Samsung has enjoyed a great track record in recent years of producing HDTVs with superior picture quality. But it's the company's cutting-edge features that have drawn the most attention of late. A streaming smart TV platform that's second to none is only the start. Last year saw extras such as gesture and voice control and a Smart Evolution kit designed to future-proof your TV (within technical limits) by allowing you to upgrade your set with the latest features. As an example, the Samsung SEK-1000 Smart Evolution upgrade kit (Est. $300) brings 2013 features -- such as Samsung's drastically updated Smart Hub platform with smart recommendations -- to compatible 2012 TVs.
Samsung is also onboard with two emerging technologies. We touched upon Samsung's 85-inch, $40,000 UHD TV in the section on HDTV features. The company is also shipping a couple of more "modest" UHD sets, the 55-inch Samsung UN55F9000 (Est. $5,600) and the 65-inch UN65F9000 (Est. $7,500) .
In addition, Samsung is one of two makers (along with LG) that is shipping a large-screen OLED TV to the U.S. this year. The 55-inch Samsung KN55S9 (Est. $9,000) debuted in early August. Initial reviews offer tons of raves, but also some caveats as there are still unknowns regarding OLED sets, including their life span. This article does a great job describing OLED technology and how it works.
Turning to mainstream TVs -- those with "only" 1,080p resolution and using conventional LCD/LED technology -- the flagship UNF8000 series exemplifies what CNET's David Katzmaier calls Samsung's "pathological need to 'outfeature' the competition." It really is that packed. All of the goodies from last year are back, including Smart Evolution Kit support and better voice recognition and gesture control functionality, although most reviewers say gesture control is still more of a gimmick than a useful add-on.
The big new thing for this year is a dramatically revamped Smart Hub that attempts to bring together all of the various sources of content -- including cable TV programming, streaming video and content stored on a networked computer or hard drive -- and make them easier to use. Content is arranged on five screens by type, not provider, making it far simpler to operate than anything else on the market, reviews say. Still can't decide what to watch? The Samsung Smart Hub incorporates a recommendation engine that will promote content based on your viewing history to the guide's home page, dubbed On TV. A slick and improved touchpad remote makes accessing and using all of that content more of a pleasure than a chore.
Samsung's flagship sets have drawn a more muted critical response in recent years when it comes to picture quality, but not so our Best Reviewed UNF8000. Color performance is highly accurate, says TelevisionInfo.com, and other professional sources agree. Blacks are also great for an LED TV -- "exemplary for a LED model," says FlatPanelsHD.com -- enhanced by a micro-dimming technology that's missing from Samsung's other sets. You'll want to keep micro-dimming turned on, by the way; both CNET and TelevisionInfo.com report that picture quality suffers considerably without it.
LED TVs in the series include the 46-inch Samsung UN46F8000 (Est. $1,700) , 55-inch UN55F8000 (Est. $2,200) , 60-inch UN60F8000 (Est. $2,500) , 65-inch UN65F8000 (Est. $3,000) and 75-inch UN75F8000 (Est. $6,000) .
Not surprisingly, sets that cost less get pared-down performance and features. For example, the UNF7500 series uses a less advanced micro-dimming technology and a lower Clear Motion Rate -- how Samsung markets its "apparent" enhanced refresh rate -- but offers the same native refresh rate of 240 Hz as the UNF8000. Other features are identical, which means this TV is also packed with extras. No reviewers directly compare the UNF7500's local dimming performance to that of the UNF8000, but reviews for the slightly cheaper Samsung set are still very positive. The series includes the 46-inch UN46F7500 (Est. $1,500) , 55-inch UN55F7500 (Est. $1,900) and 60-inch UN60F7500 (Est. $2,200) .
Another step down brings us to the Samsung UNF7100 series. Local dimming technology is downgraded again, and this TV lacks voice and gesture control, is not Smart Evolution compatible and has a less powerful processor. The Clear Motion Rate also drops again, but not the native refresh rate -- it's still 240 Hz -- so motion performance won't take much of a hit, if any.
Reviewers either love the UNF7100 or like it very much. LCDTVBuyingGuide.com's Robert Wiley says picture quality is nearly on par with the UNF8000 and calls it a "great deal." Lee Neikirk at TelevisionInfo.com isn't as impressed, complaining about the responsiveness of the set's smart features, narrow viewing angles and over-aggressive motion processing. Value is his biggest grumble, but that's based on this set's original selling price. At current prices, he agrees that the UNF7100 "makes for a solid bargain." Available LCD TVs in the series are the 46-inch UN46F7100 (Est. $1,400) , the 55-inch UN55F7100 (Est. $1,700) , 60-inch UN60F7100 (Est. $2,000) , 65-inch UN65F7100 (Est. $2,500) and 75-inch UN75F7100 (Est. $5,000) .
When it comes to LED TVs, Samsung is nothing if not prolific, offering sets with different performance levels and various feature lineups at several price points. That makes it easy to find an LCD TV to fit your needs and budget, but buyers need to be eagle-eyed: A small change in model number can spell a big difference in set performance and features.
Case in point is Samsung's UNF6400 series versus its UNF6300 series. The UNF6400 -- the step-down to the UN7100 -- has a slower 120 Hz native refresh rate that's marketed as a 480 Hz Clear Motion Rate, and its screen treatment is semi-matte rather than clear-coat, which is used on Samsung's higher-end sets. LCDTVBuyingGuide.com says the screen treatment mutes the picture somewhat and is still somewhat prone to room reflections, but picture quality is still very good overall. Otherwise, these sets boast all of the features as the UNF7100 but at a lower price. Available models are the 40-inch UN40F6400 (Est. $800) , 46-inch UN46F6400 (Est. $950) , 50-inch UN50F6400 (Est. $1,100) , 55-inch UN55F6400 (Est. $1,300) , 60-inch UN60F6400 (Est. $1,700) , 65-inch UN65F6400 (Est. $2,000) and 75-inch UN75F6400 (Est. $4,000) .
Move down to the UN6300, however, and features begin disappearing in a hurry. There's no smart dimming or 3D support, and a touchpad remote that's included in pricier sets is replaced by a standard clicker. Despite the lack of local dimming, picture quality still draws praise, making the set worth considering for those not interested in 3D viewing. The series includes the 32-inch Samsung UN32F6300 (Est. $580) , 40-inch UN40F6300 (Est. $800) , 46-inch UN46F6300 (Est. $660) , 50-inch UN50F6300 (Est. $950) , 55-inch UN55F6300 (Est. $1,200) , 60-inch UN60F6300 (Est. $1,500) and 65-inch UN65F6300 (Est. $1,800) .
If you want 3D but can live without smart features, consider the UNFH6030. Notably, this is the only Samsung series to offer a full-array or direct-lit LED backlight rather than an edge-lit design. That impacts picture quality, but whether for better or worse is an open question; few top experts have subjected the Samsung UNFH6030 to rigorous testing. Direct-lit technology was once the gold standard in LED backlights, but it's now often relegated to budget sets with reduced performance due to the smaller number of LEDs used. Although user feedback isn't extensive, it's largely positive. The series includes the 40-inch Samsung UN40FH6030 (Est. $550) , 46-inch UN46FH6030 (Est. $700) and 55-inch UN55FH6030 (Est. $1,000) .
Samsung also hasn't forgotten TV buyers who just want a basic TV. The company's UNF5000 series is nearly devoid of extras -- no 3D, no smart features, no pretty much anything save a USB port that can be used for viewing your own videos, pictures and music. The refresh rate is marketed as a 120 Hz Clear Motion Rate, but this is a native 60 Hz set -- and acts like it for the most part. The Clear Motion feature "is supposed to improve motion, but in reality accomplishes very little (in some cases it makes the picture look worse)," says TelevisionInfo.com's Virginia Barry.
For its price category, picture quality is generally very good with accurate colors, deep blacks and bright whites. On the downside, its viewing angle is very limited, Barry warns; sit too far from dead center and the picture quality goes downhill in a hurry. For those who consider smart features a must, the UNF5500 is essentially the same TV performance-wise, but includes the same implementation of Samsung's Smart Hub as found in the step-up UNF6300. Sets in the Samsung UNF5000 series include the 22-inch UN22F5000 (Est. $200) , 32-inch UN32F5000 (Est. $370) , 40-inch UN40F5000 (Est. $510) , 46-inch UN46F5000 (Est. $700) and 50-inch UN50F5000 (Est. $830) . Options in the Samsung UNF5500 series include the 32-inch UN32F5500 (Est. $380) , 40-inch UN40F5500 (Est. $550) , 46-inch UN46F5500 (Est. $740) and 50-inch UN50F5500 (Est. $880) .
Last and, well, least, is the Samsung UNF4000 series. All kidding aside, this is a decent choice among small-screen, low-priced sets for smaller spaces; it's only available as the 19-inch Samsung UN19F4000 (Est. $170) and 29-inch Samsung UN29F4000 (Est. $280) . Resolution is just 720p, but that's hardly a deal-killer in screen sizes this small, say most experts and owners. Features are largely absent, save for the ability to read and play back content from a USB thumb drive. TelevisionInfo.com is quick to point out that the 29-inch model it tests is anything but a performance powerhouse in terms of picture quality, but that it does pretty well for a set in its class. One notable plus is above-average motion performance for a cheap LED TV. Bottom line, says Lee Neikirk, is that while the UNF4000 might cost a little more than similar sized sets from other manufacturers, "the F4000 has the performance chops to make plenty of content look good." Users seem to agree; feedback at Amazon.com and BestBuy.com is strong.