Hisense H9E Plus Android TV Review: Best-In-Class Picture & Incredible Harman Kardon Audio

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By Alexander Maxham October 31, 2018, 1:00pm
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Hisense packs the H9E Plus with just about every spec and feature you could want, all for under $700. 

Hisense entered the world of Android TVs this year, with the H9E Plus. This is the first time that Hisense has offered a TV with Android TV built-in. The company has been touting how it worked really close with Google for this TV set, and also mentioned how it was the first Android TV to launch with Android Oreo. Typically that could be a good and bad thing, being first means you are generally the guinea pig for bugs and other issues, but that’s not the case here with the Hisense H9E Plus. Of course, this TV is more than just Android TV. It also has audio tuned by Harman Kardon, with Dolby Vision support for the display. So essentially, this should be a somewhat inexpensive TV with a great picture and audio, with Android TV on-board. But is that the case? We’ve been using this TV for a few months now, and have been pleasantly impressed with the H9E Plus, let’s find out if it is worth the price.

Specs & In the Box

The Hisense H9E Plus comes in two sizes - 55-inch and 65-inches - our model here is the 55-inch model. Everything from the 55-inch model is the same in the 65-inch version, but for some reason the Harman Kardon audio is only found on the 55-inch version. The TV here is actually 54.6-inches when measured diagonally. It has a resolution of 3840x2160, it’s a 4K 16:9 aspect ratio display here. This is a ULED TV, that also supports Wide Color Gamut, Dolby Vision, and HDR10 support. On the audio side of things, there are two 10W speakers on the back of the TV that are tuned by Harman Kardon. There is also WiFi support here for a/b/g/n/ac networks, that includes 5GHz support. Hisense has also included a slew of ports here including an Ethernet port capable of gigabit internet. There is also four HDMI ports, two USB ports, an RF antenna port, an RCA, optical, and a 3.5mm port available here.

When you open the box, you’ll find a plastic bag that houses the paperwork for the TV, with the remote and its batteries. Afterwards, you’ll find the feet for the TV, with the TV below all of that. There’s plenty of styrofoam here that is going to keep the TV nice and protected while it is being shipped. The TV is pretty heavy, so if you are purchasing it online, there is a chance that you will need to pay quite a bit extra for shipping.

To setup the TV, you are going to need to get a philips-head screwdriver to attach the feet to the TV here. Of course, if you are planning to mount it, it is VESA compatible so you can mount it. What’s interesting here, is that the VESA mount on the back is actually about six inches or so from the back of the TV. This allows the TV to be mounted, but still giving the speakers in the back of the TV enough room to output sound without it being muffled. That’s definitely a good idea for Hisense there, since a lot of people do opt to mount their TVs these days. After you’ve either mounted it or attached the feet to the TV, you’ll want to go through the setup process, which is the same for any Android TV. That includes signing into your account, setting up WiFi and so forth.

Hardware & Design

These days, all TVs have almost no bezel and are almost paper thin. That is still the case for the H9E Plus. The TV is very thin, though the bottom part of the TV is pretty thick and is actually curved from left to right. Of course, that is where everything is housed. That includes all of the ports, the internals and the speakers. But the top half of the TV is very thin - probably about a quarter of an inch, and that’s being generous. It is not as thing as the wallpaper TV that LG has, which can actually be bent, but thin enough. The bezels are also pretty minimal, they really don’t get in the way of watching movies and TV shows on the TV.

For the most part, all of the ports are on the left-hand side (right-hand side if you are looking at the back) of the TV. They are also on the side of the TV, with the exception of the fourth HDMI port, Ethernet and RCA port. These are actually on the back. The reason for using those on the back, instead of the side, is likely because most customers won’t use those ports. Keeping the rest on the side makes it easier to get to, and plug things in, while it is mounted. The power supply is on the opposite side though. For cable management, it would have been nicer to see the ports all on the same side, instead of having cables running on both sides of the TV. Though that is a pretty minor complaint and many people aren’t really going to care.

Hisense has just a single physical button on the TV itself, which is a power button on the bottom left side (below the Harman Kardon logo). That’s really all you need though, as the rest of the time you would be using the remote. And to be honest, I never even touched that button while using this TV. Now the feet for the TV are actually aluminum gray. It would have been nicer to have them black so they fit in with the TV and blended in better. But the gray color really gives the TV some class, especially wit a gray strip at the bottom of the TV. It looks very classy, especially for a sub-$1000 TV these days.

The hardware of the Hisense H9E Plus is pretty impressive, but let’s face it, you aren’t going to be spending a lot of time thinking about the design of the TV. The most important thing here is how well the picture looks on this TV. So let’s talk about that 55-inch display.

Display

As mentioned, this is the 55-inch model of the H9E Plus, which is technically 54.6-inches when measured diagonally, but that’s neither here nor there. Hisense is using an ULED panel here, which is in the LED family, but not quite on the level of OLED. ULED actually focuses on four key areas, which includes Ultra Wide Color Gamut, Ultra Local Dimming, Ultra 4K Resolution and Ultra Smooth Motion Rate. ULED is a term that only Hisense uses, and it focuses on patents around those areas. So it’s technically a marketing term for Hisense. And to be honest, you won’t find much of a difference between this ULED TV and a XLED TV from VIZIO or a LED TV from most other manufacturers, at least not to the naked eye. Those that are a bit more of a movie buff and want the best of the best, will definitely see a difference here.

This panel supports many different display technologies, which includes HDR10, Dolby Vision, Wide Color Gamut, and Motion Rate 240. Now, you’ve likely heard of Dolby Vision before, it is essentially “a way of mastering and delivering HDR to the home.” Dolby uses a colorist grading on a Dolby Vision HDR monitor that is called “Pulsar” and that has a brightness of 4,000 nits. This is all done in post-processing and allows Dolby to provide some really incredible image quality on this TV. It actually makes a big difference in the colors that are shown on the TV. However, to really take advantage of this, you’re going to want to watch some content that is available in 4K HDR and has Dolby Vision. Luckily, Netflix has quite a few titles that support all three. Watching some of Netflix’s new series like Manic and The Good Cop in Dolby Vision, the colors really pop. Even in scenes that are usually pretty dark, they look much brighter, without adding a whole lot of noise to the background.

The colors on this panel are very rich and contrasty. If you are upgrading from a TV that was just 4K or even 1080p, you are going to notice a huge difference. Even upgrading from a 4K HDR TV that was a couple of years old, is going to show a huge difference as well. Sure the TV here is not an OLED TV, which would provide darker blacks and an even better picture quality. But for something that is effectively an LED TV, it’s very impressive.

Viewing angles on the H9E Plus don’t seem to be an issue either. Watching at a 45-degree angle (like you might do if there are a lot of people watching TV together), doesn’t degrade the quality of the picture that much. The quality of the blacks in the picture will degrade a bit, and that is something that is expected to happen, since this is a ULED panel and not OLED. One thing we did notice though, is that this does reflect a ton of light. If you have this in a room near a window, and the sun is out, you likely won’t be able to see part of the TV, due to the sunlight. That was the case with us, watching at a 45-degree angle, about half of the TV had the sun over it, making it impossible to see. And if you are watching a movie or show that is primarily in dark scenes, like Quantico, then you are going to have a very tough time watching it on this TV. You’re going to want to make sure the blinds are closed, if you want to get the best picture out of this one. It’s unfortunate, but also not surprising. As an anecdote here, my TV is an older Hisense TV (came out in 2016) and in that same spot, it did not reflect as much light. The older TV is not an ULED TV, so it could have something to do with that.

Hisense advertises that this has Motion Rate 240, now that sounds like it is 240Hz, but it’s technically still 120Hz. It uses software to enhance the refresh rate when doing things like watching sports (where you really need that higher refresh rate) or playing video games. While reviewing this TV, I did play a number of games on the PlayStation 4, and it performed really well. The refresh rate is right up there with what you would expect from a $700 TV. Now when watching sports like Basketball or Football, it does really come in handy, as you aren’t missing frames. It’s something that you likely won’t think is a big deal. But watch a game in 60Hz and then change it to 120Hz, it’s a huge difference.

Finally, wrapping up the display section of this review, let’s talk color temperature. The temperature of this TV seems to be a tiny bit on the warm side. However, Hisense does allow you to change the picture mode. The options it has includes Vivid, Standard, Energy Saving, Theater, Game, Sport or Calibrated. If none of those suite your fancy, Hisense does allow you to change the contrast, brightness, color, tint and sharpness to your own liking. There are also a slew of other things available in the “Advanced Settings” options to allow you to get the best picture possible here.

Remote

The remote that Hisense includes with the H9E Plus is actually a pretty decent remote. It doesn’t have a ton of buttons on it, like some other smart TV remotes might have. At the top, there is a chrome power button, which is a pretty nice touch. To the right of that, you’ll find a microphone icon and a LED light. The light flashes when you press a button, this is to let you know that the batteries are working inside. The microphone there is for Google Assistant, since this TV is not “always-listening” and that is definitely a good thing. But we’ll talk more on that a bit later in the review. Below that, you’ll find six shortcut buttons to different apps. This is cool and all, but TV makers like Hisense should allow the user to customize these buttons. Here we have Netflix, Sling TV, Fandango Now, Google Play, YouTube and TIKILIVE. Out of those six, there’s only about three that are for services I actually use (Netflix, Google Play and YouTube). So allowing users to customize those other buttons would be a nice touch.

The rest of the buttons are pretty self-explanatory, like the menu button, the directional-pad, volume, and channel rockers, etc. Since this is an Android TV set, Hisense has a button dedicated to the Google Assistant here. Which you can press to start talking to the Google Assistant on your TV. The remote is pretty small, and doesn’t have a ton of buttons to confuse users, which is a good thing. Just a few years ago, Smart TVs had a full keyboard on the flip side of the remote, so it’s good to see that is gone. The buttons on this remote are nice and clicky, so you’ll have no issue with clicking the buttons. But the one issue we found is that the Google Assistant button is a bit too close to the Up button on the directional pad. So often times when trying to go up (and looking at the TV and not the remote), I’d press the Google Assistant instead, which is not something I wanted to do. But that doesn’t take long to get used too.

Audio

Hisense made a pretty big deal, when announcing the H9E Plus, about its audio. That is because it has two 10W speakers that are tuned by Harman Kardon. To be honest, the speakers aren’t that bad. It’s definitely a big step up from my two-year-old Hisense TV, but it’s still not the best audio experience you can get. If you really care about audio, then you’re going to pick up a soundbar anyways. Speaking of soundbars, for some reason, we were unable to connect the Sonos PLAYBASE to the TV. We were able to physically connect it, and sound would come out of the PLAYBASE, but we could not turn off the TV speakers. But it appears that HDMI ARC does work here, so you could use the Sonos Beam with the H9E Plus quite easily.

There are two down-firing speakers, and two other speakers on the back of the TV. Typically that would leave for some pretty sad audio quality coming out of this TV, since the speakers are not firing towards you - unless you’re unlike everyone else and watch TV from behind the TV. But the audio here is not bad at all. The one complaint I had about the speakers here was the lack of bass though. But that is a complaint I have had about other Harman Kardon speakers like the Allure, so that was to be expected. Not everyone is going to love having a ton of bass coming out of their TV, but for action movies, it can really make a huge difference.

Out of the box, the speakers on the H9E Plus really don’t sound that good. Not everyone will agree with me though, seeing as we all have different preferences for audio quality. Luckily, Hisense does give you a ton of options for adjusting the sound on the H9E Plus. It comes with TotalSonics turned on by default, which we found was a bit tinny and didn’t sound that great. You can toggle that off, as we have here. You can also adjust the sound modes to go from Standard to Theater, Sports, Concert Hall, Music, Speech, Late Night or User Mode. Hisense also gives you the option for Digital Audio Out, which offers PCM, Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus. Those options are most for a soundbar that you have plugged into the TV. And really don’t make a difference to the audio from the speakers inside the H9E Plus. Finally, Hisense also gives you an equalizer, so you can adjust the bass, mids and highs to your liking. This is, of course, for the audiophiles out there, as casual watchers likely won’t even jump into this section.

These days, TV manufacturers really don’t focus on the audio coming out of their TV. This is because everyone is trying to make a TV that is as thin as possible, and with virtually no bezels. That means that the speakers are usually on the back of the TV, and that’s not the best spot for them, as you might have guessed. Many TVs manufacturers put in some mediocre sound into their TVs, but Hisense decided to work with Harman Kardon (which that itself was a bit of a surprise, since Harman Kardon is owned by one of Hisense’s biggest competitors in the TV space, Samsung) to bring in some really good sounding audio. But with TV makers not focusing on audio quality, it has allowed the soundbar space to really take off. And this is why you are seeing a lot of TV makers also making soundbars.

The sound here on the H9E Plus is almost good enough to where a soundbar isn’t absolutely necessary, but if you watch a lot of TV, you will likely want to get a soundbar anyways, to connect to the H9E Plus. This TV has one of the better sounding speakers out there right now.

Android TV

The software on the H9E Plus is all Android TV. Which is pretty refreshing, and a bit surprising, considering Hisense is one of the few TV makers that have its own proprietary smart TV software platforms out there, and they are quite proud of it. But Hisense decided to dabble into the Android TV space. With the H9E Plus, it is Hisense’ first time using Android TV, so we had expected a few bugs with the software - not to mention it was the first TV to get the Android Oreo build of Android TV. Now we did run into a few bugs with the H9E Plus, but that was actually related to the unit we had and Hisense swapped it out for us. With our second unit, we didn’t experience any of those bugs. So it’s a good thing that all of those issues were just on that unit and not the entire line up (as those bugs would have forced us to not be able to recommend it).

The Android TV experience on the H9E Plus is pretty much the same as on the NVIDIA SHIELD TV, though not quite as powerful. There’s about 8GB of storage included here, so there’s not a whole lot of space available, luckily, the Android TV apps out there don’t take up a ton of space. We have around 50 apps installed, and still have a little under 4GB of storage available. On the home screen, you’ll find the usual setup, with the first line of icons being for your favorite apps (which is customizable as well). By default, the Fox Sports FIFA World Cup app is pre-installed and in your favorites, but you can remove that and uninstall it if you wish - which is likely, seeing as the World Cup ended a few months ago.

Below that first line, you will find a list of recommended content for each of the apps that you have installed on the TV. For me, the first row is full of Netflix content, which includes TV shows that I’m currently watching, as well as shows that Netflix thinks I’d be interested in. Those Channels (aka rows) can also be customized. So if you don’t want to see content from Fandango Now, or Sling TV, you can opt to turn off the recommendations. This can really clean up your home screen on the H9E Plus, but having the recommended content there does make it easier to find something new to watch, which is a good thing here.

As you can see, the Android TV experience here on the H9E Plus is largely the same as the experience you would find on the NVIDIA SHIELD TV or even one of Sony’s BRAVIA TVs. Hisense didn’t even pre-install many apps here. Now since this is an Android TV, it was likely forced to pre-install some of Google’s apps, which included Google Play (of course, because how else will you find apps to download?), Google Play Movies & TV, Google Play Music and YouTube. There was also Netflix, Fandango Now, Sling TV, TIKILIVE and the 2018 FIFA World Cup app. The good thing is that these can all be uninstalled (except for the Google apps). So if you don’t want these on your TV, or want to free up some space, you can do so.

Android TV runs pretty smooth on the H9E Plus. It does seem a tad bit slower than the NVIDIA SHIELD TV, but it also isn’t running the same hardware as the SHIELD TV, so that is to be expected. The software is smooth and doesn’t really lag behind at all. Google Assistant will tend to lag a bit, but it’s not that bad, compared to what we’ve seen on other TVs.

Google Assistant

With Android TV comes Google Assistant. There is also a dedicated Google Assistant button on the remote for the H9E Plus. We’ve been using the Google Assistant on the TV, and you can do pretty much anything with Google Assistant on the TV that you can do with it via your phone or Google Home. This includes controling your smart home devices. Now, the new UI for smart home control has not made its way to Android TV yet (that is only in the Google Home app right now), but hopefully it comes in the future. Right now, when you tell the Google Assistant, via Android TV, to turn on or off your lights, it will do it and then tell you it is turning them on or off. And that’s about it. Some names for lights, it has a hard time understanding, and will try to search the web for it though, which is a bit weird.

Google Assistant isn’t as good as you might expect on an Android TV. For example, telling the Google Assistant to turn off the TV, just doesn’t work. When you tell it to turn off the TV, it will search the web or search YouTube for that query. Obviously, Google Assistant wouldn’t be able to respond after turning off the TV, but even when you use a Google Home speaker or your phone to turn off the TV, it just doesn’t work.

Outside of smart home control, the Google Assistant works great for other things like asking how the weather is. And with it being on the TV, you will actually get a visual look at the weather. It will tell you the weather, as well as showing you the current temperature, with highs and lows for the day. It will also show you the temperatures for the next five days. Google Assistant also works somewhat well, when trying to play a movie or TV show from another app like Netflix. Though if you are looking for something to watch, and not sure what to watch, that is where you can run into issues.

Google Assistant will also work outside of Android TV, and this is because Android TV is running the entire TV, unlike when you are using it via an NVIDIA SHIELD TV. So if you are watching TV through your cable box on a HDMI port, you can still bring up the Google Assistant to ask for the weather, the score for a game, what your calendar looks like and so much more. That right there is actually a pretty big deal, instead of having to press home and then open the Assistant, you can do it right there, without even leaving your current screen. So if you are watching a game, and want to make sure your hated rival lost today, you can do so without missing a minute of action.

Google Assistant isn’t perfect on the TV, and it arguably works much better on the Google Home or your Android smartphone, but it’s getting there. But unfortunately, the f-word that applies to Android, also works for Google Assistant, especially on the TV versus on Google Home. And that f-word is Fragmentation.

Amazon Alexa

Hisense also added Amazon Alexa to all of its newer TV sets this year, and that includes Android TV models like the H9E Plus. It’s just Amazon Alexa support, and not Alexa built-in, so you will still need an Amazon Echo or something similar that actually has Alexa built-in. It’s not quite as useful as Google Assistant on the H9E Plus, but it can do things like turn off your TV (something Google Assistant can’t do), adjust the volume, change the channel and input, and a few other things. We didn’t find it as useful as Google Assistant on this TV, but it was there for those that want to use it. Hisense makes it pretty tough to setup Alexa on their Android TV models - it’s easier on the non-Android TV sets. The toughest part is adding a TV to your Hisense account, as you cannot do it online, for some reason.

Hisense H9E vs H9E Plus

The difference between the H9E and H9E Plus is not that big, but the main difference is the fact that Android TV and Harman Kardon audio are missing from the regular H9E. So if you aren’t a big fan of Android TV, the H9E would be a good option, but it is also missing Harman Kardon audio, which might be a bigger deal for some people. It’s also worth noting that there is no Dolby Vision support on the H9E either, instead you get 4K, HDR10 and Wide Color Gamut support. So you’ll still get a good image, just not as good as you would get with Dolby Vision support. And the price difference between the two is not that big at all, they are priced at about $50 apart. With the 55-inch H9E going for around $600 and the 55-inch H9E Plus going for around $650. Making the H9E Plus a better option, even if you don’t like Android TV. 

The Good

Great Viewing Angles

Incredible picture quality, for a non-OLED TV

Great audio from Harman Kardon

HDMI ARC support

Android TV based on Android Oreo (currently the latest version)

Tons of apps to choose from

Build feels very sturdy

The Bad

Google Assistant can be somewhat slow to load

Sometimes disconnects from WiFi, seemingly random

Amazon Alexa can be a pain to setup

Wrap Up

These days, there are a ton of TVs coming with Android TV built-in, which is a good thing seeing as there are very few set-top boxes out there for Android TV - basically just the NVIDIA SHIELD TV and Xiaomi Mi Box. And the experience is getting better and better. However, I would not buy the H9E Plus specifically for Android TV, but for the entire package. That includes the picture quality (largely thanks to Dolby Vision support here), the audio quality and price. At under $700, this is actually a really good buy, even if it didn’t have Android TV. But with Android TV, it means that you get the Google Assistant, as well as plenty more apps than you would find on Hisense’s proprietary software, which is also a good thing here. Especially if you are one that uses apps like Sling TV or Fubo TV, which are not found on Hisense’s smart TV platform, but are available on Android TV.

The Hisense H9E Plus is available from Amazon and Walmart for around $699- the prices will fluctuate, as is usually the case - and it is well worth the price right now. It's also one of the most inexpensive Android TVs on the market that doesn't offer a terrible experience (it's actually quite the opposite with the H9E Plus). 

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October 31, 2018, 1:00pm
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