Hisense H8 Series 4K LED TV Review
This affordable 4K/HDR TV from Hisense is all about value
Hopefully you're familiar with 4K by now, since there's already a new big buzz acronym in town. HDR, or High Dynamic Range, is a new format that promises majorly enhanced color and contrast compared to the content of yesteryear, and for better or worse has so far been bundled with 4K (3,840 x 2,160) resolution. Sounds like the kind of thing you'd have to pay a pretty penny for, eh?
But somehow, Chinese tech giant Hisense has managed to deliver a pair of very affordable 4K/HDR TV in the H8 Series, which starts at $600 for the 50-inch model but will almost always cost even less at retail. The H8 series is also available in a 55-inch variant for about $100 more. (available at Amazon)
Both TVs boast smart features, 4K resolution, and HDR compatibility for much, much less than this year's breathtaking flagships from heavy hitters like Sony, Samsung, and LG. So what's the catch? Why is the Hisense H8 series so cheap?
Well, while it delivers 4K resolution and will technically play HDR content, it's not what we'd call a true, next-gen HDR TV. You don't get the massive peak brightness of high-end HDR LCD TVs, nor the perfect black levels of an HDR OLED. You also don't get any boosted color performance. But for what it is, the H8 series is a perfectly good buy, and it's future-proofed with the best of them.
About the H8 Series
Hisense's H8 or H8C series is available in two screen sizes:
• 50-inch (50H8C), MSRP: $599
• 55-inch (55H8C), MSRP: $699
The first thing to note here is that, despite the respective $600 and $700 MSRPs, you likely won't find either H8 series TV available at that price.
For example, the 50-inch H8 is already available on BestBuy for $499, down from a "regular price" of $549. Basically, the H8 series will fetch different prices depending on the retailer you go to, but you'll essentially never see it for the MSRP. Keep this in mind when you're hit with slogans of "$100 off."
The two H8 TVs are more or less identical in terms of specs and performance, including:
• 4K (3,840 x 2,160) resolution
• Smart Features (Apps)
• Digital TV Tuner included
• 4 x HDMI, 3 x USB
• Full-array LED local dimming
Currently, while the H8 series TVs are High Dynamic Range compatible, they will only play the open HDR10 standard content and aren't (yet) compatible with the Dolby Vision format. They also don't feature overt enhancements to color and contrast in the vein of some of this year's much more expensive HDR-facing TVs.
It's also worth pointing out that while the H8 has plenty of HDMI inputs (four total), only two of them support the 4K @ 60 Hz timing mode. The other two are limited to 4K @ 30 Hz. This means you get two HDMI 1.4 (the 30 Hz inputs) and two HDMI 2.0 (the 60 Hz inputs), the latter of which is much better for gaming or any broadcast content at 60 Hz. You also won't be able to get a signal from a 4K Blu-ray player that's connected to one of the HDMI 1.4 ports.
What We Like
This TV does indeed deliver 4K and HDR playback at an otherworldly price point.
The most standout thing about the H8, at least from the technophile perspective, is that it provides both 4K resolution and High Dynamic Range playback.
While it doesn't deliver the same flashbang features as the priciest TVs, which boast HDR-facing picture quality improvements like quantum dots and full-array local dimming—the H8 is still capable of playing almost all the content you can watch right now, from cable, to streaming 4K content, to HDR10 format Blu-rays.
Unfortunately, you won't be able to play the other HDR format, Dolby Vision, though it's possible Hisense will integrate the functionality at some point down the road. Outside of Dolby Vision, however, this is an amazing way to "future proof" your purchase for a lot less than the competition.
The H8 delivers the inky black levels and high contrast we crave.
While it's not nearly as bright as some of the HDR-ready LED TVs we've tested—Vizio's Reference Series comes to mind—this Hisense does wield the now standard VA (Vertical Alignment) type LCD panel. This has a couple built-in advantages and disadvantages. Primarily, VA panels differ from the IPS (In-plane Switching) type in that they provide deep, inky shadows but narrower viewing angles.
This is the case with the H8 as well. Various content, from standard 1080p Blu-rays like The Dark Knight to 4K content on Netflix like Breaking Bad exhibited satisfyingly deep shadows. The H8 gets plenty bright without interrupting the appearance or uniformity of dark areas on screen—something that's easier said than done.
In the 50-inch H8's Theater mode, I measured an ANSI checkerboard black level of 0.035 and a reference brightness of 144.80 nits, which is a contrast ratio greater than 4,000:1—pretty good for an LCD TV in this price range. The TV's HDR brightness windows peak around 300-400 nits, however, which isn't a bad result but isn't competitive either.
This TV does a great job maintaining consistent black levels and luminance.
One issue LED LCD TVs often face is inconsistency amongst the presentation of either shadowy areas or bright highlights. For example, an edge-lit LED TV will display brighter black levels when they're adjacent to bright areas of the screen than when they're adjacent to darker areas, and vice versa with bright areas. They typically get dimmer as more and more of the screen grows dark.
Fortunately, the H8 doesn't have this problem. Because it uses a Direct LED (full-array) backlight, and has some local dimming functionality, it manages to maintain consistent black levels and highlight brightness from corner to corner. This makes for a very reliable and pleasing picture, regardless of the kind of content you're watching.
This TV boasts accurate colors, albeit they're a bit outdated.
Testing against the older color standards (for pre-4K/UHD TVs), the H8 is right on the money. I measured accurate primaries and secondaries and an accurate white point. In short, this means you can expect most content you throw at it—Netflix, cable, Blu-rays—to look accurately balanced and even in terms of color production.
That said, because the H8C offers very little in terms of enhanced or wider color spaces, it wasn't as punchy as many of the year's other HDR TVs have. Granted, most of those sets are quite a bit pricier than this one, so I guess the old saying holds out: you get what you pay for.
The built in smart features do exactly what you need them to.
You won't find a huge suite of features here the way you might with a pricier TV, but for what it is, this Hisense offers everything most users will want. Major content apps like Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube are installed and available from the get-go, and (given the proper subscription plan) you'll be able to access their respective 4K and HDR content right away.
But if you're looking for smooth web browsing, instant HDMI recognition, voice searching, or any of the newer high-end features found amongst 2016's posher smart TVs, you should look elsewhere. The H8C handles the basics like a champ, and doesn't get caught in fluffy weeds.
What We Don't Like
This Hisense plays HDR, but doesn't quite "look" like HDR as intended.
This is by far the most important thing to know about this TV, so listen up! Imagine if you had a TV that could "play" 4K content, but didn't actually have 4K resolution. You'd be watching Breaking Bad on Netflix and thinking, "Huh. This don't look no better."
I'm not saying the H8's HDR playback isn't a welcome addition or something that you can't (visibly) appreciate—it most certainly is—but it's worth noting that this one lacks the "wow" factor I've seen on some of the really high-end HDR TVs we've seen this year.
LCD TVs equipped with full-array local dimming and quantum dot-enhanced color, or OLEDs with "infinite" contrast dance circles around this thing. But they're also 10 times the price.
This TV doesn't have very good viewing angles.
As I stated in the previous section, the H8 uses a VA style LCD panel, which gives it reliable contrast and black levels. Unfortunately, the same panel chemistry that produces those inky blacks limits the TV's off-angle viewing.
Testing revealed that, basically, if you watch this TV more than a few feet off-center in either direction, its picture quality degrades notably. Fortunately, whether you've got the 50- or the 55-inch, both are big enough that the poor off-angle viewing shouldn't register as a big problem unless you have a considerably large group trying to watch together.
This TV isn't designed poorly, but that's where the praise stops.
The H8 isn't pricy, but it packs in some pricy tech nonetheless. One reason it's so affordable, however, is that the overall design is fairly lackluster. It's not a bad-looking TV, but it's comprised almost entirely of cheapish plastic. Likewise, the included remote (though useful) is lightweight and doesn't go much beyond the bare necessities.
This is about what we expect for this price range, but it's worth noting that most other 4K/HDR TVs will deliver a more polished presentation, with either a sturdier build or slightly more posh materials. But the H8C's whole game is saving you money, and shaving dollars off the design is a great way to do it.
This isn't the best pick for device-heavy technophiles, but it's going to satisfy most viewers.
This is a bit of a picky "con," but basically, because only two of the H8's HDMI inputs are 4K @ 60 Hz compatible, it's a little less flexible in terms of device pairing than a lot of the other models we've seen this year.
It might not seem like a big problem right now. Outside of the one 4K/UHD Blu-ray player on the market, what else are you going to need 4K @ 60 Hz for? From the sound of it, video game consoles and streaming boxes. The new generation of video game consoles will all support 4K output, and render most games at 60fps these days, making a 4K @ 60 Hz HDMI input a necessity. 4K @ 60 Hz also tends to have much better input lag results for 1080p devices than the 30 Hz variety.
That said, it's still unlikely you'd need more than two inputs unless you're a real tech aficionado. In which case, buying a more expensive 4K/HDR TV might be in the cards.
Should You Buy It?
Yes—just not solely for the HDR functionality.
The Hisense H8 flaunts a lot of futuristic features for its very low asking price. For less than $600, you're getting a 50-inch smart TV with 4K resolution that can play HDR content.
That last part is what keeps sticking in my craw. Having surveyed most of the year's top-level HDR sets, I really want to emphasize that the HDR experience here falls short of the pricier sets you'll find on the market. You don't get brilliant quantum dot color, or massive brightness, and you won't (yet) be able to experience Dolby Vision content. There are also a number of small, but notable picture quality snags that will give videophiles pause.
If this is your price range, however, you're in luck. This is still a great TV, delivering accurate colors, great contrast, and just enough motion and video processing efficacy to please the wide majority of viewers. You get to experience 4K in all its glory, and even peek into the HDR VIP room usually reserved for the 1% crowd. There's a lot to love here—just don't expect total perfection.
Get Our Newsletter
Real advice from real experts. Sign up for our newsletter
Thanks for signing up!