Some people are in the lucky position to receive high-end stuff from high-end companies for review. I'm not one of them. But a family member felt it was time for 3D and bought the new Samsung C8700. And I managed to get a good look at it.
It was a Thursday morning when the mailman rang the door and entered with a big package labeled Samsung. The feeling of excitement was hard to suppress. I opened the box and saw the TV its stand and a lot of cables. The instruction manual was huge and contained instructions in a lot of languages, I only used it for installing the stand though. Real men don't need user manuals! Read: geeks like me.
I had a good look at it after installing the stand and carefully placing it on the furniture. The first thing I noticed was the silver metal border around the screen, a risky move considering the all-black trend of the last couple of years. But I really like it. It makes the television look more premium and makes it stand out from the pack. The very edge of the television isn't silver but see through plastic. From the side it's very thin. Under an inch thick, that's about as thin as it gets for sure.
The screen is held by a 4-legged stand, which looks great. At first I wasn't sure but it grew on me. And the obvious benefits of the stands are the great stability of the TV and the unique design. The all silver looks will disappoint some users though; I've heard stories of people going for the C7700 just for the black borders around the screen.
Overall the Samsung C8700 is one of the prettiest TVs on the market. Its all silver design and 4-legged stand will make it stand out wherever it stands. The backlit Samsung logo is also a very nice touch. Less successful is the branding on the lower left corner. And it should be noted that the design isn't for everyone.
Connectivity & specs
The high-end Samsung C8700 allows you to connect virtually any device, like you'd expect from a TV in this price class. It has 4 HDMI 1.4 ports, the new standard which allows maximum 3D visuals. Further more in comes with: PC audio in, RF in, Cl+ slot, 2x USB, 2x scart, optical audio, Ethernet, headphone and 2 components. That's really nice connectivity right there.
All the connections are angled, so you can put the Samsung on the wall without worrying about cables sticking out. I should also mention that most of the connections require a special 'extension' cable, which is provided in the box.
It also packs some serious specs. It has 200hz, a new hyper 3D engine, Internet, DLNA, PVR and a marketed contrast radio no television will ever accomplish. Further more it's a LCD edge-lit LED, which means that the light comes from the side. It has local dimming in 12 zones, meaning that the TV can control the light at 12 parts of the screen to achieve better blacks. All these specs will come back further in the review; so don't worry if you don't know what any of them mean. For your convenience, here's the full spec list provided by Samsung.
The Samsung C8700, C7700 and C9000 televisions are the first to carry a special new remote. It's thinner silver remote with backlit keys. The traditional rubber keys have been replaced for flat keys, which give you no point of reference for blind use. Also new are a few buttons, most noticeably the 3D button.
I really like the new remote. It looks amazing. The silver fits the TV well and I found the key allocation logically.
I'm a bit of a geek when it comes to these things. I always try to use every feature that a gadget has in store for me. Samsung has included a lot in the new C8700, including Internet apps and media play.
They have also provided a new menu graphic for the different features. It displays an icon of the feature on the edge of a wheel which you can turn using your remote. Television keeps playing even after activating the menu, a nice touch.
The new Samsung application store allows you to download apps for the television. Offering differs per country but it should include the likes of Twitter, Facebook and weather. Downloading went with ease and using the apps was a mixed experience. The limited processing capabilities of the TV should be mentioned; don't expect iPad like experiences. Navigation wasn't always smooth and some of the apps were completely useless. Still it's a nice upgrade from last year's leds. But the slightly improved sluggish feel still makes me want to avoid all of it.
Media play means that you can insert an USB device and play its content. This may not sound like a big deal but it is. Samsung claims to support virtually every format, and in a way they're right. The feature has improved this year. The user interface first lets you choose between Movies, Music or Photos. Browsing the USB disk follows after your selection; luckily this is easy and fast. Sub maps are handled perfectly and I was able to navigate with serious speed.
So does it really play every format out there? Yes and no. I threw a lot at it, including media that the PS3 can't play. AVI, MPEG, MP4 were all played with ease. MKVs weren't a problem either, even the big 15+ gig ones. I had one instance where it declined to play my audio format because it was not supported - DTS I think. I was in cloud 9 until I came across a little problem. Do you know those small HD cameras? They sometimes record in a file called.MTS, also known as AVCHD. The Samsung C8700 didn't want in and couldn't even see the files appear in the browsing window. A small hiccup in an otherwise perfect playback score, guess I've to use the PS3 for AVCHD files.
Everyone who's serious about televisions can tell you that proper calibration is critical. To accomplish this I calibrated the television for a few different scenarios and ultimately chose a compromise. Because I don't want to switch settings each time I change to gaming, SD or HD movies. The menu is very easy to use. I pressed display options and found myself confronted by a few sliders controlling: sharpness, contrast, backlight, colors etc. I could also change the local dimming settings (smart LED) and the way the television tries to remove grain.
After about 2 hours, I found a good compromise in settings, displaying both SD and HD very well. I had turned the sharpness down a notch to remove unwanted artifacts around objects, most noticeably in SD signals. Contrast was upped a bit but not too much otherwise it removes shadow details. Colors were set up high and backlight was set to maximum with the eco sensor enabled.
The new eco sensor is Samsung's response to Sony's system. Basically it reads the environment and changes settings accordingly. It can lower brightness based on ambient light, turn the TV off when there's no signal and a few other less interesting things.
The sound settings give basic control, not nearly as extensive as the image setting capabilities. It allowed me to change the sound to the optimal settings for: movies, music and speech. And of course it has the surround mock-up setting, which I like. Last but not least the C8700 can normalize volume differences between channels. This can work but I kept it off because I never experience this problem much.
Normally you'd be done now but there's one more setting to worry about: 3D. Samsung has provided a wide array of tools to make the experience, especially the conversion system, as comfortable as possible. Settings include: generated depth, brightness and the way the system generates the 3D effect. I noticed that bigger depth in the settings can be really nice or really annoying. It all depended on how well the conversion worked in the first place.
So with my TV calibrated it was time for some real world tests. So I did what each family does... connect a 2TB HDD with 1080p content and hundreds of movies and TV series that I legally own. But before that I watched some regular television.
Now bear in mind that I don't have the equipment to do a scientific test. I just looked at real world material and calibrated the television using a method that every normal person uses.
First some general remarks about the testing process and findings. I watched content in three categories: SD, HD and gaming. I took my time and got a good look at different aspects of the image quality, especially motion, colors, black levels and general sharpness.
First my finding that applies to everything I watched. The viewing angles on this TV are disappointing. A small angle already resulted in a considerable loss of colors. Everything became tinted quite quickly. There's also some lightning uniformity. It's a problem that troubles every edge lit LEDs, basically the edges are more bright because the background light comes from the edges only. I didn't notice much during my tests, but it's there. Okay now for some real world testing starting with SD.
First I connected a digital television receiver box onto the Samsung C8700. The signal was SD (720x480) and 50hz. The quality was okay from a distance. For the 46" model a distance of at least 7 feet (2,1 meters) is recommended. From up close the lack of pixels became painfully obvious. I also noticed that the television was unable to remove all graining without losing detail. Motion was handled well by the 200HZ engine, which means that the television makes motion smoother by placing more frames in between.
I searched for more SD materials and found an episode of Glee. Episode 21. It stumbled upon the same problem. The image wasn't very sharp and looked washed out. The missing pixels become a big pain. Again the same advice applies. Only try watching this from a distance! Students don't buy a 46" television for a one-room house, which some call home for lack of better.
Overall I was disappointed by the SD picture quality but it wasn't the Samsung C8700's fault. It's just very hard to display DVDs crisp on a panel of this size. It's watchable from a distance but don't get too close.
My second test was one for the future. Every thing we watch is converted to HD. This new higher standard equals more pixels and thus a better video quality. In fact we have so much faith in this technology that we're even converting old classics like Star Wars episode 4-6 and the Shining to the new platform. Remember though that a camera with ¼ the amount of pixels shot those movies. Which means that the extra dots need to appear from thin air - not possible. So I only tested HD movies filmed after 2007, modern movies.
I started with Leap year. This new 2010 romantic comedy was the perfect candidate because of the beautiful scenery of Ireland. And boy was it beautiful. The Samsung C8700's local dimming system does a great job in generating impressive black levels. Black is really black on this television! Motion was also good as the scenery flashed by. It was really smooth. Some don't like this but I do. Leap year ended in a completely dark room. During the movie I couldn't notice that the television was adjusting its brightness dynamically and to be honest during the end I found the screen sometimes too bright. Not sure if the eco system really adjusted the LEDs accordingly.
Secondly I watched Avatar. This fast pace movie was perfect because it can really stress the Samsung and show any imperfections. Let me be honest there weren't many for me but could be for some. It all rests on the motion. It's buttery smooth and almost looks unreal because of it. Some will not like this but no matter the setting I used I couldn't get rid of it completely. I also noticed artifacts around some of the objects, but it wasn't a big deal as it only happened once. And I wouldn't have seen it if I was paying attention to the movie.
Color reproductions and black levels were again spot-on. Although I think that most full LED local dimming sets could do better, but that's only noticeable in a direct comparison environment. And it's not like your neighbor will buy one and install it right next to yours for showing. If someone experienced this please contact me and I'll remove that statement.
Blu-rays or legally owned 1080p content are amazing on this set and the real reason why someone would own a television of this caliber in the first place. Color reproduction is excellent and black-levels are spot on. Motion isn't always handled perfectly. I saw some artifacts and some people will find it unnatural no matter the settings. If you're one of those people than this can be your deal breaker!
Gaming. We all do it, some admit it but few feel proud of it. I connected my PS3 to the Samsung C8700 to test gaming. Again I don't have the high-end stuff to measure input lag, this review represents what the naked eye sees.
First up was Need for Speed Shift. This new EA title was released in 2009 and marked a change for the series. Moving more towards the semi-simulation racer with great graphics and spectacular crashes. The Samsung C8700 held itself well during the tests. The color reproduction was good and the image remained crystal sharp despite only showing 1280x720 pixels. I did notice some input lag compared to my reference display, a 2ms TNT panel. But for me as a casual gamer I don't see this as a big issue.
LittleBigPlanet was tested next and the Samsung C8700 nailed it. Input lag was even less of an issue thanks to the slower paced game. The game showed better depth thanks to the sharpness and the size of the display. Further more I saw nothing unusual.
Last but not least was the game Resistance 2. This popular shooter sits high with the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield Bad Company 2. My first impression wasn't too great with this title. I found the color tending a bit too much towards the yellows. And I found halos around some of the objects during heavy motion. I got rid of it after some tweaking, but it wasn't ideal.
Gaming was nice on the Samsung C8700 television. The big size really makes the experience more immersive. I did notice some input lag but it's not that big of a deal.
Samsung doesn't provide glasses with the television. Costs are 70 - 130 $ depending on the model you choose. Your options are limited between Samsung rechargeable or non-rechargeable, the latter working on special batteries. Glasses from other manufacturers don't work.
For this test I used a set of non-rechargeable glasses. I found them to be average in both looks and comfort. They don't look as good as the more expensive rechargeable glasses. And I felt a pinch at the touching point near my ears. Moving the glasses as bit relieved the pain.
Samsung claims that the glasses can work over 100 hours with a single battery and those numbers are impressive. But despite that I have to advise everyone to go for rechargeable ones - at least for yourself. They're better looking, more comfortable and nobody wants to buy batteries these days. My family member decided to purchase 2 rechargeable for regular use and 3 non-rechargeable ones for guests.
Samsung's biggest change for 2010 is 3D. It's not a surprising move; competitors like Sony have pushed it and everybody knew it was coming this year. But I still don't have any comparison because Samsung is the only one out there with a fully available 3D set. I've seen Sony's 3D engine a while back at a demonstration, but can't use it to compare because they were running special demos. For this part of the review I tried the special 2D to 3D conversion on a wide range of media. I couldn't test the native 3D engine because I don't own a 3D Blu-Ray player. Sony update the PS3 already!
The 2D to 3D conversion is very easy to use. There's a button on the remote saying 3D, press it and the real time converting begins. Further tweaks are possible in the menu, controlling things like depth simulation, color correction and so forth. For this test I kept everything at default because the depth simulation at maximum emphasized mistakes too much, and a lower value made the whole 3D experience an average experience. I started with SD.
Glee was a good test case. The busy hallways of overly stereotyped teens gave me the perfect opportunity to see if the Samsung C8700 is capable of aligning objects properly. And it was. People in the front 'popped out' a bit, while background students really remained in the back. Even with movement everything stayed fine. I can truly say that an episode of Glee is worth watching in 3D, despite a small loss of colors.
Next was a motion test. I played back a F1 race that I had recorded. F1 is like NASCAR but with corners and modern technology. It was raining and I was interested to see how timing graphics and cars would show. After ten minutes of viewing I was disappointed and forced to take off the glasses. All of this was because my glass of water was empty and I had to refill. After refilling the glasses stayed off because the fast moving cars were a pain to watch. Cars going from the right side of the screen towards the left weren't sharp and 'shook' heavily on the screen surface. The system clearly couldn't keep up with the fast pace. On a positive note: graphics were rightfully showed in front of the action, and the extra depth was exciting to watch at times. Just not when there were any fast moving cars around - Red Bull cars and such.
Commercials are never fun to watch, except when they're about a product you want to purchase. This has nothing to do with my third 3D test though, which was regular television. I'm sad to say that the C8700 made mistakes regularly when the commercials hit in. I found slogan text (buy cheese now) to pop out while the price remained in the background. On top of that some of the graphics weren't sharp. Overall the loss of brightness and the discomfort from the glasses made regular television not recommended for 3D conversion. Of course your mileage may vary, some shows lend themselves more to the system than others.
I popped Avatar in my PS3 and hit 3D on the remote. Mind you I haven't seen this movie in 3D in the cinemas so no reference there. Avatar looked amazing in 3D. The opening scene when the main character floats looks fantastic. Objects looked sharp, and the television made to mistakes in depth calculations. The only downside isn't really Samsung's fault but a compromise in the active shutter glasses technique. These darkened glasses work like sunglasses and remove some brightness when viewing 3D. This occurred in all the footage I saw.
Last but not least: gaming. I turned on my PS3 and started the titles I discussed earlier. I was again torn between good and bad experiences. LittleBigPlanet made no difference at all. But it does work in racing titles. Overall I felt the games were built up in 4 layers of depth, with nothing really coming out of the TV or sitting completely in the background. I found a lot of instances of crosstalk and that wasn't the only problem. Some of objects showed 'halos' around them, some weren't sharp and other weren't as far on the background as they needed to be. It made the experience very tiring and therefore I won't use it much. Native 3D games can change my mind but for now gaming in 3D is a no go, with the Samsung C8700 at least.
So here's what I think about the conversion system by Samsung. It works but your mileage may vary. Some of the television shows/movies don't work too great, especially with a lot of moving objects. I also found SD 3D way more frustrating than HD 3D, with the latter displaying very sharp textures and objects. Gaming for now is a no go with conversion, a nice gimmick that will not last. Also a no go is watching 3D in a resting position. You can't watch 3D with the glasses in a 90-degree angle. Doing so will result in a black screen. I'd like to stress that I wasn't able to test native 3D, so for now my opinion about 3D is subject to change.
Samsung did a terrific job with the C8700 LED television. Its design is beautiful and will please most buyers - but not all. Watching SD is a bit of a pain on the large screen so a few feet of viewing distance is advised. HD content looks excellent though, with great black levels and amazing color reproduction. But the overly smooth motion can annoy some and please others.
The 3D conversion system is very easy to use and can work great. Especially HD movies are converted well. Fast paced SD or gaming should stay into the 2D realm for now.
You can't really go wrong with the Samsung C8700. It's an excellent television but be prepared to overlook some minor flaws for this expensive silver piece of engineering brilliance.