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Searing light output is great for HDR and bright rooms, but it’s not the whole story.
Editorial Director — TVs and streaming
David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET’s TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as “The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics.”
If you’ve been shopping for a new TV recently, you might have noticed a trend: They’re getting brighter. TV makers are racing to build eye-watering displays that literally outshine rivals on the sales floor, and with the increasing availability of high dynamic range TV shows, movies and games, that brightness is an asset. The Hisense U8G belts out more raw brightness than just about any I’ve reviewed, which is more impressive considering its midrange price.
TVs this bright, like the Samsung Q90A and Vizio PX, usually cost a lot more than the U8G. Meanwhile TVs at a similar price, including the TCL 6-Series and Sony X90J, measure significantly dimmer — and the Hisense looked better with bright HDR material than those two in my side-by-side comparisons. That extra brightness also comes in handy in bright rooms. On the other hand, the Hisense’s HDR performance was hampered by stray illumination and blooming, as well as lighter (worse) black levels in mixed-brightness and darker video.
Beyond image quality the Hisense has its good points (sleek styling, especially that stand) and less-good (Android TV instead of the newer Google TV), but the main reason to consider this TV is if you have an exceedingly bright room or you want that extra punch when watching HDR content. I liked the image quality of the TCL and Sony better, but the U8G is a solid performer in its own right.
Most TV series at this level include a 75-inch model, and perhaps a 50- or an 85-inch as well, but the U8G is only available in two sizes. I reviewed the 65-inch version, but this review applies to the 55-inch as well.
Most TVs look pretty much the same, but the Hisense U8G stands out (pun intended). Its curvy and flowing stand reminds me of butterfly wings and looks like no other TV stand on the market. The frame around the picture is a dark, silver-gray metal along the bottom and beveled on the edges. The panel is surrounded by a thin strip of black on the top and sides, set against the same silver-gray, which also matches the stand.
Unfortunately Hisense’s remote spoils the high-end feel. It’s a standard black, rubber-buttoned clicker with no fewer than six shortcut keys — the usual suspects and, for some reason, Tubi. Another button summons Google Assistant, which you can talk to via remote or by saying “OK Google” into thin air, thanks to the U8G’s built-in far-field mic.
One misstep for the U8G is that it runs the Android’s smart TV system instead of the more up-to-date Google TV platform, which is available from rivals including Sony and TCL. When I asked whether new TVs would be upgraded to Google TV, Hisense’s rep told me, “The 2021 lineup will continue using the Android TV operating system.” I don’t expect an upgrade anytime soon. Android fragmentation, welcome to TVs.
Android TV worked well enough on my U8G review sample, with snappy response times and the expected thousands of apps thanks to the Google Play store — including 4K HDR and Dolby Vision from compatible apps like Netflix and Disney Plus. The homepage isn’t my favorite — it seems too cluttered with suggested material, too little of which I’m interested in (see also: “Tik Toks That Are Actually Relatable”) — but I appreciated being able to select favorite apps to add to the top for easy access. Overall I prefer Android TV to LG or Vizio, and it has more apps than Samsung, but Google TV and Roku are better in my book.
The best picture-affecting extra on the U8G is full-array local dimming, a feature that illuminates different areas of the screen independently for better contrast. The 65-inch U8G I reviewed has a healthy 360 dimming zones, compared to 160 on the TCL 6-Series and 144 on the 2021 Vizio P-Series. In theory, more zones means better picture quality because they can better control illumination and blooming, but that’s not always the case. It’s also notable that unlike TCL, Samsung and LG, the U8G doesn’t use mini-LED.
Other picture-centric extras include a native 120Hz refresh rate to improve motion handling and gaming. The U8G supports all the major HDR formats, including Dolby Vision. Like Samsung, TCL and Vizio, Hisense uses quantum dots to achieve a wide HDR color gamut, but it uses its own “ULED” marketing label (it stands for “ultra LED” if you’re asking) instead of the QLED marketing label. You should ignore them both.
The U8G input selection matches up well against any high-end TV. The first two HDMI inputs are basic HDMI 2.0 while Input 3 and 4 work with the major HDMI 2.1 features, namely 4K resolution at up to 120 frames per second and VRR (variable refresh rate) — great news for gamers who want to take advantage of those features on an Xbox Series X or Sony PlayStation 5. The TV also supports enhanced audio return channel (eARC) on Input 3.
Unlike many of Samsung’s and LG’s sets, the Hisense actually has an analog video input, albeit composite-only, and I also appreciate having a headphone jack.
Trust me, it’s even brighter in person.
I set the Hisense up next to two TVs at similar price points and feature levels — the TCL 6-Series and Sony X90J — and while it has its high points, I liked it the least of the three. The Hisense delivered the brightest image and with bright HDR material it looked impactful and vibrant. On the other hand its theatrical HDR image lagged behind, with brighter letterbox bars and more blooming. It also showed more blurring in games than the other two.
Dim lighting: The Hisense was a very solid performer in home theater lighting with standard dynamic range video. Watching the dark Dol Guldur section of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies on 1080p Blu-ray (Chapter 3) the Hisense, TCL and Sony all looked very similar after calibration for a dim room. Black level in areas like the letterbox bars and shadows of Gandalf’s cage, for example, was excellent, and details in near-black areas like the stairs and ledges of the fortress appeared natural and well-defined. No TV in my lineup enjoyed a significant advantage over another in this category.
Bright lighting: The U8G’s prodigious brightness serves it well in bright rooms. The only TVs I’ve reviewed with higher light output are the Samsung QN90A and the Vizio PX, both of which cost more.
I also appreciate that the Hisense’s brightest picture modes are quite accurate. For the “accurate” column I used the Theater Bright mode for SDR and Theater HDR for, um, HDR, and both are as color-accurate as this TV gets. Technically Vivid was slightly brighter for SDR, but not enough to matter.
The screen of the Hisense didn’t dim reflections as well as the Sony X90J or TCL 6-Series, but it preserved black levels slightly better than the TCL.
Color accuracy: The Hisense didn’t have any color issues. Before calibration it measured exceedingly accurate in its best modes, Theater and Filmmaker, and with just a few tweaks it became even better.Comparing colors from Five Armies the three TVs looked very similar, from the reddish tinge of the ruined Dale buildings to the white of the snow to the skin tones of the Laketown refugees.
Video processing: The U8G was an average performer in this category. In its favor it delivered correct 24-frame film motion when its Motion Enhancement setting was in the Off or the Film position — the latter is the default for the Filmmaker picture mode. The other settings introduced some level of smoothing or Soap Opera Effect. Meanwhile the Custom setting’s Judder Reduction introduced SOE at level 4 or higher out of 10, while 0 through 3 showed some judder.
Unlike most TVs of this caliber, the Hisense isn’t capable of delivering higher than 600 lines of motion resolution in my test, regardless of mode. The Motion Clearness option also doesn’t seem to improve motion resolution much; I still measured a maximum of 600 lines with it turned on as well. It does fix the backlight at a particular level however, so I left it turned off.
Uniformity: Each of the three screens was roughly similar at delivering an even image across the screen, with no major bright or dark spots, banding or other major issues with most material. The Hisense did show more blooming and stray illumination than the others, however, which showed up most prominently in the corners. From off-angle the Hisense was slightly better at maintaining color fidelity than the TCL and about the same as the Sony, while the Hisense’s black level fidelity from off-angle was similar to the others.
Gaming: Connecting my Xbox One Series X the Hisense supported 4K at 120Hz with VRR, and automatically engaged game mode. But when I started a game, Mass Effect 3 from the Legendary Edition, I noticed some blurring or ghosting along the edges of objects when I moved the camera, in particular high-contrast dark areas like a character’s black hair against a brighter surround. Hisense has issued a software update that it said would address the issue, but even running that update (version V000.01.00A.L0706) the blurring persisted. It was present in 60Hz and 1080p as well. I also played a bit of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and it didn’t seem as obvious, but still visible.
I wouldn’t call it a deal-breaker — many TVs show blurring during gaming, especially quick right-stick camera moves — but it is something attentive gamers will likely notice and be bothered by. In comparison the TCL, for example, didn’t show nearly as much ghosting. For what it’s worth other aspects of gaming image quality on the Hisense, especially contrast and brightness, were very good.
Input lag in game mode was excellent at just over 15 milliseconds for both 1080p and 4K HDR. That’s just a couple milliseconds more (worse) than least-laggy 2021 TVs from LG and Samsung, and four or so better than the TCL, if you’re counting, but I doubt even the twitchiest of gamers would notice those differences.
HDR and 4K video: The U8G’s insane brightness came through most readily with HDR, but unfortunately for Hisense brightness isn’t everything. This TV showed a less natural look than the TCL and Sony, particularly with mixed theatrical material, and more blooming than either one. In its favor, however, it blew both out of the water with bright HDR.
That superiority was immediately evident when I popped in my go-to evaluation sequence for HDR, the the montage from the Spears and Munsil 4K Blu-ray. Spot measurements, for example the setting sun above the lake (2:10) measured 391, 560 and 621 nits on the Sony, TCL and Hisense respectively, a difference that was easily visible. Another obvious difference came with the objects on largely black backgrounds, such as the peacock feather (2:59). The Hisense’s “black” was visibly deeper than the Sony’s and just a hair brighter (worse) than the TCLs, but in terms of impact and overall impression of contrast and pop, the Hisense was the best of the three with this material. Its colors also looked more saturated and natural than the TCL, and equal to the Sony.
The Hisense didn’t look quite as good as the other two with mixed theatrical content, however. Watching dark and mid-dark scenes in The Battle of the Five Armies, the Hisense looked worse than the other two. In Chapter 9 when the Council rescues Gandalf from Dol Guldur, the U8G’s letterbox bars were brighter, robbing the image of pop, and the tower as a whole (28:04) looked flatter and less contrasty. I saw the same slight flatness difference in other dark scenes, for example when Thorin speaks before the backdrop of Dale (40:19), and it could be caused by the U8G’s less-accurate EOTF. Blooming in the letterbox bars and dark shadows was also more obvious and distracting on the Hisense than the others, especially in the lower-right and upper-left corners of my review sample.
In its favor the Hisense showed excellent color again, a step ahead of the TCL and equal to the Sony, but overall with theatrical material it was my least-favorite.
CNET is no longer publishing advanced picture settings for TVs we review. Instead, we’ll give more general recommendations to get the best picture without listing detailed while balance or color management system (CMS) settings we may have used to calibrate the TV. As always, the settings provided are a guidepost, and if you want the most accurate picture you should get a professional calibration.
Prior to calibration, the Theater Night, Theater Day and Filmmaker modes were the most accurate on the U8G. All three modes showed somewhat reddish color temperature and higher brightness than my dim-room target. After adjusting brightness to hit my 137-nit target, the basic two-point color temperature controls worked superbly to calibrate the red cast away, to the extent that I didn’t need to touch the available 10-point system at all. Primary and secondary color accuracy was a similar story: accurate enough that I didn’t need to use the CMS.
Dark room settings (SDR):
Picture mode: Theater Night
Calibration Settings menu
Bright room settings (SDR):
HDR Notes: I ended up using HDR Theater mode because it had the best combination of brightness and grayscale accuracy, but it wasn’t very accurate. Unfortunately none of the modes, including HDR Theater, closely followed the target EOTF. Four delivered roughly the most accurate grayscale, namely HDR Game, IMAX Mode, HDR Theater and Filmmaker. The first three were brighter than the target EOTF, while the latter was darker (and exceedingly dark overall). I ended up going with HDR Theater for my testing because unlike IMAX mode it allowed me to tweak settings; IMAX was grayed out. The less-accurate EOTF also affected secondary color measurements, ColorMatch HDR and Color Checker. Gamut coverage was excellent, however.
Hisense 65U8G Report by David Katzmaier on Scribd
Portrait Displays Calman calibration software was used in this review.