(Pocket-lint) - Samsung remains committed to expanding its QLED 8K TV line-up in 2020, with the Q950TS represents a serious expression of intent from the company, boasting state-of-the art picture and sound features, all wrapped up in an attractive new package.
There's a host of artificial intelligence-enhanced processing applied to both the picture and sound, with the former taking full advantage of the 8K panel's resolution, while also adding new features to boost the brightness and improve the efficiency. In terms of the audio capabilities, an upgraded speaker system and object-tracking processing deliver a more immersive sonic experience.
The smart platform has been updated, which now makes connecting and setting up all your devices even easier, while the support for streaming services has been expanded to include Disney+. An improved Universal Guide will help you sift through all the available content, while the gaming capabilities have been enhanced, too, resulting in an incredibly low input lag.
The Q950TS is available now in 65-inch (QE65Q950TS - £5,999), 75-inch (QE75Q950TS - £7,999) and 85-inch (QE85Q950TS - £11,999) screen sizes. This review was based on testing conducted on a 75-inch Q950TS.
Design & Connections
- One Connect Box
- Single fibre optic cable that includes power
- 4x HDMI in, 3x USB multimedia port
- LAN and Wi-Fi network options; Bluetooth; AirPlay 2
The Samsung Q950TS boasts a new 'Infinity' design that virtually eliminates the bezel, with just a tiny 2mm-wide border around the top and side edges of the chassis, and slightly wider border at the bottom where the Samsung logo resides. The result is a rectangular slab that has a flat back and is only 15mm deep, despite there being a direct array backlight and eight drivers built-into the design.
The elegant angled stand creates the impression the picture is simply floating in space, and uses a smaller footprint to make installation easier. The Q950TS looks gorgeous from any angle, but if you'd prefer to wall-mount there's the option of the 'No Gap' bracket. Thanks to Samsung's clever One Connect box, the screen is connected with a single fibre optic cable.
This nearly-invisible connection provides the panel with everything, including power. All the other connections are attached to the One Connect box. This clever solution ensures there's the minimum of cabling actually going to the panel, which is particularly useful when wall-mounting. The inputs on the box include HDMI 2.1, and there's support for Apple AirPlay 2.
Quantum Processor 8K
- HDR Support: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+
- Processing engine: Quantum Processor 8K
- Hybrid machine and neural network learning
- Ultra Viewing Angle
The Samsung Q950TS sports the latest version of the Quantum Processor 8K, which now uses an expanded database of picture information that includes more examples of low- and high-resolution images. As with last year's version of the processor, AI machine learning is applied to build-up a formula bank that's loaded into the TV and periodically updated.
New for 2020 is the addition of deep learning, which uses a neural network to augment the machine learning by creating its own formulas and algorithms without resorting to a formula bank. If you'll excuse the pun, this is a quantum leap in AI-enhanced processing, and while the previous machine learning took a day, the new deep learning can take up to a week to complete.
This state-of-the-art approach to picture processing ensures that whatever the quality of the source content, the upscaled images look as good as possible. The processing is done on a pixel-by-pixel basis, applying noise reduction, edge restoration, texture creation and fine detail restoration. The deep learning is primarily reserved for fine detail and complex images.
The level of processing power and the size of the databases and formula banks being used is beyond any television, so the formulas and filters are created by Samsung using the combination of machine learning and neural networks before loading them into the TV via firmware updates. Minor updates are made fairly regularly, but major updates will only happen once or twice a year.
The new processor is certainly able to make the most of all those pixels in the 8K panel, perfectly upscaling lower resolution content to fit the screen. The processor also applies noise reduction to clean-up low quality material, and some banding reduction is also applied in order to deliver more precise gradations in all content.
The images are analysed in three layers, from a course one, to finer layers, and the fine detail texture creation is then applied depending on the quality of the source content. This means that less processing is required for a high quality 4K source, but more fine detail and texture creation is needed when dealing with low quality standard-definition material.
The processor also enhances motion by applying error improvements designed to prevent the distortion of small objects. It also applies pixel-based occlusion correction and concealment, to deliver smoother and more refined motion. There is improved judder reduction that avoids the 'soap opera effect', and a newly added ability to eliminate stutter caused by frame drops.
- Adaptive Peak Brightness
- Adaptive Tone Mapping
- Adaptive Picture
The Samsung Q950TS uses a direct full array backlight with local dimming zones. The company wouldn't confirm the exact number of zones, but did say it's the same as last year, which would put the number of zones at just under 500. The use of a direct backlight and local dimming ensures the panel delivers deep blacks and brighter highlights with minimal blooming or haloing.
This year the performance has been enhanced further by the addition of Adaptive Peak Brightness. The backlight creates a current map based on the image, and analyses this current map to establish bright or dark areas. Using the dimming zones, it then applies more current to brighter areas of the panel, and less to darker parts.
The use of local power distribution technology allows the Q950TS to relocate power from darker parts of the image to the brighter areas, thus producing a 20 per cent increase in peak brightness and improving energy efficiency. In addition, an Intelligent Contrast feature analyses the luminance distribution of an image, and applies signal processing to fine tune the perceived contrast.
The Quantum Processor doesn't just improve the image processing, it also optimises the picture based on a user's viewing habits. This Adaptive Picture feature can sense ambient light in the room using a light sensor and adjust the image depending on whether it is day or night. These adjustments are based on the image, rather just globally based on the readings from the sensor.
The Q950TS supports high dynamic range (specifically HDR10, HDR10+ and Hybrid Log-Gamma), but also includes a new feature called Adaptive Tone Mapping. This applies dynamic tone mapping to HDR10 content on a frame-by-frame basis, enhancing dark and mid-range images to produce a more impactful HDR experience. For reasons best known to itself, Samsung still doesn't support Dolby Vision.
Object Tracking Sound Plus (OTS+)
- 4.2.2-channel driver array
- Object Tracking Sound Plus (OTS+)
- Adaptive Sound
- Active Voice Amplifier
The Samsung Q950TS boasts a seriously beefed-up sound system that uses eight drivers in a six speaker array. The result is a 4.2.2-channel layout with two speakers on either side at the top, two at the sides towards the bottom, two on the underside firing downwards, and a pair woofers built into the rear of the chassis.
The integration of the speakers is seamless, hidden behind a pattern of tiny holes in the outer edge of the TV cabinet. The sound quality is certainly impressive, with an open soundstage and plenty of amplification. However, testing was conducted using a stand-mounted Q950TS, raising the question of how wall-mounting would affect the woofers at the rear.
When you first setup the TV, there is a sound optimisation feature that sends out test tones and measures them using built-in microphones. The Q950TS also applies its AI-enhanced brain to its acoustic capabilities, using audio spatial intelligence to analyse the signal and environment, thus allowing it to deliver an improved sonic experience.
There's also Active Voice Amplifier, which detects ambient noise in the room and automatically adjusts vocal clarity accordingly. Another new audio feature is Object Tracking Sound Plus (OTS+), which uses the eight drivers built into the TV to deliver a bigger soundstage with greater width, height and dimensionality. The audio is analysed and processed using the available speakers to create sounds that are aligned with the location of specific images on the screen.
Despite the Q950TS having all these extra built-in speakers, Samsung still doesn't support Dolby Atmos (although the TV can send Atmos back via ARC from its internal apps to a supporting soundbar or AV receiver). In addition, the Q950TS supports eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel), and can pass lossless audio back via ARC to a supporting soundbar our AV receiver. Samsung stated that it didn't support Dolby Atmos processing in the TV because OTS+ improves all content, and not just Atmos soundtracks.
However, if you have a 2020 Samsung soundbar, you can not only enjoy Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, but also benefit from Q-Symphony, which provides audio synergy with the TV. This feature enables the soundbar to work with the top and side speakers on the Q950TS, resulting in a more immersive surround experience.
The sonic performance is certainly excellent, with the added speakers creating a soundstage that uses the extra width and height to spread out around the TV screen. It's likely that anyone investing in a TV this big and expensive will also use some kind of out-board audio solution, but if you don't then the Q950TS is capable of producing sounds big enough to complement the screen size.
- Universal Guide
- Digital Butler
- Built-in Bixby and Amazon Alexa
- Works with Google Assistant
- Smart Screen Security
Samsung's smart platform uses the Tizen operating system, and is one of the best on the market. For 2020 it has been enhanced, with a cleaner interface and a host of new features, of which the most impressive is the Digital Butler. This allows for quick and easy connection of all nearby devices by automatically detecting and representing them in a graphical fashion.
The TV will scan for three minutes based on signal strength, looking for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices. The results are shown using an intuitive representation that also includes any infrared devices, and those that are physically connected via HDMI or USB. You can then select any detected device and set it up, before moving on to the next one. This simple method of detecting and registering devices allows you to centralise device control around your TV.
The Q950TS offers the benefits of built-in smart assistants in the form of Bixby and Amazon Alexa. It also has multiple voice control options thanks to Alexa and Bixby, as well as the ability to work in conjunction with Google Assistant.
The centralisation of all your devices through your TV, along with the connectivity offered by the Internet of Things (IoT) has made today's smart TVs vulnerable to hacking. Samsung has worked in conjunction with Knox Security to make the Tizen OS safe from malware and phishing activities, and also provide secure remote access and payment services.
While this is all very impressive, the main reason for buying a TV is to watch content, and the more video streaming services it supports the better. Samsung offers a comprehensive selection that includes Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Rakuten TV, Now TV, and all the UK catch-up services. In addition, there's support for TV Plus, Apple TV+ and Disney+.
The Q950TS also supports all the latest 8K codecs, allowing users with a fast enough broadband connections to enjoy native 8K content from services like YouTube and Rakuten. In addition, Samsung has announced support for AI ScaleNet technology, which reduces original data loss during streaming, as well as the NextGenTV broadcast standard.
With all this choice it can be hard deciding what to watch, so Samsung has developed the Universal Guide. This feature, which was introduced in 2019, curates and recommends content based on your viewing habits. It's now been updated to be more content driven, rather than relying on the support of content partners.
- Auto Game Mode
- Game Motion Plus
- VRR and AMD FreeSync
- 10ms or less input lag
- Multi-view Mode
Samsung has always prioritised gamers when it comes to its TVs - the Q950TS being no exception. Not only is there no danger of image retention or screen burn after a marathon gaming session, but it includes a host of new features aimed specifically at gamers.
As with previous generations, the Q950TS supports VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) and ALLM (Automatic Low Latency Mode), which automatically switches the TV into the game mode when it detects a game. The Q950TS also has Dynamic Black Equaliser, and now supports AMD FreeSync.
Other new features include a multi-view mode, allowing you to both game and watch game-related videos on a single screen. This feature isn't just for gamers, as anyone can view two content choices simultaneously, either side-by-side or picture-in-picture.
There's also a new surround mode for gaming that offers extra tuning designed to emphasise sound effects within a game, and the existing Game Motion Plus feature has been improved by up to 40 per cent, resulting in smoother movement in games.
The Q950TS has an input lag of 9.7ms in Game mode - with all the extra gaming features turned off. If you use the Dynamic Black Equaliser, the lag remains at 9.7ms, even at the highest setting, and selecting the Surround Sound mode slightly increases the lag to 10.7ms. Using the Game Motion Plus improves the motion handling, but also increases the lag to 27.9ms. The motion handling is still excellent, even without this feature, so you may as well leave it off and enjoy almost lag-less game play.
The Samsung Q950TS is state-of-the-art when it comes to the company's picture processing, which is immediately apparent. For a start it benefits from wider viewing angles and highly effective local dimming, resulting in deeper blacks and brighter highlights without introducing blooming or haloing. Samsung has also eliminated black crush, bringing out more detail in the shadows, and images appear natural, with saturated but accurate colours.
But what really grabs attention is the amount of detail in the image. Samsung's claims about its AI-enhanced upscaling might sound like hype, but in reality the results are simply incredible. You know the upscaling can't add what isn't there, yet in conjunction with all those extra pixels on the 8K panel, images appear more detailed. Pick any one of your favourite films, put it on, and it's like seeing it for the first time, spotting details you've never noticed before.
The motion handling is also much improved, with 24p content looking smoother and free of any judder, but also doesn't introduce unwanted artefacts. The Picture Clarity settings apply frame interpolation, which results in smoothing, but this can be useful with sport. The LED Clear Motion setting uses black frame insertion, which darkens the image, but does improve the motion without adding any soap opera effect or unwanted flicker.
However, where this TV really impresses is with HDR. The results are often breathtaking. For a start the upscaling performs miracles with native 4K discs, and the amount of fine detail in a movie like The Revenant is often astonishing. Even a movie that only has a 2K DI (Digital Intermediate) - like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 - still looks amazing, with Samsung's awesome AI-enhanced image processing squeezing every last pixel of detail out of the source.
The HDR tone mapping is much improved this year, ensuring improved levels of accuracy. The peak brightness hits over 1,500 nits in the most accurate Movie mode, and produces nearly 100 per cent of the DCI-P3 colour space. HDR has more impact compared to an OLED panel, which simply looks dull by comparison, and images have increased punch both in terms of brightness and saturation. The dynamic tone mapping also performs well, getting the most out of static HDR10 metadata.
Of course the Q950TS isn't perfect, as its local dimming can sometimes struggle with challenging content such as the scene in First Man where the Apollo 11 spacecraft goes into the shadow of the moon. It's an absolute torture test for any local dimming system, but for the most part the HDR images retain deep blacks and bright highlights, without losing shadow detail, clipping the whites or causing blooming.
Ultimately, the Samsung Q950TS is one of the best TVs we have seen. It's sure to please anyone who decides to take the leap into 8K despite the lack of actual native content. Of course, if you do manage to get your hands on some actual 8K content, the images are a revelation and a tantalising glimpse of a future that's even more ultra high-definition.
The Samsung Q950TS QLED TV certainly delivers a sophisticated package that's sure to entice many consumers, who up until now have resisted the charms of 8K TV.
The design is gorgeous, the state-of-the-art AI-enhanced image processing borders on magic, and the beefed-up audio system benefits from additional processing and object tracking sound.
The HDR performance is exceptional, and the Q950TS is probably the best HDR TV you can buy right now thanks to features like adaptive peak brightness and adaptive tone mapping.
The smart platform is intuitive, secure and comprehensive. Only the lack of support for Dolby Vision and Atmos spoils what is otherwise an impressive technological statement from Samsung.
The Q950TS is expensive, but when you consider how much 8K OLED TVs cost it starts to look like good value. As a result it's not only the best 8K TV you can buy, but also one of the most affordable.
So there you have it: a TV that thinks for itself when it comes to processing, that almost completely does away with bezel, and is a huge statement of intent for Samsung's desire to take 8K to the mainstream.
This article was first published on 6 January 2020 and has been updated to reflect its full review status