FOR Native 8K is astonishing; upscales well; spot-on colours AGAINST Native 8K is years away; lacks black depth
8K TV is finally here and Samsung is quick off the mark. But the Q900R can't quite justify that enormous price tag.
So why is Samsung pouncing now? Grabbing headlines certainly seems a big motivation, but the company also argues that the increased PPI (pixels-per-inch) combined with super-advanced, machine-based upscaling means the content you currently watch will look even better on its 8K TVS.
That’s an enticing proposition, especially when blown up to a huge 85in, which is the size of the Q900R we’re reviewing (it’s also available in 75in and 65in versions).
At £14,999, it needs to be the best TV in the world right now, and in some ways it is. But in others it isn’t, and, surprisingly, it has little to do with resolution.
There’s little in the styling of the Q900R that marks it out as a revolutionary new product. It's a smart-looking telly, but it doesn’t particularly distinguish itself from Samsung’s 4K QLEDS.
Here, the thin bezels along the top and sides are angled outward rather than inward, as they are on the Q9FN, which means they reflect light differently and make the finish look darker, despite the material and colour being the same.
The bottom bezel is actually thicker than that of the 4K QLEDS, creating a ‘lip’ of about 2-3cm.
Rather than a central pedestal stand, the Q900R has two feet that can be located either end of the chassis or moved closer to the centre for placement of the TV on a smaller piece of furniture.
If you’re brave enough to wall-mount the thing, the feet can be removed and stored in clever cutouts on the rear of the TV so they don’t get lost. And yes, the Q900R is compatible with Samsung’s own No Gap Wall Mount – giving it the look of a huge, framed painting – as well as standard (albeit large and strong) VESA mounts.
As is the norm for Samsung these days, the Q900R’S connections are located not on the back of the set, but on a separate One Connect Box. This box is huge – about two or three times bigger than that of the 2018 QLEDS, which was around twice the size of the one before.
It can be hidden away, but it ran fairly hot during testing, so maybe best to make sure it’s got some ventilation.
Its connections are similar to those of the older boxes – the difference is the first of the four HDMI inputs can handle 8K video at up to 30fps. One day there may be a source that can take advantage of that.
None of the HDMIS are 2.1 certified, because official certification is not yet underway. Samsung says early adopters will be able to request a free upgrade to an HDMI 2.1-compliant One Connect Box next year, however.
But many HDMI 2.1 features are already supported, including Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and Auto Game Mode for gaming, and dynamic metadata for HDR10+. The update will really only facilitate 8K at 60fps, rather than the current 30fps cap.
Other connections are unchanged, so you get three USBS, ethernet, optical, aerial and two satellite connections. If you want to connect headphones, however, you’ll need to use Bluetooth.
The operating system also matches the rest of the current QLED range, and that means the Q900R is predictably slick in use and absolutely jam-packed with apps.
From Netflix and Amazon Video in 4K and HDR, to Rakuten and Google Play Movies & TV for pay-as-you-go blockbusters, plus the full suite of catch-up apps and even Now TV, pretty much every base is covered.
In terms of sheer display tech, you get not only the 8K resolution of 7680 x 4320, but also a record-high peak brightness figure of 4000nits from the 85in and 75in versions (the 65in version taps out at 3000nits). The Q9FN, the previous brightest we’d tested, is rated at 2000nits.
But what’s the point of 8K TV? It’s all about pixel density, is the argument, much as it has been with phones. An 85in 8K set such as this has the same pixel density
(104ppi) as a 43in 4K model. That’s a fairly compelling case for big-screen buyers.
A mind of its own
Native 8K content does look utterly fabulous, as you might imagine.
Predictably, it’s all about sharpness and detail. The image is unbelievably lifelike, and draws you in to an extent that 4K simply cannot. Naturally, it’s helped by the sheer scale of the 85in display – this is cinematic and then some.
And the image doesn’t become soft or fuzzy as you get closer. You could sit a foot away and still be dazzled by its sharpness.
With no ‘proper’ 8K content currently available, this part of our review is based entirely on footage supplied by Samsung. It is, however, an amazing, immersive glimpse at what 8K may offer.
After that is where Samsung’s Ai-based upscaler comes in. It uses machine learning to analyse millions of images in low and high resolution, comparing the two versions to identify the differences so they can be added on the fly when a low-resolution signal is fed into the TV. Essentially, it means non-8k content should actually look better on a Q900R than it does on a non-8k set.
All of the learning is done by Samsung’s servers and ‘taught’ to the TVS in people’s homes during regular software updates. That means a Q900R that you buy now should only get better at upscaling in the months to come.
The upscaling is miraculous when you consider how much of the on-screen picture is being ‘made up’ by the TV. But whether it provides a better upscaled image than a 4K set is a trickier question.
One of the problems is a paucity of reference TVS at this size. Samsung was kind enough to supply an 82in NU8000 and 75in Q9FN for comparison, but they’re both relatively unknown quantities to us.
Samsung’s insistence that we use the NU8000 as a reference for resolution and not the Q9FN rang hollow, too. It's far lower down the range than the Q9FN, so there’s much more at play, picture quality-wise, than just resolution.
Using Samsung’s own pixel density argument, this 85in Q900R should be capable of sharper images than even a smaller, 75in Q9FN. It performs well across all content, but it’s not a significant step forward, and in some ways it's a step back.
With Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2, the Q900R is noticeably brighter but not overly so. The sunset over 1980s Missouri has more impact, as do reflections from the metal plates on the Sovereign planet, but it’s an incremental improvement rather than an overly dazzling trick.
Colours are better on the Q900R. The Q9FN is gloriously rich and vibrant, but not what you’d call neutral. The former can look a little pale next to the lushness of its 4K rival, but there’s no doubt that it’s more authentic.
But don’t think the Q900R isn’t vibrant in its own right. There’s punch to the vivid colours of Ego’s home world, ostentatious lustre to the Sovereign queen’s throne room, and lusciousness to the dense
“8K TV is finally here, and Samsung is quick off the mark. But the Q900R can't quite justify that enormous price tag”
foliage on the planet of Berhert – not to mention increased detail and sharpness.
Not only is this 8K TV upscaling the image without softening it, it’s doing so without introducing anything in the way of obvious artefacts, shimmer or noise. But it isn't sharper and more detailed than the Q9FN, it’s simply as sharp. That bodes well for the 75in and 65in versions of the Q900R, though. Logically, these should be a step-up over the same sizes of Q9FN.
Greater dark detail
There are some specific images or objects that prove a challenge too far for the upscaler. In the opening scene of
Guardians, when Ego looks at Meredith in the car, the tilt of his head means the ‘crossbar’ of his sunglasses is at a tricky, diagonal angle, and there are clear steps along this line that aren’t evident on its best 4K sets.
The Q900R also doesn’t produce blacks as deep as those of the Q9FN. Samsung says that’s intentional: the black level has been raised slightly in response to suggestions from some that the Q9FN loses some dark detail to its depth. But it’s a decision we can't really get behind.
While the 8K Q900R digs up dark detail that the 4K Q9FN loses, the relative lack of black depth has an effect on overall contrast and dynamism. It means high-contrast scenes can be robbed of some of their impact.
What’s more, the Q900R suffers from noticeable backlight bloom that the Q9FN doesn't. This is most noticeable in the black bars to the top and bottom of a widescreen film, but it can creep into the main image, too. Sit a little off-axis and it becomes much more pronounced. The fact that it’s there at all when it’s not on the Q9FN is disappointing.
As you drop down a resolution, the Q900R remains consistent, and considering the amount of upscaling going on, that in itself is quite exceptional.
Play Logan on 1080p Blu-ray and the image is supremely clean and stable, and again very similar to the Q9FN in terms of sharpness. Colours are actually more vibrant on the Q900R, but in a way that simply proves their authenticity.
But contrast again is an issue. As Logan enters his hideaway you get better brightness from the Q900R as the sunlight pours in, but the dark parts are hazy. Dark detail is a little better, but blacks aren’t deep enough.
Little short of miraculous
Finally, looking to stretch the Q900R surely further than it can possibly handle, we play Dirty Harry on DVD. Here, the TV is generating something like 98 per cent of what you’re seeing. It’s insane, particularly as the image is really good.
It wasn’t long ago that standard-def was more or less unwatchable on a 4K TV, so the cleanliness, sharpness and detail on the Q900R is little short of miraculous.
It is worth mentioning, though, that while the Q900R is an excellent handler of motion in 8K, and strong with 4K, it does struggle a little more with 1080p and standard-def content.
For anyone expecting great sound quality at this price, the Q900R is big, bold, clear and spacious by the standards of most sets. It's perfectly listenable, but you'd still want a dedicated sound system, especially when investing this much in your TV'S picture.
Someone had to go first with 8K, and that it's Samsung is little surprise – partly on account of its record of innovation, and partly because it’s always on the hunt for new ammunition in the war against OLED.
But an 8K TV has to live or die by its performance with the content available right now. Luckily, the Q900R delivers a largely excellent performance in this regard, particularly when you consider the amount of upscaling going on. We wouldn’t be at all surprised if Samsung’s upscaling proves to be the benchmark.
But what the Q900R doesn’t offer is a clear step up in quality when compared with the company’s flagship 4K model.
The scale offered by the 85in 8K display is astonishing, but we can’t help but think it isn't the sweet spot in the Q900R range. Drop down to the 75in version and the PPI goes up from 104ppi to 117ppi, and that could well be enough to squeeze out an even sharper image than a Q9FN at the same size. What’s more, the 75in Q900R costs less than half of the 85in version.
Meanwhile, the 65in model takes the price down to £5000 and pixel density up to 136ppi. That could well be a serious step up from the QE65Q9FN, and that would make it the best TV you can currently buy.
“With DVD, the TV is generating something like 98 per cent of what you're seeing. It's insane, particularly as the image is really good”
Peak brightness of 4000nits makes this Q900R a record breaker Samsung's No Gap Wall Mount makes the Q900R look like a big painting
The Q900R digs up extra detail in low-lit scenes, but doesn't go as dark
The feet can be moved toward the centre of the TV to fit smaller stands