Samsung introduced its so-called "SUHD" TV last year, and in 2016 it will continue down the same route with brighter, thinner, and more feature-rich TVs. We had some quality time with Samsung’s new high-end KS9500 TV (KS9000 in Europe) and spoke to some of Samsung’s engineers about the plans for 2016. Here’s what we learned.
Update 11.2.16: At Samsung Forum 2016, Samsung has confirmed that the European version of the TV will be named KS9000. Europa will also get a KS9500 model but it will be a different TV that is backlit.
Hands-on with Samsung KS9500
Samsung only had a few of its new TV models on display at CES 2016. The company will of course release a full line-up of TVs in 2016 but it had chosen to highlight KS9500 (KS9000 in Europe) to send a message; "our 2016 TVs are brighter so HDR will look better".
It is perhaps not surprising that Samsung wanted to focus on brightness. It is after all one of the last advantages LCD has over OLED, and Samsung is feeling the pressure. Its main rival and neighbor LG has managed to produce OLED TVs at scale - something Samsung tried and failed at a few years ago - and has arguably taken over the role as the most innovative TV manufacturer out there.
However, what is more surprising - at least to us - is that Samsung KS9500 is edge lit. Samsung briefly mentioned a KS9800, which was not on display at CES 2016 that will come equipped with a full-array local dimming backlight but we have no further information on it yet, and it sounded like it will be available much later in 2016; not this Spring like the other 2016 models.
There is no denying that Samsung KS9500 is a gorgeous TV. The edge lit backlight has allowed Samsung to make it much thinner than last year’s JS9500 model. Samsung calls it a "frameless curved design". It is not actually frameless but the bezel is flush with the front glass. In other words; Samsung has sacrificed a full backlight for a prettier TV.
During a tech demo backroom session (we were not allowed to take photos inside, so what you see here are all photos from the booth area) with some of Samsung’s engineers, we asked them to elaborate on how it has managed to achieve such high brightness levels with edge LED. They did not want to reveal all their secrets but told us that a combination of new "improved quantum dots" (yes, Samsung no longer calls them nano crystals), an edge lit based "local dimming" system, and brighter LEDs have made it possible. From what we could gather KS9500 has 24 local dimming zones but the answer was a little muddy so we will have to confirm that number later.
As said, Samsung was eager to talk about peak brightness. KS9500 - and all other new SUHD models - are "UHD Premium" certified, meaning that the TVs can peak at more than 1000 nits when reproducing HDR (high dynamic range) content. Samsung confirmed to us that KS9500 can output 1000 nits luminance in up to a 10% window.
The same engineers confirmed to us that KS9500 can reproduce almost the full DCI-P3 color gamut, more specifically 98%. We will of course have to confirm that during testing but if that is true it is a significant improvement over last year’s 90% number. However, one of Samsung’s Korean engineers pointed out that 98% DCI-P3 is of course relative only to the DCI-P3 reference. As HDR content is encoded in the Rec.2020 container, a TV might be capable of reproducing certain colors beyond the DCI-P3 gamut that are part of the larger Rec.2020 gamut, even if specified at "only" 98% DCI-P3.
Example: if a TV has a red primary that is wider than the DCI-P3 gamut’s red primary but a green primary that is slightly smaller than DCI-P3’s green primary, it might only be specified as 98% DCI-P3 coverage but it will be able to reach some of the red tones specified in the larger Rec.2020 gamut.
During the tech demo, Samsung KS9500 was compared to several other LCDs, including some of last year’s TVs. HDR pictures looked great. The TV was also hooked up to the new Samsung UHD Blu-ray player and if you aren’t already excited, you should be excited about UHD Blu-ray. It looked really, really good. The KS9500 samples that we saw during the demo managed to reproduce very bright highlights in pictures and at the same time maintain good black levels. Absolute black is not nearly as deep as on LG’s OLED TVs that, from our testing, can reproduce significantly better HDR pictures, but KS9500 looks good, especially considering that it is an edge LED based LCD.
The last part of the demo focused on peak brightness and Samsung had chosen to compare KS9500 to one of LG’s 2015 4K OLEDs (it was never revealed to be an LG set but the webOS interface told us everything we needed to know) that was updated to support HDR in 2015. Samsung did the same thing last year at CES 2015 where it backfired; one of LG’s HD OLEDs simply outperformed Samsung’s 4K SUHD TV (JS9500) in most tests. This year, Samsung had more carefully picked a video scene of an ocean wave that reflected very bright sunbeams.
In this particular scene, KS9500 outperformed the OLED in some areas. It was able to better maintain details in sun reflections on the wave, whereas LG’s OLED clipped some of the brightest details. This is of course a 2016 vs. 2015 comparison but it nevertheless proved Samsung’s point. 1000 nits brightness on KS9500 can do that. 400 nits brightness on LG’s 2015 OLED cannot. LG’s 2016 OLEDs will peak at around 600 nits.
During our talk with LG at CES 2016, LG argued that, in 2015, it had employed a simple algorithm that simply cut off HDR information in the signal at the 400 nits peaks level that its TVs were capable of reproducing. It has later found out that this is not the optimal way to do it because it clips off many bright details, too, so LG has developed improved algorithm for its 2016 OLED TVs. And so, that is LG’s counterargument. However, there is of course no debate that LCDs can still peak at higher brightness levels.
After the official presentation by Samsung, a different video sequence consisting mostly of dark scenes (and a black background with a dog) was put on. Here, there was simply no contest. The 2015 OLED crushed the KS9500. The difference was quite stunning. We discussed this to lengths in our articles and reviews from 2015 so we will not go over it here again.
Samsung also exhibited a prototype of an 8K TV.
SUHD connected to UHD Blu-ray player
Samsung was one of the few manufacturers to launch a UHD Blu-ray player at CES. However, walking around at the booth you would be hard pressed finding it.
It was hidden away in one of the corners of Samsung’s booth connected to one of Samsung’s new SUHD TVs. Samsung might be the first manufacturer to launch an UHD Blu-ray player but it is clearly not something that is considered a major new launch.
Next the new Blu-ray player was a wall of UHD BD discs, which looked impressive until you realized that only a few titles were on display. Industry spokespeople have hinted that around 100 titles should be available on UHD Blu-ray by the end of 2016.
Improved Tizen user interface
Samsung continues to back its homegrown Tizen operating system. Despite being the largest Android smartphone maker, Samsung has not announced plans to adopt Android TV. This is the second year of Tizen.
In 2016, Samsung has made several improvements to Tizen. Besides the usual "faster and better", the company has integrated a quite clever system to pull content from apps into the start menu.
From the slide-up bottom menu you have all your usual icons such as Netflix, HBO, and maybe even some game services such as PlayStation Now. Instead of having to open each app to check for new content the TV will automatically recommend new TV shows, movies or games based on your viewing patterns. If you have seen the tvOS user interface on Apple’s new TV box you already know how it works.
Tizen is now also capable of controlling your "smart home" if your IoT devices are compatible with Samsung’s SmartThings platform. If you want to know more about SmartThings integration see this video.
Samsung will tell more about its 2016 TV line-up later this week in Monaco. FlatpanelsHD is in Monaco for the event.