Grading on a curve: The new Samsung HU9000 Ultra HD TV

Posted: September 05, 2014

IT'S GETTING HARD to miss the hoopla about Ultra High Definition TV, the "next generation" in television viewing offering four times the picture resolution of high def. And it's often selling at three or four times the price of a comparably screen-sized HD set.

But are these newbies really four times better?

Gizmo Guy's been testing a prime example of the new species also referred to as a "4K" set: a top-of-the-line, 65-inch, HU9000 series Samsung Ultra HD TV that sells for upward of (gulp) $4,500.

THE CURVED PITCH: This Samsung boasts a visual cue that marks it as different and special from other 4K sets. We're talking about that slightly curved screen, a design element that may excite buyers more than the higher-res image specifications!

The curvature gives the TV a pretty, sculptural look. And when the set's on, the curve and Samsung's depth-enhancement circuitry add a subtle three-dimensionality to the image with no geeky glasses required. The sensation's especially thrilling when the camera lens is taking in an already curved space like a theater, ballpark or natural wonder like the Grand Canyon.

MOM WAS WRONG: Forget your mom's (or eye doctor's) warning about the evils of sitting too close to the TV. Even the clearest-eyed viewers will only relish the fine-detail improvements (and the quasi 3-D-ness) of a new-breed 4K TV by positioning themselves very close to the set.

This guy had to pull the sofa to just 8 feet from the 65-inch Samsung to fully appreciate the clarified cityscapes of "Philadelphia" in the Jonathan Demme-directed film of the same name. It's one of several 4K-encoded films and vista-vision documentaries preloaded onto a hard drive that comes "free" with top Samsung sets.

The same close-in viewing requirement (think 1.5 times the diagonal screen size, or less) also made the difference between "Wow!" and "So what?" viewing episodes of "House of Cards" and "Breaking Bad," now available in 4K through the Netflix app on this smart set.

The TV's onboard YouTube app also pulled up a wee bit of 4K travelogue content. Amazon Instant Video, DirecTV and Comcast Xfinity are also preparing for some UHD content delivery.

SIZE MATTERS: An even bigger screen would have made for more startling performance improvement and easier set placement with this LED edge-lit LCD TV. Off-to-the-side set viewers, when positioned close to the screen, see a paler picture.

Gizmo Guy was kicking himself for not asking to check out the 78-inch Samsung variant.

And I'm starting to think that a 100-inch (or bigger) image-blasting UHD video projector would make for a more rewarding investment. Though our favorite value brand, Epson, won't jump into the 4K projector biz until 2016, after other pending 4K enhancements - wider color range, faster (60 per second) frame rate, more efficient signal encoding/decoding - are fully resolved for this still-developing standard.

Current Samsung UHD TVs will be upgradable with a module swap-out, it's promised.

How 'bout smaller-screened 4K sets? The "eyes have it" that you will need to sit no more than 6 to 7 feet away to be truly happy with a 50- or 55-inch UHD TV. These should be available this holiday season for as little as $1,000. But if you can't get that up close and-personal to your set, don't bother.

SHARP AS A TACK: After toning down exaggerated factory settings (start with the strobing, hyperactive backlight), the TV also did a fine job of upscaling conventional HD content to "quasi-4K."

The improvement's especially noticeable with already razor sharp Blu-ray discs like "The Amazing Spider-Man 2" (and, in true 3-D, too!) and broadcast HD signals pulled down by the TV's internal tuner.

But - don't laugh - the clearest demonstration of 4K picture clarity came when we used this quad-processor-powered, Internet-connected smart TV to pull up Web pages using Samsung's slick motion- and voice-activated remote.

BOTTOM LINE: Four times the price equals 10 percent visible picture improvement, at best.



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