Pros

Excellent balance of color and brightness; ultra-fast startup; external jack box makes connections easier; great performance with film material

Cons

Thick panel seems a bit too retro; wide, deep footprint makes placement difficult; simply too expensive versus the competition

Star Rating

Performance

We utilize four movies to test all our 4K HDR displays: Planet Earth II on 4K Blu-Ray, John Wick Chapter 2 on 4K Blu-Ray, Arrival on 4K Blu-ray, and Chi-Raq in 4K HDR on Amazon Instant Video streaming. To play our 4K discs, we use an Oppo UDP-203 UHD Player. We use each of these sources to test different aspects of 4K HDR playback, and we intentionally do not use test patterns or other synthetic benchmarking material, nor do we do any sort of color calibration. Frankly, we believe that most users aren't going to bother with that, and other factors play a much more significant role in the viewing experience. Perhaps years ago, when color calibration was all you could do to improve picture quality, it made sense to spend a lot of time on, but there's a lot more going on in today's 4K, HDR world.

That doesn't mean we tested the Q9F at default settings. We immediately turned off the soap opera effect (SOE)-inducing automatic de-judder, which is found under "Expert" Picture Controls (despite the fact that even the most novice user should turn it off), and we also enabled UHD Deep Color for the HDMI input used for our Oppo 4K player. Finally, we turned off the default ambient light sensor and its associated auto-dimming, which wreaked havoc on HDR material due to the fact that it massively reduced brightness in our dark testing environment, rendering moot any benefits of the HDR material.

PEII

So, we'll start with a scene from Planet Earth II's disc 1, at the 23-minute mark. Here we see an iguana being chased by snakes on a rocky shore. This is a particularly challenging scene for multiple reasons: you have extremely fast motion, a panning camera, dark objects on a background that changes quickly from light to dark and back, as well as huge contrast in the background. Overall, the Q9F rendered this better than any TV we've tested. Even with de-judder shut off, motion was smooth, without a trace of motion artifacts, and the Q9F's abundant light and local dimming combined to allow the black lava rocks in the background to stand out against the bluish-white sky. Samsung gets an "A" for motion handling as well as dealing with very light-intensive material. Of note, this is not a test of colors, as there's very little color in the scene, but that's why we have our next test disc!

JW

Indeed, John Wick Chapter 2's opening sequence is simply filled with bright colors and lights, fast motion, and quick camera cuts, all set in the dead of night. We'd give the Q9F a passing grade on this material, specifically due to its very good reproduction of lighting, particularly reflections off the side of buildings, cars, and puddles on the street. The colors, however, weren't nearly as "inky" as we've seen on the LG OLED. In other words, Samsung's QLED has its strengths, but in some cases its lack of infinite contrast (despite the Samsung tradename "Infinite Array") means the lights look better than the darks.

Arrival

Next we'll talk about Arrival's extensive use of panning, which can trip up just about any TV. This movie has very little color, and so we use it to test a different aspect of film: extreme camera panning. At the 6:45 mark, two jets streak across the sky as the camera pans across a parking lot, and this typically looks terrible on just about any UHD TV. The good news is that Samsung's Q9F handled it quite well. Of course, we made sure to shut off de-judder, which causes the jets to flicker in and out of the picture, a truly ludicrous side effect of smoothing that we've also seen in Star Wars Rogue One's Scarif battle scene. The Q9F is not immune to these issues, although its de-judder effect isn't quite as bad as LG's, which is simply horrendous. We actually found that Samsung's "LED Clear Motion," which is one of the options you can engage in the Auto Motion Plus menu, had the best overall effect. This option engages a backlight strobe, which has proven extremely effective at smoothing the appearance of fast moving images on PC monitors in the context of gaming, and it worked great here as well. Some people can actually detect (and be bothered by) the strobing, and it certainly reduced overall brightness, but we found that it reduced judder almost as well as the de-judder setting, without introducing de-judder's unacceptable motion artifacts.

Chi-Raq

Finally, we'll go over how Chi-Raq's 4K HDR picture looks through the included Amazon streaming app. We're focusing in on the 15-minute mark during a soliloquy by Samuel L. Jackson, which features intense color contrast and challening pans. The Q9F did a very good, if not class-leading job on the colors here, and it also handled the panning fairly well. The issue in this scene is that you have relatively fast motion (a woman walking), combined with a camera pan in front of brightly-colored billboards covered in text. There's no better way to make a viewer go cross-eyed. Yes, you can engage Samsung's (or any TV's) de-judder, but then you get the dreaded motion artifacts on the edges of all moving objects, here that being the lead actress, which looks terrible. One thing we'd note about streaming HDR content on Amazon (or Netflix for that matter) is that it's very bandwidth intensive, and not only did we encounter some buffering even on our Gigabit fiber network, but we also saw the picture drop in and out of 4K and HDR status. Ultimately, streaming just isn't there yet if you're serious about 4K HDR content - "old-school" discs are still the way to go.

We want to reiterate that with just about every issue we had with the samples above, Samsung's option to use a backlight strobe worked wonders, and we have to give credit to Samsung for providing this option to users. In fast motion, in landscape pans, and even pans in front of text, a backlight strobe is what everyone should be using if they are bothered by judder and can't tolerate the degradation of picture quality that comes with de-judder algorithms. 

Conclusion

With its Q9F, Samsung has clearly gone all out trying to regain its dominant position in the 4K TV market. It features all of Samsung's latest technologies, including Quantum Dots, advanced local diming, and an excellent Smart TV interface. Overall, we think Samsung has struck a very good balance, as its QLED can produce tremendous brightness, a huge range of color, and sufficient contrast to get fairly inky blacks. Most importantly from our point of view, it handles film material quite well, demonstrating excellent 3:2 pulldown without requiring the user to resort to gimmicks like de-judder, which as we've made clear, always produces severe artifacts on any TV set.

Now here's the thing: despite what you may read, there is no perfect UHD TV. Yes, we know that plenty of review outlets say that LG's OLEDs are perfect. Simply put, they are not, as their motion handling is among the worst we've seen in any current TV line. On the other hand, their colors look like they're practically three-dimensional, as they have amazing depth. Samsung's Q9F is more of a jack of all trades - it doesn't dominate in any one area, but rather offers a more balanced approach, and notably, doesn't suffer from burn-in as OLEDs (and plasmas before them) do. As great as an OLED looks when displaying static images (which you better not leave static too long, by the way!), we actually think the QLED is a better overall solution for film-based material (which is what all 4K HDR material is today). 

But here's the catch: at the $6,000 retail price at which it was released earlier this year, the 65" Q9F was grossly overpriced. Samsung was trying to position the Q9F, its very best TV, to go up against LG's and Sony's elite OLED TVs, and this was bound to be a failure. The Q9F is very good, but it's not that good, and it shouldn't have ever cost that much. Given that it's now going for $3,500, we're guessing Samsung didn't have to price it at $6,000 to make money on it. That being said, it's still too expensive, given that LG's premiere 65" E7P OLED is the same price, and the similar 65" C7P is just $2,700. After all, the Q9F is still just an LED TV with some nice enhancements. If Samsung had positioned this just above Sony's and LG's LED TVs (rather than their OLEDs), it would have been a huge winner. Frankly, LG's LED TVs are terrible, and Sony's are fine, but pretty expensive. So this was a missed opportunity for Samsung, and we're hoping that with next year's inevitable updates to its product line, it gets serious about being competitive from an MSRP standpoint. It's not like Samsung has suddenly lost all its mojo - from the very start, it's had the best 4K LED TVs on the market. It just needs to be content with that title, rather than trying to gun for the more expensive OLEDs, which are certainly superior in some ways, but aren't right for everyone.

As of our publication date, the Samsung 65" Q9F is available for $3498 with free delivery from Amazon, and we recommend it to anyone looking for an ultra-high performance LED-based TV.

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