Samsung Q9F 65″ QLED HDR TV Review

Samsung Q9 QLED

The future of TV is bright thanks to quantum dots. In this review, we’ll take a look at the QN65Q9F QLED TV, the 65″ Samsung Q9F model from the company’s flagship line, which—along with its other QLED lines—is based on those glowing nanoparticles. This model has qualities—like 100% DCI/P3 color volume and super-bright highlights—that are crucial to making HDR video look its best.

Cool new design elements include a slab-like form factor that accommodates a no-gap wall mount while retaining the option to tilt the screen. With its thin metal frame, this is a handsome TV that looks and feels premium.

Another aesthetic highlight is an Invisible Connection fiber-optic cable that allows for a clean and clutter-free installation. This is in addition to the advances in picture quality packed into the Samsung Q9F.

Samsung’s 2017 flagship is available in 65″ ($6000), 75″ ($10,000), and 88″ (price TBA) screen sizes. That’s a lot of money to pay, especially for a 65″ TV in a market filled with fierce competition from OLEDs and FALD LCDs.

This review is of a factory-fresh QN65Q9F, delivered hot out of the oven. Read on to find out more about this state-of-the-art high-performance display and if it’s your first-class ticket to HDR heaven.

Features and Specifications

The Samsung Q9F is a flat, 4K/UHD, HDR TV that uses a new generation of metal alloy-coated quantum dots to render rich, accurate colors and vivid highlights. Some of the light emitted by blue LEDs is absorbed by the quantum dots, which then radiate pure red and pure green light. These colors combine with the unabsorbed blue light from the LEDs to produce a white-light source that allows the TV to express vivid hues, even at high brightness levels.

This TV is compatible with HDR10 video, the most commonly available flavor of HDR. It works with UHD Blu-ray, YouTube, Amazon, Netflix, and HDR video games. In addition, it features support for the nascent HDR10+ format that utilizes dynamic tone mapping, which offers picture-quality advantages similar to Dolby Vision. However, the Q9F does not support the Dolby Vision HDR format.

Part of what makes HDR look so good is that it uses a wider palette of colors than what’s available for SDR video. Currently, HDR titles for the home are mastered to the DCI/P3 color volume that’s used in commercial cinema, and the Samsung Q9F is able to fully reproduce it. When Samsung says its QLED TVs feature 100% color volume, that means the display can render all of the DCI/P3 gamut in shadows, mid-tones, and highlights.

In addition to offering rich color, the efficiency with which quantum dots and blue LEDs convert electricity into light lets Samsung achieve high peak luminance levels on a TV using an edgelit LED array. The Q9F handily exceeds the performance required to properly render HDR, and it can render peak highlights in the 1800-2000 nit range, depending on the measurement method and picture mode.

Although this TV is edgelit, it offers a form of local dimming. Indeed, the menu feature previously named “Smart LED” is now called “Local Dimming.” Using a moving white square on a black background, I counted a total of 32 discrete zones in two vertical columns—16 per column. The top four and bottom four zones precisely overlap the letterbox bars of 2.35:1 widescreen content.

Samsung Q9F zones

A representation of the 65″ Q9F’s 32 local dimming zones, note the top and bottom four precisely match 2.35:1 letterbox bars.

Four HDMI 2.0a inputs support HDCP 2.2 for compatibility with the latest 4K/UHD content, including HDR. The HDMI inputs are housed in a separate One Connect box that attaches to the TV using a thin, white fiber-optic cable—the Invisible Connection—which is designed to be as incognito as possible. When assembling the TV, you can choose to run the power and signal cables to either one of the stand’s feet. This gives the TV a clean look, even when mounted on a stand.

Because of the fiber-optic connection, you need to plug in the box as well as the TV. But, because of integrated IR blasters, you can locate that box somewhere that’s out of sight and out of mind. The One Connect also has an Ethernet port, three USB 2.0 ports, a coaxial cable input, and an optical digital-audio output.

The Invisible Connection works with Samsung’s new no-gap wall-mount bracket, a $150 option that I did not test. The goal here is to make a clean and uncluttered installation easy for consumers and pro installers alike.

With this TV, the tilting bracket is entirely contained within the slab-like chassis. This allows it to sit flush against a wall and yet offer the option to tilt the screen to an optimal viewing angle.

The 2017 Smart Remote has the same button layout as the 2016 model, but it is a sleeker design, and it’s made of metal instead of plastic. When used in conjunction with the TV’s source-detection feature, it becomes a powerful universal remote that lets you control many devices intuitively. This adaptation is automatic.

Samsung gave the Q9F voice-recognition powers that go well beyond the 2016 lineup’s capabilities. I was particularly enamored with its ability to change picture modes with a simple command—say “Movie Mode” or “Standard Mode” and the TV switches on its own.

Surprisingly, voice control also lets you adjust menu items. You can say things like “Backlight 12” or “Sharpness 25” and the TV will adjust the setting. This covers a lot of functions that are often laborious to access—like Local Dimming and Game Mode. Now, the TV will oblige your spoken command and verify the action with a text response.

You can also use voice command to open a menu directly instead of navigating to it. Say “Auto Motion Plus settings” and that part of the menu opens right up.

Of course the voice command does a lot more that adjust menu settings. You can use it to switch sources, search for content, change channels, launch apps, and more. With the Samsung Q9F, voice control is a legitimately viable method of operating the TV.

For color geeks, one of the more interesting new features is a 20-point grayscale-calibration option, up from 10 points in previous models. Due to the extra tonal range found in HDR, this fine-grained adjustment is welcome. And since 20-point adjustments can be laborious, another welcome new feature is support for AutoCal using SpectraCal‘s CalMAN video-calibration software. Now, getting the most out of your TV is just a few button presses away, even for AV hobbyists with only limited calibration experience.

There are tons more features built into the Q9F, too many to cover here. Suffice to say that when you buy Samsung’s flagship TV, you get “the works.”

Setup

Unpacking and assembling the Samsung Q9F is a two-person job that takes about half an hour. I shot a video of the assembly process that shows how cleverly Samsung has hidden the two cables that connect to the TV; check it out.

As with high-end sports cars, the Q9F runs best when it’s properly tuned. That means calibrating the dedicated Movie mode to get the best performance out of it, which I did in the SDR and HDR Movie modes, as well as the Cal Day and Cal Night modes that are for professional calibrations.

Although it’s often recommended that you turn the sharpness control off, I find it can be beneficial to search for an optimal sharpness setting by using an appropriate test pattern. With a Q9F, I found that setting sharpness to 20 enhanced perceived detail without doing any damage to the image. But it’s also safe to leave it off as this TV renders perfectly sharp images with the setting at 0.

For SDR (BT.709) video, I chose a peak luminance of 135 nits, which translates to 40 foot-lamberts. This is a good choice for watching Blu-rays in dim to dark rooms. Of course, the Q9F can get much brighter—even in SDR mode—thanks to its HDR superpowers. You can adjust this TV to look accurate, bright, and punchy under just about any lighting conditions, including a sunny room.

Performance

When you fork over $6000 for a cutting-edge TV, you want to know what that much money gets you. Here’s the answer: With the Samsung Q9F, the pioneer of LED-lit LCD has done the impossible and raised the performance of edgelit LCD to the level of a top-tier FALD model. This TV has color-volume, peak-luminance, and video-processing capabilities that befit a flagship.

QLED TVs turn out to be both challenging and interesting to calibrate. Unlike LCD TVs I’ve reviewed in the past, the Samsung Q9F is always doing something dynamic. For example, there is no option to fully disable local dimming, regardless of what mode you are in.

Also, this transmissive display behaves a lot like an emissive display—what happens in one area of the screen can impact the rest of the content. Therefore, I treated it the same way I would a plasma or OLED: I performed calibrations using a 18% constant APL (average picture level) pattern. For peak and sustained luminance readings in the various picture modes—including Dynamic—I used window patterns of various sizes (2%, 5%, 10%, etc.) over a black background.

18% Constant APL Pattern

Here is what an 18% constant APL pattern looks like.

The highest peak-luminance reading I got from the TV was in Dynamic mode. Here, inside a 10% window, I teased out a peak reading of 2225 nits, followed by nine seconds of 2100-nit output, before it settled down to 1400 nits. That’s Dynamic mode for ya! Standard mode defaults also yield a >2000 nit peak reading in a 10% window.

The specialized Cal Day and Cal Night modes—reserved for professional calibrations—produced the best post-calibration peak-luminance numbers, hitting an 1835-nit peak in a 10% window and sustaining 1750 nits for 10 seconds before settling down to 1195 nits.

It’s surprising to see an edgelit TV surpass its FALD (full-array local-dimming) predecessor—the KS9800—in terms of peak brightness. But it’s even more amazing to see the Samsung Q9F match or beat that TV when it comes to how it handles blacks, and especially how dark it can make letterbox bars appear.

While they are not the “perfect” black you’ll find on an emissive display, the bars appear pitch black to the naked eye—even with tricky content like scenes from Harry Potter where torches are located right at the edge of the picture. Normally, I expect to see some light bleed during such torture tests, but that didn’t happen here.

The Q9F can’t achieve the unmeasurably deep blacks of OLED. But, beyond the letterbox bars, the depth and quality of the Q9F’s blacks and shadow detail are fantastic for a transmissive TV. Furthermore, if there’s some ambient light in the room, the screen’s light absorption and anti-reflective coating combine to create imagery with lots of “pop” thanks to the high contrast. Total image quality is exceptional with the lights off, but this TV is in a league of its own with the lights on.

Unfortunately, the software to measure color volume is not quite out of beta yet. It’s a capability that I will have access to soon, but not as of today. I have seen SpectraCal reps take numerous color-volume measurements of various QLED displays, and in those demos, the TVs delivered the requisite 100% DCI coverage. Still, nothing beats performing measurements yourself. When CalMAN is updated with this functionality, I’ll update this review.

Samsung touts wide viewing angles for its 2017 QLED TVs, and specifically an enhanced resistance to color shift when the viewer is seated off to the side. Generally, this is a real problem for TVs that use a VA (vertically aligned) LCD panel, which the QLED TVs do. I became concerned this claim might not pan out when I tested the pre-production Q9F, but the production unit has a much wider viewing cone within which contrast is higher than 1000:1. This is typical for TV with an IPS (in-plane switching) LCD panel, which normally has a wider viewing cone than VA-based TVs. While the pre-production unit only offered a 50-degree “better than IPS” viewing cone, that zone measures around 80 degrees in the production model—more than enough to cover the whole family. The wider viewing angle also translated to deeper blacks when I was centered on the screen.

Here’s one primary caveat for any VA LCD TV: While seated off-axis, someone watching content with lots of dark scenes might see elevated black levels and less saturated, somewhat different colors compared to a head-on view. At certain moments, such as during movie credits, viewers who are way off to the side—and in a dim or dark room—could witness a rise in black levels and perhaps flashlight artifacts as well as color shifts. Therefore, sitting somewhat centered on the screen offers the best viewing experience. If you are in the sofa-wide “sweet spot,” the picture quality of this TV will blow you away.

The Q9F handled motion tests from blurbusters.com with a deftness that reminded me of plasma. With real content, motion resolution was a non-issue, so I left motion processing turned off.

Colorful, vivid highlights make the Samsung Q9F great for watching in rooms with ambient light, and the highly effective anti-glare coating on the screen helps a lot in this regard. It’s great at zapping challenging reflections, noticeably more so than the KS9800.

On the sonic front, the Q9F’s audio fidelity is fine for a TV—the dialog is clear—but it would be a real shame to own a TV of this quality and not equip it with a decent sound system. No matter what TV you buy, do yourself a favor and get a decent sound bar to go with it if you don’t already have a good sound system.

Conclusion

The Samsung Q9F transcends the technology it is based upon. Yes, it’s an edgelit LED-LCD TV. But Samsung sees QLED as a distinct product category because, as a whole, it offers a level of performance that was previously unimaginable for a TV of its type.

The ability to get bright, reproduce vivid color, and calibrate accurately means the Q9F can reproduce HDR content as it was seen on the mastering display. This TV easily exceeds the specifications required for its UHD Premium certification, and consequently provides viewers with an experience that’s remarkably faithful to the director’s intent.

Now, when it comes to cinematic experiences, I’m all for giving contrast and deep blacks their due. The contribution of those elements to picture quality is immense. But here’s the thing; for most content, most of the time—and especially with some ambient light—the Samsung Q9F handles blacks and deep shadows extremely well.

You might find another HDR flat-panel TV that does one or two things better than the Q9F, and you’ll certainly find many that cost less. But you’ll be hard pressed to find one as well designed and jam-packed with features as this one. Sure, you pay for the privilege, but if you can afford it, Samsung’s 2017 flagship is a top pick.

Sources and Measurement Gear

Samsung UBD-K8500 UHD Blu-ray player

DVDO AV Lab TPG test-pattern generator

HDFury Integral (for HDR patterns)

Colorimetry Research CR-250 spectroradiometer

Colorimetry Research CR-100 colorimeter

SpectraCal CalMAN calibration software running on a Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro Windows 10 laptop