Review: Samsung’s 4K Ultra HD UN65KS9500 Brings HDR Home
Last year, 4K Ultra HDTVs with high dynamic range (HDR) and a wide color gamut (WCG) were brand new, and we had no parameters with which to measure performance for the additional luminance and color we were supposed to be seeing.
At the start of Year Two, the Ultra HD Alliance has given us a set of guidelines for what it considers “Ultra HD Premium” performance levels in 4K HDR sets, so we can at least know what to look for.
Samsung will soon be rolling out the largest assortment of “Ultra HD Premium” models on the market this year – The company said that all of its SUHD level TVs will support the new performance criteria, offering a boost in brightness and color. This can be attributed, in part, to the switch to a different quantum dot technology (the system was called Nanocrystal technology last year) to reach a color gamut covering better than 90 percent of the DCI-P3 color space recommendation for professional digital theaters.
For our first test of one of these Premium models we received the Samsung UN65KS9500, a 65-inch curved-screen LED display offering the highest level of performance from the manufacturer’s edge-lit LED class. Only the KS9800 flagship series, which will use full-array LED back lighting, is expected to be better from this brand. We can report that Samsung’s UN65KS9500 delivered a highly impressive performance. Unfortunately, Samsung had not yet released pricing as this went to post, so we can’t tell you what it’s going to cost just yet, but as we all know, prices rarely go up in this industry and the set is scheduled for availability soon. Stay tuned.
Read more of our review of the Samsung UN65KS9500 after the jump:
Models in the curved-screen KS9500 series are advertised to support 3840×2160 resolution, a 10-bit panel, 96 percent coverage of the DCI-P3 color gamut, HDR-10 metadata, peak brightness of 1,000 nits and black level of 0.05 nits. In our tests, the model met or exceeded all of the UHD Alliance “Premium” criteria, although we had to test using several window sizes to achieve the 1,000 nit brightness level. Windows measuring 10 percent or smaller exceeded the 1,000 nit level. These high brightness levels gradually ramp down automatically after 15 seconds so capturing the peak has to be performed quickly. This ramp down is not a problem since HDR content rarely needs to have constant levels of peak brightness output for more than a few seconds in a single scene.
Testing for peak luminance was performed using an X-Rite i1Pro 2 spectroradiometer, and a Murideo Fresco Six-G test pattern generator set to trigger HDR metadata output in the TV set. The TV back light and contrast settings were turned up full and Smart LED (local dimming) was set to high. Using a 100 percent full white window, the UH65KS9500 tested at 568 nits. With an 18 percent window size this jumped to 911 nits, a window of L20 max measured 1,196 nits, and a 5 percent window measured at 1,387 nits. At its lowest, black level measured at or below 0.05 nits reading off of an Equal Energy Window pattern on the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray test disc. Color gamut measured at 96 percent of DCI-P3.
Delivering On HDR Promise
Samsung TVs (like Sony, Hisense and some others) support the open HDR-10 HDR metadata format, but not the competing Dolby Vision version. Both are supported in some new Vizio and LG TVs, and soon in some TCL and Philips 2016 TVs as well.
The display was tested in tandem with Samsung’s new HDR-supporting Ultra HD Blu-ray player that delivered images with some of the most impressive brightness highlights and sufficiently dark and detailed black levels this reviewer has seen from an edge-lit display. Specular highlights in some HDR images made objects literally glow out into the room. The effect was noticeably better on Ultra HD Blu-ray than from HDR streaming 4K content.
For example, specular highlights from torches carried across a field at twilight on the 4K/HDR Ultra HD Blu-ray copy of The Maze Runner were clearly brighter, not just more yellow or white, than the surrounding parts of the image. Details and additional colors were also visible within these bright points as well as in the darkest elements of the screen at the same time. The result is an image that appears more natural and less like video.
Although this is edge-lit, the KS9500 produced satisfying black levels when calibrated for Rec. 709 color. It should be noted that out-of-the-box contrast and back light settings in “standard picture mode” were set very high and tended to produce some haloing and white washout around objects in bright non-HDR scenes. This was eliminated with a contrast and back light calibration.
In HDR content, peak luminance levels are pre-set and triggered when HDR metadata is detected in the signal. The effect tended to emit elevated contrast levels around bright objects in the picture washing out black levels in nearby elements including the black bars at the top and bottom of the frame in 2:40:1 full widescreen content.
It should be noted that we tested a pre-production sample, and Samsung tells us the bleeding contrast issue is scheduled to be corrected with an OTN update.
It will be interesting to see how HDR is handled in the 2016 flagship KS9800 SUHD series, which uses full-array LED back lighting and should produce even better black level performance with greater control of light output at the local LED zone level.
The state of the art is certainly going to get better and better as we go along, but this is a promising start, and leaves previous attempts at video realism, like 3D, sprawled as lifelessly on the side of the technology highway as roadkill. In fact, Samsung has ended its 3DTV experiment this year, and eliminated 3D support in all 2016 TVs.
It seems clear now that the same fate does not await HDR or wide color gamut displays. These technologies make the case for 4K Ultra HD, even if the higher resolution alone is virtually imperceptible on many home-based TV screen. The extra pixels afforded by 4K screens will carry the additional data needed to make HDR and WCG that much more compelling.
New Smart TV Platform
Samsung has significantly updated its Tizen-based smart TV interface this year. The on-screen guide pops up immediately at the bottom of the screen after a press of the home icon button on the remote. This dual-tiered scrolling menu provides easy access to TV tuners, external sources, streaming and gaming services and other apps. The bottom tier offers selections for settings, sources and searches followed by a queue of the most frequently watched sources and apps. Selecting anyone of them produces a list of top-watched program thumbnails in the top tier banner menu. This year, the guide is customizable, allowing any app to be moved up to the main home page list and placed in order of the most frequently used favorites.
When a source icon, like “DirecTV” for example, is selected in the bottom tier, the top tier immediately produces a “Home” icon, which takes you to the main DirecTV guide. An adjacent “Guide” icon takes you to the TV service’s channel guide menu, and a “Recordings” icon takes you into a menu of any saved programs on the DVR. All of these guides and menus are easily accessed with the slim remote control, which offers a minimized button layout. Additionally, this year connected source devices are automatically detected by the TV at setup and presented for easy access by the smart TV platform and universal remote.
Next to the “Recordings” icon on the top menu tier is a queue of nine thumb nail photos from movies currently playing on various movie channels or programs within the connected TV service. Selecting one tunes immediately to the program.
Samsung has improved its voice-control system this year. Basic commands like “open Netflix” were easily recognized and swiftly executed by the TV after holding down the voice input button and speaking the command into a mic opening on the remote. More compelling was the ability to speak in searches for program titles, actors, directors, etc., to call up a list of recommended programs available to watch. A command to “search for Moonshiners,” for example, quickly called up a list of available programs on Amazon Instant Video and YouTube. It’s program searches that make the most sense for voice input, because it eliminates the hassle of having to hunt and peck the program title into a soft-keypad onscreen. For other tasks, however, I found executing simple commands, like “Open Netflix,” were just as easy to perform with the manual input controls on the remote.
This year, the Tizen platform was enhanced with a SmartThings app (coming this summer) that will allow you to control various wireless Smart Home products around the house. This can include anything from multiple brands of SmartThings-compatible thermostats and lighting to home security cameras, all of which are easily accessible, controllable and can be monitored from the TV’s menu.
All the advanced calibration controls are now positioned under an “Expert Settings” submenu, with only the top three basic controls appearing in a top-level picture menu. These include Picture Mode, Special Viewing Mode (with Sports and Game Mode sub selections), and Picture Size. The Expert Setting selection opens a submenu with most of the same tools offered last year including: Backlight, Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness, Color, Tint, Apply Picture Settings, Digital Clean View, Auto Motion Plus, Smart LED, Film Mode, HDMI UHD Color, HDMI Black Level, Dynamic contrast, Color Tone (temperature), White Balance (2 and 10 point) Gamma (seven linear settings), RGB Only Mode, Color Space and Picture Reset.
Although the TV was very close to accurately hitting all of the Rec. 709 color points when set to Movie Mode and Warm 2 color temperature, the set looks even better after a thorough calibration.
Samsung’s upscaling technology was good last year but it seems to have improved in 2016. Full HD 1080p and HD 1080i/720p material is brilliantly sharp on the 4K screen. Artifacts are minimized compared to other upscaling approaches in 4:3 480 analog video, but the look is still softer and colors are muted, as they are on any system. There’s little to be done with such a limited amount of picture information.
One Connect Mini
Samsung again has opted to offer an out boarded One Connect Mini box to hold TV input connections. This is done to reduce panel depth. The box holds four HDMI [email protected]/HDCP 2.2 inputs, two USB ports, component/composite inputs and an antenna input for the terrestrial tuner. Also offered is an optical audio jack, while the main TV carries an Ethernet port, a third USB and a jack to connect the One Connect Mini box to the display.
This year, Samsung packs a minimalist design into its diminutive universal 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 screen. The Smart remote works reasonably well with a connected DirecTV box and Roku 4, although we couldn’t get the DirecTV box to turn on or off by hitting the power button on the TV’s remote.
Samsung’s TV designs consistently rank at or near the top of the field every year, and this series is no exception. The TV’s bezel is the thinnest to date on a curved LED LCD TV, and is flush with the screen behind the single panel cover glass. The trim around the edge offers an elegant chrome accent. The supplied pedestal stand is Y shaped and sturdy, though it takes up an ample footprint (35.5 x 16.5 inches) on a table or credenza. The back of TV presents a rounded plastic backing with a black textured surface, without the clutter of visible screws or bolts. Cables are elegantly managed through the single cable connection to the One Connect Mini box.
After calibration with the back light turned down to seven to adjust for the room lighting conditions, Samsung’s LED edge-light system provided a very evenly balanced look with little in the way of blotchy patches or hot spots across full white and grey screens. The exception is on white screens where a narrow strip of bright light is visible across the length of the top of the screen just below the bezel. In addition, when set to Movie Mode, some faint yellow discoloration was seen in patches around the central portion of the full white screen, but none of this impacted the picture.
Standard Dynamic Range
The benefits of Samsung’s efforts to deliver content produced with HDR is not lost on material produced in standard dynamic range (SDR). This content is handled by the KS9500 as well as any TV I’ve seen, and Samsung has added circuitry called the “SUHD Remaster” system that expands the brightness range and color gamut of standard dynamic range content to HDR-like levels. This attempts to add some of the effects seen in HDR metadata enhanced content to material shot for HDR. Spectral highlights in bright elements aren’t nearly as dazzling as they appear on HDR Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, but they do appear actually brighter than the overall picture. One way I found to test this is by using the set’s LED Clear Motion setting under the Auto Motion Plus setting.
LED Clear Motion adds black filters to reduce motion artifacts in such a way that it reduces overall picture brightness a couple of steps. When engaged, this has the effect of defeating the faux-HDR enhancement, giving the image a more even overall luminance level and toned down spectral highlights. With LED Clear Motion off, the boost in brighter elements returns, lending more depth and realism to some SDR programs.
While we are on the subject of motion reduction, the UN65KS9500 has a 120Hz native refresh rate and motion artifacts aren’t horrible with the Auto Motion Plus system turned off. That said Samsung’s Auto Motion Plus system is better than most at handling motion artifacts like blurring and judder, but it 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 them 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.
Getting back to SDR, the TV handles colors very well, providing a balanced natural look and feel. Color balance is good and the display out of the box is pretty close to hitting dead on all of the gamut color points in the Rec. 709, CIE 1931 color space.
This is still an LED LCD screen and as such exhibits off-angle viewing issues. Both color and contrast diminish when moving a couple of steps to the left or right of dead center or when viewing from an angle below or above the screen. However, the condition seems somewhat less severe this year than in last year’s JS9000 series models.
Where Samsung has improved screen limitations is by reducing reflection from the high-gloss curved screen surface. This year, Samsung has included an anti-reflective filter called Ultra Black technology that is said to mimic some of the characteristics of a moth’s eye. This has reduced noticeable reflection from ambient lighting when watching the screen at dead center, although it is still visible from an angled viewing position or when deliberately looking for it.
Samsung has also made strides in improving the on-board sound system, although in this price range most purchasers are likely to have multi-channel surround systems or sound bars. The TV is equipped with a separate subwoofer, mid-range and tweeter drivers in the slim-depth screen, using angled ports that push the sound forward from below the screen. Volume can get quite loud before distorting and provides strong clear dialog with good treble and respectable bass.
Samsung continues to lead the industry in the development of new picture quality technologies, through its efforts behind HDR and WCG displays. For the rest of the industry, the UN65KS9500 raises the bar even further by bringing remarkably realistic colors and decent black levels to an edge-lit display. The added-nuances of HDR brought out in Ultra HD Blu-ray content (affording up to 100Mbps bit rates) played on Samsung’s Ultra HD Blu-ray player (the only one available as this was posted) continues to position Samsung’s HDR technologies as industry reference points.
Although not all Ultra HD Blu-ray titles are produced to deliver the same degree of HDR intensity, what a demo with this TV and a few good discs played on the new Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player further proved to me was that the value-added benefits of both HDR and WCG together with 4K Ultra HD are real and worth the extra dollars it will take get them delivered properly. As this is only the beginning, I anxiously await what’s coming from future product generations.
FYI — Among some of the better UHD Blu-ray titles for HDR impact currently on the market are The Maze Runner, The Martian, and The Hitman Agent 47. Stay tuned for our upcoming review of the Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
The picture performance from both HDR and SDR material is simply outstanding. Black levels are excellent for an edge-lit LED LCD TV, although not quite to OLED levels. However, the set excels in delivering bright specular highlights that bring a new sense of realism to home-viewed video images. It will be interesting to see if OLED TVs can match the impact level.
It’s also important to remind that the Samsung UN65KS9500 doesn’t require an Ultra HD Blu-ray player or even content with HDR metadata to deliver a more realistic-looking image with HDR-like details.
Samsung has also done a lot of work on its smart TV platform and it shows. It will be fascinating to see how the SmartThings system works for home automation later this year, and should transform the TV into more than just an entertainment vehicle.
Although this is the first of the 2016 TVs we have reviewed this year, we expect the Samsung UN65KS9500 to rank at or near the top of all edge-lit LED LCD TVs available in this class. It’s also a very good example for how HDR and WCG material should be presented. We still don’t have a price to go on, but we don’t anticipate the set will arrive at a higher price than last year’s equivalently positioned 65JS9000 model, and that was a good value at the time. We also expect LG’s equivalently featured 2016 OLED TVs to carry a higher price ticket.
The Samsung UN65KS9500 used for this review was a company loan.
By Greg Tarr
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