When we got a private showing of Samsung's new prototype QLED at CES 2018, we saw for ourselves that Samsung was onto something. So while we don't usually cover press events, we wanted to share some updates that Samsung provided today at its live-streamed reveal of the 2018 QLED TV lineup. We're not going to cover everything - sound bars don't do it for us, and Samsung's Bixby voice service is never going to catch up with the established leaders, but QLED technology is most definitely coming along nicely, and Samsung also shared a bit more detail about its upcoming MicroLED products.

So first, some context. QLED does not equal OLED. When Samsung released its QLED TVs at CES 2017, it was criticized by some members of the media (including TBG) for aping its main competitor, LG, which in 2016 had taken a clear lead in TV picture quality with its OLED lineup. It was so good, in fact, that Sony caved in and started licensing the technology. Samsung is a bit too proud to follow suit, and after all, LG is constantly challenging it for dominance in the South Korean technology market. The truth about Samsung's QLED is two-fold: it has some technical specifications with regard to color reproduction that potentially vault it far ahead of OLEDs, and the 2017 implementation of QLEDs fell far short of doing so. We reviewed the 2017 Samsung Q9F, Samsung's very best TV of that model year, and frankly, it was good, but it just wasn't good enough to justify the premium model pricing.

For 2018, Samsung is releasing the product it likely wished it could have released last year. In fact, it took so long to get this product ready that it wasn't even shown publicly at CES 2018 - we saw it in a private room, with drapes over the TV's outer casing, and a strict no-photography rule. Two months later, Samsung has revealed the new Q9F to the world. And here's why it's a big deal: Direct Full Array. Yes, indeed, this makes a huge difference, as we saw for ourselves at CES 2018. While the 2017 Q9F used an edge-lit array, which produced sub-par contrast and unseemly "light shadows", the 2018 Q9F is the real deal. In fact, it's so much better from our point of view that it not only should have been given a new model name, it should have been given a new product line name as well. QLED is sort of a laughing stock at this point, and it's clear that even Samsung' execs know it - they took to pronouncing it "Q-L-E-D" during the live stream event, even though everyone in the world calls it Q-LED, since that's clearly what Samsung originally wanted us to do when it copied LG's "O-LED" nomenclature. Based on what we saw at CES 2018, QLED's inherent color advantage over OLEDs is now fully-supported by a truly cutting-edge lighting system. Also onboard is a new anti-reflective coating, which has always been a problem for OLEDs. These two additions combine to allow QLEDs to come into their own this year. We are confident in proclaiming them superior to OLEDs based on what we saw in person in January. By the way, these new QLEDs also feature HDR10+, which we believe is poised to become the one HDR standard going forward. It combines the scene-specific metadata of Dolby Vision, but is backwards-compatible with HDR10 sets. No more master content (and buy discs or streamed content) in one format or the other!

Ambient Mode

Samsung also provided a few surprises at the product reveal, and while some of it sounded like fluff to us, we really think Samsung is heading in the right direction with what it's calling Ambient Mode. Essentially, the 2018 QLEDs can be set to display a background that exactly replicates the pattern on a wall, allowing it to blend in beautifully with your decor. You can also use it to display artwork or photography. While this is nothing new (LG showed off some amazing impressionist paintings that looked like the real deal at CES 2017), what Samsung is adding here is the user interface to make this not just possible, but something that consumers will actually want to use. The remotes included with the 2018 QLEDs will include an ambient mode button, so that users can jump right into using their TVs for something other than watching TV! Check out the photo to the left - can you spot the TV?!? We also liked Samsung's new "One Invisible Connection", which goes beyond what we've seen before by combining not only data, but also power, into a single cord. Neat!

Alas, prices weren't revealed for the 2018 QLED lineup, but at least model numbers and sizes were. Here's what you can look forward to, shipping this month (March 2018!):

  • Q9F - 65", 75", 88" - The premium model in the lineup, features every new technology, including Direct Full Array, One Invisible Connection, and a premium stand that fits nicely on small media centers (unlike last year's Q9F!). This is the model pictured at the top of this page.
  • Q8F - 55", 65", and 75" - Offers all the same performance features as the Q9F, but with different styling. To keep the price in check, it loses the One Invisible Connection. It's pretty clear to us that Samsung has designed the Q8F to be the price-performance champion. You get the "hot rod" performance without the extra stuff you may not care about. Note that there was no Q8F last year, and we think its addition to the lineup proves that Samsung is willing to get more aggressive in terms of competing on price, which it most definitely did not do last year.
  • Q7F - 55", 65", and 75" - Includes One Invisible Connection, but loses Direct Full Array. This one's less interesting to us unless it starts at $1,500 or below for the 55" model (which is what the 2017 model is currently discounted to). Note that the Q7 is also available as the Q7C with a curved panel at 55" and 65", but from our testing experience, we'd suggest users skip it.
  • Q6F - 49", 55", 65", 75", and 82" - the most basic of the QLED TVs, it has neither One Invisible Connection nor Direct Full Array. If Samsung can price this model on par with the LED competition from Sony and LG, it will be a winner. We'd love to see the 55" model at $1,200!

Also announced at the live stream event was a release date for Samsung's much-talked-about 146" MicroLED TV, referred to as "The Wall." It's now officially arriving in August 2018, although no price was revealed. MicroLEDs are most definitely the future of displays, thanks to the fact that they are self-emissive, like OLEDs, but far more durable, thanks to being non-organic. Essentially, they combine a red, blue, and green self-lit sub-pixel into each pixel of the TV. They were originally developed by Samsung for outdoor signage, and that heritage comes with some inherent problems. From what we saw at CES 2018, there's a reason Samsung is releasing this in the huge 146" form factor: the dot pitch of MicroLEDs is far too large to make it work for standard-sized TVs at 4K or even 8K resolutions. The pixels are just too big. Also keep in mind that the 146" Wall is actually made up of a huge number of small panels, which are assembled on location. While the quality look pretty high to us at CES, there's no doubt you can make out the seams if you look closely enough. In the end, we view The Wall as a technology demo, and a sign of things to come. Check back in a few years, and we're pretty sure you'll see Samsung championing standard-sized MicroLED-based 8K TVs!