ProsImpressive brightness, color, image processing, and off-angle viewing; ultra-responsive user interface
ConsNo Dolby Vision or HDMI 2.1; HDR-unfriendly default lighting settings; feet are ugly
With each passing year, the TV industry does its best to set the latest models apart from everything that has come before, and without a doubt, 2019 is the year of 8K when it comes to marketing dollars. With that said, when it comes to your dollars, 8K definitely should not be on the menu, and so we're sorry to say we won't be saying another word about 8K in this review. Instead, this review is going to be all about 4K, and the test vehicle is Samsung's latest 4K TV, the Q80R!
While Sony may have been the undisputed leader in the pre-LED era, and Pioneer and Panasonic lead with regard to plasmas, Samsung has been the dominant force in the industry ever since LEDs took over. When 4K TVs hit the market in 2014, Samsung's were by far the best, and Samsung had long been the top-selling manufacturer in the TV industry. But in 2015, LG shocked the TV world with its OLED, and while it wasn't perfect, by 2016 it was good enough to make OLED technology synonymous with "high-end". So while Samsung was still selling more TVs overall, it had lost its technology lead and obviously had to do something. What Samsung did will go down in history as one of the most questionable marketing ploys ever: it coined the acronym QLED to compete.
Now, we've shared our disappointment with this decision in previous Samsung TV reviews, like the the Q9F review we published in 2017, but by our 2018 review of the Q8F, we were starting to soften our stance, because the Q8F was really, really good. QLEDs looked even better during a private Samsung demo we attended at CES in January 2019, and our first impression was that Samsung's QLED, the pretender to the throne, may have in fact surpassed OLEDs in every way imaginable. Of course, we knew we had to get one in house for a full review, and thankfully Samsung obliged.
So, without further ado, let's dive into what makes a QLED a QLED, and whether it really has leapfrogged LG's OLED technology.
Special thanks to Samsung for loaning us a sample of the Samsung Q80R 65" 4K TV (2019) for review.
Description and Features
Like most 65" LED TVs, the PQ65-F1 is big and heavy. It weighs in at 56.9 pounds, and measures between 0.75" and 2.25" thick. It's far thicker than any OLED, but it's on par with other LEDs we've tested, including the Vizio PQ65-F1, our favorite model from 2018, as well as Samsung's own Q8F (2018). Remember, whereas OLEDs are self-emitting, LEDs need a backlight (either from the side or from behind) in order to illuminate. Alas, while the full-array backlight used on the Q80R is preferable, the TV isn't nearly as slim as the original QLEDs released in 2017, which were all edge-lit. Modern QLEDs definitely aren't all that svelte. Notably, Samsung has stuck with the same styling it used for the Q8F, which means it has a subtle bezel on the front edge, which was an improvement upon the hard-edged look of 2017's Q9F, along with the same curved back panel of the Q8F. Unfortunately, it also inherit's the Q8F's ungainly feet, which aren't nearly as attractive or as easy to position as the pedestal stand used on the highest-end Q90R.
As a brief refresher, the "Q" in QLED signifies that Samsung uses quantum dot technology to enhance throughput and color gamut produced by this light. In truth, however, Samsung has been upgrading its QLEDs as such a ferocious rate since their debut in 2017 that we really wish it would just drop the QLED moniker all together and market its TVs on their merits, which go well beyond quantum dots. One of the big improvements that Samsung brought to QLEDs in 2018, and which it continues to offer for 2019, is the aforementioned full-array backlight. To make the most of this backlight, it of course has local dimming zones. Samsung doesn't specify the number of dimming zones other than to say that the Q80R has "Direct Full Array 8x", which presumably means it has half as many zones as the more expensive Q90R, which features "Direct Full Array 16x." Samsung seemingly hasn't trimmed the HDR capability quite as much, as the Q80R has "Quantum HDR 12X," while the Q90R has "Quantum HDR 16X". If all this marketing mumbo-jumbo sounds a little corny to you, you're not alone, and we really wish Samsung would just use industry standard specifications. Our hunch is that it simply doesn't want to invite direct comparisons to its competitors based on technical specifications, and it may have good reason for this, as specs alone do not make a good TV.
New this year is the "Ultra Viewing Angle" feature, which utilizes a coating to reduce reflections and increase fidelity. We're a bit surprised Samsung hasn't come up with a craftier marketing tagline for this feature, because it really is pretty nifty. Maybe "Extreme Lateral Viewport Stabilizer 1000X"? What do you think, Samsung? Honestly, though, this is probably the biggest improvement to the QLED lineup this year, allowing it to easily match OLEDs in terms of off-angle viewing. That along with Samsung's enhanced image processing, which significantly reduces perceivable banding in color gradients, are certainly worthy of a few acronyms! We'll discuss performance a whole lot more on the next page, so stay tuned!
One area that has received precious-little attention is the remote, which continues to be a good example of form over function. At least Samsung had the good sense to add three buttons for 2019, namely Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu buttons for these three ultra-popular streaming services. It probably pains Samsung greatly to have to admit that its arch-rival in voice control, Amazon, gets its own branded button on the remote, but reality bites. Indeed, Samsung has finally caved into the Alexa juggernaut, providing full Alexa voice controls via Alexa-enabled devices. That means you can change volume, inputs, channels, etc., via Amazon Alexa, completely bypassing Samsung's Bixby voice control built into the remote. A cruel irony, no doubt.
Alas, there's one hook that Samsung still leaves in place to reel in power users: a lack of a settings button on the remote, which irks us to no end. You are either forced to scroll through the endless onscreen menu system to get to settings, or hold down the Bixby voice button on the remote and say "settings." Samssung, why must you make the life of product testers and home theater enthusiasts around the world so darn difficult? All we're asking for is one more button on that remote - can't you spare a few more square millimeters?!?
The good news is that while you're scrolling through those endless menus to find the settings control panel, you'll be treated to Samsung's excellent lineup of streaming services. Samsung includes a good deal of free content through its "Samsung TV Plus" app, but you of course also get the biggies, like the aforementioned Netflix, Prime, and Hulu, as well Google's Play and YouTube, along with the long-awaited addition of Apple TV, which is catnip for users in the Apple ecosystem. We really like that as you scroll over each streaming service, you can see particular titles on offer. It makes the interface attractive, and also keeps it up to date as new titles come out.
One quick note for the big-time video gamers out there: while the Q80R does have AMD's FreeSync technology on board, it only works over HDMI, meaning Nvidia's updated driver policy enabling FreeSync over DisplayPort won't have any benefit here. You're stuck at a locked 60Hz if you're using a GeForce card (or locked 120Hz if you're running at 1080p). Another big question among gamers was whether the 2019 QLEDs would offer the 4K/120Hz refresh rates that are part of the HDMI 2.1 spec. Alas, there are no HDMI 2.1 video cards on the market that we could even test this with, but as far as we can tell, the Q80R doesn't offer a 4K/120Hz refresh rate, because it declined to adopt the full HDMI 2.1 specification. Maybe next year!
Speaking of declining to adopt industry standards, Samsung continues to go its own way with HDR standards, promoting its home-brewed HDR10+ over the superior Dolby Vision that just about everyone else has embraced. Samsung is never eager to pay licensing fees to other companies, so it's giving Dolby the cold shoulder here, at the expense of a coherent marketplace for consumers. With just about every major 4K Blu-Ray now being released with DV, and very few with HDR10+, Samsung TV owners are going to be stuck with the fallback HDR10 in most cases. We predict that Samsung will eventually have to cave here, but it hasn't yet. Again, maybe next year!
All right, on the next page we'll get into what it's like to use the Q80R to watch 4K HDR10 content.