Samsung UN60HU8550 review

This is one of the best-looking (flat) TVs you’ll be able to get without breaking the bank – at least until next year.
This is one of the best-looking (flat) TVs you’ll be able to get without breaking the bank – at least until next year.
This is one of the best-looking (flat) TVs you’ll be able to get without breaking the bank – at least until next year.

Highs

  • Best flat 4K TV Samsung makes
  • Uniformly high brightness
  • Great black levels, shadow detail
  • Snappy navigation and app loading

Lows

  • Reflective screen
  • Loses clarity and contrast off-axis
  • Some edgelight bleed
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Samsung HU8550 Series information: This review is based on our hands-on experience with the 65-inch UN65HU8550 TV. However, our observations also apply to the 50-inch UN50HU8550, 55-inch UN55HU8550, and the 60-inch UN60HU8550, 75-inch UN75HU8550, 85-inch UN85HU8550. According to Samsung, the six sets differ only in dimension and weight and offer identical features and performance.

If you’re looking for the best LCD TV Samsung has to offer, but you’re not into the curved screen design, then the HU8550 series is the set you should be looking at. As an Ultra HDTV, it comes with almost every premium feature Samsung has in its stronghold, and those that it doesn’t come with have little to no effect on picture quality or general performance. Even better, the HU8550 series costs considerably less than the top-tier HU9000 series. For example, the 65-inch version of the HU 8550 ($3,200) is about $1,300 less than the 65-inch HU9000 ($4500) which scored well in our review.

To be sure, $3,200 is a handsome sum for a TV these days, and folks still wary about making the jump to a 4K Ultra HD TV so early in the technology’s lifecycle are rightfully wondering if they should just stick with a premium 1080p model for a few more years. But if you look closely at Samsung’s 2014 TV lineup, you’ll find the company has made that decision a little easier: Samsung’s best LED dimming technology isn’t available in its 1080p televisions this year.

Right now, the HU8550 is the most sensible 4K Ultra HD television Samsung makes. It sports the company’s best combination of premium picture quality, attractive design, and feature set, all in a flat-screen nearly everyone can love. You’ll pay a little extra for it, but the HU8550 is one of the better cases we’ve seen for moving to a 4K Ultra HD TV yet.

Hands on video

Out of the box

Aside from its “flat-ness” among curved competitors, the HU8550 is a fine looking specimen of a television, Ultra HD or otherwise. Its bezel is a thin strip of brushed black metal, graced with an even thinner strip of brushed silver metal along the outside of the TV’s border. Samsung’s non-swiveling stand is an improvement over prior year in that it doesn’t run the entire TV’s width, feels more stable, and is attractive to boot.

Priced at just over $3,200, the 65-inch HU8550 is a whole lot of awesome-looking television.

Included with the TV are a standard wand-style remote control (which is backlit), and Samsung’s curvy motion-style remote (not backlit) which combines a trackpad with Wii-style motion control for numerous ways to control the TV. New buttons have been added this year, most notably playback controls for devices like DVD or Blu-ray players. As a result, the remote feels a little cluttered, but adept users will mostly use Samsung’s virtual on-screen remote, which pops up when called upon, negating the need for most of the remote’s buttons anyway.

Also in the box are four pair of battery-powered active-shutter 3D glasses (each with a spare battery included), batteries for both remote controls, and Samsung’s UHD Video Pack, which includes a handful of movies and documentaries in UHD resolution (more info available here).

Features and design

For those out to get the best possible picture quality, getting Samsung’s best dimming technology should be of top concern. Local dimming is what keeps blacks at their darkest across the screen — it allows for bright objects to be shone against a black background with a minimal amount of halo effect. It’s one of those aspects that separate a very good LED TV from a really great one.

The HU8550 is the best flat-screen TV Samsung makes this year because it is the only one that bundles all of Samsung’s best features and hardware-based local dimming. Samsung’s top-tier 1080p television, the H7150, offers entirely software-based dimming which, in our experience is not as effective. It does offer CinemaBlack processing, which shuts off backlights located at the very top and bottom of the television for perfectly black letterbox bars. The HU8550 doesn’t offer this feature, but in our testing, letterbox bars never presented an issue.

The absence of Samsung’s OneConnect box, which lets you connect devices remotely, is one of the reasons the HU8550 is less expensive than its HU9000 cousin. You can buy one separately for $400, but we suggest waiting to pick one up when it will have more of a pay-off as an Evolution Kit upgrade a few years down the road.

Samsung HU8550 TV 65 stand 2

The HU8550 packs a quad-core processor, and it really shows while navigating its various menus and launching apps. This TV is snappy, and we love that about it.

For 4K content, the HU8550 offers HEVC (h.265) decoding, allowing it to play back streaming 4K content from Netflix and, soon, Amazon Prime Instant video. A little birdie tells us that even more streaming 4K content is on its way, and that Samsung owners will get exclusive access for a period of time. And let’s not forget that 4K Blu-ray will land sometime next year. All that griping we’ve been doing about there being a lack of 4K content? Yeah, we’re gonna go ahead and knock that off now.

Naturally, as one of Samsung’s premium TVs, the HU8550 packs the full suite of Samsung’s Smart TV features, including voice search, S-recommendation, gesture control, access to a wide array of apps, a Web browser, and more. The experience is second only to LG’s webOS interface, which we prefer more for its user-facing interface than anything else. But Samsung’s a very close second.

Performance

Sony, Samsung, LG and Panasonic all use different backlighting technologies that excel in different areas, but it’s difficult to identify a clear “best.” Based on pure performance, we’d have to go with one of Sony’s televisions this year, perhaps the X850b or X900b series. But, if we fold in value and hand out an award based on performance-per-dollar, Samsung wins, hands down. Priced at just over $3,200, the 65-inch HU8550 is a whole lot of awesome-looking television.

Even more streaming 4K content is on its way

Sure, the HU8500 struggles with edgelight bleeding like all edgelit televisions do (to some degree). But Samsung managed to minimize the problem by going with a bezel just large enough to help cover most of the edge-light spillover, without going so far as to make the TV look like it’s 10 years old.

Aside from that one issue, the HU8550 fares pretty well for an LCD television. Screen uniformity is strong, with no obvious hot spots (save those at the extreme edges). Brightness, we assure you, goes far beyond what the average viewer will need, and, by contrast, black levels are very good, though not quite as deep as our Samsung F8500 plasma, and nowhere close to LG’s recently released EC9300 OLED (nothing is, really). Samsung’s Ultra Clear Panel has a lot to do with those black levels, as it does a good job of bucking ambient light.

Unfortunately, that Ultra Clear Panel comes with two downsides: reflectivity and degraded off-axis viewing. The latter is common on all LED panels to some degree, but it’s worse than we’d like to see on the HU8550. It doesn’t help that the TV looks so great on-axis, either. To fight the mirror effect, you can draw the curtains a bit during daytime watching, or juice the brightness, if you must.

Samsung HU8550 TV 65 left angle

The HU8550 looks most accurate when its Movie mode preset is used. This will bring brightness to a suitable level for most, and it offers the best black levels, contrast and shadow detail. Color is also great right out of the box. Good enough, in fact, that a call to an ISF calibrator won’t be necessary but for the purest of purists. We’d also like to take a moment here to thank Samsung for ensuring that motion smoothing is turned off by default in the “Movie” preset, which save customers from asking why all their movies look like soap operas. We will say, though, that Sports fans may want to consider adjusting one of the other presets for watching fast moving sports by copying over most of the Movie preset’s settings, but turning up the de-blur option just a few notches (leave that de-judder slider alone!) to get better-looking fast-action footage without the soap-opera-like effect.

4K Ultra HD performance

As far as resolution goes, 4K Ultra HD TVs start to make sense right around the 65-inch mark, which is good, since that’s the size of set that we have. And while upscaled 1080p content doesn’t look considerably better on the HU8550 than it does on a quality 1080p TV (it does look very, very good) we do feel that 4K UHD content brings back some of the sharpness one begins to loose when moving past the 60-inch mark in a 1080p TV. We’ll be doing a head-to-head comparison between the 1080p F8500 plasma and the HU8550 in the coming weeks and look forward to drilling down to exact differences.

Audio performance

We were pleasantly surprised at the HU8550’s audio capabilities. The set doesn’t sound anywhere near as big as a sound bar with subwoofer or a more elaborate audio solution, but it does better than most sound bars can do on their own, and that’s saying something.

Conclusion

If you’re going to put a TV as sizeable as 65-incher is in your home, you deserve a terrific picture, not just a big one. And the HU8550 delivers that premium picture quality, no matter the source’s resolution (VHS tapes notwithstanding, folks). Until 4K OLED televisions come down in price significantly, this is one of the best-looking TV’s you’ll be able to get without breaking the bank – at least until next year.

Allow us to add one more thing: If you get an earful from the “expert” in your life about how 4K UHD doesn’t make any sense, and you can’t see the difference, and it’s a waste of money, and so on, clue them in on this little tidbit and then get on with your purchase: Any argument against 4K UHD TVs is moot. Manufacturers are going to push 4K and phase out 1080p televisions; it’s only a matter of time. The future is here today, are you going to join the party, or stand in the corner with your arms crossed and big frown on your face? We know what we’ll be doing.

Highs

  • Best flat 4K TV Samsung makes
  • Uniformly high brightness
  • Great black levels, shadow detail
  • Snappy navigation and app loading

Lows

  • Reflective screen
  • Loses clarity and contrast off-axis
  • Some edgelight bleed