Samsung UE55F8000 review

Samsung's debut 2013 TV raises the bar in picture quality once again

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There's so much to get through here that we can't possibly hope to do everything full justice - especially where the latest smart TV interface is concerned. But hopefully you'll end up with at least a feel of just how much the set crams in.

As noted in the introduction, the Samsung UE55F8000 is definitely something you'll love having in your living room. Its unfeasibly tiny frame delivers the nearest thing yet to what appears to be the 'bezel-free' holy grail of TV design. Especially as Samsung has somehow managed to retain the slenderness even in the bottom edge, where most brands put a bit of bulge on.

There are some nice touches when it comes to the handling of the plethora of connections on the Samsung UE55F8000's gleaming rear, too. They're all accessible from the side, to aid wall mounting, and in what we're pretty sure is a first for Samsung, they can also be hidden by a detachable cover.

Samsung UE55F8000 review

The quantity of connections is impressive too. Samsung has thankfully returned to providing four HDMIs after flirting with three on its 2012 range, and these are all built to the v1.4 spec to support the TV's active 3D playback capabilities.

The multimedia playback features so key to any self-respecting modern flagship TV, meanwhile, are catered for by three USB ports, built-in Wi-Fi, a LAN and a D-Sub PC input. The USBs can be used for recording from the TV's built-in tuners (Freesat and Freeview HD are both provided), or for playing an extensive suite of video, photo and music file formats.

The network options, meanwhile, enable streaming of multimedia files from your DLNA-equipped PC, and access to Samsung's latest, radically revamped smart TV service.

Samsung UE55F8000 review

It's also important to say that adding the TV to your home network opens up the possibility of some pretty extensive collaboration with any smart devices you might have in your home.

If you've got a compatible Android device you can use Samsung's Smart View app to stream video from the TV to your tablet or phone, or even watch a different channel to the one being watched on the TV.

You can also send multimedia from your phone to the TV via the app, and even mirror your mobile device's screen precisely on the TV via the Samsung S3 AllShare Cast feature. Much of this functionality is available on iOS too, though an update to the iOS app later in the year will introduce greater feature parity.

Samsung UE55F8000 review

The latest smart interface built into the Samsung UE55F8000 is radically different to the one seen on 2012 Samsung TVs. For starters, it now features not just one home screen but five.

The first of these home screens, On TV, is focused on broadcasts, showing a reduced version of the live TV picture alongside photographic links to six other currently showing programmes and six more links to other shows scheduled to start soon.

The clever bit about this is that the programmes shown are based on an analysis of your viewing habits. The TV remembers your favourite genres, actors and so on, and scans the TV listings for similar content when populating the On TV screen.

Samsung UE55F8000 review

You can also jump off via links at the bottom of the On TV screen to a standard EPG, a timeline of upcoming content from preferred channels, and a list of the programmes you've got recorded on your connected USB HDD drive.

The next new home screen is built around on-demand movie and TV content, and again most of the titles presented on the home screen are selected based on your viewing preferences. This sounds like a genius idea, but inevitably the system isn't very effective when you first get the TV, since it takes time for it to gather enough information on your viewing habits to start to form a really helpful recommendations list.

It's also a shame that this on-demand interface doesn't seem to draw on the full range of video content providers available through Samsung's online portal, and doesn't offer as much on-screen information on the provenance of its recommended titles as we'd like it to. This can cause frustrations when something you were hoping was available through your Netflix/Lovefilm subscription turns out to only be on Acetrax for loads of money.

Samsung UE55F8000 review

The next home screen provides an attractive portal to your own multimedia content, showing your most recently used stuff in the main part of the screen, and providing filters for your different media types along the bottom.

The fourth home screen features the inevitable Social Media support - though its presentation is anything but what you might expect. Rather than just providing links through to Twitter and Facebook apps, it niftily aggregates content from both those sources in a bid to gather your whole social world together in a more seamless way.

While this sounds great on paper, the reality is a bit odd. For a start, the decision to dominate the opening Social screen with a Friend's Picks window showing links to videos recommended in your timeline doesn't feel right. Watching video links is generally one of the lowest priority tasks on our social media agenda.

Samsung UE55F8000 review

More useful is a Skype recent calls roster beneath the Friend's Picks one, and there are links below that to the current trending YouTube videos, and a full Skype phone directory. Nowhere, though, can you simply access your basic Facebook or Twitter newsfeeds in the way you most likely want to.

All in all, while we hugely admire the technical prowess behind the Social screen, its practical usefulness seems rather limited.

The Samsung UE55F8000's Apps menu is far more helpful. It provides an elegant and straightforward way to view and jump through to all the apps you've got installed on your TV already, as well as enabling you to search through all the extra apps Samsung's got stored on its servers ready for you to download if you want them.

Samsung UE55F8000 review

The quantity of apps available is prodigious, and they include the strongest range of video apps - ie, the ones we really like to find on a TV - of any of the online platforms we've seen to date. The video services on offer include the key Acetrax, Lovefilm, Netflix, BBC iPlayer and ITV player platforms.

Happily there's also a social media app on here that enables you to access your Facebook and Twitter accounts in a much more straightforward way than the Social home page does, even giving you options to communicate with your friends while still watching TV. Perfect. Unless, of course, you'd rather do your social networking on a second screen and leave your TV to being, well, a TV.

Samsung has accompanied its new home screen menus with considerable improvements to the gesture and voice control systems introduced for the first time on last year's high-end models. We'll get into more detail on this in the Ease of Use section of this review.

Samsung UE55F8000 review

The final features to discuss here relate to the television's picture potential. As you would expect, the Samsung UE55F8000 enjoys the very top level of Samsung's edge LED panel design and micro-dimming processing, enabling it to calculate the optimum levels of brightness, contrast and gamma for each frame of your image more accurately than any of the brand's cheaper TVs.

The menus also contain an extremely wide-ranging suite of picture adjustments, including full white balance, gamma and colour management controls. Samsung doesn't pursue the official endorsement of the independent Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) calibration group, but there's no question that the Samsung UE55F8000 has all the tools necessary to support and reward a professional installation.

And actually, the huge positive difference we were able to make to pictures with our own calibration makes us think that paying a professional calibrator to get the very best out of your swanky new TV really wouldn't be a bad idea.