Samsung’s TVs are Simply the Best in Terms of Image Quality
OK, so we're not all that happy about Samsung's 4K/8K politics, but when all is said and done, proof is in the picture, and there’s simply no doubt that Samsung has finally, triumphantly surpassed LG’s OLED technology, which has been stuck in stasis since it first turned the TV world upside down in 2015. LG definitely advanced the ball in terms of picture quality, but it came out of the gate with all guns blazing, and there just wasn't much left in the tank once the initial shock and awe of OLED's color and deep blacks arrived.
The truth is that no matter how much we dislike the QLED branding, it now rightfully takes its place as a step beyond OLED. It’s not just that QLEDs can get massively brighter, which they can. Samsung has pulled out all the stops for 2019, adding an amazing anti-glare coating called Ultrablack Elite that truly shuts down reflections by diffusing light. Furthermore, Samsung has improved its off-angle viewing quality immensely using a technology it somewhat simply calls “Ultraviewing Angle”, correcting for a fatal flaw in its first QLED models from 2017, which had terrible viewing angles. You can see the technology at work in the photo here, with the Q80R on the left and the Q60R on the right - colors are clearly punchier from an angle on the Q80R, which features the new upgrade. Boring marketing name, but hey, the tech works.
And thanks to a full array backlight with local dimming aided by anti-blooming software, the dull colors of the original edge-lit QLEDs are a distant memory. As Samsung explained it, this is why it will not reveal exactly how many dimming zones it uses, referring to them simply as 6x, 12x, etc. Essentially, it believes that the anti-blooming technology makes a spec-to-spec comparison of dimming zones meaningless. We're sure this will continue to tick off consumers around the world, but we do understand where Samsung is coming from, as we've seen some pretty bad TVs that offer a huge number of dimming zones. We have to agree that on its top-end TVs, blooming and the halo effects are essentially non-existent. You might call it magic, but Samsung has definitely perfected the art of shining relatively large lights through very small pixels, to the point where they do appear to replicate the self-emitting nature of OLEDs.
And as Samsung explained, the major advantage of using QLEDs to produce an image versus OLEDs is the superior color volume: QLEDs are far better at holding color with higher luminance. In other words, colors still look good when the image is bright, a major consideration for HDR content, which notably didn’t exist when LG stormed the 4K TV market back in 2015 with OLEDs. Consider that average SDR material is produced at 75-100 nits, while HDR’s minimum is 1000 nits and you’ll see why technology that seemed so superior before the dawn of HDR may not hold a candle, so to speak, to the latest advances in QLED technology. And of course, OLEDs are famously fickle, succumbing to burn in on a regular basis. Of note, Samsung is so confident in its panel technology that it now offers a lifetime burn-in warranty to the purchaser, no matter how the TV is used.
Samsung even addressed a few concerns that TBG has brought up repeatedly in its TV reviews. First, we bemoaned the stands used on the Q8F and Q80R, with their wide-set feet that require a large platform and look none-too-sleek. The reason Samsung continues to use these feet is actually because cable guides are now incorporated into them, allowing the user to neatly hide power and HDMI cables running from the back of the TV down to the edge of an AV stand. The highest-end models use the proprietary OneConnect box, so they only have one thin cable coming out the back, which allows for the more graceful pedestal stand on those models. We also raised a big stink about the lack of a settings button on the remote, and while Samsung’s data shows that very few consumers ever enter their settings menus, the company is considering adding a settings button to assist reviewers. When we pointed out how difficult it was for Samsung’s own techs to move through the demo quickly given how often they had to scroll through the menus to get to settings, the problem became quite obvious. Let’s hope 2020 finally sees the return of a proper settings button to the remote.
One last thing that Samsung has added for 2019, and backported to all 2018 TVs starting with the NU8000, is built-in Apple TV capability. So those who are in Apple’s content ecosystem can enjoy their video content directly through the TV (of note, music will need to be streamed from an external device). While it doesn’t matter at all to those who use Prime Video, Netflix, Hulu and the rest for their content, this is a nice, free upgrade for anyone who wants to stick with their Apple purchases and clean up their AV system by removing one more external box.
When all is said and done, we are just really impressed with Samsung’s 2019 QLED TVs. Surely, there’s some smoke and mirrors going on when it comes to value of 8K today, as well as the need for an HDR10+ standard, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Samsung’s TV are simply peerless. Based on what we’ve seen this year and on the updates reported above, we will continue to recommend the Q90R in our 4K TV Buyer's Guide, but the lack of Dolby Vision support means that while Samsung has the best TVs, it still doesn’t allow users to see the best content. Thus it wins the battle for 2019, but not the war. That honor goes to Sony and its XBR OLED model.