Samsung Q9

Review: Samsung Q9

01 Aug 2017 | Torben Rasmussen


At CES earlier this year, Samsung unveiled its "QLED" range of TVs that will succeed last year’s "SUHD" to become the new high-end models. However, these are still LCD models – with quantum dots – so besides the new branding, Samsung will offer an upgraded One Connect box, flexibility in terms placement options, a new remote control, and further refinements to the Tizen operating system.

Samsung Q9 is available in 65” and 88" sizes in Europe, and 65", 75" and 88" sizes in the US. We have reviewed the 65" model.

Also read: Samsung’s 2017 TV line-up

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On photos used throughout the review the combination of our camera and the TV’s anti-reflective coating has led to moire, so please ignore the colored lines/rainbows that you see.


Price and retailers:

US retailer


DE retailer
UK retailer

Specifications

65"
VA LCD panel
Ultra HD (3840x2160)
HDR (HDR10, HDR10+, HLG)
DCI-P3 color space
UHD Premium certified
Stand (fixed)
Wall (VESA or Samsung’s "no-gap")
(HxWxD) 82.9 x 144,9 x 2.5 cm (without base)
30 kg (without base)
HDMI (4x 2.0b)
USB (3x 2.0)
Ethernet
1x CI+
Optical
HDMI-ARC (1x)
Autocal
60W (4.2 ch.)
DVB T/T2/C/S2 (dual tuner)
WiFi
MPEG4
HEVC
VP9 Profile2
Tizen 3.0
One Remote (metal)
Manual
One Connect w/ 5m optical cable
One Remote
Stand
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First impressions


For a few years now Samsung has put a big effort into the exterior design of its TVs to make sure that they looks as minimalistic from the rear as they do from the front. Q9 is no different. There are no visible connections on the back of the TV, except for the power plug and One Connect port, which is hidden under a lid at the bottom. By removing another segment in the middle you can access mounting holes for the Studio or Tower stand, which are the two additional options for placing Q9 on a stand, besides the standard base that comes bundled in the box. Samsung also offers a "no-gap" wall bracket solution.

Q9 is slightly thicker than some previous LCD flagship TVs as well as all OLED TVs. On the other hand, Samsung has removed the “bump”, meaning that there are no protruding elements or speakers that ruin the clean look. The bezel is made from metal and the build quality in general feels good. The speaker is, as usual, integrated in such a way that audio is tunnelled towards the viewer. This is necessary because the units are not front-facing.

You need only 2 cables from the actual TV and these cables can be hidden inside a channel on either the right or left side of the TV, which again ensures a clean look. However, the covers designed to hide the cables are not as neat as the one on Sony’s high-end TVs. The cable to connect the One Connect box is a long and ultra-thin fiber cable that is easier to hide than ever. However, be aware that the One Connect and TV each need a separate power connection.

The One Connect box houses all ports, including HDMI, CI slots, and USB. It is a neat solution that we are quite enthusiastic about. The box was not noisy during our review either, which is another plus in Samsung’s book, especially considering that Samsung’s previous boxes have been audible when in use.




Last year, Samsung decided to no longer include the sad and chaotic IR-based remote control to focus on a more minimalistic smart remote. The company has in 2017 refined the remote by switching to a unibody metal casing that the internals slide into – much like Bang & Olufsen’s BeoRemote One. More on the remote contol in a minute.

Reflections in the LCD panel are modest and less distracting than on most other glossy LCD TVs. We did not spot tinting or other issues, and since the LCD panel can pump out a significant amount of brightness it can most likely "drown" most reflections from your living room environment. Samsung Q9 is perfectly suitable for very bright living rooms.


Samsung Q9F review



User experience & features


Samsung continues to develop its in-house ‘Tizen’ operating system, which is not limited to Smart TV but extends to everything from refrigerators to cameras.

Operating system & smart-TV

The first thing you notice when powering on Q9 is that the Tizen looks somewhat different in terms of the color composition. Instead of the dark color palette of last year’s TVs everything now looks brighter. Besides that, the user interface is mostly unchanged and you navigate to apps by pulling up the menu from the bottom of the screen.

Tizen has a refreshed look
This menu consists of two layers with the bottom one encompassing video sources, meaning apps, inputs, shortcuts, and more. The top layer "folds out" whenever you move the cursor to an item on the bottom. This enables you to quickly access content from within the apps that you have placed as your shortcuts. For Netflix these could include TV series that you are currently watching or recommendations for new content. For other sources it could include your most frequently watched channels, the TV guide etc.

The user interface feels intuitive but it comes at expense of the more advanced settings that are hard to reach. Since few users will access these settings on a regular basis, it makes sense but it does make it more time consuming to set up the TV and adjust picture settings initially.

You decide which apps, sources, and shortcuts go where so if you are using HDMI1 for a PlayStation or one of the USB ports on a regular basis you can add these. However, not all apps support indexing so not all of them "fold out" into the top menu. Developers need to take advantage of Samsung’s APIs and several of them appear to be hesitant to do so.

Last year, Samsung introduced ads in the Tizen menu. We did not see any throughout our review but we assume that this year’s models still come with ads.

Tizen supports multi-tasking and apps boot up fairly quickly. There is no a dedicated multitasking menu but a good portion of apps is kept in memory, meaning that you can switch between them swiftly (after you have launched each app since the last reboot of the TV). However, we experienced some lag navigating through the menus and it feels like Tizen is not optimized for the kind of animations that are used. It is not a major issue because the system never freezes but as far as we recall last year’s TVs did not suffer from the same lag issue.

Tizen offers a healthy selection of apps, including streaming services such as Amazon, Netflix, HBO, and YouTube. There are also localized apps for each country. The quality of each individual app varies and sometimes I would prefer to "cast" video from my smartphone. Unfortunately, Samsung offers no such cast system. You can find some measurements in the next section if you want to learn more about app start-up times.

We also challenged Tizen to handle the most recent and demanding video file formats, which revealed some limitations as our HLG and 100fps test videos were not accepted. Some of our generic test patterns also revealed that Q9 sometimes fails to correctly identify the cadence of moving images, which causes some blurriness. It is worth pointing out that this has been the case on every single Samsung TV that I can recall testing and our clips are designed to push TVs to the limit; sometimes into scenarios that rarely occur when watching TV and movies.

Like LG E7, Samsung’s Q9 supports 360-degree shots if you have the equipment to shoot this.

Remote control & operation

Samsung has included a single remote control in the box, and this year’s remote control has been upgraded with a nice aluminium housing. Finish and quality are great and it is a significant improvement over last year’s remote – and not too far from the BeoRemote One.


Samsung Q9F review



The further refinements means that Samsung delivers one of the best TV remote controls but if I should point out one area that still leaves room for improvement is that the tactile feedback of buttons; especially the two combi-buttons for volume controls and channel switching that feel somewhat fragile.

We complained last year that the four buttons around the navigation pad felt too hard to press. Samsung has listened so you no longer have to exercise violence to bring up the number pad or on-screen shortcuts. You rarely need these functions so in the quest to reduce clutter Samsung has made some fair trade-offs.

Samsung’s 2017 TVs can also control third-party devices via IR codes. Whenever you connect a new device to the TV, you are presented with a guide to set up pairing, which involves the TV trying to guess which IR codes are requires to control the external device. Like last year, the TV failed to recognize some of our media players but Q9 still gives it a try. When pairing Samsung’s own UHD Blu-ray player, some playback functions are added to the TV’s bottom menu, and the rest is handled via HDMI CEC.

Since Q9 relies of radio frequencies you no longer have to point directly at the TV. However, if you want to control external devices with the TV remote you have to point directly at the device since the remote in these instances falls back on IR codes. It is perhaps worth pointing out that Q9 can still be controlled with Samsung’s old IR-only remotes, if you prefer these.

In addition, Samsung offers the SmartView app to control the TV from a smartphone. The mobile app lets you start apps on the TV and mirror content from your phone to the large screen. The SmartView app is fine but since the new remote control works so well I rarely had any desire to use it.

Of all the TVs I have tested over the last two years, Q9 is undoubtedly the best when it comes to operation. The interaction between the remote and the user interface is great.

TV channels, recording & sound

Traditional flow TV is in decline but we continue to dedicate a section of our review to the subject – at least for now – partly because manufacturers continue to refine the experience.

Several of the buttons on the remote control are still dedicated to channel zapping as well as controlling the TV guide, program list etc. The TV Guide has – like the rest of Tizen – a refreshed look and is easy to navigate. As such it feels like a significant upgrade over last year’s TV Guide. It also opens promptly unlike for example webOS’s TV Guide that suffers from delay.

I should also point out that Samsung has managed to reduce the time it takes to switch between channels somewhat.

Q9 is equipped with dual tuners and Samsung offers one of the best picture-in-picture modes available. It allows you to place another channel anywhere on the screen, which is a neat feature for heavy users of flow TV. The only thing missing on Q9 is a second CI port to decode two encrypted channels at once.

The integrated speakers are nothing special and sound somewhat shrill. While the speakers may be good enough for casual viewing I would recommend that you consider adding a soundbar or separate speakers to improve the movie experience.





Calibration


Samsung offers a decent suite of calibration options with access to both 20-point adjustment and a CMS. Q9 also supports auto-calibration via the CalMAN software. However, to use it you need a supported sensor, a supported signal generator, and a RS232 interface. Our test PC runs Windows 7, which the bundled RS232 interface is incompatible with, so we had to skip Autocal for now.

We switched to the ‘Movie’ mode instead and used it as a starting point for our calibration. It had minor green and blue push in the brightest tones, which could unfortunately not be fixed alone with 2-point adjustments, mostly because of how the type of dynamic backlighting compensation that Samsung has employed. This dimming system cannot be fully deactivated, so one consequence is that dark tones become slightly too dark. To reach a satisfactory result you need to take advantage of the more advanced 20-point adjustment options (using these allows you to reach dE values <1). We generally try to limit ourselves to using the 2-point adjustment settings (graph below based on this) that better represent what most users can achieve at home since 20-point adjustments cannot be copied between two TVs. Even copying 2-point settings is pushing it so use them with care. The graph below should represent what most owners can achieve but it should be made clear that you can achieve better color accuracy if you take advantage of the more advanced settings.

We observed that the default color space option (‘Auto’) on Q9 failed to fully saturate the Rec.709 gamut. In fact, it covered less than 90% of the color space, which is odd since the LCD panel in Q9 can surely cover it in full. This forced us to switch a user-defined gamut that allowed us to adjust things via the CMS settings. Even without CMS adjustments, the custom option delivered better coverage of the Rec.709 color space that is used for all HD and 4K content, so you may consider switching away from the ‘Auto’ option. The difference is definitely visible to the naked eye since both red and yellow deviate visibly, simply lacking saturation.

Below we have calibrated Q9 to conform to gamma 2.2 whereas Samsung is aiming for BT.1886 that is closer to gamma 2.4 (and therefore somewhat darker). However, since the TV has undefeatable dimming – or dynamic backlighting control –that complicates adjustments, especially the dark tones, you cannot simply use our settings to form a basis for a target gamma of 2.4. You need to start over.





Measurements


In our "measurements" section we include all measurements and our suggested calibration settings. If you want to learn more about our test methodology click here.

MeasurementsOut-of-boxCalibrated
Black level 0.05 cd/m2 0.03 cd/m2
Black level (HDR) 0.17 cd/m2 0.17 cd/m2
Brightness 250 cd/m2 203 cd/m2
Max brightness (HDR) 1286 (770) cd/m2 770 cd/m2
Contrast 7000:1 7400:1
Contrast (HDR) 4580:1 4580:1
Input lag 81 ms 21 ms (Game Mode)
DCI-P3 98% -
Rec.2020 70% -

Power consumption Out-of-boxCalibration
SDR 160 W 130 W
HDR 307 W 307 W
Standby 1.0 W

Time measurementsSeconds
Start-up (until responsive) 3s
Start-up (until picture comes on) 2s
Netflix app start-up 5s
Youtube app start-up 3s
Amazon app start-up 4s
Google Play app start-up 7s

Video file / sourceSpecsStatus
Amazon 4K HDR 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – HEVC Works
Netflix 4K HDR 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – HEVC Works
YouTube 4K HDR 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – VP9 Profile2 Works
Dubai 4K 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 23.976fps – 10 bit colors - BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 51.4 Mbps bitrate – HEVC - .ts file Works
Costa Rica 4K 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 12.71 Mbps bitrate – VP9 - .mkv file Works
Terrifying Pyroclast 4K 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – variable bitrate – VP9 - .mkv file Works
Big Buck Bunny HD (.ts version) HD (1920x1080 pixels) – 8 bit colors - YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 2.5 Mbps bitrate – 60fps - HEVC - .ts file Works
Big Buck Bunny HD HD (1920x1080 pixels) – 8 bit colors - YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 60fps - 2.2 Mbps bitrate – HEVC - .mkv file Works
LG Arctique 4K 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 8 bit colors – YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 50.0 Mbps bitrate – 29.970fps - AVC - .mp4 file Works
Eutelsat 4K demo 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors – YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 23.1 Mbps bitrate – 50fps - HEVC - .ts file Works
TravelXP HLG 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 50fps frame rate – 10 bit colors – BT.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 20.7 Mbps bitrate – HEVC – HLG – .ts file Fails
Ghost Towns 8K 8K (7680x4320 pixels) – variable frame rate – 8 bit colors - YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 20.7 Mbps bitrate – AVC - .mp4 file Fails
HFR (100fps) test file 4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 100fps – 10 bit colors – Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 23.7 Mbps bitrate – HEVC - .ts file Fails

Group SettingValue
Profile Movie
Expert Backlight 12
Brightness 0
Contrast 95
Sharpness 0
Color 50
Tone (G/R) R50
Use picture settings All sources
  Digital clean view Off
Auto Motion Plus Off / (0/0)
Local Dimming Low
HDMI UHD Color On for HDR HDMI sources
  Dynamic Contrast Off
Color temp Warm2
Gamma BT.1886 +1
Color space User
White balance 2-point  
-Red 7
-Green 7
  -Blue 7
+Red 10
+Green -7
+Blue 0
Depending on the light environment in your living room, it may be beneficial to activate the light sensor in the TV. The sensor automatically adjusts the TV’s brightness level to the environment. We did not use the light sensor during our review.



Samsung Q9F review


Picture quality


Samsung has this year decided to abandon FALD (full-array local dimming) and implemented edge LED its high-end TVs. This is a change from previous years. Q9 is the flagship model and it is equipped with LEDs placed along the sides of the TV, which is a curious decision considering that both Sony and Panasonic are raising the bar for LCD technology by implementing yet more advanced local dimming systems, and especially considering the history of issues that have been associated with edge LED.

Samsung has also decided to abandon its ‘SUHD’ moniker in favour of ‘QLED’, which is a marketing term for LCD panels with quantum dot technology. Historically, researchers have used the term ‘QLED’ to refer to an entirely new self-emitting display technology but Samsung decided to go ahead and use it to wrap its LCD in sparkling glitter paper. It is clearly meant to confuse consumers to think that ‘QLED’ and ‘OLED’ are related and it is honestly a bit tiring to once again see Samsung’s marketing engine go into overdrive. It happened with ‘LED’, then ‘SUHD’, and now ‘QLED’, each time trying to sell LCD technology as "the next big thing". Just produce a real QLED TV and call a spade a spade.

Q9 was unveiled at CES in January with promises of 2000 nits peak brightness for HDR as well as full "color volume" for the entire brightness range. We cannot measure color volume yet but for HDR peak brightness we measured 1286 nits in the Movie mode (higher levels in the Dynamic mode) on a 10% window. Needless to say, this is far from the promised 2000 nits. Still, 1300 nits is a good portion more than any OLED TV currently can deliver but it is not as high as peak brightness on Sony Z9D. Because Samsung Q9 is an edge-lit LCD we are getting even lower peak brightness results when switching to an ANSI contrast pattern, which better represents actual viewing conditions. With an ANSI pattern we measured just under 800 nits peak brightness, which means that you will very rarely benefit from the high brightness levels in actual use and only in very specific types of scenes where bright objects are not surrounded by dark elements on each side (since the TV has side-lit LEDs). This effectively means that you rarely get higher peak brightness levels from Q9 than from a 2017 OLED when watching movies and TV series or when playing games.

In regards to HDR, Q9 supports three formats: HDR10, HDR10+ (via streaming, not via HDMI) and HLG. It does not support Dolby Vision but it is hard to say how much this will matter in the long run as things are still in flux. Amazon, Netflix, and Vudu are some of only providers to offer content in Dolby Vision. The first UHD Blu-rays in the format were released this summer. To get HDR from external HDMI sources you need to activate ‘HDMI UHD Color’ but it is worth pointing out that with a Samsung UHD Blu-ray player this happens automatically. After activating it for the HDMI port that our PS4 Pro was connected to, we started getting HDR output from supported games, too. The last thing I want to point out when it comes to connecting HDR sources to the TV is that the game mode adds all kinds of enhancements, including artificial sharpness and a too cold color temperature, so you need to tweak it somewhat to get optimal picture quality.




Unfortunately, the lack of true zone dimming negatively impacts black levels on Q9. As brightness increases, black levels are raised, too. This means that HDR on Q9 ends up having lower effective contrast than the same scenes reproduced in SDR, which can be confirmed when taking measurements on ANSI patterns.

As mentioned previously, Q9 has a dynamic dimming system that cannot be completely turned off and even in the ‘Low’ setting we felt that it was slightly too aggressive as it causes visible blooming artefacts especially around subtitles on top of the black letterbox. Unfortunately, this is very noticeable when watching HDR movies in letterbox format. Another issue related to letterbox-format movies and edge LED dimming is that Q9 tries to turn off the light in the top and bottom letterboxes, which causes a dark gradient over part of the actual movie content. All movies in this format will therefore suffer from some "vignetting" in the top and bottom, which cannot be eliminated through picture settings. In the photos below you can see how I was able to defeat it using a trick (a bright pause logo). Note that the right photo was shot during playback so ignore the fact that it is slightly blurry.




As our measurements reveal, the TV can cover the Rec.709 and DCI-P3 color spaces, respectively, after some CMS adjustment. Colors are quite accurate and the TV can reproduce the darkest steps on the gray scale. However, the dynamic dimming system is quite aggressive so in dark scenes it is eager to reduce the backlight, which unfortunately means that some of the darkest tones in the picture fade out.

One of Q9’s strengths is how it handles broadcast TV. It delivered convincing results in upscaling and de-interlacing across all of our sources. Users can decide to activate Samsung’s ‘Motion Plus’ system to smooth out motion but we found that the ‘Auto’ setting introduces a heavy "soap opera" motion effect so we recommend that you turn it off completely or switch to the user setting that can be adjusted. Without the motion system engaged, motion reproduction more or less matches OLED but with a slightly higher level of blur, which is to be expected from an LCD panel because of the technology’s higher response time. If you want to tweak Motion Plus you can adjust the judder setting to find a compromise between judder reduction and "soap opera" motion that best fits your temper. Our preference is to leave it at 0/0 to avoid such effects and then just accept somewhat lower motion resolution. In the past, we have also commented on the fact that Samsung’s TVs suffer from "micro stutter", typically during the transition from one scene to another. This has not been solved with Q9. While some viewers never notice it, others do.

In the Movie mode, the TV uses PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) to control backlight intensity. If you have never heard of PWM, think of it as a way to reduce light intensity in LEDs (TVs and lighting) by pulsing – or flickering – light. Some people are sensitive to this type of flickering even above 100 Hz frequencies. I noticed it occasionally during my review and unfortunately it is not possible to turn PWM off in the Movie profile, not even at 100% backlight intensity. If you want to avoid PWM, use one of the other picture modes.




Looking specifically at backlight homogeneity, we found that the TV suffers from some banding when viewed from an angle where it is perhaps the most significant levels of banding we have yet to see on a high-end TV. The good news is that when viewed from the center it is much harder to spot and it did not bother us when watching a football match.

As long as you sit directly in front of the TV, backlight homogeneity remains fairly even. In one of our photos you can see how the backlight dimming system tries to reduce the backlight behind the on-screen text. All things considered, Q9 is not bad when it comes to backlight homogeneity for an edge LED based LCD TV. We know that these things can vary a lot from one sample to the next so things may look different on another 65” Q9 or the larger-size models.




For the person sitting in sweet spot Q9 has very limited banding and backlight issues but as usual for VA-type LCD panels these issues worsen as you increase the viewing angle, starting from around 20-30 degrees. The colors wash out significantly as you move off-axis, which is again a characteristic of the VA LCD.

At CES when Samsung unveiled its "QLED" LCDs to the world, it said that it had managed to significantly improve viewing angles, which appeared to be related to a new dual-pixel structure. Unfortunately, these improvements have not made it through to the actual consumer models, which is a shame.




One of Samsung’s core competencies is keeping input lag at a minimum and Q9 builds on that with 21 ms input lag in the game mode, which will please owners of HDR game consoles. Samsung TVs typically offer the lowest input lag figures on the market.

Also read: Guide: The Best TVs for gaming

If you have made it this far, you probably agree that Q9 is a mixed bag. We had high expectations, which were met in areas such as build quality, the remote control, and the user interface. On the other hand Q9 left us disappointed in the area of picture quality. One of the main culprits is the dynamic dimming system that in many ways ruins a good and colorful picture as well as the ongoing issue with micro stutter.


Conclusion


Q9 is Samsung’s flagship TV for 2017 and the company brings to market one of the most elegant TVs with an excellent One Connect box that you can easily hide away. The remote control is one of the best seen and undoubtedly the best ever from Samsung.

The company has also further refined its Tizen operating system that offers a healthy selection of streaming apps. The user interface now feels faster and has a changed look. Interaction with the new remote control works very well.

Samsung had promised higher peak brightness but except for special HDR test patterns Q9 rarely reaches higher peak brightness than OLED TVs due to the limitations of its edge LED backlight. Samsung’s video processor delivers convincing results for all input sources but it leaves room for improvement in motion handling where Q9 continues to suffer from micro stutter. We noticed some banding that increases with the viewing angle on the VA LCD panel that Samsung is using. Still, given the choice between VA and IPS, we think VA LCD delivers the best overall picture experience.

The main problem that drags picture quality on Q9 down, however, is caused by Samsung’s decision to use Edge LED in combination with dynamic edge dimming that cannot be deactivated. Unfortunately, this negatively affects picture quality, especially when watching letterbox-format movies with subtitles where light fluctuates visibly depending on the scene.

Samsung Q9 is priced to compete with OLED and depending on your country it likely costs more or less the same as Panasonic and Sony’s OLED TVs as well as LG’s E7 model. While Q9 scores the highest of any TV in our ‘user experience’ and ‘features’ categories, it cannot match the picture quality of other TVs in this price class. It is also hard to justify the significant price premium over Samsung’s Q7, which in many regions can be bought for less than half while still offering many of the same features that we like about Q9.


Price and retailers:

US retailer


DE retailer
UK retailer



Color accuracy & picture processing
One Connect box
User interface
Nice remote control


Backlight has severe dimming issues
Micro stutter
Viewing angles
Banding (primarily off-axis)



Nearest competitors







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