(Pocket-lint) - The big TV story for Samsung in 2017 is the introduction of its first QLED models. These LCD TVs - which include the 55-inch QE55Q8C on test here - combine ground-breaking new ultra-bright, ultra-colourful Quantum Dot colour technology with a new "cable-free" design in a bid to put rival OLED TVs to the sword.
The Q8C is the highest-end curved TV that Samsung makes - the Q9 is a flat-panel which sits a step above, while the Q7F (which we have reviewed here) is a theoretical step below - but is it worth its considerable price tag?
Samsung QE55Q8C review: Design
- 4 x HDMI in
- 3x USB multimedia port
- LAN and Wi-Fi
- Optical digital audio output
The Q8C is certainly a charmer. Its trim, silver-edged frame and minimalistic metal "outline" stand contribute to an elegantly modern style, while an external connections box that hooks up to the TV via a single ultra-thin, nearly transparent "invisible" cable helps it retain clean lines no matter how many connected sources you've got.
TVs are, of course, made to be watched from the front. But on the off chance you ever find yourself ogling the QE55Q8C's rear, you'll find it pretty easy on the eye, too, thanks to a gleamingly metallic, minimalistic backing panel.
Even the Q8C's curved screen helps it stand out from the crowd - though for many AV fans this aspect of the design will be a mixed blessing to say the least.
Samsung Q8C review: Picture features
- HDR Support: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+
- Processing Engine: Samsung's proprietary QLED engine
- Depth Enhancement to optimise images for the curved screen
- Motion Plus motion blur/judder reduction
The Q8C uses Samsung's new QLED technology: an innovative twist on the Quantum Dot method of producing colour in LCD TVs that clads the QDs in metal. This means they can be driven harder and placed further forward in the panel structure, resulting in more brightness and a wider range of colours - two key factors in meeting the demands of the new high dynamic range (HDR) pictures now available on 4K Blu-ray discs and many Amazon and Netflix streams.
Samsung claims a very high peak light output of 1500 nits for the QE55Q8C. Rival OLED TVs, by comparison, generally top out at somewhere between 650 and 850 nits. Measurements using a 10 per cent white HDR window came up with a figure of around 1360 nits, suggesting that the QE55Q8C can indeed nudge over 1500 nits - albeit only in small areas for a limited time. Still 1360 nits is staggeringly bright.
Samsung would argue that the Q8C's curved screen is a picture feature, since it can deliver a more immersive viewing experience. However, on a screen as small as 55 inches - we say that slightly tongue in cheek, but you do need scale for 4K panels - you'd have to sit uncomfortably close to really gain much benefit from this supposed extra immersion.
The Q8C uses an edge-mounted LED lighting system, with the lights placed along its horizontal sides so that they fire up and down the picture. Samsung's flagship QLED TVs for 2017, the Q9F range, fire their lights horizontally across the picture - a significant difference since it means you will likely see less backlight interference in the black bars you get above and below the majority of films.
The QE55Q8C supports the HDR10 and (broadcast friendly) HLG HDR formats, along with Samsung's new HDR10+ system which adds a layer of extra information to the core HDR10 image feed. Compatible TVs can use this extra information to deliver more accurate, effective HDR pictures.
At the time of writing, though, only Samsung TVs support HDR10+, and only Amazon has committed to delivering the format - and as yet no such content has materialised.
The Q8C does not support the Dolby Vision HDR format, which also adds a layer of dynamic metadata to the HDR10 core and can be found on a handful of 4K Blu-rays and streams from Netflix and Amazon.
Samsung Q8C 55-inch review: Smart features
- Smart systems supported: Eden 2.0
On the interface front, the latest generation of Samsung's so-called Eden system delivers a concise but effective two-tier interface.
It provides slick, logical access to all the key content sources most TV users will want. Namely the catch-up services of the UK's main four terrestrial broadcasters; Now TV; Google Play Movies and TV; YouTube and, of course, Netflix and Amazon Video (these three with 4K and HDR streaming support).
The Q8C carries a proprietary system for automatically identifying any kit you've got connected to its HDMI inputs. This is handy since it lets the TV automatically label each HDMI and lets you control all identified external sources via a single smart remote control.
The ID system isn't flawless yet, though, as it failed to recognise a connected Panasonic UB900 Ultra HD Blu-ray player for us. Trying to figure out how the features of your external gear map to the limited button count of the smart remote can sometimes be a puzzle, too. The system improves on its 2016 debut, though, and the new smart remote is by far the most ergonomic and effective that Samsung has ever made.
Samsung has also reinvented its voice control system for its 2017 TVs. No longer do you need to learn a whole new language and follow torturous "voice paths" to get to a desired result. Now speaking just one or two words is usually enough to immediately access a feature - even a picture calibration setting - without needing to delve into the onscreen menus.
Samsung QLED Q8C review: Picture quality
The QE55Q8C's pictures are a slightly bewildering mix of brilliant and average.
The brilliance centres around its extreme brightness with HDR sources. Bright peaks such as direct shots of the sun, street lights, light glinting off metal and so on look dazzlingly intense and realistic, while bright interior and all exterior HDR sequences enjoy a markedly higher overall level of brightness than you get with the vast majority of rival HDR TVs. This means the QE55Q8C gets much closer than most HDR TVs to delivering on the sort of real-world light levels HDR is designed to capture present.
The combination of so much brightness with the new Samsung QLED Quantum Dot structure also helps the QE55Q8C deliver impressive amounts of colour volume - the effect you get when you take into account the amount of light that's applied to any core colour tone. This is a key part of achieving the more life-like images HDR and wide colour gamut technologies have been designed to provide.
Another string to the QE55Q8C's bow is its sharpness. It does a superb job of eking out every pixel of impact from native 4K sources, and unlike some previous Samsung TV generations it does this - even if you stick with its presets - without causing excessive image noise or distracting double-edging around sharply contrasted objects.
Samsung also continues to impress with its upscaling of HD sources. The QE55Q8C adds a real sense of extra detail and pixel density to non-4K content without causing unwanted upscaling nasties such as jaggedness, flat colours, soft motion or exaggerated grain.
Motion is generally well handled, regardless of whether you're watching HD or 4K content. Choosing a custom Motion Plus setting where the judder and blur components are both set to around their three or four level delivers clean, natural results. Though if you really hate motion processing, the picture still looks more natural than most with Motion Plus turned off.
To some extent the QE55Q8C manages to combine its ultra bright pictures with good contrast, as local dimming of the edge LEDs enables bright HDR highlights to share screen space with unusually deep black levels by LCD TV standards. There's some excellent shadow detailing in the image's darkest areas too.
Contrast is further enhanced, too, by the class-leading way the Q8C soaks up ambient light. Pictures look almost as bright, colourful and contrast-rich in a bright environment as they do in a dark room - a real boon for typically bright living rooms.
Samsung QLED TV review: Backlight issues
Unfortunately, though, there are a couple of substantial prices to pay for the QE55Q8C's intense brightness. First, dark scenes reveal a few quite defined patches of backlight clouding - including four blobs protruding a good few inches into the top edge of the image.
Second, where an intensely bright HDR object appears against a dark backdrop the vertical orientation of the backlight means you can sometimes make out a quite defined bar of light running down the picture for the width of the bright object. This is especially noticeable when watching letterboxed movies.
This sort of banding is pretty much inevitable when watching HDR on an edge-lit LCD TV with local dimming, but it's slightly more noticeable on the QE55Q8C than usual because of the set's extreme brightness.
Samsung QE55Q8C review: A few other concerns
The various bands and clouds of unwanted backlight can slightly impact the vibrancy and naturalism of the colours that appear behind them too. Though it's worth pointing out that the backlight flaws are far less distracting when you're watching TV in a bright room than they are in a dark room.
It's been suggested that QLED technology could eventually solve the viewing angle limitations associated with LCD screens. The QE55Q8C doesn't support this, though, as black levels start to reduce and the backlight flaws increase in intensity when watching the TV from as little as 30 degrees off axis.
One last issue with the QE55Q8C is that while its screen is exceptionally good at absorbing reflections, what few reflections it does pick up have their area of influence stretched by the distorting effects of the curved screen. Curved really won't be for everyone.
Samsung Q8C review: Sound quality
Considering you'll struggle to spot any visible speakers on the QE55Q8C, it sounds rather good. Film soundtracks are delivered cleanly and with aggression, with minimal distortion or muddiness even at high volumes.
You don't get the same sense of attack or immersive bubble of sound from its down- and rear-firing speakers as you get with a strong forward-firing speaker system, but even so the sound is comfortably good enough to ensure that you won't have to rush to partner your new TV with an external sound system.
There are times where the Samsung Q8C's pictures look genuinely spectacular, leaving you in no doubt as to QLED's potential as a TV technology. The way its pictures still standout in ambient light make this particular set uniquely well qualified for relatively bright living rooms, too.
Promising as Samsung's QLED technology already looks, though, anyone fond of dimming the lights to watch a film should note that QLED can't yet deliver its intense brightness and colours without triggering a few backlight clouding issues, especially on a curved screen such as this.
Alternatives to consider
This high-end Sony set is almost as bright as the QE55Q8C, and uses to light plates in sequence instead of the usual one to deliver twice as much light control as rival edge-lit LCD TVs. It's set to be upgraded for Dolby Vision too, and at the time of writing costs substantially less than its Samsung rival. Its Android TV smart interface is a pain, though.
Read the full article: Sony XE93 review
This one costs £500 more than the QE55Q8C and can't run as brightly with HDR. However, its use of OLED rather than LCD technology helps it deliver dark scenes with outstanding black levels and no backlight clouding. Its incredibly thin design and startlingly powerful built-in soundbar are hard to resist, too.
Read the full article: LG OLED E7 review