fast-paced changes of the TV tech world, can only be a good thing.
The UE55H8000's multimedia support is huge. It almost goes without saying that it can stream photos, music and pictures from networked PCs and smart devices. But it also supports Bluetooth connections, screen mirroring with smart devices, and access to Samsung's latest online Smart TV platform.
The apps available on this online platform number are prodigious in number, and include a host of the video streaming services that represent the most important smart TV content. All the favourites are there, including Netflix, Blinkbox and Amazon Instant.
The only glaring omission at the time of writing is the BBC iPlayer. Samsung assures us the iPlayer will become available, but can't specify an actual date at the moment.
The 2014 Samsung smart hub is surprisingly similar to 2013's system, right down to the provision of five separate content 'hubs'. There are a few differences if you look closely though. First, the previous social media hub has now been mixed in with the multimedia hub where you can access your own stored content from USBs and connected computers, while the hub that used to be dedicated to social media is now given over to games.
The hub arrangement is better, even if the system still feels a bit inscrutable at first. But it has to be said that by only advancing a little from last year's model Samsung has potentially opened itself up to having its smart TV dominance challenged.
Samsung's latest smart phone/tablet app is a big improvement on last year's version. It now integrates all its functions, including second-screen viewing of what's showing on the TV's multiple tuners, onto a single app, rather than requiring you to use multiple apps.
The Samsung smart services also still include Samsung's sophisticated S-Recommendations system, which can learn the sort of programmes you like and start to make suggestions accordingly.
Samsung has introduced some new control innovations for 2014 too, including a gesture control system that supports finger rather than hand-level recognition. There's also a new smart remote that adds point and click functionality to Samsung's control options. We'll look at these innovations in more detail in the Usability section later.
In terms of the picture technology inside the UE55H8000, it doesn't benefit from quite the same spec level as that lavished on the UHD HU8500 series. In particular its edge LED lighting system doesn't benefit from a full local dimming system like the UHD model.
It does, though, get the highest version of Samsung's micro dimming system – micro dimming ultimate. This breaks the image down into hundreds of constituent parts for analysis so that it can deliver more accurate adjustments to its settings. Sets lower down Samsung's range break the image down into a small number of processing 'zones', and thus deliver less accurate results.
The UE55H8000 also uses one of Samsung's latest generation of panels (as you might have guessed from its curved nature) which bodes well for its performance based on our experience of the stellar UE65HU8500.
Though before we get too carried away, as well as only having a quarter as many pixels and no local dimming, the UE55H8000 also lacks the brilliant PurColour engine that helped its UHD sibling deliver such a huge improvement in colour resolution over Samsung's previous TV generations.
Samsung's high-end TVs usually deliver a huge array of picture calibration tools, and the UE55H8000 is no different.
Colour management, gamma management, white balance management, detail management, black level management… basically, if an element of picture quality can be managed, the UE55H8000 lets you manage it!
Among the most important features to familiarise yourself with if you want to optimise the set's picture quality are the processing elements associated with noise reduction, motion reproduction and contrast. But actually I'd say it's worth familiarising yourself with as many of the provided picture tools as possible. As is often the case with Samsung TVs, the four provided picture presets you get on the UE55H8000 aren't especially helpful.