(Pocket-lint) - Despite Samsung previously declaring that one of LCD technology's big advantages over OLED was its relative affordability, the brand's latest flagship LCD set actually makes OLED look cheap. In fact, at £4,479 the 65-inch Q9F is the most expensive 65-inch LCD TV we've seen for years.
Samsung's excuse for such an eye-watering price tag, though, is pretty good: the Q9F uses a brand new Quantum Dot technology in order to produce more brightness and colour than the TV world has ever seen before. Is it too good to be true?
Samsung QE65Q9FAM review: Design
- 4x HDMI in
- 3x USB Multimedia port
- LAN and Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth headphone support
The Q9F's design certainly doesn't follow the herd. It's pretty chunky round the back by today's slim-obsessed standards, and its ultra-minimal approach and dark frame give it a strikingly industrial look.
Gauging a few opinions from visitors to the test room suggested the look seems a bit 'Marmite', to say the least. The set's perfectly sheer front and back finish gives it a monolothic appearance that most people consider impactful - even if they're not sure they actually want that in their living room.
If you've only got a fairly narrow bit of furniture to put your TV on, you should note that the 65Q9F's desktop feet sit fairly wide apart on its bottom edge.
The Q9F's most universally applauded design touch is its cable management. Not only does it put all of its connections on an external connections box, but it uses proprietary fibre-optic technology to ensure that the single cable that joins the connection box to the TV is so thin and so semi-transparent that you can barely see it.
The connections on the external box are plentiful. Four HDMIs all prove capable of handling full-bandwidth 4K and HDR (high dynamic range) signals, while three USBs can be used for playing multimedia or recording from the TV's Freeview HD tuner to a connected USB hard drive.
Plus there's Wi-Fi and Ethernet network support, plus Bluetooth connectivity to provide you with the only way of using headphones with Samsung's new flagship TV (as there's no headphone jack).
There's one final key thing to stress about the QE65Q9FAM's design: its flat screen. This makes it the first flagship Samsung TV for years that's used a flat rather than curved screen. If you're desperate for curved then there's the Q8C, but that comes with its own issues.
Samsung 65-inch Q9F review: Picture features
- HDR Support: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+
- Processing Engine: Samsung's proprietary picture engine
- HDR+ SDR-to-HDR conversion system
- New processing to drive the new QLED panel design
This is where the QE65Q9FAM works hardest to justify its hefty price tag. Starting with the fact that its 'QLED' LED panel uses a new type of Quantum Dot technology to boost its brightness and colour performance.
What Samsung has done, essentially, is encase its Quantum Dots in a new metal sheath, enabling them to be driven harder and arranged differently within a multilayered LED panel design. As a result, the Q9F claims to deliver an unprecedented 2,000 nits of peak brightness, plus unprecedented amounts of colour volume (colour volume is what you get when you apply different light levels to colour).
This matters now more than ever before because of high dynamic range picture technology. HDR needs both brightness and (as HDR's expanded luminance range is almost always partnered with expanded colour spectrums) wider colour support to really shine.
The Q9F illuminates its new metal-clad Quantum Dots using horizontally-firing edge LED lighting, with local dimming on hand to ensure that different sectors of the edge-mounted lights can deliver different light levels, according to the needs of the image.
While it's good to find the Q9F using horizontal lighting, since this avoids light banding issues in the black bars you get above and below very wide aspect ratio movies, it's still rather surprising that the QE65Q9FAM doesn't use direct LED lighting, where the LEDs sit - usually more effectively - directly behind the screen.
That said, Samsung's unique QLED Quantum Dots are addressed by light quite differently to normal LCD pixels, so maybe the origin of the light doesn't matter so much. Alternatively, maybe Samsung just needed to find a way to put a cap on the set's clearly spiralling costs (direct backlighting tends to be more expensive than edge lighting).
It goes without saying these days that the Q9F carries a native 4K resolution. As for its support for the growing number of high dynamic range formats out there, it covers the industry standard HDR10 system, the broadcast-friendly HLG system, and the recently unveiled HDR10+ system. HDR10+ adds a layer of extra information to the usual core HDR10 data content, to help TVs deliver HDR better.
It does not, however, support the Dolby Vision HDR system; in fact, Samsung seems to have pretty much designed HDR10+ in direct competition with the Dolby platform.
Finally, a word on HDR+ - which is Samsung's system for upscaling standard dynamic range to HDR. This is the most aggressive such conversion system around in the TV world right now, and as such may well appeal to many users wanting to permanently see their expensive new TV running to the extreme of its abilities. However, while Samsung's HDR conversion system is clever enough to deliver some pretty amazing results at times, it can also exaggerate noise in dark areas, and makes some colours - especially skin tones - look peaky to say the least.
Samsung QE65Q9FAM review: Smart features
- Eden 2.0, including Netflix, Amazon, Now TV, and the key UK catch up TV platforms.
Samsung has pursued its own Tizen-based smart TV path for the past few years, resulting in the so-called Eden 2.0 system.
Eden 2.0 combines a number of strengths to deliver a satisfying smart experience. Its row of icons along the bottom of the home screen delivers quick access to lots of content without taking up too much screen space. The way a second row of contextual links connects to the selected icon on the bottom row is reminiscent of the best feature of the latest Apple TV menus. The ease with which the icons can be moved around on the home screen makes it highly customisable to suit your particular preferences. Its integrated voice control component is inspired in its simplicity too.
Finally, in content terms, it's one of the best systems out there - thanks in particular to its focus on the sort of video-based apps that most users will want to find on their television set. For instance, as well as supporting all of the catch up apps for the UK's big four terrestrial broadcasters, Eden 2.0 carries Sky's Now TV platform and 4K HDR-capable versions of Netflix, Amazon and YouTube.
It would be handy if the Q9F's smart TV service introduced support for either Freeview Play or YouView, like a growing number of rival smart systems now do. Other than that, though, the Q9F is on point.
Samsung Q9F QLED 4K TV review: Picture quality
Samsung's flagship TV for 2017 does some extraordinary and unprecedented things to TV picture quality.
For starters, its pictures really are the brightest the TV world has ever seen. You can see this as soon as you start watching HDR content on it, but if you'd rather have a number to work with it delivers a measurable light output (on a standard 10 per cent white HDR window) of more than 1,500 nits, rising to nearer 1,800 nits over smaller white HDR areas.
This enables the 65Q9F to give unprecedented punch and expression to the bright end of the extended HDR light spectrum. Daylight exteriors thus look more lifelike, and there's more intensity to classic HDR highlights - such as sunlight glinting on metal or artificial light sources.
Even better, the Q9F's extreme brightness - together with Samsung's new QLED technology and some clever tone mapping processing - enables it to produce levels of detail and tonal finesse in peak brightness areas that no other TV can match.
This is especially true when watching Ultra HD Blu-rays that have been mastered to a 4,000 nits brightness level rather than the more common 1,000 nits. In truth, though, it seems to give more insight into the brightest areas of pretty much any HDR content.
The extreme brightness Samsung has obtained from the Q9F also contributes to arguably its single most eye-catching and potentially popular achievement: uniquely watchable pictures in ambient light. Thanks to the way the brightness is combined with some frankly incredible light filtering technology you can watch its pictures in really quite bright living rooms without their intensity looking in any way reduced, or their impact being reduced by onscreen reflections.
The effect is so striking that it almost looks supernatural at times - and it's a unique and phenomenally useful ability for the legions of households that routinely end up watching TV in sun-drenched or artificially lit environments.
The Q9F's extreme brightness also contributes to an unprecedented colour volume performance. This has become a key TV consideration with the advent of HDR technology, and this Samsung's prowess produces levels of vibrancy and colour insight with some particularly extreme HDR shots that simply haven't been seen before.
Samsung Q9F QLED 4K TV review: What's the catch?
So far, so very, very good. However, it turns out there's a price to pay for the Q9F's extreme brightness: backlight inconsistencies.
When really bright objects appear at the centre of dark backdrops you can sometimes see horizontal bands of light running across the whole image that roughly match the width of the bright objects. This is a pretty much inevitable result of the combination of edge-mounted LEDs and the local dimming Samsung has used to create the Q9F's pictures. And while the light banding effect is not as distractingly stark as you might have expected given the TV's extreme brightness, it's certainly there.
The difficulties of controlling so much brightness with an edge LED lighting system also sometimes impact the set's colour presentation. For while colours often look explosively rich, natural and consistent, tones can occasionally become a little bleached in areas where the backlight is having to work especially hard to illuminate a very bright element alongside a rich colour.
It's important to stress at this point that the Q9F's backlight system doesn't prevent it from being able to hit some of the deepest, richest black levels the LCD world has produced to date. It manages to produce its deep blacks without crushing out as much shadow detail as the vast majority of other LCD TVs, too.
It's just that when what you're watching contains a really extreme mix of light and dark content, on a TV as bright as this one not even the best edge-lighting management in the world can remove all backlight pollution issues.
It's hard not to wonder what might have been if Samsung had used a direct lighting system for its flagship QLED TV, as it has with previous generations of flagship LEDs. Maybe next year?
There are a couple of other Q9F issues you should be aware of before parting with so much cash, too. First, HDR colour blends can sometimes appear rather stripey, despite this TV using a 10-bit panel. Second, the picture loses colour and contrast if watched from much of an angle. This isn't unusual for the LCD TV world, by any means. But it's a touch disappointing here in that it was originally claimed last year that Samsung's QLED technology would pretty much solve LCD's traditional viewing angle shortcomings.
Interestingly, the light clouding and banding issues seen with HDR pretty much vanish with standard dynamic range viewing. Indeed, the Q9F's performance with SDR and HD sources is great. It upscales HD to 4K supremely well, adding impressive amounts of sharpness and detail without exaggerating noise or making slender edges look stressed or jagged. And the set's light management reins itself in beautifully to adapt to the much narrower light and colour ranges associated with SDR content.
Samsung Q9F 4K QLED TV review: Sound quality
The 65-inch Q9F savvily uses its slightly chunky bodywork to pump out a quite impressive audio performance. The sound enjoys a pretty strong dynamic range, with reasonably deep, distortion-free and well-integrated bass at one end, clear but not over-strident trebles at the other, and a wide-open, smooth mid-range in-between. It can go loud without the speakers phutting or the TV's cabinet rattling, too, and the sound disperses a decent distance away from the screen without losing cohesion.
The only issue is that the sound lacks a little of the directness and aggression you get with sets that use forward-firing speakers and/or integrated soundbars.
The Q9F is another typically ground-breaking TV from Samsung. It pushes hard to set new standards for high dynamic range playback with its unprecedented brightness and colour performance, and is hands-down the most watchable TV in ambient light there's ever been. Even Philips' old moth-eye sets can't hold a candle to the way the Q9F's pictures remain pretty much unaffected by ambient light in a room.
The Q9F's industrial design may be a little divisive, and it's a shame that pushing for so much colour and brightness can cause backlight problems during dark scenes. And just how much better still a direct-lit LED backlight system would have been, well, we won't know - maybe next year?
If your pockets are deep enough and you do most of your viewing - as many households do - in a predominantly bright room, then Samsung's new flagship TV is uniquely qualified to deliver the goods. If brightness is what you seek then there's no doubt this Samsung takes the (very expensive) biscuit.
Alternatives to consider
Samsung Q7F QLED
The flat-screen step-down for the Q9F is the Q7F. It's not horizontally lit and not quite as bright. But for roughly half the price most households will find this to be as much TV as they'll ever need. It's far brighter than OLED, too.
Read the full article: Samsung Q7F review
LG OLED E7
This LG OLED TV is barely half as bright as the Q9F, which inevitably limits the bright part of its HDR performance. On the other hand, though, its stunningly trim frame delivers beautifully even, incredibly deep black levels, it supports Dolby Vision HDR, and carries an integrated soundbar.
Read the full article: LG E7 review
Sony's flagship 65-inch LCD TV for 2017 gets close to the brightness of the Q9F, and delivers strong colours too thanks to its Triluminos system. Its innovative dual light plate backlight provides a reasonable amount of local light control, too, and it will support Dolby Vision (just not yet). It's not as immune to ambient light, though, and its backlight approach can cause light "blocking" at times. It costs less than half as much as the Samsung, though, which will be all many people need to hear.
Read the full article: Sony XE9305 review