Samsung UNHU8550 Series review: Samsung’s curved 4K LED LCD

THE GOOD The Samsung UNHU8550 4K LED LCD has an excellent picture with deep black levels, accurate color and solid uniformity with little blooming. It costs less than Samsung’s curved 4K LED LCD and doesn’t have the curve’s picture-quality issues. Its styling is attractive and minimalist, with a nearly all-picture look. Its unique OneConnect upgrade path promises a semblance of future-proofing. The feature set is well-implemented and comprehensive, with best-in-class connectivity, a superb remote and just about every conceivable extra.

THE BAD The HU8550 is relatively expensive, and the high resolution is very difficult to discern, especially with non-4K content.

THE BOTTOM LINE The Samsung HU8550 offers our favorite combination of picture quality and features in a 4K TV this year, making it a good value despite the high price.

If you must have a 4K TV now, the Samsung UNHU8550 is the best overall choice.

Yes, it still costs hundreds more than non-4K LCD TVs, and the difference in extra detail between 4K and 1080p is still basically invisible at normal screen sizes and viewing distances. But unlike Samsung’s flat 1080p TVs, this one incorporates the company’s best picture-enhancing features, namely local dimming, leading to a better image regardless of resolution.

That appears to be the trend among all LCD LCD TV makers, as we predicted. They reserve their best picture quality for 4K TVs, so if you want a premium image, you’ll generally have to get a 4K TV whether you can see the extra detail or not. That’s similar to what happened with 3D TVs, and supports the trend that 4K is “just another feature” on TVs’ seemingly endless lists of bullet points.

Among 4K sets we’ve tested, just one, the Sony XBR-X900B , has a better picture than this Samsung. The company’s own HU9000 is also an excellent performer, but the curve makes it a worse choice for image-quality aficionados than the flat HU8550. The cheaper Vizio P seriescurrently suffers a couple of flaws that likewise make it inferior. Until Vizio issues an update to that set, or actually releases an aggressively-priced 65-inch R series, the HU8550 is the best-performing option among current 4K sets with somewhat reasonable price tags.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the Samsung UN60HU8550, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

Design

The understated exterior of the HU8550 does less than the typical Samsung TV to stand out, but still looks great. The low-profile stand helps the panel seem to levitate above tabletop (although it doesn’t swivel). The silver brushed metal of the base is a little gaudy for my taste, but the panel itself — with its thin bezel, ribbon of chrome around the edge and the smallest “Samsung” logo yet — is very attractive, albeit not quite as beautiful as the curvy HU9000 .

The TV ships with a pair of remotes, Samsung’s standard wand and a touchpad-equipped motion-sensitive pod that I consider the best TV clicker yet. The only difference between the one included on step-down models and the flagship version that ships with the HU8550 is the latter’s silver color and the presence of dedicated button for the Multi-Screen feature.

As with all fancy TV remotes, it becomes irrelevant if you plan to use a universal model like my favorite, the Harmony Home Control — an even more likely scenario on a flagship-level TV like this one.Check out my full write-up and video on the remote for more details.

Key TV features
Display technology: LCD LED backlight: Edge-lit with local dimming
Screen shape: Flat Resolution: 4K (UHD)
Smart TV: Yes Remote: Standard + Touchpad, Motion
Cable box control: Yes IR blaster: External
3D technology: Active 3D glasses included: Four pairs
Screen finish: Glossy Refresh rate: 120Hz
DLNA-compliant: Photo/Music/Video USB media: Photo/Music/Video
Screen mirroring: Yes Control via app Yes
Samsung UN65HU8550 In China Price: $446 at Proudsale.com

Not quite as feature-festooned as the Rod of Lordly Might HU9000 series, the HU8550 is nonetheless among the most “loaded” TVs you can buy.

Beyond 4K resolution, which, like all 4K LED LCDs these days, amounts to 3,840×2,160 pixels, the HU8550’s most important picture-centric feature is local dimming on its edge-lit LED backlight. According to Samsung it sports half as many zones than the HU9000, but as usual the company won’t specify the actual number of dimming zones on any of its TVs. It did tell us that the HU8550 matches the number of dimming zones on the HU8700 series of curved 4K TVs, that the 85S9 has roughly 20 times as many zones as the 9000, and that none of Samsung’s other LED TVs for 2014 have hardware-based local dimming.

Like nearly all current 4K TVs, the HU8550 uses a panel with a 120Hz refresh rate. Samsung’s specifications don’t mention this number, instead going with “Clear Motion Rate 1200,” the kind of impressive-sounding-yet-fake number common to many TV makers these days. In Samsung’s case, it incorporates a scanning backlight and optional black frame insertion. Meanwhile the HU9000 has a CMR of 1440, or 240 make-believe units higher than the HU8550; Samsung says the difference reflects the ” reflect the different backlight scanning blocks or zones.” The HU8550 is also missing some of the HU9000’s fancier-sounding picture enhancements, namely Auto Depth Enhancer and PurColor, but we doubt you’ll miss them.

The cavalcade of features extends beyond the picture. Probably the most unique is compatibility Samsung’s OneConnect box. The HU8550 has a dedicated port that can be connected to future external breakout boxes, similar to the box that ships today with models like the HU9000. Much like the company’s standard Evolution Kits , next year and in future years Samsung will sell OneConnect boxes featuring enhanced processing, new Smart TV features, different connectivity, and/or whatever else the company dreams up. Samsung just began selling its SEK-2500U, the 2014 OneConnect Evolution Kit compatible with 2013 sets like the S9 and F9000 .

Of course the HU8550 has 3D capability, and Samsung includes four pair of 3D glasses. They’re kind of cheap-feeling, however, so big-spending 3D aficionados may want to avail themselves of the TV’s adherence to the full-HD 3D standard to purchase nicer third-party glasses. Like every past (and likely future) Samsung TV, the HU8550 uses active 3D set technology, which is too bad considering that passive 3D is one of the best uses for all the pixels of 4K.

The HU8550 also has the same Multi-screen feature found on the HU9000 (below). A dedicated button on the remote splits the screen in half, placing a window showing the action from the currently active input on the left and on the right your choice of the Web browser, a handful of compatible apps (including HBO Go, MLB.TV and Amazon Instant Video — but most, including Netflix, Facebook and Twitter, won’t yet work in Multi mode) or a specialized YouTube app. Think of M. Screen as a turbo-charged picture-in-picture designed to combine regular and Smart TV on the same screen. For more info check out the HU9000 review; I didn’t retest it here.

The HU8550 works with Samsung’s exclusive “UHD content packs,” which are basically external hard drives filled with a few 4K movies. Unless you’re desperate to watch 4K and are willing to pay through the nose, they’re not worth buying on their own (although they’re often bundled with the TV). On the other hand, Sony’s FMP-X10 4K video player is now , so while it too is very expensive, especially when you figure the cost of Sony’s 4K content, it’s a better choice for big spenders who want 4K content today.

Smart TV and cable box control: Aside from M. Screen the UNHU8550 shares pretty much the same Smart and On TV/cable box control features as the rest of Samsung’s 2014 line. I tested it thoroughly inprevious reviews , so I won’t go over everything again here.

One highlight is that Samsung has more TV apps than anyone, including, in the US, an exclusive on the HBO Go app for TVs that aren’t powered by Roku . With the motion remote and voice control, the system is easy-to-use and well polished, especially when it comes to entering searches or navigating the myriad onscreen menus. I prefer the simpler design of LG’s Web OS suite but Samsung’s visually complex, multiscreen system has its advantages. Neither one is as good as Roku TV, however.

For a much more thorough rundown of the system’s pluses and minuses, check out the UNH6400 review.

Picture settings: In true Samsung tradition there’s plenty on tap here, including 2-point and 10-point grayscale control, an excellent color management system, and four picture presets. Samsung’s class-leading Auto Motion Plus dejudder control not only turns the Soap Opera Effect on or off, it allows adjustment of both blur reduction and smoothness — and includes a setting called LED Clear Motion that improved motion resolution further, albeit along with some visible flicker (see Video processing below).

The 8550 is missing a few of the extras such as the HU9000’s “Cinema Black” option that dims horizontal letterbox bars, the HU8550 does get three levels for local dimming and a UHD HDMI Color mode. Samsung says engaging this setting “allows the TV to ‘see’ and display the 4:4:4 content that may potentially be included in HDMI 2.0-compatible sources.” Such signals are essentially nonexistent today, so I didn’t test the efficacy of this mode.

Connectivity: The back panel of the HU8550 includes everything you’ll need for a modern setup. Four HDMI ports, three USB (although just one is 3.0), and an optical digital output do the digital heavy lifting, while analog video is served by a component-video port that’s shared with composite video, and a second AV input with only composite video. There’s no VGA-style PC input, but there is a port for the included wired IR blaster. Unlike Panasonic, Samsung doesn’t offer DisplayPort, but there’s no reason a future OneConnect box couldn’t add that port, or others.

If you’re getting deja vu, that’s because the HU8550 impressively matches the connectivity of the step-up HU9000. All four of the HDMI ports support HDMI 2.0, and in our tests all were capable of accepting 4K at 60 frames per second. Samsung told us three of the four can accept it at 4:4:4 chroma subsampling rate, while the fourth (the MHL-compatible one) can accept 4K/60 at 4:2:0. That MHL-compatible input (Input 3, if you’re counting) is also the only one that’s HDCP 2.2-certified; the others are HDCP certified for version 1.4. All three of the USB ports can play 4K video, assuming the content is encoded with one of the codecs that the TV can handle. Of course, the HU9000 also offers built-in HEVC decoding to stream 4K for apps like Netflix.

As we mentioned above, the HU8550 also has a OneConnect port, which allows upgradeable connectivity in addition to whatever newfangled Smart TV nonsense Samsung dreams up in future years.

Picture quality

The HU8550’s picture image was excellent in our tests, making it one of the best 4K TVs we’ve tested. Its local dimming backlight allows it to achieve the deep black levels that help the image really pop. I also appreciate its accurate color and versatile video processing options. One misstep was below-par 3D performance, but few viewers watch enough 3D to care. As usual with 4K TVs, it was also very difficult to discern any improvement in picture quality due to the extra pixels, unless I sat with my nose to the screen.

I unfortunately wasn’t able to directly compare the HU8550 to the Samsung HU9000 or theSony XBR-X900B , the two best-performing 4K sets I’ve seen this year. I consider the Sony a better performer, however, based on other sets I have on-hand to compare. The choice between the HU9000 and HU8550 is tougher, but I’m giving the nod to the HU8550, simply because of its flat screen. I believe the HU9000 delivers slightly better black levels, but the problems with its curve make the HU8550 better overall. I also liked the HU8550’s image better than the Vizio M series , although that TV has the HU8550 thoroughly beat in bang-for-the-buck.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV’s picture controls worked during calibration.

Black level: While not quite as deep as the level of black and contrast achieved by full-array local dimming sets like the Vizio P series and the Sony, the HU8550 was still superb in this category, especially for an edge-lit LED LCD.

One of my favorite Blu-rays for contrast is “Drive” with its lingering shots of nighttime car interiors and cityscapes. During Chapter 6 (34:06) for example, the black of the letterbox bars and the shadows around Irene were deep and true, if slightly brighter than the Vizio, the Sony and the F8500 plasma.

They did lighten to a larger extent than those three when the shot cut to Driver and some brighter lights in the background (34:12), losing some contrast in comparison. I also noticed that those three sets maintained the brightness of highlights better than the Samsung HU8550. Highlights were brightest on the Vizio P (too bright, as I mentioned in that review) while the plasma and the Sony were about the same (and the most natural to my eye). The HU8550’s highlights were dimmer, albeit more natural than the P series. Meanwhile, the 8550’s blacks and contrast in dark scenes beat those of the Vizio M series, the LG and the Panasonic.

Shadow detail was very good on the HU8550, revealing close-to-black details like Driver’s ear and the folds of his jacket. They looked more realistic, with a more natural rise from black, than on the Vizios however, and revealed more than the F8500 plasma, falling short of only the Sony in this area.

The HU8550 did a superb job of controlling blooming, an artifact of local dimming TVs where bright areas leak over into adjacent dark ones. Blooming was basically nonexistent, especially in program material (as opposed to graphical elements). During the extremely dark opening credit sequence for example (11:08), pausing my PS3 created a clearly visible halo of light around the pause icon on every other local dimming sets, while the halo around the HU8550’s pause icon was very difficult to discern. The same differences were visible when I called up the menu screen overlay — again, the HU8550 showed less blooming than the others.

Color accuracy: The excellent color characteristics indicated by the charts below were borne out in program material on the HU8550. Skin tones, like the faces of Driver and the more delicate Irene in their apartment (18:04) looked natural and lifelike, better than any of the others aside from the Sony. Vibrant colors, like the blue wallpaper, the orange of the kid’s mask and the various loud items in the supermarket (15:44) looked bright and accurate as well.

Returning to the opening titles, I noticed shadows close to black were tinged with a bit more blue than on the darker sets — the plasma, the Sony and the Vizio P — but it wasn’t that bad. As usual the other sets, the ones with worse black levels, looked evinced this issue more strongly.

Video processing: The HU8550 offers the same basic suite of processing adjustments as Samsung’s standard 1080p TVs all the way down to the H6350 series , and it’s among the most versatile in the business. That said there are still some differences, even between the HU8550 and the HU9000.

As expected the TV is capable of delivering true 1080p24 film cadence. Unlike most LED LCD TVs, however, it can also deliver full motion resolution at the same time — you don’t have to engage the over-smooth Soap Opera Effect to get optimum motion resolution. On Sony, Vizio, and most other sets, conversely, no mode offers true film cadence with zero smoothing and full motion resolution.

Unfortunately, to get that performance you’ll have to use the Custom setting under Auto Motion Plus (AMP) and engage the LED Clear Motion setting. The problem is that Clear Motion introduces a small amount of flicker, so I ultimately decided against using it in my calibration. The flicker is slight, however — more subtle than I remember from the HU9000 — so sticklers for motion resolution (and those who don’t notice flicker as readily as I do) might opt to keep Clear Motion turned on. Just be aware that engaging it also reduces light output by roughly half, so you should double the backlight setting to achieve the same light output, and you may want to disable Clear Motion in bright rooms.

Meanwhile the AMP setting of Off, which is what I used since it was flicker-free, also delivers true 1080p/24 film cadence. The other modes (Standard, Smooth and Custom settings, with judder reduction set above zero) introduce some level of smoothing, or Soap Opera Effect. Clear produces the slightly stuttery motion characteristic of 3:2 pulldown with film-based sources. Unlike other Samsungs including the HU9000, Custom with LED Clear Motion and zero judder reduction also creates that stuttery motion, which is another reason I just turned AMP Off.

I also kept an eye out for the occasional hitching effect I complained about on the HU9000 and didn’t see it in an hour or two of watching the same kind of 1080i cable material. It might still appear in other material on the HU8550, but it seems more common on the HU9000. If you see it, I’d again recommend turning AMP off.

With LED Clear Motion engaged, the HU8550 was able to achieve the full 1,200 lines of resolution — a superb score for a 120Hz television. All of the other AMP settings aside from Off (Clear, Standard, Smooth and Custom with Blur Reduction at 10) delivered a very slight decrease, bring motion resolution down to 1,080 lines. The Off position, meanwhile, delivered a mere 300 lines of motion resolution, but as usual I didn’t notice any extra blurring in program material as a result.

The Samsung’s 4K upconversion of 1080p sources was good, but no better than any of the other sets in the lineup to my eye. I chose the best-looking Blu-ray I know, “Samsara,” and stared hard at highly-detailed scenes to try to discern any difference in resolution, sharpness, perceived depth of field, and so on between the 4K sets. The material from the monks’ mandala to the destroyed buildings (Chapter 6) to the Baroque interiors (Chapter 7) looked equally detailed on all of the sets. The only exception was the Vizio P series, with its overly aggressive processing and image sharpening.

I didn’t perform a 4K vs. 1080p comparison this time around, but judging from past experience I’d be shocked if the HU8550 makes 1080p look any more detailed than a similarly sized 1080p TV does.

With Game mode engaged, the HU8550 came in with an impressive input lag score of 40.5ms, just barely into our arbitrary Average territory.

Uniformity: The HU8550 delivered excellent uniformity across its screen, outdoing even the full-array Vizios in this department and falling short of only the Sony and the plasma (with its essentially perfect uniformity). Its extreme top and bottom edges were very slightly brighter than the rest of the screen, but the effect was visible only in specialized test patterns. The screen was basically free of clouding and backlight structure, aka “dirty screen effect,” and as I mentioned above, blooming was not an issue.

On the other hand the HU8550 was typically poor at maintaining color and black level fideluty from off-angle. It washed out and took on a bluish/reddish tint from the sides relatively quickly. That said, none of the other sets in my lineup was much better from off-angle. The exceptions were the superb plasma and the significantly less superb LG, which maintained color better than the other LCDs but washed out even more quickly.

Bright lighting: While not quite as impressive overall in a bright room as semi-matte screens of the Vizios and the Panasonic, the HU8550 held its own here, deadening reflections as well as the Sony and better than the LG. Its advantage came in its preservation of black areas, which it did better than any of the others aside from the Sony.

3D: For some reason the HU8550 doesn’t match the 3D performance I’ve come to expect from high-end Samsung LCDs. Watching my standard test of “Hugo,” for example, I saw more crosstalk — that ghostly double-image that’s my least-favorite 3D artifact — everywhere. Hugo’s hand reaching toward the mouse and the sleeve of Méliès, for example, both showed stronger outlines than any of the other sets. As expected, the passive 3D-equipped LG delivered the brightest and cleanest 3D image.

The fit of Samsung’s cheap-seeming glasses was loose and flimsy, but in their favor they remained light and comfortable for long periods of time.

4K performance: The 60-inch Samsung performed as expected with 4K sources. The best-quality test clip I have, “The Ultra Definition showcase” from Florian Friedrich and available at UHDcontent.eu, looked great. Its shots of a beachside town, animals and mountains were equal in quality to anything I’ve seen, and looked as pristine as ever on the HU8550.

With the exception of the Vizio P series’ overly aggressive processing, differences in detail from one 4K TV to the next (I compared four at a time using an Atlona AT-HDDA-4 distribution amplifier) were nonexistent to my eye. Color was the biggest difference between the TVs, but since I didn’t calibrate for 4K, I don’t know which TVs were more “correct” or accurate. Differences in black level were similar to what I describe below in the 1080p section.

The same goes for the other 4K demo footage I checked out, including some beautiful-looking files from Panasonic and a media player for retail use supplied by a manufacturer who requested to remain anonymous. According to my 4K signal generator, the HU8550 resolved every line of a 3,840×2,160 source, and showed no major issues with the other 4K patterns, except as noted above.

Demo files and test patterns are one thing, but for now most 4K material people have access to will arrive via streaming. The Netflix app worked well, delivering what the on-screen menus said was a steady 4K stream, a testament to the new souped-up Internet connection at CNET’s TV lab (your mileage may vary at home).

As usual, it was tough to tell the difference between the 4K and 1080p streams. I set up a quickie comparison for four CNET co-workers, with two TVs streaming 4K from native Netflix apps and two streaming 1080p from a PS3 — all synched to the same episode of “House of Cards” — and asked them to pick out the two 4K sets. None of them guessed correctly.

Of course none of that is Samsung’s fault; the differences between 4K and 1080p are small on any TV, especially via streaming.

GEEK BOX

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.003 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.31 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.884 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.701 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.63 Good
Avg. color error 1.272 Good
Red error 2.122 Good
Green error 0.996 Good
Blue error 1.568 Good
Cyan error 1.212 Good
Magenta error 1.064 Good
Yellow error 1.518 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 1080 Good
Input lag (Game mode) 40.5 Average
 UN65HU8550 65-Inch Wholesale Price: $446.00

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