Review: Samsung Q90R 4K TV Goes Ultra Wide
Samsung has introduced 8K Ultra HD as the highlight of its 2019 QLED TV lineup, but at the same time it is making big advancements in its 4K QLED TVs, like the top-end Q90R series, offering excellent picture quality and robust smart TV features.
In fact, the Q90R series model we reviewed stands as one of the best 4K Ultra HDTVs we’ve reviewed to date. It reminded us in number of ways of the 8K Samsung Q900 we tested last fall. Although, without the extra 8K pixel density the illusion of reality is not quite as striking at typical viewing distances.
Perhaps the biggest advancement in both the Q90R and the new Q900R models coming this year, is a significant improvement in ultra wide viewing angles (for LCD) that help the set preserve color and contrast on a VA-type LCD panel at a wide radius, exceeding 60 degrees. Although we didn’t have an IPS screen with us to compare, the wide angle of view reminded us of that technology, but with better overall color and contrast performance from various viewing positions.
For our calibration and testing we used the latest version of Portrait Display’s/SpectraCal CalMan calibration software using 2018 Samsung HDR and SDR workflows and AutoCal. AutoCal didn’t get all of the settings dead on point, but it came very close for the short time we had to work with the set. The new 2019 Samsung Workflow wasn’t quite ready, but we were told that the 2018 version would work for most adjustments (except Color Checker). The testing hardware we used was a Klein K-10 light meter, and a Murideo Six-G test pattern generator.
Next to the better viewing angle, we also enjoyed seeing that the Q90R has improved its local dimming system to better control the blooming or haloing that is common place in LED LCDs when bright white objects are placed against dark or black backgrounds. Although it is not altogether gone, the issue was less overt in real world viewing than last year’s Q9FN, though still not as good as self-emissive displays like OLED or MicroLED.
The series also has significantly improved black levels and gamma, while presenting brilliantly bright HDR specular highlights with full color volume. In addition, an advanced Artifical Intelligence “AI” based picture processing system, called Quantum Processor 4K, has stepped up Samsung’s ability from a year ago to remove many compression artifacts and color banding in upscaled video.
The results are bright, clear native 4K Ultra HD images with decent black levels, good fine shadow detail, and nice wide viewing angles that should be work for even wall-mounted applications.
This series will be going up against 4K OLED TVs from LG and Sony, and though it won’t get quite as black as those models, the black level has improved from last year’s QLED sets.
Samsung’s AI picture processing is also among the best we’ve seen to date, keeping image noise and artifacts to a minimum. We haven’t yet seen the 2019 Sony or LG systems hands on, but Samsung’s new AI processing system sets a high bar.
The 2019 Q90R series is offered in three screen sizes including 65- ($3,497.99 UPP), 75- ($4,997.99 UPP) and 82-inches ($6,497.99 UPP).
Like most of the 2019 Samsung QLED TVs, the Q90R is based on a direct full-array LED back light system with what the company calls “Ultimate UHD Dimming” with local micro-dimming to provide greater light control at the pixel level. The Q90R will differ from other lower-level series in the 2019 lineup in several areas including a greater number of local dimming zones, which will give these models some of the highest peak brightness levels outside of the flagship 8K Q900R series. Like last year’s Q9FN line, the Q90R models have 480 LED zones that helps it generate better than a measured 1,500 nits of peak HDR brightness.
Ultra Wide Angle Viewing
Perhaps the biggest improvement in the Q90R series over last year’s Q9FN line is the improvement in wide angle viewing. The viewing angles get closer to OLED levels than we’ve seen from Samsung VA panels before. Samsung is using a new “Ultra Wide Angle” technology that adds a prism layer to the VA LCD panel sandwich to better focus light from the direct LED back light array to the RGB pixels without leakage into adjacent zones. This presents IPS-like viewing angles, holding onto color and contrast from off-axis perspectives. The overall color and contrast is also better than typical IPS performance overall.
We continued to observe rich colors and deep blacks from angles greater than 60 degrees
The Samsung Q90R viewing angles reminded us of the good viewing angles in Sony’s Master Series Z9F with 4K VA LCD panels, but without the light leakage into letter box border frames we’ve observed in that technology.
We viewed the opening title squence from the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to check for light leakage and found even very bright light and color flashes near the border frame remained contained to the picture frame. Blooming also appeared to have been significantly reduced from the Q9FN series, which we had set up next to the Q90R.
It should be noted that while Samsung has improved on-screen glare this year, we did observe distracting screen reflections from a lit wall sconce in the viewing room when we rotated the television and base a few degrees so the screen was off-axis to the viewer. We don’t expect this will be a problem in most placements. However, it is something to consider if lights are placed around the room where they can be reflected back at the viewer.
High Dynamic Range (HDR)
As mentioned, the Samsung Q90R series offers essentially the same full direct LED LCD backlight array as last year’s Q90FN and Q900R 8K lines, with 480 LED zones. But this year’s models appear to the eye to be brighter than last year’s 4K series. Approximately 1,774 nits of peak brightness was measured in HDR Movie mode, which is excellent for a 4K Ultra HDTV, and sufficient to produce eye-squinting specular highlights with rich full color volume.
Samsung’s 4K Ultra HDTVs support the standard HDR10 static metadata HDR profile, in addition to HDR10+, the dynamic metadata profile with tone mapping advocated by Samsung, Panasonic, 20th Century Fox and others.
We found the bright specular highlights in the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of the recent release of “The Predator” to be dazzlingly bright with billiant colors in standard HDR10.
Blacks didn’t appear as deep and rich as some 4K OLED screens we’ve seen, but they weren’t far off. Measuring for HDR black level on a solid black test pattern we got a zero nit reading, which results from the local dimming completely shutting off the LED backlight. But using an HDR checkerboard pattern, black level measured at 0.04 nits and 898 nits for white. This gives a contrast ratio of 22,450:1.
This year’s set significantly improves the ability to show fine shadow detail . We compared the opening star field background sequence from the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray/HDR version of The Martian on the Q90R side by side with the Q9FN and saw many more visible stars on the Q90R picture.
As with most Samsung QLED TVs we’ve reviewed, colors were wide (almost 100% of DCI-P3 in this case) measured in a BT.2020 color space. Transitions between color shades appeared very smooth with minimal step gradations.
Our test sample did not yet have a 2019 CalMan workflow for AutoCal, but we used the 2018 workflow and AutoCal to setup the Q90R. We were told it wasn’t yet compatible with the Color Checker HDR portion of the 2018 work flow, but the set managed to turn in a respectable 2.0 average Delta E reading (anything below 3 is imperceptible to the eye) with luminance error and 1.5 without luminance error.
This helps to give colors more of a 3D effect and texture. The chairs in the space station waiting room scene from the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of 2001: A Space Odyssey, for example, were a rich deep shade of almost maroon, and the fabric appeared real enough to touch. In the DVD and Blu-ray versions of this scene, lesser displays tend to blow out the red shade, making it appear an over saturated shade of fire engine shade. The difference running the same scene on both the Q90R and Q9FN in side-by-side comparison wasn’t huge, but the Q90R did show subtle improvement.
Standard Dynamic Range
Viewing standard dynamic range (SDR) with a BT.709 color space was also enjoyable. First, the Quantum Processor 4K system does a nice job of upscaling SD (DVD) and HD (Blu-ray) content, making images look clear, bright and colorful, without deepening artifacts inherent in the original transfer, like edge smearing around lettering like titles in DVDs.
Low-light noise and grain in the night harbor scene of Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End was handled nicely to the point that, while it was very visible up close, it tended to fade at typical viewing distances (8 feet plus).
Colors very pretty accurate after running AutoCal for SDR, with an average Delta E of 1.45.
As in the past, Samsung’s televisions do a nice job presenting fast motion with minimal blurring. The set has a native 120 Hz refresh rate, which for us is about all you should need for most video and movie watching, but where it is an issue with live video, like sports events, the built in motion handling circuitry is good. Just make sure to turn it off again when playing a video to avoid any chance of soap opera effect destroying the illusion of watching a movie theater screen.
The Samsung Q90R should be a very good TV for use with video game consoles, like the Xbox One X. As last year, the television will support Freesynch 2 and Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) used with the Xbox One X to eliminate tearing, and will automatically switch into game mode at the start of a game running ALLM. In game mode, the television has a very low input lag for both 4K/30 HDR and 1080p/60 content. The sets also feature Black EQ that artificially boosts shadow detail when playing dark game titles.
The television’s response is very fast. With Game Mode on, input lag was measured a blazing 13.7 ms in both 1080 SDR and 4K HDR.
Beyond picture quality, the Q90R series carries the 2019 verion of Samsung’s Smart TV platform based on the Tizen operating system. The televisions employ powerful processors that drive a host of artificial intelligence platforms for both video processing and voice control operation. Samsung TVs this year run Samsung’s Bixby 2.0 voice control platform, which is built in, but this year the sets will also work with third party voice control devices including for the first time. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. This means that if you already have a smart speaker like an Amazon Echo or Dot or Google Home, those devices can be used to control various functions of the television.
Samsung continues to expand the SmartThings platform it employs for controlling various compatible smart home devices and appliances, either with the remote or via voice control.
Samsung has long had one of our favorite streaming app platforms, carrying most of the major streaming services, including 4K/HDR versions of their apps, and even a number of exclusives. This year Samsung will be one of the first smart TVs to have access to the iTunes streaming app.
This year’s Q90R series also expands the viewable options on the Ambient Mode first introduced last year. This allows the screen to show various static images on screen when the TV is not in use, to help the television blend into the room surroundings. Users can use a color pattern from the room or a photo to display, along with a clock or news headlines.
For those who prefer a good old fashion remote control, Samsung continues to offer the One Remote, which once again is compact unit with a minimal-button design that is used to work with the easy-to-navigate on-screen menus to perform most TV operations. This year’s Q90R remote switches back to the gun-metal black arch back design used a couple of years ago and in certain Samsung soundbars and lower-end TVs. The Q90R version has a metal faceplate and plastic back. The all-metal silver remote used in top QLED series for the past two years will remain in markets outside of the U.S., but Samsung said user studies found U.S. customers perferred the older design.
One Connect Box
Like last year’s Q9FN series the Q90R has an external “One Connect” box that houses the power supply, i/o ports, and much of the circuitry for the display. The is a larger and heftier One Connect box than two years ago, but the box is tethered to the display panel by a fairly thin single cable that is easily hidden, and delivers both the signal and power supply to the display.
The box features four HDMI inputs, all optimized out of the box for 4K Ultra HD/60 fps and HDR10/10+ metadata. Keep in mind that these ports must be manually set to deliver the higher 4K resolution and frame rate formats in the settings menu, when required. Many of the “features” of the new HDMI 2.1 interface are expected eventually to be supported by the television, but nothing definitive can be announced about this now, as the HDMI LA hasn’t yet signed off on the necessary testing and certification protocols for these capabilities on the set. However, it’s our understanding that this television will eventually be updated to support such key features as eARC, ALLM, Freesync 2 and Variable Refresh Rate, but it’s strictly “buyer beware” until the proper certifications are issued and announced.
The size of the One Connect box could be an issue in certain locations. Since it houses the power supply, it should be placed in a properly ventillated area, which might make for a challenge hiding it out of sight and within the range of the connection cable.
The design of the Q90R sets continue to feature an attractive contemporary style that appears very similar to the Q9FN and the Q900 8K QLED sets last year. The depth of the panel measures about 7/8ths of an inch, which is deeper the OLED sets but not really a noticeable factor. It has a less-than-pencil-thin narrow bezel surrounding the picture, and the edge of the frame appears to be metallic and flat, like a modern picture frame. The shape of the included pedestal base is slightly different this year, but is still positioned under the Samsung logo in the center/bottom of the screen. The serices uses only flat screens, as Samsung has virtually eliminated curved-screen options from the QLED series this year.
This is one of the best 4K Ultra HD televisions we’ve tested, and will make the purchase decision even tougher this year as 8K LED-LCD and OLED televisions begin to arrive. But in the higher price ranges, this will stand as a relative bargain, particularly considering the relative lack of native 8K content to play. Compared to new 4K OLED TVs, the black level performance of the Q90R gets even closer to OLED, while the peak brightness remains much higher, and purchasers will not have to fear the potential for image retention from on-screen logos or static images left on too long. Compared to other high-end 4K LED-LCDTVs, the Samsung Q90R has better light control with less blooming issues.
For those who appreciate the benefits that the brightest pictures provide, like brilliant HDR specular highlights, full color volume and very realistic imagery, Samsung has stepped up the game for 4K Ultra HD LED-LCD TVs this year with this Q90R class. We think this series is worth serious consideration. The pictures here are very bright and black levels are very deep while preserving fine shadow details.
The QN65Q90R used for this review as a first-production sample set up for us to review along with a 2018 Q9FN comparison sample at Samsung’s Quality Assurance Lab in New Jersey.
By Greg Tarr
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