Whether you like it or not, 3D TV is the technology of the year. With movies like Avatar, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and Monsters vs Aliens wooing a family audience, it's not hard to see why.
To enjoy 3D at home, you'll need a 3D-ready TV and a 3D Blu-ray player or a Sky+HD subscription. Samsung offers one of the most comprehensive 3D TV ranges for you to choose from. The range includes both plasma and LED-illuminated LCD TVs, which means you can choose whichever technology you prefer.
The flagship, 55-inch, 1080p, 3D-ready UE55C8000 LCD TV with LED edge lights isn't cheap, but we'd consider coughing up for its array of awesome features and new technology. Read this review and we'll help you decide if you're ready for a £3,000 credit-card bill.
Beauty and the bezel
There's only one way to describe the UE55C8000's appearance: stunning. It really is a triumph of design. The brushed-metal, ultra-thin bezel looks great, and the TV is wafer-thin, which means it will hardly protrude into your living space at all if you mount it on a wall.
The remote control is silver, with flat buttons that look great but don't always respond with the positive feel that we're fond of. Still, it's backlit, which makes it an absolute doddle to use the TV in the dark or while wearing 3D glasses.
On the back of the TV, you'll find a host of inputs, including four HDMI sockets, aerial and Scart inputs, and an optical digital out for audio. Because the UE55C8000 is so thin, some of these sockets require break-out connections, but these seem to work just fine, and shouldn't present any problems.
Let's talk about specs
The UE55C8000 has tonnes of nifty features. As well as Samsung's most advanced LED-illuminated LCD panel, and all of the company's new filters and picture-processing software, the TV also features some pretty cool extras that you might not expect.
The two USB sockets on the TV can be used for multiple purposes. If you want to connect to the Internet wirelessly, then you can do so with an optional Wi-Fi dongle. You can use the USB sockets to watch video, look at photos and listen to music too. Unlike most TVs we see, the UE55C8000 is also happy playing MKV files. That's great news for Internet geeks with a mountain of cat videos to watch.
The USB sockets also offer a new skill -- they can be used to enable makeshift recording functionality. Plugging in a hard drive lets you to record your favourite shows without a separate PVR. Recordings are only playable on this TV, though, so don't get excited about watching them on a laptop during your long commute to work. You could take the TV on the train with you instead but you'll need to remember to pack a power generator too.
The TV also features Samsung's Internet@TV platform, which allows access to online content like Skype, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Most exciting of all though is that LoveFilm and BBC iPlayer are also going to be available on the TV.
Standard-def looks decent
There aren't many 55-inch TVs on the market that can do a decent job of stretching a standard-definition Freeview image to fill the massive screen. Sadly, the UE55C8000 is no exception. That's hardly Samsung's fault, though, and the inclusion of a Freeview HD tuner means that at least there's some high-quality content available to people who buy this TV.
For the most part, SD Freeview is watchable enough. You'll really notice the lack of detail in the lower-budget channels that use much-reduced bandwidth, though. We tested ITV2, More4 and Dave, and all of them looked pretty bad. On the plus side, most of what airs on BBC One and Two, ITV1, Channel 4 and Five will look okay.
Hi-def high jinks
As the UE55C8000 includes a Freeview HD tuner, you'll get access to BBC HD, ITV1 HD and 4HD for free, assuming you live in an HD-enabled area (find out with the Freeview HD coverage checker). Fifty per cent of the UK will have access to Freeview HD transmissions by the time of the World Cup in June. Assuming all goes to plan, the other 50 per cent will have access by the time the Olympics happen in 2012.
We watched a selection of high-definition content on these channels, and it looked pretty impressive. The colours and detail levels were remarkable, and the images, when viewed from a sensible distance, were generally spot-on.
We did notice, however, that sometimes there was plenty of grain, and the quality didn't hold up with certain material. This can't all be blamed on the TV, though -- the source quality of any content is what governs the overall picture quality. For the most part, though, we loved watching Freeview HD material on this set.
The UE55C8000's performance with Blu-ray discs is a different ball game altogether. This TV absolutely knocks the ball out of the park when it comes to playing 1080p video from HD discs. We watched Casino Royale and District 9 and were blown away by the stunning picture quality.
A selection of picture modes is available so that you can fine-tune the image to your taste. We liked the movie mode, but tweaked the backlight intensity to improve the black levels.
Living on the edge light
LED-illuminated TVs either use an array of LEDs behind the panel, or strips of LEDs at the side with reflective material that diffuses the light evenly behind the LCD screen. The UE55C8000 uses the latter method, which often has some disadvantages.
Some TVs with LED edge lights suffer from bright spots at the four corners of the screen. Happily, this issue isn't too noticeable on the UE55C8000. There's some bleeding at the four corners and some patchiness in the middle, but, when the TV is in normal operation, you'll almost certainly never notice.
Passes on glasses
Despite this TV's price, a set of 3D glasses isn't included. Samsung is, however, currently offering a voucher with all of its 3D TVs that allows you to claim a set of glasses when you redeem it. The same is true of its 3D Blu-ray players. If you buy both a TV and a Blu-ray player at the same time, you'll get a 3D movie -- Monsters vs Aliens, at time of writing -- and two pairs of glasses.
These offers will change over time, so it's well worth checking what's on offer before you splash out. We understand that Samsung may start including glasses in the boxes of its 3D products at a later date, but we haven't had official confirmation.
At the time of writing, there wasn't a massive amount of 3D material on the market to test. But we watched some content from Monsters vs Aliens and some Samsung demo loops, and this gave us a decent amount of footage with which to assess the capability of this TV's 3D mode.
For the most part, we were impressed. But the 3D functionality isn't perfect, and there are some specific problems, as well as more general issues, that you should be aware of before you spend £3,000.
Firstly, there's the problem of ghosting. The TV makes the 3D image by quickly displaying one picture to the left eye, and then one to the right -- the glasses shut off light to whichever eye isn't supposed to be seeing an image. All of this happens so quickly that you shouldn't be aware of it, but an inherent problem with LCD panels is that they don't always refresh quickly enough. That means you can see with your left eye, for example, traces of a frame intended for the right eye. The end result is that we could clearly see ghosting around hard edges when we watched Monsters vs Aliens. It's worth noting that plasma TVs have a faster response time, so ghosting should be less of a problem.
The more general problem with 3D TV is simply that evolution has trained us to flinch, duck or try to focus on something that's flying towards our heads. If you do the latter when watching 3D TV, you'll be attempting to focus on something that isn't where your brain thinks it is. This will result in you losing all ability to see a meaningful picture on your TV.
One of this TV's party tricks is that it can convert 2D to 3D on the fly. We tested this feature with countless TV shows, such as Neighbours and The Jeremy Kyle Show, and Blu-ray movies, like District 9. Our conclusion is: if you want a massive headache, turn this feature on. Aside from that, it's almost totally useless.
As we understand it, the TV converts 2D to 3D by looking at what's on the screen and making a decision about where it should appear in the '3D space'. Its decisions in this regard are generally quite poor. We noticed background objects appearing in the foreground and vice versa.
If you're so totally addicted to 3D that movies and TV shows made in the format are no longer enough for you, we suggest you go outside for a walk. The world, after all, is almost entirely 3D, and provides a treat for the eyes.
Even if you hate 3D and want nothing to do with it, the Samsung UE55C8000 is still a great TV. Although it's expensive, you get one of the largest LCD panels available, a stunning-looking set, and pretty astonishing HD picture quality.
If you do want 3D capability, then the TV will prove decent enough, although we urge you to try it in a store before you buy it. Make sure that you don't get headaches from 3D, and check for the ghosting around certain 3D images too -- it's not a deal-breaker, but this issue might affect your enjoyment.
We love this TV, and we think you will too. Just make sure you've got a good relationship with your credit-card company before you make that trip to buy one.
Edited by Charles Kloet