Review Date: August 27, 2012
 Updated: November 24, 2012

Which is the Best LED TV for 2012?
Samsung ES8000 vs. Sony HX850

Which 2012 LED HDTV delivers the best overall value?


Since the first LED LCD TVs appeared in 2008, choosing the best LED TV has become a Samsung vs. Sony decision. For 2012, this is no exception with both brands offering great prepositions in this respect.

It is not that there is no other brand; Sharp with its Elite line has come with a LED HDTV that stands in a class of its own. However, the Elite is an exorbitantly expensive TV. More affordable options from Sharp — and even LG — are available, but these target the budget entertainment market where more than picture quality, the priority is to enjoy a big screen with Smart TV and possibly 3D, for less.

If picture quality is your main concern, nothing beats the Sony HX850 and Samsung ES8000 HDTVs; these deliver excellent picture quality and extensive features at a price that though not cheap, still renders these as the best in their class. For videophiles that are not brand bound, the whole issue is: Which of the two delivers the best LED TV option for 2012? 

Note: You may join this discussion by filling the submission form at the end of this article.


   

 The New Samsung mid-range F6300 Smart LED TV
 Video: Courtesy Amazon.com

Samsung's new mid-range LED TV for 2013 is the TV for mainstream home entertainment. It is available in a wide range of screen sizes, and comes with what many consider as the best Smart TV platform presently available, apart from a great TV picture for the price -  one characterized by bright saturated colors and deep blacks.

No 3D or a Smart Touch remote, but at the present reduced online pricing, lack of such features is surely not a deal breaker!

Which deserves the 'Best LED TV' title: Samsung or Sony?

We have recently reviewed four major LED TV lineups for 2012, Samsung, Sharp, LG, and Sony, following which it became obvious that the battle for the best LED TV is once again Sony vs. Samsung — more specifically between the Sony HX850 premium series and Samsung ES8000 flagship sets.

One may argue that here we are not comparing like with like as one is a flagship model while the other is a premium series HDTV.

But these LED TVs are both capable of a videophile-grade picture that would definitely be appreciated by those plasma phobics who want to enjoy the best TV picture that present day LED TV technology has to offer.

The problem with the Sony flagship is that while the HX929 series is capable of a superb picture that outdo the HX850 in a number of areas of picture quality, the Sony flagship comes at a price that is some $600 more than the Sony HX850. This expensive premium does not equate to some striking improvement in picture quality over the HX850 series; rather picture quality difference between the two series is minimal, almost inexistent even for demanding consumers. Nor does this premium lead to some noticeable improvement in the user experience as a result of TV features present on the flagship series — which by the way, is one of the 2011 models Sony is re-proposing for 2012.

You see, there was a time when selecting the best HDTVs meant a complete disregard to the TV  price; what mattered was just the TV picture. Things have changed; after more than two years of bad economy, consumers have become more price sensitive even at the higher end. And this in our opinion is good because it is all relative to what one pays that matters in the end.

This leaves the Sony HX850 premium series as one of the contenders for the 'Best LED TV' title for 2012. The fact that this is not a flagship series should in no way impact one's choice. As we have seen in our Sony LED TV review, the HX850 is in effect the best Sony LED TV from this year lineup. It does not come cheap; rather, at $2,400 for a 55-inch, the HX850 series is one of the more expensive premium LED TVs irrespective of brand, selling at the same price as the Samsung LED TV flagship series.

But at this price, the Sony HX850 is not only 25% cheaper than the Sony flagship, but also capable of a TV picture that is very much in line with that of the Sony flagship series, with a difference between the two that even demanding consumers would find it practically impossible to perceive with normal program content.

As already indicated, the other short-listed HDTV for the best LED TV title is the Samsung ES8000, Samsung's flagship series for 2012. Those who had gone through our review of the Samsung 2012 LED TV lineup, know that we have selected the ES6500 as the best Samsung LED TV series for overall value. So...

How is it that for the best LED TV title, we are short-listing the more expensive ES8000 series?

The ES6500 is a very capable performer which deserves the best overall value title within the confines of the 2012 Samsung LED TV competition. Yet the ES6500 is not the Samsung LED HDTV that would satisfy most demanding consumers looking for the best picture, something the Sony HX850 would surely do. It is only the top trio of LED TV series within the Samsung lineup that deliver the best TV picture thanks to the use of Samsung's micro-dimming LED technology. This backlight technology reaches its climax on the ES8000 series with Samsung's micro dimming Ultimate, and this at a price that competes well with Sony's premium LED TV. In other words, the Sony HX850 and the Samsung ES8000 series fall within the same price bracket.

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The Battle of the Giants: Samsung ES8000 vs. Sony HX850

As further highlighted in our discussions on the latest Samsung and Sony LED TV lineups, both LED HDTVs in this shootout are very capable TVs, delivering one of the best pictures that this technology has to offer. As expected, there are difference between the two, differences that for discerning consumers, are worth looking into as these may eventually lead to choosing one and not the other.

We would not go into the details covering the various features on offer here; that is already covered in the respective reviews on this site. Instead, we present the most important feature and performance attributes to help us decide which is the best LED TV for 2012.

Sony HX850 Series

Apart from extensive features like Sony's Monolithic design with the 'Opticontrast' filter, a superb 1.5-inch slim set design, and Sony's Motionflow XR960, these Sony HDTVs also come with Sony's latest Smart TV suite for 2012, referred to as Sony Entertainment Network, or SEN.

The HX850 series lacks the more advanced user adjustable picture controls like the full color management system and the 10-point white balance found on corresponding Samsung and LG HDTVs, and on the Sony HX929 flagship series. Luckily, these Sony LED TVs do not need much tweaking; the Cinema picture mode on the Sony HX850 comes with one of the best out-of-the-box picture settings.

Picture quality on the HX850 is exceptionally good for an LED TV, one that while failing to match that of the significantly cheaper plasma TVs such as the remarkable Panasonic ST50, it still has the essential attributes necessary to make it among the top HDTVs for 2012, irrespective of display technology.

This is thanks the HX850 ability to deliver very deep black with fine shadow detail as a result of Sony's excellent dynamic edge LED local dimming technology; this LED dimming technology is capable of handling complex bright and dark scenes — correctly displaying adjacent bright and dark areas on the screen, with hardly any light bleeding in the dark areas, and through the corners. In this respect, the HX850 is capable of doing just a bit better than the Sony flagship as the latter has a slight blooming issue, mainly visible because of the darker black levels present on the HX929 series.

Screen uniformity on the HX850 is excellent, with no visible light bleeding through the display corners, an area where most LED TVs fail. Even with off-angle viewing, Sony 's uniformity remains among the best, mainly thanks to its deeper black.

The HX850 picture exhibits relatively accurate color along the full spectrum, except for a tendency towards slightly cooler blues when handling green. Unfortunately, here the Sony is not at its best, with the limited advanced controls failing to correct this error.

An area of picture performance where the Sony excels is in video processing, with no noticeable artifacts. These TVs are also capable of correctly rendering both 1080p/24 and 1080i film-based content. Motion resolution exceeds the 1080 lines supported by the 1080p HDTV standard; however, unlike the Samsung, the Sony fails to maintain this high level of motion resolution when dejudder processing is set to off, falling to a disappointing 300 lines, a performance that is typical of 60Hz HDTVs!

With 3D, these Sony LED HDTVs are among the best 3D TVs using active 3D glasses technology, with a 3D picture that exhibits minimal crosstalk; the 3D effect however is more subtle than most of the competition.

Samsung ES8000
Samsung UN55ES8000 with voice and gesture control

UN55ES8000 55" 3D Samsung LED TV

Main upgrade over the less expensive Samsung ES7500 is the improved micro-dimming backlight termed Micro-dimming Ultimate.

Included is Smart Interaction with face detection, voice and gesture control, build-in Wi-Fi, camera for use with Smart Interaction and Skype, and a smart-touch remote.

More information is available in our review here.

Buy from amazon.com

The Samsung flagship is the best-featured LED TV ever made, with Samsung Smart Interaction being the most advanced form of smart TV control. But it is not these types of features that make a great TV. Apart from the fact that as stated in our Samsung LED TV review, this is a half-baked feature, waving your hand at the screen and shouting at your TV is not a more convenient form of TV control than the press of a button on a standard TV remote.

However, even if you were to do away with Smart Interaction, the Samsung still incorporates among the most advanced and best features you can find, including Samsung's excellent Smart TV suite; this comes with one of the most complete content lineups albeit a cluttered interface and missing Amazon Instant.

The Samsung ES8000 also includes one of the most advanced suites of picture controls, complete with a full color management system and 10-point white balance setting. This is an area where the two series in this shootout contrast heavily, making the Samsung the TV of choice by those who like to proceed with more refined tweaking of their TV picture for the best settings.

Like the Sony HX850, overall picture quality on the Samsung is very good though it still falls behind that of the significantly cheaper mid-range plasma TVs from both Samsung and Panasonic. Main culprit here is again the lighter blacks than corresponding plasma TVs. However, Samsung also fails to match the deep blacks of the Sony HX850 series. This is not by much, but it is still disappointing considering that here we are dealing with a flagship HDTV.

Instead, the Samsung supports excellent shadow detail even in the dark parts of the image. Equally excellent is Samsung's ES8000 color accuracy, where unlike most LED TVs — including the Sony HX850 — manages to produce lifelike colors without the typical cooler bluish appearance.

Video processing is also another area where the ES8000 takes the upper hand. Video processing is exceptionally clean. It also comes with one of the best dejudder implementations through Samsung's Auto Motion Plus (AMP). Unlike Sony's Motionflow dejudder technology, Samsung's AMP comes with independent slider settings for Blur reduction (this affects video-based sources) and Judder reduction (for film-based sources). Samsung Auto Motion Plus correctly handles 1080p/24 film-based content, producing the right cadence both with AMP set to 'off' and in 'Custom' mode with the judder slider set to zero (judder set to off). In the latter case, the Samsung ES8000 still supports full motion resolution in excess of the 1080 lines supported by the 1080p HDTV standard; this is something where most HDTVs — including the Sony — fail.

An area where the ES8000 fails (with respect to the Sony) is screen uniformity. Despite the big improvement over 2011, the screen comers on the Samsung still look brighter when handling predominantly dark content. Yet, this is the only complaint we have; there are no banding or clouding issues with the Samsung as instead we have seen on D8000 models. Off-angle viewing performance is typical of other LCDs, doing a relatively good job in maintaining color and black level. The Sony is a bit better here, mainly because it starts with a deeper black in the first place.

With 3D, the Samsung ES8000 is at the peak of LED TV performance, producing a 3D image that is practically crosstalk free, with a very good sense of depth, and a brighter 3D image than most TVs (including the Sony HX850). The only problem with the Samsung is that the brighter 3D image reveals more the uniformity issues at the screen corners.

Best LED TV Shootout Summary Table: Samsung ES8000 vs. Sony HX850

The table below summarizes the pros and cons of each, giving a clearer picture of where each of these superb LED TVs prevails with respect to each other.

Item

Remark

Features

Samsung - though Smart Interaction disappoints

Set Design

Samsung overall, but both have a superb panel design and once wall-mounted, both look great

Picture Controls

Samsung, but Sony has the best out-of-the-box picture, requiring minimal tweaking

Picture performance

 

Black Level

Sony

Shadow detail

Both

Color Accuracy

Samsung, with more true-to-life colors

Screen Uniformity

Sony, though Samsung follows closely

Video Processing

Samsung, though Sony follows closely

Motion Resolution

Both, but Sony has a disappointing resolution when dejudder is off

Off-angle performance

Both, but Sony is better due to its deeper blacks

3D

Both, but Samsung excels here, with a 3D image that exhibits better depth and is crosstalk free.

Price

Both fall within the same price bracket

So... Which is the best LED TV for 2012?

First, we have to say that both are excellent LED HDTVs capable of a videophile-grade TV picture. In this respect, both deserve the best LED TV title for 2012. If brand loyalty matters to you, feel free to go by the brand you like; you would not be missing much opting for one and not the other. For those discerning consumers where even the smallest difference matters, it is a completely different story.

Choosing one over the other is not easy. Both have excellent features, excellent panel design, and even more important at this category of HDTVs, a videophile-grade picture. It is with the latter that things differ, with the Samsung ES8000 delivering superior color accuracy and the Sony HX850 deeper blacks. It is true that differences between the two are often difficult for the untrained eye to detect, but here we are dealing with very important picture attributes. Why?

Accurate color that is true to life is important especially with those subjects where the viewer has a very clear impression of what color should be. Failing in this respect leads to picture that instills a sense of falseness to the mind, making it hard for the mind to accept what is being displayed on the screen as 'real'.

Deep blacks that remain stable along the full brightness range is a most important picture quality attribute that helps render better those difficult-to-define quality aspects like picture depth, scene detail especially in scenes where lots of dark and light content is shown simultaneously, and color richness i.e. perceived color saturation.  Indirectly, a better black level also leads to better rendering of picture contrast.

Which one to choose?

Both of these picture attributes are very important, but we choose the deeper blacks of the Sony over the more accurate color of the Samsung. In other words, it is the Sony HX850, the best LED TV for 2012. Many may not agree but it remains a fact that a deeper black has much wider implications on the picture, like perceived color richness and contrast, with off-angle viewing — as starting with deeper blacks tends to maintain better blacks from off angle, and with screen uniformity — as deeper blacks lead to a less perceived level of screen uniformity issues when displaying predominantly dark content.

Best-selling model within these series are the Sony 55-inch KDL-55HX850 and the Samsung 55-inch UN55ES8000, with the latter doing better in sales rank while the Sony doing better in customer ratings, achieving 4.4 stars out of five as against the 3.4 in customer ratings for the Samsung. The lower rating on the Samsung arises because despite an impressive feature-set that attracts sales, Samsung's Smart Interaction disappoints many.

Readers' Comments

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 Article Content

Issues discussed in this Best LED TV shootout:

Blue bullet  Which deserves the Best LED TV title: Samsung or Sony?

Blue bullet  The Battle of the Giants: Discussing Sony HX850  vs. Samsung ES8000 series

Blue bullet  Features/Performance Summary: Summarizing the most important pros and cons for each series

Blue bullet  So... Which is the best LED HDTV for 2012?

Blue bullet  Readers' Comments: Submitting your comments is easy!

Blue bullet  Buying options for some of the best LED TVs

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