Welcome to T3's Samsung TU8500 review. It's the shining star of the company's Crystal LED line-up, which sits just under its QLED models – these tend to be staples of our picks of the best TVs under £500 and the best TVs under £1000.
While QLED is Samsung's brightest, highest range, most people will actually spend their cash on something a little less extravagant from the tiers below, where similar smart platform connectivity is paired with more affordable, though less striking panel technology and less outré cosmetic design.
It’s here you’ll find the brand’s TU series, which hints at higher-end performance without the accompanying price tag.
The TU8500 retains much of the smart TV specification found higher up the food chain. The brand’s Tizen smart platform is bolstered by clever niceties like Ambient mode (wherein you can have the set double as an image gallery when in standby) and smart home SmartThings support device support.
We took a closer look at the 50-inch model, the Samsung UE50TU8500. Here we'll tell you more detail about what we loved about it, and what we didn't.
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Samsung TU8500 review: price, release date & features
This is a review of the 50-inch TU8500 (UE50TU8500), but the model is also available in 43-, 55- and 65-inch screen sizes (UE43TU8500, UE55TU8500 and UE65TU8500 respectively). Finding a set to fit your room shouldn’t be an issue.
The 43-inch model costs £449, this 50-inch model costs £549, the 55-inch model costs £669, and the 65-inch model costs £899. They're all comfortable at the more budget end of the spectrum, then – coming in a few hundred cheaper at each size than the Samsung Q60T (the cheapest QLED model) or the Panasonic HX800.
Connectivity reflects the screen's affordable price point: there are just three HDMIs, although one of these does offer an eARC mode as well as regular ARC, to stream audio to a waiting soundbar (more on that in a mo). There are also two USB ports, plus analogue video and stereo inputs, an audio digital optical audio out and Ethernet. Wireless support comes via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
The set benefits from two tuners, one terrestrial (which is regular Freeview HD), the other generic HD satellite. The remote control is a standard issue Samsung infrared device, with dedicated buttons for Netflix, Amazon Video and Rakuten TV, making it easy to hop straight into key streaming services.
Familiar from other Samsungs, we’re offered two Game mode options. If you opt to select Game Motion Plus, you’ll retain some elements of beneficial picture processing. In this mode, input lag measures around 26.7ms (which is fine for casual gaming). However if you disable Game Motion Plus, and go hardcore Game mode, input lag drops to a mere 11.7ms (measured at 1080p/60fps), which can be considered excellent.
If you don’t bother selecting Game mode at all, you’ll get 84.4ms in Standard mode.
Samsung TU8500 review: Picture quality
The TU8500 is not just another cut-price 4K UHD flatscreen capable of decent detail. There’s more going on picture wise than you might at first imagine: specifically a novel dual-LED backlighting system.
Rather than use single colour of LEDs in the light behind the panel, it actually employs two different LED colour temperatures (5000k and 2000k). This helps improve contrast, giving better black level performance.
With HD content in SDR, the TU8500’s image has a bright overall picture level, with a satisfying level of pop. It’s a great match for regular Blu-ray. Step it up with native 4K, and the screen snaps into clearer focus.
This isn’t a demanding screen to set up. We like the fact that Samsung doesn’t over complicate its image menus. In addition to Movie mode, there’s a simple choice between Standard, Natural and Dynamic. The latter looks a little over bright and oversaturated, but Natural is a good catch-all. It’s a little more colour rich and contrasty than Standard, on this particular set at least.
But it’s also pre-baked, so you can’t make adjustments in the Expert settings menu, whereas Standard opens up gamma control and colour space adjustments, for those who like to tinker.
Screen uniformity is good, with no obvious light pooling or halos. Black level performance and contrast are reassuringly convincing for the price. If the screen does underwhelm, it's with HDR. We measured HDR peak brightness a tad under 300 nits. While this is largely in line with other HDR-supporting low-cost screens, it’s not particularly jazzy. The Samsung Q60T and Panasonic HX800 we mentioned above will give you around 50% more brightness than this, which makes a big difference for HDR.
There’s no Dolby Vision HDR support, as is normal with Samsung right up to its top-range models, including the world-beating Samsung Q950TS, and we can’t help feel but feel the TU8500 could really benefit from a little dynamic tone mapping guidance when watching some of the more eye-popping HDR shows on Netflix. This might have helped retain some sense of sparkle.
On the plus side, there’s support for regular HDR10, HLG and HDR10+, the rival to Dolby Vision used by Amazon Prime Video.
Samsung TU8500 review: Sound quality
Sonic performance is fine straight out of the box. The downward firing stereo speakers offer moderate volume, even if the soundstage is subjectively monophonic. You can hear everything that's going on, but we'd really recommend picking up one of the best soundbars for a richer experience.
But there's more to be had. The TU8500 is Dolby Atmos enabled, and comes into its own when connected to a Dolby Atmos system. We hooked up an Atmos soundbar, which persuaded the Netflix app to stream Dolby Atmos across ARC to the soundbar no problem.
Equally, a Blu-ray player connected to the screen was able to pass Dolby Atmos through to our Atmos soundbar, even though the soundbar wasn’t eARC enabled. The set takes Atmos in a True HD wrapper from the Blu-ray player, but passes it out over regular ARC as Dolby Digital Plus.
Samsung TU8500 review: Design & usability
The TU8500 panel sits on a splayed central tripod, which makes it easy to park in your living room. The set’s not as chic as Panasonic’s HX800, but the bezel is still fashionably minimal, basically a wraparound frame with an extended lip at the base. Stereo speakers point down from the bottom of the cabinet.
Few would describe the TV as slim because it swells out to the rear from that tiny bezel, but equally it’s not overweight. For what it is, it looks good, and certainly not cheap.
It may come a budget price tag, but there’s no obvious compromises on the TU8500 when it comes to smart functionality. Admittedly it lacks Freeview Play (as does every other Samsung TV), but we still get a cart load of catch-up TV services courtesy of the Tizen operating system, alongside a healthy selection of other popular streaming services.
These include Netflix, Prime Video, ITV Hub, Apple TV, Rakuten and YouTube. There’s also Samsung TV Plus, which is the brand’s own internet-delivered channel bouquet.
In terms of usability, the Tizen platform is fast and intuitive. Attractions include Multiview, which enables you to co-display your smartphone screen, Ambient Mode, should you want to keep the set busy when not watching programmes by displaying artwork, and Samsung SmartThings smart home control compatibility. Your connected smart devices appear on the set’s dashboard. It’s also compatible with voice assistants, be they Alexa or Google Assistant.
Samsung TU8500 review: Verdict
There’s no doubt that if you’re looking for a well-specified 4K UHD TV that won’t break the bank, the TU8500 is an enticing prospect. It’s more cutting-edge than you might first think (Samsung can’t help itself), and smart connectivity is excellent.
It’s also ready to play its part in a more immersive Dolby Atmos sound system, and overall image chops can be considered tasty, even if HDR is a little muted.
Good for movies. Great for games. Cheap as chips. Colour us impressed.