If you’re in the market for your next TV, you’ll be inevitably tossing up between standard 1080p Full HD and the (technically) far superior Ultra High Definition (UHD) format. You’ll also have to choose between flat and curved panels now. Samsung’s new TV line-up will give you the best of both worlds -- you get a curved 4K/UHD TV for less than $5000, and so much more.
What's It Good At?
Curved TVs are weird. Sure, they supposedly have better viewing angles, but the claim that a curved TV's design draws you further into the image can be tough to believe upon first viewing. To combat this, Samsung has built a Depth Enhancer into its new HU9000 65-inch Curved UHD TV that claims to make everything more immersive from the get-go.
The Depth Enhancer is a software gadget inside the TV that identifies the background, mid- and foreground of an image, splits them, and then dynamically adjusts contrast, brightness and colour for an optimal viewing experience and enhanced depth.
That tech works alongside the screen's curved panel to apparently give you a greater field of view and better contrast when viewing at angles. The curve and the depth enhancer both serve to drag you into the image, and when combined with a whopping 4K/Ultra High Definition (UHD) resolution, it almost looks like lenticular 3D when viewed straight-on.
Depth enhancers aside, a curved TV is something majestic to behold in of itself. Catching sight of it as you walk by your living room is like seeing a pretty girl for the first time -- you just want to linger for a moment to let that impossible shape sink into your brain.
Samsung's content upscaler has also had some work done on it, with everything from low-resolution TV video through to 1080p Blu-rays looking fantastic on the 4K panel. Generally, a digital 576p signal from broadcast TV stations looks rubbish on a super-high-res panel like this one, but the upscaler takes the image and interpolates more pixels and more vibrant colour into it -- it does a great job.
While there's still not much in the way of bespoke 4K content kicking around to make use of the UH9000's gorgeous Ultra HD panel, the Samsung Smart Hub is better at surfacing your digital content, with the cuboid interface design now playing host to a raft of recommended programming from your installed media apps.
Instead of just providing you with the app icon for something like Crackle or Quickflix, the Smart Hub actually exposes the content available on those services, and puts shortcuts to stuff you might like on the Smart Hub screen. Considering half the battle of using these streaming services is deciding what to watch in the first place, it's a great way to give customers the content they want.
To make the TV even smarter when it comes to online content, Samsung has introduced something called Multi-Link. Say for example you’re watching a film or a footy match -- with Multi-Link, you can slide the content you’re watching to the right, and populate the new area of the screen with another YouTube video, or even a web browser to look up stuff from IMDB and so on.
The Multi-Link isn't just be limited to one additional window, however: it'll allow for five separate panels to give you a deep multi-window experience.
It's certainly better to use than I initially gave it credit for. When you're watching a show on TV, for example, the Multi-Link feature (by default) scoops the metadata out of the program you're watching from the EPG and dumps it into a Google search on the built-in browser to give you more info about the show you're watching. As you change channel, the suggested terms above the search change, so you can either stay on the search you had or execute a new one.
You can change what the Multi-Link button does on the remote, too. By default, it triggers the browser and a default search based on the metadata from the show you're watching. Alternatively, you can have it search YouTube for more content or trigger a specific Samsung App like Twitter or Facebook.
While it might be handy for engaging with social content at the same time as you're watching your TV, it's still easier to rest your tablet on your lap and use that instead. There's something about a clunky on-screen keyboard that just doesn't gel with me.
Soccer Mode is also an interesting feature on the new Samsung TVs. It analyses the action, paying attention to the commentators and scoreboard, and automatically records highlights so you can go back and rewatch them. That’s pretty nifty.
While I wasn't able to watch any sport at the time I was testing the TV to properly review Soccer Mode, I can attest to the fact that it immediately shifts the TV into an ultra-vivid colour mode to highlight the greens of the grass and the colours of the player's jerseys -- that should make for a fun World Cup experience.
Samsung continues to make a promise to its users that their TVs will be upgraded for the next few years, thanks to its Evolution Kit tech. Basically, the Evolution Kit serves to slave the TV's existing processing power with new hardware and software, upgrading it whenever you choose. Rather than just provide people with a dumb box, however, Samsung is introducing the One Connect Box to introduce new ports, new codec support as well as the new hardware.
The new Curved UHD TVs will have new codec support for 4K content, including support for HEVC, HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2, MHL 3.0 (and potentially future Samsung software upgradability with the new Samsung UHD One Connect Box). That's handy for anyone who may not acquire their content in the most legal way possible. In our tests (plugging a USB drive full of content into the One Connect Box), we found codec support for high-res MP4 files, AVI containers and even MKV.
With the One Connect Box, you'll also never be short of a port for your content. -- you've got two USB 2.0 ports, and one high-speed USB 3.0 port. You've also got optical audio, satellite inputs for your Foxtel box, audio and IR out ports, four HDMI ports, an Ethernet port and one HDMI output. That's incredibly handy, because anything you need to connect can be run into the TV through the one cable -- hence its name.
The price is also pretty impressive. Consider that last year's debut curved OLED TV packed a resolution of just 1080p and had fewer gizmos on it to draw you further into a better-looking image, you'd find it hard to believe that people were willing to pay $10,999 for it. You can get a 55-inch UHD curved TV from Samsung now for less than half of that: $5999. The model we tested was the 65-inch, which costs $6999, but you can even go one bigger and get a 78-inch model for $16,999. The best value for money is in the mid- to low-range models, which all come are considerably good value for a curved design.
What's It Not So Good At?
The new flagship Samsung TV isn't without its issues here and there. Most of it comes in the form of a less-than-ideal user experience.
The menu animations can often be slow and jaggy when flipping around the Smart Hub cube, with some ghosting, tearing and dragging all over the screen.
Often, that's due to the new Samsung remote, which also operates as a virtual pointer. At times, it can feel slightly like a Wiimote when you're waggling from the couch, wondering why it isn't scrolling where you want it to. Worse still, if you're pointing at the wrong angle from the couch (sitting down, pointing slightly upwards at the TV), you're likely to see the selector icon jump all over the screen if there's a poor sensor connection at said angle.
The controller also needs re-orienting every time you want to travel to the other side of the screen. It certainly needs work -- or at least needs the option for a trackpad, which the stubby new version doesn't have.
Also, the ultra-sensitive motion control -- that's meant to use contrast detection to see your finger moving around, ordering the unit to turn the volume and channel up and down -- activates itself whenever it likes, but seemingly never when you actually want it to work.
There's also a distracting light bleed problem on the panel. It's not bad enough to put you off Samsung's curved HU9000, but you'll certainly notice that the corners of your $7000 curved TV aren't quite as black as you hoped they would be.
Should You Buy It?
When it comes to buying a TV, everything is subjective. There are die-hard fans of plasma longing for something to placate their love of black, and there are just those who want the best bang for buck when it comes to panel size over price.
The new Samsung HU9000 curved LED UHD TV is interesting then, because it tries to be all things to all people. It's curved, it's Ultra HD, it's Smart, it has voice control, it has swathes of apps, games and content to keep you entertained for hours. In fact, the only real thing it's missing is OLED tech -- but given the price you'd have to pay for a 4K OLED, it's probably for the best.
Samsung aims for loads of targets with its new flagship Smart TV, and hits just about every mark. It's a jaw-droppingly beautiful piece of kit that pumps out an even prettier image, with tech under the skin to draw you into the curved image, rather than just let the design stand on its own. We think it's a winner to those shopping on price and quality.
However, if you're obsessed with black and deeply perturbed by even the slightest aberration in your colour profile, you'd best stick to plasma or an OLED TV, which still renders deeper blacks and more vibrant colour.
On the other hand, if you stick with OLED from Samsung, you're relegating yourself to last year's models and a much, much lower resolution.
I know that if I had the choice between a slight black depth increase and slightly more vibrant colours, against a larger panel with a better design better-sounding speakers and a resolution that will blow your eyes out of the back of your head (proverbially, of course), I'd choose this Series 9 UHD every time.
Full Disclosure: Samsung wanted me to review the HU9000 so much that it put the TV and me in a room at the Sydney Hilton for the night.7