At IFA 2018 in Berlin, Samsung unveiled its first commercial 8K TV after having teased an 8K prototype at CES back in January. Besides 8K resolution, Samsung is emphasizing that Q900R is its first TV with “AI” upscaling to make up for the fact that there is almost no 8K content. The 75 and 85-inch models also claim HDR peak brightness of 4000 nits (3000 nits for the 65-inch model). Lastly, the TV is based on Samsung’s in-house operating system and equipped with a modified version of the external ‘One Connect’ connection box.
Q900R is available in 65, 75, and 85-inch versions in Europa, and 85-inch only in the US. We are reviewing the 75-inch model.
Price and retailers:
Samsung Q900R - specifications
VA LCD panel
8K (7680 x 4320) HDR (HDR10, HDR10+, HLG) DCI-P3 color space
Stand (fixed) Wall (VESA - 400x200mm) No-gap mount
111 x 186 x 24 cm (without stand) 34 cm deep with unfolded stand
We usually request review samples to be sent in 55 to 65-inch sizes but since this is one of the first 8K TVs, Samsung is focusing on the larger formats. As such the TV is larger than most other TVs on our test bench. At first glance, Q900R looks a lot like Q9FN (4K flagship) that we have previously reviewed, with its slim metal bezel, streamlined and flat back, and the external One Connect box.
The feet have a new look and can be hidden inside two cutouts on the back if you are planning to wall-mount the TV. The logo on the front has been moved discretely to the right corner but besides these changes one could be excused for confusing Q900R with its predecessor. Q900R is also compatible with Samsung’s “no-gap” wall bracket solution that makes the TV hang flush to the wall. The wall bracket is not included in the box.
The external ’One Connect’ box houses power supply, ports, and everything else required to power the TV. It must be connected to the TV through a thin optical cable that delivers video signal and power. We have the 75-inch model that Samsung claims can deliver about 30% higher peak brightness than the 65-inch version. More brightness equals higher power consumption and to accommodate this Samsung has been forced to fit a larger power supply inside the box, which again increases the physical size of the One Connect box. So while 65-inch has an external connection box that largely matches the one powering Q9FN, the 75- and 85-inch models come bundled with a significantly larger box. The larger version has audible fan noise and generates a good amount of heat that may prevent you from hiding it away in a closed compartment.
It is worth noting that the One Connect box is currently equipped with HDMI 2.0b ports, which means that the TV is limited to video inputs up to 8K at 30Hz. While this may be adequate for movies, it leaves buyers in the same situation as in the early days of 4K.
The simple fact is that HDMI 2.1 is required to take full advantage of 8K. In USA, Samsung has informed buyers that it will supply them with an upgraded One Connect box once it has been certified next year but we are still awaiting confirmation from Samsung Europe.
Samsung’s high-end LCD panels have low reflectance and the panel surface is visibly darker in a bright environment compared to the Sony X85 that was wall mounted behind the Q900R at the time of review. Together with its extreme brightness, Q900R is well suited for even a very bright living environment.
User experience & features
We have already reviewed two Samsung Q models this year. Samsung Q900R builds on the same SoC and the same software version of the Tizen operating system so we will not go into further details here.
Operating system & smart TV
No changes to Tizen
If you want to learn more about the Tizen platform and the features in Samsung’s high-end Q series models, we refer to our previous reviews of Q9FN and Q8DN. Q900R offers the same features, including the latest digital picture frame functionality, the same apps, and the same unpolished software that occasionally results in sluggishness in menus.
Samsung’s Tizen operating system is not getting software updates so the latest features are reserved for the latest TVs. FlatpanelsHD has this year started putting the spotlight on the issue, which unfortunately is not limited to Samsung.
In terms of operation, Q900R is identical to the other Samsung 2018 Q series TVs and comes bundled with the same simplified ‘One Remote’ that has been designed first and foremost for users who have embraced streaming services.
Amongst TV manufacturers, Samsung is showing the way in this new paradigm so in this case no news is good news.
As explained in previous reviews, Samsung’s remote control can also be used as a universal remote but since many legacy – and even some modern – devices rely on IR, universal control requires a clear signal path to the One Connect box’s built-in IR eye. It is possible to connect a cabled IR booster via the jack input. None of this is new but we wanted to highlight it here because we have seemingly neglected to mention it in previous reviews.
Furthermore, it is possible to control the TV via Samsung’s SmartThings smartphone app, which can also be used to set-up the TV.
TV channels, recording & sound
Samsung’s TV tuner platform is well-designed and functional. Despite a remote control with relatively few buttons, it is easy to switch between channels. Like other Q models, Q900R offers decent PiP features but we must emphasize that the One Connect box has only one CI port, meaning that only one of the two pictures in PiP can be form a coded channel. The same limitations apply to the built-in recording features. Since Q900R is based on the same hardware platform as Q9FN, everything related to the TV tuner features is identical. Nothing new to report here.
Unfortunately, the built-in speakers in Q900R are not very good, despite the large format. The 75-inch Q900R more or less matches the Q9FN in this area. We recommend an external sound solution such as a soundbar. It should also be noted that Q900R does not support HDMI eARC or Dolby Atmos so it is not possible to enjoy i.e. Netflix’s content in Dolby Atmos unless you use an external playback device.
Q900R offers the same picture modes and calibration options as previous Samsung TVs. Only ‘Movie’ mode respects the color space of the source input and it offers the most accurate white balance out-of-box. By tweaking 2-point settings we came close to our target values for SDR. It takes considerably more work to tune in the other picture modes and unfortunately the ‘Game’ mode is far off target and forces everything into DCI-P3 color space. We have included basic measurements for the various picture modes in the table to the right. Note that most picture modes use maximum brightness so a white color hits above 3000 nits.
Samsung has supported CalMAN auto-cal for a few years now and Q900R supports it, too. Only the Q series models support the feature and like Panasonic and Sony it works by adjusting the same picture settings that the user has access to in the menus rather than on an underlying hardware 3D LUT level, which is supported by LG TVs.
It is not possible to fully turn off dynamic backlight control on Samsung’s TVs. This affects dark grey tone measurements so with Q900R we have tried to correct the errors through 2-point adjustment.
Like Q9FN, Q900R is not conforming to the PQ reference, which is the EOTF (Electro-Optical Transfer Function) used for HDR. These irregularities affect both highlights and the progression from dark to bright tones. This means that mid-tones and highlights appear brighter than intended and somewhat washed out. If you are using ‘Dynamic’ mode, the panel starts acting erratically, and while it is theoretically possible to hit the promised 4000 nits peak brightness here, it only applies to >90 IRE. Everything below 90 IRE falls below 2000 nits. This effect is illustrated in the graph ‘Dynamic (HDR)’ in the box to the right. We strongly advice against using Dynamic mode for any type of content.
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 HDR works 8K fails
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 include calibration settings only for SDR, not yet HDR. For our calibration we have deactivated the ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the backlight setting according to your environment. You may prefer to have it enabled.
Samsung claims that the 75- and 85-inch versions of Q900R can hit peak brightness of 4000 nits, which is the level that more and more HDR movies are being mastered at. However, in ‘Movie’ mode Q900R is not capable of hitting anywhere close to that level, which is documented in the graph to the right. Here, it is hitting peak brightness of 1800 nits but ironically this level cannot be realized in small segments of the picture (such as a 2% window) – only in larger areas.
This can be explained by the simple fact that one dimming zone (Q900R has 480 dimming zones in total) of the LED backlight is still fairly large and because full effect would blow out dark tones and other colors within that segment, the dimming zone must balance its output. Only when picture content inside this particular zone is approaching full white, can the dimming zone fully illuminate its segment. In Dynamic mode Q900R can hit 4000 nits but only for a duration of very few seconds after which is loses its breath entirely and drops to 500 nits.
Samsung has designed its latest HDR TVs – including the previous Q9FN – in a peculiar way by choosing to overshoot the PQ reference curve for HDR. This approach makes the overall HDR picture appear brighter than intended. We briefly commented on Dynamic picture mode in the calibration section and in regards to the PQ reference, Dynamic mode pushes this brightening effect to an extreme degree. In Movie mode, Q900R also has inaccurate tracking of the PQ reference and starting from around 40 IRE (light grey), it starts to overshoot and make pictures appear brighter than intended. In actual use the effect will be that mid-tones are too bright and together with the blooming artefacts from the zone dimming system, the picture tends to look a little washed out at times.
In 2017 when we tested the edge-lit Q9, we experienced some issues with the black bars that cast a sort of shadow effect from top and bottom into the actual picture. Q900R exhibits some similarities and we seeing a similar type of shadow effect from the top/bottom black bars leak into the picture (see photo below) but the effect is more local because Q900R has full array local dimming. It takes picture content with bright elements near the top and bottom to avoid this effect. On the other hand we did not spot the pulsating light effect that we complained about in last year’s Q9FN review.
It is one thing to measure peak brightness with calibration patterns that typically consist of small windows, and quite another for a TV to hit the same values with actual video content such as movies and games. We have found that ANSI patterns (a chess board) better represent reality and here a TV’s peak brightness capabilities often show quite different characteristics. While an OLED TV’s brightness is in large part limited by the so-called ABL circuit, a full array local dimming LCD is limited in large part by the size of the individual dimming zones. When using an ANSI pattern, peak brightness hits around 730 nits, which more or less represents what you can expect in most situations when watching movies.
As manufacturers are continuously pushing the limits for peak brightness, one question that arises is; what about energy consumption? With a theoretical max of 4000 nits, it takes a good portion of electronics to drive the LED backlight behind the LCD panel. Our measurements show that energy consumption peaks at close to half a kilowatt, which can clearly be felt by touching the One Connect box that gets more than just warm. At these levels, even the display gets quite hot.
Besides extreme brightness, Q900R obviously also pushes the limits in terms of resolution with its 8K LCD panel. 8K is 7680x4320 pixels, which is four times as many pixels as 4K. At this time, there is almost no 8K content available so Samsung is turning its focus to upscaling in order to utilize the many pixels. Samsung has equipped Q900R with a new upscaling processor that they have chosen to brand “AI” – artificial intelligence. It simply means that the TV is using an algorithm that changes its upscaling parameters depending on the picture content, based on reference pictures in a database that Samsung can update over time. We should note that this is not a new concept and the technology has already been deployed in other TVs without it having any reference to 8K resolution but because no manufacturers are keen to detail their upscaling system, we cannot assess whether or not Samsung’s latest implementation is more “intelligent” than other systems. At IFA 2018 in Berlin, Samsung positioned its AI upscaling engine almost as magic. It sounded too good to be true and, perhaps unsurprisingly, our tests reveal that the results are far more subtle.
Of course, a TV cannot magically find extra pixels in the picture so it has to process the source material that is available. In Standard picture mode, the TV adds – even with all dynamic picture settings off – a fair amount of sharpness to the picture. For comparison, the Movie picture mode is staying true to the video creator’s intent, without added sharpness and other enhancements, which is illustrated in the photo above. Notice the brick wall in the picture or the text printed on the bricks. What you are seeing is an added shadow edge that is designed to enhance edges to make it appear more detailed. Also notice that it is not actually adding extra detail in the picture and that it in several spots, for example the edge of the shadow of the figurine on the wall, is simply adding the same dark – and somewhat unnatural looking – rim.
Whether or not you like the result will depend on your preferences but to see the effects of Samsung’s system you must use another picture mode than Movie mode, which also involves doing lots of tweaking to get accurate pictures. You will get far just by changing the color temperature but the white (color) balance still needs adjustment, which is very hard without measurement equipment.
AI upscaling (or rather upscaling in general) is required to get a full screen image on any TV so regardless of picture mode – Standard or Movie – the TV will obviously apply some form of upscaling to utilize its 33.2 million pixels. Q900R upscales SD, HD, and 4K material well but it cannot justify the high premium you are paying for Q900R over Q9FN, in my opinion. If it is artificial sharpness that you seek you can add it by adjusting the “normal” sharpness setting in the menu and from a distance of 3 meters you are unlikely to spot the difference between an “AI” based approach and the traditional approach.
To reap the benefits of 8K you have to get your hands on native 8K video content. With this many pixels, the picture looks so detailed that it creates an almost 3D effect on a regular 2D canvas. We did not have access to content in 8K HDR for this review but we did have some 8K SDR content. The step from 4K to 8K is convincing on our 75-inch panel and similar to the step from 1080p 4K, the next step in resolution is also visible. However, you must sit fairly close to the screen. With 4K we are already pushing the limits of how fine detail our eye can perceive from a normal viewing distance and with 8K some of the benefits cannot be seen with the naked eye. Even with a large 75-inch screen you must reduce your viewing distance to less than 2 meters to fully enjoy Q900R’s resolution, and at this distance you get almost sunburned by the brightness.
As mentioned earlier, there are not many ways to input real 8K material into Q900R and not even YouTube, which is one of the only services to offer 8K content, allows you to go beyond 4K via the built-in app. There is a single 8K channel in operation – in Japan – but in most regions channels are still broadcast in 720p or 1080i resolution. It will take many years for 8K to be realized on the content side and with Q900R I cannot help feeling a bit like the first person with a SMS-compatible smartphone. There is clearly potential here but you need other parties to get on board first.
Switching our attention to motion, there is not much new to add to the conversation. The TV performs largely in line with previous Q models. It is possible to activate MotionPlus, if you prefer, without introducing too many artefacts and noise. This can improve motion resolution and even though it cannot match Sony X900F in this area, Samsung’s TV delivers good performance if you are watching mainly content with fast motion. Samsung has also made it possible to smooth out motion while gaming by engaging the MotionPlus setting but be aware that it still increases input lag to almost double that of the game mode (although still very decent performance).
We dimmed the lights to test the LCD panel’s backlight homogeneity. Our critical eye did spot some inhomogeneity, with the center of the display looking darker than the edges, but this is actually partly caused by the anti-reflective coating. Because the TV is equipped with “only” 480 dimming zones, you will see some obvious blooming when the dimming zones start to engage. This is illustrated below. Blooming around bright objects on a black canvas is one thing, and often not so most problematic, but if you apply the same level of blooming to a picture where the areas surrounding the bright object are more complex in color or shape, you will instead get washed out colors spread across the screen, depending on the picture composition. This shows up mainly with HDR content where we occasionally spot areas and colors around bright objects that look matte. Samsung has apparently also aimed to reduce the effects of blooming around subtitles in the black bars. The result is that subtitles often look somewhat subdued.
Samsung Q900R is a good TV for game console use. Like the other Q models, it supports variable frame rate when connected to Xbox One X as well as automatic game detection, meaning that it will automatically switch to game mode when you start a game. This is coupled with low input lag, which makes it a good screen for a game console. It is particularly satisfying to power up a HDR game on a 75-inch TV with lots of brightness to give. For a brief moment you almost forget that it consumes the same amount of power as a vacuum cleaner.
The viewing angles are not the worst we have seen but not comparable to either an IPS LCD panel or Sony’s new Z9F flagship. As usual with VA LCD panels you must sit directly in front of the TV to get the optimal picture. The narrow viewing angle is particularly evident when watching HDR content because black levels (and contrast) drop drastically when looking at the TV off-axis. Blooming also worsens visibly off-axis.
I have little doubt that 8K will be the next step on the picture quality ladder and with Q900R Samsung has launched an 8K TV that is actually within grasp (at least in Europe where it is available in 65 and 75-inch sizes). However, 8K calls for HDMI 2.1 and Q900R is not equipped with such a port. That is the most likely reason why competitors are delaying their 8K TVs to next year.
Q900R has roughly the same zone dimming system as Q9FN (4K flagship) but Samsung has pushed it further to increase peak brightness. The number of dimming zones remains at 480 so you will occasionally see blooming and matte colors around highlights in the picture. With some minor adjustment you can get decent SDR picture quality but HDR does not respect the reference as Samsung insists on boosting the mid-tones to make overall HDR look too bright, especially in mid-tones, and at times washed out.
The new “AI” upscaling engine is Samsung’s main selling point for investing in an 8K TV right now simply because there is almost no content available in 8K. And while we can – in some picture modes – spot an effect from this upscaling, this should not be unique to an 8K panel. It cannot magically find extra pixels and detail in a source signal and right now we find it hard to justify investing in 8K TV.
Samsung’s Tizen operating system works well and offers an intuitive user interface with a decent selection of apps and a nice ‘One Remote’. Unfortunately, Samsung is still refusing to update Tizen for even one year after purchase. The new One Connect box (75 and 85”) has grown significantly in size in order to accommodate a larger power supply required to deliver higher brightness levels. Our 75” review sample had very high power consumption and the TV and box became quite hot.
For console gaming, Samsung offers attractive features such as VRR, low input lag, and automatic switching to game mode.
Being a first mover often comes with downsides but at least Q900R has a decent starting price, which gives us less reason to be worried about the near future. Competitors will also need to price their 8K TVs competitively. On the other hand Q900R arrives late in the year so it is competing with lots of discounted 4K models that will remain available for some time. All things considered, it is hard to justify the price premium of Q900R. Even with 4 times as many pixels.
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.