Next up is voice recognition. The TV’s built-in microphone allows you to speak some basic commands to control the TV. If you’ve used Apple’s Siri on an iPhone 4S you know that voice control can be cool, but has a long way to go. That’s the same way I feel about it on this TV. To launch the voice feature you need to speak the trigger words “Hi TV.” Then a picture of a microphone pops up on screen and you have a couple seconds to give your command to turn up the volume, change the channel, switch inputs or launch the things like the Smart Hub. The problem is that it doesn’t always work, so you end up saying “Hi TV” over and over until it’s just easier to find the remote. When it works, it’s neat, but it’s unrefined. It also feels a little silly. Like most things though, it feels less silly as you get used to it.
Feeling even sillier is gesture control. Gesture control relies on the camera built into the TV, and perhaps Samsung needs to upgrade the quality of the camera. To get the TV’s attention you need to wave your hand in front of it. When it works, you can then use your hand to move a cursor around, adjust the volume and a few other features. Unfortunately the camera seems to need a ridiculous amount of light to make the feature work. My living room isn’t dark, but it’s not office-level bright either. Even with the curtains open and all the lights on, the gesture function was inconsistent. My daughter wanted to try the gesture-controlled Angry Birds game and figured out that she could aim a camping lamp directly at herself to solve the problem. Of course, that really solves nothing for someone who just wants to watch TV. Remember, most people like to watch TV in the evening in a dim room.
Here’s another strange thing I noticed: the TV would randomly turn itself on when no one was in the room. This happened about three times. My kids got a little spooked by it, but I told them the TV was probably responding to our dog’s wagging tail. We tried to teach him to turn down the volume too, but without success.
Most of the smart gesture controls are for operations directly on the TV, but people get their TV programs from a cable box, so Samsung includes an IR blaster that allows you to control your cable box with gestures or voice.
Samsung also sent along a Bluetooth keyboard that includes a small touchpad. For Smart Hub and web browsing, this was great, but if you don’t plan to use things like Facebook, Twitter or the web browser then the keyboard isn’t that important.
Aside from the control issues, Samsung continues down the smart road with a load of smart TV internet content. You find all the standard services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Pandora, Skype (remember, the TV has its own camera) plus tons of games and other things. A Fitness section within Smart Hub features work-out videos that will track your progress. You can use the mirror feature of the built-in camera to compare your form to that of the on-screen instructor. My teenage daughter spent lots of time doing aerobics in front of the TV and noted that it offers much better work-outs than any Wii programs.
On to picture controls. Right away I switched the TV into movie mode and was impressed. This Samsung offers and excellent picture experience with very little effort. I spend some time tweaking it with a variety of test patterns, but I didn’t need to do a lot to be satisfied. You’ll want to make sure some of the extraneous features, like Eco Solution, Dynamic Contrast and Noise Reduction are turned off, because those can cause more harm than good. Unlike with an LED TV, you don’t have to worry about those pesky 120Hz motion smoothing features that can corrupt your movie viewing. Black level and color accuracy were both excellent—nearly the best I’ve seen this year.
While I always suggest that people at minimum use a soundbar rather than the TVs speakers, if you insist on not using a separate sound system, you won’t be too disappointed at the Samsung’s built-in speakers. Sure, there’s not much in the way of bass, but the sound had a full, well-rounded quality to it.
The TV’s 3D performance was also excellent. The included glasses were light, but not rechargeable, so you may need to stock up on little batteries. Unlike TVs that use passive glasses, you get full 1080p resolution in each eye. Crosstalk was minimal to non-existent.
While some of the features on this TV may seem like gimmicks (and I didn’t cover all of them), there’s no question that this is one of the most advanced TVs on the market. When you combine that with the upgrades possible from the Evolution Kit, and the fact that the Smart Hub apps can be expanded until your run out of memory, this is a TV that’s much much more than just a screen.
51-inch diagonal screen
3 HDMI inputs
3 USB inputs
1 component/composite input
Optical audio output
2 3D glasses included
Streaming media apps
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.