It all started back at the Australian Grand Prix. We spent a day walking past an amazing TV display in the Paddock thinking they were OLED TVs thanks to their amazing colour reproduction and, what appeared to be true blacks. Only later did we find out this would be Hisense’s new TV range and that it would cost a fraction of what the major brands charged. Since then we’ve seen Hisense all over Formula 1 (thanks to its Red Bull team sponsorship) and the recent European Championships football tournament where banners surrounded every match played. We’ve finally spent the last two weeks finding out whether our early impressions were justified and the answer is a resounding yes.
In the meantime, we’ve also spent time with Samsung’s entire range of TVs – the 6000, 7000, 8000 and 9000 series. There’s something aimed for everyone across this range but there are many foibles that span the range too.
4K and why you need it
Your next TV should be 4K. While those with poor internet connections will howl at the unfairness of it all, thanks to Netflix there’s now heaps to watch in Ultra High Definition and you can really see the difference. However, you’ll need an internet connection that can sustain a reliable 20Mb/s to watch anything (so ADSL is out and even VDSL could struggle if the internet connection is being shared). You can also now buy 4K Blu-rays but they’re $40 each.
High Dynamic Range is a recent addition to 4K Ultra High Definition. In technical terms it expands the colour space from 8-bit to 10-bit thanks to extra brightness information being transferred from the initial camera that recorded the footage to your TV. This theoretically has the effect of producing more detail in dark areas and improving colours and to a general extent, it does. But it hasn’t been a mind-blowing upgrade across the board. All of Netflix’s 4K content is HDR capable. All of the TVs on test are HD compatible.
Thin and curvy
Most of these TVs are available as flat or curved. Much will come down to personal preference but we’ve noticed the following. Curved TVs rely on you sitting directly in front of them. If several people regularly watch the TV at once, then being off centre gives a mildly-annoying, distorted view of the picture. That said, on larger curved TVs (60-inch plus) the curve is not as pronounced and this is less of an issue. As Samsung was at pains to explain, if you’re in a light room that typically leads to reflections, a curved screen can help deflect them away and leave you with a clearer image. Beyond that, a curved screen is supposed to be more comfortable to view as t matches your eyeballs' curvature – while we’ve experienced some evidence of this with computer monitors (that you sit right in front of) it’s less pronounced when sitting away from the screen in a living room.
[Related: TV of the year award 2016]
Unfortunately, Hisense's curved models won't be available in Australia this year. The compayn told us, “We had curved models in our 2015 range and it was decided to not include them in our 2016 range. If there are plans for them in 2017, we’ll get a better idea around CES 2017.”
Unlike Hisense, Samsung chops its 2016 range into affordable to expensive models which come with, sometimes-haphazard, price increases. So what do you get and is it worth paying for?
In terms of cosmetics appearance and functionality, the 6000 series is only available as a flat panel (not curved), it only comes with a basic remote (not the smart "One" remote), there’s no breakout box for connections (all cables plug into the back of the panel), the styling (mainly at the rear) is flat and glossy, not textured and ‘smart.’ The 7000 series has broadly-similar image technology to the 6000 but now lighting comes from the sides (actually reducing contrast) and curved screens become available. Styling matches Samsung’s top-end 9000 series but there’s still no breakout box for all connections. While the image is similar to the 6000 series, the screen is thinner. You also get a smart remote included but there are fewer choices of screen sizes.
The 8000 series represents a step up from the 7000 series in terms of image quality thanks to the Ultra-Dot technology. Here’s a cheerful video that attempts to explain the complex physics of the technology...
Styling at the back is the cheaper glossy type, the size range is reduced further but flat and curved screens are available, you get the breakout box for connectors and the smart remote. The 9000 series is the one Samsung is hanging its hat on, it offers Samsung’s best image quality (which is slightly brighter and more vibrant than the 8000 series), the stylish backing, the smart remote and the breakout box. There are some anomalous, giant variants with different back-lighting technologies which we’ll deal with separately.
Many of the differences are broadly-cosmetic across the range. The styling really isn’t a big differentiator unless you can see the back of the TV. All of them display great UHD quality but the more expensive variants have significantly-better colours. They all have the same proprietary Tizen operating system which doesn’t have too many apps available for it, although we do like the way that inputs are denoted by icons showing a picture of the device rather than just a number that you’re supposed to remember.
All of them show great detail and clarity when displaying the best 4K content but struggle when showing standard definition (something that’s been a facet of Samsung’s for a while now) though this is more of an issue on the 6000 and 7000 series. We also noticed that movies and drama could still suffer from the Soap Opera effect (where characters in a scene start looking like actors on a set and it’s very distracting) on all models although it’s far reduced from older Samsung TVs. The 6000 and 7000 series are good at displaying blues but other colours are relatively flat. However, the 6000 series actually displayed some of the best blacks – it’s thinner siblings with their ‘more advanced’ side-lighting actually aren’t as good with blacks. Samsung has been pushing these TVs to typical, bright-light Aussie homes for a reason – watching movies in dark rooms, while not distracting, is not the strong point of these TVs – letterbox bars are noticeable even in the darkest modes.
However, something we love about Samsung’s TVs is the Sports Mode. This, conveniently, now has a dedicated remote button and it makes the image brighter, the people on screen become more-realistic (the Soap Opera effect done right) and the sound starts replicating stadium acoustics - it's very atmospheric. If you primarily watch sport – especially footy in stadiums – Samsung is unsurpassed in this area.
The main difference between the TVs in the range though is the colour. The 6000 and 7000 series are good at blues but everything else can look a bit flat – especially when sitting next to the 8000 and even more so, the 9000 series where bright colours seem to leap out of the screen thanks to Samsung’s “Quantum Dot” colour technology.
Meanwhile, at Hisense…
Hisense hasn’t bothered with different ranges for different pocket sizes. Its TVs are among the cheapest around. But how good are they?