The Samsung Q9F is a premium 4K HDR TV that delivers next-generation picture quality thanks to a fine-tuned blend of FALD-LCD and QLED display technologies. It represents a sizable leap forward in terms of total image quality and offers the best picture I’ve experienced from any 4K Samsung TV I have seen.
For 2018, Samsung chose to return to using full-array local dimming, or FALD, for the backlight. The result is a TV that is capable of rendering far higher on-screen contrast than the 2017 Q9F. And while high measured contrast is key, Samsung didn’t stop there: The company’s engineers also worked on the anti-reflective qualities and fine-tuning the local dimming of the Q9F QLED’s screen to create a TV that can maintain deep blacks and high contrast, even when the lights are on, while also looking good in the dark—typically the Achilles heel of transmissive TVs like the Q9F.
Of course, this being a flagship Samsung, it is filled with the latest smart features including the prominently featured Ambient Mode that’s sure to make this TV a favorite among interior decorators. And speaking of decorators, one of the most radical design elements is the new Invisible Connection cord that doesn’t just deliver the video signal to the TV, it also carries the power for the panel. That means one single thin Cable is all you need to account for whether you’re wall mounting or using a TV stand.
In addition to optimizations for movie loving video enthusiasts and TV watching living room dwellers, the Q9F has much to offer gamers including support for 1440p/120Hz input, variable refresh rate technology, and an ultra-low latency Game mode. So let’s take a closer look at this exceptional television.
Features and Specifications
This 65″ 4K TV is HDR compatible—including HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG formats—and uses an LED FALD array that I estimate to contain around 480 zones.
Physical design elements include a slab-like form factor that accommodates a no-gap wall mount while retaining the option to tilt the screen. The thin and dark metal bezel is minimalism at its best—this TV looks and feels premium.
This is a QLED TV with an LED-LCD screen. In this configuration, some light emitted by blue LEDs in the FALD array is absorbed by precisely sized and tuned quantum dots, which in turn radiate pure red and pure green light. These three colors combine to produce a pure white-light source that allows the TV to express vivid colors, even at high brightness levels.
Four HDMI 2.0a inputs support HDCP 2.2 and work with the latest 4K/UHD HDR sources. The HDMI inputs, and power supply are housed in a separate One Connect box that attaches to the TV using a thin cable—the Invisible Connection—which is designed to be as incognito as possible. The TV ships with a 5-meter cable but a 15-meter option is also available. Aside from the clean look, one huge benefit of this feature is that you don’t need a power outlet anywhere near the screen itself.
The 2018 Smart Remote has the same design and button layout as the 2017 model, not it features a dedicated button for enabling Ambient Mode. Samsung touts Ambient Mode as a solution for the aesthetic concerns surrounding having a large black rectangle on your wall.
Instead of turning off your TV, or simply leaving it tuned to some channel, Ambient Mode lets the user decide what the TV displays when it’s not actively in use. One of the neatest tricks that Ambient mode is capable of it is pattern-matching the wall behind the TV. In wall-mount applications, the effect makes it look as if the TV’s panel is clear glass with imagery and info (like news and the weather) projected over it.
The only caveat to the background-matching feature is the wall around the TV needs to be a solid color, a repeating pattern, or a texture. This is so the TV can take a photo you shoot with your cell phone and turn it into a seemingly seamless background.
This TV recognizes speech and offers a wide range of voice-activated capabilities. You can search for content by just asking for it using Bixby, control items connected to home automation with SmartThings, and open a menu directly, instead of navigating to it.
The Universal Guide feature pulls off a neat trick, it’s able to search for content across the TV’s installed apps, as well as what’s playing on an attached cable box, and/or an antenna—including video on demand services.
For color geeks, the 20-point grayscale-calibration option is carried over from 2017 as well as support for AutoCal using SpectraCal‘s CalMan, which greatly speeds up and simplifies calibrations.
Samsung scored a homerun with the design of this year’s Q9F. Between the Invisible Connection cable that now also carries power as well as the video signal, to the simple yet helpful switch to a pedestal base cool, plus with the addition of Ambient Mode, this TV is a technology statement with visual appeal.
There are many more features contained in the 2018 Q9F, too many to cover here. As you’d expect, when you buy Samsung’s flagship TV, you get its best technologies.
Setup and Measurements
Unpacking was fairly simple, and I was able to attach the stand in minutes with the help of a friend. Samsung suggests laying the TV face down on a table for doing this, but since I don’t have a table that size available to me I had my friend hold the TV upright while I attached the base.
Measurements showed a TV with much improved performance when it comes to contrast—as compared to last year’s Q9F, but also the KS9800 FALD flagship from 2016. With a 3X3 ANSI pattern, I measured a contrast ratio in the 15,000:1 to 20,000:1 range, which is at least triple what the previous models could pull off.
To render compelling HDR, you deep blacks and bright highlights. When it comes to peak brightness, this TV offers robust performance. Crucially, it can hit 1750 nits in a 2% window, which means it can do justice to reflections, lights, the sun, really any small point of light that should be really bright. And if you need even more brightness, you can eke over 2000 nits out of it in Dynamic mode.
This TV is able to maintain 1100 nits of brightness—in HDR Movie mode—with 25% of the screen illuminated, which means it won’t run out of gas when it’s reproducing a bright scene in HDR, such as outdoor daylight. And even full-screen, this TV can output 660 nits.
Out of the box color looked good but benefitted sufficiently from a 2-point grayscale correction plus RMS tweak (about 15 minutes worth of calibration) that I recommend getting it calibrated. I have not performed AutoCal or calibrated HDR at this time.
I’m not delving deep into measurements for this review because there are other sites that specialize in that sort of thing.
Taken as a whole, the Q9F represents a sizeable leap forward in picture quality for Samsung TVs. This QLED is not some one-trick pony, it is a TV engineered to excel in multiple usage scenarios including gaming, home theater, and living room TV watching. This TV possesses a variety of technologies aimed at optimizing various viewing experiences, such as support for 120 frame-per-second video and low input lag for gamers, and 100% color volume reproduction for HDR moves with DCI/P3 color.
As long as you are not sitting too far off-axis from this TV, its SDR image quality competes directly with the latest OLEDs thanks to full BT.709 coverage and a screen that renders higher contrast imagery than I have ever seen come from a Samsung LED-lit LCD.
With HDR source material, this TV can look amazing. Indeed, depending on the scene it can look better than TVs that feature emissive display tech, such as OLED—but not always.
During some scenes while watching HDR in Movie mode, I spotted the FALD array doing its thing in the background. Namely, there was a bit of instability when it came to the backlight that caused a visible fluctuation on the screen that’s not in the source material.
Notably, I’m highly sensitive to FALD fluctuation and see it in all TVs that use the technology. This was not a common occurrence, when I did see it the TV was showing what you might call torture-test HDR content, namely very dark scenes with “tricky” lighting.
Having said all that, Samsung’s 2018 Q9F QLED is far more adept at handling difficult high-contrast scenes than the edgelit 2017 Q9F. Furthermore, there are aspects of its deep shadow handling that are arguably superior to what you get from OLED, especially when it comes to uniformity issues involving posterization and banding. There’s currently no TV that handles deep shadows perfectly, but the 2018 Q9F does an outstanding job at it.
I wanted to get all that shadow talk of that out of the way because on the whole, HDR looks tremendous on the Q9F. Indeed, in scenes that could take advantage of its significant brightness advantage over many competing premium TVs, the image quality it produced looked “state-of-the-art.”
On the Q9F, with HDR bright scenes, and especially scenes shot in daylight (which require the whole frame to be bright, and not just small spots) really pop. For example, scenes shot in daylight—which require the whole frame to be bright—really pop because the TV is still able to maintain the HDR specular highlights.
When discussing TVs, cinephiles always want to know how a given model handles letterbox bars. In the case of this TV, those bars stay pitch black. The 2018 Q9F has enough zones that it can fully shut down the backlight in the letterbox bar area while also suppressing blooming.
Uniformity of this review unit was very good, with minimal DSE (dirty screen effect). And horizontal viewing angles were visibly improved over past Samsung VA LCD, with an “optimal viewing cone” that easily encompasses typical seating arrangements. The only catch is vertical viewing angles are a bit narrow, so you’ll want to tilt the TV appropriately if it’s installed high up on a wall.
HDR gaming is one of the Q9F’s strong suits. The combination of brilliant colors, high contrast and low latency provide gamers with a window into virtual worlds like Horizon Zero Dawn, a game I find boring and yet cannot help but explore due to the beauty of the graphics. Moreover, this TV’s ability to handle 1440 x 2560 120Hz video means gamers can enjoy the frame rates and detail they are accustomed to on dedicated monitors.
I was surprised to observe an overall improvement in online racing lap times and first-place finishes when playing on this TV, versus 60 Hz TVs with greater latency. Samsung is not yet done with its gaming-centric features, be it for gaming console or PC use. I plan to focus on those in a separate post.
This TV’s performance when it comes to suppressing room reflections is incredible. The anti-reflective technologies used on the screen make the glass disappear, leaving you with a clean image on screen in situations where other TVs would act as mirrors. The 2018 Q9F is dramatically better than the competition in this regard and it makes a real difference in everyday viewing.
This image shows how effective the 2018 Q9F on the left is at suppressing reflections, versus the TV on the right.
Motion rendering is an important picture quality parameter and the 2018 Q9F does a good job. Using test patterns at blurbusters’ testufo.com I observed typical motion behavior for a premium LCD, which is to say you need to use some sort of processing if you want maximum motion resolution.
Having said that, I kept the motion settings deactivated for my review, I had no complaints with how this TV deals with motion. Also, for 2018 you can apply motion processing to Game mode with minimal latency, and in my viewing the TV did just fine when rendering natural-looking motion interpolation. Finally, nothing I have seen beats the smoothness of 120 Hz gaming, it sets the bar for me when it comes to motion rendering.
Amazingly, Samsung has adapted FALD LED-LCD technology to make it a viable competitor to OLED. There are quite a few situations where this TV is the perfect tool for the job because it is able to adapt to just about any viewing environment and still provide a clear and dynamic picture.
Regardless of whether you’re a movie lover, sports nut, streaming binge-watcher, dedicated gamer, news-channel junkie, prime-time broadcast/cable TV viewer, or all of the above, you’ll find this TV has features that maximize the viewing experience. This year’s Q9F is such a compelling TV it’s an easy “Top Choice!” selection for 2018.
Please follow the 2018 Samsung Q9F review forum thread for updates regarding the performance of this TV, for example AutoCal calibration and the anticipated implementation of variable frame rate capability when using an Xbox One X.