Samsung UN46ES6500 Review: Terrific HDTV Features, So-So Image Quality
At a Glance
At $1100 (estimated street price as of July 17, 2012), the Samsung UN46ES6500 sounds like a dream machine: It's a well-priced 46-inch HDTV packed with great features, and it comes from a respected manufacturer. However, the images it produced in our tests left much to be desired.
Lab Tests: Picture, Sound, and Energy Consumption
The UN46ES6500’s 120Hz, edge-lit LED display received mostly good (but not great) scores in PCWorld Labs subjective tests for brightness, contrast, color, and detail. As one of the five judges in these tests, I noted the set's occasional softness, its loss of detail in dark areas, and the trouble it had in reproducing accurate skin tones.
The set's performance did shine in some areas, though. While watching our football clip, one judge said, "If all I watched were football, this wouldn't be a bad TV." As if to back up that assessment, the UN46ES6500 did quite well in our motion test, earning a score of Very Good. However, camera movement in a scene from The Dark Knight (chapter 9) didn't impress us anywhere near as much: One building looked as if it were having trouble remaining in our universe.
Our judges tended to give this set slightly worse scores when we put on Samsung's active glasses and judged the 3D effect. I complained about blurry images in a gymnastics-demonstration test, but most of the other judges gave it marks of Good to Very Good for 3D depth and foreground "pop." In my own casual test, I found the UN46ES6500's 2D-to-3D conversion to be the best I've yet seen. I don't really like 2D-to-3D conversion on general principle (I prefer watching the movie that the filmmaker made), but if you disagree with me on this, you might want to consider the UN46ES6500.
The set didn't do as well in another one of my casual tests for viewing angle. Sit off to the side, and the colors on the UN46ES6500 go dull.
The UN46ES6500 creates good sound, but nothing that will thrill your ears. When I turned the volume all the way up, it was too loud for comfortable listening, but not by much. I heard very slight distortion at one point at that volume. Turning it down to 80 percent hid the distortion, and it also brought the volume to the loud end of my comfort level. The front sound stage sounded great.
With the TV's SRS TruSurround HD option on, the set managed a reasonable but not quite convincing simulation of surround sound. TruSurround is not genuine surround; to really appreciate today's movie soundtracks, you need a separate 5.1 (or 7.1) home theater sound system.
This is a green TV, but not the greenest. In PCWorld Labs power tests, the Energy Star-awarded UN46ES6500 averaged a reasonable 68 watts while on. When "off," it used so little power that it didn't register on our meters. This set has several energy-saving features, including a sensor that turns down the backlight to match the ambient light, as well as a timer that turns off the TV if it hasn't detected a signal for a specific amount of time.
Inputs, Basic Setup, and Menus
Samsung certainly understands ease of use and convenient port layouts. A wizard appears the first time you turn on the HDTV, making setup easy. The printed manual that comes with the UN46ES6500 isn't especially helpful, but the e-manual built into the TV and the downloadable PDF version from Samsung's site are more useful. Plus, the set’s menus are clear and easy to follow, with explanations.
The inputs on the back of the TV (two HDMI, one USB, component/AV-in ports, and an ethernet jack) face outward for easy access, and the swivel stand improves access even more. The inputs on the side (two USB and one HDMI port) are easier still.
The set has three USB ports. You can plug a flash drive into one of them to play your own music or videos, examine your photos, or easily play a slideshow with music. (You'll find the supported formats on page 662 of the downloadable manual.) You can also plug a regular keyboard and/or a mouse into the UN46ES6500's USB ports, which makes text entry about as simple as it gets.
For basic chores, such as changing channels, adjusting the volume, and selecting menu options, the included remote does the job better than most. Long and thin, it fits comfortably in the hand, with the most-used buttons in the easiest locations for your thumb. Press the glowing button in the upper-right corner, and all the other buttons light up. You can also program this remote to control other devices. However, when it comes to controlling the set’s connected features and inputting text, the remote stumbles quite a bit.
You don't need to connect the UN46ES6500 to anything except the Internet (ethernet or Wi-Fi) to be entertained. Like virtually all of today's better HDTVs, this set streams entertainment from Hulu Plus, MLB.TV, Netflix, Pandora, Vudu, and other services. Beyond those big-name offerings, it also provides fitness programs, a "Family Story" application (with its own button on the remote), and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Unfortunately, those extras require you to sign up for a Samsung account.
The UN46ES6500 has a search tool, but I didn't find it all that impressive. When I searched for Mad Men, for example, it offered only Netflix, which has seasons 1 through 4 at no extra cost. But it didn't tell me that I could watch season 5 on the Vudu pay-per-view service.
This set also has a browser, which allows you to stream from services that it doesn't already support. Using the browser with the remote control is sheer torture, however. Clicking a link requires multiple presses of the arrow buttons, and entering text is worse.
Fortunately, you have alternatives. The iOS and Android Samsung Remote apps simplify browsing immensely, and they're especially handy when you want to type search text or a URL; your phone's keyboard pops up when ready. And as I mentioned earlier, you can plug a keyboard and mouse into the set’s USB ports if you prefer.
Don't expect a USB-connected or phone-based keyboard to solve all of this television's text-entry problems, though. If you want to search in Hulu or Netflix, you'll still have to use the conventional remote control. And like all such remotes, it's not an ideal tool for that particular job.
The UN46ES6500 isn’t Samsung’s highest-end HDTV, but it certainly has a full range of features. If its image quality were to match the quality of everything else it offers, it would be an excellent HDTV.