Review: Hisense H8 4K HDR Smart TV (2016)

Until my quest to find the perfect large-format 4K display to use as a huge PC monitor, I had no idea that Hisense existed let alone what they manufactured. When it came to TVs my mind usually went to Vizio, Sony, LG, Samsung, as well as other brands like Westinghouse, JVC, etc. In the computer monitor space, companies like LG and Dell have a good grip on the market with many gamers and enthusiasts gravitating to the multitude of Korean panels out there.

A little while back I took a chance with a Hisense H7 (2015 model) that was available from Walmart’s website at a pretty low price. However, problematically the H7 series had really bad input lag (upwards of 150-200ms even in Game Mode!), and while that would be acceptable for watching movies or TV it’s really pitiful for playing console games or using it as a computer display. On the other hand, it had pretty good color representation, even if at times the resolution felt a little “crushed.” However, in late-2015 the Chinese company purchased Sharp America, gaining access to the company’s assets, connections, and overall brand for the North and South American markets. The company also has a joint venture with Hitachi, so both of these factors may have contributed to the jump in quality between Hisense’s 2015 and 2016 lines of products.

Hisense’s H8 series is one of their flagship products for 2016. Available in both the 50 and 55 inch flavors, these TVs feature 4K resolution, High Dynamic Range compatibility (with an algorithm Hisense calls “Hisense_HDR”), 10-bit panels with 1.07 Billion display colors, very low input lag, multi-zone full array local dimming, and smart capabilities, all starting at an MSRP of $599 USD. To make the deal even sweeter, retailers are offering these at $100 below the MSRP (Best Buy has them starting at $499.99 USD).

So, what can you expect from the H8 line of TVs this year?

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SET UP:

Unboxing and plugging in the H8 wasn’t difficult at all. The TV has four HDMI ports and thankfully they are all labeled. Two of them are HDMI 2.0a and can handle 4K at 60 Hz with full 4:4:4 chroma while the other two are limited to 4K at 30 Hz. For game consoles or a computer, I’d certainly recommend using HDMI 3 or 4, which are the faster of the ports.

The initial set-up menu is pretty straight-forward and easy to use. The menu is very responsive and the overall first-time start-up is quick. The TV gives you the option to register your warranty with Hisense if you want to, which is a good idea: Hisense offers a 4-year warranty, which is unheard of for any TV currently on the market.

Of course, after you set everything up, there’s a nice little intro video (which is the same as what plays during the in-store demo) that shows you all the features the TV has.

REFRESH RATE:

Hisense advertises a 60 Hz native refresh rate for this TV, however I did get Windows to send a 120 Hz signal at 1920×1080 and the Hisense H8 was able to receive it. Sometimes, there was a slight flicker in the screen, similar to what you might see in a PC game without Vsync enabled (basically “screen tearing”). Other times, it might appear as if it was skipping or dropping a few frames here and there. In other words, it sort-of was able to go outside of spec and handle a 120 Hz input, but the end-result was lesser compared to keeping it within the stated operational specifications.

The Ultra Smooth Motion settings, however, make the motion look fantastic on the higher settings (discussed later), so there’s really no reason to try and force a higher refresh with this screen.

RESPONSE TIME:

The response time advertised by Hisense is 8.5ms, which is more than adequate. Ghosting or over-shoot is very minimal (if seen at all) with the H8, so there are no complains on it from my end.

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INPUT LAG:

Input lag is a very important figure to consider when it comes to using any TV for either console gaming or as a PC display because if the input lag is too high, it will take too long between button presses or mouse movements for you to see the reaction on the screen. For gaming, this could easily be the difference between digital life and death and for typical PC use it may result in frustration and an overall “sluggish” feeling for your system.

Unlike the 2015 H7 series, the input lag in the H8 is very low. While I cannot quote you on an exact figure, I’d compare it to the input lag on the Vizio M series or the 2016 D series (which has the lowest input lag to date for a TV), estimating it to be between 10 and 20ms.

What’s more, even when using the “Ultra Smooth Motion” technology to increase the effective frame-rate (as high as 480 frames-per-second) the input lag doesn’t raise enough to be perceivable. Overall, this means fantastic results for gaming and computer display usage!

ULTRA SMOOTH MOTION:

With Hisense’s 2015 line of TVs this was referred to as “Ultra Smooth Motion Rate” and had a value assigned to it. This year, Hisense is simply referring to the technology as “Ultra Smooth Motion,” although there are still four separate settings for it:

  • Off
  • Clear
  • Standard
  • Smooth

Unfortunately, there’s no real explanation as to what these different settings mean (see the photo above for them as seen in the TV’s menu). “Off” obviously has no motion processing at all while “Smooth” is likely the most aggressive of the frame-rate enhancing settings.

Since these options are the same as in the 2015 H7 series, I think they work like this:

  • OFF: No image processing; standard 60 Hz refresh rate.
  • CLEAR: Light image processing; 120 Hz effective refresh.
  • STANDARD: Moderate image enhancement; 240 Hz effective refresh.
  • SMOOTH: Very aggressive processing; 480 Hz effective refresh rate.

Hisense states that Ultra Smooth Motion enhances the perceived frame-rate through motion estimation and motion control (MEMC) as well as backlight blinking/strobing and scanning to further reduce image ghosting.

RESOLUTION:

When connected to the PC through one of the HDMI 2.0a ports on the TV, the following resolution options were available:

  • 4096×2160 @ 30 Hz
  • 3840×2160 @ 60 Hz
  • 2560×1440 @ 60 Hz
  • 1920×1080 @ 60 Hz

A variety of other non-standard resolutions were available in-between (like 2048×1536) as well as lower resolutions. I was also able to add custom resolutions through my Radeon Crimson Software that had a 21:9 aspect ratio, specifically 2560×1080 and 3840×1620. Both of those resolutions worked and looked great on such a large panel (in fact, I’d recommend getting a large 4K TV and running it at 3840×1620 instead of getting a 34″ 3440×1440 screen as the effective screen space would be much larger and at a higher resolution).

Windows did not need to be scaled whatsoever and looked perfectly crisp and easy to see at 100% scaling.

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HIGH DYNAMIC RANGE/COLOR:

You may have heard the term “High Dynamic Range” (or HDR) thrown about within the last few months because it’s starting to be a big “buzz” feature for higher-end 4K TVs. To simplify it a bit, HDR is a combination of two things: a wider color gamut and an enhanced brightness level. The idea is that the enhanced brightness will improve the contrast between the whitest white and the darkest blacks by a fairly substantial amount while having a wider color space will make the colors more vibrant and true-to-life.

The H8 series features an advertised 10-bit (or 10bpc) panel which can resolve 1.07 billion colors. By comparison, your typical display these days will normally feature an 8-bit panel that’s capable of displaying 16.77 million colors, which most people will find more than suitable (and honestly, most haven’t really even considered having more colors on their displays anyway). When plugged into my computer, I found that the TV was capable of accepting up to a 12-bit color signal (possibly displayed through frame-rate control?), but more importantly the TV passed the chroma subsampling test and was able to display full 4:4:4 at 4K/60.

Currently, there is a limited availability of content to view that is filmed/produced with an HDR color space. A couple shows (such as Marco Polo) are available in 4K with HDR, and some of the new Ultra-HD Blu-rays that have come to market feature HDR support. For my specific use-case (as a PC display), I did find that the colors of the H8 felt much “richer” and more accurate than other displays I’ve used. The black levels were very nice (making text very easy on the eyes and playing darker games much more enjoyable) and the colors were indeed a lot more vibrant. Overall, once I’d seen how things looked on the H8, I wouldn’t want to go back to using a “normal” 8-bit/non-HDR screen!

SMART FUNCTIONALITY:

While I personally did not have a need to delve very deep into the TVs smart capabilities, everything I saw when poking through it looked spot on. Other users have reported back to say that the YouTube app supports full 4K playback (which is great as other TVs don’t always support the VP9 codec, which that requires) and that the Amazon Prime (and other apps) support both 4K playback as well as HDR support during streaming.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

It’s conventional wisdom that “going off-brand” with technology isn’t always a great idea because it’s mostly a gamble. Hisense, however, wants to be a major brand in the United States and elsewhere. Earlier this year, Hisense stated that they wanted to be the #3 TV brand in the United States by the year 2020, and if this year’s current offerings from the company are any indication of their plans, they are well on their way.

One last note I should make is that the speakers on this TV are surprisingly good! The DBX audio provides very good volume levels and surround sound quality, all without the need of a soundbar. Of course, you are welcome to get a soundbar if you have a large space and want even more out of the audio, but for a lot of people this is a rare case where the built-in sound may be more than enough.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a 4K Smart TV with HDR support and good input lag for anywhere close to the $499.99 price the H8 offers for its 50 inch model. Whether you are wanting to put a nice TV in your living room, a secondary part of your home, or using it as a massive PC display, the H8 line offers fantastic features for your money.

Overall, from a 0 to 10, where 5 is an “average” score, I rate the Hisense H8 series as:

EXCELLENT:  9.5 / 10

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