Review: Hisense’s amazing ULED TV beats Samsung’s entire range
- 02 August, 2016 13:41
Superb colours, great upscaling, great contrast, low price. What's not to love?
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.
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?
The ULED Series 7 TVs come in the following sizes (all flat): 50in ($1,499), 55in ($1,999), 65in (3,499), 70in ($3,999), 75in ($4,999).
In terms of looks, there’s not much between the Hisense and Samsung’s 8000 series TV. It looks like a quality piece of kit and it’s impressively thin. The remote doesn’t look like much but it’s very responsive for everything (a refreshing change) and also has dedicated YouTube and Netflix buttons.
With budget TVs we’re used to the operating system being cheap and poor which is an issue for Smart TVs as we expect them to have all manner of useful apps these days. Hisense uses the Opera system and it works very well. It’s not as well stocked as Sony’s Android system but it’s much better supported than Samsung’s own Tizen system and it rivals LG’s impressive WebOS environment. We were impressed.
We expected great things from this TV, having seen it on display at the Grand Prix and we were not disappointed. UHD content is as bright, detailed and vibrant as anything we’d seen anywhere it’s at least equal with Samsung and Sony’s best and also rivals LG’s OLED.
When watching movies in the dark we could make out letter box bars in certain scenes with bright flashes of light, but they weren’t distracting and performance was superior to Samsung’s best.
We had to play around with Sony’s picture settings to get the best contrast from Sony but we didn’t need to do that with Hisense – it retained vibrant colours while exhibiting impressive contrast – not quite as consistently as LG's OLED levels, but some of the best we’ve seen on an LCD TV. Credits scrolled more smoothly than many competitors can manage. Our only slight qualm was that some dark areas seemed to lose detail and turn black too quickly in particularly-dark content. It wasn’t distracting but we expected an HDR screen to do a bit better. It’s a very minor gripe though.
Netflix 4K content was impressive, motion was smooth. We only saw any artefacts if someone moved quickly across a patterned background but all rivals do that too. Uniform areas of colour stayed uniform with no blocky artefacts. It wins for top quality.
It’s usually with SD content that TVs falls down but Hisense didn’t. Upscaling was actually impressive – noticeably better than Samsung and LG and it rivalled Sony’s excellent Bravias.
This is important as free-to-air TV and low-rent cable programs can look terrible when stretched across a 4K screen. But Hisense kept things relatively smooth. Sometimes there’d be slight interlacing lines appearing in Foxtel’s crappy watch-on-demand content and cable-grade cartoons could get a bit blocky, but things didn’t get unwatchable.
There was also virtually no sign of the Soap Opera effect – whether it was Suits in Full HD, Orange is the New Black in UHD or Pride and Prejudice in standard definition, everything stayed dramatic.
Frankly, it’s not only hard to find a weak point but it’s hard to think of a better TV. Even the sound from the Hisense rivals the big boys in loudness and clarity. There is no perfect model on the market and the best all-rounders we’ve seen are Sony's best Bravias. But this, in some instances, is actually better. And it’s half the price. Hisense wanted to make a dent in the Australian market. It’s going to make a dent globally with this. It’s the best TV you can buy. The only downer is that Hisense won’t be selling curved TVs in Australia this year.
The lowest end of Samsung’s 4K range, is the 6000 series. This is not available as a curved model but flat-panel sizes come in 40in (UA40KU6000W - $1,399), 50in (UA50KU6000W - $1,899), 55in (Reviewed - UA55KU6000W - $2,199), 60in (UA60KU6000W - $2,999), 65in (UA65KU6000W - $3,899) and 70in (UA70KU6000W - $5,199) variants. It’s a bit thicker than all of the side-lit models but not by much. All connectors are in the back as with regular TVs and only Samsung’s basic, ugly "accessible" remote is available. We don’t actually miss the smart remote – give us buttons instead of touch-pads every day – but that comes down to personal preference.
When displaying the best quality 4K content, detail was generally very good. It uses Samsung’s previous-generation Purcolour technology which will be acceptable to most people for general viewing but, alongside the newer models, looks rather subdued. It was very good at displaying vibrant blues, though. However, the 6000 Series uses LED backlighting from the rear (not the sides) which allows for “local dimming.” This actually meant that in movies, letterbox bars stayed impressively black and that, remarkably, contrast was actually better than the more-expensive side-lit siblings.
Upscaling could be an issue. Even HD content could turn blocky and almost cartoon-like in some instances. Low quality cartoons saw characters surrounded by blocky artefacts. We see this everywhere to some extent but it’s mediocre on the 6000 series. Also, in areas of uniform colour, artefacting was an issue – big blocky patches of colour get distracting on screen. We’ve seen it before on cheaper TVs. Better TVs manage to show uniform colour.
However, sound was good and rounded and got loud.
Ultimately, while the prices are low, Hisense’s are much lower and quality and value is better across the board: the 70-inch model is $1,200 cheaper while other models are all a few hundred dollars cheaper. There’s no One Remote so fitting it in with other Samsung home-theatre products isn’t really an issue. This is an easy win for Hisense which is better in every way.
The picture on the 7000 series feels very similar to the 6000... with all the foibles. Samsung calls the picture technology “Active Crystal Colour” but side by side with the 6000 series we couldn’t tell any significant difference. However, the lighting technology is different (it’s side-lit rather than rear-lit) which makes the screen thinner. However, this also means that black reproduction isn’t quite as good – letterbox bars were more noticeable due to light leakage.
Other than that most differences are external. It’s available in a flat panel variant at 49in (UA49KU7000W - $2,299), 55in (UA55KU7000W - $2,649) and 65in (UA65KU7000W - $4,499) or 55in (Reviewed - UA55KU7500W - $2,849) and 65in (UA65KU7500W - $4,799) curved.
The Styling more-resembles the top-end 9000 series in that its textured on the back and thin but there’s still no breakout box and all connectors appear at the back. Samsung’s One Remote is included which swaps out most buttons for a touch pad. It also works with other Samsung peripherals including sound bars and Blu-ray players. It can certainly be useful in keeping remote clutter down. However, the touch pad won’t be for everyone.
Basically, this is like an up-market 6000 series – the picture is basically the same but the extras are different. As such the Hisense range represents even better value than before... but only for the flat panels. While we have seen impressive versions of Hisense’s curved TVs they aren’t for sale in Australia. This means that Samsung’s 7000 Series TVs represent the cheapest way of getting a curved screen (they’re much cheaper than the 8000 series). If that’s important to you, then these are worth a look.
The 8000 series is available in flat 55in (UA55KS8000W - $3,599), 60in (UA60KS8005W - $4,499) and 65in (Reviewed - UA65KS8000W - $5,499) and curved in 55in (Reviewed - UA55KS8500W - $3,899) and 65in (UA65KS8500W - $5,799) sizes. At this point we’re into Samsung’s “SUHD” range which uses its “Quantum Dot” colour technology.
As soon as you watch any colourful 4K content you’ll notice a big step up from the 6000 and 7000 series. All colours are incredibly vibrant. Contrast in general is better too along with blacker letterbox bars in movies although we did notice a little more light bleed at the edges of the curved model compared to the flat screen model. There were certainly fewer distracting reflections on the curved model though.
Upscaling is better too although there are still issues. We weren’t suffering from artefacting in uniform colour areas although the Soap Opera effect did rear its head in some drama – it’s not completely distracting but it’s there.
It’s a very thin TV, enhanced by all ports being removed from the back and instead connected to a single breakout box. Styling at the back is glossy and smooth instead of the textured effect on the 9000 series. We can’t see too many people being affected by this.
The stand is similar to that used by Hisense and sound again is impressively loud, clear and well-rounded.
It’s not quite as bright or vibrant as the 9000 Series though, but not by much. However, the flat panel variants are dramatically more expensive than Hisense’s and yet quality when displaying the best content is comparable - with better contrast on the Hisense. The Hisense is also better at reproducing standard definition content with better upscaling. As for the curved units, if you’re spending this much money on curved, you may as well go the whole hog and get the 9000 Series equivalents for a few hundred bucks more although the difference in quality is minor. Either way it leaves the 8000 Series with no compelling reason to buy into it.
Watching the top-end UHD demos on the Series 9000 Sasmung TVs is enough to impress anyone. All colours are incredibly bright and impressive – rivalling LG’s OLED TV. Next to the 8000 Series it’s an obvious step up although few people would be upset with the 8000.
The colour gamut is very high Blue, Green, Red Yellow, everything really, is incredibly bright and vibrant. And yet black performance is impressive too – so long as you’re not in a dark room.
Samsung goes into a great deal of science regarding which technologies allow for fewer reflections from the front while keeping blacks black. In daylight, everything can look amazing but in a dark room, the letterbox bars are still noticeable – we see why Samsung is pushing these TVs as perfect for bright, Australian homes. We watched The Martian on UHD Blu-ray in a very dark room and were expecting great things. However, to make all the dark, space areas look good with a black screen we had to turn it into Movie Mode which dramatically dims the colours and stops them popping. The fact is, blacks aren’t as good as rivals from LG, Sony and also Hisense and you’ll have to sacrifice that amazing colour that you’ve paid so much for in order to enjoy decent contrast.
Another disappointment is that upscaling still is not great. If you’re watching Standard Definition content you’ll see artefacts and jagged edges to just about everything – especially on low-rent cable TV programs like the Kids networks and E! Entertainment. This carries on to Standard Definition free-to-air programs and YouTube where low-quality content look mediocre. It’s not dire but we’ve seen better from Sony and Hisense.
The 9000 series comes in the following variants: flat 55in (UA55KS9000W - $3,999), 65in (UA65KS9000W - $5,999) and 75in (UA75KS9005W - $10,999); curved 55in (UA55KS9500W - $4,299) and 65in (UA65KS9500W - $6,299). However, there are also 78in (UA78KS9500W - $12,999) and 88-inch models (Reviewed - UA88KS9800W - $24,999) which are significantly different and are described separately below.
Ultimately, however, you’re paying a huge amount for Samsung’s flagship here. Yes it’s superb at displaying top-quality UHD content, but then so are most UHD TVs with Sony’s and Hisense’s flagships still rivalling it the LED-lit technology space. It is noticeably better than the 8000 series but not by much. Ultimately, it’s still a poor-man’s LG OLED TV (LG also offers curved TVs). LG offers true blacks and flawless contrast in addition to the stunning colours. It also has a better operating environment with WebOS being better supported than Samsung’s Tizen. Both struggle with low-quality content, so if money is no object, and you only watch UHD content, the LG is better. However, as all-round performers go in the flat-panel space, Hisense and Sony are better buys.
Samsung 78-in (UA78KS9500W - $12,999) and 88-inch UA88KS9800W (Reviewed - $24,999)
LG’s OLED TV goes up to 65 inches and costs $8,999. While we see other manufacturers offering 75-inch TVs, Samsung’s 78-inch and 88-inch monsters are worth a mention. They're not lit from the side because the screens are too wide even for the black magic-based physics to light the middle of the screen properly with the side-mounted LEDs. However, this means that contrast is actually better – the screen is much thicker but the dimmable rear lighting means that blacks get much blacker.
Everyone who saw it wanted this TV. It’s ridiculously big but decent-quality content on it looks amazing. Picture foibles are otherwise similar to the rest of the 9000 Series – upscaling is mediocre and really shown up when you’re close to the screen. However, when the picture is this big and this bright, we found we didn’t care. It’s silly money. But we loved it.
We’re noticing a sea-change here. While Samsung has delivered a huge range of choices it seems to be relying on its brand and the punchy colours of the 9000 Series to sell all of its TVs. The 7000 Series curved models are highlights as there’s nothing else to challenge them at that price. However, the curved models of the 8000 and 9000 Series are only really there for people who can’t afford an LG OLED TV (except for the $25K 88-inch variant which is King Kong awesome).
For everything else there’s Hisense. It rivals every flat-screen TV on the market for top-quality picture reproduction and colours and it’s more impressive at upscaling than Samsung’s (and LG's) TVs which is very important when watching real-world TV. Hisense's remote might not be as high-tech as the Samsung One remote but it’s very responsive and usable. We also prefer the Opera TV operating system which is better supported than Samsung’s Tizen - so there are more apps too.
So Hisense beats Samsung in most important areas. Does it beat our previous all-rounder champion, Sony's Bravia range? We prefer Sony’s Android operating system which is very well supported with apps. But even then, we found ourselves playing around with Sony’s picture quality a lot more in different circumstances than with Hisense which is very low maintenance and seems to get things right more often. If I had the choice with money being no object, it’s a coin flip between the two. But considering the Hisense costs literally half the price of the Sony (in some variants) it’s no contest – the best all round TV on the market is also one of the cheapest and the Hisense should be your next TV, it’s just as simple as that.
Finally! LG 2016 OLED TV range review
What size 4K TV should I buy?
TV buying guide: What to look for when buying a TV in 2016
Home Theatre review: 4K projector vs 4K TV?
The Top 5 Best TVs in 2016 that you can buy right now