Pros

Simply unbeatable handling of both dark and ultra-bright material; good efficiency; excellent price

Cons

Thick panel is unappealing; remote is way too basic; can't match the infinite black of an OLED

Star Rating

Performance

We utilized a number of commercial movie titles to test the Q8F: Planet Earth II on 4K Blu-Ray, John Wick Chapter 2 on 4K Blu-Ray, Arrival on 4K Blu-ray, Coco on 4K Blu-Ray as well as a number of standard Blu-Ray titles, including the animated Moana, and the action film Tomb Raider (2018). To play these discs, we used an Oppo UDP-203 UHD Player, with the HDMI 2.0 output connected directly to the Q8F, rather than through our AV receiver, which could affect HDR capabilities. We use each of these titles to test different aspects of 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 at this point other factors, like panel technology, play a much more significant role in the viewing experience.

HDR

Unfortunately, to get proper HDR output from our 4K discs, we had to go into that hard-to-find Settings menu we mentioned on the previous page and enable UHD Deep Color on the HDMI 1 input. This was despite Samsung's engineers telling us that they'd finally figured out a way for their TVs to auto-detect HDR content and the need for Deep Color capability. Note that all TVs ship with this off due to potential incompatibility with legacy sources, so it's not just a Samsung problem. But it's most definitely a problem, and our guess is that 50-75% of consumers who buy an HDR TV and a 4K Blu-Ray player will never actually experience HDR content despite thinking they will. To determine if you are watching content in HDR, you have to press the middle select button on the remote, and an info bar appears that indicates resolution, frame rate, and whether HDR is enabled. Note that it also indicates "UHD", but as far as we're concerned, that's duplicative when we already know the resolution (since UHD simply means ultra high-definition resolution). So, as shown above, HDR isn't enabled out of the box. You can't quite tell from the photos, since neither our camera nor your screen is HDR capable, but in person, the light reflected off the pavement as well as the reflections off the car wheels was brighter and more distinct in HDR.

By the way, while de-judder is set to level 3 by default, we highly recommend all users try watching with it off. While Samsung has found that consumers prefer the soap opera effect (SOE) it produces, cinephiles will probably hate it. It's found under "Expert" Picture Controls. For our tests, we also turned off the default ambient light sensor and its associated auto-dimming, which is found in the Eco options of the Settings menu. While HDR content should automatically shut off auto-dimming to provide sufficient brightness to actually produce HDR, the constant adjustments became annoying, and as we mentioned, the TV didn't properly render HDR content anyway due to the failure to auto-switch to UHD Deep Color.

PEII

All right, with the test setup covered, let's get into performance. In a word, the Q8F is the "best" TV we've ever tested. And yes, we do mean that, and yes, we know you're shaking your head, thinking that LG's latest OLEDs, including the C8P that we had the opportunity to test side-by-side with the Q8F, must be better. Well, here's the deal: there is no perfect TV, and among top-tier models, each will have its strengths and weaknesses. In 2017, LG's OLEDs clearly had a better strength-to-weakness ratio than Samsung's QLEDs, but that has all changed for 2018. With LG sitting on its laurels this year, Samsung has taken the opportunity to leapfrog ahead.

So let's get into exactly what makes the Q8F the best TV on the market. First of all, bright scenes are better on the Q8F. You'll find scenes like this in the 4K Blu-Ray of Planet Earth II, and there's just no doubt that the Q8F has the best overall image quality here. It's lifelike, it offers excellent resolution with no artifacts, and it can get very, very bright. Notably, required HDR light levels are different for OLEDs and LED-based TVs like the Q8F. OLEDs start darker and must only go up to 500 nits, while LEDs start lighter and go up to 1000 nits. We'll talk about the dark scenes in a moment, but in terms of light scenes, the effects of this disparate scale couldn't be more obvious. The QLED is simply brighter. 

Second of all, dark images are better on the Q8F. Yes, of course we know that OLEDs produce "perfect blacks," so how could the Q8F be better than "perfect"? It's simple: perfect black is simply the absence of any data at all (the OLED pixel is turned off), but this doesn't mean that OLEDs are actually better at producing dark images. We found time and time again that this year's QLED, now featuring full-array backlighting, could pull much more detail out of dark images than the C6P or C8P we had on hand. An example of this would be the reflections off of the iguana's scales that the crab is feeding off of in the photo above. Another example would be the contours of the Camaro SS showcased in John Wick 2 below. Indeed, John Wick Chapter 2's opening sequence is so filled with bright colors and lights, fast motion, deep blacks, and quick camera cuts that it's perfect demo material. And while OLEDs can produce vibrant colors, they lose their cool with all the dark backgrounds. While it's a term of art no longer in frequent use, "black crush" is really the best description of what dark scenes look like on an OLED, and there's just no way around it. Even the most basic elements of film, such as the texture of an actor's skin, are produced with much more detail on the Q8F than any TV we've seen before.

JW

Another area that the Q8F defeated the competition was in motion handling. While many reviewers praise LG's OLED for excellent motion handling, we have no idea what they're looking at, because it's not that good. The Q8F was much better at handling fast-moving scenes, like the foot chase scenes in Tomb Raider (it had less blur, but was also aided by rendering dark images with much more detail). And in panning shots, such as the iconic opening scene of Arrival, the Q8F exhibited far less judder. We were happy to watch it with de-judder turned off, which is nearly impossible to do on the OLED.

Now, there are a few areas where an OLED's unique properties help it stay ahead of Samsung's QLEDs, and that is in animated features and credit screens. An OLED can make colors pop in any title, but as noted above, this vibrancy comes at the expense of accuracy. For cartoons, however, blown-out colors actually look great, and the loss of detail in dark images isn't an issue, due to the very different way animated films are created (i.e, they are rendered, not filmed). The Q8F was decent in the animated titles we tested, including Moana and Coco, but it wasn't as good as LG's OLED. And when it comes to white text on a black background, as you'll see in the scrolling credits of most films, OLEDs are simply superior. While the Q8F was able to dim enough light to get backgrounds somewhat black, you're always going to see a bit of a light halo around white text, as nothing has per-pixel lighting other than OLEDs today. In theory, an image with light and dark objects juxtaposed, such as the headlights on the Camaro in the photo above, should look better on an OLED too, but the black crush we mentioned means the benefits you pick up in not inadvertently backlighting the dark surroundings are overshadowed by poor accuracy in non-black pixels. In other words, the Q8F provides a better picture, even if the black-to-white contrast isn't infinite.

Ambient

Finally, we're going to discuss Samsung's heavily-marketed Ambient mode. It allows the user to set the TV up as always-on, with pre-selected information or images being displayed. We've shown an example of that here with the weather report. Now, the good news is that Samsung engineers had the sense to automatically lower the brightness in Ambient mode, such that just about every test image we chose pulled approximately 48W according to our power meter (which you can see in the lower-left-hand corner of the image). The bad news is that Ambient mode just isn't all that useful, and certainly not worth pulling 48W all day and all night. The pre-selected images and news feeds are extraordinarily limited, and when we tried to use the Samsung SmartThings Connect app to photograph our wall to test out the "stealth" feature of the Q8F (where the TV replicates the wall it's mounted on), the app simply wouldn't work. We spent about 30 minutes loading and re-loading it in an effort to access the Ambient mode photo option, but we couldn't. In any event, this is really only useful if you wall-mount a TV, which we didn't with this test sample. All in all, we think Ambient mode is something most consumers will never use, and those that try it once will probably find it less than compelling.

Conclusion

While the new Samsung Q8F isn't perfect, as we've made clear, no TV is. Based on our extensive testing of 4K TVs over the past few years, however, we can confidently say that the Samsung Q8F (and by extension the upgraded Q9F) is the best 4K TV on the market for 2018. Once you get beyond the over-exposed colors on competing LG OLEDs, you'll find that the Samsung has the better, more accurate picture, far superior brightness, unmatched handling of dark material, and excellent motion clarity, as well as a very slick Smart Home interface. Couple that with a newly-competitive price (the Q8F undercuts the LG C8P by about 20% as of our publication date), and you've got yourself a winner. We know that many review sites will continue to select LG's OLED as the best TV year after year, but we think that's because they spend all their time looking at test patterns, or frankly, not looking at all. There's just no question that the Q8F is a more finely-tuned machine, and we applaud Samsung for continuing to innovate in the TV space. We don't think Samsung has to do anything picture quality-wise to stay ahead of LG at this point, but we do think the bulky exterior design of its QLEDs, as well as the overly-simplified remote control, really should get a re-think in the next iteration of the QLED family.

As of our publication date, the Samsung 65" Q8F is available for $2798 with free delivery from Amazon, and we recommend it to anyone looking for an ultra-high performance LED-based TV.

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