Budget TVs have come a long way in the last few years. Just look at the latest Roku TVs from TCL: The highly rated 6-series puts up a surprisingly feisty fight against Vizio’s pricier P-series, and even long-established TV brands like Sony, LG, and Samsung.
TCL’s biggest homeland competitor, Chinese compatriot Hisense, wants a piece of that action, and its H8E model is designed to take it. While the H8E may not brawl with the big boys yet — especially when it comes to its mediocre smart interface — the TV offers plenty of 4K picture punch, and it does so at a crazy-low price of just $400 for a 55-incher. For prospective budget buyers, that’s enough to put Hisense on your list.
Out of the box
The first thing we noticed when unwrapping our 55-inch model is that the cardboard box doesn’t slide off the top like most TVs this size; instead you’ll need to awkwardly hoist the TV out of its foam home. Luckily, the TV is also strikingly light for its size — not always a good sign for an LED TV, but as we learned later, the H8E serves up much of its special sauce in the processing, not the panel.
The TV has a relatively slim bezel with a brushed aluminum finish for a fine posture on your TV stand, and it’s also relatively slim for a backlit display. The shiny plastic feet scream budget buy, though, so those looking to class things up may want to upgrade to a mounting stand.
It comes with all you’ll need, including a rather old-school looking wand remote with a number keypad (refreshing these days, if not a bit oafish), batteries, and a power cable. The H8E features Alexa voice-control for basic functions like input switching and volume adjustment, but the base remote does not include a mic, so you’ll have to either pony up another $40 for the mic remote, or access it through an Echo speaker.
Features and picture setup
As you’d expect in a budget buy, there aren’t a ton of ways to connect. You get just three HDMI inputs to work with, though that matches TCL’s pricier 6-series, so we can’t complain too much, and we were glad to see all of them support 4K HDR at 60Hz. Other ports include a composite input (no component), a coaxial connection, digital optical and analog 3.5mm audio outputs, and Ethernet connection. The TV also offers Wi-Fi, of course, as well as Bluetooth for wireless audio support.
HDR support includes the popular HDR10 format, allowing for enhanced contrast and color shading on supported content. Unlike some TCL TVs, the H8E doesn’t opt for the pricier Dolby Vision format.
When it comes to the picture processing we mentioned above, the H8E offers local dimming with multiple zones for relatively impressive contrast and black levels. The picture looks decent right out of the box using the Theater setting, but to get the best performance, you’ll have to work for it a bit.
First off, HDR inputs require you to go under HDMI 2.0 Format in the Settings and activate “Enhanced Format.” This gives you the same carousel of picture modes as you’ll see for regular content (Theater, Sports, Vivid, etc.), but with an “HDR” attached to each label. Unfortunately, any adjustments you make to the picture must be done for both modes, e.g. both the standard Theater Mode for HD content, and the HDR Theater Mode for 4K HDR content.
While the TV does a pretty good job serving up rich contrast and relatively solid black levels under the Theater picture modes, as a budget display, there are some quirks and compromises to be made. One of those involves the Sharpness setting, which needs to be set at 2 or below to avoid notable strobing in certain brighter scenes (most obvious during credit scenes).
It’s also a bit difficult to dig up all the details in the darkest scenes without blowing out the brighter ones, as small increments in the Brightness setting change things dramatically. We ended up lowering the backlight level slightly, while nudging up the Brightness to 51 to see all the details in darker scenes, but black levels will suffer and brighter scenes look better with Brightness at 50. Conversely, you can use Adaptive Contrast (we recommend Low) to enhance darker scenes, but again, picky viewers may find brighter scenes don’t look quite as good.
Otherwise, we mostly left the default settings as is, including keeping Local dimming on Low. You can dig deeper into the Expert Settings, of course, but we recommend all but the most advanced users steer clear of these.
Despite our nitpicking above, the H8E’s picture performance is the real bright spot, providing the most value. On the other hand, the smart interface is pretty pedestrian. This is where Roku’s TV OS really gives TCL and other Roku TV brands an advantage.
Overall, Hisense’s smart features are perfectly workable, and we spent plenty of time using the Netflix app to dig up 4K HDR content. Still, while big names like Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube are all here, Hulu isn’t, and there aren’t many other marquee streaming apps of mention available. Further, while setup is a relative breeze, one of the TV’s first messages is an ominous request from Hisense to essentially sell your viewing data (and IP address) to unknown entities under the guise of improving your viewing experience. That was a hard “no” from us.
Though you’ll definitely want to add a Roku or other streaming device to the mix, when it comes to landing a great picture on a budget, this $400 TV delivers. While it may not wow the videophile crowd seeking the vibrance of quantum dots or the onyx black levels of OLED TVs, the H8E offers rich, impressive color shading, solid black levels, and relatively deep contrast that brings a lot of depth to your best content — especially when it comes to 4K HDR scenes.
The golden robes of Kublai Khan absolutely shimmered in his dimly lit throne room.
Watching The Martian on the H8E was a real treat. The stark dichotomy between the blue-neon earth and space station scenes and the rusty red planet is thrilling. The space scenes are also well cast with little haloing, making the climax where Mark Watney is finally rescued as immersive and compelling as ever. While there’s definitely some brighter flush to the wideband bars in a darkened room, there’s really not much to complain about here.
The same goes for Netflix’s Marco Polo, where the golden silk robes of Kublai Khan absolutely shimmered in his dimly lit throne room. The display does struggle with screen uniformity in bright, open sky scenes like the showdown between Khan and his brother, but then again, to a lesser extent, so does TCL’s 6-Series. The show’s darkest scenes, such as the dusk horse race between Polo and the mysterious princess gave the H8E a real test, but overall the TV allowed for full detail without sacrificing clarity and deeper black shading.
The H8E isn’t as bright as some of the competition, so if you love to crank the colors to 11, it may not be the one for you. Like all LED TVs that forego IPS panels, the H8E also struggles mightily with off axis viewing, sapping colors and contrast starkly outside the sweet spot. It’s also worth noting for gamers and sports fans that, unlike the 65-inch model, the 55-inch 60Hz TV does not include motion smoothing (though we almost never use this feature anyway).
On the plus side, while sound isn’t phenomenal, it’s not too shabby either, outdoing even Vizio’s P-Series.
Hisense warranties its TVs for a year, which is comparable to other brands in this category, including Vizio and TCL.Our Take
While you’ll need to add a Roku or other outboard device to get a smooth streaming experience, Hisense’s H8E offers good 4K HDR picture from a jumbo screen for well under $500. Even a few years ago, that’d be a pipe dream, making the H8E worth exploration for those looking to upgrade to 4K Ultra HD on the cheap.
Is there a better alternative?
As you might have guessed, we recommend checking out TCL’s Roku TV line, which also offers impressive performance for the money, coupled with a supreme smart interface and every app you could want. While we haven’t yet reviewed the company’s 5-series TVs, they offer a good mix of features, including 4K HDR, priced at just $500 for the 55-inch model. Another $200 to $250 will land you the 6-series, which we think is one of the best all-around value propositions in TV land.
In addition, one can’t overlook Vizio’s lineup, whose 55-inch E-series TV offers HDR, 12 active zones of local dimming, and Chromecast streaming for a ton of streaming options, again, for just $500. Moving up the line to the M-series and P-series lineups further rewards each dollar you invest with incredible picture quality.
How long will it last?
At this price we’re not sure this will be the kind of TV that outlasts your car, but the inclusion of 4K and HDR10 should futureproof it nicely.
Should you buy it?
For budget shoppers, Hisense’s H8E TV is absolutely worth consideration. If you have a bit more cash at your disposal, however, we recommend stepping up to TCL or Vizio, both of which offer better smart interfaces and plenty of value in their own right when it comes to getting a killer picture on a tight budget.