Review: Samsung QN65Q90T Gives More Bang For The Buck In 2020
Last year, Samsung introduced its top-of-the-line 4K Ultra HD TV in the Q90R, featuring a breakthrough Ultra Viewing Angle, anti-glare film that significantly widened the angle of view for an LED-LCD TV and reduced screen glare enough to make images seem to be projected rather than emitted from behind glass or plastic.
This year, the company is trying to catch lightning in a bottle again, by offering similar performance at a lower price. After recently reviewing the 2020 version — model QN65Q90T — that mission might have been accoplished. The set continues to offer an Ultra Viewing Angle screen with glare-rejection providing up to a 60 degree view off center axis before contrast and color begin to drop off.
In real world viewing we found the Q90R from 2019 and the Q90T samples we tested to have very similar performance characteristics, with the 2020 version offering a few subtle improvements.
The 2020 Q90T TVs include a new Samsung Quatum Processor 4K 2.0 to drive the picture processing and upscaling systems. This year Samsung includes what it calls “texture creation” that gives colors and surfaces an added sense of three dimensionality.
For our review we tested the QN65Q90T ($2,499.99 UPP) next to last year’s QN65Q90R ($3,499.99 original UPP), the brightness, color and shadow detail performance in these models was was excellent for an LED-LCD display, with performance comparable, and in some areas, better than last year.
In addition to this 65-inch model the 2020 Q90T series includes a 55-inch ($1,799.99), 75-inch ($3,799.99) and 85-inch($5,299.99) model. All are expected to have similar performance characteristics with the caveat that the Direct Full Array 16X feature for 75 inch, 65 inch and 55 inch models steps up to Direct Full Array 20X on the 85 inch; and Quantum HDR 16X on three models will step down to Quantum HD 12X on the the smallest 55-inch model.
Direct Full Array 16X and 20X are said to produce “additional lighting zones behind the screen” to better define the blacks and whites within the picture. Quantum HDR 12X and 16X are said to produce a wider range of brightness to produce a more vivid and cinematic picture. Is this significantly better or worse than last year? — not much, but shadow detail seems to have a nice incremental boost in some areas while black level remains relatively stable.
Please note that the local-power-distribution technology we reviewed in the Samsung Q800T 2020 entry 8K TV series is not included in any of the 4K Ultra HD QLED model series, so the specular highlights and overall picture detail are slightly less punchy and dyanmic. The HDR color performance, which is largely the result of the quantum dot color enhancement film in all QLED models, remains wider than 90% of UHDA-P3, while color volume remains 100% in that color space recommendation.
Like the 75Q800T 8K series we recently reviewed, the Q90T series features Samsung’s “Boundless” Design cosmetic. This isn’t as striking as the Infinity Screen “zero-bezel” look in the high-end 8K Q900T and Q950T series, but it still looks high-end to us with its ultra-thin black bezel frame trim, metallic frame and center pedestal stand that nicely accommodates a front-positioned soundbar without blocking any portion of the image.
This year’s Samsung 4K TVs have select HDMI inputs that support features included in the HDMI 2.1 specifications including: Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC), Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and Freesync. In addition, Samsung told us that the Q90T series models will be among the 2020 TVs to have an ATSC 3.0 over-the-air broadcast tuner (called NextGen TV) coming later in the year as more stations go live.
As for picture quality, the Q90T, like last year’s Q90R, impressed us. The Samsung QN65Q90T is a solid HDR performer, both in presenting bright specular highlights and black shadow detail with minimized crushing.
Up converted 4K video was excellent in last year’s Q90R and remains so in 2020. Colors are brilliantly clear, rich in color without obvious artifacts to distract the eye and took on a three dimensional quality. Peak brightness measured in a 10% D65 white window pattern was 2,000 nits in “Dynamic/HDR” picture mode and more than 1,800 nits sustained brightness in Movie/HDR mode. Dynamic mode isn’t recommended for typical movie viewing and therefore is not a level you are going to see in real world movie viewing. Last year’s Q90R peak brightness measured at over 1,600 nits in Movie/HDR mode in a 10% D65 white window.
Specular highlights on the Q90T from native 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray movie sequences are bright and rich in color. We like to use the brilliant yellow/orange campfire scenes from the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray of The Revenant, which can vary in color richness and brightness from display to display. We found the appearance here on the Q90T was very comparable to what we just tested on the Samsung QN75Q800T. Flames were bright and detailed with tongues of vibrant orange. Similarly, colors in the 4K Ulta HD Blu-ray space monster battle scene during the opening credits of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 popped with comic-book-like saturation, providing a striking contast to the flat, duller SDR image when HDR mode was turned off.
The haloing/blooming issues common to LCD TVs are well contained by the Q90T series processing systems, with small improvements seen compared to a reference Q90R model. Despite some small issues with blooming around bright white objects on dark black grounds, these were much less significant than in prior years. Of course, this still isn’t as good as OLED displays, but these sets get significantly brighter and have virtualy no risk of image retention.
The Samsung QN65Q90T TV features what the company calls its “Boundless” design. It’s the same design as the Samsung Q800T series, and presents a high-end-looking metallic finish with a center-positioned pedestal base. This year, the Q90T omits the One Connect box of a year ago, placing the inputs on the back of the television. The stand elevates the screen above the tabletop surface with sufficient clearance to place most soundbars in front the screen without blocking any portion of the image. Panel depth is 1.4 inches. The overall cosmetic of the TV uses a simple, black, ultra-thin bezel trim ringing the perimeter of the screen.
The new content tile grid in the 2020 Tizen smart TV platform.
Samsung continues to use the Tizen OS as its TV platform. This year the menu has been expanded to make accessing apps snappy, and the app library provides support for virtually all of the major streaming services including Disney+, and Apple TV+.
Voice control continues to support Works with Alexa, Works with Google Assistant, and Samsung’s own Bixby platforms. Users can switch between the desired platforms in the user menu. The Bixby option provides greater control for the television’s settings as well as Samsung Smart Things devices. Alexa and Google Assistant support basic TV operations and can be used to control various smart home devices, answer general questions using the internent and perform many other tasks.
Samsung has also expanded the onscreen graphics and applications with in its popular Ambient Mode that offers static screen patterns, artworks, news and weather updates, etc to display when the TV is not in use to what traditional video.
All of the 2020 QLED models are designed to work with Samsung’s SmartThings system to control smart home devices throughout the house. The smart TVs link with Internet of Things (IoT) smart products and sensors to let TV watchers easily turn on the lights, check the contents of a smart refrigerator and run intelligent smart devices like a robot vacuum cleaner.
Samsung continues to use its by now familar black plastic One Remote with a minimal button design and an arched shape to fit comfortably balanced in the hand. The remote design is integral to the on-screen menu which performs most of the heavy lifting. Unfortunately, the few buttons the remote does offer are not backlit making it difficult to find the proper menu buttons and other commands in the dark. Otherwise, the remote makes operating the TV and finding apps and programs a breeze. Selections are quick and snappy.
For those who like to multi-task when watching TV, Samsung offers Multi View, which is a function that splits the TV screen for picture next to picture presentations, allowing content being viewed on one side of the screen to share the screen with content from a smartphone or tablet mirrored on the other side. This way, viewers can watch workout videos, check sports stats and perform other tasks without missing a minute of a favorite TV program or sporting event.
This year, Samsung has changed up the screen brightness nomenclature to make setting adjustments somewhat more intuitive than in the past. The 2020 models have renamed the “Brightness” control “Shadow Detail” to indicate more accurately what the adjustment is intended to tune. In addition, Samsung said it is again offering Autocal through Portrait Display’s CalMan display calibration software, although this year it is to be connected via wireless IP, as Sony and LG TVs use, rather than by a tethered serial connection used for the past several years. This is intended to simplify use in the field for professional calibrators and enthusiasts, alike. However, this year’s version of Autocal was not finished as the first models — including the review sample — arrived so it was not used for this evaluation. It will be coming via a firmware update later in the year, a Samsung representative told us.
Post calibration HDR EOTF and Luminance Tracking patterns in the CalMan software/Samsung workflow from Portrait Displays.
The Samsung QN65Q90T is a great display for presenting HDR. This year Samsung has changed up the local dimming approach in its Direct Full Array 16x (20x in the 85-inch) LED backlight system by arriving at a compromise from last year’s focus on making stable black to making the panel a little brighter while balancing it against deep black. This helps to reduce blooming, haloing and flashing effects. This appears to work quite well in SDR and HDR. The HDR Electro Optical Transfer Function (EOTF) measurement tightly followed the the optimal setting bar in CalMan softer, indicating accurate PQ gamma performance. EOTF is a term used for HDR to indicate how acurately a display converts data to a particular brightness level on the screen.
As mentioned, the QN65Q90T has a peak luminance performance of nearly 2,000 nits in “Dynamic Mode,” although this is an overly bright mode for most home theater content. In Movie/HDR mode, the QN65Q90T measured over 1,800 nits in a 10% D65 white window pattern. Across a range of window sizes the set measured more than 755 nits in a 1% white window ranging to over 1400 nits in a 100% full-screen pattern. This isn’t the brightest television on the market, but the results are nevertheless very good and more than competent for handling bright specular highlights in HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG supported content. These are the three supported HDR profiles in Samsung 2020 TVs. Samsung still doesn’t offer Dolby Vision HDR with dynamic metadata, meaning any Dolby Vision content played on these sets will default to static HDR10. We’ll let you decide if that’s going to be issue or not. The differences are very subtle.
We found the 65Q90T produced excellent dark shadow detail via the local zone dimming control. We observed a wide field of stars including dim ones in the opening credit scenes from the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray version of The Martian. The moving HDR starfield backgrounds from the 4K UHD Spears & Munsil test disc minimized the cloud-like blooming around some groups of moving stars we observed last year. In the dark shadow detail torture scene from the SDR Blu-ray Disc version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows vol. 2, — this is where Voldemort gathers his legion of dark wizards to do battle against Hogwarts — a dark clouding effect and vignetting that often appears on the left side of LCD screens in the top and bottom corners was well handled.
In HDR, black level measured zero in Portrait Display’s CalMan calibration software, which was as granular as the light meter used for the calibration would go. That’s not to say that black is as pure and inky as found on OLED screens, but it’s close.
The new Quantum Processor 4K 2.0 drives on the fly image processing to make key adjustments to picture quality as needed. This includes a new Adaptive Picture feature that constantly measures ambient light in the room and adjusts the picture brightness and other criteria for the optimized results. The processor also drives Samsung’s excellent upscaling technology that takes sub-native 4K content and blows it up to fill 3840×2160 pixels with clear images and minimal artifact duplication.
All told, we came away highly impressed with how this set performs with HDR and we’re eager to see it in a shootout against new OLED rivals.
UHDA P3 Gamut Coverage reading showing 93.34% (uv) for the QN65Q90T in Portrait Displays’ CalMan calibration software.
Samsung QLED TVs all use quatum dot color enhancement film to boost the gamut coverage and elevate color volume to 100% in the P3 wide color space recommendation. The measured UHDA P3 color gamut coverage reached nearly 93.34% (uv), where 90% or better is required for “Premium” 4K UHD TV certificiation qualification. In addition, Samsung’s QLED sets all meet 100% color volume, meaning they are capable of presenting more shades of color at higher brightness levels. Colors in both standard dynamic range (SDR) and HDR are vibrant and accurate. In addition, Samsung has added new “Texture Creation” processing this year that makes textures in colors pop for added realism.
Color in SDR was similarly excellent, as indicated in the delta e 2000 performance in the post calibration analysis from CalMan software.
The QN65Q90T does an excellent job handling background noise, and color banding. Banding isn’t eliminated entirely from gradual color transitions, like a skyline at sunset, but it is significantly reduced and rarely noticeable. When noise reduction is turned off, more visible film grain, low light and processing noise can be seen in certain content like in the nighttime Asian harbor scene at the opening of Blu-ray Disc version of Pirates of the Carribean At World’s End. But with image noise and default motion smoothing turned on this cleans up appreciably without removing the natural film grain that would be seen in the theater. Upscaled Blu-ray and to a lesser extend DVD content is sharp and vibrant without significant error duplication.
Samsung is adding to its 2020 QLED TVs the new Filmmaker Mode established by the Ultra HD Alliance in partnership with Hollywood content creators. This will be coming to the Q90T models (and other Samsung QLED TV series) via a firmware update at the end of May. The company said the UHDA made a last minute change at the end of January making Filmmaker Mode a part of the default settings by adding it as one of the picture modes in supported TV presets. Filmmaker Mode was developed to have the television automatically disable post processing such as motion smoothing when film-based content carrying metadata instructions to the TV is detected. This way, viewers will get to view the image in the way that the filmmakers intended through a seamless always-on automated process. This also includes adjusting for the original aspect ratio, color and frame rates the filmmaker selected. Filmmaker Mode can be turned off for viewing live video like news programs and sporting events that can look sharper and more vibrant with motion smoothing and noise reduction restored.
Screen uniformity on the QN65Q90T was very good. Solid white and gray screen patterns showed little dirty screen effect, and we didn’t detect any signs of smudging or shadowing coming through in pans on real world content. A full screen black pattern maintained solid black evenly across the screen.
The Samsung QN65Q90T has a total of four HDMI connectors (HDMI 2.1 on port 4), eARC on port 3). These will be available out of the box at launch. Other supported features include: Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), and Freesync/VRR. The HDMI ports are found on the back of the set pointed out toward the side of the screen, such that cables will not interfere with mounting the panel flat against a wall for those applications. These sets also offer two USB 2.0 v. 2 ports, digital optical audio output, ethernet port, RS-232 port and an RF antenna/cable connection.
The Samsung QN65Q90T is a strong video gaming display with a 9.3 ms lag time for both 4K/60 Hz and 1080p/60 Hz input in game mode. This makes Samsung’s TVs among the most responsive in their class for either 4K or 8K products. In addition, Samsung’s TVs this year support Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) out of the box as part of a suite of HDMI 2.1 features. This will help the display automatically detect a connected ALLM-complaint gaming device and automatically switch the television into Game Mode. Similarly, the series supports FreeSync and Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) for connection to similary supported gaming PCs to eliminate sync errors that can result in frame tearing and other issues.
Samsung also includes in the Q90T models its Real Game Enhancer+, which improves the ability to enhance the picture and sound quality while maintaining low input lag and Freesync support for smooth motion imagry.
Samsung’s new Object Tracking Sound+ feature provides a demonstrable way of balancing sound between the TV’s two top and two bottom speaker array so that sound seems to follow on-screen objects around the screen. It’s a cool effect that makes sound seem to be coming directly from the screen. The new placement of the speaker system generates clear and punchy sound for built-in TV audio systems. Dialog remains bright and clear and can be enhanced with a new Active Voice Amplifier feature that auto detects noise in the room and adjusts the volume of voices so they remain audible. Despite all this, the speakers are thin and do present a somewhat boxy/hollow effect. If that bothers you, Samsung has an answer to this called “Q Symphony” in its HW-Q60T, HW-Q70T, and HW-Q800T 2020 soundbars, which will integrate with the onboard sound system to give the overall audio presentation even more depth and spacial qualities. This integrates the sound of the TV speakers with the sound of the soundbar drivers and subwoofer. The result is an immersive, three-dimentional effect that sucks viewers into the action.
The Samsung QN65Q90T 4K Ultra HD LED-LCD TV is a beautiful performer. Samsung has significantly reduced the price for this model from last year while preserving or enhancing most of its attributes from last year, including Ultra Wide View and screen glare reduction. For those not ready to make the step up to 8K TV, this is a great high-performance option. We don’t make value judgments on price in our reviews, so we leave that decision to you. But based on picture and sound performance alone we give the Q90T series an HD Guru recommended buy.
We therefore award the Samsung QN65Q90T 4K Ultra HD Full-Array LED-LCD TV five out of five hearts.
The Samsung QN65Q90T 4K Ultra HD QLED TV used for this review was supplied by Samsung.
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By Greg Tarr
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