ProsExcellent balance of color and brightness; ultra-fast startup; external jack box makes connections easier; great performance with film material
ConsThick panel seems a bit too retro; wide, deep footprint makes placement difficult; simply too expensive versus the competition
Back at CES 2017, we spent a lot of time with all the major TV manufacturers, from Samsung, to Sony, to LG, which provided us with plenty of material for our in-depth look at the future of 4K TVs. There were three eye-catching announcements at the show. First, LG was of course pushing its OLED technology to the limit with its "Wallpaper" models, Sony was caving in to pressure by launching its own OLED TV (buying panels from LG, which must hurt!), and Samsung was going its own way, launching what is was calling "QLED", the subject of this review.
Now, we're going to be completely honest here: upon seeing the QLED demo at CES, we were absolutely blown away. The demo material Samsung had put together was just fantastic (we've included a photo later on this page). The only problem was that we didn't really dig the name. Seriously, we did a double-take at the Samsung booth, as at first glance we thought it too had introduced an OLED. Yes, we asked Samsung at the time what this was all about and whether it was trying to trick consumers, but the answer was simple: well, we're using "Quantum Dots", so this is a QLED! All right, all right, yes, you have Quantum Dots, but there were a lot of other ways you could brand this technology. In fact, during the intervening year, we've had plenty of people approach us asking if QLEDs were in fact OLEDs. The ploy worked.
So we're not exactly on board with the marketing approach, but what about the tech? We thought the QLED looked great the first time we saw it, but now we have one ready to put through the ringer. Throughout this test, we'll be comparing the Q9F to a Samsung UN55HU8550 55" 4K model, which was considered the very best 4K TV when it was released for $2,500 in 2014, as well as LG's OLED65C6P, which at $4,000 was chosen by many editors as the best TV on the market until its replacement the C7P arrived this spring. Tough benchmarks? Perhaps, but Samsung absolutely dominated the 4K market at its early stages, so surely it will remain competitive today!
Special thanks to Samsung for providing a sample of the Samsung 65" Q9F QLED 4K TV for review.
Description and Features
The Q9F sports a relatively surprising design motif. The panel itself measures 57.5" wide and 32.8" tall (these numbers includes the very slim bezel), but it has substantial thickness: a full 1", which is held uniform from top to bottom and side to side. This gives the Q9F a serious presence, but it's a profile we haven't seen in years. In the photo here, we're comparing it to our 65" LG C6P, and while the LG does get thick near the bottom where all its connectors reside, it's razor-thin up top, and overall, we think it looks much more cutting edge. The Q9F also has very large feet, which stand a significant 38.75" wide and 12" from front to back. This will limit to some degree how small a stand the Q9F can sit on, as well as how far forward or backwards the TV can be placed. By the way, all the metal in the Q9F's frame and stand translate to serious heft: this TV weighs 66 pounds, which combined with its width makes it very hard to handle - there's basically no way one person can move it around on their own.
What's all the more surprising about the Q9F's heft is that its connections are all housed in a breakout box, which in theory should have allowed the TV to be much thinner. What definitely is thin is the cord connecting the TV to the box - it's about as thin as fishing line, and if Samsung figured out how to carry all the massive bandwidth required by both Ethernet and HDMI 2.0 over this tiny thread of cable, we'd like to know how it's going to revolutionize the rest of the cable world!
So with the description out of the way, we can talk features, starting with the specs. The Q9F is Samsung's top-of-the-line TV for 2017, so it has all the acronyms and tradenames you can handle! That starts with a 4K screen with 10bit support and Samsung's proprietary Quantum Dot technology on the color end, and high-dynamic range (HDR) powered by Samsung's Q | 4K HDR Elite+ with Infinite Array Edgelit LED, with Supreme UHD Dimming and Precision Black Ultimate Local Dimming. We're not even sure how a TV could have that many technologies built in without being duplicative, but the Q9F is clearly loaded with them, so they're probably having some positive effect! In the photo below, which we captured at CES, you can easily see how the baseball appears to hover in space, almost as if it's 3D, which is due to the extremely fine gradations of color and light that allow a flat screen to reproduce depth like our eyes see it in real life.
What Samsung is really showing off here is its "light-on-light" performance, which is something that most demo material doesn't stress, and most reviewers don't pay attention to. We'll of course have more to say about picture quality, but it will have to wait until we discuss performance on the next page!
In terms of connections, the Q9F is very complete - its breakout box includes four HDMI ports, all compliant with HDMI 2.0, along with three USB ports (all being 2.0, rather than 3.0, unfortunately). It also has wired Ethernet, optical digital out (for sending sound to a receiver), and a coax cable connector. Note that by default, its HDMI ports are not set to UHD color, but will auto-detect UHD devices via CEC code if the TV recognizes them. In practice, this is most reliable with other Samsung devices, so if you have a competitor's 4K Blu-Ray player, or a gaming PC or console, you should make sure that the ports are indeed set to UHD color before getting into your content. By the way, the Q9F also has wireless networking built in, of course, and curiously, although it offers 802.11ac networking, the manual suggests using 802.11n. This is probably because of the latter's greater range, but for 4K streaming, you'll probably need 802.11ac's far superior bandwidth.
We've been impressed by the amount of innovation we've seen from TV manufacturers over the past few years in terms of the bundled remote controls, and sure enough Samsung is going all-out trying to reinvent the wheel with the Q9F's remote. Just as the TV itself evokes a minimalist style (if not quite a minimal footprint), the remote's array of buttons is kept to a bare minimum. Samsung is really pushing voice controls here, but as much as we love Amazon's Echo devices, we have not been impressed with voice controls on TVs. The issue for Samsung, as with other manufacturers, is that voice commands only work in the Samsung menu. Each individual app, and of course your external devices, will refuse to cooperate, as they would need their own support for Samsung's voice control system. So sure, you can launch Netflix or Amazon by holding the microphone button down on the remote, but couldn't you just flick the directional arrow over a couple of times to get there as long as you're holding it? And once you're in the app, you'll need that remote anyway, so basically, voice control is a non-starter from our point of view. We were more impressed with the motion controller included with our 2014 Samsung HU8550, and and even more impressed with LG's current motion control system on its OLEDs. Basically, the Samsung remote control looks kind of neat, but the elimination of so many buttons is truly a case of form over function. Most egregious was the elimination of the settings button - in our many hours of hands-on testing, we can't tell you how many times we had to scroll all the way to the left of the Samsung home screen to access the settings menu. Annoying! We also found the volume and channel buttons perplexing - they require a toggle up or down, which is pretty unintuitive on a remote that otherwise requires a downward press on all the other buttons.
Of course, the Q9F is also a Smart TV, and we were very impressed at its suite of services. First of all, it launches directly into its home menu, unlike many other recent TVs in the past few years, which still inanely launched into a tuner section, which often brought up white static if you weren't on a cable or antenna connection (like our 2014 Samsung HU8550). Even better, the Q9F starts up in less than a second - holy cow! Perhaps its the powerful quad-core processor, perhaps its just Samsung's software wizardry, but this is by far the fastest Smart TV we've ever tested. And you get plenty of content, including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Google Play, Vudu, as shown below:
Also onboard but not shown above are YouTube and a built-in web browser, the latter which you can actually control via voice commands (as it's a Samsung app). What we really love about Samsung's home screen is that you can pull up your menu and browse other content while still watching your current content in the background. Above we have the Planet Earth II 4K Blu-Ray playing while we're browsing Amazon Video. Another big new feature recently added to Samsung's App Store is Steam Link, which as far as we know is currently exclusive to Samsung in the Smart TV space. It allows you to stream games from your Steam collection off of any PC running in your house. It works pretty much as expected, well, kind of.
While we could easily get into our Steam Library, not everything worked as smoothly as we would have liked. First, you must connect either the Steam-branded wireless controller, or a USB based wired controller. The Xbox One wireless controller is a no-go. Second, not all of our games would actually launch - Grid Autosport simply quit back to the menu. Finally, what you must realize is that this is using screen mirroring - the PC you're using shows everything you see on your TV, effectively taking it out of service for other users, and furthermore, the picture is limited to the resolution of your PC's monitor, which on our test system was 2560 x 1440, so there was no glorious 4K gaming in the cards here. Finally, and this was what was most disappointing, the image was clearly compressed, with the Q9F showing none of the color or even texture resolution of the exact same image on our PC monitor. All in all, we can't really complain, as Samsung is throwing this in for free, but hard-core gamers will still want to have a 4K-capable PC or game console hooked up to their Samsung TV to truly enjoy the gaming experience.
By the way, one last feature we should mention is that the Q9F can automatically detect Samsung smartphones running on the same network as the TV, which allows for simple controls from your phone. We used our Galaxy S7 to change volume and other settings, and it required no setup at all - it's just "automagically" detected.
All right, on the next page we'll get into what it's like to use the Q9F to consume 4K content.