ProsSimply unbeatable handling of both dark and ultra-bright material; good efficiency; excellent price
ConsThick panel is unappealing; remote is way too basic; can't match the infinite black of an OLED
At CES 2018, 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. In short, we found that things had slowed down just a little bit. LG's biggest announcement was adding Google Home to its OLED. Sony's only major offering was to back off its radical "kickstand" frame from 2017, going with a more traditional frame for its OLED TV (which it's licensing from LG, by the way). As for Samsung, it offered up a view of the future with its Micro LED demonstration, but it said little publicly about improvements to its current-gen QLED line.
But as it turns out, Samsung had a few tricks up its sleeve, transforming its QLED, which we reviewed in Q9F guise six months ago, into something entirely different. We got a chance to see the 2018 QLED behind closed doors in prototype form, and we could tell Samsung had learned a thing or two since it released the original Q9F. While the 2018 model looks about the same from the outside, and it's still called a QLED (which we don't love), just about everything else is improved. Specifically, thanks to the magic of full-array backlighting, which the original 2017 QLEDs didn't offer, and a new anti-glare coating, the 2018 QLED we saw in action during a private showing at CES 2018 was clearly new and improved.
They say good things come to those who wait, and as every other manufacturer rolled out its new 2018 models, Samsung kept enthusiasts in the dark as to when the new QLED would finally drop. Well, Samsung's new Q has finally arrived, and we're here to tell you exactly how it compares to the one true benchmark in 4K TVs: LG's OLED. In this article, we'll be comparing it to both an LG C6P and C8P we had on hand.
Special thanks to Samsung for providing a sample of the Samsung 65" Q8F QLED 4K TV for review.
Description and Features
Like the 2017 QLED models, the 2018 Q8F (the first Q8F to be offered in the U.S.) sports an "industrial" design theme, to be charitable. Another way to describe it is "thick." It makes a statement, but it's a statement that no other manufacturer is making right now, or has made in years! We brought this up with Samsung's reps, and they told us that the Q8F's stance is partly an intentional design motif, as well as a result of the signficiant space requirements of the QLED's backlighting array. In short, don't expect Samsung's QLED's to sport LG's razor-thin profile any time soon. We're also a little puzzled as to Samsung's choice of stand, or more specifically, that every QLED model has a different choice of stand. Surely, there must be one that consumers prefer or that looks better with the chunky QLED profile. In any event, we don't love the Q8F's two separate feet, which looks a bit down-market; the Q9F's centrally-mounted foot looks a lot better.
While the Q9F we reviewed last year used a separate breakout box, the Q8F makes do with ports on the backside of the TV, which we happen to prefer because we don't wall-mount our TVs. A breakout box is just one more item to find space for on an AV console, but if you're wall-mounting, you'll probably want to select one of the 2018 QLED models that includes the breakout box, such as the latest Q9F. The Q8F has just about everything you could expect in terms of connectivity, including four HDMI 2.0 ports (with one being ARC-capable), digital audio out, several USB ports, and both wired and wireless Ethernet.
We've been struck by the amount of experimentation we've seen from TV manufacturers over the past few years in terms of the bundled remote controls, and sure enough Samsung is continues to iterate each year, and at least it went in the right direction this year, adding back some more critical buttons versus its ultra-minimalist 2017 design. Yet its remote is still far less usable than LG's motion-sensitive remote, which debuted several years ago. Ironically, back in 2014, we tested a Samsung TV that included two separate remotes, one a large traditional remote with what seemed like hundreds of buttons, and then a slimmer motion-sensing remote that closely resembled what LG offers today. We're not sure who came out with that design first, but clearly Samsung gave up on it. We spoke to Samsung's reps about the difficulty in using its latest remotes, specifically the lack of a "settings" button and the unintuitive up-down motion of the volume and channel buttons, and they said they were going for a streamlined look, while they also hoped to push people to use voice controls for more things, including settings. Well, given that you still have to press and hold a button on the remote to use Samsung's Bixby voice control, and given that it's wrong about half the time (give or take), we just don't think consumers will be ready to ditch physical buttons. And let us be clear: for picture setup, the fact that you have to hit the home button and scroll four places to the left every time you want to get into Settings is an absolute pain, and really has to be changed.
Luckily, apart from its mediocre remote, the Samsung is packed with features, starting with the best Home screen of any brand. We really like what Samsung has come up with here, starting with the fact that the TV actually starts up at home, unlike many other models. And what you get is both the old-fashioned method of searching by source (e.g. Netflix or Hulu), and the new integrated approach of searching by content (like "A Wrinkle in Time" or "Game of Thrones"). No longer do you need to stay within a walled garden to search for content; you can now just look for what you want and see which one of your free or subscription services has it. In the example below, you can see that A Wrinkle in Time is available on Fandango, Vudu, and Amazon. Remember, whether these are actually rentals or free will depend on the service in question: Netflix and Amazon offer some content for free to paying subscribers, while Fandango and Vudu only offer pay-per-title viewings. One error we found in Samsung's fetch algorithm was that YouTube was often identified as a source for movies, and they were even listed as "free", but it turns out these were all just trailers. As you might imagine, YouTube has trailers for every movie released in the past decade or so, and we fully expect Samsung to clean up its algorithm so as not to identify these trailers as full movies in the future. As an aside, we actually saw the YouTube app crash during our testing, after which it failed to ever launch correctly again, and we're hoping Samsung can get that ironed out right away, as that really is a common app at this point.
In addition to functionality that consumers have come to expect from modern Smart TVs, Samsung packs in other interesting features, like its new ambient mode, which we will discuss on the next page, as well as the newly-announced AMD FreeSync 2 option for gaming consoles and certain AMD video cards (specifically, those with HDMI 2.0 outputs). It provides for variable refresh rates to better sync a game engine's output to the TV's frame production. We tried to get our Radeon Fury to recognize the Q8F as a Freesync monitor, just like it does with our Freesync-enabled PC monitor via DisplayPort, but it couldn't because the Fury only has HDMI 1.4 outputs. That of course means we can't tell you what refresh rate the Q8F can achieve, but our hunch is that it's 60Hz, not 120Hz, given that HDMI 2.0 doesn't provide the bandwidth for 4K/60Hz output. With that said, we still applaud Samsung for including this feature, even if the main motivation was to get console gamers onboard with Samsung's TV line, given that all current consoles use AMD graphics. This is definitely not a feature aimed at PC users.
All right, on the next page we'll get into what it's like to use the Q8F to consume 4K content.