Samsung's high end models may attract a lot of attention thanks to their futuristic voice and gesture controls, but they also have eye-watering price tags. If you're looking for a more affordable option, but still want plenty of features like smart TV support and 3D capabilities, then the company's six series arguably offers the best value for money. I liked both the ES6300 and ES6800 when I reviewed them recently, but the UE46ES6540 slots in between both and may offer even better value for money.
Confusingly it doesn’t appear on the company's website, but the reason for this is that not all retailers carry it. In fact, Samsung has really brought it to the UK as a 'special' option for John Lewis stores, although you may find it available from other shops in limited numbers.
The set lacks the dual-core processor found on the ES6800, but includes the 400Hz processing that was lacking on the ES6300. Currently you can buy it from John Lewis for £900.
User interface and EPG
The good news is that the UE46ES6540 uses pretty much exactly the same menu system as the one you find on Samsung's high-end ES7000 and ES8000 models, minus the voice and gesture controls. Even through it only has a single-core processor, the menus still feel very responsive to use.
The core of the menu system revolves around a homescreen from which you can access all the TV's key features, including its smart TV apps, programming guide, input selection screen and digital media player. It's beautifully presented thanks to its cute graphics and liberal use of colour.
Admittedly it shows so much information to you in one go that it can initially be a little bit confusing, but on the whole it's still one of the best menus systems available on today's TVs.
Samsung has largely done a very good job on the TV programming guide too. It looks very attractive thanks to its bold use of colour and the crisp and clean font used for displaying programming information. It also includes a video thumbnail window, so you can quickly call it up without it completely intruding on the show you're currently tuned to.
The way the info button works for the mini guide is quite odd though. When you give it a prod, it only shows you a single line of the programme summary. To read the whole thing you have to press the red button on the remote to open it in a larger window. It's not a deal breaker, but it is a tad annoying.
Design and connections
To try and make sure this set is a cheaper alternative to the ES6800, Samsung has not just switched from a dual- to single-core processor, it's also changed the design in some subtle ways. Essentially it's used slightly cheaper materials. The stand, for instance, doesn't have the glossy sheen like the one on the ES6800. Instead it's finished with a duller, brushed effect that looks a little plasticky.
The bezel is also a fair bit thicker, although it's still very narrow compared to last year's models and Samsung has disguised its extra width by angling the second element in the bezel backwards quite drastically. This may all sound like bad news, but the fact is that although it's not quite as attractive as the ES6800, at first glance the two look remarkably similar.
This model has the same problem as its more expensive siblings when it comes to connections -- it has just three HDMI ports when most competitors' 46inch models now have four. It does have full-sized component inputs, as well as both Ethernet and Wi-Fi on board. You also get three USB ports, and unlike most other TVs in this price range it comes with both a standard Freeview HD tuner as well as a Freesat HD tuner.
This model comes with Samsung's smart TV system, which is arguably the best in the business. It's got the broadest lineup of apps, and includes a lot of video on-demand and catch-up TV services, which are the ones that you most want to see on a TV. Along with BBC iPlayer it now includes ITV Player and Demand 5. Sadly 4oD is still absent, but it's not yet available on any other smart TV at the moment. You do get apps for both Loveflim and Netflix and there are a number of movie rental services included too, such as Blinkbox, Knowhow Movies and Curzon on Demand.
As with all smart TV apps at the moment, these apps aren't as fluid to use or as fast to load as apps on phones or tablets, but they're still reasonably speedy by television standards. You don’t really notice much different between this single-core model and Samsung's dual-core sets in terms of speed and responsiveness.
The TV also has an on-board media player, which Samsung calls AllShare. This can handle a pretty broad range of formats when it's playing them back from USB drives or memory keys. It played my selecting of test MKV, Xvid and DivX files without any problems, for example. Annoyingly, it refused to stream MKV files from my network hard drive, a problem that other Samsung TVs also suffer from. It does stream DivX and MP4 videos though. Navigating through folders is quite slow, especially compared to a good stand alone media streamer, however this is an issue that affects most of the media players on today's TVs.
Samsung certainly doesn't always hit the mark when it comes to sound quality on its LED sets, as many of them are found wanting in the bass department. Thankfully, the UE46ES6540 performs quite well in this area. Samsung has kitted it out with slightly larger speakers than normal -- the rear of the chassis bulges out at the bottom to accommodate them -- and as a result it's got more low-end grunt than many of the slimline sets I get in for review.
It still sounds a little boxy in terms of bass, but it's certainly a good deal deeper than many other sets are capable of delivering. Dialogue sounds well focused too, so overall this is a relatively strong performer in the audio department.
2D picture quality
As ever with Samsung's TVs, the out-of-the-box performance is not wonderful because the picture presets are pretty poor. The brightness and processing options are all set too high with the result that images look quite plasticky. The good news is that it's relatively easy to sort this mess out. By turning down the backlight and tweaking the gamma setting you can get the brightness problem under control and turning down or turning off the motion processing options gets rid of the artificial sheen.
Once that's done, you'll find that the UE46ES6540 is more than capable of producing really quite excellent-quality pictures by mid-range TV standards. Colours are bold and strong, and the set's inherent brightness helps to make its images look very fresh and vivid too.
On HD feeds contrast is good, teasing plenty of detail from darker, moodier scenes, and it's motion handing is above average. Even with all the motion processing turn off blur isn’t really that much of a problem and with motion processing switch to a lower setting, such as 'clear', it all but disappears for normal viewing.
Although black levels aren’t bad once you've got the backlight turned down, even with this tweaked you can still see some clouding at the edges of the screen. It's not excessive, but it is noticeable in a dimly lit room. This model's upscaling of standard-definition broadcast also falls short. Images tend to look a fair bit softer than they do on mid-range models from Panasonic and Sony, for example. Standard-definition images look flatter than HD ones, as the TV doesn't seem to do as good a job of handling contrast and show detail when it's showing SD material.
3D picture quality
This model rather generously comes with two pairs of active 3D glasses. Samsung's current specs are much lighter than its older ones and are pretty comfortable to wear, even if they do feel a little bit on the flimsy side. If you need additional glasses you can now buy them online for as little as £15 each, so they're much cheaper than they used to be.
As this model uses active 3D technology it delivers Full HD pictures to each eye, unlike passive 3D systems that halve the horizontal resolution. As a result, its 3D pictures look very crisp and sharp, something that helps to further emphasise the impressive sense of depth. This is a bright TV thanks to its LED backlighting and this extra brightness helps to counteract the dimming effect of the active specs, so colours still look very vivid.
Unfortunately images aren’t completely free of crosstalk. You can still see some of this double image ghosting when there are bright objects shown against darker backgrounds. The crosstalk issues are fairly subtle however, so doesn't detract significantly from the viewing experience and most people probably won't even notice it.
The UE46ES6540 is another very strong mid-range set from Samsung. It looks very sharp and stylish, delivers predominantly top-notch pictures and has pretty potent audio performance. Add in a bumper lineup of smart TV apps and good 3D support and you've got an excellent TV.
Unfortunately for the ES6540, you can buy the superior UE46ES6800 online for less money, making this model somewhat irrelevant in Samsung's current lineup.