Korean electronics manufacturer Samsung has taken a few more steps in building what was once dreamed of in science fiction into a television set.
Voice input and gesture control aren’t new concepts in the world of computing, and although they aren’t quite comparable to Star Trek or Minority Report, they are an interesting addition to a TV.
Samsung has also bundled a “Smart Touch Control” touchpad remote along with the more conventional remote control. This brings the number of input methods to the TV available straight out of the box to 4.
In the box
The box also includes four pairs of 3D glasses that were light-weight and comfortable. These glasses don’t have a rechargeable battery, but use a round lithium cell instead. A 3V CR2025e coin battery is provided for each of the four pairs of glasses included with the set.
This is a fairly good deal compared against last year’s high-end Series 8 Samsung TV that included fewer, and clunkier glasses powered by similar non-rechargeable batteries.
An “IR Blaster” is also included along with the batteries needed to power it. According to Samsung, the blaster lets you control other devices using gestures, voice recognition, or the Smart Touch Control.
The base included with the Samsung ES8000 is also a step up from the D8000’s spider stand. Once assembled it looks as though the TV is balanced precariously on the stand, when in fact six bolts hold it firmly in place. One down side is that the TV doesn’t swivel.
Among the usual set of audio/visual inputs and outputs, the TV itself boasts 3 HDMI ports, 3 USB ports, a built-in camera, an Ethernet LAN port, and built-in Wi-Fi.
As a media player
One of the USB ports is able to deliver up to 1 Amp of current, with the label indicating that it is intended for use with USB hard drives. The other two ports are rated for up to 0.5A.
Testing various external hard drives and flash disks indicated that the Samsung ES8000 TV was not able to read exFAT file system. Drives using NTFS or an earlier FAT format, such as FAT32, were automatically detected and readable by the TV.
The TV played all the AVI, MKV, and MP4 files we threw at it, using a variety of popular audio and video codecs.
Video quality on the ES8000 is brilliant, as is expected of a TV carrying its price tag. As with the D8000 before it, Samsung advertises full HD 3D courtesy of the active shutter 3D technology it uses.
Lower resolution video such as that from DVDs still looks good on the large, higher resolution display of the ES8000, and the built-in speakers do a good job in the absence of a home entertainment centre, or dedicated sound system.
New Smart TV features
An interesting addition to this year’s Samsung TVs is the future promise of a “Smart Evolution Kit”, with Samsung marketing it as a way to “make your TV new, every year.”
According to Samsung, the kit will offer improved picture quality, faster speed, more features, and more content in the coming year. The cost of the kit has not been announced.
While it could be handy to upgrade the TVs existing dual-core processor to a quad-core next year, the ability to buy an upgrade in the future shouldn’t be your primary concern when you’re already spending upwards of R20k on a TV.
Smart Hub, the application portal for Samsung’s TVs, looks much the same as on earlier models, with the most notable change being the central row of icons.
These have been enlarged and feature three new services: Family Story, Fitness, and Kids. The usefulness of these features depends on the household, though Family Story seems to have the most potential.
For the tracking of fitness data or entertaining kids, a PC or tablet may be more suitable, but Family Story lets you set up a private network and share photos, memos, and events between other supported Samsung devices or PCs.
New control features
Although voice and motion control may conjure up images of Star Trek and Minority Report, potential buyers should temper their expectations.
The very dynamics of TV watching seem to work against the usefulness of these features. While the ES8000’s voice recognition is excellent, for example, you’ll still be reaching for the remote if there are other people talking in the room.
Samsung’s new “Smart Touch Control”, while sporting a far simpler layout, is also far harder to use in the menus that were designed to be navigated by a button remote.
In some instances it feels as though the touch pad is hyper-sensitive to swipes, causing you to scroll over the option you wanted, while in other cases it doesn’t seem to register touches at all.
Pricing and final thoughts
It’s difficult to hold it against Samsung for experimenting with different input mechanisms, especially since the TV comes with a good old-fashioned remote.
All things considered, the Samsung ES8000 is an excellent, if expensive TV.
At a recommended retail price of R24,999 for the 46-inch, and R39,999 for 55-inch Samsung ES8000, this range of TVs isn’t a purchase taken lightly.
While the new Smart Evolution Kit promises to keep your TV up-to-date in the coming year, you can’t change the panel.
Though the debate of cost versus utility of high resolution “4K” displays is still being debated, those looking for the absolute latest-and-greatest in technology should keep in mind that both Samsung and LG have announced TVs using organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology.