Hisense has made a name for itself in the television business by pushing prices down faster and more aggressively than nearly any other manufacturer. With the 50-inch Hisense 50H7GB LED set, the company has its sights set on the ultra-HD 4K market: The 50H7GB is available for around $530 in a category where prices that are well over $2,000 have been common.
Definite trade-offs have been made to create a 4K set that's this inexpensive. The Hisense 50H7GB does not have local dimming to improve contrast, for example, and it tends to be a little rough around the edges compared with other, more expensive 4K models, with a brash picture and some shortcomings in upscaling fast-motion movie scenes. Many critics would also argue that there's not much to be gained by the 4K resolution (3,840 by 2,160 pixels) in a 50-inch size because you're not going to notice the extra picture detail (versus, say, a 65-inch set). However, I've found the ultra-HD picture can make a difference, especially for those who live in smaller spaces and by necessity sit closer to the screen.
Design: Basic Stability
Sitting upright on a tabletop, the Hisense 50H7GB rests on a pair of chrome feet at either end of the panel. The feet are sturdy enough to support it on an entertainment stand or keep it resting comfortably on a credenza (unless you hold raucous raves at home), and its half-inch-thick glossy black bezel is unobtrusive.
There's also a healthy array of inputs and outputs on the TV. The 50H7GB has built-in Wi-Fi (802.11 ac), and three USB ports, analog and digital audio outs, a coaxial connection, Ethernet and four HDMI plugs. Two of the HDMI ports conform to the 2.0 standard, so they support full, 60-frame-per-second 4K content.
Image Quality: Some Issues with Motion
In upscaling regular Blu-ray sources, the Hisense 50H7GB did an acceptable job in terms of color reproduction and picture detail. While it wasn't the most accurate set we've tested, none of the colors were askew enough to cause any issues. Skin tones were robustly pink, and primary colors, such as blue skies and red apples, looked realistic.
Unfortunately, things were not as sanguine in action scenes. When I watched the Skyfall Blu-ray, for example, I noticed some trailing artifacts that blurred Bond's profile in the opening scene. In addition, 007's head would momentarily disappear in the subsequent motorbike chase scene. My careful examination of other rapid-action sequences revealed similar video-processing issues, such as the villain's pants flapping in the wind atop a railroad car, which would occasionally cause his shins to disappear from the picture.
The Hisense 50H7GB uses a 120-Hz panel, but does some processing to smooth out the images (something the company refers to as Ultra Smooth Motion Rate 480). This feature seemed to cause issues in other upscaled content as well. In the Blu-ray of Gravity, things looked fine, if a little more gray compared with other ultra-HD sets, until I came to the scene with George Clooney admiring the view while orbiting Earth. When the camera angle swung around, the stars in the background began to streak and blur. It's a problem I've detected on other, much more expensive sets, such as the 65-inch Samsung UN65HU8550, but I wasn't able to eliminate it by changing settings on the Hisense 50H7GB.
The other sore point in terms of picture quality proved to be contrast. In general, the Hisense 50H7GB is not able to display deep blacks and lacks detail in shadowy or dark scenes. The below-average contrast, which was reflected in our test results, was also apparent in scenes where details such as wrinkles and folds in a brightly lit spacesuit were missing.
When we initially tried to play 4K content directly from a Sony 4K Ultra HD Media Player, the set registered as not compatible with the copy-protected content. After consulting with Hisense, we downloaded a software patch to a USB drive; the problem disappeared after we installed the update. Hisense noted that the TV should have been automatically updated, and that consumers can update the firmware via a settings menu selection.
Interface: Rough But Ready
Hitting the home button on the Hisense 50H7GB's remote invokes streaming services and online apps that are available on the set. There's an Opera browser for surfing the Web and apps for the most popular streaming services, including Netflix, Pandora and Amazon. However, there are fewer than 20 apps in total, and there's no support for Spotify or Hulu Plus.
Audio: Loud and Proud
The Hisense 50H7GB's sound support was adequate, performing as well as some sets costing much more — but that's still not saying much. The audio is not subtle or well-rounded, so as with most other flat panels, adding a sound bar would be a big improvement.
Some soundtracks seemed muffled when I used the standard audio setting on the 50H7GB, and some frequencies sounded dull and rounded off. However, there's plenty of volume, which can be easily driven to what would be ear-splitting levels in a typical living room.
There are several other preset auditioning modes, including theater, music, speech and late-night settings. The theater mode makes the audio more lively and brighter, although arguably more tinny and lacking in focus. Music mode returns the focus to deliver a more stereoscopic soundstage. The late-night setting cuts out the lower bass notes—which can disturb sleeping family members—and sounds as if you threw a blanket over the set.
Remote: Standard Operation
The remote control for the Hisense 50H7GB is simple and serviceable. The keys on the IR controller are not backlit, but they're logically laid out: numbers up top, four-way directional pad in the middle and separate volume, channel and playback controls below. There are also four dedicated buttons for Netflix, Amazon, Vudu and YouTube.
Misgivings, yes, we have a few. If you want the finest picture an ultra-HD 4K set can offer, the Hisense 50H7GB is not for you. If you want an elaborate smart-TV interface with hundreds of apps and extras like a built-in Web cam, you should also pass on this set. However, if you're on a limited budget, have limited space and yet still want an ultra-HD TV, this Hisense model should be on your list.