Review: Samsung UN65KS9800 Raises The Bar On HDR
We finally got our hands on one of Samsung’s 2016 flagship 4K Ultra HDTVs in the KS9800 series and what we found was as impressive as we expected. In fact, so far, it stands as the best of the 2016 4K Ultra HDTVs we’ve reviewed to date.
We recently tested Samsung’s 65-inch top-of-the-line edge-lit LED 4K Ultra HDTV in the KS9500 series (a $3,597.99 street retail model), and found that to be one of the best performing TVs for high dynamic range (HDR) we had yet seen. Now, it’s been pushed down a spot.
The equivalently sized UN65KS9800 ($4,497.99 street retail) takes all of that performance and goes one step better by placing LEDs in a series of zones all across the back plane of the LCD. This provides a localized source of lighting control that allows almost entirely shutting off light to groups of LEDs in a zone to create nearly perfect blacks in specific areas of the picture. This is better than using edge-lit LED lighting, which although less expensive to produce, must project lighting from the edge of the screen inward across the back of the LCD, offering less precise lighting control to specific areas of the image.
When used with HDR, FALD displays, like the KS9800, also enable a boost in peak luminance that well exceeded 1,000 nits to produce some of the most engaging spectral and specular highlights we’ve seen yet, while still keeping black levels deep and dark without losing shadow detail.
The UN65KS9800 is part of Samsung’s SUHD class of 4K Ultra HDTVs that incorporate quantum-dot technology to deliver a benchmark standard for wide color gamut performance, in addition to helping boost luminance to achieve the aforementioned brightness levels of HDR. The UN65KS9800 conforms to the Ultra HD Alliance’s Ultra HD Premium certification standards and carries the organization’s premium logo.
The use of FALD back lighting helps the TV compete favorably with LG’s top-performing 4K OLED TVs that have even richer, deeper black levels (albeit with some dark detail crushing), although somewhat dimmer peak luminance levels, and significantly higher per-inch prices than comparable Samsung SUHD TVs.
Read more of our review of the Samsung UN65KS9800 after the jump:
To set the stage, the KS9800 series is available in the 65-inch; 78-inch $9,999; and 88-inch $19,999 screen sizes. All have curved screens; Samsung does not provide a flat-screen alternative, as it does with other series this year.
Design and Appearance
The TV’s design is very similar in appearance to the edge-lit KS9500. The bezel trim around the screen is a dark graphite tinted chrome with a black interior border measuring under a quarter-inch wide.
The back of the TV is rounded and composed of a textured flat black plastic that at first glance appears to be fabricated from a high-quality aluminum. Samsung keeps the back of the set free of the clutter of inputs/outputs by using its OneConnect Mini box which carries most of the TV’s HDMI, USB, and SPDIF inputs and connects to the display by a single cable.
The OneConnect Mini box also carries some of the set’s circuitry to possibly enable upgrading critical hardware and software in the future if standards change and improve. However, Samsung is not promising that such upgrades definitely will be coming within the next four years (the time when the company’s upgrade promise generally expires).
The included Y-shaped table-top stand carries the same graphite-accented chrome look as the bezel trim to help it easily blend in with dark-color furniture, while giving the overall appearance of the TV a legitimate high-end panache.
Strengths and Exceptionalism
As stated, the strength of the KS9800 series is the FALD technology which helps to both make blacks darker and bright elements brighter. Samsung/Nanosys quantum-dot technology places a film that goes over the LED array to both boost brightness and color luminance in the LCD pixels. The result is some of the richest and most natural colors we’ve yet seen in a consumer display. Samsung uses a new process in this year’s HDR TVs which helps to produce HDR-like effects from standard dynamic range (SDR) material. We first saw this in the KS9500 and the results are even more dramatic in the KS9800.
Samsung includes an “HDR Plus” mode in the special viewing picture modes section of the setting controls along with alternate choices for Game and Sports modes.
HDR Plus is like an enhanced “Vivid” or “Dynamic” picture mode setting that simulates the appearance of HDR in SDR material. This elevates overall light output and color saturation using the KS9800’s special FALD capabilities. Like the Vivid setting on the TV, this will not necessarily be an accurate presentation of content being viewed but it can be interesting to use from time to time to get a feel for all of the extra horsepower this display produces.
Watching regular broadcast TV images, we saw what appeared to be a brightness boost in elements like background wall sconces, facial highlights and explosions, even when HDR metadata was not present to support these effects.
Issues and Shortcomings
So far, there is no such thing as a perfect TV, and the 65KS9800 doesn’t change that. Like most LED/LCD sets the KS9800 models have issues with loss of contrast and color performance when viewed off center, although the FALD back lighting does help to mitigate that issue some compared to edge-lit LED LCD versions. This is one area where OLED TVs have a clear advantage over even the best LED LCD TVs, and should be considered if the display is to be mounted at a high angle on a wall. The brightness of the display lightens the overall picture compared to an OLED display, giving the image a somewhat more diffuse pastel appearance, but this also helps to bring out details in both the dark black and bright white elements of the picture, particularly in HDR content.
When we first looked at the KS9500 edge-lit display a few months back, we noticed an issue where brightness elements in the picture seemed to bleed through to the black bars that appear at the top and bottom of wide-format material. It should be noted that after several firmware updates, that condition dissipated on the UN65KS9500 after several weeks and was virtually absent on the KS9800. The black bars were almost as deep and black as the quarter-inch black frame around the bezel trim.
Like all SUHD TVs this year, the KS9800 models come with Samsung’s newly designed “Smart Remote.” The remote, like the TV, features a minimalist design and provides universal control capabilities to operate virtually any connected component via an HDMI cable. All that’s necessary is to connect and turn on each device at setup, and the TV automatically sets itself up to operate the devices through the sophisticated on-screen user interface and the Smart Remote.
The remote itself has an arch design to fit comfortably in the hand. Users can control many different source devices (set-top boxes, Blu-ray players, game consoles, etc.) simply by pressing the home icon button and scrolling through the dual-bar banner menu at the bottom of the TV screen in the user interface.
Thanks to a firmware update, the Smart remote now works well with a connected DirecTV box, as well as most cable, telco TV boxes and DVD/Blu-ray Disc players. Although the TV has an extensive Smart Hub with the leading streaming apps, it still controlled a Roku 4 box without issue.
The remote is designed to work interactively with the new Samsung on-screen user interface, which was greatly improved and simplified this year. In particular, the speed of switching between connected devices is considerably faster so you won’t have to wait as long when tuning between a cable/satellite program to a selection on Netflix or Amazon Instant Video.
Samsung offers one of the better motion reduction systems, called Auto Motion Plus, in the industry and the KS9800 handles issues with blurring and judder well. The TV has a 120Hz native refresh rate and the motion artifacts aren’t horrible with the Auto Motion Plus system turned off. But the Auto Motion Plus system does increase the Soap Opera Effect quite a bit on 4K Ultra HD displays. This is a condition where even a film-originated image can look overly sharp to the point that film starts to look like live video (as is seen in a soap opera). Some like it, others find it distracting. It can be adjusted by going into the Auto Motion Plus menu and selecting custom and then setting Blur Reduction and Judder Reduction to levels where the Soap Opera Effect diminishes. Using the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray HD Bench Mark calibration disc we found settings of six for blur reduction and eight for judder reduction reduced the motion artifacts while keeping the Soap Opera Effect to an acceptable level.
The KS9800 handles every day HD content as well as it does high-performance HDR and wide color gamut material. When calibrating for SDR/Rec. 709, color accuracy, colorimetry, and contrast were pretty much dead on the money when the TV’s picture mode was set to “Movie” and color temperature was set to “Warm2.” A few adjustments were needed to move the set’s color range from the native 95.5 percent of DCI-P3 color gamut to the color points for HD’s Rec.709 gamut, but not by much.
The TV up scales well, although the greater brightness and imaging capabilities tend to make upscaling artifacts standout more than in dimmer displays. This is especially evident leaving the set in HDR Plus mode. The set also brings out background noise present in content shot in low natural light, which is something to keep in mind when shooting home videos or playing dark-set DVD movies.
High Dynamic Range
When buying a TV at this price and with this capability, HDR performance is of paramount importance. Fortunately, this model handles the brightness capabilities as well or better than any others we’ve seen. The company said the TV was designed to achieve the “1,000 nits” of peak brightness as specified for HDR-10 by the UHD Alliance Ultra HD Premium performance criteria for LED/LCD displays. One nit is equivalent to one candela per square meter, or roughly the volumetric light output of a candle.
Using the test patterns and work flow we can report the set surpassed the 1,000 nit peak level with a reading of 1,297.5 nits at a 10 percent window size; dropping down to 826.4 nits at a 25 percent window; and 543.9 nits at a 100 percent window.
Measuring a zero nit black point inside 10 concentric circles stepping up 1 nit for each circle, we measured 0.0169 nits black level, which surpasses the 0.05 nits specified by the UHDA. We then measured zero nits measuring the center of a black screen with 1 percent windows each outputting 100 nits from the four corners of the frame, but this reading was likely due to the back light shutting down in the center LED zones of the screen.
Using real-world material – the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with HDR of Batman vs. Superman Dawn of Justice – HDR spectral highlights stood out brilliantly against the mostly dark scenes that pervade the movie. Still, I was able to see subtle shading detail differences in the dark corners of the frame, and even discern the difference in color between deep blues and blacks in character wardrobes. The pictures above don’t accurately represent the brightness highlights and black level detail visible in a live demo.
The combination of the contrasting highlights as shot by the director in the Batman vs. Superman movie and the strong brightness performance of the UN65KS9800 made this one of the most dramatic demonstrations of HDR I’ve yet witnessed on a consumer display.
This year, I’m reviewing all TVs from the position that no consumer display out there is perfect and consumers shopping for a top-performing TV today are going to have to make trade-off decisions. How badly the shortcomings of each display bother you should be the primary barometer used in make the right model decision.
For anyone looking for the best flat-panel TV money can buy, the UN65KS9800 has to stand as one of the primary considerations. Here you are getting great brightness, outstanding contrast and black levels, and a rich wide color gamut with highly accurate reproduction of DCI-P3 recorded content.
The trade-offs are that this is only available in a curved screen, which turns some folks off (especially in America), less-than-stellar off-angle viewing degradation (a trait of LCD technology), and picture artifacts that standout more in poorly up converted (by the broadcaster or program provider) standard and high definition content. This is due to the high brightness and local dimming system in the KS9800 which makes both the best and worst elements of a picture more apparent. This is really only going to be a problem if you watch a lot of old formerly analog TV shows, VHS tapes, low-lit content, low-budget cable stations or badly encoded DVDs. Watching an Ultra HD Blu-ray or most 4K streaming content, on the other hand, will be a joy, as will watching any live 1080i/720p or better sporting event.
If the drawbacks, particularly off-axis viewing or curved-only screens, bother you, your option could be an LG OLED TV, but this will cost significantly more money (almost $8,000 street retail for the LG G6) for the same screen size and feature performance. You will also have similar up-conversion and motion-blurring issues.
Alternatively, for $1,000 less you can get the Samsung UN65KS9500 edge lit 4K Ultra HD LED/LCD TV and get close to the same performance, but with a noticeable drop off in black level richness and detail.
We therefore award the Samsung 65UNKS9800 4K Ultra HD Full Array LED LCD TV 5 out of 5 hearts.
The UN65KS9800 4K SUHD TV used for this review was a company loan.
By Greg Tarr
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