Samsung’s long run as the (mostly) undisputed champ of the budget TV world took a hit last year as big improvements from some rivals coincided with a strange dip in the South Korean brand’s usual standards. And with so much of its energy seemingly focused on its new QD-OLED ventures and keeping ahead of an ever-growing chasing pack with its Mini LED sets, can we really expect Samsung to have put the hard miles in to get more affordable sets such as this 55-inch CU8000 back on track, too?
The UE55CU8000 costs just $500 in the US – a very aggressive price for a 55-inch TV from the world’s number-one-selling TV brand, particularly as the CU8000 isn’t actually the most basic model in Samsung’s 2023 range in terms of either design or specification.
Stepping down to the 55-inch version of Samsung’s CU7000 will save you $120, but will likely cost you a fair bit of color range/performance as the CU7000 only gets Samsung’s relatively low-powered PurColor engine rather than the Crystal Color system and Crystal Processor found in the CU8000.
The 55-inch CU8000 doesn’t look or feel like a budget TV. For starters, its so-called Air Slim design finds its rear protruding just 1 inch, making it an ideal wall-hanging option. It’s also surprisingly hefty, giving it a much more premium and robust feel than you might expect to find with such an affordable 55-inch TV.
The only negative note comes from its feet, which are just fairly plain blades of dark metal that sit far enough apart (904mm) beneath the screen to potentially be a problem if you want to sit the TV on a narrow piece of furniture. While the feet look a bit basic from the side, though, they’re slim enough when you’re sat directly opposite the screen to almost become invisible.
Given that the CU8000 series sits towards the bottom of a huge Samsung TV range, we should start this section off with a little list of things the CU8000 doesn’t have. Namely Mini LED lighting, Quantum Dot colors, direct LED lighting with local dimming, or any sort of OLED action.
The 55-inch CU8000 is, though, built on a VA rather than IPS LCD panel, which experience suggests will help it produce relatively good contrast at the expense of potentially limited viewing angles. It lights its screen using LEDs mounted around its edges, rather than using LEDs placed directly behind the screen. Experience shows that edge lighting can struggle to deliver as much contrast and light consistency as direct lighting, but Samsung has repeatedly got better results from edge lighting than arguably any other brand over the years.
There’s no attempt to apply a local dimming system to the edge lighting. There’s just whole frame dimming, where the edge LEDs are all dimmed or brightened together to optimize brightness to the changing demands of the images you’re watching. This is actually a sensible call by Samsung, though, given that combining local dimming with edge lighting typically creates distracting bands of backlight clouding across or down the screen.
While the CU8000 doesn’t have Quantum Dots, it does get Samsung’s so-called Crystal Color system. This serves up a wider color gamut (Samsung claims more than a billion hues) than ‘basic’ LCD TVs – and the PurColor engine sported by Samsung’s step-down CU7000 range.
The 55CU8000’s Crystal Color system, other picture processing attributes and so-called OTS Lite sound system (which uses processing to try and place effects in the right place on the screen) are all controlled by a Crystal 4K Processor explicitly designed for the CU8000 range.
The 55-inch screen carries a native 4K resolution and supports the HDR10, HLG and HDR10+ high dynamic range formats. As ever with Samsung TVs, though, the HDR support doesn’t include the popular Dolby Vision format.
Screen size 55 inches (also available in 43, 50, 65, 75 and 85 inches)
Backlight Edge LED
HDR formats HLG, HDR10, HDR10+
Operating system Tizen
HDMI inputs x3
Gaming features ALLM, HGiG
Optical output? Yes
Dimensions (hwd) 49" x 28" x 1"
The CU8000’s screen is only a 60Hz one, so there’s no support over its three HDMI ports for 4K/120Hz gaming. Nor is there support for VRR or the HDR10+ gaming options found on more premium Samsung TVs this year. There is an option to cater for the HGiG system, though, where the TV deactivates its own HDR tone mapping so that it doesn’t interfere with HDR settings previously defined on HGiG-capable gaming devices.
Support for ALLM enables the CU8000 to automatically switch into its fast-responding Game preset when a game source is detected, and input lag in that game mode measures an impressively low 10.2ms. You also get Samsung’s Game Hub, which is a dedicated menu where all your gaming sources, be they cloud gaming apps or external Game sources, can be easily accessed.
Perhaps because there are so few gaming features on the CU8000 versus more premium Samsung 2023 models, it doesn’t get Samsung’s dedicated Game Bar onscreen menu system. There’s just a small Game feature section within the TV’s general menus.
The CU8000’s smart features are provided by Samsung’s latest Tizen system. This is the same system found across Samsung’s TV range this year, meaning it helpfully refines away some of the sluggishness and unhelpful navigation choices introduced by the debut of its big redesign in 2022. It also continues to offer a comprehensive range of streaming and catch-up TV apps, but also still feels rather cumbersome and complicated in some respects.
The 55-inch CU8000’s pictures are a handy improvement over those of its 2022 BU series predecessors, getting Samsung back on track as one of the better-performing ‘budget’ brands.
At the heart of this improvement is better handling of its edge-based lighting system. This manages to deliver deeper black levels while also suppressing more effectively the backlight clouding and inconsistencies that affected those 2022 BU models. There’s occasionally a faint hint of light ‘jetting’ in the bottom corners, but this hardly ever draws your eye unless you’re actively looking for it.
Considering there’s no local dimming at work here, only full frame dimming, the 55-inch CU8000 also manages to maintain a decent amount of brightness for such an affordable 55-inch TV with bright objects that appear against dark backgrounds. Scenes that fill the screen with bright, colorful images look punchier and more vibrant than they do on many similarly priced rivals, too.
We should qualify this right away by saying that the 55-inch CU8000’s black levels are good by budget TV standards; there’s more greyness hovering over dark scenes than you’d hope to see with a more expensive mid-range or premium TV. There’s also slightly distracting brightness ‘jumping’ when an HDR scene cuts very sharply between very dark and very bright shots, and the screen turns off its backlight fully during fade-to-black moments, causing a noticeable ‘lights off, lights back on’ effect.
The sort of content that can cause the brightness jumping and ‘lights off/on’ issues is quite rare, though, so for the most part the improved black levels and contrast that the 55-inch CU8000’s light control mechanisms deliver feel worth the occasional unwanted side effects. Especially as the TV manages to retain excellent amounts of subtle shadow detail at all times, rather than greying or crushing such details out.
We should also clarify that the CU8000’s brightness falls short of that of most mid-range 55-inch TVs. But at its latest price, it’s really more a budget than mid-range model. And in that company its pictures are punchier than most.
Also impressive for its money is how much discipline the CU8000’s Crystal Processor 4K applies to its colors. Outside of the Dynamic preset, which is really just designed for stores rather than living room use, colors look clean, crisp, well-balanced, natural (especially in the Movie and Filmmaker presets) and they’re delivered with enough subtlety to avoid color striping/banding issues and help objects look engagingly three-dimensional.
Colors aren’t generally quite as vivid as those of Samsung’s Quantum Dot TVs, it should be said. But since the CU8000 doesn’t have to cope with the sort of high brightness that can start to ‘bleach’ colors on less well-balanced TV performers, it still achieves good levels of overall richness and precision by typical budget TV standards.
The CU8000’s color precision and Samsung’s long-running prowess with handling both native 4K and upscaled HD content contribute to an impressively sharp, detailed and clean picture. Even low-rent streams look more watchable than you’d normally expect them to on such an affordable screen.
The 55-inch CU8000 retains its clarity nicely when there’s motion in the frame too. Provided, that is, you take the trouble to switch off the TV’s messy default Picture Clarity motion processing settings and instead choose a Custom setting with the Judder Reduction tool set to somewhere below its level five setting.
There are a trio of other niggles. First, there can be quite pronounced clipping (loss of subtle shading) in the very brightest parts of HDR pictures, leaving them looking quite flared out – like white holes ripped in the picture rather than natural, fully realized picture elements.
Second, while the Filmmaker Mode and Movie picture presets deliver the most accurate and nuanced colors, they both tend to suffer from greyer-looking dark scenes and more visible backlight clouding than you get in the Standard mode. It appears that the 55-inch CU8000 really needs the help of its Contrast Enhancer and HDR Tone Mapping features (both of which are off by default in Movie and Filmmaker Mode) to get the best from its edge-lit panel.
Finally, the 55-inch CU8000’s viewing angles before the image starts to lose color saturation and contrast are really quite limited.
Pretty much all the niggles about this TV, though, can either be resolved satisfactorily by tinkering with the TV’s set-up features, or else are pretty much par for the course for a TV at this sort of price. It’s actually its strengths, therefore, that most stand out, putting Samsung back towards the top of the affordable TV tree.
First, a word of advice: go into the CU8000’s menus as soon as the TV is installed and turn on the ‘Amplify’ sound option. This creates a more well-rounded and convincing sound than the seriously weedy audio experience you get without it.
Even with Amplify on, though, it still sounds pretty thin with potent movie soundtracks. High-pitched voices can sound a bit shrill, the soundstage remains quite narrow with limited projection from the TV’s bodywork, and bass is almost non-existent, adding no real depth or heft to action scenes. Bass can also be replaced by crackling distortions during the very deepest low-frequency drops.
There isn’t enough dynamic range or raw volume, either, to help the sound escalate to accommodate the challenges of a good action scene. Everything sounds pretty much flat.
The 55-inch CU8000’s sound does have one saving grace, though: aside from the crackling with extreme bass drops, it typically sounds engagingly clean, crisp and detailed. Enough, at least, to handle most mainstream TV viewing or ‘light and fluffy’ movie soundtracks quite respectably. Just don’t expect it to rock your foundations and flap your trousers when hordes of dinosaurs are stampeding across the screen.
While not quite a budget classic on the level Samsung used to deliver routinely, the 55-inch CU8000 still delivers good picture quality and impressively comprehensive smart features for such an affordable TV – all wrapped up in an attractive, well-built and slender design.
- Picture 4
- Sound 3
- Features 4
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