Review: Samsung UN55D8000 3D LCD HDTV

While 3D movies haven’t totally taken over the multiplex, the format remains a force to be reckoned with. Michael Bay just released a new Transformers installment in 3D (Transformers: Dark of the Moon), James Cameron is at work on Avatar sequels, and the entire Star Wars saga is being formatted for 3D release. Even German auteur Werner Herzog jumped on the bandwagon with Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a 3D documentary.

On the TV side, technology options have expanded to include passive and, most likely next year, glasses-free displays. But sets that use active shutter glasses — Samsung’s LED-lit UN55D8000, for example — still make up the majority of 3D TVs on the market. Along with 3D display via active glasses, the UN55D8000’s feature set includes a 240-Hz screen refresh rate, an edge-lit backlight with local dimming, 2D-to-3D conversion, and built-in Wi-Fi. The D8000 series also sports Samsung’s enhanced Smart Hub interface, with a search feature, an integrated Web browser, and a QWERTY remote control that lets you more easily enter data into fields when using the set for browsing and other apps. Speaking of apps, this TV is loaded: Netflix, Vudu, and Hulu Plus for movies/ TV; Pandora, Napster, and vTuner for music; Facebook, Twitter, and Skype for “Social TV.” The Netflix interface is the new, improved version that lets you search and add titles to your Instant Play queue. Also of note is the inclusion of quirky video-sharing service Vimeo (more cool stuff, fewer puppies).

“Slim” is the word that best describes the UN55D8000’s look. Its panel is a mere 1.2 inches deep, and the silvery bezel surrounding the screen encroaches just under 0.5 inches, allowing the set to deliver maximum picture area for the space it takes up. A basic set of controls is located near the panel’s bottom on the right-hand side. Since the buttons here are tiny and difficult to handle, a touch- sensitive display pops up onscreen right next to them that mirrors the controls. Samsung includes a spindly, yet solid swiveling table stand.

A/V inputs are located on a side-mounted inset on the panel’s back surface. The spacing here is tight — a necessity with such a thin TV design — and it was a challenge to plug my various sources into the input-jack strip. Connections include four HDMI inputs, including one with ARC (Audio-Return Channel) for connecting to a compatible receiver. There’s also a breakout cable for a component-video connection and a PC RGB input.

Samsung’s remote control is a new breed altogether: a dual-sided handset with a keypad designed for normal TV operation on one side and a QWERTY keyboard on the other. Like other devices that try to be too many things at once, this one stumbles somewhat on both fronts. The normal-side keypad, though backlit, has too many buttons bunched together that are difficult to distinguish by touch alone. And the QWERTY side isn’t backlit, making operation of the densely packed keypad a challenge in a dim room. (A small display does help out a bit here.) On the plus side, the QWERTY remote is Bluetooth-linked, meaning you don’t need a direct line of sight to the TV for operation. On the minus side, making that initial Bluetooth link can be a hassle. Samsung’s instructions didn’t work, and I needed to turn to the Web (on my computer, not the TV) to find a workaround method that would permit the remote to pair.

Most stores selling the UN55D8000 bundle it with a 3D starter kit containing 2 pairs of active glasses and Blu-ray 3D copies of the first three films in the Shrek cycle, along with vouchers for Shrek Forever After and Megamind. For my test, Samsung sent me one standard pair and a second slim model (SSG-3700CR) that sells for around $150. That may be a lot to pay for 3D glasses, but Samsung’s slim eyewear is the lightest and most comfortable pair of active 3D glasses I’ve yet encountered. Both versions sync up with the TV via Bluetooth. The slim version can be recharged via its micro-USB port or Samsung’s optional charging station, while the other model requires batteries.