It’s easily arguable that, unless you’re forking out for a screen that’s bigger than 65-inches, you wont see any benefit from the upcoming 8K TV revolution. Any smaller than that and the fine details it delivers are lost unless you sit uncomfortably close to the display.
Despite offering a range of sizes for its new 8K displays, Samsung seems to be of a similar mindset – it’s pushing its 75-inch-plus televisions hard this year, with the 98-inch Samsung Q950R 8K flagship the cream of its crop.
It’s a stunning display – the kind that a pro footballer or Saudi Prince will be flaunting on the next series of MTV Cribs, but will probably be out of reach of the masses. Which will, eventually at least, be a crying shame – once 8K content is readily available, this TV will sing.
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Price and availability
The Samsung Q950R will be available in four different sizes; 65-inches, 75-inches, 82-inches and 98-inches. They’ll all become available from March of 2019, but pricing has yet to be revealed. Let’s put it this way – if you have to ask, then you probably can’t afford them.
For the sake of comparison, the 85-inch 8K Q900R, out earlier in 2019, costs $14,999, which translates to close to £11,600 or AU$21,000. Expect then a significant mark up for the 98-inch model.
Samsung’s product team has played it pretty safe with the industrial design of the Q950R. It sits on two plain black protruding feet at either end of the display, with a slim-but noticeable black bezel around the edge.
That’s not too much of a concern in terms of aesthetics – the sheer scale of the display is ‘wow-factor’ enough here. But it may mean you’ll need to buy a new cabinet to rest it on if you’re not keen on wall mounting this giant screen.
Keeping the screen free from cabling distractions, the Q950R makes use of Samsung’s One Connect box, which pulls all ports and connections into one unit that sits off from the screen, connected only by a single thin cable to the display itself. For the Q950R, the One Connect box has been upgraded to support the HDMI 2.1 standard, which can handle 8K video sources at 60 frames per second.
The Samsung Q950R offers an astonishing picture. The highlight is of course native 8K content, and during the demo showcase we saw the screen at, we were blown away by the quality of its color reproduction, brightness and motion processing. Using Samsung’s QLED technology, it’s pushing insane brightness levels of up to 4000nits, with a Direct Full Array backlight letting refined brightness and contrast management bring real depth to a scene.
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This year’s model also introduces a new “Ultra Wide Angle” feature that aims to prevent color and contrast drop off if you’re viewing the set at a tighter angle. This is important given the size of the screen – it’s likely going to be a centrepiece of a room, and those hosting guests will want to get a good view even if they’re sitting off centre. Having had a stroll around the screen, it certainly achieves this goal – though without a direct competitor to compare it with side-by-side, it’s difficult to judge just how much color and contrast it preserves.
However, where the screen definitely shines is in its 4K upscaling – a vital part of the package here, as native 8K content is currently so hard to find outside of Japan.
Using a machine learning technique it’s calling Super Resolution, Samsung is able to upscale images from 4K and lower resolutions right up to that new 8K standard. It’s trawling a huge database of video content to fill the gaps in image data from lower resolution sources, bringing out additional texture details in low res imagery, as well as avoiding noise and compression artefacts when sharpening up softer edges from standard and high definition sources.
It's Super Resolution upscaling that makes the Samsung Q950R a viable everyday screen to some extent, pulling great results out of older video content – even if the 8K native sources are the true money shots.
Gamers haven’t been left out either – the screen is capable of automatically recognising gaming sources, and optimises its settings accordingly. Input lag drops from 112ms to 15.4ms when the ‘Real Game Enhancer’ is activated, while darker scenes have their contrast raised slightly when compared to movie viewing modes, allowing you to pick out details (and foes) in a scene that may otherwise be obscured by shadows.
If there's one notable omission, it's Dolby Vision support. While the screen can handle HDR10+ content, it's not going to play nicely with Dolby's high dynamic range standard. That's a shame given the flagship nature of this screen – especially when competition like the Panasonic GZ2000 and Philips OLED 804 and 854 have committed to all major HDR formats.
Showing off the screen at its annual Samsung Forum event in Portugal, the buzz of the demo space meant that we were unable to get a good grip of what the audio quality of the new screens will be like.
However, Samsung promises that its growing expertise in AI technologies will be applied to the Q950R too. The Quantum Processor 8K also is capable of analysing the screen’s position in a room, and tune its outputted sound to better fit its surroundings. It’s also capable of analysing audio scene-by-scene, so that for instance, you’ll get clear voices in movies and dramas, while letting the roar of spectators in sporting shows crash through.
It is a shame however not to see more integration at the stage with Harmon Kardon's speaker tech. Samsung acquired the company a couple of years back now, and while Philips has done great work with its Bowers and Wilkins partnership, and Panasonic's OLED flagship for the year has built-in upfiring Dolby Atmos speakers, Samsung's set by comparison is lacking in the audio department.
Note that the One Connect box supports Bluetooth connectivity – something of a rarity in TVs, so if you’ve got a nice pair of wireless headphones you like to use for a personal viewing session, you should be a-OK to do so.
Interface, iTunes and Bixby
The Samsung Q950R once again makes use of Samsung’s attractive Eden 2.0 smart interface. It’s a well designed UI that’s easy to navigate, and allows for multiple video sources’ content libraries to be collated together through a universal search tool.
Using Bixby voice commands through the TVs remote, you’ll be able to search Amazon Prime, Netflix and more, all supporting 4K HDR playback. The YouTube app is the one place in fact that you can find some native 8K video content at the moment, so expect that to be your go-to show-off app until broadcasters catch up with the display technology.
If Bixby isn’t your bag, the TV also supports voice control from Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. This trio will allow you to issue commands via voice to your TV remote, and have them do everything from controlling smart thermostat settings to tweaking connected bulb brightness levels.
The screen will also be among the first wave of Samsung televisions to not only feature Apple’s AirPlay 2.0 content casting standard, but a built in iTunes app for TV shows and movies too. This will sync with your existing iTunes account, and pull your rented shows and movies across to your screen, hassle free.
However, iTunes content will not be included within the universal search system of the TV – you’ll have to dig into the app manually to find what you’re after. With the app still being finalised and not present at the Samsung showcase (it was simply represented by the placeholder logos you see above), we were unable to give it a test at this stage. We’ll have more on the iTunes app as soon as we take it for a spin.
The Samsung Q950R looks ready to set the standard for 8K TVs to come, cleverly bridging the gap between full HD and 4K sources and the new ultra high 8K display thanks to some very intelligent upscaling techniques.
It’s at the vanguard of home cinema technology though, and so anyone investing in it must naturally expect some teething issues – this is going to have a whopping price tag, and the wait for native 8K content to go mainstream (when the industry is only now just catching up with 4K) will be a long one. And so the questions will be: by the time 8K content is eventually everywhere, will this screen’s 8K capabilities be looking long in the tooth? And so will a top-notch 4K TV be the better investment over the next five-or-so years? Probably. But this is looking like the pinnacle of upscaling and panel tech today – and if you can’t wait for tomorrow’s advancements, the Samsung Q950R is sure to put a smile on any cinephile's face.
All image credits: TechRadar
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