Samsung has launched "Neo QLED", its first LCD TVs with miniLED backlight and either 4K or 8K resolution. The LCD TVs are equipped with zone dimming, an upgraded video processor, new sound features, HDMI 2.1 with 4K120, VRR, ALLM, and more. There is also a refreshed remote control and improvements to the Tizen platform.
Note: FlatpanelsHD is reviewing the 55-inch QN95A with external One Connect box and VA LCD panel. QN90A in the US as well as QN91A, QN92A and QN93A in Europe should also have VA LCD panel, but there are reports about QN90A using a mix of VA and IPS LCD panels in some size classes and some regions – check before you buy. IPS LCD has much lower contrast. Also read: Samsung 2021 TV line-up
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It is a heavy yet elegant TV, with narrow bezels and a relatively thin profile for a streamlined design. QN95A comes with the external One Connect box with all input and output ports, whereas the other QN9xA models come without the One Connect box – ports are instead found on the back of the TV.
The heavyweight tabletop stand, which is made from metal, provides a very solid foundation for the TV, despite its center-aligned position.
Since Samsung first introduced its external One Connect box, it has increased in size and weight. The latest iteration is almost like a small console that you will have to find space for not too far away from the TV. It connects to the TV with a single cable that carries both power and data/video signals. Samsung refers to it as the 'invisible cable' and while that was an apt description for the cable at launch, it too has put on a lot of weight recently.
We still like Samsung's One Connect concept but we are sad to see it moving in the wrong direction. One reason is that Samsung's high-end LCD TVs consume a lot of power, which demands a large power supply.
Samsung still has the most effective anti-reflective coating for any TV on the market. The high-end models mange to effectively block out most light from the environment even in brightly lit living rooms.
User experience & features
Samsung's Tizen operating system has reached version 6.0, with new features like Game Bar, Samsung Health (a training app), PC on TV (to easily connect a PC), and Google Duo (video calls). As always, Tizen 6.0 is reserved for the 2021 models. Samsung is still refusing to provide major Tizen updates to previous TVs. The company has not committed to providing Tizen upgrades to its 2021 models either.
The TV is easy to set up with or without the smartphone companion app, but you ultimately end up spending far too much time entering app login credentials. As soon as you have it set up, you will be greeted by Rakuten, which is powering Samsung's TV Plus app in many regions – and which suffered from heavy lipsync issues in our QN95A. We would prefer if Samsung did not push its own service so hard. As you can see, there are also ads in the Tizen bottom menu.
Other than the new training, PC and voice call features, Tizen looks and feels familiar. The menu that slides up from the bottom of the screen provides easy access to most streaming apps, although some local apps are missing including apps that are available on 2020 models. Samsung tells us that some apps need annual reapproval before they can appear in the Tizen app store on new models – they are working on it.
After LG abandoned its bottom menu in webOS in favor of a fullscreen homescreen, Tizen looks even more attractive for buyers who seek a simple all-in-one Smart TV solution. Besides popular streaming apps, Tizen offers features like Ambient Mode, SmartThings home automation, and built-in Apple AirPlay 2 to let you push video (in up to 4K HDR) and music from an iPhone/iPad wirelessly onto the TV. On the other hand Samsung TVs lack support for Google Chromcast and Apple HomeKit.
The biggest change in 2021 is perhaps the new Game Bar, which provides quick access to the TV's many gaming features including AMD FreeSync Premium Pro. A new 'Super Ultrawide GameView' mode gives PC gamers the option to play in wide 21:9 or 32:9 ratios. You can also check source info such as fps, HDR, and VRR. It is a nifty tool for console and PC gamers. Check the picture quality section for more on gaming.
In addition, Samsung has developed a smarter picture-in-picture mode that lets you save and name your favorite 'multi-view' configurations (see photo below).
It has built-in support for three voice assistants, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Samsung's own Bixby, although they are limited to basic features. All three voice assistants also lack support for most regions and languages. Bixby continues to be a very poor voice experience in our testing.
With that being said, Tizen apps still run as a web-view meaning that they resemble websites more than native apps. Tizen is not a polished and comprehensive TV operating system like Apple tvOS or increasingly Android TV / Google TV found in competing TVs. If Tizen wants to keep up, it needs to evolve into a full-fledged TV operating system with an open app store, more capable hardware, a longterm OS update commitment, strong support from third-party developers, and more advanced features overall.
Compared to Samsung TVs from 2020 and 2019, Tizen remains largely the same and if you want to learn more about the TV Guide, tuner functionality and related features, we refer to last year's Q95T / Q90T review.
Last year's Samsung Q95T came with an exquisite remote control made from metal. This year's QN95A and lower-priced Samsung 4K models come with a redesigned black remote that looks more elegant than it is, mainly because it is now made from black plastic. Samsung has tried to hide the fact by giving the plastic cover a brushed metal look, which in many ways sum up Samsung's TV design in recent years – faux metal has unfortunately also made its way to Samsung's lifestyle TVs.
There are solar cells on the back to let users recharge the remote using indoor and outdoor light, in addition to a USB-C port. Samsung promotes it as a way to save millions of single-use AAA batteries, which is true, although this environmental-friendly marketing rings a little hollow when a 55-inch QN95A has an energy consumption of up to 190W, based on our testing. If Samsung wants to care for the environment it should take a good long look at its miniLED-based LCD TVs that are highly inefficient in converting energy into light and color.
The remote control has three sponsored buttons for Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Samsung TV Plus, which is a shame, but overall it is still one of our favorite TV remotes, mainly due to its simple design and absence of buttons.
The built-in speaker system (8 units) is decent and certainly better than the average TV's speakers. The speakers are hidden from sight so things tend to sound a little trapped from time to time, but voices are clear for the most part – even at high volume. The speakers can stumble and sound shrill in some situations. There are obvious limitations in bass response but overall the speakers should satisfy most casual viewers.
The TV has various dynamic sound modes including Adaptive Sound+, which "analyzes each scene in real-time to identify and render the sound type". It certainly does something but we are not convinced that it is a good thing. It sounds different, not necessarily better.
For movie watching and gaming we recommend an external speaker solution. Music was not enjoyable on the TV's built-in speakers either.
We also wanted to include a comment about Dolby Atmos as there continues to be a lot of confusion around Atmos support in Samsung TVs. In short, Samsung TVs do not support Dolby Atmos (nor Dolby Vision) meaning that they cannot decode Atmos. However, it does not mean that Atmos is completely locked out. For some apps like Netflix, Samsung TVs can pull down the bitstream and pass it on to an Atmos-compatible receiver/soundbar for decoding on the external device. Other apps, including the Apple TV app and Disney+ on our QN95A sample, did not identify the TV as Atmos compatible and did not deliver the Atmos stream to the TV (meaning that passthrough to another device like a soundbar will not work) – most likely due to the situation described. There is an HDMI eARC port in most of Samsung's 2021 models but it is irrelevant in terms of getting Atmos out of the TV's built-in apps. eARC is only relevant with external sources from which Atmos signals pass through Samsung's TV as intended.
If Dolby Atmos is important to you and you want to use the TV's built-in apps, consider whether a Samsung TV is the right choice for you – or consider using an external media player.
Samsung TVs generally have fewer picture modes than TVs from other brands – which is a good thing – but still too many. In addition to the usual suspects (Standard, Dynamic, Game, Movie and Natural), Samsung has added 'Filmmaker Mode', which should have just replaced 'Movie' mode as they are more or less identical. Samsung could also remove 'Natural' and 'Dynamic' considering that 'Standard' is still very vivid.
The only picture modes with relatively accurate colors are 'Movie' and 'Filmmaker Mode', and these are the ones that we recommend for both SDR and HDR viewing in Samsung TVs. With some 2-point teaks we managed to improve things further as seen in the graphs below. We also include our calibration suggestions (for SDR) in the table further down. Samsung's TVs support Calman AutoCal, if you have the equipment and software.
Samsung's 'Game' mode on the other hand is an exercise in poor picture quality. It is so extreme that my eyes hurt. Even in SDR, brightness was cranked up to 1600+ nits, which is not only extreme but unhealthy, and colors expanded into the TV's native color space, which produces a boosted and oversaturated look. And the very high color temperature pushes everything towards blue. In HDR Game mode, Samsung has modified the PQ luminance curve to make all games look overbright – just wrong (see example in picture quality section). The whole idea about boosting color and brightness in 'Game' mode is very strange. Game developers put a lot of effort into making sure that their game look right, so why would any TV manufacturer actively try to make everything look wrong? This is the worst 'Game' mode in any TV that I recall. Note that Game Mode must be activated from the general settings menu (or the new Game bar) instead of the picture mode menu.
For HDR, we measured DCI-P3 and Rec.2020 coverage to 94% and 70%, a good step up from last year's disappointing Samsung Q95T / Q90T (87% and 64% coverage, respectively) but still slightly lower than the best OLED TVs. On the other hand, Samsung's LCD TVs manage to maintain color saturation at higher brightness levels (compared to the WOLED panel in all OLED TVs).
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.
Note: Starting with our LG C1 review last week, we have implemented a new method for measurement of average power consumption in SDR and HDR, meaning that earlier measurements are not 1:1 comparable. The new method will be used in all TV reviews going forward.
Note: We include calibration settings only for SDR, not 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.
For the first time, Samsung is employing a miniLED backlight in its high-end LCD TVs – much like TCL. To signal the move, Samsung has started promoting its top LCD TV as "Neo QLED". MiniLED in itself does not deliver better picture quality. The most important factors to determine/improve picture quality in an LCD TV are still the panel type (VA or IPS) and the number of dimming zones (and how zones are controlled).
Note: FlatpanelsHD is reviewing the 55-inch QN95A with external One Connect box and VA LCD panel. QN90A in the US as well as QN91A, QN92A and QN93A in Europe should also have VA LCD panel, but there are reports about QN90A using a mix of VA and IPS LCD panels in some size classes and some regions – check before you buy. IPS LCD has much lower contrast.
We counted 36x16 dimming zones for a total of 576 zones in the 55-inch model. Larger screen sizes are expected to have more zones to match the larger screen diagonal. With 576 zones, QN95A/QN90A offers a significant improvement over the 120 zones we counted in last year's 65-inch Q95T/Q90T (55-inch screen probably had fewer) and a modest improvement over 2019's Q90R – Samsung's best 4K LCD TV to date in our testing.
The zone dimming system can produce high peak brightness of nearly 1700 nits and relatively deep blacks, but not at the same time. In smaller segments of the picture, where peak brightness in HDR video is usually found, QN95A typically hits 700-800 nits (see the table in the previous section for our peak brightness measurements), which is comparable to OLED TVs but without the same deep blacks as OLED. In larger segments of the picture, QN95A/QN90A can hit higher peak brightness and in fullscreen it can blast out over 700 nits, which is blindingly bright in a dark viewing environment. The 1700 nits peak and the 700 nits fullscreen numbers are mostly theoretical because in movie or game HDR mastering, high brightness levels are usually reserved for specular highlights, stars, lamps, and other small segments of the picture.
The limitations of the zone dimming system will be clear to the viewer after just a few hours of HDR viewing. In many scenes you will see heavy blooming around bright objects, subtitles etc. It is actually a straight-forward calculation. The native contrast ratio of the VA LCD panel in Samsung QN95A/QN90A is around 4000:1. It means that whenever the TV goes to, let's say, 1000 nits, the surrounding black area in the same dimming zone (and often adjacent zones) will bloom to around 0.25 nits (1000 / 4000 = 0.25), which is grey, not black. 2000 nits will produce blooming at approximately 0.5 nits (2000 / 4000 = 0.5) and so on.
Like speaker bass, no amount of picture processing and no dimming algorithm can escape the hardware limitations caused by too few dimming zones. With 576 zones, each zone will cover 14400 pixels in an 4K LCD panel. The seemingly endless expectation that "next year it will be fixed" or that software can resolve things is a pie-in-the-sky dream that "miniLED" marketing seems to have amplified. You would need tens if not hundreds of thousand of zones to escape blooming – better yet, pixel-level dimming in OLED or microLED (not to be confused with miniLED).
The dimming system also tends to get confused. A small bright object somewhere in the image can raise brightness significantly in the full picture. Short bursts of brightness, for example an explosion in an action scene, can lead to "brightness pops" and likewise dark scenes sometimes lead to almost fullscreen dimming. Bright moving objects, like a shooting star, produce a tail of blooming as dimming zones generally have slow rise/fall times.
We have included this lengthy examination of the zone dimming system because it is in essence what sets Samsung's high-end LCD TV apart from a cheap LCD TV – the LCD panel itself is not much different.
If you can accept blooming and the related issues, you will get an HDR picture that shines occasionally, depending on the movie/game scene. Some specific HDR scenes can even look better on Samsung's TV than on OLED TV, but Samsung's LCD TVs lack the deep blacks of OLED so HDR in movies and games will generally look less impactful and overall QN95A did not match OLED's HDR picture quality and consistency. For HDR picture quality, native contrast and brightness control are more important factors than peak brightness levels.
We had a chance to compare Samsung QN90A / QN95A side-by-side with Sony X90J (full review coming later). The latter has fewer dimming zones but stays true to the source. Even in 'Movie' mode with the various dynamic picture systems deactivated, Samsung's TV employs dynamic tone-mapping to make HDR video look brighter as evidenced by these photos (both TVs in HDR 'Movie' mode). The scene on Samsung's TV looked almost like day. It should have looked like dusk.
Left: Sony X90J. Right: Samsung QN95A/QN90A
Left: Sony X90J. Right: Samsung QN95A/QN90A
Our findings above relate mainly to HDR video because with SDR content, meaning everything not in HDR, zone dimming is employed less aggressively (unless you use Dynamic or Standard mode). Pictures look more balanced and there are fewer distractions. Samsung has a good video processor but we recommend that you deactivate the various dynamic systems including the "AI" features as they tend to degrade the picture and make it look artificial.
In a brightly lit room, the TV's high brightness and effective anti-reflection filter help maintain intensity and saturation in the pictures better than on an OLED TV, although the latter is still our preference in bright living rooms.
Samsung's TV has a persistent light sensor that remained active even after we tried to deactivate it from the user menu. It adjusts picture brightness to match your viewing environment and it works reasonably well. However, you will encounter situations when you switch from HDR mode to SDR mode where the picture looks blindingly bright for a few moments.
The risk of burn-in is markedly lower on an LCD panel compared to an OLED panel. Barring any component errors, QN95A's display should therefore have longer lifespan than an OLED TV. Some may prefer an LCD TV for PC use, gaming or static images or photographs, for example Samsung's Ambient Mode.
As for gaming, Samsung QN95A has four HDMI 2.1 ports (QN90A to QN94A have only one HDMI 2.1 port) with support for 4K120 as well as VRR in the form of AMD FreeSync with a frequency range of 48 to 120Hz, meaning that the TV can match its refresh rate down to a 48fps output from a game console / PC. In our testing, FreeSync worked as intended with compatible gaming devices.
Holding down the Play/Pause button gives you access to Samsung's new 'Game Bar' menu that provides useful information and shortcuts. It is a nice feature.
However, as discussed in our calibration section Samsung's 'Game' picture mode is horrendous in both SDR and HDR. It produces wildly wrong colors and grey tones, and boosts brightness to unpleasant levels. We fail to understand why anyone would want a Game mode not to be true to the source material.
As an example: Amanita's Creaks (PlayStation, Xbox, PC, Apple TV, Switch) is a wonderful adventure/puzzle game with a distinct look and a dark atmosphere. Samsung's Game mode unfortunately changes the look and feel of the game. If this is how you play the game, you will not experience it as the game creators wanted you experience it.
Left: How Creaks should look. Right: Samsung's Game Mode
We measured input lag to 12.3 ms in 'Game' mode and around 75-85 ms in other picture modes. There are two approaches here. One is to adjust the 'Game' mode's picture settings to be less extreme and more accurate. The other is to use one of the other picture modes with 'Picture Clarity' and other dynamic system deactivated in order to bring down input lag. It is also worth noting that – like any zone dimming LCD TV – Samsung QN95A's zone dimming system scales down significantly in Game mode in an effort to keep input lag as low as possible. Black will look more grey and bright objects will not reach the same peak brightness levels, although the picture is overall much brighter than intended (see calibration section).
In Game mode, a TV panel gets reduced to its more raw form, which is why you generally want a display's picture characteristics to be as "close" as possible to the panel. For gaming, Samsung QN95A is no match for an OLED TV's picture quality, mainly due to OLED's pixel-level luminance and color control, but the lower risk of burn-in on LCDs may tip the scale for some buyers.
One last thing that we want to cover in regard to motion is that the TV's backlight scanning remains active in most if not all picture modes – even when the motion system is deactivated in the menu. Backlight scanning can help increase motion resolution, to make moving images look more detailed, but it can also be a hard on the eyes, which was what led us to examine it (see photo below taken with a fast shutter time to illustrate what happens in "slow motion").
Combined with PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) control of the miniLED backlight's luminance level, we experienced some eye strain after a long day in front of the TV.
QN90A / QN95A employs the company's wide viewing angles technology, which is a partly active system designed to improve viewing angles, but at the expensive of effective resolution as discussed in previous reviews.
It has wide viewing angles but further improvement would be welcome. There is a degradation in color saturation and a larger degradation in contrast. Blooming looks much elevated when not sitting directly in front of the TV.
Last year, Samsung downgraded its high-end 4K LCD TVs, seemingly to make its 8K LCD TVs look more attractive. FlatpanelsHD critized the move so we are happy to report that Samsung has taken the criticism to heart and reversed course. Samsung QN95A / QN90A is a decent upgrade over last year's Q95T / Q90T and picture performance is more in line with 2019's Q90R. Not because of miniLED, but due to the number of dimming zones. On the other hand "Neo QLED" still suffers from heavy blooming.
Tizen is still an adequate TV platform and its minimalistic bottom menu that provides fast access to streaming apps looks even more attractive after LG has abandoned its bottom menu for a fullscreen webOS user interface. Samsung's new 'Game Bar' feature is neat but other than that there is not much new to report about Tizen. Samsung's continued refusal to provide Tizen OS updates to previous models is criticizable, and 2021 models will likewise remain stuck on Tizen 6.0.
Samsung's QN9xA TVs are equipped with HDMI 2.1 (one or four ports, depending on model) for 4K120 and VRR but gaming performance is degraded by a horrendous 'Game' mode, which is so extreme that it changes game experiences. At the same time the dimming system scales down significantly in Game mode. Some may find that QN90A / QN95A's low input lag, Game Bar, and low risk of burn-in help make up for that.
Ultimately, Samsung QN90A / QN95A is one of the best LCD TVs on the market but it does not match the HDR or SDR picture quality of cheaper OLED TVs out there.
Change in test parameters: In 2018, we made 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.
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Good picture quality Improved local dimming (more zones) Decent TV speakers HDMI 2.1 features
Heavy blooming Tizen not receiving updates Horrendous Game mode Loss of resolution due to wide viewing angles