It’s a bold claim, but after spending time with Samsung’s new QLED offering, PAT PILCHER has declared it the winner.
Samsung’s latest TV, the Q9FN is finally here. LCD may have taken a back seat against OLED, but Samsung is fighting back with QLED technology and in pairing QLED with full array local dimming, they may just have come up with a winner.
The Q9FN is not only brighter and more vivid than last year’s model, it also uses use a completely different form of backlighting to deliver impressive contrast levels.
Last year, Samsung used edge-lit LED backlighting, which resulted in okay to average contrast levels. This time around, Samsung went for Full Array Local Dimming (FALD). When paired with Samsung’s QLED (Quantum Dot-powered LCD) the result is a brighter, more vivid and pin-sharp picture than has been previously possible with LCD.
Enhanced brightness, deeper darker areas and a wider colour space really come into their own when HDR10+ encoded content is displayed on the screen. Subtle details in on-screen shadows that would merely display as dark blobs in non-HDR capable screens can be picked up. The effect is noticeable in all the right ways.
The review unit I tested was a 65-inch beast, but a bigger 75-inch model is also on the horizon. Where a lot of flagship TVs are designed to be wafer thin, the 65Q9FN has a chunky girth, probably the result of Samsung opting for FALD technology. Given the resulting video that the QF9N is capable of, it’s a reasonable trade-off (besides, no one I know watches TV side-on, so who cares if a screen is wafer thin or not?).
Samsung has instead wisely chosen to focus on putting features where they make a difference. A good example of this is the near-invisible frame edging the screen. On many TVs, chunky bezels stick out like a set of proverbial dog-bollocks and can be a real viewing distraction. Here, it all but disappears when viewing. From a design standpoint, there is a lot to like with the design, which quickly grew on me.
One particularly neat trick is the new ambient mode. Using the Samsung SmartThings app on my phone, I was able to snap a photo of the TV and the wall behind it. This is displayed when the TV is switched into ambient mode, making it less of a rectangular black hole in my lounge. Add in the ability to display date/time and a cool animated ball-bearing clock, and the Q9FN all but disappears. You can also display artworks with faux frames, if you’d rather.
Another clever trick is the single transparent cable connecting the TV to its tuner/input box. It not only supplies the video signal to the screen but also carries power, minimising cable chaos and keeping things tidy. It’s a nice touch. The external connection box isn’t small but can sit alongside other AV rack gear without looking too out of place.
The 65Q9FN runs Samsung’s Eden smart TV platform and comes with a few nifty tweaks. It’s now compatible with the Samsung SmartThings ecosystem, which allows it to act as a hub for monitoring and controlling Samsung smart devices such as fridges, washing machines, lights and so on that are connected to the same home network. Being able to check what’s in the Samsung smart fridge or be notified when your Samsung washing machine has finished a load is nifty.
While Samsung can’t match the breadth of apps available via Android TV, the selection of available apps is still impressive. The usual suspects – Netflix, Amazon Prime and YouTube and so forth – were there along with local apps like Neon and Freeview, and the option to download a pile of games.
The 65Q9FN delivered impressive on-screen results with Freeview HD, Blu-rays and streamed content. Samsung has put a lot of effort into upscaling processing. It seamlessly converted HD into native 4K without tell-tale blurring or noise.
It also goes beyond most upscaling engines in the accuracy with which it calculates the colour of all those millions of extra pixels it’s generating. This ensures it creates realistic skin tones and helps HD feel like convincing 4K.
FALD delivered solid black levels alongside bright balanced and vivid colours. Overall, detail levels remained high regardless of luminance levels and source material.
The Q9FN’s brightness, wide colour ‘volume’ and impressive contrast helped it deliver 4k HDR pictures that were gorgeous. Catching the latest round of Warner Brothers streamed superhero garbage movies showed off HDR and 4K magnificently, with the pictures looking as dynamic and vivid as anything I’d seen in a cinema.
What really impressed with the Q9FN’s FALD was the ability to display gotta-wear-shades levels of brightness alongside inky deep black levels with no compromises. Title sequences barely displayed any halo effects common with FALD on most other brands. The overall look was about as close to OLED as I’ve ever seen from LCD.
When paired with quantum dot technology the end results impressed. Colours looked vivid and most importantly, they weren’t washed when close to particularly bright on-screen image elements. All told, the Q9FN felt very cinematic and delivered HDR like I imagined it should be.
If there was one downside, it was with motion processing. Sometimes I noticed edge artefacts when the auto motion processing setting was enabled. While I was able to improve things noticeably by fiddling with the many custom motion options, it never fully went away.
Samsung appears to have been listening to criticisms aimed at last year’s QLED TVs. They’ve taken them on board and come out swinging with one of the best full array local dimming implementations around. QLED quantum dot LCD finally gets to shine in all the right ways. The result is that the Q9FN is probably the best LCD TV money can buy now.