In the television market, £500 is an important price point – the price at which a TV stops being ‘budget’ and starts becoming ‘mid-range’. It’s a line that many buyers can’t or won’t cross. “What’s the best TV I can buy for £500?” is one of the most common questions we get asked.
It’s a question to which there’s a new answer: the best TV you can buy for £500 is the Samsung UE50TU8500.
Without the stand, the TU8500 looks much like any other of Samsung’s wallet-friendly 2020 models. There’s a thin black bezel with a discreet logo at the centre of the bottom edge. At around 6cm deep, it’s not exactly super-slim, but it is thin enough to look smart when wall-mounted.
With the stand, the TU8500 looks a bit awkward. The pedestal is an overindulgent four-footed affair that looks a bit silly. The long neck leaves plenty of room for a soundbar, but its front feet are too tall to be straddled by one, so you’ll be limited to models that are very narrow. While no deal-breaker, we’d have preferred it if the TU8500 had been given the more basic but more practical feet of a model such as the cheaper TU7100.
Screen type LCD with edge LED backlight
Operating system Samsung Tizen
HDR formats HDR10, HDR10+, HLG
Opting for the TU8500 over the TU7100 gets you a third HDMI, which will be crucial for those with a system that includes a soundbar and two sources, such as a Sky Q box and a games console. Assuming it’s compatible and connected to HDMI 2, that soundbar can take advantage of the TU8500’s eARC feature. All HDMIs support ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode), which automatically switches the TV to its low-lag Game mode when a gaming signal is detected.
That input lag is a very low 16ms, and rises to a still acceptable 32ms if you want to take advantage of the set’s gaming-specific motion smoothing feature. VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) is not supported, but that’s no surprise at this level.
The set’s other sockets amount to ethernet, two USBs, an optical output, and old-school analogue stereo and composite inputs. There’s no headphone output, as has been the Samsung norm for a while now – the company expects you to use Bluetooth, which is present in 4.2 form.
The TU8500 and its budget siblings get the same Tizen operating system as Samsung’s flagship sets, and that’s a big bonus for buyers. Not only is it smart, intuitive and snappy (there’s none of the lag we experienced with the TU7100 here), it also boasts the most complete selection of apps available anywhere.
You get Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play Movies & TV, Rakuten, Disney+ and Apple TV all in 4K and HDR10 (HDR10+ in the cases of Amazon and Rakuten). BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5 are all on board, too. Now TV, BT TV and BT Sport give you contract-free access to Sky and BT’s exclusive programming. And Plex is great for local streaming of your own media files.
Music and radio can be streamed via Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer, BBC Sounds and TuneIn. AirPlay 2 also features, giving iOS users yet another method of getting content on to the TV. In short, the TU8500 wants for nothing on the streaming front, despite its very low price.
Spending the extra on the TU8500 over the TU7100 also gives you more control options. There’s a basic, plastic remote in the box, but also Samsung’s One Remote, which is more ergonomic and has a stripped-back selection of buttons that cover all of the bases. We find this a more pleasant zapper to use overall.
If you prefer to bark instructions at your TV, both Alexa and Samsung’s own Bixby voice assistants are integrated into the TV, with Google Assistant due to be added shortly. Select the one you’d prefer to use during the initial set-up and your chosen assistant can be invoked via the mic in the remote control.
We feel Bixby is the better option here, as it gives direct access to many of the TV’s functions. If you opt for Alexa, you’re really just turning your TV into an Echo device and will only be able to control basic elements of the TV.
Spinning up the 4K Blu-ray of Blade Runner 2049, we’re pleased to see that the TU8500’s edge LED backlight is admirably even, with none of the bleeding or clouding often seen from TVs at this end of the market. It produces deeper blacks than others in this category, too, and combines them with clean, bright highlights. A QLED or OLED TV will have far greater contrast, but for an edge-lit LCD that costs as little as this, the TU8500 impresses.
The slow pans across the solar fields outside LA prove that the set is sharp, detailed and a good handler of motion. The crispness and depth of the image is maintained despite the camera movement, and with Judder Reduction set to 3 and the LED Clear motion feature switched off, the set deploys a satisfying degree of smoothing that doesn’t introduce any artificiality.
As the action moves to a close-up of K in the cockpit of his flying car, it becomes clear that the TU8500’s colour balance leans towards red. This can be mitigated somewhat by adjusting the Colour and Tint settings, but we never achieve a balance that seems truly correct. That said, the issue is only really highlighted when viewing the set next to a more neutral competitor TV, so it’s not a major flaw.
The TU8500 digs up lots of detail in the dark corners of Sapper Morton’s kitchen and, as the encounter turns physical, the set maintains control over the chaotic onscreen action.
Switching to the Full HD, SDR Blu-ray of Unbroken, the warm glow of the sun punching through the clouds at the beginning of the bombing run scene is instantly appealing, as are the sharply drawn planes against the sky. This is a crisply defined and detailed image all round, proving that the TU8500 is an accomplished upscaler for the money. Colours are rewardingly vibrant, too.
The TV even does a decent job with broadcast, streamed and disc-based standard-def content. There’s some inevitable softness to the image, but it’s also clean, punchy and controlled.
We almost always recommend budgeting for a separate sound system with which to partner your new TV, and that’s still the case here. That said, the TU8500 sounds good by prevailing standards. Opt for the Amplify mode and there’s a decent degree of punch and dynamism to proceedings, combined with an openness that delivers a sense of the hard, reflective walls of the room in which K takes his baseline test.
Dialogue is projected well throughout Blade Runner 2049, but with everyday TV you may want to switch to the Standard sound mode, which is a bit cleaner, more direct and focused.
There’s nothing really wrong with the sound and that’s more than half the battle when dealing with TV speaker systems. A simple soundbar will prove a serious sonic upgrade, though.
It’s great to be able to test flagship TVs, but it’s at least as thrilling when we discover a real bargain of a set, and that’s just what the Samsung UE50TU8500 proves to be.
For just £500, you get an accomplished all-round picture performance, surprisingly solid sound, and an operating system that’s both great to use and packed with streaming apps. That’s seriously good value.
- Picture 5
- Sound 4
- Features 5
Read our Samsung UE43TU7100 review
Read our Hisense R50B7120UK review