After a slightly underwhelming debut, Samsung’s QLED technology really needed to bounce back in style. It didn't surprise us in the least, then, to discover Samsung threw the kitchen sink in with its new Q9F QLED series of TVs.
As well as being even brighter and more colourful than last year’s equivalent model, Samsung's 2018 flagship screens use a completely different lighting system to combat its predecessor’s contrast problems: Full Array Local Dimming rather than edge-lit LED lighting. This new lighting system works in tandem with Samsung QLED Quantum Dots to produce a picture that's brighter and more colourful than near any we've seen come from the South Korean manufacturer.
This means they can be driven harder without losing the plot/aging too fast, resulting in more brightness and a wider colour range - or, at least, more colour volume — than any other type of consumer TV technology to date.
Do those features alone make Samsung Q9F the best TV on the market? No, but throw in technology like HDR10+, handy features like Ambient Mode (more on that later) and a 10-year guarantee against burn-in, and there's very little doubt in our mind that this is Samsung's best TV ever.
Price and release date
Regarding price, the Samsung Q9F QLED TV is going to be expensive at any size. The 65-inch 4K TV starts things off at AU$6,999 – and is available from April 23 onward.
If you're keen for something even bigger for your living area and have the cash to back it up, the mammoth 75-inch Q9F will set you back AU$10,499.
Alternatively, Samsung's own Q8F series of QLED televisions is terrific, and while they aren't quite as advanced in terms of contrast and black levels as the Q9F, they do offer most of the same features and at a greatly reduced cost.
Though it isn't the thinnest television around, at least not by modern standards, the Q9F does exhibit a sense of sleek sophistication, thanks in large part by its minimalist design, single-bar stand and clean cabling solution.
This minimalist approach is especially attractive when comes to the Q9F’s smartly implemented Ambient Mode, which lets you replace the usual empty black screen you’re faced with when you’re not watching the TV with one of a pre-loaded set of digitised artworks, or one of your own photos. Of course, you could always choose to show you other information, like the current weather forecast.
You could even take a photograph of your paintwork or wallpaper that sits behind the TV and have that appear on the display, so that the only part of the set that stands out when seen from the front is that ultra-slender frame.
If you’re worried about huge electricity bills, fear not: the Ambient Mode is designed to consume a bare minimum of electricity. Though you can also increase the screen brightness if the picture’s impact matters more to you than your electricity consumption.
Of course, all this Ambient Mode cleverness would be considerably less effective if the TV had spools of cabling spewing out of it. To get round this, Samsung uses an external connection box that connects to the screen by just a single, almost invisible cable.
In fact, Samsung has squeezed the screen’s power into the connection box this year too, so now there really is just one cable going into the screen. Not only that, the cable it comes with is five metres long, meaning you can place the connection box a fair distance from the TV. If that's not long enough, you can also purchase a 15-metre long cable.
Design TL;DR: While the Q9F’s basic chassis is pretty straight forward, its anti-cabling measures and unique Ambient Mode certainly are cutting edge.
Smart TV features
While the Q9F’s Smart TV system is a refined version of what we've seen from the South Korean manufacturer before, meaning apps and input sources are displayed vertically across two layers at the bottom of the screen so that you can scroll through them without leaving your content, expect a few tasty new morsels that add to the experience without taking anything away.
This two layer presentation continues to be effective. The Apple TV-like way the top layer provides direct content links associated with the app you’ve got selected on the bottom layer proves a great way to provide quick access to lots of content without taking over too much screen real estate.
It's also compatible with Samsung's SmartThings platform now, which provides an onscreen hub for monitoring and even controlling other smart devices (fridges, washing machines, lights etc) on your network.
There’s also much better integration of the TV listings and live broadcasting into the TV’s content searching features: There are now hour-by-hour show recommendations, for instance, as well as TV shows getting much more prominence in the content browsing menus.
Samsung has delivered enhanced interactivity with your smartphones and tablets too, as well as some seriously cool new gaming related features.
Already up and running is an Auto Game mode which can detect when you’re playing a console or PC game and automatically switch the screen into its fast-responding Game picture mode. This mode can even tell if you’re using your console to play a game or a video app, and adjust itself accordingly.
Due to roll out later in the year is a Variable Refresh Rate feature that will allow the TV to continually adjust its frame rate to match that being output by whatever game you’re playing. This will remove the issue of screen ‘tearing’ associated with games running at different frame rates to your screen, as well as apparently reducing input lag (the time the screen takes to render images) to a remarkably low 7ms.
Even using the Game Mode in its current incarnation delivers a superbly low input lag measurement of around 15ms on average. Even if you choose to engage a new Game Motion Plus option (which helpfully lets you retain some of the TV’s motion processing while gaming), the input lag only creeps up to a still-very-respectable 34ms.
Samsung continues to impress, too, with the quantity of apps it offers. The 4K and HDR versions of Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube are present and accounted for, and most of the major Australian catchup services are also available, including ABC iview, Foxtel Now, PLUS7 and SBS On Demand, though Tenplay is still missing in action.
It’s worth adding, finally, that Samsung’s voice recognition and control functionality continues to be extremely impressive and helpful — even if rivals like LG and Panasonic are set to catch up with their own Google-powered voice control features.
Smart TV TL;DR: A slick, easy to use and helpfully customisable interface belies the impressive sophistication and comprehensiveness of Samsung’s latest smart TV engine.
The Q9F looks nothing short of sensational with the HD/SDR content most people still have to spend most of their time watching.
Samsung’s upscaling processing does a terrifically convincing job of converting HD to the screen’s native 4K screen, adding detail without introducing new noise or exaggerating any nasties that might be contained in the source.
It also goes beyond most upscaling engines in the accuracy with which it calculates the colour tones of all those millions of extra pixels it’s generating. This ensures the upscaling process doesn’t create any plasticky skin tones, and underlines the sense that your HD source has miraculously turned into 4K.
Try and resist the temptation to turn the sharpness setting too high, though. Creep much above the setting’s 20-25 level and the image can start to look noisy.
Screens capable of handling HDR well usually handle the much more limited demands of SDR pretty much effortlessly — and the Q9F is no exception.
Stunningly rich black levels share screen space with beautifully rich, balanced and finely graded colours, and the screen’s light controls are precise enough to deliver beautiful levels of detail and finesse at almost all luminance levels.
We say ‘almost’ as we did feel the need to increase the brightness or gamma setting by a point or two to stop the darkest parts of the picture from starting to look a little hollow.
While AV aficionados will likely want to stick to watching SDR content at its native brightness and colour values, the Q9F does carry an HDR+ mode designed to convert SDR to HDR. And actually, either because of improvements in the upgrading algorithms or the improvements made to the TV’s core picture quality (or both), HDR+ yields much more engaging results than it has on any previous Samsung TVs.
It still tends to be a little more aggressive than we’d like, but colours look more balanced than with previous iterations, skin tones look less ‘peaky’, there’s no longer a yellowy undertone to everything, and noise in dark scenes is less exaggerated.
HD/SDR performance TL;DR: Aside from having to take care with a couple of settings, the Q9F’s SDR/HD performance is pretty much flawless.
The Q9F’s combination of extreme brightness, wide colour response, peerless colour ‘volume’ and (thanks to its new backlight engine) outstanding contrast helps it deliver HDR pictures that can only be described as jaw-dropping.
We tested the Q9F with the most high contrast, high colour 4K HDR content we had access to, including Thor: Ragnarok and Netflix's Lost in Space reboot, and the results really reminded us emphatically of the importance of brightness to the HDR experience: Samsung’s new star delivers such extreme images with a level of dynamism and intensity we just haven’t seen before, unlocking more of HDR’s stunning potential than any other TV.
During the opening scene of Thor: Ragnarok, we were treated fiery reds and oranges that exhibited no signs or bleeding, instead selling us on the film's fire and brimstone look in an utterly convincing manner.
Moments later, in a scene which sees Thor, Loki and antagonist Hela travel through the Bifrost to Asgard, a face-melting flurry of colours whizz by that acts as a pure demonstration of what the Q9F is capable of in terms of colour performance and brightness.
Likewise, while watching Netflix's new Lost in Space series in 4K HDR, we were blown away by the levels of darkness achieved in blacks, and again by the snowy white surroundings the Robinson family find themselves in within the show's opening minutes.
It’s not just that the Q9F’s pictures are bright, though. It’s also the way the screen's new direct lighting and local dimming can deliver its competition-crushing levels of peak brightness without compromising dark parts of the picture.
There’s none of the light/dark compromise usually seen with LCD TVs. Nor, even more excitingly, is there any of the backlight ‘striping’ or haloing around stand-out bright objects that you’d normally expect to see on an LCD TV when watching contrast-rich HDR images.
The difference in this key respect between the Q9F and last year’s equivalent model is night and day, leaving no doubt as to the benefits of using direct lighting with lots of dimming zones if you’re really serious about doing HDR on an LED TV.
In fact, the backlight management of Samsung’s new flagship TV is so outstanding that contrast-rich scenes look almost OLED-like in their black level uniformity — except, of course, that the bright parts of such scenes look far brighter on the Samsung than they can on any current OLED.
Even Sony’s outstanding ZD9 LCD TVs aren’t able to keep backlight blooming down to the tiny amounts the Q9F gets away with.
It’s not just black levels and backlight clouding that benefit from the Q9F’s backlight prowess, either. Colours also look richer, more solid and more consistent, since they’re not being ‘bleached’ by unwanted surplus backlighting whenever they appear in close proximity to a particularly bright image element.
We were also impressed by how well the Q9F retained the intensity of the lightest colours, even when displaying bright HDR images. This is presumably because (unlike OLED TVs) QLED technology doesn’t have to work with white sub-pixels.
Samsung’s screen has seemingly no trouble achieving stunning levels of both finesse and visceral impact from the wider HDR colour spectrums of today’s cutting edge sources.
There’s nothing forced about the boldness of the Q9F’s colour performance, though. On the contrary, for the overwhelming majority of the time you simply feel like you’re actually seeing HDR looking more like it was originally designed to look.
The Q9F’s extreme brightness and seemingly ultra-smart tone-mapping processing also means that it does a better job than any other HDR TV to date of avoiding the clipping problem seen on most rival TVs. In other words, it retains detail in even the very brightest image areas, rather than ‘flaring out’.
Add this achievement to the image’s remarkable colour finesse and light control and you’ve got arguably the most pristine, detailed 4K images we’ve seen from a consumer TV to date.
4K/HDR TL;DR: A few smallish (and potentially fixable via future firmware updates) concerns do nothing to alter the fact that the Q9F delivers the best looking 4K HDR pictures we’ve seen on a consumer television.
A note on HDR10+ and some potential weak spots
We felt we should add a quick word here on HDR10+.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing only Amazon Video offers support for this new higher quality HDR platform — and it won’t let you switch between watching HDR10+ and non-HDR10+ streams of the same shows. So that means we couldn’t do any direct HDR10+ vs HDR10/Dolby Vision comparisons.
What we can say is that all the HDR Amazon streams we played on the Q9F looked fantastic — the best we’ve seen, in fact.
But without being able to compare against the same content in other formats on the same screen, it’s impossible to be sure how much of the extra Amazon picture quality is down to the TV’s inherent picture talents, and how much is down to HDR10+’s extra layer of scene-by-scene picture data.
That said, apart from the HDR10+ dilemma and even with a TV as talented as the Q9F there’s still a little room for improvement. As with SDR images, for instance, very dark areas can look slightly short of detail unless you marginally increase the set’s brightness or gamma.
Motion suffers with shimmering edge noise using the auto motion processing setting, and while you can improve things via some judicious tinkering with the Custom motion options, we didn’t feel motion ever looked quite as natural as it can on the Sony XF9005 Series TVs.
In fact, a viewing of Transformers: The Last Knight on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray had us digging into the Q9F's settings to switch auto motion off entirely, as the shakiness of the film's cinematography was having the opposite of the mode's desired effect, making the film seems choppy and blurry during movement. That said, the film looks much more natural once the mode was switched off.
While the Q9F provides a slight viewing angle improvement over 2017’s models, color saturations reduce and you start to see more pronounced backlight blooming around bright objects if you watch from horizontal angles of more than around 30 degrees. This blooming also becomes more exaggerated if you watch from a vertical viewing angle of more than around 15 degrees. Something to bear in mind if you’re thinking of mounting your next TV on a wall above your eyeline.
Although the Q9F’s audio is not as stand-out awesome as its pictures, it’s still the best sound we’ve heard from a Samsung TV for years.
It’s powerful enough, for starters, to combine pretty extreme volumes and a wide dynamic range without sounding muffled or distorted. It also manages to project its sound away from the TV’s bodywork, creating a three-dimensional audio space that has depth, width and height.
At one point, this reviewer had to stop and check that there wasn't a soundbar hidden away in the cabinet the television was resting on.
Dialogue sounds clear and locked to the screen, where it should be, and you can hear plenty of subtle detailing - despite the fact that the set’s pretty much invisible speakers also deliver more bass than most built in TV sound systems.
Well worth a mention here, too, is Samsung’s new Smart Sound feature. This analyses the incoming sound and automatically adjusts the quality of the sound to suit the type of content you’re watching. For instance, it will adopt a stadium-style sound tone if you’re watching sports, or a movie-friendly tone if you’re watching a film. The system also equalizes sound levels across different inputs.
Gimmicky though it sounds on paper, Smart Sound turns out to be an unexpectedly brilliant feature, making everything you watch sound palpably better without you needing to touch any sound adjustment menus.
Our only complaint about the Q9F’s audio is that very shrill tones can cause a momentary buzz from the TV’s chassis. When this is the worst you can come up with on a flat TV’s sound performance, though, you know you’re generally in pretty positive territory!
Sound TL;DR: The Q9F sounds impressively powerful, well rounded and dynamic - and its new Smart Sound feature is a revelation.
Aside from not supporting Dolby Vision, with the Q9F Samsung has taken on board pretty much all the criticisms levelled at its 2017 QLED debutantes.
It’s introduced direct lighting with local dimming. It’s remembered that contrast and black level performance is at least as important to your viewing experience as brightness. And it’s remembered that live TV is still a big part of most households’ day to day viewing, however popular streaming may have become.
The Q9F also makes the QLED colour performance even more spectacular than it was before, and introduces a variety of features that make it uniquely accomplished as a gaming monitor. The result is the all-round most spectacular TV we’ve ever tested. Rumours of LED TVs demise, it seems, have been greatly exaggerated.