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Ladies and gentlemen: The Samsung F8000 show is about to begin.
Without a doubt, the biggest spectacle at this year's Consumer Electronics Show was the Samsung booth. It was enormous, dazzling the masses with a dizzying assortment of products, including what many thought to be the show's star: the S9 UHD TV.
We thought the S9 was grand, but that wasn't the only trick Samsung had up its sleeve. The South Korean giant showed off a completely redesigned smart platform, plus sequels to its flagship plasma E8000 (our 2012 TV of the Year), and flagship LED ES8000. We just finished testing the latter—the 55-inch F8000 (MSRP $2,829.99)—and can safely say this: All of the grandiose appeal from Samsung's CES booth is present in this TV. It's expensive, looks incredible, has options galore, includes an amazing new remote, and produces an excellent picture. And that new smart platform? It's here and it's already the best we've used (if still somewhat flawed).
Ladies and gents: Sit back and enjoy the show.
The belle of the ball and the cat's meow
How do you improve upon the minimalist-yet-futuristic design of the ES8000? Trim the bezel width down to 0.2 inches and add one of the craziest bases you've never seen. Like a knife-throwing act, the crescent-shaped stand that comes with the F8000—officially dubbed the "Arc Stand"—is a sight to behold: It curves around the back of the screen, with only two little "feet" showing in the front. This TV doesn't swivel, but it does appear to float—that seems like a fair trade-off. And while it would have been a treat if the stand were made of metal, its hard-plastic coating still impresses.
We'd love to gush some more about the actual TV's appearance, but the new Smart Touch Remote puts on a show of its own. It's smaller and thinner than last year's version, plus it feels solid and looks stunning with its gunmetal color scheme, even if it is—like the stand—plastic. The touchpad is much more responsive this time around, although navigating an on-screen keyboard with this remote is still unpleasant. At least perusing the Smart Hub or changing settings with it is easy and intuitive. The Smart Touch Remote can also control your cable box, but for $2,829.99, you expected that... right?
Menus & Smart Features
Sorry, Mr. Barnum—this is actually The Greatest Show on Earth.
The menu interface on the F8000 remains mostly untouched from last year's iteration, which was one of the best and most user-friendly menus on the market. This year's version continues that trend, giving detailed descriptions for every option you wish to tweak. Not sure what Digital Clean View does? The menu tells you that it reduces picture noise. Controlling this interface is done with the Smart Touch Remote, and it works very well, but really—there are way more fun features to use that remote with, specifically the Smart Hub.
Using this new interface to view TV content is just the opening act. There are a total of five different screens on the Smart Hub: the previously-mentioned On TV, Movies & TV Shows, Photos, Videos & Music, Social, and Apps. After On TV, Movies & TV Shows is the most important screen. Here, you can browse through current films and shows. Once you find something you like, click on it with your trusty remote. You will be told a number of things: where you can watch said movie/TV show (Netflix, Vudu, OnCinema, etc.), the cast, related movies/TV shows, and its Rotten Tomatoes rating. In case you don't realize it, this is awesome.
We need to point out how improved Samsung's voice functionality is over last year's TVs. When we reviewed Samsung's 2012 flagship TVs, we thought turning them on by saying "Hi TV, power on" was brilliant. Now, you can say more specific phrases, like "Ben Affleck movies." Doing so will list all of his most recent movies and how you can watch them. C'est magnifique!
The F8000 juggles color, contrast, and motion admirably.
Sure, the new Smart Hub can do the television equivalent of jumping through flaming hoops, but that means nothing if the picture is subpar. Worry not, faithful readers: The F8000's picture quality is more awesome lion tamer than sad clown.
Fortunately, Samsung added a feature called "Micro Dimming" to the F8000. This is a way to finely control the LEDs that light your television and is the edge-lit version of local dimming. In other words, when this setting is turned on, the F8000 will allow different sections of the screen to light up independently, depending on the content. The best way to describe Micro Dimming (also called Smart LED) is like this: If a movie scene takes place in a dark room with a lantern in the bottom-left corner, then only the part of the screen with the lantern will be illuminated. Should you use this setting? Yes, especially since you're paying close to $3,000 for a TV.
By the way, what's a circus without a good sideshow? Please give a warm welcome to the F8000's 3D experience. Yes, it looks amazing, and yes, you'll use it maybe once or twice and then forget about it. For what it's worth, this is some of the best 3D—maybe the best—on the market. There is no trace of crosstalk, plus the glasses are lightweight and comfortable. You'll still look like the bearded lady wearing them, though.
Despite some flaws, Samsung's latest deserves a standing ovation.
What a show it's been. Samsung delighted us with the F8000's tantalizing design, wowed us with its updated Smart Hub, and treated us to terrific picture quality, thanks in part to some impressive extra features. Stop thinking about the upcoming S9 UHD TV—right now, the F8000 is the biggest spectacle in the TV world.
Is it perfect? No. Picture quality is very good, but suffers from the same drawbacks that plague most LED TVs: disappointing black levels and slightly flawed motion. Fortunately, Samsung adds in a plethora of extra features that can help to correct these issues. When a TV costs you $2,829.99, you should take advantage of these options.
The F8000 is simply a great television. If you have the money and you want to experience what could potentially be the future of how we view content, consider this TV. At the end of the day, Samsung is the ringmaster, and the F8000 is one amazing show.