Samsung has proved itself time and again where the best affordable TVs are concerned, so we expect its new BU8500 'Crystal UHD' range to be a low-risk option.
Designed to appeal to as many folks as possible who aren’t about to chuck flagship-level money at their best new TV, the BU8500 is available in 43-, 50-, 65- and 75-inch screen sizes, in addition to the 55-inch version on review here.
The BU8500 is a 4K LED TV with very decent specification (although like all Samsung sets it goes without Dolby Vision HDR), and it looks the part. As long as the company has nailed performance, then it’s job done, right? Here's our BU8500 review to explain why it's such a mid-range success.
Samsung BU8500 review: price and release date
The Samsung UE55BU8500 (or UE55BU8500KXXU to provide it's full double-barrel UK name) is on sale now, and in the UK it’ll set you back £799. Make sure you check our Samsung discount codes for ways to save on your order.
This exact model isn’t confirmed for America or Australia, of course – differences in local broadcast standards, app providers and that sort of thing mean there are bound to be slight differences from region to region.
But it’s a certainty that both of those markets will be getting an eye-catchingly priced range of mainstream Samsung TVs that are more than a little reminiscent of the BU8500 – they just are likely to be called something different is all.
Samsung BU8500 review: Features and what's new
This is a 4K LED TV, compatible with HLG and HDR10+ high dynamic range formats – but, as remains the frustrating case with all Samsung TVs, there's no Dolby Vision.
Samsung’s fitted its ‘Crystal 4K’ processing engine to run the show, and while there’s a degree of picture-quality finessing the end-user can indulge in via the setup menus, to a large extent you’ll get what the processing algorithms give you.
Sound comes from a two-driver, 20W setup that has a little of Samsung’s ‘Object Tracking’ smarts – ‘Lite’, it’s called in this implementation, and it intends to shift sound around to follow on-screen movement. The BU8500 also includes Samsung’s Q Symphony feature – use a ‘Q Symphony’ Samsung soundbar to bolster your audio experience, and rather than override the screen’s sound system it’s allowed to join in.
Connectivity here is adequate – although next-gen gamers won’t find the specification all that compelling. Three HDMI 2.0 inputs, one of which has eARC compatibility and all of which feature ALLM isn’t too shabby, but it’s not about to exploit all the clever features of a cutting-edge console (for which you'd need HDMI 2.1).
A couple of USB inputs, an Ethernet socket, aerial post for the integrated terrestrial turner, a CI card slot, and a digital optical output complete the line-up of physical connections. Bluetooth 5.2 and Wi-Fi cover the wireless alternatives.
Samsung BU8500 review: Performance
Despite a relative lack of end-user setup options, getting a workable colour balance out of the BU8500 proves just a little fiddlier than it really should be. It can be done, though, so persevere – and when it’s done to your satisfaction, you’re confronted with overall picture quality that’s quite a lot more accomplished than the Samsung’s price tag might have led you to expect.
With some 4K content fired up, the Samsung draws smooth, confident edges that remain stable even in the most testing circumstances. Depth of field is decent too, to the point that the most accommodating material can enjoy an almost three-dimensional aspect.
The BU8500 controls patterns well, letting even complicated designs or tight, repeating patterns reveal themselves without alarms – some less capable TVs can become noisy or indistinct when asked to reproduce (for example) a multicoloured fabric with a small pattern on it, but the Samsung remains stable.
Once you’ve achieved a colour balance you’re happy with, skin tones are convincing – as is the rest of the colour palette, to be fair. There’s great variation in shade, and a naturalistic composure to the way the BU8500 describes the minutiae of tone. The Samsung is able to deliver impressively subtle variations when required, too – and so, again, there’s nothing jarring to jolt you out of the on-screen reality.
The backlighting of this LED screen is smooth and even – which is by no means a given in TVs of this size-and-price ratio. This helps contrast no end – so while it’s safe to say the BU8500 can’t quite achieve true black, the darkest tones it produces are deep, detailed and contain as much variation as the rest of the colour palette. And when this is balanced against bright, clean and equally informative white tones in the same scene, it makes for strong and absorbing contrasts.
Drop down a tier in terms of content quality and the Samsung’s strong performance is undermined hardly at all. Full HD (1080p) broadcasts retain almost all of the positives of 4K images, with only a small drop-off in detail levels and a relative lack of rigour when it comes to edge-definition betraying the fact the BU8500 is upscaling for all it’s worth. Skin tones become slightly coarser and less convincing – but the operative word here is ‘slightly’.
Drop down further, though, and the Samsung throws in the towel somewhat. Charged up with upscaling stuff of less than 1080p, the BU8500 delivers images that are soft and quite ill-defined, far from immune to picture noise and with a grip of motion best described as ‘approximate’. It’s far from alone in being unable to fill its enormous pixel-count efficiently when faced with a challenge like this, but that doesn’t make the Samsung any more watchable in these circumstances.
As a monitor for a games console, the Samsung’s nothing special – but equally, it’s adept enough. Input lag is respectably low, picture quality (especially from a next-gen console) is very decent.
Safe to say you can do a little better when it comes to sound, though (you might want to check out the best soundbars for Samsung TVs). The BU8500 is fitted with a stereo audio system, amplified by 20 watts of power – and while it delivers quite surprising scale and projects voices forwards pretty well, it’s not all that pleasant to listen to.
The bottom end – such as it is – is quite well controlled, to be fair, but the opposite end of the frequency range is altogether too hard and rough. The Samsung hits sibilants with real force, and the overall sound just gets edgier as you wind the volume up.
The effect of the BU8500’s ‘Object Tracking Lite’ arrangement, which intends to let sound follow on-screen movement, is mild in the extreme. The way this TV’s stand is arranged leaves plenty of room for one of the best soundbars (sold separately!) beneath the screen – you’ll be wanting to take advantage of this arrangement.
Samsung BU8500 review: Design and usability
By the standards of reasonably affordable and reasonably large televisions, the 55-inch BU8500 is a remarkably sophisticated looker. A depth of less than 26mm would have been the preserve of much more expensive models than this just a few years back, and in conjunction with minimal bezels and predictably impressive build quality, the Samsung looks more up-market than its price suggests.
This impression is spoiled only slightly by the rather prosaic feel of the plastics, and only a little more by the pedestal stand arrangement. This review BU8500 weighs less than 16kg, so is no problem to hang on the wall – and if you want it to stand on a surface instead, its feet are usefully close together so that surface doesn’t need to be especially wide. The two feet are disguised as a pedestal using a plastic cover– it feels cheap and doesn’t fit with what you might call ‘precision’. Still, it elevates the screen to the extent that slotting a soundbar underneath should be no trouble.
Samsung has tricked out the BU8500 with a pared-back version of the Tizen-based smart TV interface with which it’s had so much success in the past. It’s a clean and fairly unobtrusive design, simple to navigate* and features all the apps any UK-based viewer is likely to demand. All the catch-up TV services are here, as are Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV, Amazon Prime Video and what-have-you.
*It’s simple to navigate as long as you’re not impatient. Samsung has given the BU8500 two remote controls – one is the usual sort of poverty-stick that feels nasty and features too many buttons that are nearly all too small, while the other is a much more agreeable alternative that feels nicer, has far fewer buttons, and is solar-powered. No matter which you decide to use, though, the response time is most charitably described as ‘unhurried’.
You may prefer to issue your instructions verbally, in which case the BU8500 has you covered. Google Assistant is built-in, and it’s compatible with both Amazon Alexa and (naturally) Bixby. There’s a mic embedded in the nicer one of the remote controls for this purpose. Or there’s Samsung’s Smart Things control app, which is very effective but wants to know rather too much about you for our liking.
Samsung 55-inch BU8500: Verdict
Unless you’re an incorrigible optimist, you can’t expect a TV of this size and this price to knock your socks off in every aspect of its performance – and, sure enough, the BU8500 has its predictable shortcomings.
What’s so impressive about it, however, is how mild those shortcomings are – they really concern sound quality and overall upscaling ability – and how accomplished this TV is in most other respects.
If you want a television of this sort of size, and you have this sort of money to spend, well… you absolutely have to see this one. It's among the best TVs under £1000 no doubt.
It’s not long for this world – but that makes the Sony XR50X90J even more fit for our purposes. It’s a little smaller than the Samsung, it’s true, and it doesn’t have quite such a coherent smart TV offering – but it’s a match where picture quality is concerned, a (slightly) better upscaler, and doesn’t sound any worse. It’s well worth hunting one down before they’re all gone.