What it’s like to use Samsung’s Tizen-based 4K TV (in a non-4K world)
It’s not easy getting a massive 65-inch TV inside a Brooklyn apartment. But, oh, is it worth the trouble. In this case, I’m talking about the Samsung JU6500, a 4K (3,840 x 2,160) smart TV powered by the company’s newly minted, homegrown Tizen OS. Unless you were dead-set on Android TV, the set comes with most everything you would want in 2015: support for Ultra High-Definition media, access to entertainment apps and an actually reasonable price point. Although it’s listed at $2,800, you can get one for around $2,100 from retailers including Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg, Adorama and Samsung’s own site. Unfortunately for the company, its JU6500 seems expensive compared to Vizio’s cheap 4K series — which makes the buying decision harder for people who want a UHD TV.
Beyond that, the JU6500 delivers stunning picture quality, with bright colors, deep blacks and true whites, while a contrast enhancer gives you a sense of depth when you’re looking at the LED display (think: a bit like 3D). Additionally, there’s a quad-core processor, 120Hz refresh rate, four HDMI inputs, three USB ports, Bluetooth, Ethernet, WiFi and DTS Premium Sound 5.1. At 2.5 inches thick and 60.6 pounds (with the stand), it’s relatively thin and light too, but then again, most high-end TVs are nowadays. You’ll also find video and music apps, an upscaling feature that takes 720p and 1080p content to near-4K resolution and PlayStation Now, Sony’s game-streaming service. What you won’t see here, however, is a 3D mode; Samsung says that’s an omission it made to keep the cost down.
Running down the spec sheet, Samsung’s JU6500 easily stands out as a top-of-the-line TV. That’s because it is. Watching movies and shows and playing video games on it is a pleasure; everything looks and sounds crisp; totally immersive. I’m not just talking about enjoying 4K content, either, which is obviously one of the main strengths of this TV. To give you an example, I started watching HBO’s The Wire again, and it’s as if I had never seen the show before — the remastering helps, naturally, but I also watched it on my 42-inch, 1080p TV and the experience wasn’t as enjoyable. The same goes for gaming on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One or Wii U; graphics look incredible on everything from FIFA 15 to Battlefield Hardline, Titanfall and Mario Kart 8.
One of the few times I felt disappointed was while using PlayStation Now. Granted that wasn’t the TV’s fault. Even though I have internet speeds capable of handling the streaming service, the visuals from PlayStation 3 games don’t cut it anymore. This is particularly true on a 65-inch device, where you can easily notice just about every dropped frame — and that happens often on PlayStation Now. If you’re willing to deal with this, you can still have plenty of fun playing old-school titles, including Batman: Arkham City and the Uncharted series. The TV’s streaming functionality also extends to smartphones, since Samsung lets you pair it with some handsets for AirPlay-esque features.
It’s also worth noting that, since the day I’ve had it (close to a month now), the JU6500 has lost its cool on me a few times. In more than a couple of occasions, it froze as I tried to stream a 4K movie via Amazon Instant Video. The same happened while I was browsing Samsung’s smart TV app store, becoming unresponsive and requiring a hard reboot (read: disconnecting the power and plugging it back in). Sure, bringing it back to life isn’t hard, but you shouldn’t have to worry about that with a $2,000-plus, high-end TV.
For the most part, though, the JU6500 presents a seamless experience, and that’s thanks to the work Samsung’s done on Tizen OS. The menu system is simple and straightforward, allowing you to quickly find any setting you may want to change, like your picture and sound modes as well as network connectivity and power options. On the big screen, Tizen OS relies on a card-based system that never lets you feel lost as you’re browsing the menu. Say you end up jumping into the wrong option; you can easily get back to the previous window by simply clicking the left arrow. If you’ve ever used a TV (smart or otherwise) with a tedious menu, then you’ll definitely appreciate this.
Speaking of Amazon Instant Video, you’re going to need it if you want to get the most out of this (or any) 4K TV. At the moment, that’s one of the few applications actually offering UHD content, and even then, its selection is quite limited. The others are Netflix and M-Go, a video app developed in part by Samsung, both of which have a small library of 4K movies and TV shows to stream and buy or rent, respectively. Amazon does deliver its latest original series in 4K (Bosch, Transparent, Mozart in the Jungle and Alpha House), but Prime members also get access to some movies at no cost. Netflix’s 4K programming, on the other hand, includes House of Cards and Breaking Bad, as well as films like Philadelphia, Jerry Maguire and The Smurfs 2.
Want to buy movies or TV episodes instead? Don’t fret — Amazon has you covered there as well. But do keep in mind they won’t be cheap and that, again, you won’t have many options to choose from. For example, one of my UHD purchases was Pineapple Express, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco — which costs $25, whereas the Blu-ray is $10. Still, you get what you pay for. In general, there are too many details in the 4K picture quality that can’t be ignored, such as a facial pore on Franco’s face you wouldn’t normally see in the 1080p version. Here, it’s exposed for your viewing pleasure. That’s not to say 1080p video doesn’t display well on this UHD TV; the upscaling feature works great across the board, like when you’re watching Blu-rays or streaming content from non-4K apps such as HBO Go or Hulu Plus.
Ultimately, what holds back the JU6500 isn’t its hardware or software, but rather the shortage of Ultra High-Def content currently available. The good news is that, if you spend the money on it right now, you’re setting yourself up for the future — everyone’s working hard to make 4K a reality, so it’s only a matter of time before the technology becomes the norm.