updated 04:25 pm EDT, Wed October 3, 2012
Samsung's flagship HDTV impresses with features, picture quality
We were lucky enough to be invited to a posh Toronto home to sample Samsung's latest flagship HDTV, the 75-inch ES-9000. Teased back in January at CES and dated and priced earlier this summer, the $10,000 is now shipping in the US and Canada as well as some other markets. We got a chance to sample some 3D content, a 2D blockbuster that really tested the set's reproduction of shadows and black colors, as well as Samsung's plethora of Smart TV apps.
Upon first seeing the 1080p-resolution set, it amazed us just how small it looked, at least from a distance. What also didn't help is the large room it was set in and the thin, 0.31-inch curved bezel that doesn't have any seams between in and the actual LED screen. Closer inspection certainly demonstrated why Samsung calls it a monolithic design, but the rose gold cabinet color was hardly visible, again due to the bezel's lack of girth.
A scene from The Dark Knight, where Gordon visits the Joker to question him in a dark cell before Batman does some of his own questioning. The scene is used often to evaluate HDTVs as it does a great job of testing a screen's dark color reproduction and quick changes in contrast. The staff on hand made a big deal of the Series 9's Micro Dimming Ultimate with Precision Black Local Dimming feature, which was put to task here.
The scene, showed in letterbox format, was very impressive, though when the on-screen subject matter was bright, the dark portions of the screen did brighten up, albeit ever so slightly. In darker scenes, it was impossible to tell where the bezel started. The letterbox marks were also sometimes matched by the onscreen blacks, and did show a clear gradation when the black color became a different, slightly lighter shade. The set is set to offer the best black reproduction in an LED panel, and we saw no reason to doubt this claim.
Up next was a showing of a fast action battle scene from The Avengers in 3D that took place with the entire team near the end, with the aliens coming down through the portal in the sky. The active 3D shutter glasses were relatively light, and the set ships with four sets. They are said to recharge fully in about four minutes and then offer up to four hours of operation. Back to the scene, however, the full-screen 3D performance was impressive, with great depth and separation of layers. The characters looked slightly grainy, though this texture added to the effect. Perhaps the biggest flaw was during fast-moving and panning scenes, such as when the flying snake alien passed by, seeming from under and beside the viewer.
As for the glasses, Samsung will offer them on their own for about $40 per pair for ones powered non-rechargeable watch battery or $70 each for rechargeable ones.
Another sample set gave us the change to experience Samsung's Smart TV connected apps and the TV's signature and unique voice and gesture control. The apps allow users to access free apps, all of which are free, with access to Explore 3D content, though it's relegated to movie teasers and short clips of animated 3D and real-life content. Samples included a flyover of an animated Rome and the Pantheon, the Battle of Grunwald, which was a pan over an animated but deep and impressive 3D painting, as well as some highlights from the 61st-annual Goodwood Concours d'Elegance. Content is said to be updated on a fairly regular basis. Links to other common video apps, including YouTube and Cineplex, as well as paid third party apps such as Netflix, CinemaNow, are also displayed in the Smart TV Hub. Users can personalized Smart Hub screens and access to the various apps that require signing in by creating an account that's tied to an e-mail. Up to 10 accounts can be stored in the set's memory.
The 9-series has a built-in microphone and camera in the top middle that pops out from behind and atop the screen, though this needs to be done by hand as it isn't motorized. We got a chance to play with this a little bit, and while it takes some getting used, we played one level of Angry Birds using nothing but some gestures from our outstretched hand. Less movement is more, it seems, but some practice could see the Kinect-like nature useful for some basic games. The voice control worked a little better, if only with a little bit of a delay (about 2-3 seconds). Handy examples of the voice control include phrases like "TV, Power on," and "TV Power off", which is handy when a user's hands are full.
The camera can also be used for video calls using the Skype app and others that are made to take advantage of it. The set is also DLNA-compatible, letting users stream music and video from far away servers using Samsung's AllShare apps.
There are a lot of ways to control the TV, as there is a standard remote control included, along with a touch-enabled remote that makes browsing easier (it also has a built-in mic for voice control in environments with ambient noise). There is also the gesture and voice control, and owners of Samsung tablets or smartphones can download a free app to control the TV over Wi-Fi, though all of these devices obviously need to be on the same network. As mentioned at CES, the set can be upgraded or made future-proof by allowing owners to swap the processors as newer ones become available. Currently, it relies on a dual-core chip for all of the processing it does.
There is also Bluetooth, and the ability to send sound from the TV to nearby Series 5, Series 6, and Series 7 Wireless Audio with Dock systems from Samsung. The TV itself has two 15W, downfiring speakers built-in, though we didn't get to hear them. The samples were hooked up to Samsung's DA-E750 sound dock, rated at 100W and sporting two channels and a subwoofer.
Samsung's eco-system of available (and free!) apps as well as the number of devices it can connect to thanks to its Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios as well as DLNA compatibility make the set's $10,000 price tag easier to swallow. The ES9000's amazing performance and size as an actual TV are what justify it, however.