The subsidiary of Hisense Group that handles the production and distribution of its televisions must have a sore tongue: we've been rigorously testing and lambasting Dynex and Insignia TVs (Best Buy's house brands) for years, and Hisense has a behind-the-scenes hand in the software and hardware used in those models. Further, they're the adopted display of a number of hotel and motel chains across America. Only recently, however, has the Chinese household name decided to try its luck on the American market without wearing the mask of Best Buy or Red Roof Inn.

Much as we expected, the 55T710DW (MSRP $1099) is something of a mixed bag. Its core performance specs—color, contrast, and motion—are quite good, much better than you'd usually get from a budget-priced model. Its software and smart features, however, feel thoroughly tacked on. While it's a pretty good deal to get a 55-inch TV for about a grand, we recommending waiting to see what Hisense can do in 2013 after ironing out a few kinks.

A Samsung TV called and it wants its design back.

We've seen this exact stand somewhere before—ah yes, on most of Samsung's high-end 2012 displays. Okay, it's not identical, but the X-shaped branch pattern is more Samsung's baby than any other manufacturers'. Apart from the X-stand, there's not much to set the 55T710DW apart from the crowd. However, a simpler design with a more basic approach to material embellishment is part of what keeps the cost down, so if you don't need brushed aluminum bezels to be happy, you're no worse off.

There's one interesting design feature we've never seen before: the on-set controls. They are the next generation in the "hide everything except the screen" philosophy, favoring a sleek, seamless sort of appearance. There's a small etched indicator for power, operated by touch, and the other controls (channel, volume, menu) light up alongside it only when touched, with no visual indicator otherwise. This could actually be very confusing and annoying in certain lighting situations, but it's still unique at the very least.

From a usability standpoint, the Hisense 55T710DW doesn't deviate from the norm. Its port placement and stand swivel are entirely standard, even familiar. Don't expect to be too wowed by the 55T710DW's appearance, but it's not bad for the price, not bad at all.

Who needs features when you've got performance like this?

From a core performance perspective—color integrity, clarity in motion, and contrast ratio—the Hisense 55T710DW isn't the best of the best, but it tested well above our expectations in these categories based on its price point. After a somewhat extensive calibration procedure (which we'll detail thoroughly in the Science section), we found that the 55T710DW excels in some areas, but not all.

The 55T710DW excels in some areas, but not all.

This Hisense meets international standards for peak color output admirably, it is free of color temperature error, and its greyscale and color curves describe a somewhat irregular, but usable shape that promises a diverse spectrum of hues and shades from shadows to highlights. Our spectrometer read deeper black levels than the average bargain LCD, and bright enough white levels to compete with the most searingly luminous show floor.

The 55T710DW didn't vie as well during our screen-based tests. A cheaper screen is often the key ingredient in a cheaper overall MSRP, and it definitely shows here. We tested a very narrow viewing angle, and poor uniformity. At off angles, the 55T710DW's white levels drop off drastically, shrinking the field of tenable viewing to one or two people, an unfortunate result for a 55-inch display.

The software and smart features feel very much tacked on.

We've seen similar menus and smart platforms to those found pre-installed on the 55T710DW before; nothing is an exact software copy, but there's a certain common design pattern to the menus and smart platforms of everyone who isn't Samsung, Sony, LG, or Panasonic. After a while, it tends to feel like an SNES-era Street Fighter character head-swap.

Hisense has to start somewhere.

Hisense's smart platform, simply dubbed "SmartTV," has branding that's reminiscent of Samsung, and an overall design that's more reminiscent of LG, while of course not having nearly the fluidity or content of either company. That's to be expected, however, as the TV market is awash with a cornucopic similitude of smart platforms: like we saw in the Design section, Hisense has to start somewhere, and lightly copying the highest-selling non-American manufacturers is not a bad way to do it.

What really matters is if the menu software and smart platform work or not. In this case, the answer is... sort of. Calibrating and setting the 55T710DW to our liking via its menus was easy enough to do, and everything was in its right place. The same can be said of the smart platform, save that there are a number of odd messages and descriptions of functions that can only be attributed to hurried or poor translation from Chinese to English—another symptom of tacking a hurriedly stitched interface onto a perfectly sound core performance.

Hisense has already proven itself as a reliable manufacturer of consumer goods in China, and its shift into the American market, punctuated by a strong show floor presence at CES 2013, has us excited about all the products slated to be released over the rest of the year. The 55T710DW serves that purpose in a different way, making it clear that Hisense has the steak already—they just need to work on the sizzle.

The 55T710DW is like a man with a sculpted physique wearing a threadbare suit. The TV's core performance is great for its price point: We tested accurate colors, decent motion, and a wide contrast ratio, all the hallmarks of an efficacious TV. That would be the physique. Unfortunately for Hisense, its suit—namely its menus, software, and smart platform—needs more work to compete with America's current heavy hitters. This is China's best where TVs are concerned, and once Hisense masters the flashy stuff, we predict some very solid TVs by mid-2013.

Our advice is to wait and see what Hisense does with its 2013 models. While the 55T710DW's price (MSRP $1099, less online) may seem too good to be true for a 55-inch smart 3D HDTV, Hisense's mastery of the basic software and ability to iron out some off-putting translation issues can only improve for this year's coming batch; the excellent performance we tested certainly won't get worse.

A simple process, with one glaring caveat.

Calibrating the 55T710DW took a good while longer than our usual calibration process because its Sharpness setting works in a very odd manner. On 99% of HDTVs—be they LCD or Plasma—the Sharpness setting is a holdover from the analog age. It works to emphasize or de-emphasize lines and borders, but usually only in older, analog-based sources such as from a composite (AV) connection. Hisense's Sharpness setting is hard at work on all sources, however, and it's very hard to get it just right.

The problem occurs when looking at the relationship between the sharpness of on-screen text versus on-screen images. The TV is always over-sharpening. Thus, having the text at its proper sharpness results in a highly over-sharpened picture, and having the picture at its proper sharpness results in extremely under-sharpened text. Hisense's default setting of 8 (out of 15) was a little too sharp. We found that 7 was the best at striking a middle ground between blurry text and overly sharp picture, but think that Hisense's engineers need to look into tackling this problem for the sake of their 2013 TVs.

The remaining calibration of Brightness, Picture, and Color was somewhat easier. In the Cinema picture mode, Hisense's default for Brightness was 50, which we shifted to 49. Their Contrast was set to 45, which we shifted to 49. Color was set to 42, and we raised it 46. The result can be seen in the color and contrast results we gathered during testing.
As testers and reviewers of display products, our primary concern is with color integrity. By our standards, color adherence and spectrum availability are what make or break a display. The 55T710DW did very well during each of our color tests, better than we expected for its price range.

Its color gamut, a representation of its peak red, green, blue, and white, is very close to the Rec. 709 international standard for HDTVs. Green and red are spot on, with blue a little oversaturated, and the white point just a touch too cyan. These errors are technical only, and won't be perceptible to non-robotic eyes. This is a very strong result.

Color temperature is a measure of the degrees in Kelvin of a theoretical heated black body; our color test checks for deviations from a starting temperature, which would result in a visual imbalance across the television's greyscale. Again, the 55T710DW did well here, showing only a little visible cooling and warming in its temperature towards the shadow side of the spectrum—mild deviations at best, though they are worth keeping in mind if you're a purist about your picture quality.

Our color and greyscale curves test measures how well a television transitions from neighboring shades and hues across its input intensity range, and how much detail is given to shadows, midtones, and highlights. This Hisense's curves were even and smooth (which is good), peaking around when they should and giving ample detail across the intensity range.

A television's horizontal viewing angle is a big determinant of its viewing flexibility, and how many people can watch together comfortably. Watching a movie is often more fun with a group of friends, but a poor viewing angle means less space wherein the TV's content can be viewed without distortion.

The 55T710DW did poorly here, testing with the narrowest viewing angle out of the other 55-inch TVs we pulled for comparison. It really only allows for two people (or three children, or maybe like four dogs) to watch comfortably without contrast loss as viewing approaches larger off-angles. This is the result of a cheap screen, which is partially what keeps the price of this TV down. It's a pros and cons game, but this is something to keep in mind if you're considering purchase.

Meet the testers

Lee Neikirk

Lee Neikirk

Editor

@Koanshark

Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.

See all of Lee Neikirk's reviews
Lee Neikirk

Lee Neikirk

Editor

@Koanshark

Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.

See all of Lee Neikirk's reviews

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