Review: Samsung 8K QLED TV Dazzles With Brightness
Ladies and gentlemen, we have now officially moved into the realm of 8K resolution television, and based on our review of the new 85-inch Samsung QN85Q900 8K full-array QLED model, it is going to be a very bright and colorful video world to behold.
The Samsung 8K QN85Q900 ($14,999.99 suggested retail) delivered the brightest pictures we’ve ever tested along with deep and rich black levels that registered nearly perfect black and clearly visible deep shadow detail on a level that rivals OLED displays.
Colors, and in particular color volume, were remarkably bright and nuanced, covering a wide color gamut of 98% of DCI-P3 color space.
Samsung lists peak brightness of the Q900 at 4,000 nits, which engineers told us can be achieved with the set in dynamic mode and various settings turned up high (see light level image below). We never saw that level achieved on our SpectraCal C6-HDR colorimeter measuring in Movie mode, which is to be expected. Realistically, not many people are going to watch a television in overly bright dynamic picture mode.
Earlier this year we reviewed Samsung’s 2018 QN65Q9FN 4K Ultra HD full-array LED LCD TV and found it to be one of the best televisions we had ever tested. And although the QN85Q900 uses the same full-array LED back light system as the Q9 models, we found peak brightness to be considerably higher–eye squinting–for HDR specular highlights. At the same time black levels were lower with less detail crushing than the Q9FN produced.
Furthermore, Samsung has eliminated any sign of blooming around bright objects into bordering letter box frames, which proved to be a distraction in earlier model years, and is present on Sony’s top-of-the-line Z9F series. That’s not to say blooming is totally absent. This is still an LED LCD TV, after all, and some degree of haloing can be seen on bright objects across black grounds, but it was not glaringly obvious or distracting in our tests.
Samsung opted to go exclusively with an 85-inch model to launch 8K in the United States. In other regions of the world, the company adds a few smaller screen sizes. This is due to generally smaller living spaces in other countries that limit demand for very large television displays. Samsung executives told us they were not ruling out the possibility of adding smaller size 8K models here in the near future, but to start the company felt an 85-inch screen size was the best way to show off the picture quality benefits 8K (7680×4320 pixels) resolution produces. Also, 8K is a resolution that is best enjoyed on a screen large enough to appreciate all of the added sharpness and detail.
That said, we are now in the age of high dynamic range (HDR), and the contrast and color benefits HDR images produce help all of the extra pixels a high resolution screen adds to show clearly visible benefits in picture quality, both up close and far away. This makes 8K images shine on smaller screens as well as really large ones.
Frankly, in regular movie video viewing, we found the resolution benefits alone of content upconverted to 8K to be hard to discern comparing them side-by-side with images shown on Samsung’s very good QN85Q6F series entry QLED display. The higher 8K resolution was move visible viewing upscaled 4K content using Samsung’s very impressive new Artificial Intelligence-based upscaling system. This produced visible small details like the differentiation between leaves on trees shot from a distance.
However, when presenting a picture of text from a newspaper or book on screen, the benefits of 8K resolution and Samsung’s AI upconversion system really tell the story. I could easily read the somewhat enlarged newspaper text without reading glasses. Something I couldn’t do with the real copy in front of me. The same image on the step-down Q6 series QLED television wasn’t nearly as sharp.
Images shot in native 8K for Samsung’s demo purposes were, as could be expected, brilliantly sharp, clear and colorful, but none of this was typical content you would see on television or from an Ultra HD Blu-ray movie. We don’t expect to see much native native 8K content becoming readily available anytime soon. That makes Samsung’s new AI image processing technology all the more important.
Before we go further, for full disclosure we will tell you the review we conducted took place at Samsung’s New Jersey QA Lab. The sheer size and weight of the 85-inch set made shipping review samples costly and logistically difficult.
We did not have time to do our usual thorough calibration and used our test equipment and some light meters loaned to us by Samsung to take brightness and color measurements. We used our own test patterns, and sample discs to evaluate picture performance, and compared the difference in picture quality against the mentioned 2018 Q6 (edge-lit) series 4K QLED television. Samsung set up the television next to the Q6 in order to compare the same sized screens.
Both televisions were aligned side by side at eye level from a standing position. Most of our viewing and measurements took place in a dark room.
Peak brightness measured at 4828 nits.
Like other Samsung 2018 QLED televisions, the QN85Q900 supports high dynamic range (HDR) from the HDR10 (static metadata), HLG (no metadata) and HDR10+ (dynamic metadata) profiles. Samsung does not support the Dolby Vision or Technicolor Advanced HDR profiles at this time. When an incoming HDR signal is sensed, the television automatically shifts into HDR mode. In our tests, we stuck with HDR10-based 4K content, as very little HDR10+ content is available today.
As mentioned, this is an extremely bright television. Using an elaborate spectroradiometer, Samsung measured for us a peak luminance of 4828 nits, but this was achieved by switching the set into the Dynamic Picture mode and boosting other brightness settings beyond typical viewing conditions. In Movie Mode, with a calibrated picture, peak luminance measured 2122 nits. In both cases an advanced Konika Minolta spectroradiometer was used. Both of these measurements were well beyond the 1000 nit threshold levels required to be classified as a “Premium Ultra HD” television under the Ultra HD Alliance’s premium product certification parameters.
For black levels we measured a center black target at near zero nits. The test pattern placed 10% white windows in the corners of the screen to ensure back lights were on. This showed the full array local dimming system to be quite good. Zero nits is the same measurement we registered with LG’s OLED televisions.
In real-world viewing, we found fine shadow detail to be very well developed. We ran a sequence from The Martian showing a star-filled sky, and noticed many more visible stars across the screen than were present on the Q6, which has a few detail crushing issues. The presentation was also better than we remember seeing in our tests of the Q9FN.
For real world brightness, we reviewed a scene from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 on Ultra HD Blu-ray where the Guardians combat a giant alien monster. The scene is filled with flashes of light which, with HDR, were presented with spectacular brilliance. Colors were as bright and rich as we’ve yet seen, bringing out textures in the clothing and faces to add a sense of three dimensionality.
This is HDR the way it is intended to be seen.
The QN85Q900 shows how special quantum dot enhancement can be in a bright television. Post calibration measurements show a wide gamut coverage of 98.7% of DCI-P3. The UHDA premium threshold is 90%.
Even with Standard Dynamic Rage Full HD content, colors were exceptionally bright and vibrant, where they were intended to be. In out of box pre-calibrated Movie mode, the Q900 was pretty tight for accuracy, but this can be bumped up with calibration, as the pre- and post-calibration CalMan workflows from Portrait Displays/SpectraCal attest.
Samsung continues to use a VA LCD panel in this series, but the 85Q900 appeared to have a wider viewing angle than the Q9FN we tested earlier and recently observed at the Value Electronics TV Shoot Out. Images were colorful and contrasted from angles as wide as approximately 160-degrees. It’s still not to OLED levels but it is getting closer and the very large screen size helps to mask some of the drop off when viewing from about 8 feet away.
The Samsung QN85Q900 uses a 120 Hz native refresh rate panel and Samsung’s Auto Motion Plus motion handling system to reduce motion blur and judder. As we found in the Q9FN model we tested, motion smoothing is very good. We noticed only minimal judder on zoom ins on closeups and we didn’t observe any distracting soap opera effect, with the television in “movie” picture mode.
As mentioned, Samsung is improving its already excellent image processing system for this model using a new AI-based image processing and upscaling system. Samsung explained that this new system uses both a more powerful processing chip and on-board memory containing thousands of images. The system uses these for reference to adjust on-screen for the most natural looking results. Further, the system connects to on-line servers to access additional sample images that won’t fit on the set’s internal hardware. This enables Samsung to continuously add new comparison images to help the image processing system create the most realistic images possible.
This will continue to improve and produce better results over time, Samsung engineers told us. As with the Q9FN, the Q900 did a good job minimizing color banding (false contouring) this year. We saw very few obvious banding issues. Up conversion from Full HD Blu-ray sources was exceptionally clean, clear and color accurate, while upconversion from standard definition DVDs was even better than we saw in our review of the Q9FN. Our DVD test disc of Alfred Hitchcock’s black-&-white original Psycho still presents some fuzziness, especially when blown up to an 85-inch screen size, but the images were slightly sharper than we saw on the Q6. For the most part, images were acceptably clean without introducing any overt blurring of faces, or pixelized edges around on-screen titles and credits.
In the Blu-ray version of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, which is our favorite torture test for low-light noise handling, the 85Q900 presented some very apparent mosquito noise with Digital Noise Reduction turned off, but when this was turned on the image cleared up significantly. Background colors were smooth while the image remained sharp. The visible moving noise elements from grain and low light was almost imperceptible in the opening Asian harbor sequences that are very dimly lit. At the same time, film grain was left in tact, preserving the original look of the film.
One Connect Box
Samsung uses a similar One Connect Box on the Q900 to the one on the 65Q9FN. This houses much of the display’s circuitry, software and source inputs. The 2018 version is substantially larger and heavier than the 2017 version, because the company has opted to put the power supply in the box along with a special cooling system that eliminates fan noise. The One Connect Box is now almost the size of an Ultra HD Blu-ray player. In fact, it’s taller than one of Samsung’s models, at 2.5 inches high x 15.25 inches long and 5.25 inches deep.
As discussed, the One Connect Box this year truly has one connection to deliver both power and source signals to the display panel. The cable, though a bit thicker than last year’s, is still easier to conceal than typical power and HDMI cords, and can be painted to match a wall without the need to snake any wires behind the living room sheet rock.
As in the past, the One Connect Box offers an ample selection of inputs including four HDMI 2.0 connectors with HDR support; three side-mounted USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet port, an optical audio output and an RF antenna input. There are no analog composite or component video inputs. As in the past, the One Connect Box also adds an Ex-Link serial interface, which is expected to be used with an updated version of SpectraCal’s AutoCal system in CalMan calibration software to take direct control of picture settings and significantly speed up the calibration process.
Unfortunately, the One Connect Box does not offer HDMI 2.1 connections at this time. No one’s televisions are likely to have them this year. Samsung doesn’t know yet if it will offer a replacement One Connect Box (Evolution Kit) for this model once the HDMI 2.1 interface chips and hardware are ready for market.
Like other 2018 QLED TV models, the Q900 includes Samsung’s Ambient Mode. This feature is designed to turn the television into true wall art when not being used to watch video. It fills the screen with personal photographs or special artwork. In addition, in wall-mounted applications, Samsung has developed a special mobile device app that lets you take a photo of the television against the wall and then uses that image to fill the screen with matching digital wallpaper, making the screen seem to disappear into the background. Only the ultra-thin bezel trim remains visible to the eye. On top of this, Samsung offers images that seem to float upon the wall surface for an interesting artistic effect. Alternatively, the screen can run data screens with news and weather updates.
Samsung has once again delivered an elegant, contemporary design for the television. It has a wider panel depth than its OLED rivals, but this really isn’t a distraction. The back of the set has a slightly rounded backing and the one-cable connection is easily concealed within the panel and stand supports.
The set comes with equally elegant feet that hold the panel stable while adding a design accent to the overall look of the set.
Samsung adds to the Q900 the same smart TV platform and interface for 2018 as used in other QLEDs. The user interface hasn’t changed significantly from last year’s – it still has a very slick layout with intuitive operation. The TV just does more. For example, this go-round, the company is re-introducing its Smart Things system, which is designed to turn the television into a hub for the control of compatible home automation devices connected through the home Wi-Fi network. To do this, Samsung has added its Bixby voice-controlled AI system (similar to Siri or Alexa) from its smartphones into the television. To operate a device, the user needs only hold down the microphone button on the remote and speak a command into its pinhole mic.
The system enables controlling a range of devices like smart appliances, lighting or robot vacuum cleaners right from the sofa. We didn’t have any compatible smart devices available to try, so we can’t say how effectively or ineffectively it performs.
To operate the smart TV menu system Samsung includes its One Remote, which is comfortable in the hand, and easily and responsively navigates the multi-level on-screen menus system.
TV setup is made quicker using a free SmartThings mobile device app that the television instructs the user to download upon startup. From there, the app makes all of the connections to the home network without the need of usernames and passwords and guides the viewer through the connection to cable, satellite TV and terrestrial TV sources.
Devices like Ultra HD Blu-ray players and Roku media streamers are instantly recognized and labeled on the appropriate HDMI input upon connection to the television.
In the last couple of years Samsung has taken serious interest in developing televisions that can stand up to the latest and greatest video games, and the 85Q900 might be the best yet. The set had a measured lag time of 14.9ms in Game Mode when fed 1080p/30 and 4K/30p signals on the Leo Bodnar input lag tester (along with daisy chained HD Fury Integral and Linker devices for 4K).
Samsung this year has added a Game Motion Plus setting, which significantly boosts brightness and sharpness, while providing customizable controls for motion judder and blurring. But this was turned off during testing to achieve the lowest lag score.
Samsung is taking a big step by being the first to enter the U.S. market with an 8K television when no native 8K content is available anywhere in sight. But the 85-inch QN85Q900 is more than just a TV with 8K resolution. It is an exceptional television that is capable of taking HD, Full HD and 4K Ultra HD content and making it fill all the pixels on the screen with bright, colorful imagery while keeping artifacts to a minimum. Although it is a quantum dot 4K LED-LCD display, with 8K this is a very new technology that produces brightness exceeding consumer displays on the market, while presenting deep black levels with very little shadow detail crushing.
With the combination of brightness and black level this set produces, the comparisons between OLED and QLED are closer than ever. At $14,999.99, this is a used-car-equivalent purchase, but with the ability to play 8K images, HDR10+, HLG and update its image processing system, this is an aspirational television investment as well. It should continue to deliver dividends years into the future.
By Greg Tarr
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