November 24, 2020
Hisense R8 Roku TV review: Features are nice, appealing price, but no dice

Hisense R8 Roku TV review: Features are nice, appealing price, but no dice


Judging from its specifications the Hisense R8F is a worthy, less-expensive rival to some of my favorite midpriced TVs, which include the TCL 6-Series and the Vizio M-Series. It checks all the boxes: full-array local dimming and solid brightness for the money should lead to punchy images, while the Roku operating system should make powerful streaming simple. The R8 succeeds at streaming but its image quality falls short of the mark.

Like

  • Lots of features for the money
  • Solid bright-room picture
  • Excellent Roku smart TV system

Don’t Like

  • Similar-priced TVs perform better
  • Lighter black levels
  • Sub-par processing and uniformity

In my basement side-by-side comparison against the 2019 6-Series, the Hisense R8 didn’t deliver. Its picture was good in some areas, for example bright rooms, but in demanding home theater situations and HDR video it was betrayed by lighter black levels and a few other knocks. The Hisense’s picture is still a notch above budget models, but the TCL and Vizio are better choices if you want a high-performance TV in this price range.

Design

The R8 has the same minimalist black frame found on just about every TV these days, with a thicker bottom edge sporting low-key Hisense and Roku TV logos. 

Hisense R8 series

Sarah Tew/CNET

The best part in my book is the choice of two different positions for the stand legs. You can place them toward the extreme edge or closer to the middle of the panel. The worst part is a pronounced lean-back: a shorter rear foot cants the panel a few degrees out of plumb. I solved the issue with a shallow plywood riser but that’s a janky fix. If the lean-back bugs you as much as it did me, plan to wall-mount your R8.

Hisense R8 series

Sarah Tew/CNET

Familiar Roku TV of a different color

Hisense’s Roku TV implementation comes with a teal green background in place of Roku’s own purple or TCL’s red. Pretty much everything else is the same, and that’s a good thing. Responses were smooth in my testing, apps launched quickly and everything worked as I’ve come to expect. Here are the highlights:

  • Frequent updates and feature improvements.
  • Simple menus with full customization, including input naming.
  • Inputs on the same home page as TV apps.
  • More apps (and 4K HDR apps) than any other smart TV system.
  • Cross-platform search covers many services and allows price comparisons.
Hisense R8 series

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like other Roku devices, the Hisense is currently missing apps for Peacock and HBO Max. HBO subscribers can still watch HBO shows using the standard HBO app, but won’t get access to Max-specific shows such as Friends or Love Life. There’s no way to access Peacock on the TV unless you connect another streaming device.

Another thing currently missing from the Roku platform — and available on competing smart TVs from Vizio, Samsung and LG — is support for Apple’s AirPlay system. The Apple TV app, which includes access to Apple TV Plus, is on-board.

Hisense R8 series

Sarah Tew/CNET

The R8 includes the simple Roku remote with built-in voice control, just like the TCL 6-Series, and it even has the same four app shortcut keys along the bottom. Roku’s voice function isn’t nearly as robust as Amazon Alexa, found on Fire Edition TVs for example, but it worked fine for searches, app launching and switching inputs.

Key TV features

Display technology LED LCD
LED backlight Full array with local dimming
Resolution 4K
HDR compatible HDR10 and Dolby Vision
Smart TV Roku TV
Remote Voice

You might notice Hisense’s “ULED” branding associated with this TV but it’s meaningless enough to ignore. The most important picture quality extra is full-array local dimming and Hisense’s zone count is typical for the price: 56 zones for the 55-incher and 60 zones for the 65-incher. If you’re keeping track that’s about as many as TCL’s 2020 5-Series and Vizio’s 2020 M-Series, both direct competitors to the R8, and less than the more-expensive 2020 TCL 6-Series. Having more dimming zones doesn’t necessarily mean better image quality, but it can help.

Unlike the TCL and Vizio TVs, the R8 lacks quantum dot color but its phosphor-based wide color gamut technology did a solid job in my measurements. The R8 supports both Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range formats; these days basically the only manufacturer that doesn’t is Samsung.

The R8 also touts a spec called “Motion Rate 240,” but as usual, that’s a made-up number. This TV has a 60Hz native panel and can’t match the motion performance of true 120Hz TVs, like the Vizio P-Series and the 2020 TCL 6-Series.


Sarah Tew/CNET

The input selection is solid:

  • Four HDMI inputs (HDMI 2.0b and HDCP 2.2)
  • One analog (composite) video input
  • One USB port (2.0)
  • Ethernet (wired internet)
  • One optical digital audio output
  • One headphone jack
  • One analog audio line output
  • One RF (antenna) input

The R8 lacks the HDMI 2.1 extras found on some competitors, such as variable refresh rate and auto game mode. The headphone jack is a nice touch, however, and this is one of the few TVs with a dedicated audio line output.


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Picture quality

Hisense R8 series

Click the image above to see picture settings, calibration and HDR notes.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Hisense evidently tuned its local dimming to maximize brightness rather than contrast, and the result is a TV that performs well enough in bright rooms but falters in the dark. The R8 also failed to deliver proper 1080p/24 video — a basic qualification in a good TV — and showed more brightness variations across the screen than its rivals. 

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV’s picture controls worked during calibration.

Dim lighting: Compared to the TCL and the Sony the R8 didn’t have nearly the same level of contrast and punch in dark scenes, a failing due mainly to lighter black levels. Watching A Quiet Place on Blu-ray, the earliest I noticed was at 1:11, where the darkened shelves of the grocery store looked brighter and more washed-out on the R8. Other dark scenes had the same issue, which extended to the letterbox bars above and below the image. 

In brighter scenes, where the R8’s black levels were less prominent, all three TVs looked similar. Blooming, where bright areas bleed into and lighten dark ones, was worse on the R8 but not as egregious as I saw with HDR. 

Bright lighting: The R8 is a solid bright-room performer, with enough light output for any lighting situation and enough oomph for HDR. Peak brightness was better than the 2019 6-Series in SDR but worse in HDR, so I’ll call it a wash between the two. Here’s how the 65-inch R8 stacks up against a few like-sized TVs at various prices.

Light output in nits

TV Brightest (SDR) Accurate color (SDR) Brightest (HDR) Accurate color (HDR)
TCL 65Q825 1,653 904 1,818 982
Sony XBR-65X900H 841 673 989 795
Hisense 65R8F 717 717 770 770
TCL 65R625 653 578 881 813
Vizio M658-G1 633 400 608 531
LG OLED65CX 377 290 690 634
Vizio V605-G3 200 178 225 193

One thing I like about the Hisense is that its most accurate picture modes are also its brightest. For SDR you can just choose the Movie mode and change the TV Brightness setting to taste, choosing Brightest to get peak light output. The same goes for HDR although it’s a bit confusing: Choose the Dark HDR picture mode instead (trust me) and put TV Brightness in the Brightest setting.

The R8’s screen finish did a better job of preserving black levels and contrast in a bright room than the TCL, but it didn’t do not as well as the Sony. Both the TCL and Hisense beat the Sony at handling bright reflections, but I still preferred the Sony’s picture by a nose in bright rooms. 

Color accuracy: In its best picture modes the R8 sample I reviewed was accurate before calibration and superb afterward, as I’d expect from a modern midpriced TV. The most noticeable issue with colors appeared in near-black areas and shadows, which looked quite a bit bluer and less of a neutral gray-black than on the other two TVs. Less obvious was the less-saturated overall look of the R8 in comparison, another side effect of its lighter black levels. Otherwise colors were remarkably close between the three.

Video processing: The Hisense is one of the few TVs I’ve tested that doesn’t pass my standard test for proper 24-frame cadence. The best of its various Motion Enhancement settings for movies was “Low,” which still introduced a hitching motion when I played the pan over the aircraft carrier from I Am Legend. The effect was subtle but certainly noticeable to film purists. Stutter in the “Off” setting was terrible, while the other settings caused a significant soap opera effect (SOE).

The Motion Clarity setting, meanwhile, introduces Black Frame Insertion. As usual it improves motion resolution (up to 1080 lines) but dims the and introduces flicker, so I prefer to leave it turned off. Without it the H9G only achieves the standard 300-ish lines typical of any 60Hz TV.

Input lag in game mode was excellent at around 13 milliseconds for both 1080p and 4K HDR, and I liked that you can apply that mode to any picture setting, for example Movie mode for peak accuracy. Without game mode turned on lag measured 32ms for 1080p and 109 for 4K HDR.

Uniformity: The R8 sample I tested was the worst of the three in this category, with uneven backlighting visible across the screen in full-field static test patterns especially at low light. Moving patterns revealed more background brightness variations, and the same went for certain program material I watched like an NHL hockey match, where the pans across the ice showed less-uniform lighting and more of a “dirty screen effect” than on the other TVs. 

Off-angle was more of a mixed bag. From seats to either side the R8 kept black level fidelity better than the Sony but not quite as well as the TCL, while the Sony preserved color best. 

HDR and 4K video: The R8’s contrast issues with SDR were much more noticeable with high dynamic range content, which is typically brighter than SDR and reveals flaws in. When I watched the 4K HDR version of A Quiet Place, the brighter HDR image made the lighter black levels more visible, for example, and blooming was worse in areas like the “Day 89” text on the black background. 

When I watched the demo material from the Spears and Munsil 4K benchmark disc, the R8 fell short of the Sony and TCL in many scenes. The snow around the horses on the R8 showed much less detail than the other two among the drifts and grass, with a flat white appearance instead of shadows and definition. In the difficult black background section and nighttime scenes like the ferris wheel, the R8’s lighter black levels and blooming came through again, producing a relative lack of contrast and visible clouding in black areas. Some of the flowers and insects also showed more muted colors. 

Geek Box

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.008 Good
Peak white luminance (SDR) 717 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.19 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.91 Good
Dark gray error (30%) 0.21 Good
Bright gray error (80%) 0.71 Good
Avg. color checker error 1.60 Good
Avg. saturation sweeps error 1.24 Good
Avg. color error 1.44 Good
Red error 1.54 Good
Green error 1.05 Good
Blue error 2.03 Good
Cyan error 1.35 Good
Magenta error 1.52 Good
Yellow error 1.16 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Fail Poor
Motion resolution (max) 1080 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 300 Poor
Input lag (Game mode) 13.37 Good
HDR10
Black luminance (0%) 0.025 Good
Peak white luminance (10% win) 770 Average
Gamut % UHDA/P3 (CIE 1976) 96.82 Good
ColorMatch HDR error 2.77 Good
Avg. color checker error 6.31 Poor
Input lag (Game mode, 4K HDR) 13.47 Good

Hisense 65R8F CNET review calibration results by David Katzmaier on Scribd



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