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Seiki SE50UY04 UHD LED TV Review

4K you can afford—but do you want it?

$1,499.99 50 in.
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Overview

Do you pine for peerless piles of extra pixels? Does the term "4K" make your nerdy little heart race? That's what manufacturers would like. If you're on the hunt for affordable 4K, you may have stumbled across an unfamiliar name: Seiki. Pronounced "say-key," the self-owned company is headquartered in Diamond Bar, California. But everyone knows TVs aren't manufactured in America anymore. Where does Seiki get its goodies? From parent company and Chinese giant Tongfang Global, Inc.—the same entity that powers Element Electronics. With one of the largest TV manufacturing plants in Northern China, the company is all too capable of producing its own, affordable panels.

In fact, Seiki claims to deliver great TVs "without the add-ons that bring the higher price." We decided to test that promise using the 50-inch SE50UY04. If you want a TV that recognizes your face, listens to your voice, and zooms around the web, try again. Seiki promises quality UHD panels for weary wallets—nothing more.

Sold in 39- and 50-inch sizes, these UHD TVs reside online with asking-prices of $699 and $1499.99, respectively. With competing companies like Sony demanding almost five times that price for the coveted technology, prices like these easily catch the eye.

The Outfit

Plain rectangles cause deep-set ennui

A terrible sense of tedium set in as I stared at this TV. Ordinary. Quotidian. Two dark rectangles of glossy plastic constitute the unremarkable design scheme. Nothing sparkles; nothing twinkles; nothing ventures from the rectangular mold.

The remote control putters along in just the same manner. You paid $1500 for this TV. You think that awards you glow-in-the-dark buttons? A shiny controller? Think again. The SE50UY04's remote is impossible to see in the dark, tiny, and poorly labeled. Live with it!

Connectivity, at least, is generous; users will find composite/component ports, a headphone jack, three HDMI hookups, two USB connectors, coaxial in, audio in, audio out, an antenna port, a pc audio hook, and a VGA port—all on the back lefthand side. If you happen to lose your boring remote, there are on set controls on the opposite end.

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The Extras

A ghost of a feature set

If you think $1500 will have you brandishing a magical, gesture-controlled wand, yelling commands, and Tweeting about Real Housewives from your TV, think again. Remember, Seiki promises UHD for less—in exchange for the fancy stuff.

With regard to extras, this TV is bare bones.

As such, users are left with no 3D, no apps, no streaming, and no special control sets. With regard to extras, this TV is bare bones. In fact, even picture settings are the essence of abbreviation. The only picture aspects to play with are color, tint, brightness, sharpness, temperature, and contrast—you won't find white balance, gamma, or even backlight controls. Luckily, color doesn't need much tinkering, as you will see in a moment.

The real feature is the plethora of pixels. UHD televisions have a resolution of 3840x2160, as opposed to the usual high definition 1920x1080p. Talk about detail. But the complaint ringing in manufacturer ears' right now is that 4K content is all but missing right now. Early adopters are stuck with upscaling technology—which stretches and prods and maneuvers an HD signal into a much-larger UHD format.

Comparable Products

Before you buy the Seiki SE50UY04, take a look at these other televisions.

The Picture Quality

Poor motion brings down otherwise great performance

It's too bad that third-rate motion processing plagues this TV, because honestly, everything else about the SE50UY04's performance really impressed us. The most important aspect we weigh, black level, proved excellent with comparison to many televisions that come through our labs. This Seiki gets really dark, and that means that it can powerfully and effectively portray moody, shadowy scenes. This display can look great in a sunny room too, since it can combat the ambient light with a very bright peak white level.

Next, color performance proved top-notch; although blues are far too saturated, the colors that human eyes are most sensitive to, namely green and red, are spot on.

This Seiki gets _really_ dark.

If we don't sound completely thrilled, it's because subpar motion performance, poor audio, and unimpressive upscaling crashed the party. Starting from the top, I noticed a sort of jumpy, juddering effect during motion trials in the lab. Sure enough, I could see the same unpleasant symptom during regular viewing. When a camera panned over a landscape, the television struggled to keep up, which produced a subtle yet inescapable visual stutter. At times, the blemish was downright dizzying. Meanwhile, the audio echoed unpleasantly throughout the room. Though the TV is plenty loud, the audio quality sounds awful—like listening to content from inside a tin can. Users will need external speakers for sure.

Blu-ray films suffered from distracting artifacts.

As for upscaling, I'll start by explaining what that is. Right now, native ultra high definition content is hard to come by. Therefore, owners of UHD TVs will find themselves stuck with HD content. Basically, that means you're stretching HD signals to fit much bigger UHD screens. Stretching—that doesn't sound good. And in this case, no, it's not! Blu-ray films suffered from distracting artifacts, noisy mid-tones, and nasty regions of over sharpened edges—especially during fast-moving scenes. In the simplest terms, images on Blu-ray discs appeared rough, grainy in appearance, and sometimes just plain ugly. Regular daytime programming wasn't nearly as hampered by these detractors, though—so if all you want is Dr. Phil in 4K, have at him.

The Long & the Short

You can't have your pixels and eat them, too.

The crummy motion and tin-can audio really seal the SE50UY04's fate. Any way you slice it, $1500 isn't chump change, and the competitors aren't chumps, either. UHD is an exciting frontier, but putting the cart before the horse is always inadvisable. Why buy a 4K television without readily available 4K content?

Even if you come up with an answer to that, you still need to answer the followup: Why buy a mediocre $1500 display when you could have an outstanding TV with more features for the same price? The Seiki SE50UY04 delivers on color and contrast, but 8,294,400 pixels or not, its motion, audio, and feature set just don't fly for this price range.

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