Whatever TV you buy, you should always spend some time digging into the system settings. That's especially true if you're picking up a more affordable brand or an older model.
I had the chance to play around with one of the latest 2019 TVs from HiSense, specifically the 65-inch 7 ULED 4K HDR TV. Retailing for $2499—a price which will probably halve come Black Friday, but some retailers have already dropped it to $2000—the baseline model comes with wide colour gamut, Dolby Vision HDR, 10-bit support, Hisense's VIDAA 3.0 AI-powered platform, four HDMI 2.2 ports, a toggleable Game Mode (more on that later), PVR playback and a couple of USB ports.
The 65R7 model I tested didn't have a quantum dot technology, which is limited to the R8 and R9 series (due out July and later this year, respectively). But the R7 series does at least have better HDR support and a higher motion smooth rate than the R6 models, which only support HDR10, don't have ultra local dimming and won't have Google Assistant support later this year. The caveat there is that the 65R6 is selling for $1849 instead, so you get what you pay for.
I got the chance to spend around three hours with the 65R7, which was just enough time to test out some gaming content (Wipeout: Remastered Collection on the PS4 Pro and Forza Horizon 4), how the 65R7 handles streaming through its in-built apps, Netflix/Stan/Animelab through the console, and a bit of Black Panther through a Blu-Ray.
I started out with Wipeout, because I knew the game would run at native 4K when motion blur is disabled. (If you have motion blur on, the game runs at checkerboard 4K, which is still fine but the overall presentation is a fraction soft.) The high motion of the game, especially at the faster classes, is a perfect test for a TV's input lag and motion rate.
But upon booting the game up, I instantly got a warning. Wipeout wouldn't be running at 4K: it'd be running at 2K instead, because that was all the TV could manage.
Remember the old days of HDR in TVs, when the wider range was only available on one of your TV's HDMI ports, and each port had different settings of their own?
As it turns out, those days aren't over yet.
Out of the box—because no sane engineer or person would deliberately disable all the good features willingly—the 65R7 has every HDMI port set to "Standard" Format, instead of "Enhanced". Enabling Enhanced HDMI—which you have to do for every single HDMI port—means that port can accept higher resolution 4K signals, including 4K/60Hz content with or without HDR, and 4K 10-bit content at 50Hz/60Hz.
Without turning this on, the Xbox One refused to play games beyond 1080p—because HDR was enabled. The PS4 Pro at least downgraded to 2K HDR, but I wasn't having that. This is a 2019 model TV: it supported not just HDR10, or the half-hearted HDR400 standard you see on PC monitors, but Dolby Vision HDR. 2K wasn't good enough.
What's especially boggling is that the switch for the advanced (also known as the features you bought the TV for) HDMI functions is nowhere near the picture mode, where you might expect to find this kind of stuff. It's buried within the System -> HDMI & CEC Functions -> HDMI 2.0 Format menus, a place where the vast majority of consumers will never go.
People want a buy a TV and have this stuff work automatically, especially in 2019. That's especially true for a brand like Hisense, which has made much of their success in Australia by targeting consumers with TVs that have enough bells and whistles to make the NRL or AFL look good, without breaking the bank.
And those features are there ... you just have to find them. That's fine if you're an early adopter of tech, or savvy enough to spend some time calibrating a TV. But what if it's an uncle or aunt upgrading from that 1080p wallpaper that's been sitting in their house for a decade?
Another thing that's interesting about the 65R7 is how the Game Mode works. Firstly, if you're not absolutely sure—please check if Game Mode is turned on your TVs. You might not want it on all the time, but at least do yourself the favour of finding out where it is in the settings, so you can see if it's on when you're playing a game.
Most TVs these days are smart enough to toggle this automatically. Game Mode now tends to act as a separate layer—as soon as "gaming" content is detected, it'll automatically switch into a SDR/HDR version of Game Mode, which may or may not adjust certain settings.
Hisense work a little differently. In the Picture settings, you have a series of presets—Dynamic, Sports, and so forth. When playing HDR content, you're limited to four: HDR Dynamic, HDR Day, HDR Night and HDR Sports.
There's no separate Game Mode, because Game Mode is something you can toggle for every single preset. And it doesn't toggle on automatically, as I discovered with Forza Horizon 4 and Wipeout.
Let's be clear: TVs have come a long way. But the jerkiness and input lag is still astronomical when game mode isn't enabled. And if you ever need to explain to someone why Game Mode makes a difference, here's a real simple comparison with Forza Horizon 4's photo mode. Focus on the image quality and the ghosting around the rings as the image moves around. In the second video, where Game Mode is disabled, you'll see at points where the inner ring loses focus almost entirely, and there's much more distortion on the grass around the exteriors of the second ring. (It's clearest if you fullscreen the videos.)
Again, if you just fired up the TV and expected all of this to work automatically—you're in for a rough time. This isn't a problem that's exclusive to Hisense or anything—it's pretty common especially amongst a lot of older TV sets. It's partially why John Carmack quipped that game streaming wouldn't be as bad as many anticipated, because the TVs most people play on have so much input lag—predominately because they're not setup better, and many models still don't do this automatically.
Three hours isn't enough for a review, but there's one other thing I wanted to point out with the 65R7. Let's check out some early scenes of Black Panther.
Ooft. Not great. This is an image that's reset to factory defaults—the basic store modes ramp up the brightness and oversaturate the colours, so everything "pops" in the brightly lit environment of a shop floor.
These shots are from a dark room, thanks to the Game of Thrones problem. Most movies and TV shows tend to be edited in dark rooms on incredibly high-grade reference monitors, and most people watch them in the worst settings possible (lots of glare, uncalibrated TVs, and so on). Black Panther, which supports 10-bit and Dolby Vision if you've got the 4K Blu-Ray, has some scenes that are especially dark, particularly Nakia's extraction in the first half hour.
It's a good opportunity to see how much detail gets retained or crushed in the blacks. It's also a good way to draw comparisons with other TVs, acting as a gauge for how much value you're getting out of the box. You should still do a little bit of adjustments to the contrast, brightness and sharpness; alternatively, you can use the THX Tune-Up App.
And all of this is another reminder why you should always, always spend some time digging through your TV settings. For older, more affordable TVs, it's an essential part of getting the most quality out of them imaginable. You don't need to own a colourimeter, but jumping into some custom picture modes and messing with the black levels, contrast and saturation can go a long way.
You'll still run into some unavoidable problems, like certain scenes. The R7 series isn't quantum dot, and it's not an OLED, so you can forget about perfect blacks, and more expensive TVs will do a better job of maintaining sharpness and detail across the entirety of the display. Most TVs have some kind of wider colour gamut these days, but the OLEDs, QLEDs and the quantum dot in Hisense's top-of-the-range model will handle colour and contrast better at the extremes.
Will you get those pitch-black perfect pictures you see from monster 8K TVs being shown off at trade shows with five-figure price tags? Of course not. But you'll get the best possible picture quality, you'll know more about how to get your TV looking the way you like, and you'll know for sure that Game Mode is enabled, which is still an absolute necessity.