(Pocket-lint) - Samsung's Neo QLED TVs employ a revolutionary new LED backlight that's significantly smaller and more efficient than previous generations. This enables the manufacturer to squeeze extra LEDs behind the panel, allowing for increased dimmable zones and greater precision.
This approach is generally referred to as Mini LED, and should not be confused with Micro LED, which is a completely different self-emissive display technology. However, Mini LED does promise to significantly improve local dimming and reduce unwanted blooming - all at an affordable price.
The QN95A is the flagship 4K TV from Samsung for 2021, and not only incorporates this Mini LED backlight but, in a change from last year, also includes the majority of features found on the high-end 8K models. So you're not forced to buy the higher resolution TVs to get all the latest gizmos.
So just how jaw-dropping is Mini LED in the Samsung QN95A (which is the QN90A in other territories)? Spoiler alert: it's very impressive indeed.
Design, connections and control: Slimmed down minimalism
- Slimmer One Connect Box
- Single fibre optic cable that includes power
- 4x HDMI inputs with eARC, 3x USB; Ethernet
- Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay 2
Along with those increased number of dimming zones, the QN95A includes a slimmed down One Connect box (where the connections go - it's not on the TV's frame as a result), comprehensive smart platform, AI processing, extensive gaming features, and Object Tracking Sound.
Plus, the QN95A is a gorgeous piece of industrial design, with a minimalist appearance, nearly bezel-less screen, and speakers cleverly hidden in the edges of the panel. The stand is well-made, providing solid support, and can be installed on a narrow surface.
It's a testament to the smaller LEDs used that Samsung is able to cram a full-array backlight into a chassis only 15mm deep. It also means the QN95A looks great wall-mounted (using the optional ‘No Gap' bracket), and the single cable from the One Connect box makes installation tidier.
The new slimmed-down One Connect box is sleeker and more elegant. Its reduced size is also discreeter, making it easier to hide away. The textured matte finish is also preferable, because the earlier glossy black boxes tended to attract fingerprints and smudges.
The box houses four HDMI inputs, one of which (HDMI 3) supports eARC. All of the HDMI inputs are capable of handling 4K/120Hz, VRR and ALLM, making this TV a great choice for next-gen gamers who want to take full advantage of their new consoles.
There are also two USB 2.0 inputs, twin tuners for terrestrial and satellite broadcasts, a CI slot, an optical digital output, and an Ethernet port. In terms of wireless connections, there's Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and support for Apple AirPlay 2.
The sleek metal Solar Cell remote is ergonomically-shaped, making it comfortable to hold and easy to use with one hand. While essentially the same as last year, the new zapper sports a solar panel on the back that recharges the batteries – making it eco-friendly and economic.
Features: Mini LED and multi-intelligent processing
- Processing engine: Neo Quantum 4K Processor with AI
- 100% of DCI-P3 colour, 2000nits of peak brightness
- Anti-reflection screen and Ultra Viewing Angle
- HDR Support: HDR10, HLG, HDR10+ Adaptive
The Samsung QN95A's main selling point is its use of a Mini LED backlight, made possible by a newly-designed micro layer that contains LEDs significantly smaller than previous generations. This is possible due to the elimination of the protective packaging and lens around the diode, allowing for thinner panels, more LEDs, and an increased number of dimmable zones.
There are 792 zones in the QN95A - a big increase on the 480 zones used previously - but upping the number of zones also requires more processing power, so a new local dimming algorithm redirects power from darker areas to improve efficiency and peak brightness. All while the Quantum Matrix system coordinates all the zones, and the Black Detail Boost feature increases shadow detail.
The new Neo Quantum Processor increases the processing power by employing multi-intelligence deep learning. Instead of a single neural network, this processor combines up 16 to create a neural analyser specialised for upscaling and processing video. All this added power is designed to deliver the best possible experience, regardless of what you're watching.
The QN95A supports high dynamic range (HDR) in the form of HDR10, HLG (hybrid log-gamma), and HDR10+ Adaptive. The last of which uses dynamic metadata designed to adapt the tone-mapping on a scene-by-scene basis, and now employs a sensor to customise the performance based on the ambient lighting conditions in your room.
The combination of Mini LED and Quantum Dot tech ensures brightness levels and a colour gamut that's tailor-made for HDR. Samsung claims a peak luminance of 2,000 nits. In our measurements the QN95A topped 2,800 nits in Dynamic Mode, although the more accurate Filmmaker Mode maxed out at 1,700 nits.
In terms of the colour gamut, this reached 94 per cent of DCI-P3 – not quite the claimed 100 per cent but still impressive given the overall brightness. It's the combination of very bright peak highlights combined with saturated colours at increased luminance levels that gives QLED an inherent advantage over OLED when it comes to delivering impactful HDR.
The Filmmaker Mode was introduced in 2020, and is designed to deliver an image that represents the content creator's original intentions. It uses brightness and colour settings to match the industry standards, and turns off any unnecessary processing or frame interpolation.
Other features introduced previously and continued into 2021 include the anti-reflection screen and Ultra Viewing Angle technology. The former is designed to reduce reflections from ambient light in the room, and works well, making this an effective TV for daytime viewing. The latter reduces the colour and contrast drop-off experienced when viewing LCD TVs at extreme angles.
The processor doesn't just improve the picture quality, it also analyses the audio signal and optimises the sonic performance based on the TV's location in your room. Other acoustic features include Adaptive Sound+, with Active Voice Amplifier for clearer dialogue, and Adaptive Volume that adjusts the volume based on content.
The QN95A supports Object Tracking Sound Plus (OTS+), which uses eight speakers and 70W of amplification to produce a more immersive audio experience. There are four speakers along the bottom for the left, right and centre channels, along with a pair of woofers and two speakers at the top for greater immersion.
This particular model also supports Q Symphony, so when combined with a compatible Samsung soundbar, the system employs the TV's top speakers to give the overall soundstage a greater sense of height and immersion.
Finally there's the new Tap View feature, which allows owners of compatible Samsung smartphones to instantaneously connect by simply tapping the phone against the TV's chassis.
Picture quality: Impressive local dimming
The Samsung QN95A certainly delivers when it comes to picture performance, with all those extra zones put to good use. It's relatively easy to add lots of zones behind an LCD panel, what's considerably more difficult is orchestrating them in a way that delivers the deepest blacks and the brightest highlights without causing blooming or losing details in the shadows.
Samsung has always employed a highly effective local dimming algorithm in its TVs, and the latest iteration continues that tradition. The results are genuinely impressive, with the blacks appearing deep and inky, while the highlights are free of blooming. This is best demonstrated by the scene in First Man where the Apollo command module orbits into the shadow of the moon.
In this sequence the screen goes completely black and then the surface of the brightly-lit Moon gradually appears through the spaceship's window. This scene is incredibly difficult for any display that uses local dimming, but the QN95A does an excellent job of highlighting the details in the moon's surface through the window without introducing haloing or other artefacts.
The QN95A also handles bright colourful HDR images with skill, allowing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 to take full advantage of the wider gamut offered by the format. The scenes on Ego's planet are a riot of Day-Glo colours that pop with comic book vibrancy.
The same is true of Pan, where the Samsung delivers the film's exaggerated colour scheme correctly, and reproduces the arriving-in-Neverland sequence with no clipping and a clearly defined sun setting over the mountain. This proves the QN95A is correctly tone-mapping HDR10 content, and retaining the original creative intent.
The film Overlord mainly takes place at night, and is often a very dark, but the Samsung handles this difficult material very well, delivering deep blacks, excellent shadow detail, and highlights where necessary. The TV also renders all the subtle differences in the film's primarily green and brown colour design very effectively.
The QN95A is equally impressive when it comes to motion handling, with 24p content looking smooth, and free of judder or unwanted artefacts. The Picture Clarity motion settings apply frame interpolation, resulting in smoothing, which can be useful with sport, while the LED Clear Motion setting uses black frame insertion, darkening the image, but improving the motion.
The built-in apps deliver excellent 4K and HDR images, and in the case of Amazon Prime there's the added enhancement of HDR10+. The levels of detail and contrast are equally as impressive when watching Netflix, Apple TV+ and Disney+, despite the lack of Dolby Vision support.
Since the QN95A uses an LCD panel, there's no danger of screen burn. It also offers a host of features aimed at next-gen gamers, including VRR (variable refresh rate) for syncing the TV's refresh rate with the console's frame rate, thus reducing tearing. There’s also support for 4K at 120Hz, along with AMD Freesync Premium Pro and Nvidia G-Sync compatibility.
There's ALLM for automatically detecting a console and selecting the Game mode, which results in a class-leading input lag of 9.2ms. The Game Motion Plus is designed to smooth out motion, but in doing so it does increase the lag to 14ms – although that's still very respectable. If all that isn't enough, the QN95A even supports the 21:9 and 32:9 ultra-wide aspect ratio options offered by a number of PC games.
Samsung has realised that with so many different gaming options and features now available, it's easy to lose track of what exactly you've selected. The solution is the new Game Bar, which pops up when a game source is detected to provide at-a-glance key information. This includes HDR, frame rate, VRR, and key gaming picture adjustments.
Finally there's a multi-view mode that allows users to watch two different sources simultaneously. You can adjust the size of the two picture-in-picture screens, change their relative position and choose which has audio priority. While this feature isn't necessarily game-specific, it is useful for gaming while watching YouTube tutorials.
Smart features: Comprehensive platform
- Tizen OS
- SmartThings app
- Alexa/Bixby built-in
The Samsung QN95A uses the same Tizen-powered smart platform as previous generations, which remains a responsive, intuitive and easy-to-navigate interface. There's a launcher bar along the bottom and a second layer that provides faster access to the video streaming services.
In terms of those streaming services, the choice is fairly comprehensive and includes Netflix, Amazon, Now TV, Disney+, Apple TV+, Rakuten, YouTube, and all the UK TV catch-up services. The only problem with all this choice is it's hard to keep track, but Samsung has a solution.
The Universal Guide helps you find the content you want by presenting it all via a 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.
The Digital Butler was introduced in 2020, allowing for quick and easy connection by automatically scanning for nearby devices, detecting them and then representing all of them in an easy-to-understand graphical fashion.
Finally there's a brace of built-in smart assistants - Samsung's own Bixby, and Amazon Alexa. You can also access Siri via Apple's AirPlay 2, while the Samsung SmartThings app allows for quick and easy setup, plus a degree of control if you don't fancy using the provided remote or your voice.
Sound quality: Object tracking sound
- Object Tracking Sound Plus (OTS+)
- 4.2.2 speakers and 70W of amplification
- Adaptive Sound+
- Q Symphony
The QN95A sports Samsung's Object Tracking Sound Plus (OTS+), which integrates eight speakers in a seamless fashion, hiding them in the outer edge of the TV cabinet. The audio performance is genuinely impressive, with an open soundstage, additional height, plenty of bass, clear dialogue and powerful amplification.
Object Tracking Sound doesn't just involve more speakers, it also analyses the audio signal and uses sophisticated processing to align sounds with the location of specific images on the screen. It really works, creating an engaging experience with improved directionality and immersion. There's also an optimisation feature to fine-tune the audio based on the acoustic environment.
While there's no on-board Dolby Atmos decoding, the QN95A can send the object-based audio format back via ARC from its internal apps to a supporting soundbar or AV receiver. Since it also supports eARC, the Samsung can even pass lossless audio back via HDMI to a supporting soundbar or AV receiver.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it really is time Samsung added support for Dolby Vision. The company is the only TV manufacturer not to embrace the dynamic metadata format, and while HDR10+ is similar, there's significantly more content available in Dolby Vision.
While we're on the subject of Dolby, the QN95A also doesn't include on-board Atmos decoding. This is a shame because with all those extra built-in speakers, the Samsung could really take advantage of the additional height channels the format offers.
Samsung's smart platform is undeniably comprehensive, but it doesn't include Freeview Play. This isn't really an issue because all the UK TV catch-up services are present and correct, but it does mean these aren't integrated within the EPG (electronic programme guide).
The Samsung QN95A makes an excellent case for embracing Mini LED as an alternative to OLED. While it remains an evolution of existing LCD backlight technology, rather than something completely new like Micro LED, it does offer an impressive picture performance.
The added precision of nearly 800 dimming zones results in deeper blacks, brighter highlights, improved shadow detail and almost no blooming. Add in the superior colour performance of Quantum Dot and upgraded processing, and you have a highly capable 4K HDR TV. Its pictures truly sing.
The QN95A is also a seriously specified model with a comprehensive smart platform, every necessary streaming app, the One Connect box, excellent audio quality thanks to OTS+, and a shed-load of features for next-gen gamers.
Not fussed about Mini LED and OLED more up your street? Philips' top-end 2020 telly integrates Ambilight - edge lighting that goes beyond the screen, for extra immersion and dynamism - plus a B&W soundbar for top notch sound quality. It's a very different offering to the Samsung, but a very elegant alternative indeed.