Samsung UE40ES6800 40 Inch 3D Smart TV

Samsung‘s ES7000 and ES8000 TVs are gorgeous to look at, innovative with their features and their interfaces, and capable of some outstanding picture quality. But they’re also likely beyond the financial means of a large chunk of the TV buying population right now.

With this in mind, we suspect many prospective television buyers will be forced to turn their attentions to a slightly lower level of Samsung’s 2012 TV range, such as the 40-inch Samsung UE40ES6800, which packs a full recommended retail price of £1,079.99 (around $1,690), but can be found for as little as £800 (around $1,250).

You can tell as soon as you look at it that the Samsung UE40ES6800 isn’t as swanky as its costlier siblings, since its design, while certainly not in the least bit ugly, doesn’t feature the insanely thin bezel of the ES7000s and ES8000s.

It also doesn’t offer the startling array of alternative control systems sported by Samsung’s top-end TVs. As in, you don’t get a second remote with a touchpad, and there’s no support for either voice or gesture controls.

The Samsung UE40ES6800 doesn’t carry the same level of picture processing used by the ES7000 and ES8000 models, either. This means the Samsung UE40ES6800′s Clear Motion Rate (CMR) number is 400Hz rather than 800Hz, and that the set’s micro dimming LED control system is less sophisticated in terms of the number of areas of the picture it takes into account when calculating illumination levels.

You do still get the latest version of Samsung’s excellent Smart TV online service, though, complete with its new Fitness, Family and Kid zones. And the set supports active 3D playback, with two pairs of glasses included for free.

Other TVs in the Samsung ES6800 range include smaller brother the 32-inch UE32ES6800 (priced at £849.99), the 46-inch UE46ES6800 (£1,399.99) and the 55-inch UE55ES6800 (£1,899.99).

If you want to buy a cheaper Samsung TV, the ES6300 range doesn’t offer micro dimming and has a 200Hz CMR but costs £200 less, or the ES5500 series uses a 100Hz CMR rate, also doesn’t offer micro dimming or built-in Wi-Fi – but costs £500 less than the ES6800.

Outside of Samsung’s own TV stable, the Samsung UE40ES6800 goes up against the likes of the Sony KDL-40HX753, Panasonic TX-L42ET5, LG 42LM660T and Panasonic TX-P42ST50, among other great smart and 3D TVs.

Features

Design wise, the Samsung UE40ES6800 is surprisingly ‘normal’ looking. In place of the insanely slender bezels of the ES7000 and ES8000 series TVs, you get a markedly wider grey bezel, given added panache (or made to look a little over-fussy, depending on your point of view) by a few millimetres of transparent outer trim.

The set is still quite trim around the rear, though again, it’s not nearly as skinny as Samsung’s slimmest efforts.

The set is illuminated, as you would expect, by Edge LED lighting, and the lights are driven by Samsung’s micro dimming system, which breaks the image down into segments as the TV goes about calculating the optimum output levels for the LED array. However, the Samsung UE40ES6800′s micro dimming doesn’t operate on the same level of subtlety and localised accuracy as the system sported by the ES7000 and ES8000 models.

The Samsung UE40ES6800 also runs with a ’400CMR’ engine designed to improve motion clarity. If you’re wondering why it’s 400CMR (Clear Motion Rate) rather than the more common 400Hz, this is because Samsung – quite rightly, actually – believes that it’s misleading to describe a TV as having 400Hz when the TV’s panel isn’t actually refreshing its contents 400 times a second as the Hz terminology would lead you to expect.

This is why you’ll also find rival LG now talking in terms of a ‘Motion Clarity Index’ (MCI) when quoting the motion handling properties of its TVs.

Despite its relative affordability versus Samsung’s ES7000 and ES8000 models, the Samsung UE40ES6800 still boasts both active 3D playback and the latest version of Samsung’s Smart TV platform.

The 3D playback is supported by the inclusion of two pairs of active shutter 3D glasses, while the smart TV engine benefits from Samsung’s latest full HD Smart Hub on-screen menu system and all of Samsung’s latest content additions.

Conspicuous by their absence, though, are the alternative control systems of Samsung’s flagship TVs. So there’s no touchpad remote, and no support for either gesture or voice controls. We have to admit that we didn’t find ourselves missing the gesture and voice controls as much as might have been expected, but the touchpad remote is a definite loss. Unless, that is, you sort yourself out with Samsung’s TV control app for your Android smartphone or tablet or the iPhone app.

The level of content Samsung has got onto its Smart TV platform this year is very high. Among the most interesting findings are: a new Fitness zone that enables multiple users to set up health/weight profiles and then join in with a wide range of calorie-rated exercise routines; a new Family zone that enables you to establish a private network of friend and family connections for sharing messages and photos; and a Kids zone that collects child-friendly video content and provides a digital ‘sticker book’ for rewarding good behaviour.

Also very important is the set’s increasingly strong focus on providing video content – the sort of online content that, unsurprisingly, seems best suited to a TV environment. Highlights now include Netflix, LoveFilm, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport, Samsung’s own 3D ‘channel’, YouTube, PictureBox, Vimeo and AOL HD.

There’s also plenty of social media support from the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Skype (via an optional extra camera) and Picasa, as well as more gaming, information and education apps than you can shake a Californian Redwood-sized stick at.

Unfortunately many of these ‘second-rung’ apps are pretty pointless, and arguably just clutter the Smart TV experience up rather than contributing anything useful to your life. But at least the menus do a reasonable job of shielding you from the second-rate stuff, unless you really want to seek it out. Which you won’t.

Samsung provides a pretty healthy roster of picture adjustments on the UE40ES6800, despite not currently pursuing the endorsement of either the THX or Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) groups.

You’ll need to spend a little time with at least some of the adjustments provided, because the UE40ES6800 follows Samsung’s usual trend of shipping with a small selection of unhelpful presets that all leave pictures looking much too aggressive for comfort.

Particularly crazy is the way most of the settings use the backlight at its maximum 20 level, when we’ve found that you get much better colour, black level and backlight consistency results out of the panel if you set the backlight down as low as its six or seven level.

Also useful is the way Samsung enables you to adjust most aspects of its video processing tools. This proves especially handy when trying to get the best results out of Samsung’s motion processing systems.

The last aspect of the Samsung UE40ES6800′s features to cover is its connectivity. This is fairly strong, aside from the fact that you only get three HDMIs when most TVs these days offer four. Multimedia support comprises a healthy three USB ports, a LAN jack, and built-in Wi-Fi, and you can access files stored on a DLNA PC via both the wired and wireless connections.

The level of file support is pretty strong, and one final nice touch of the Samsung UE40ES6800′s connectivity is that it supports Freesat HD via an LNB jack, as well as the expected Freeview HD tuner.

Picture quality

As noted in the Features section of this Samsung UE40ES6800 review, the TV doesn’t especially impress in its out-of-the-box state, on account of its garish presets.

Colours look almost scarily over-saturated and brightness levels are explosive, but in being so they tend to over-exaggerate source noise and cause backlight uniformity issues, and motion looks too silky for film-viewing comfort.

It’s possible to be quite impressed by the Samsung UE40ES6800′s picture presets, if you’re watching predominantly bright, colour-rich material in a very bright room. As soon as you dim the lights, though, and especially if you’re watching a contrast-rich film, the Samsung UE40ES6800′s presets really don’t do either what you’re watching or even Samsung’s own LCD panel any favours.

After a little work calming down the TV’s brightness, colour and motion excesses, though, thankfully the UE40ES6800 proves to be another strong Samsung LED TV. Colours can, for the most part, be made to look likably natural, with good levels of subtlety when it comes to portraying colour blends and a fairly wide apparent colour gamut.

It has to be said that the ES7000 and ES8000 models both perform comfortably better where colour is concerned, and also expose a slightly plasticky, over-smooth appearance to skin tones on the Samsung UE40ES6800.

But for its money the Samsung UE40ES6800′s colour handling can still generally be considered good.

The same goes for its motion handling. So long as you stick with the Clear or, at a push (and probably only with TV footage rather than Blu-ray discs) Standard settings, the television does a pretty good job of keeping judder down to acceptable/natural levels while also fighting against the motion blurring problems innate to LCD technology.

To be clear about this, the motion clarity of the ES7000 and ES8000 models is markedly higher, but again, for its money, the Samsung UE40ES6800 is clean enough. Especially with HD sources.

In some ways the Samsung UE40ES6800′s contrast performance is decent. During scenes that combine bright and dark content simultaneously, the set’s light engine balances the LED output levels quite niftily for the most part, so that the bright bits look punchy while the dark bits look deep.

During very dark sequences, though, there’s a slightly grey sheen to parts of the picture that should look black, as well as some subtle backlight inconsistencies even if you’ve got the backlight cranked all the way down to its six level.

Just last year we probably wouldn’t have felt troubled by either of these issues. But 2012 has seem some marked improvements by rival brands where black levels are concerned, making even slight flaws in any screen’s black level make up stand out more.

The balance between shadow detailing and black level depth is handled considerably better by Samsung’s own ES7000 and ES8000 models too, probably on account of their more advanced micro dimming system. But at the Samsung UE40ES6800′s price point, it’s the Sony models that represent the most troubling LED-based competition.

Standard definition on the Samsung UE40ES6800 is OK, rather than brilliant. The upscaling engine does a pretty good job of keeping noise levels in check, but the resulting pictures are a bit softer than we’d ideally like.

HD images, on the other hand, generally look impressively crisp and detailed. Yet again we’re bound to say that there’s more sharpness and finesse still to be seen from Samsung’s more expensive TVs, but this is to be expected.

3D performance

Shifting to 3D playback, the Samsung UE40ES6800 gives a generally strong account of itself. For starters, Samsung’s latest 3D glasses are impressively lightweight by active shutter standards (though there is a negative attached to this in that their lack of frame bulk does mean they let a bit too much light in around their edges).

Also strong is the amount of brightness and colour punch 3D images retain, despite the inevitable dimming effect of the shuttering glasses, and there’s clearly enough detail evident when watching 3D Blu-ray discs to remind you of why the active 3D format was developed.

Early Samsung ES6800 models we’ve seen suffered quite heavily with crosstalk noise. But thankfully this is greatly reduced on this final production sample, to the extent that it only appears under very extreme circumstances involving very small bright objects in the far distance appearing against dark backgrounds. In other words, for most of the time you won’t notice crosstalk at all.

As a gaming monitor, the Samsung UE40ES6800 is solid. Its black levels are deep enough to prove satisfactory for dark gaming experiences, and its motion handling is respectable if not exactly pin-sharp.

As for input lag, we measured only around 35ms while using the Game picture preset, which counts as a strong result by modern TV standards.

Considered in isolation, the conclusion from this section of the review has to be that the Samsung UE40ES6800 is a strong picture performer. Its only problem, really, is the amount of compelling rivals around this year.

Usability, sound and value

Although the Samsung UE40ES6800 doesn’t boast the second remote, gesture control and voice recognition systems of Samsung’s flagship 2012 TVs, it’s still pretty easy to use, for the most part. In fact, if we’re honest it was quite refreshing not to have to wrestle with the quirks of the gesture control system while completing this review.

The Smart Hub menu approach presents you with direct links to a huge array of content options without looking in the least bit cluttered. In fact, its HD design is very enticing, and the way it gives equal balance to online content, AV inputs, multimedia sources and tuner fare feels very in tune with the way many people consume content these days.

Samsung could perhaps do a bit more with its standard remote control in terms of layout, by providing more emphasis on some of the most heavily used buttons. And there’s also room for improvement with Samsung’s non-Smart Hub set up menus.

For instance, it could streamline the more advanced picture menus a bit and should definitely put the Game preset into the main picture preset menu instead of burying it deep within an obscure ‘General’ sub-menu in the System menu section.

Finishing on the sort of high note the operating system mostly deserves, though, it’s a great touch to find the Samsung UE40ES6800 delivering succinct but mostly effective on-screen explanations of what each feature does as you highlight it.

Sound

The Samsung UE40ES6800′s extra size helps it sound fairly decent by flatscreen TV standards – certainly versus models with ‘super slim’ frames, at any rate.

There’s a reasonable degree of openness to the television’s mid-range reproduction versus most very slim TVs, which enables it to deliver at least a sense of soundstage expansion when asked to shift up a few gears by an action scene.

However, the set doesn’t produce a particularly convincing sense of bass, and can sound harsh at the upper end of the audio spectrum.

Value

In terms of its own TV range, Samsung seems to have pitched the price of the Samsung UE40ES6800 just about right. In other words, it’s sufficiently cheap versus the brand’s flagship sets to amply compensate for its reduced feature count and design prowess.

We’d argue that you might be able to find better picture quality for around the same money or only a little bit more, but then the Samsung UE40ES6800 does also have Samsung’s outstanding online functionality up its sleeve.

Final thoughts

In its bid to produce an affordable mid-range TV in the UE40ES6800, Samsung has taken away some of the headline attractions of its flagship ES7000 and ES8000 models. For instance, it doesn’t feature an especially slim bezel, it doesn’t offer any ‘alternative’ control systems, and it doesn’t boast Samsung’s most powerful video processing engine.

Even so, though, it’s still well-specified for its money, with its active 3D playback (with two pairs of glasses included), extensive multimedia tools, and class-leading Smart TV platform.

It performs well enough too, to the point of looking quite spectacular at times. But there are rivals out there at the moment that do even better.

We liked

The Samsung UE40ES6800 has an impressively long feature list for such an affordable 40-inch TV, and does a very good job of ‘selling’ its functionality, courtesy of its beautifully presented Smart Hub menus. Its 2D pictures are good, once you’ve shifted them down a few gears from their over-aggressive presets, and its 3D pictures are excellent.

We disliked

While the Samsung UE40ES6800′s pictures are good, it lacks a little black level punch and colour finesse versus the best rivals we’ve seen this year. Motion displays a touch more resolution loss than with some rivals, too. Its online system, meanwhile, could benefit from culling some of the least useful apps.

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Verdict

There’s much to like about the Samsung UE40ES6800. Its design is cute, if hardly groundbreaking, its feature list is long for a mid-range TV, and its online services are second to none. It’s also capable of producing some very fine pictures, especially in 3D mode.

However, it’s quite a step down in picture performance terms from Samsung’s flagship sets, and it isn’t immune to the appearance of some stiff recent competition.

Also consider

The most direct rival to the Samsung UE40ES6800 is probably the Sony 40HX753. This delivers more cinematic pictures for serious picture enthusiasts, though it lacks the operating system slickness and online content quantities delivered by the Samsung. And it doesn’t ship with any 3D glasses included as standard.

If you fancy a passive 3D option, you could consider either the Panasonic TX-L42ET5 or LG 42LM660T. Both ship with at least four pairs of glasses included for free, and deliver on passive’s ‘convenience’ advantage at the expense of a little detail in HD 3D sources. Both sets are also good picture performers generally, and the LG additionally boasts a very attractive ultra-slim design.

Finally, film fans might find it hard to resist the deliriously good black level response of the plasma-based Panasonic TX-P42ST50 – though this isn’t as bright as the Samsung UE40ES6800, which could be an issue if your room is routinely swamped in ambient light.

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