The latest Q9 – or Q9FN – takes the top spot in Samsung’s line-up for 2018. The TV will be sold as a ”QLED” but it is a conventional LCD panel enhanced by a quantum dot film – not a new display technology like OLED. The big news here is that Samsung is switching from inferior edge LED (in the 2017 Q9) to full array local dimming (FALD) with a considerable number of dimming zones, higher actual peak brightness, and an upgraded One Connect box.
Samsung’s 2018 Q9 will be available in 55, 65, and 75” versions in Europe, and 65 and 75” in the US. It succeeds last year’s disappointing Q9 model so can the Samsung rise and deliver the flagship TV that people expect from the world’s leading TV manufacturer? We set to find out.
The design of the 2018 Samsung Q9FN in many ways resemble last year’s version. That is not necessarily a bad thing unless you are specifically looking for something fresh as the South Korean company has gone the extra mile to make sure that it the design is streamlined and stylish. There are no visible connections ports on the back where the only visual distraction is the small panel that hides the holes used for the ”no-gap” wall mount solution or the fixed stand as well as the connection port to the external One Connect box.
Samsung has changed the look of the stand compared to last year’s models. We should clarify that we have the European version of Q9 (as seen in the picture above). The US version has a different stand design. If you recall Samsung’s 2016 line-up (the popular KS models), you will surely recognize that Samsung has found inspiration here. Personally, I prefer the design of last year’s model but a big advantage with this year’s stand is that it allows users to place a soundbar in front of the TV, even when placed on the stand – that was not possible last year.
The Q9FN has more or less the same thickness as last year’s model, which is a little surprising when considering that it has sports much more advanced LED backlight system, specifically full array local dimming – or FALD. This also means that it preserves the elegant profile. Unfortunately, the back is made from plastic in the same rattling quality as many other modern TVs out there, which is a shame. Not many years ago, Samsung equipped its high-end TVs with a high-quality metal plate. On the other hand, the TV is almost meant to be wall mounted and then you will not be able see the rear section anyway.
Speaking of wall mounting, Samsung has made significant progress in the area. As you may know, Samsung has been bundling an external ‘One Connect’ box with its high-end TVs for a few years now. The latest development is that the TV and external box can be connected by just a single fiber optics cable. Yes, its transfers both video data and power over a single cable, so you all you need to do is to connect the semi-transparent 5-meter cable to power your TV – you can purchase a longer 15-meter cable, if required. To make it possible Samsung had moved the power supply from the TV into the external box. LG is doing something similar with its “wallpaper” W series but Samsung has made it even more manageable. This is very cool!
Since the power supply has been moved the external connector box, it has grown in capacity and size. It is considerably larger than last year’s One Connect box and takes up more or less the same space as the small PlayStation. This also means that the box, rather than the TV, is responsible for heat dissipation. During use it gets moderately hot (the same can be said for last year’s version) but we did not observe noise during use.
Of course, having everything in an external box will allow you to create a very clean installation but it also introduces a new device into the equation, so you must find room for it in furniture not too far from the TV – and close to a power outlet. All connections such as HDMI, antenna and audio go into the external One Connect box.
We were also delighted to find the same remote control in the box that we praised last year – more on that in a minute.
Q9 has a glossy LCD panel but an effective anti-reflective coating ensures that it is one of the least reflective panels out there. The coating does not introduce color tinting and the LCD panel’s light output is more than enough to cancel out most reflections even in very bright living room environments.
User experience & features
Samsung is still all-in on its in-house Tizen operating system that has expanded beyond TVs to other consumer electronics products, including refrigerators.
Operating system & smart-TV
Q9 has a picture frame function
Once you have connected all cables, Q9 can be almost entirely set-up from Samsung’s SmartThings app through a smartphone. This process makes it considerably easier to input text since you can rely on the smartphone’s touch screen rather than fiddling around with a physical remote. However, once you get to the step where you have to set up TV channels, you need to grab the TV remote.
We praised last year’s update to Tizen that introduced a refreshed a more polished user interface. There are no major visual changes this year but unfortunately the interface still has a tendency to lag at times – it feels as if it is dropping to a lower frame rate. Despite this concern, Tizen is currently the most intuitive integrated “Smart TV” system.
Samsung has told us that it has no intentions of updating previous years’ models to the latest Tizen software (version 4.0). It will not commit to updating this year’s Tizen software once the next major version arrives next year either. And regrettably, Samsung is not alone here. This is a very unfortunate trend in the TV industry. Android TV, Roku TVs, and Fire TVs get updated and clearly there is absolutely nothing obstructing Samsung from updating Tizen each year.
We will not go through all nuances of Tizen here and will instead refer our reviews of last year’s Q9F or The Frame for a general overview. Why The Frame, you may be wondering? Well, because Samsung has taken one of the signature features of The Frame, scaled it down, and implemented it into Q9. More specifically in the form of a new ‘Ambient’ mode without the art gallery and other essential features. Of course, it is not possible to replace the frame on Q9 either.
Samsung explains that the point of the new Ambient mode is not to offer the full functionality of The Frame but to offer something else. This “else” is in the form of a function that lets you copy the pattern or color of the wall behind the TV and reproduce it on-screen to make the TV almost disappear into your living room setting. This is possible via the SmartThings app for smartphones that lets you take a photo with the phone’s camera that then gets processed by the TV to make something that matches. It is not a bad idea but remember that the TV will consume a considerable amount of energy when using it. Personally, I would have preferred to get more of the gallery features implemented in The Frame rather than the functionality in its current form, which is underwhelming and feels mostly like a missed opportunity.
That Samsung should have gone all-in with the gallery feature is further emphasized by the fact that the company has chosen to combine the colored buttons and number buttons into one unified button while at the same dedicating a separate button just to the ‘Ambient’ mode. In its current form, it makes absolutely no sense to have a button dedicated to such as a useless feature.
With the exception of this button, the One Remote is identical to yesteryear’s version, which is a good thing. It is still built from a unibody metal structure and has a good weight to it. It is based entirely one Bluetooth – which is, surprisingly, not the norm for modern TVs – and is easy and intuitive to operate. This is a remote control designed for a Smart TV where apps have a more prominent role than TV channels.
If you still prefer watching mainly TV channels, the program buttons lets you change the channel (+/-) and open the TV Guide but, as you can see, there are no dedicated number buttons. Instead you must jump through a few loops to select the specific channel number. I certainly don’t miss them.
Samsung has introduced a new SmartThings app that lets you operate the TV from a smartphone. From the interface you can open apps or push content from your phone onto the TV screen. The app is also the new hub for your connected home – at least if you have any “internet of things” devices connected through the SmartThings protocol. We did not have any at the time of writing so we cannot comment on this functionality or the expanded scope of the app.
Bixby is not yet active in our region yet so we cannot comment on the new voice assistant features either. The same applies to Samsung’s new ‘Universal Guide’.
TV channels, recording & sound
We continue to dedicate a section to flow TV – or TV channels – despite more and more people switching to internet-based video. Q9FN has a strong suite of classic functionality, although not as prominently featured as the apps and other new features (i.e. there are no number buttons on the remote). The TV Guide is quickly to load and easy to navigate and changing the channel is relatively fast. You use the channel up/down button to open the TV Guide and program list by holding down the buttons longer. You can call up program information by clicking the OK button.
The picture-in-picture features are hidden inside one of the settings menus and unfortunately it is not possible to put PiP into the “dock” at the bottom of the screen. You can watch another TV channel in a smaller window that can be placed freely on the screen, and it works well. However, remember that the TV has only one CI slot, meaning that you cannot watch two encoded channels at the same time. The same applies when recording channels.
While some may see Samsung’s new minimalistic remote control as a declaration of war on the classic TV channel experience, I think that Samsung’s TVs are actually some of the most user-friendly on the market right now.
The speakers in last year’s Q9 sounded a bit too shrill and while the speaker system on paper appears to be largely similar in this year’s model, it sounds better to my ears. By today’s standards I think Q9FN delivers good sound. Of course, it cannot rock your house with rich and deep bass but voices sound clear and the overall performance is balanced.
Samsung’s TV offers access to 20-point adjustments for grey tones and CMS, and a comprehensive suite of picture calibration options overall. Q9 also supports CalMAN’s auto-calibration, if you have the right tools (a sensor, a signal generator, and a RS232 interface). However, CalMAN does not currently support full 20-step grey tone adjustment or CMS (only 2-point adjustment), which is a shame. It should also be emphasized that Samsung’s auto-calibration system is not implemented on the same underlying level as LG’s in the 2018 OLED models. On Samsung’s TV, CalMAN is adjusting the picture menu settings, whereas it can upload a LUT directly to LG’s TVs.
We quickly disregarded the ‘Standard’ and ‘Natural’ picture modes since they produce close to HDR brightness and a far too wide color space when watching regular SDR content (SD, HD and 4K video). We therefore switched to ‘Movie’ mode, which served as the basis for our calibration. Movie mode in Q9FN is not as accurate as we had hoped but by adjusting mainly the brightest tones we fixed some of the most glaring issues. To improve grey tone accuracy, we had to take advantage of the 20-point and CMS systems. Q9FN is not easy to calibrate as the zone dimming backlight plays into the equation, meaning that it aggressively tries to compensate in various ways, depending on which calibration patterns you are using as well as which setting option for the backlight control you have set. Usually, we would prefer a 10% window for calibration but this approach resulted in a very strange gamma curve, forcing us to switch to other APL patterns or full screen patterns. As you can see – even after switching approach – it dives at around 90% white and the color balance at 100% is affected greatly by the pattern used during calibration.
We are aiming for gamma 2.2 whereas Samsung has been aiming for BT.1886, which is closer to gamma 2.4 and thus produces a darker picture. Unfortunately, the gamma controls in the menu do not adjust gamma linearly, and it also distorts the RGB balance. Leaving the gamma setting unchanged actually yields more neutral results but then you are stuck with BT.1886.
Moving on to HDR, we once again observed some strange results with luminance as if the TV was not sure which level of brightness it should output. The color balance is relatively accurate throughout but the TV clearly struggles to accurately control its LED backlight. We were also forced to change the measurement delay of our equipment to get acceptable and stable readings and even then we could not avoid the drop in brightness as we were approaching 100% light output.
It occurs to us that Samsung still needs to fine-tune its zone dimming LED backlight for better accuracy.
4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – HEVC
Netflix 4K HDR
4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – HEVC
YouTube 4K HDR
4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors - Rec.2020 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – VP9 Profile2
4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 23.976fps – 10 bit colors - BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 51.4 Mbps bitrate – HEVC - .ts file
Costa Rica 4K
4K (3840x2160 pixels) – BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 12.71 Mbps bitrate – VP9 - .mkv file
Terrifying Pyroclast 4K
4K (3840x2160 pixels) – BT.709 color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – variable bitrate – VP9 - .mkv file
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
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
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
Eutelsat 4K demo
4K (3840x2160 pixels) – 10 bit colors – YUV color space – 4:2:0 subsampling – 23.1 Mbps bitrate – 50fps - HEVC - .ts file
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
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
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
Note: We only offer calibration settings for SDR, not yet HDR. For our calibration we did not use the ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the backlight setting according to your environment.
After the very disappointing performance from last year’s edge-lit Q9, Samsung has decided to once again incorporate an LCD panel with zone dimming – or so-called full array local dimming (FALD) – in Q9FN. In the US, the step-down Q8 will feature a scaled-down version of the backlight whereas the European Q8 will be edge-lit. The more affordable “QLED” LCDs will all be edge-lit. On the 65-inch Q9FN, we counted a total of 30x16 zones (480 in total) spread across the LCD panel, which means that each zone covers 17,280 pixels (8.3m pixels / 480 zones). In each zone, Q9FN can boost or dim its backlight in accordance to the specific movie scene. Samsung has declined to comment on the zone count in the smaller and larger TV sizes.
If we start from the top by focusing on HDR first, Q9FN delivers quite extreme brightness. Depending on how large or small the object is on the screen, it hits upwards of 1500 nits peak brightness after calibration (Movie mode), which is about 100 nits more than a calibrated Sony Z9D. It is very bright and you have to take care when opening a screen menu in HDR mode – at least when watching TV in the evening. It is like starring intensely into a lamp with your eye pupils wide open. With an ANSI pattern (a white/black checkboard pattern), which tests a TV’s ability to reproduce peak brightness while also preserving the black tones, Q9FN hits 800 nits peak brightness – slightly below the LG C8 OLED.
As you can see in the diagram to the right, Q9FN manages 600 nits full-screen brightness (“Full 100%”), which corresponds to some “conventional” HDR TVs’ peak brightness. It can hit much higher levels in smaller segments of the picture, when required.
None of Samsung’s TVs support Dolby Vision, so HDR video must be in HDR10, HDR10+ (via streaming, not yet HDMI) or HLG format. From a long term perspective, it is hard to say how big a deal this is since HDR in general is still in its early days and HDR10+ is still building momentum.
Dynamic backlight control should be set to ‘High’ in the menu to best enjoy the benefits of the zone dimming system when watching HDR. This setting produced the lowest blacks and brightest whites. The flip side is that the aggressive brightness control will produce “leaks” of lights that spill over into other parts of the picture, where it is not intended – also known as blooming. Q9FN has a quite effective anti-blooming system even at full brightness capacity, and during our tests with ANSI patterns (black-white chess patterns), the screen managed to keep black depth a 0.06 nits, which is notable for an LCD TV. This also means that blooming on Q9FN – when viewed from the sweet-spot, meaning straight-on – is minimal. Q9FN’s dynamic backlight system is very aggressive and cannot be turned off completely as it will always try to boost and dim light. When its boosts a part of the picture to illuminate a highlight, it has a tendency to sometimes produce washed out colors, which – like blooming – is most visible in a dark viewing environment.
Last year’s Q9 did not have problems with backlight banding and we are happy to say that this year’s model follows in its track. We did, however, observe the “dirty screen” effect, mostly in the darkest tones. This was not something that bothered us during regular use, though.
The VA LCD panel’s narrow viewing angle on the other hand severely degrades black levels and make blooming much more visible. This is where one of the major shortcomings of LCD technology spring into light. People sitting off-center from the TV will notice that the aggressive LED backlight produces visual artefacts such as blooming, also during casual daily usage. If you move back to the sweet spot, by which we mean directly in front of the TV, you will rarely notice these light issues. The black bars in movies generally remain black due to the TV’s effective zone dimming system.
In one of the photos below we have enhanced the effect to better show you how these blooming artefacts look. In it, you see a bright element in the picture close to one of the black bars. In actual use, your eyes will not be able to observe both due to how the pupil adapts to the brightest light but you will see things like this occasionally during use. In some of the very brightest movies scenes it is possible to see that the diodes along the edges of the LCD panels light up slightly.
We experienced a problem while watching HDR video that appears to be related to having the dynamic backlight control set to ‘High’. We observed that the light in picture at times pulsated in such a way that the entire picture – not only the highlights – seemed as if it was pulsating/flickering up and down in intensity. The video below is from a scene in Jessica Jones on Netflix (S2:E8 44m40s). Notice how the light is flickering even though there is no change in the actual scene. Look at the wall between the windows to the left in the first scene, and the entire picture in the second scene with the large lamp in the left side of the foreground. It looks almost as if Q9FN’s LED backlight system is confused about how to set its light level and then decides to switch continuously between two brightness levels to compensate in some way, which is distracting to look at.
We observed the problem while watching video content of various qualities – everything from 4K HDR via HDMI and apps as well as SDR video via the built-in tuner – and that is why we recommend that the dynamic backlight control is set to ‘Standard’ when watching SDR video material. We are aware that some owners of the Q8 model in the US have observed something similar but very few reviewers have commented on the problem. The issue does not show up will all types of content and it is hard to give a clear answer as to what causes it. It is plausible that a high amount of film grain, which can be seen in several of Netflix’s TV series, confuses the brain of the dynamic backlight system. We are chasing an answer from Samsung but have not received any feedback at the time of publication. We will update the review if we receive an answer.
As our measurements show, the TV covers the Rec.709 and DCI-P3 color spaces, and once adjusted Q9FN hits decent color accuracy. The TV can reproduce the darkest steps of the grey tone scale but at times when watching mostly dark scenes, the dynamic backlight is very eager to dim its LEDs to maintain deep blacks, which unfortunately crushes shadow details somewhat. The video engine is doing a good job with upscaling and TV channel processing, including de-interlacing on those sources that still use the legacy format (typically TV channels). Our color gradient tests revealed that Q9FN has a tendency to produce posterization / color banding, which could be seen on more than one occasion and mostly when watching movies in highly compressed video quality such as those from iTunes or Netflix.
Motion performance is a mixed bag. While watching very bright scenes, Q9FN exhibits the same stroboscope effect that we have observed on OLED. Unfortunately, it cannot be resolved by activating the Auto Motion Plus system without introducing visual motion artefacts. The effect relates to the low frame rate that movies are shot in (24Hz), specifically that 24Hz video tends to stutter even more (not to be confused with judder) when reproduced at higher brightness levels. While one would usually strive to make response time as low as possible on a display technology, low response time has this side effect that it actually reproduces more of the flaws inherent in the video content. In the past, and when watching a movie on a projector system (that has inherent motion judder), the transition from one frame to another is blurred out to some degree. As we move to high frame rate video, this issue should disappear.
If you want to try and tweak motion, you can adjust the de-blur and de-judder settings until you find a suitable compromise between the soap opera effect and smoother motion. We prefer to keep it under 5 and even then you must accept slightly more blurry motion performance than the best TVs today can offer. De-blur is probably the setting that you would want to adjust as it affects video in 60 Hz and below. Samsung’s algorithm apparently stops inserting interpolated frames into the video stream when the frame rate becomes too high for the system to handle, which is exactly those situations where artefacts would become most visible. The micro-stutter issue that we have been commenting on for years is also still present on Q9FN – some see it, others don’t. The better video quality you feed to the TV, the less of an issue this seems to be. On a few occasions, we observed that Auto Motion Plus actually added judder rather than reduce judder. The safe solution here is to completely deactivate the motion system.
On an absolute scale for motion performance, Q9FN would find itself somewhere in the middle. Sony still excels in this discipline with its X900F that combines zone dimming with MotionFlow to improve motion. I am not trying to say that you should disregard Q9FN based on this but simply that Sony has a better motion system with more flexibility and performance. LG has also improved motion performance with its 2018 models.
Q9FN uses PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) to control LED brightness. However, the frequency is higher than usual so it may not lead to problems. By activating ‘LED Clear Motion’ you can have black frames (BFI) inserted into the video stream but unfortunately this leads to a very visible flickering effect and brightness drops significantly.
We did not observe issues with color tint or discoloration in the brightest color tones. We know from experience that things such as backlight bleeding, tint, and banding can differ greatly from one sample to the next so it is certainly not impossible that another sample would have issues. The same is true for different TV sizes within a range.
For the person sitting in the sweet-spot, Q9FN delivers great performance but like all other VA LCD panels, it has very narrow viewing angles. Colors tend to visibly wash out starting from just 20-30 degree angles. If you want better viewing angles you have to opt for IPS LCD, or even better OLED. The vertical viewing angles are even worse than the horizontal ones so avoid placing Q9FN too high on furniture or the wall. Your vision should fall directly in the center of the panel, vertically and horizontally, when sitting in your sofa.
Switching our attention to gaming, Samsung has this year made it possible to activate Auto Motion Plus (via a separate menu setting in the Game menu) while gaming. This can help improve motion resolution and reduce judder. Activating this special game mode for the motion interpolation system only adds a small amount of input lag to the signal and still leaves Q9FN as one of the TVs with the lowest input lag on the market. Without Auto Motion Plus engaged, we measure input lag to just below 20 ms, which should satisfy most gamers. The TV also automatically detects when you are switching to a game console after which it will switch to its game mode. However, the game profile is not great in terms of color accuracy so you will need to tweak things.
Furthermore, Samsung’s 2018 Q range supports FreeSync and HDMI VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) but unfortunately we cannot yet test this combination (VRR will be added via a later firmware update, according to Samsung). Nevertheless, Samsung is the only company to support these systems on a TV this year. If you prefer to play PC games rather than console games you can stream games over the home network via the built-in Steam Link. All you need is to have Steam installed and to get your hands on a Steam game controller.
Samsung Q9FN is a big step forward compared to last year’s edge-lit Q9. It offers meaningful advantages in several areas.
The design is still very streamlined, despite using a more advanced LED backlight system. The upgraded ‘One Connect’ box allows users to connect all cables externally and have just one cable between the box and TV as the fiber cable now carries both video data and power. The One Remote is made from metal and is one of the best TV remote controls on the market. Q9FN is built on a well-functioning Tizen operating system and offers one of the best user experiences integrated in a “Smart TV” but unfortunately Tizen is not getting updates, which is a very bad practice that has forced us to change our test criteria this year.
In the picture quality department, Q9FN rises above the typical LCD model by offering a full array local dimming system with 480 zones as well as one of the highest levels of peak brightness right now. Samsung’s dynamic algorithm for controlling the zone dimming system seems a bit too aggressive at times and we encountered some issues but all in all Q9FN delivers good SDR and HDR picture quality. However, all things considered, picture quality cannot match the best OLED TVs from competing brands.
To sum up, we think that the reduced price point this year combined with markedly improved picture quality makes Q9FN one of the best LCD TVs on the market. It also offers certain advantages over OLED and we think that it deserves our Highly Recommended Award.
Change in test parameters: Starting this year we will make a change to a test parameter that relates to the features score, following years of poor practice in the TV industry. Unless a manufacturer of a given “Smart TV” can provide FlatpanelsHD with assurance that the TV platform will be updated to the next major version, the feature score will be lowered by 10 points. We hope that our initiative can help highlight the problem, start a discussion, and change the practice.
Samsung has not been able to give us such a guarantee for Tizen.
Picture quality is assessed as overall picture quality, including color reproduction, image processing, contrast, motion etc. Features is an evaluation of the built-in functionality such as apps, connector ports, tuners, recording capabilities, decoder formats, and how useful they are, as well as sound quality. User experience is evaluated on the basis of user friendliness, speed, build quality, and day-to-day use of the TV Total score is weighted: 50% Picture quality, 25% Features, 25% User experience. All scores are calculated based on a moving maximum target, defined by what we currently consider the best on market. It is then presented as a percentage. This means that a score will fall over time as new and better TVs set new standards. This allows you to compare scores across years. A score of 100% in a given category means that it is consider the best available product in this category to date.