Review: Samsung 65Q80T Offers Good Value For A QLED TV
In our continuing review of Samsung’s 2020 4K Ultra HD QLED TV lineup, we found the Q80T series to be a decent mid-range 4K performer at a nicely competitive price for a Samsung TV.
However, there is a marked down grade in brightness from Samsung’s flagship 4K TV, the Q90T series, and 8K QLED series (Q800T, Q900TS series) TV models this year. In brightness and LED dimming zones alone, this year’s Q80T series compares more closely to last year’s popular Q70R series.
But this year’s Q70T series now steps down in performance with LED edge lighting, which is known to hinder contrast performance and local dimming control, making the Q80T this year’s entry to direct LED back lighting with local dimming in the Samsung QLED lineup.
For anyone looking for some of the best HDR reproduction in an LCD TV, direct full array LED with local dimming is strongly recommended.
We review here the 65-inch version of the Samsung 65Q80T series, available now for a $1,797.99 street retail. The series also has models measuring 49-, 55- ($1,075.60), 75- ($2,597.99) and 85-inches ($2,797.99), and we expect most of those to have a similar level of picture and sound performance to our 65-inch review sample. Be aware, the 49-inch version is basically a different TV. It has a 60Hz native refresh rate panel (all the other models use 120 Hz panels) and omits the key ultra wide viewing angle feature, as well as variable refresh rate (VRR) and FreeSync video gaming support found in all the others.
Of course, being a QLED TV the series uses Samsung’s Quantum Dot Color Enhancement Film (QDEF), which is a thin plastic sheet layer that goes toward the back of LCD stack and in front of the blue LED backlights. It is embedded with nano-sized quantum dots (QDs). These microscopic particles sometimes composed of heavy metal rare earth elements emit wider and brighter red and green color hues when excited by photons from the blue LED backlights. The combination of red, green and blue primary colors produces a full color gamut exceeding 90% of Ultra HD Alliance P3 (UHD-P3) color space recommendation, according to our measurements.
The Samsung 65Q80T has a nice looking thin-bezel design with all-black frame and central pedestal stand that provides cable management and can be placed on a tabletop or credenza in a wide variety of lengths. The construction is well balanced, although there is a significant back and forth wobble when the stand-mounted screen is lightly nudged. This should be a red flag in any home with small children and rambunctious pets. The base of the stand is made of a heavy black steel plate that anchors the TV quite well to the surface. This stand base plate is thin and affords 3-inches of clearance between the top of pedestal base plate and the bottom of the TV’s bezel chin, allowing for placement of most soundbars without blocking any portion of the picture. The back of the television is made of a cheap textured plastic, which is a far cry from the nice smooth curved metallic backing once used on the Q8C curved screen QLED TVs a few years ago.
The panel depth measures about 2 inches at its deepest point in the middle of the screen. Samsung disguises the actual depth using rounded tapered edging on the back plate around the bezel perimeter. The depth ramps up from 3/4 inches deep at the trim to the 2 inch depth about an inch in toward the center. Those looking to wall mount the screen (highly recommended) will find that Samsung has nicely designed the back of the screen to fit VESA standard mounts for a relative snug fit against the wall. The set’s ultra wide viewing angle feature (in most models) gives a good view from most seating positions in a room, and the screen surface nicely minimizes most of the glare from reflected lighting in the room.
Samsung is getting away from its once-popular One Connect box that used to carry the TV connections and much of the circuitry of the TV externally. This was used to help reduce panel depth while providing an easy hardware upgrade path if required from changing technologies and standards. Today, the Q80T series has its inputs on the back of the set, as most televisions do, and the panel depth is acceptably thin for our taste. Samsung had basically stopped supplying upgrade kits for the One Connect box, so that potential benefit was rarely realized. Still, the One Connect box was a nice touch for cable management in some installations.
Putting the inputs on the back of the set makes it generally easier for custom installations and wall mounting. The jack panel, which faces out toward the right side of the screen to ensure a snug fit against a wall, carries four HDMI ports, two USB ports and a digital optical audio output. Samsung supports many of the new spec HDMI 2.1 features including full 4K support at up to 120Hz on one input (HDMI 4), and 4K at 60Hz on the remaining three. The new enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) feature is carried along with standard ARC on HDMI 3. The ports also support 2K at up to 120Hz, and new gaming features like Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) and the proprietary AMD FreeSync support for PC gamers and next-gen consoles.
FreeSync and the open standard ALLM perform similar benefits in helping to reduce frame tearing that often results from out of sync frame rates between gaming source devices and displays.
Typically, we like to use AutoCal in Portrait Display’s Calman calibration software when reviewing a Samsung TV. Unfortunately, Samsung is moving to an IP/WiFi based connection this year (as LG and Sony have done for a couple of years) and this was not ready for use for the review. AutoCal is a subset of CalMan offering customized workflows in the software that connects to a test pattern generator and light meter. The program automatically runs through the grayscale and color balancing in correspondence with the color tone, gamma and brightness level of the room. When available, it’s a nice system that saves considerable time while presenting acceptably accurate results. Each room has its own specific color temperature, and gamma/brightness level, so we don’t share our calibrated picture settings in our reviews. (Chances are our settings will not be the right ones for your needs. For those who are fine with a generalized standard, we urge using either the “Movie” or new “Filmmaker Mode” picture modes. These will automatically place the set in the most accurate settings for viewing a film-based movie or TV program shot to achieve the look of film in a professional movie theater.
When we calibrate for our reviews, we always go for a dim room gamma and brightness setting, since this is the way most people watch television much of the time.
Right off the bat, before calibration, we could see a diminished level of peak brightness from the 65Q80T in standard picture mode, which is typically brighter than the “Movie” or “Filmmaker Mode” modes. The latter, devised under the leadership of the UHD Alliance, is offered for the first time this year, so we thought we would calibrate standard dynamic range (SDR)/BT.709 using that for the first time. We found the Filmmaker Mode settings were similar to those in Movie mode, and colors and grayscale were not far off the optimal marks, but we did need to adjust the 2-point grayscale/color temperature settings, gamma level, and contrast (for clipping at peak white). The nice thing about Filmmaker Mode is that it turns off the motion handling, noise reduction and some of the image processing that can make the picture look too much like video and not like the projected images filmmakers strive for in professional movie theaters. This worked quite well in SDR but because we could not get a visual confirmation on the input listing that the set had engaged HDR for Filmmaker Mode, we deferred to HDR Movie Mode, for the HDR calibration and analysis of HDR10.
Before we proceed further, Samsung’s 4K TVs continue to support the baseline HDR10 HDR profile as well as the Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG) profile used for live 4K HDR broadcasts. Samsung also supports its own HDR10+ dynamic metadata HDR profile, though this has less content support than Dolby Vision HDR, which Samsung opts not to include. On the plus side, Google Movies just added HDR10+ title support to its library. Overall, we find very little immediately verifiable difference between HDR10 and any of the dynamic metadata HDR formats in most scenes.
The TV’s diminished brightness we mentioned results from fewer LED dimming zones in the full array backlighting system than found on the step-up Q90T or last year’s Q80R series. In this model we counted approximately 50 total local dimming zones. However, Samsung augments this with its excellent screen glare rejection technology and equally fantastic wide angle viewing system that produces near-OLED viewing angle performance from the LCD panel.
Despite the dimming zone limitations, the Q80T has been tweaked this year to reduce the blooming/haloing issues that surrounded bright objects on black or dark backgrounds in some models last year. Blooming is still evident this year but its more spread out across the screen and not bunched up in more noticeable localized clusters around hot points in a picture. Last year, this could be seen immediately in the moving starfield pattern on the Spears & Munsil HDR test disc. This year’s approach makes for better contrast performance than last year’s Q70R, and significantly better than edge-lit displays.
However, while the set displays nice inky black most of the time, in real-world movie viewing it does tend to crush some shadow detail. We saw an example of this when looking for the faint vapor-like clouds that appear in the background behind Voldemort’s army of dark wizards amassed on a mountain side in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow’s Part 2, from the streamed 4K UHD version. In some sets, like Samsung’s models last year, these faint gray vapors turned into black blobs, but on the calibrated Q80T this year they are engulfed completely by the black of night. Similarly, we saw fewer visible stars in the deep space sequence that opens the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version of The Martian.
Unfortunately, having fewer LEDs means the display has less brightness; we measured only about 740 nits of HDR10 peak brightness in Movie mode using a 10% D65 test pattern window. This is relevant to small points of bright specular highlights on the screen and is a good indicator for how much these effects will standout from light levels in the surrounding scene. Measuring across a range of test pattern window sizes, we found peak brightness reached about 443 nits on a 100% D65 white window pattern. Sadly, the 10% window pattern results were well below the 1,000 nit minimum brightness threshold established by the UHD Alliance for a “premium” level 4K Ultra TV and that’s with contrast and brightness pinned on full output. So, using this strict criteria, which Samsung helped to establish, the television does not qualify as a true “premium” 4K/HDR TV.
On the other hand, this year’s pricing has been significantly reduced, so you’ll have to determine for yourself how much of difference a high level of peak brightness means to your HDR viewing expectations. As for standard dynamic range (SDR), where specular highlights are not an issue in pre-recorded content, this set is a solid performer with a very nice overall picture, and most will spend more time watching SDR than anything else.
Still, for those who are attracted to full-array LED LCD TV technology for brightness control benefits it brings to 4K viewing, it’s worth considering moving to a step-up like the Samsung Q90T this year, or even better — the 8K 800T or 900TS series. Alternative options include the bright and recently price-reduced TCL 8 Series TV or Hisense H9G, both of which are quantum dot TVs. We will have a review on the H9G shortly.
In these models, viewers will enjoy better brightness and slightly better wide color gamut coverage. In 2020, Samsung is putting its best features and picture processing enhancements in its 8K TV models, which will give you the best picture, regardless of whether or not your eyes perceive a difference in 8K resolution from the content you enjoy.
Calibrating for BT.709 SDR color, which is the required standard for Full HD and HD TV displays, we found the 65Q80T was very close to accurate out of the box in Filmmaker Mode, and similarly accurate for HDR in Movie mode. Both of these settings use Warm2 as the color temperature for very close to 6500 degrees Kelvin (natural sunlight).
The 65Q80T continued to measure above 90% color gamut coverage of the UHDA-P3 recommendations, keeping it within the UHDA’s “premium 4K TV” range, but this was somewhat lower than we have measure in previous years. Regardless, we found color performance was quite good.
Screen Uniformity and Processing
A full gray screen test pattern showed our 65Q80T to be pretty consistently clear, although we did spot some visible smudging in real-world video pans of landscapes.
As for motion blurring, Samsung uses a native 120Hz VA panel on the larger screen size models in this series, which does a pretty good job on its own keeping fast motion images, like sports events and video games, smooth without introducing the dreaded soap opera effect in movies. Filmmaker Mode shuts this offer automatically because content creators hate the look so much. For those who don’t mind soap opera effect the set’s “Picture Clarity Settings” can be custom engaged to tweak motion judder in pans or blurring in motion, both of which can be distracting themselves, while balancing out the degree of soap opera effect. Samsung has one of the best motion processing systems in the business, so it’s worth giving it a try for yourself.
The Q80T also does a nice job with upconversion of lower-rez video content and noise reduction. In the Asian harbor scene from the Full HD Blu-ray Disc version of Pirates of the Caribbean At World’s End, we found the low light noise to be nicely minimized while the desired film grain from the creator’s vision was preserved.
Samsung continues to employ its well-reviewed Tizen operating system for a smart TV performance, and this year the company has given it a bit of a streamlining to help fit more apps into one view while minimizing the menu overlays onto the screen. Samsung has done a size job building out its library of available apps and has beefed up voice control navigation by adding support for Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and its own Bixby systems. Users can choose which ever they like to use best to perform basic tasks including operating smart devices or to look up a favorite program, though Bixby is probably the best to use to control the TVs functions with spoken commands.
Samsung also includes a lot of bonus options like a Samsung Health app that provides guides and tips for staying fit and healthy, in addition to Samsung TV Plus that packages together a slew of ad-supported free streaming video content, some of which is exclusive to Samsung TVs. Unfortunately, the app store on platform lacks the newest premium app service, Peacock.
The Samsung 65Q80T measured at close to 9.7 ms across 1080p/60hz and 4K/60Hz input signals with Game Motion Plus (Game Mode) activated, which is excellent. As mentioned, the 65Q80T also offers a host of advanced gaming features by virtue of HDMI 2.1 support on one input. Purchasers of forthcoming PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X should be delighted to get support for things like FreeSync, VRR and ALLM to enhance their competitive edge.
Sound out of today’s flat panel televisions usually leaves a lot to be desired, requiring the addition of a soundbar or home theater surround sound set up, and while we still recommend going with one of those add-on options for the most immersive sight and sound experience, we were pleasantly surprised at how nice the built-in speaker system on this TV performs. Samsung said the sound system is designed for a 2.2.2 configuration, usi downward firing drivers with two more positioned up higher on the screen for a more enveloping surround sound effect. Added to this is Samsung’s Object Tracking Sound (OTS) system that produces an Dolby Atmos/DTS:X like experience that widens the sound stage from these rather small speakers. There still a bit of a boxy quality to it the doesn’t really mask that its a TV sound system, but it does the job for anyone relunctant to shell out any more for an full-fledged sound system with a true Dolby Atmos delivery.
We found the Samsung 65Q80T to be a worthy 4K Ultra HD TV for anyone who wants solid HD SDR performance, nicely upscaled Full HD and respectable, if somewhat dim, 4K UHD image quality. Just don’t expect the brightest specular highlights and/or the best shadow detail in black sections of an image. On the other hand, you get Samsung’s stellar wide viewing angle for a VA-type LCD TV and effective rejection of screen glare. This television also has excellent gaming response with low input lag, for those looking to be competitive in a shootout. Just stay away from the dark spots of the scene. We therefore award the Samsung 65Q80T 4.5 out of 5 hearts.
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By Greg Tarr
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