Introduction and features
There’s much talk about HDR and its status as the next great TV technology, but not often does the talk turn to luminance. The enabling tech for HDR – panels that cross the all-important threshold of 1,000 nits – is pretty rare, but that’s exactly what this 55-inch Edge LED-lit TV from Samsung offers, and in terms of HDR’s wonderfully nuanced and subtle, yet powerful and dynamic colouring, this is where the touch-paper is lit.
At the moment Samsung calls this tech HDR 1000, but don’t get too fond of that name – the coming years will likely see incremental jumps in luminance, so in year or so we could be looking at HDR 1200 or HDR 1500.
For now the UE55KS7000 is compliant with what the TV industry is calling Ultra HD Premium, which sees a jump from an 8-bit depth standard to a 10-bit depth for HDR, expanding colour precision from 256 shades to 1,023 shades.
Samsung has created panels with more luminance by using its quantum dot technology and a 10-bit VA panel. Despite the presence of the Ultra Black mode, aka the ‘moth eye’ filter (as well as Precision Black local dimming), the UE55KS7000 does lack Direct LED backlighting, so the very finest in black performance is lacking. Still, as the entry-level model for the Ultra HD Premium badge, the UE55KS7000 is an key TV.
It’s always been a bugbear of mine that, when you’ve just paid good money for a TV that’s sold on aesthetics as much as technology, the first thing you have to do when you get it home is find a screwdriver so that you can assemble your new toy.
Not so with the UE55KS7000, which comes with two triangular feet that simply clip to the bottom. However, while the absence of screws is welcome, because the two small feet are located very close to the corners of the TV it might not fit on many people’s existing TV stands, especially those upgrading from, say, a 40-inch set to this 55-incher. I managed to perch the UE55KS7000 on my existing test bench of 10 years with only millimetres to spare.
Elsewhere the UE55KS7000’s design is super-slinky, with barely a screen surround to speak of. At its slimmest there’s a slither of silver frame on three sides, with the logo-adorned undercarriage significantly wider. Samsung calls this ‘bezel-less’, and it’s hard to disagree. It’s also worth noting that the back of the TV is just as sleekly designed, in case you want to place it in the middle of a room.
Samsung supplies a slender ‘smart’ remote control, which offers voice control as well as regular (though flat-mounted) buttons. It does look nicer than the regular design of remote, although one of those is also included (so too are a huge array of codes, so that either remote can act as a universal controller).
It’s all change for Samsung yet again in the world of smart TV, with the full-screen graphics and app grids abandoned in favour of pop-ups. If the one-touch access to oft-used apps is good, it’s nothing compared to the ‘accelerator’ bar above, which flashes up further shortcuts.
It works like a dream for Netflix and Amazon Instant, where content you’ve recently been watching is available in less than a second, and loadable in just three touches. It all makes accessing content super easy and super slick.
Everything may have been joined up and seamlessly integrated into Smart Hub, but the sheer amount of apps, services and content available is what makes the Samsung UE55KS7000 a real standout. Netflix and Amazon Instant are a given, of course, but the review sample I tested also included all UK TV catch-up apps (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, 4OD and Demand Five, though neither of the roll-back platforms, YouView or Freeview Play), as well as YouTube, Deezer, TuneIn, Vimeo, Facebook, Red Bull TV and Mubi.
In another welcome move, PS4 controllers can be hooked up to the UE55KS7000 for playing apps and games, which include RF Real Football, Asphalt 8 and Despicable Me: Minion Rush.
Ins and outs
External connector boxes have been few and far between in recent years on all but flagship TVs, but the One Connect box supplied with the UE55KS7000 is impressive. Measuring 7 x 20cm, it sports four HDMI inputs and three USB slots, which is about as generous as it gets. On the TV itself is a connector for the One Connect box alongside a USB slot, a Common Interface slot and an Ethernet LAN for web access (although this should perhaps have been included on the box).
The UE55KS7000 is one of the smallest and most affordable members of Samsung’s SUHD collection, a flagship group that comprises a bevy of curved and flat tellies that are all about HDR and image perfection. The 7 Series and above all have quantum dot panels that offer 1,000 nits luminance.
Either side of the UE55KS7000 are the 43-inch UE43KS7000, 49-inch UE49KS7000 and the 60-inch UE60KS7000. If you fancy a curved version, seek out the 43-inch UE43KS7500, the 49-inch UE49KS7500 and the 65-inch UE65KS7500, which are in other respects almost identical.
Although it has the requisite 3840 x 2160-pixel panel to guarantee Ultra HD 4K images, that’s not the primary reason why the UE55KS7000 impresses; it’s down to HDR, or specifically HDR10, which is the high dynamic range industry standard that Samsung favours.
Watch native HDR, such as Marco Polo in 4K HDR from Netflix, and the UE55KS7000 purrs. Kept in Movie mode, an ‘HDR detected’ message flashes up on the screen (a nice touch), which also indicates that the UE55KS7000 has automatically tweaked the picture parameters to suit – a marvellous idea.
Although the overall image is pinging with luminance, and ever-so-impressive in terms of detail, brightness and colour definition (reds in particular look simply awesome), HDR on the UE55KS7000 brings out subtle nuances in light particularly well. Natural light streaming through a window and lighting-up someone’s face is a particular favourite of mine – it just looks so real.
Ditto overcast skies, which lends an eery, real-life look to outdoor shots. Switch to non-HDR versions of the same footage and these kinds of effects become invisible.
Impressive as the UE55KS7000’s native HDR mode is, it gets better. In its Special Viewing Mode menu is HDR+, which expands the colour definition by analysing each frame, and using the extra-luminant 10-bit panel to its fullest. Almost everything looks good, and HDR-ish, but especially Blu-ray discs and HD TV channels.
Not that they’re perfect; a blast of Euro 2016 football from a live HD TV channel impressed on brightness, colour and detail (Auto Motion Plus is worth toggling on), but I did spot some soft areas, scrubbed of detail, clinging to the players like a halo. Moving objects like these do tend to look a little odd, something that worsens as you go down the video food chain to standard definition, which the UE55KS7000 doesn’t upscale all that well.
It’s also worth steering well clear of the UE55KS7000’s Sports mode, which made a Euro 2016 game an utterly unwatchable bright, luminous green. I’m not sure what’s happened here, though Samsung’s presets generally do fail to impress, and of the usual Normal, Dynamic and Movie modes only the latter was accurate. Although Movie mode can sometimes be a little dull, on the UE55KS7000’s HDR panel it’s punchy, yet subtle.
Although the UE55KS7000 is part of Samsung’s flagship SUHD range, it’s not as powerful as the top-of-the-tree UE65KS9000. The primary reason is the use of edge LED backlighting, which does bring some drawbacks. Chief among these is the slight crushing of blacks during high-contrast sequences, although during my review I was distracted only by some visible light shooting up from the bottom edge of the panel.
It was primarily a problem when I watched from a slight angle rather than head-on, when not only could I see torpedoes of light, but a navy blue tinge to blacks. During a Euro 2016 game the slow but frequent pan of the camera left and right also made the panel’s structure pretty obvious – again, only when viewed from an angle. It’s a known characteristic of the VA panel inside the UE55KS9500, and the flip-side to its generally impressive performance with black levels.
Since the UE55KS7000’s head-on image is so involving in so many ways, it’s seems churlish to criticise its angular viewing too much, but big screens like this are inevitably going to be watched from an angle in larger living rooms.
The audio from Samsung TVs has improved in recent years, and the UE55KS7000 is a step up from 2015’s models. However, despite the increased bass, mid and high frequency on its 60W speakers the UE55KS7000 is able to deliver decent audio only for TV. In my tests I watched another Euro 2016 match and was impressed by the clarity of the commentary and the background audio, but a blast of Game of Thrones soundtrack lacked pizazz.
The UE55KS7000 is a good-value effort. Its ability with HDR is impressive, and while it may lack the extreme niceties of the UE65KS9000, it is half the price. For those largely watching the UE55KS7000 head-on rather than from an angle, it’s arguably better value than anything more expensive in terms of native image quality. The inclusion of HDR+ is a boon for anyone wishing there was more native HDR material out there, while the all-around design is welcome.
HDR+ is a fine creation, and somewhat unexpected. Being able to create your own HDR-like footage offers a decent stop-gap while we wait for more native HDR material to find its way onto our TV screens. HD TV channels and Blu-ray discs benefit most from the HDR+ treatment, while Auto Motion Plus proves handy during HD sports broadcasts. Motion handling overall is impressive when watching in 4K, too.
Elsewhere the UE55KS7000’s slinky design is worth a mention, as is the excellent ‘smart’ remote, while the inclusion of the One Connect box lends some installation flexibility. And top marks to the Smart Hub, and especially its ‘accelerator’ bar, which provides three-touch access to the last thing watched on Netflix or Amazon.
Although the UE55KS7000’s clip-on feet are something of a boon to a TV reviewer, it’s a risky move to put those feet so near to the corners of the TV; it means folk will need a TV stand that stretches the entire length of the UE55KS7000 and many will have a stand or table smaller than that. The lack of a swivel will also annoy some, not only when it comes to placement, but also because the UE55KS7000 does have an issue with viewing angles.
The colour and black levels don’t exactly drain quickly when watching off-centre, but the edge LED backlighting does start to become obvious, as does a slight blueish tinge to blacks. I was also somewhat disappointed with the upscaling of standard definition TV channels, a common issue with 4K TVs.
Other complaints are minor. The lack of 3D support seems a little churlish (even though most of us have moved on from that particular novelty), and for all the apps on the UE55KS7000, UK viewers would benefit from the inclusion of either YouView or Freeview Play, which competitor TVs from Sony (YouView) and Panasonic (Freeview Play) offer on similarly-priced and specified TVs.
Short on HDR content? Create it yourself. What Samsung calls HDR+ is the key feature to get excited about on this, its entry-level ‘true’ HDR TV – aka UHD Premium – which offers detailed and involving, yet subtle, images imbued with luscious colour and throughly decent black levels.
It’s not perfect – restricted viewing angles and visible edge LED backlighting see to that – but its great-value images are joined by Samsung’s light-touch Smart Hub, which makes finding what you were watching on Netflix or Amazon so, so easy.
However, it’s with native HDR or up-rezzed HDR+ material that this sumptuously designed 55-incher most impresses – feed the UE55KS7000 a Hi-Def or 4K diet and watch it purr.
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