Samsung 65″ KS9800 Ultra HD FALD LCD HDR TV Review

Given that I only review a few TVs each year, my approach might be best described as an exploration of potential as opposed to an attempt at ranking TVs from best to worst. I look at how to get the best picture quality out of a top-performing UHD display—in this instance, Samsung’s 2016 flagship 65″ model, the curved-screen UN65KS9800 FALD LCD ($3500) featuring Ultra HD Premium certification.

My interest in the KS9800 stems from having seen it in numerous demos featuring HDR video, sometimes in comparison to various other types of displays. While there is no denying that the latest OLEDs offer the deepest blacks ever seen on a consumer TV, FALD LCDs are pushing the limits of peak brightness with their LED-lit screens.

Samsung’s 2016 flagship 65-inch TV, the UN65KS9800. Photo by Mark Henninger

Achieving the deepest possible blacks is undoubtedly one of the best paths to ultimate fidelity, but there is a lot to be said for TVs that can handle the peak illumination levels at which HDR content is mastered. Which type of display technology looks best with HDR content—FALD LED-LCD or OLED—can often depend on how a scene is shot, with dark (think film noir, horror, or outer space) favoring the qualities of emissive displays, while brighter content (animation, action, sports, comedy, nature documentaries, etc.) can often look most spectacular on LCDs that reach or surpass the 1000-nit barrier.

This review was preceded by a pre-review blog that offered the opportunity to discuss issues found by owners of the KS9800. I want to thank everyone who participated in that thread for their insights and contributions. Finding settings that provide maximum accuracy and faithfulness to creative intent, and that are appropriate to both bright and dark viewing environments, were all high priorities.

The premise of this exploration process is simple: Get this TV to perform at the highest level possible, including when viewing HDR content. Read on to find out how it went.

Features and Specifications

Samsung’s UN65KS9800 is a curved-screen, 120 Hz, FALD, VA, UHD/4K QD LED-LCD with support for HDR and WCG. To decipher that alphabet soup, it’s got a 120-hertz refresh rate, has full-array local dimming, uses a vertically aligned liquid-crystal display with light-emitting diode backlighting featuring quantum dots, and it’s capable of displaying ultra-high definition/4K content with support for high dynamic range and wide color gamut.

The HDR offered by the UN65KS9800 is of the HDR10 variety, as opposed to Dolby Vision. HDR10 is used as the standard for Ultra HD Blu-ray discs and is offered on UHD streams from Amazon and Netflix, with Vudu (which had previously offered Dolby Vision exclusively) recently announcing that it too will support HDR10.

As you’d expect from a top-tier TV, this Samsung offers numerous tools to tweak image quality. It features 2-point as well as 10-point grayscale adjustment for BT.709 calibration, and a number of useful image-processing options that help improve motion resolution and contrast.

The screen features a moth-eye coating that reduces glare and reflections. It is curved; not radically so, but it’s certainly not going to lay flat on a wall. This TV comes with a sculpted Y-shaped pedestal that keeps it very steady.

The KS9800 provides four different picture modes: Dynamic, Standard, Natural, and Movie. There are also three special viewing modes to choose from: Sports, Game, and HDR+. Each of the modes features separate settings for SDR and HDR, allowing for some flexibility in optimizing them for different uses. Crucially, you can create different settings for each mode, on a source-by-source basis, or choose to apply settings across all sources. For those willing to go through the effort of setting up these modes, the rewards in terms of image fidelity are significant.

The HDR-specific calibration controls within the Standard, Movie, and HDR+ modes all include 2-point color balance, as well as CMS (color management system), Backlight, Contrast, Dynamic Contrast, Gamma, Auto Motion Plus, Smart LED, and other adjustments. Many of these controls turned out to be useful for optimizing the TV’s HDR picture.

Samsung says that thanks to its use of quantum dots, the KS9800 covers 96% of the DCI/P3 color gamut. That’s the standard used in commercial theaters and on contemporary HDR-graded content, including Ultra HD Blu-ray.

The KS9800 comes with an external connection box that attaches to the TV with a single cable. It includes four HDMI 2.0a inputs featuring HDCP 2.2 copy protection, and all four operate at 18 Gbps, fully supporting the latest video formats.

Additional connectivity includes Wi-Fi, an Ethernet port, three USB ports, Bluetooth, and an SD card reader. There’s one coaxial connection for antenna/cable. The audio outputs include Audio Return Channel (ARC) via one of the HDMI ports and an optical digital-audio connection.

Smart features are a dominant theme of this TV, and the implementation is slick. It can automatically detect what source devices are connected and automatically sets up the 2016 Smart Control to handle them. The result is a very intuitive ergonomic experience where the physical remote—which is well-made and sculpted to fit your hand—adapts to your specific system. It’s real plug and play.


The UN65KS9800 and its Smart Remote Control automatically adapt to the devices you connect. Photo by Mark Henninger

On-screen navigation has also been streamlined. The GUI mixes sources and apps in a scrollable navigation bar, and when you land on an app—for example, Netflix—the TV displays the shows you are in the middle of watching plus other picks. You don’t even need to launch the app’s menu to resume your latest binge-viewing session of a favorite series. I particularly liked being able to use voice search to find TV channels by simply saying something like “ESPN HD.”

I used the UN65KS9800 in a system that also included Samsung’s UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player ($320) and the company’s HW-K950 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar system ($1500). This provided a complete ecosystem for consuming UHD/4K content with the benefit of immersive audio, in an admirably slick and easy-to-install package.

Notably, the soundbar is the most affordable way to get your hands on a 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos-enabled system, and the UHD Blu-ray player is the least expensive of its kind on the market. The total retail cost of the rig is $5320 at current MSRPs, which is pretty great considering the overall level of performance you get.

Setup

The unpacking process is technically a two-person job, but I managed to do it myself. Still, I suggest you have someone help. Attaching the base requires placing the TV face down on a table and some very minor assembly using screws. After attaching the break-out box with the HDMI inputs, I plugged it in, turned it on, and was greeted by a graphical setup wizard that walked me through connecting to a network. It also showed off some features of the remote. All in all, the entire setup is a fairly painless process that any reasonably handy person can tackle.

HDR is in its infancy, so most TVs—perhaps out of necessity—offer a one-size-fits-all approach to displaying it; what’s actually needed are multiple display modes that account for different viewing environments. For this review, that meant finding separate optimized HDR settings for watching HDR-graded content in the dark and with ambient light in the room.

Before I get into the optimizations I made, I’d like to note that many of the Movie mode settings Samsung dialed in at the factory are likely to be optimum for a majority of viewers. It’s commendable that modern televisions offer such accurate color right out of the box. Still, some tweaks may well make you even happier about how this TV performs.

If you have a KS9800 and plan to try my suggested settings, you will need to decide if you are going to apply them on an input-by-input basis, or if you want to apply them to all the inputs at one time. To do this, you invoke the Apply Picture Settings control, which can be switched between Current Source and All Sources.

I made several adjustments to the TV’s default settings, regardless of which display mode was selected. I chose a Sharpness setting of 0, and I set the Color Tone to Warm2. Also, I always set the Smart LED feature (which controls local dimming) to Low for SDR content, and High for HDR content. Finally, I set Picture Size to 16:9 with Fit to Screen turned on, which disables overscanning.

A visit to Blur Busters www.testufo.com, a site that presents various video-motion tests, helped me find the optimum Auto Motion Plus settings, which control frame interpolation. Leaving the feature off is not recommended, even for purists. You’ll lose a lot of motion resolution, and in some scenes, judder will be a distraction.

Based on adjustments derived from various tests on the Blur Busters site, I recommend these Auto Motion Plus settings: Custom with Blur Reduction set to 8, Judder Reduction set to 0, and LED Clear Motion off. This should give you artifact-free, plasma-quality motion resolution. However, if you can’t live without a bit of soap-opera effect in your life, go ahead and play with the Judder Reduction feature and enjoy. As for the Auto setting, Samsung says that this year it is dynamic; it analyzes content and adjusts its strength accordingly. To my eyes, it was always a bit stronger and more obvious than I’d like, but I completely understand that opinions vary.

With BT.709-graded material, I found that setting Smart LED to Low, in conjunction with optimized contrast settings, yielded a reference-quality image. Letterbox bars stayed black, colors were rich and accurate, and measured gamma tracked accurately despite the use of local dimming.

When optimizing the TV for dark-room viewing, I aimed for a peak brightness of 120 nits, with a target gamma of 2.4. That combo looked nice and punchy without compromising black levels.

This ColorChecker chart shows off the KS9800’s impressive out of the box color accuracy in BT.709 Movie mode.

For viewing with ambient light in the room, I opted for a 300-nit peak brightness and a gamma of 2.2. However, it’s worth noting the TV can get considerably brighter still. Calibrated to a white point of D65, this TV can output 550+ nits with a full-screen white field practically indefinitely. I let it run for an hour with a static full-screen white pattern, and the peak output dropped from 595 nits to 552 nits after about 15 minutes, and stayed at that level for the rest of the hour.

Color accuracy with BT.709 content was great right out of the box, at least in Movie mode. The key to getting accurate color in the other modes is to select Warm2 from the Color Mode menu. While the default settings are a bit bright for lights-off movie watching, they are totally appropriate for when the lights are on, or when there’s indirect daylight in a room.

In terms of color accuracy, I found that HDR was not quite as spot-on as SDR, and that a 2-point grayscale calibration plus a CMS adjustment could improve the picture, in terms of both measurements and subjectively. With proper HDR color dialed in, the KS9800 provided its most faithful—and therefore appealing—picture quality.

 


After calibrating HDR mode, running CalMAN’s ColorChecker scan confirmed the UN65KS9800’s high color accuracy when handling HDR10 content.

Setting the KS9800 to exhibit high peak brightness for viewing HDR content makes sense if the TV is in a room with some ambient light. However, if you always watch TV in a darkened room, those settings (the TV’s defaults) can—depending on content—result in noticeable artifacts like blooming and halos. Additionally, those settings can cause the letterbox bars to fluctuate with widescreen, 2.35:1 films.

After some measurement, exploration, and experimentation, I zeroed in on optimal settings for achieving the best possible mix of deep blacks, shadow detail, and sparkling highlights while keeping the aforementioned artifacts to a minimum.

I also tried a more radical approach to HDR with peak luminance under 1000 nits—call it “OLED emulation mode.” It can be done, but with caveats, which I’ll discuss in the comments if someone asks about it. In this review, the TV always meets or exceeds the performance parameters of Ultra HD Premium certification.

My first rule in finding alternative settings is to do no harm to overall picture quality, which meant making sure the delta-E (error) values of my tweaked settings were not appreciably worse than what I measured with the TV’s defaults.

By implementing a peak brightness that’s consistent with what most current HDR content is mastered at—1000 nits—I was able to obtain consistent and gratifying picture from the KS9800 when viewing it in the dark. The result offered the visual thrills of HDR with DCI/P3 color gamut, but with a noticeable reduction in visible FALD-related artifacts that stem from the contrast-ratio limitations of transmissive LCD displays. In the Settings section at the end of this review, I provide two sets of settings for 1000-nit HDR viewing; I recommend giving the Standard mode settings a shot.

With BT.709 SDR content, a few easy tweaks to the Movie picture mode yielded optimized parameters for viewing in a dark room; it looked great without having to calibrate. The main issue was that the default settings were a bit bright, with a peak luminance of 300 nits in situations where 100 or 120-nit peaks are more appropriate.

For high ambient-light situations, the KS9800 can achieve remarkable levels of brightness that allow it to present a very rich, deep, colorful image—even when viewed by day or with lights on. Indeed, the main question is, “How bright do you want it?”

With ambient daylight coming from windows, the TV’s default Movie mode settings are actually quite good and provide about 300 nits peak luminance with a gamma of 2.2. I want to give credit where it’s due: For most people, the KS9800’s Movie mode default settings are among the best out-of-the-box settings I’ve seen—perfectly suited to watching SDR BT.709 content with the lights on.

Because modern high-end LED-lit LCDs rely on FALD to achieve enhanced contrast, I recommend always using it, but choose the appropriate mode depending on content. The Smart LED function (Samsung’s name for FALD control) offers three choices—Off, Low, and High. I strongly suggest using the Low setting for BT.709 content, and that you always use the High setting to get the most out of HDR.

Navigating source devices was the most intuitive such process I’ve experienced with a TV. I was able to use the TV’s interface to smoothly transition between the built-in streaming apps, Blu-ray, and Google Chromecast—which I use to stream football games using the PlayStation Vue service.

To my amazement, the KS9800 recognized the Chromecast that was connected to my AVR, which in turn was connected to the TV, and adapted the remote to control the Chromecast. All the source devices were properly identified and named by the TV (PC, Roku, Chromecast, Blu-ray).

After connecting to my 150 Mbps FIOS Internet via Wi-Fi, I was able to stream UHD/4K HDR content from the TV’s built-in apps without interruption by signing into the streaming services I use, namely Amazon and Netflix. I’d include Vudu on that list, but at the moment it is only available in 1080p when using the KS9800 app.

If you want to improve color and grayscale accuracy beyond what you get from the factory, you’ll need to invest in a quality colorimeter at the minimum, and preferably a spectrophotometer-and-colorimeter kit. Alternatively, you can hire a properly equipped pro to perform the calibration.

This is a cutting-edge display, so you might not get much value from a pro calibration unless the person you hire is skilled and up to speed when it comes to HDR. It’s especially important because the greatest gains to be made from calibration are in HDR mode; BT.709 is already very accurate, while HDR mode visibly benefitted from calibration.

One of the trickiest topics to discuss is what to do about setting motion-enhancement features such as frame interpolation and backlight scanning. The KS9800 files these settings under Auto Motion Plus, and by default, the feature is set to Auto.

After some scrutiny, I found that a certain amount of motion processing was beneficial. On the other hand, the algorithm for the Judder Reduction setting was prone to creating the dreaded soap opera effect. The good news is you don’t need to use that feature to improve the TV’s handling of motion.

As mentioned earlier, I recommend a Blur Reduction setting of 8, set Judder Reduction to 0, and set LED Clear Motion to Off. You should see a significant increase in motion resolution and a reduction in judder without any artifacts. Having said that, using any aspect of the Auto Motion Plus feature set is a matter of taste. The Auto setting is fairly aggressive, and while it does manage to wipe out any judder, it sometimes adds too much of the soap-opera effect for my taste.

Performance

Let’s get the elephant out of the room—this is a FALD LCD with a VA panel, so optimal picture quality is only experienced within a viewing area of limited width. With this TV, the angle is wide enough to accommodate a sofa located as close as seven or eight feet from the screen—which is recommended if you want to see all UHD/4K detail. If you stray outside that zone, there is a noticeable loss in contrast and color intensity—a trait shared by all VA LCDs. On the plus side, off-angle viewing does not result in color shifts, which is an issue with the current crop of OLEDs. Sadly, since the demise of plasma, no consumer TV offers zero-compromise off-angle viewing when it comes to color and contrast.

As long as you watch the KS9800 from a favorable angle, the picture quality is phenomenal. For one thing, its color gamut exceeds BT.709, which means the colors can be dialed into that standard using the CMS. However, its uncalibrated performance was good enough to call calibrated. Furthermore, when it’s truly dialed in and fully calibrated, you could confidently use this TV to master content.

Thanks to the high native contrast of the VA LCD panel, this TV is able to offer image quality that features impressively dark blacks. Crucially, the KS9800 does well at rendering details found in the deepest shadow regions—those last few steps before pure black, an area where OLEDs sometimes struggle unless a calibrator sacrifices OLED’s “infinite” black for the sake of accurately reproducing the grayscale steps that lie just above black.

Test patterns confirmed that the UN65KS9800 can reproduce 4:4:4 color, play 60p UHD video, and provide full 3840×2160 resolution to viewers. It handles 1080p upscaling gracefully, and as long as you choose the right settings from the menus, it closely conforms to BT.709 standards.

My only interest in ANSI contrast pertains to calculating the native contrast ratio of the panel. Using a 4×4 checkerboard, I measured and averaged all the white and black squares—with Smart LED turned off—and came up with a contrast ratio of 4702:1. Sequential readings of full black and a 100% white window resulted in a 4730:1 contrast ratio. I can safely say that the minimum contrast ratio you will get out of this TV is greater than 4700:1; typically, it’s much greater.

Setting Smart LED to Low or High did not impact the ANSI readings much, but it drastically improved the sequential 18% constant-APL readings, which jumped up to 182,900:1. With Smart LED set to High, the KS9800 whipped up a 144,600:1 contrast ratio, with a peak luminance of 1350 nits. These contrast ratios are not always achievable without generating some artifacts in the form of halos and blooming.

Calculating the contrast ratio of a FALD LED is actually an impossible mission; the results vary depending on which patterns you use. That’s one reason I used the HDR10 Reference Disc from Samsung to perform a black-level reading that uses a concentric circle pattern to find a middle ground between ANSI and rectangular-window patterns.


Measuring the concentric circle black-level pattern from the Samsung HDR10 Reference Disc with the CR-100 meter. Photo by Mark Henninger

I used SpectraCal’s CalMAN video-calibration software to profile the TV in various modes and see the effect of various adjustments as I sought the optimum settings. A Colorimetry Research CR-100 colorimeter—profiled with a CR-250 spectroradiometer—performed all of the measurements. The CR-100 can accurately measure luminance levels up to 5100+ nits, so current-generation HDR TVs are a piece of cake for it.

Pattern generation came courtesy of a DVDO AVLab TPG UHD/4K pattern generator working in conjunction with an HDFury Integral, which converts the BT.709 output of the DVDO into HDR10, with a little help from CalMAN. The system was effective and allowed me to take rapid, accurate, repeatable readings from the KS9800—it made successfully calibrating in HDR mode a fairly painless process.

As a safeguard, I used the dynamic (i.e., moving) patterns on the HDR10 Reference Disc to validate the readings I took with my pattern generator setup and was glad to see no discrepancy.

I did not have to change a lot of settings in Movie mode to get spectacular results for SDR. Indeed, the measurements clearly indicate that someone who buys this TV and skips getting a pro calibration will still be watching an image that is commendably accurate.

Of course, HDR performance depends on high contrast, and the “intelligence” of the FALD algorithm is a key part of getting the best performance out of LED-lit LCD TVs. This is where judging HDR performance becomes tricky; while the KS9800 is capable of achieving roughly double the peak brightness of the latest OLEDs, using all that power in a dark room can sometimes lead to visible artifacts.

As discussed in the setup section, I found a recipe for watching HDR content in the dark by restricting the KS9800 to 1000-nit peak brightness. I achieved this by turning down the backlight a few notches and compensating for the effect that has on the PQ curve using the Gamma control to adjust low levels and the Dynamic Contrast feature to adjust the high levels.

With HDR optimized for dark-room viewing, the KS9800 looked great. Specular highlights like light sources and shiny reflections possessed the power to shock your retinas, but not so much as to hurt eyes that have adapted to darkness. Meanwhile, black levels were noticeably deeper than with the default HDR settings.

Watching HDR in the dark can pose challenges, but when there’s some ambient light in the room, it makes sense to allow the TV to use its maximum peak brightness. When you unleash the full power of the KS9800’s LED array, it can reach 1500-nit peaks at times, which gives images tremendous pop. The TV can easily handle bright rooms, including situations with lots of indirect daylight coming from windows, but it looks its best with a modest amount of ambient light in the room—which happens to be how most people watch TV most of the time.

Over the course of the past couple of months, I watched televised sports, news, streaming TV shows, and movies. I also set it up as a giant PC monitor for 4K gaming and to work with digital images in Photoshop. I even used it as a mastering monitor to edit 4K video in Adobe Premiere. In every case, as long as I chose optimum settings for the viewing conditions, the picture quality provided by the KS9800 was sublime.

HDR+ is a proprietary algorithm used to process both SDR and HDR video content. When used with SDR material, HDR+ maximizes contrast and expands the color gamut of the material while attempting to maintain a natural look in skin tones. The goal is to emulate the look of HDR when watching SDR content, and in my opinion, it is surprisingly effective.

However, SDR content processed with HDR+ is never going to be true HDR; it’s simply enhanced SDR. Still, this algorithm is a lot better than the vivid modes of the past. If you want to watch everything in Technicolor—so to speak—this is your ticket to ride. For some real eye candy, try it with The Wizard of Oz, Speed Racer, or The Lego Movie. It’s a feature worth experimenting with, even if the enhancement comes at the cost of not being 100% accurate to the source since the algorithm has to guess which colors to boost.

When used with HDR content, HDR+ processing acts a bit differently. It lets you adjust the PQ curve and tone map HDR content mastered at various peak levels of brightness. HDR+ mode can be used to brighten HDR content that looks too dark without fear of altering or exaggerating the content’s colors.

I was amazed at how well this TV displayed RAW photos rendered in Photoshop. Images shot with modern DSLRs can capture astonishing amounts of detail, and displaying photos at the TV’s native resolution of 3840×2160 lets you see every nuance captured by the camera, prompting oohs and aahs when scrutinized from close to the screen. I was especially impressed with how HDR+ handled still photos; if you render the RAW files in Photoshop with HDR+ and adjust the controls for maximal realism, you can achieve amazingly life-like results—just don’t expect to be able to see those photos like that on most other displays.

Real content is always the proof in the pudding. You can use test patterns and meters to get a TV into its best possible condition, and graphs can reveal how close to spec a screen measures. But in the end, it’s how movies, TV, home video, still photos, and video games look that determines success or failure.

Watching movies on HD Blu-ray was very satisfying, thanks to how well the KS9800 handles BT.709 material. Star Wars: The Force Awakens—my latest reference for HD Blu-ray picture quality—looked impeccable with the lights out and using optimized settings. I was especially impressed with how the KS9800 captured texture in the deep shadows of character’s costumes. The introduction of Kylo Ren in chapter 5 is a perfect example; you can just barely make out the weave of the black fabric inside his hood. These are the sort of details OLED TVs can sometimes miss due to issues with black crush.

Chapter 6 in The Force Awakes opens with a panning shot on imperial spacecraft headed to a Super Star Destroyer. It’s handled perfectly, with the blacks in the star field being just as dark as the letterbox bars themselves, and no sign of halos or blooming. I paused the video with the giant spaceship filling the frame and marveled at how detailed 1080p can look when it’s done right.

Ultra HD Blu-rays offer the full HDR experience with UHD/4K resolution and wide color gamut. One film in particular—Chappie, a story of a self-aware police robot brought up by South African gangsters—has a scene that initially gave the TV’s FALD algorithm fits, resulting in a distracting fluctuation of the local-dimming array during the beginning of chapter 11. In it, the main characters are talking in the shadows, but in the background there are a number of bright lights. After reporting the issue to Samsung, a firmware update (version 1131) fixed that, and now the scene plays smoothly.

Taken as a whole, every movie I watched in HDR was an improvement over its SDR HD Blu-ray counterpart. Granted, occasionally the contrast demands of HDR during dark scenes would expose the machinations of the FALD array, but those scenes were rare. 99% of the time, HDR had a depth and realness that made it preferable to watch.

Mad Max: Fury Road’s explosive action looked far more three dimensional thanks to the extra pop of DCI/P3 color and much greater brightness in the highlights. From the glint of the vehicles’ chrome, to the rich orange of the guitarist’s flame thrower, to the brilliant blue skies, every aspect of the movie benefited from HDR—more so than the increase in resolution.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is filled with textures and brilliant colors, including the eye candy that is Jennifer Lawrence’s blue-skinned, red-haired character, Mystique. In SDR, she looks rather dull. In HDR, there is an iridescence to the blue that makes the character look far more compelling. The difference is obvious and dramatic; on HD Blu-ray, it looked like the character was wearing a body suit, but with Ultra Blu-ray WCG color, it actually looked like her skin.

Chapter 2 in Days of Future Past shows the benefit of HDR with WGC for depicting fire, electricity, and whatever else mutants use to fight each other. The scene starts out dark and cold, showing off how well the TV handles deep shadow details. It quickly escalates into an all-out battle against the Sentinel robots sent to kill the mutants, with flames and ice and purple energy vortices—not to mention the all-chrome body of Colossus. HDR with WCG made a tremendous difference in portraying all these characters and effects in a believable manner; the scenes looked much deeper and more three-dimensional.

UHD/4K streaming movies and shows from Netflix and Amazon are available in HDR10. Furthermore, Vudu and Google Play have recently announced plans to support the format as well. Here again, the added contrast and wide color gamut offered an appreciable improvement over BT.709, SDR, 1080p streams. However, with streaming, there was also a big leap in overall detail thanks to the extra bandwidth afforded UHD/4K content. Taken together, HDR and UHD bring viewers better-than-Blu-ray visuals combined with the convenience of streaming.

I generally stick to watching movies rather than TV shows, but I did check out a few Amazon and Netflix original series in UHD/4K HDR. The first thing I noticed is the huge impact of having a 16:9 image fill the screen in HDR; it gives the impression of an open window into the worlds depicted by the shows. The opening scene of episode 1 of Mad Dogs contains many elements that do not translate well in SDR—it’s filled with tropical colors, including aqua pools and lush greenery. Also, there are indoor shots with daylight-flooded windows that are totally blown-out in the SDR presentation.

Over on Netflix, I checked out House of Cards, which streams in UHD/4K but is not available in HDR. Suddenly, it looked rather dull color wise—but very sharp and free of any compression-related artifacts. A switch to Daredevil, which streams in UHD/4K HDR, brought back the rich colors and seductive depth I’ve grown accustomed to in the process of writing this review.

In addition to great color accuracy, my review unit also had great screen uniformity, which was evident even on dark-gray full-screen fields. Just a few years ago, most LCDs were a total mess in this regard. The uniformity on this TV reminds me of the last generation of flagship plasmas.

Conclusion

There are several conclusions to draw from extended exposure to Samsung’s best-ever TV. The first is that any notion LED-lit LCD TVs are not improving in terms of image quality is patently false. In many respects, this TV is leaps and bounds better than my (now retired) PN64F8500 plasma, as well as any other LED-lit LCD I’ve had in my studio. Sure, I wish the screen was flat, but I can’t say that the curve was ever a real negative. It’s a very flexible, adaptable display that excels in rendering extremely accurate, faithful, detailed video.

Not only is the KS9800 a boon for videophiles seeking a great TV, it is also a very family-friendly device that takes the pain out of setup and daily use. The degree to which Samsung was able to simplify its Smart Remote Control is astounding. I understand that a few folks might miss having an old-school candy-bar remote filled with buttons—2016 marks the first year Samsung is not including them with its smart TVs—but the fact is I was always glad to reach for the new remote. The bottom line is, this is an intuitive TV with great ergonomics that makes true plug-and-play setup a reality.


The new Smart Remote Control from Samsung gets point for being so ergonomic. Photo by Mark Henninger

Videophile geeks will find much to tweak within the menus. If you have the right tools, or know/hire someone who does, its HDR mode can be fine-tuned to achieve fidelity that is strikingly realistic and color-accurate. But even if you simply tweak some basic settings, you can get it to look phenomenal right out of the box, because it’s already equipped with defaults that are quite accurate.

Thanks to the high native contrast of the VA LCD panel and full-array local dimming, it is able to offer image quality that features impressively deep blacks for an LED-lit LCD. The KS9800 does well at rendering details found in the deepest shadow regions—those last few steps before pure black—an area where OLEDs continue to struggle.

Watching HDR in the dark at full peak brightness results in some unpleasant side effects, especially in dark areas of the image. But with FALD LCDs, whenever you have a bright object on a dark background (which can include subtitles), and you ask the LEDs to illuminate the bright object to 1300-plus nits, the surrounding dark area is bound to show some sort of artifact—even if you have hundreds or even thousands of zones. But again, if you simply tone the HDR down from the maximum peak-brightness levels, the KS9800 looks great when the lights are out.

There is no doubt that $3500 gets you one of the best 65-inch displays ever made, especially at its price point. For that reason alone, it should be on your must-audition list if you are in the market for a top-tier TV.

Review System

Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player
HW-K950 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos-enabled soundbar
UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player

Windows 10 PC with Nvidia GTX980 video card
Pioneer SC-85 AVR with Chromecast
PSB Imagine T3 speakers
SVS SB13-Ultra subwoofer

Settings and Measurements

This TV measured well, with and without calibration. However, as is often the case with consumer flat-panel displays, the default picture modes benefitted from tweaks to a number of settings, including Sharpness, Color Tone, Dynamic Contrast, Contrast, and Auto Motion Plus. These are universal adjustments that work on all KS9800s, unlike color calibration settings.

Perfecting the white balance (for both SDR and HDR) added another layer of verisimilitude to the viewing experience, but it requires HDR-capable measuring equipment and software.

PICTURE SETTINGS

SDR BT.709 Dark Room – 120 nits

Movie mode (SDR)
Backlight: 5
Brightness: 45
Contrast: 85
Sharpness: 0
Color: 50
Tint: 0
Digital Clean View: Off
Auto Motion Plus: Custom, Blur Reduction: 8, Judder Reduction: 0, LED Clear Motion: Off
Smart LED: Low
HDMI Black Level: Auto
Dynamic Contrast: Off
Color Tone: Warm2
Gamma: -1
Color Space: Auto

SDR BT.709 with Ambient Light – 300 nits

Movie mode (SDR)
Backlight: 16
Brightness: 45
Contrast: 85
Sharpness: 0
Color: 50
Tint: 0
Digital Clean View: Off
Auto Motion Plus: Custom, Blur Reduction: 8, Judder Reduction: 0, LED Clear Motion: Off
Smart LED: Low
HDMI Black Level: Auto
Dynamic Contrast: Off
Color Tone: Warm2
Gamma: 1
Color Space: Auto

HDR Dark Room (Standard mode) – 1000 nits

Standard mode (HDR)
Turn off Eco Solution features
Backlight: 14
Brightness: 45
Contrast: 100
Sharpness: 0
Color: 50
Tint: 0
Digital Clean View: Off
Auto Motion Plus: Custom, Blur Reduction: 8, Judder Reduction: 0, LED Clear Motion: Off
Smart LED: High
HDMI Black Level: Auto
Dynamic Contrast: Off
Color Tone: Warm2
Gamma: 0
Color Space: Auto

HDR Dark Room (Movie mode) – 1000 nits

Movie mode (HDR)
Backlight: 14
Brightness: 45
Contrast: 100
Sharpness: 0
Color: 50
Tint: 0
Digital Clean View: Off
Auto Motion Plus: Custom, Blur Reduction: 8, Judder Reduction: 0, LED Clear Motion: Off
Smart LED: High
HDMI Black Level: Auto
Dynamic Contrast: Low
Color Tone: Warm2
Gamma: 1
Color Space: Auto

HDR with Ambient Light – 1350+ nits

Movie Mode (HDR)
Backlight: 20
Brightness: 45
Contrast: 100
Sharpness: 0
Color: 50
Tint: 0
Digital Clean View: Off
Auto Motion Plus: Custom, Blur Reduction: 8, Judder Reduction: 0, LED Clear Motion: Off
Smart LED: High
HDMI Black Level: Auto
Dynamic Contrast: Off
Color Tone: Warm2
Gamma: 0
Color Space: Auto

MEASUREMENTS

All measurements were performed with a Colorimetry Research CR-100 Colorimeter that was profiled with a CR-250 Spectroradiometer, and SpectraCal CalMAN Ultimate for Business, version 5.7.0.

Peak luminance readings in HDR Movie mode, Warm2

Native contrast ratio greater than 4700:1 (4×4 ANSI, no FALD)

DVDO AVLab TPG with HDFury Integral, Movie mode (Smart LED High)

10% window – 1380 nits
25% window – 870 nits
100% window – 570 nits

HDR10 Reference Disc with dynamic patterns – Movie mode (Smart LED High)

10% window – 1385 nits
25% window – 867 nits
100% window – 569 nits

HDR10 Reference Disc with dynamic patterns – Movie mode (Smart LED Low)

10% window – 538 nits
25% window – 549 nits
100% window – 555 nits

HDR10 Reference Disc with dynamic patterns – Movie mode (Smart LED Off)

10% window – 553 nits
25% window – 553 nits
100% window – 553 nits

HDR10 Reference Disc with dynamic patterns, concentric circles black-level pattern – Movie mode

Smart LED Off – 0.060 nits
Smart LED Low – 0.0061 nits
Smart LED High – 0.0166 nits

Uncalibrated but optimized settings versus BT.709 calibration with 2-point color and CMS adjustment:


Even without calibration, the grayscale delta-E is good enough to qualify as calibrated.

A 2-point calibration plus CMS adjustment yielded a delta-E of 0.7, no need for a 10-point adjustment.


Saturation sweeps, Movie mode, SDR Dark Room, uncalibrated versus calibrated:


Here’s a BT.709 saturation sweep without calibration.


And here’s the calibrated BT.709 saturation sweep.


ColorChecker for Movie mode, SDR Dark Room, 120 nits, uncalibrated versus calibrated:


Uncalibrated, the UN65KS9800 was very accurate.

A 2-point calibration plus CMS adjustment yielded even better results.