When I saw Samsung's flagship S9 UHDTV on display at the company's 2013 line show in NYC, I decided I had to to spend as much quality time with it as possible. For a few precious minutes during the show, I had both the S9 and a company rep all to myself, so I seized the moment and took a close look at this futuristic flat panel UHDTV.The S9 was set up in its own darkened corner - photo ©2013 by Mark Henninger
The first thing I noticed was the enhanced-resolution 4K content—3840x2160 pixels to be precise. The added detail is readily apparent, even from a distance. I have read a lot of commentary and seen some viewing-distance charts, but in order to have an informed opinion on 4K's benefits, I needed to see it in person. The difference in quality is tremendous! In photo terms, it is a leap from two megapixels to eight megapixels. Of course, any TV that costs $39,999 needs to have exceptional contrast and color rendition, both of which were readily apparent. Honestly, it is hard to find fault in any aspect of the S9's picture quality and performance. There is no doubt about it—this UHDTV is a "halo" product.This is a real photo of the S9's screen, enlarged to show detail - photo ©2013 by Mark Henninger
Inevitably, UHDTVs like this one beckon the viewer to come close to the screen and really scrutinize the details. At first, the video samples that looked so clear from a normal distance on the 4K screen looked noisy and full of artifacts close up. After a minute, though, it became clear that there is a hierarchy of quality in video capture, because the best of the clips were nearly flawless, while others fell apart when scrutinized from only a few feet away. None of that mattered from a normal viewing distance, but it was just a bit surprising to see how revealing the S9 could be.
The S9 rests on a unique stand that integrates 2.2 audio with 120 watts of power, allowing the 84" screen to act as a stand-alone unit with sound—and with the ability to tilt the screen to an optimum angle. Of course, the screen can be removed from the stand and wall mounted. I wish I could have heard some audio, but the clips in the demo were silent.The easel-like stand features built-in 2.2 audio with 120 watts of power - photo ©2013 by Mark Henninger
One of the main criticisms of UHDTV in 2013 is the lack of adopted standards for the format. From the HDMI connection to frame rates and audio formats, there is no consensus. I asked Samsung's rep about 4K hardware and software support. His response: "That's why we designed the S9 to use the Smart Evolution Kit. For example, if the HDMI standard receives an update next year, the upgrade kit guarantees the S9 will be compatible."
Finding content that takes full advantage of the S9's enhanced resolution may be difficult at first, and Samsung has not announced any plans for hosting 4K content on its Smart TV service. For now, both Sony and Netflix have announced plans to make 4K movies and shows available, and there are some DSLRs and video cameras that already shoot 4K footage. I mentioned to the rep that I was still going to have to buy a PlayStation 4 to watch 4K movies on my new S9; he was not very amused.The crop below is from the full-sized version of the above photo, shot with a 16 megapixel DSLRDetails, color and contrast are expertly rendered by the S9 - photo ©2013 by Mark Henninger
Here is one cool bit of data on the 84" flagship DHTV set: It actually uses less electricity than Samsung's new F8500 64" plasma. Despite the modest power consumption, the full-array dimmable-LED panel is capable of the brightness levels LED is now known for—eyeball scorching, if need be. This amazing flat panel will be available by the end of March 2013. Samsung plans to offer an even larger unit measuring 110 inches diagonal, due in the second half of 2013.