If you've looked longingly at the smart TV features on Samsung's top-of-the-range sets, but balked at their high asking prices, then the 46-inch UE46EH5300 might pique your interest. It can be bought online for the modest price of £610, but includes the same smart TV apps -- like iPlayer -- as you'll find on the company's pricier models.
Corners have been cut to keep the price down though, so it doesn't have the voice and motion controls of the ES7000 and ES8000 models, and also lacks 3D support. For many the absence of these features won't be much of a loss.
User interface and EPG
The 46EH5300 may be a cut-price TV, but the good news is that it has pretty much the same menu system and EPG as the top of the range models in Samsung's current lineup. That's a real plus point because Samsung's menu system is the best in the business. It's bright and cheery, and looks very modern thanks to its use of big, colourful icons and neat graphical effects.
Like the menu system on LG's TVs, it's based around a central hub from which you can control most of the set's main features as well as access its smart apps. Samsung's system has less of the repetition that you find on LG's sets, however, and so is a little easier to get your head around initially. It could still do with further simplification, as it perhaps presents you with too many features at one time, but you soon get the hang of it.
The EPG is also one of the best you'll find on any of the current TVs on sale in the UK. It's smartly presented with colourful graphics, and uses a large font for the text, so it's easy to read even if you're sitting quite a distance away from the telly. Thankfully, when you call up the EPG it also retains a thumbnail video window of the channel you're currently tuned to, so you don’t lose track of the show you're watching if someone's just bugging you to find out what's coming up next on another channel.
As I've pointed out in reviews of other recent Samsung sets though, there is a flaw in the EPG. When you press the info button on the remote it only shows you a single line from the programme description and the only way to view the full description is to actually open the full EPG.
Design and connections
Samsung's pricier models are all about high-end style with their cool, futuristic stands, narrow bezels and waif-like girth. Forget about all that with the UE46EH5300 though, as it's clearly been designed and built in accordance with its more affordable price.
Taking it out of the box I wasn't sure whether it was an LED model at all, as the centre of the chassis is so thick at 95mm deep that it looks like one of the older, fatter LCD models. It does taper at the edges to just 26mm, but the fact remains that it's remarkably bulbous for an LED TV, even by budget standards. The chassis is very plasticky too and the stand is fixed, so if you want to swivel the TV around you have to pick it up and turn it.
Nevertheless, when you're viewing the set from the front -- which, let's face it, is what matters -- the overall look of the design isn’t too bad, as the bezel around the screen is reasonably narrow at 17mm and there's a nice cutaway effect where the bezel meets the stand.
As with other sets I've seen from Samsung this year -- even its most expensive models -- this set makes do with three HDMI ports, rather than the four that you now get pretty much as standard on other manufacturer's TVs. You do get a full sized Scart and component sockets, as well as an optical digital audio output for feeding audio from the Freeview HD tuner to an external surround sound amp. This model also has two USB ports. Although Ethernet is built-in however, it doesn’t have integrated Wi-Fi. If you want it you'll need to invest in the optional Wi-Fi adaptor which connects up to one of the USB ports. It's pretty pricey too, setting you back around £30 to £40 online.
The best thing about this set is undoubtedly its stellar line up of smart TV apps. Samsung's smart TV system is arguably the best there is at the moment and what you get on this model is identical to what you'll find on Samsung's top of the range TVs. Hit the Smart TV button on the remote and you'll find apps for the usual services such as BBC iPlayer, Lovefilm and Netflix. Samsung also has an app for ITV Player, something that isn’t available on other brands' TVs at the moment.
There are plenty of other services too, including the AceTrax, Curzon and KnowHow pay-per-view movie rental options, as well as various weather and news apps, such as BBC News and Sports, USA Today and AccuWeather. Sadly 4oD isn't available yet, but it's not available on any of the other company's smart TV platforms either at present.
The TV also has a full Internet browser. It does a good job of rendering pages, but it's very slow and difficult to use via the TV's remote and it doesn't seem to work with much video content on websites either.
As you'd expect, this model can also be used to play back a range of different digital media files. These can be played either from its two USB ports or across a network from a PC or networked hard drive. One of the USB ports outputs 1A of power which is enough to keep most hard drives running without needing to connect up an external power source, while the other is rated at 0.5A so is more suitable for memory keys.
On the video side it plays DivX, Xvid, MP4 and MKV files without any problems from USB drives or memory keys. As with other recent Samsung TVs though, it doesn't play MKVs across a network, throwing up a 'file not supported' error when you try to play one from a networked device like a laptop or hard drive.
The extra bulk of the UE46EH5300 actually helps it out when it comes to audio. It's got a tad more bass-end kick than Samsung's slimmer TVs, and as a result tends to sound a bit warmer and meatier than those models. Dialogue also comes across as being more airy and it doesn’t suffer from the tinniness and slight screechiness of some LED models.
In the audio menu you'll find a few extra settings to play with including a useful five band graphic equaliser and less impressive SRS TruSurround HD and SRS TruDialog settings. The latter two aim to expand the stereo image and boost the clarity of dialogue, but sadly neither work that well on this model and are usually better left turned off.
Overall, this is one of the better sounding TVs on the market at the moment, especially in the budget to mid-range price bracket.
The UE46EH5300 is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde character when it comes to picture quality. It's excellent with HD sources, but less impressive when dealing with standard definition fare, like normal Freeview channels and DVDs.
Let's take a look at what it's good at first. Fire up your Blu-ray deck or tune to BBC HD and this model really does look very, very impressive. Images have pin sharp detail and colours look vivid without descending in garish territory. The TV only has 100Hz processing, so detail levels do drop off a bit when there's a fair amount of quick movement in the frame, but it's far from the worst I've seen in this regard.
While the set isn't quite capable of producing as deep black levels as its high-end stable mates, what it does do rather well is retaining even backlighting across the display, avoiding much of the clouding that affects most LED sets.
Standard definition is a whole different ball game though. Its upscaling and noise reduction engine seems to be relatively poor. As a result, standard-definition Freeview channels tend to look either very soft or overly noisy, depending on how you set the sharpness levels, and what level you choose for the noise reduction settings. The TV also lacks a bit of finesse when it comes to contrast, something that's pretty obvious when it's dealing with movies on DVD. It makes its pictures look a bit tonally compromised, but this is less apparent when it's working with HD feeds. It's also worth noting that the viewing angle of the TV is relatively tight, especially compared to most Panasonic and LG screens.
The UE46EH5300 is a perfectly acceptable budget TV, but it's not up there with some of Samsung's previous entry-level models. There's a lot to like about it, including its sharp HD pictures, even backlighting and strong line-up of smart TV apps. Its standard-definition upscaling lets the side down though, and means it's not quite the ideal budget family TV it could have been.