(Pocket-lint) - Samsung has resisted the urge to adopt OLED, preferring to refine LCD instead. The company feels that its QLED range of LCD TVs - which feature Quantum Dot technology, direct LED backlights, and sophisticated local dimming - is the best way to deliver today's high dynamic range (HDR) content.
The Samsung Q90R is the new flagship QLED 4K TV and it boasts all the latest innovations, including an improved black filter for a better contrast performance and wider viewing angles, artificial intelligence-enhanced image-processing (as first seen on Samsung's 8K Q90R0), and an updated smart platform with even more content providers, including the addition of Apple's iTunes, a universal guide, and Bixby voice assistant built-in.
As a result, the Q90R could be the most complete TV that Samsung has ever made. Is it worth paying the extra for this ultra-bright and ultra-refined home cinema experience?
QE65Q90R: Design, Connections and Control
- One Connect Box (separate connections away from TV)
- Single fibre optic cable that includes power
- 4x HDMI in, 3x USB multimedia port
- LAN and Wi-Fi network options
The Samsung Q90R uses the same 360-degree design that has graced its previous generations of QLED TVs. So you get a fairly minimalist approach with a bezel-less screen and a brushed metal outer edge. The rear of the panel has ridges that provide a textured effect, which is quite attractive, and there are grooves for tidier cable management.
The build quality is superb, with the 65-inch panel on review here weighing a tonne - even without the stand. That part has been redesigned, though, and now takes a more traditional approach with a smaller footprint - which is sure to please those with narrower equipment racks. If you'd rather wall-mount this telly there are dedicated fixings behind a removable panel at the rear, although the 'No Gap' bracket is optional.
The Q90R sports the same nearly-invisible fibre optic cable connection as last year too. This single connection provides the panel with everything, including power. All the other connections are attached to the One Connect box - a separate connections box away from the main panel, which is a clever solution to ensure the minimum of cabling actually goes to the panel itself, for the tidiest of wall mounts.
There are four HDMI 2.0b inputs that support HDR, Wide Colour Gamut (Rec.2020) and HDCP 2.2. You'll also find three USB ports (two 2.0 and one 3.0), twin terrestrial and satellite tuners, an optical digital output, a CI (Common Interface) slot, an external link for auto calibration, a LAN port, along with built-in Wi-Fi and AirPlay 2.
The Q90R doesn't support HDMI 2.1, because Samsung feel it isn't necessary here. The HDMI connections can still accept 4K at up to 120Hz, along with dynamic metadata (HDR10+), variable refresh rate (VRR), and an auto low latency mode (ALLM). While the Q90R doesn't currently support an enhanced audio return channel (eARC), it could be added if needed.
The remote control is very similar to last year's model, too, with the same eye-catching metal construction and an ergonomic shape that makes it comfortable to hold and easy to use with one hand. There's a microphone for voice control, while new direct access buttons for Netflix, Amazon and Rakuten also feature.
QE55Q90R: Quantum Processor 4K with AI
- HDR Support: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+
- Quantum 4K Processor with AI
- 100% of DCI-P3
- 1600nits peak brightness
- Ultra Black Elite Filter and Ultra Viewing Angle
The Samsung Q90R uses the latest version of the Quantum Processor, which now includes the same artificial intelligence enhancements first introduced on the 8K Q90R0. This new version is optimised for 4K, but apart from that it applies the same machine learning to upscale lower resolution images.
What that basically means is there's a database built into the Q90R which houses millions of low and high-resolution images. This database is used to analyse and process the picture to deliver optimal upscaling. Samsung uses machine learning algorithms to periodically update the database, thus improving the image processing.
The processing doesn't just upscale lower resolution images to match the 4K (3840 x 2160) panel, it also enhances them by applying detail creation to improve the texture of objects, and reduce noise where necessary. There's also an edge restoration feature designed to remove jaggies and create lines with precisely-defined edges.
Samsung hasn't just updated the processing in the Q90R, it also sports the new Ultra Black Elite filter. This uses two refractive layers to minimise light reflections and it was something of a revelation in testing. The new filter almost completely eliminated reflections, resulting in a superb contrast performance, even when watching TV during the day.
The Q90R was equally as impressive when it came to delivering a dynamic contrast at night with all the lights out. The Ultra Black Elite filter and VA panel certainly help, as does the direct LED backlight and superb local dimming. The number of zones is the same as last year (just under 500), but Samsung's algorithms are so effective that it seems like a lot more.
VA panels deliver superior blacks, but also tend to have very narrow optimal viewing angles. At least they did until now, because the Q90R includes Samsung's rather unimaginatively named Ultra Viewing Angle technology. This uses a light concentration layer combined with a uniform light layer to produce a much wider optimal viewing angle.
This new innovation really works, resulting in an image that doesn't suffer from a degradation in the colour and contrast as you move off centre to the left or right. The Q90R has the kind of viewing angles more usually associated with OLED TVs and unlike Sony's recent efforts, Samsung has achieved this without sacrificing other aspects of the performance.
QE75Q90R: HDR Superstar
A TV can have all the bells and whistles in the world but if the picture quality isn't good, what's the point? Thankfully that isn't the case with the Samsung Q90R. This TV doesn't just deliver the best picture quality we've seen from an LCD display, it delivers some of the best images we've seen regardless of panel technology.
In part this is because Samsung has concentrated on getting the basics right. The images are accurate and natural-looking right out of the box, the direct LED backlight and highly effective local dimming ensure the blacks remain deep, while there is plenty of detail in the shadows and bright highlights.
The use of Quantum Dot technology results in gorgeously saturated colours, while the AI-enhanced image processing squeezes every last pixel out of the source material. Once you add in the incredibly effective black filter and remarkable viewing angles, you begin to realise what an evolutionary leap this TV really is.
It's not an over-exaggeration to say that the Q90R looks as good as any OLED TV when it comes to standard dynamic range (SDR) content. With the backlight set to an appropriate level for SDR, watching a Blu-ray like Gravity reveals all the stars in the blackness of space, as well as the brighter highlights in the white space suits. There's no evidence of blooming or haloing.
The Samsung also handles motion extremely well, although some may experience a bit of judder or blur with certain scenes. We wouldn't recommend using the Auto Motion Plus features with movies, but they can prove useful when watching sports.
If you're a gamer the Q90R will undoubtedly delight you, with a host of features that includes variable refresh rate (VRR), and an auto low latency mode (ALLM). With the game mode engaged the input lag is an incredibly low 14ms - perfect for all you twitch trigger gamers out there.
Samsung has included an Intelligent Picture mode too, which adjusts the images based on the amount of ambient light in the room. We'd recommended turning this feature off in the menus; although as we'll discuss later in this review, the Intelligent Sound mode is definitely worth trying.
As good as the Q90R is with SDR content, it's with HDR content that this TV really steps up a gear. An OLED competitor will struggle to compete with the Q90R when it comes to delivering fully saturated colours and incredibly bright specular highlights.
The Q90R is an HDR superstar, accurately tone mapping images and perfectly rendering the content creator's intentions. Pop on a native 4K disc like Passengers and the Q90R reveals every last pore in Jennifer Lawrence's face. Switch to a film like Pan, which is a riot of colour, and the Samsung reproduces that with wonderful saturation.
The direct LED backlight and effective local dimming algorithms ensure that while the blacks remain black, the details just above black are also perfectly defined. The brighter parts of the image are also delivered without any of the issues that plague edge-lit LCD TVs. There is a tiny bit of blooming on really challenging content such as the hyenas at night sequence in Planet Earth II, but overall this is one of the best HDR performances we have ever seen.
The Q90R supports HDR10+, which uses dynamic metadata to deliver a superior HDR performance. This metadata identifies how the HDR content is encoded and is adjusted on a scene-by-scene basis, resulting in a more defined and nuanced image. There isn't a great deal of HDR10+ content at the moment, just a handful of 4K discs and some content on Amazon Prime, but the format is gaining in popularity (it's also on Panasonic's new GZ2000).
The inclusion of dynamic metadata doesn't deliver a night and day difference, especially with a TV as capable as the Q90R, but it does deliver a satisfying HDR experience. Watching the 4K Blu-rays of Bohemian Rhapsody and Bad Times at the El Royale, both of which include HDR10+, and the images are wonderfully detailed. The colours appear both natural and accurately saturated, while the shadows and highlights appear slightly more refined when compared to the regular HDR10 version.
QE82Q90R: Any issues?
The Samsung Q90R is such a complete TV in terms of both features and performance that it's hard to really criticise it. In fact its only obvious weakness is a lack of support for Dolby Vision, because Samsung has decided to put its corporate weight behind HDR10+. At present there is significantly more Dolby Vision content available, and manufacturers such as Panasonic and Philips will offer models this year that support both Dolby Vision and HDR10+, putting the Q90R at a disadvantage.
QE65Q90R: Smart features
- Tizen OS with Bixby
The Samsung Q90R uses the latest iteration of the company's smart platform, which is based around the Tizen operating system. The user interface is largely the same as last year, with a launcher bar along the bottom and a second layer that provides faster access to the video streaming services.
Samsung has always offered an extensive selection of content providers on its smart platform, including Netflix, Amazon, Now TV, Rakuten, YouTube, and all the UK TV catch-up services. As comprehensive as that list might seem, Samsung will go one better by exclusively adding Apple's iTunes (and AirPlay 2) via a firmware update in the spring.
There's always a danger of content overload when you have so much to choose from, so this year Samsung has sensibly added a Universal Guide. This new feature is designed to collect all your favourite games, movies, sports, and streaming services into a single user-friendly interface. It then uses AI machine learning to analyse your viewing habits and create a single 'For You' page with personalised content to suit your tastes.
Another new feature this year is the inclusion of the Bixby smart assistant. You can access this AI enhancement by either pressing the microphone button on the remote, or simply saying "Hi Bixby". We generally found that using the microphone was most effective, avoiding any confusion caused by other noises in the room. It certainly proved effective at controlling the TV and answering our questions.
However, Samsung is AI agnostic, and the Q90R is also compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. So if voice control is your thing, you have a fairly extensive choice of smart assistants.
QE65Q90R: Sound quality
- Intelligent Sound
The Samsung Q90R's direct LED backlight needs a deeper panel than many of today's ultra-thin TVs, but that has the added benefit of providing more space for larger speakers. There's a 4.2-channel system and 60W of amplification packed into the frame, which sounds genuinely good. The larger screen size delivers solid stereo separation, while the midrange and higher frequencies are well-defined, and the bass is surprisingly deep.
Not only does the Q90R use AI to enhance its image processing and smart system, but it also uses it to improve the audio performance as well. The Intelligent Sound mode is designed to optimise the audio by analysing the room and content. As a result, with this feature turned on, the audio has a more defined soundstage and a better sense of surround envelopment.
The Intelligent Sound feature is genuinely impressive, giving sporting events a greater sense of reality by enhancing the crowd noises, but retaining clarity when it comes to commentary. The same is true with movies, where the processing precisely renders music and effects, but keeps the dialogue firmly focused on the screen. The processing also enhances game play, reproducing effects precisely and creating a greater sense of immersion.
The Q90R doesn't support Dolby Atmos, which could be considered an issue with so many other manufacturers now adding it to their TVs. However it's debatable just how much value Dolby Atmos processing really adds to a TV with a limited number of speakers, plus you'll be able to send Dolby Atmos soundtracks from internal apps like Netflix to supporting soundbars via the HDMI audio return channel.
The Samsung Q90R is easily the best 4K TV that the company has produced to date. It builds upon all the performance innovations seen in recent years and has improved them. The Ultra Black Filter does a remarkable job of eliminating reflections, thus the Ultra Viewing Angle feature lives up to its name, delivering viewing angles previously only seen on OLED tellies.
The direct LED backlight, Quantum Dot technology, local dimming, and AI-enhanced processing all play their part, resulting in some of the best SDR and especially HDR images that we've seen from a TV, regardless of the panel technology. The Q90R includes HDR10+ support, but the lack of Dolby Vision is disappointing in a TV that is otherwise hard to fault.
The Samsung Q90R is available in four screen sizes: the 55-inch QE55Q90R, the 65-inch QE65Q90R, the 75-inch QE75Q90R, and the massive 82-inch QE82Q90R. Pricing has yet to be announced, but the 65-inch model reviewed here will cost under £4,000 when it goes on sale in March 2019.