What Hi-Fi (UK)
This looks like the year of Mini LED. The technology, which sees the traditional LEDS of a TV backlight miniaturised to increase contrast, is a feature of the 2021 line-ups of most major TV brands, including LG and Philips. For those brands, Mini LED TVS sit below their OLED models, but Mini LED is Samsung’s flagship tech. The company has developed its own Mini LEDS, which it says are even smaller and more efficient than those of its rivals, and combined them with its existing Quantum Dot tech to create a range of premium TVS called Neo QLEDS.
The QE65QN95A is the first Neo QLED we’ve tested. It’s the top 4K model in Samsung’s 2021 range, and it purports to offer a huge upgrade on last year’s equivalent without any increase in price.
This is the model that Samsung is pitching against LG’S popular C-class OLED, the 2021 version of which (the C1) we have yet to review. When it does appear, the C1 is going to have its work cut out, because the Samsung QN95A is the best QLED we’ve tested, and a serious challenger to even the best OLEDS.
Besides the benefits in terms of contrast, a Mini LED backlight is much slimmer than one consisting of standard LEDS. Samsung has reduced the distance between the backlight and the Quantum Dot panel, making the whole display section slimmer. Of course, a TV also needs to pack in processing hardware and speakers, but Samsung has reduced the thickness of the QN95A to just 2.6cm. Its uniform depth measurement makes for a more stylish, picture frame-like proposition when wall-mounted.
The QN95A also gets the smaller and neater version of Samsung’s redesigned One Connect box, where all connections, including power, go into a separate unit connected to the TV via a single cable. The cable running between the One Connect box and display is thicker and less flexible than in previous versions, but this new version is significantly easier on the eye than its predecessor.
The One Connect box also gives the QN95A a more advanced set of connections than other 2021 Samsung models. It’s all down to the HDMIS: all four of the QN95A’S HDMI sockets are 2.1-spec. Of course, simply having HDMI 2.1 sockets isn’t enough to guarantee support for all of those next-gen HDMI features, but the QN95A offers support for EARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel), ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode), 4K@120HZ (aka High Frame Rate) and VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) – including standard HDMI VRR, Nvidia G-sync-compatible and AMD Freesync.
Samsung is even more committed to courting gamers than before, going as far as creating the ‘Game Bar’ – a pop-up menu that gives you quick access to various game-related features. Input lag, meanwhile, has been reduced to under 10ms, which is almost imperceptible.
Samsung has also long been the market leader when it comes to integrated streaming apps, and the QN95A is just as well-appointed as its predecessors. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV, Google Play Movies & TV and Rakuten are all present in 4K and HDR; BBC iplayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5 complete the set of catch-up apps; Now TV and BT Sport are also here; and Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer, BBC Sounds and Tunein mean every major music app is on board.
There is, though, an HDR format of significance that’s missing – Dolby Vision. While Samsung’s rival HDR10+ has made inroads in recent years, Dolby Vision is the more dominant format and Samsung should offer Dolby Vision support as well.
The operating system is still the best in the business, quickly getting you to the content you’re after. One new feature with potential is Multi View, which allows you to split the screen in two and watch an HDMI source in one window and access an app in the other. The only apps supported now, though, are Youtube and Calm, rendering it almost useless.
The QN95A’S new remote has a useful new feature, though: on the bottom is a light panel that allows it to be charged via sunlight and even house lights. During testing, the battery level doesn’t drop below about 95 per cent as it constantly tops itself up. There is also a USB-C socket that can be used as a back-up.
Under the TV’S skin is a new version of Samsung Quantum Processor, called the Neo Quantum Processor 4K. The big new feature here is Ultra Precision Light Driving, which involves more precise dimming and a local power distribution feature that sends power to the brightest areas of the picture and away from the darker parts. It also works in conjunction with a sensor integrated into the TV’S frame to adjust brightness and contrast in response to ambient lighting conditions.
Of course, the biggest new feature is the Mini LED backlight. Samsung explains that the majority of a typical LED’S size is made up of its protective
packaging and light-guiding lens, both of which it has done away with for its so-called ‘New LEDS’. It has miniaturised these LEDS to one-fortieth the size of their traditional counterparts. Instead of a lens, this New LED backlight works with a new ‘micro-layer’ that guides the light through the quantum dots (which provide the set’s colours). The result is little light leakage or blooming. Because the New LEDS are so much smaller, significantly more of them can be packed in, creating more individual dimming zones. Samsung doesn’t quote official numbers, but, on paper, this is an upgrade that could have a startling impact on contrast.
A massive upgrade
Kicking off with the 4K Blu-ray of
John Wick: Chapter 3, it quickly becomes clear that this is a massive upgrade in real terms, too. Not only does the QN95A go vastly brighter than the OLED competition, in most conditions it combines bright and dark picture elements unlike any TV before it. As John cuts through the chandelier shop, the warm, piercing light contrasts brilliantly with the rain-soaked streets in the background, with the glass chandeliers sparkling to a degree that makes the Award-winning Philips 55OLED805 look dull.
Crucially, this brightness doesn’t come at the expense of black depth, which is close to Oled-quality. There’s no obvious haloing around bright objects on dark backgrounds, or any hint that this is a backlit telly. It’s not perfect, but it’s close enough to not matter.
That said, the QN95A is a little cautious when confronted by small bright objects in overwhelmingly black images. During the opening scene of It, Pennywise’s eyes should glow menacingly out of the gloom of the basement, but they’re barely noticeable here. As the camera heads through the tunnel towards daylight, it’s clear that the TV is holding back, making the image less exciting than it should be. In isolation, the Samsung’s delivery rarely looks wrong – only in comparison with one of the punchier recent OLEDS does this reticence become clear.
The only other slight flaw in the QN95A’S delivery is regarding the balance of dark detail and black depth. Not that the TV isn’t capable of both, but we struggle to find the perfect balance. There’s a dedicated Shadow Detail setting, but that washes out the image. Switching the Contrast Enhancer to High, meanwhile, reveals so much dark detail that it feels as though artificial light is being added to some dark scenes.
We’ve always appreciated Samsung’s bold and straightforward picture settings, but for this TV, a Contrast Enhancer setting between Low and High might have proved perfect. As it is, you have to trade just a bit of dark detail to get inky blacks, or have slightly artificially boosted shadow detail.
Ultimately, though, the QN95A is a stunning performer overall. It’s so dynamic and vibrant that it makes its rivals look flat. Whites, in particular, are incredibly pure and punchy, from John Wick’s shirt to the fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling of the first-floor armoury above the chandelier shop. Switch to 1917 and the vibrancy is tempered by a slightly unexpected degree of naturalism. Some TVS, in their quest for vibrancy, push the green fields at the film’s start from verdant to lurid, but the QN95A doesn’t fall into this trap.
The same effortless balance is applied in regards to detail and sharpness, too. Where some TVS, including previous Samsung models, can over-sharpen edges and details, giving everything an artificially etched look, the QN95A ensures that everything is crisp and clearly defined without any exaggeration.
Switching from 4K to 1080p with the Looper Blu-ray, it becomes clear that this Samsung takes a subtle approach to SDR content. While many TVS attempt to give it an HDR sheen, the QN95A opts for subtlety. Compared with the Philips OLED805, the Samsung’s image is less dynamic, but it is also more nuanced in its shading and feels more authentic.
Considering the QN95A’S sound system is essentially invisible, it packs in a large number of drivers – eight of them, in fact – in a 4.2.2 arrangement that Samsung refers to as Object Tracking Sound Plus (OTS+) and is rated to 70W. The system is designed to create a sense of three-dimensionality akin to Dolby Atmos. All of which makes it baffling that the QN95A can’t natively play Dolby Atmos soundtracks, although it can pass them out to a connected speaker system.
Solid audio performance
Regardless of the tech involved, the QN95A puts in a solid audio performance that’s clear, direct and punchy but with good weight and openness. It delivers a strong sense of space and atmosphere while ensuring that dialogue and effects are presented clearly. Detail levels are high by the standards of an integrated sound system, too.
That said, the QN95A’S speakers struggle with the deep bass in Blade Runner 2049, with its woofers flapping uncomfortably. This is far from the only TV to have problems here, but it’s a shame. Still, we would recommend partnering a TV as impressive as this with a dedicated sound system, and this flaw only reinforces that message.
Mini LED might not quite be the revolution that Samsung is pitching it as, but it’s still a substantial upgrade to an already excellent range of TVS. The overall contrast offered is staggering, and the QN95A combines near-oled black levels with crisp white highlights and vibrant colours, while retaining an effortless sense of naturalism.
Throw in the best, most app-packed operating system around, a delightfully slim design and a full set of next-gen HDMI sockets and this is as complete a package as can be imagined – the lack of Dolby Vision support aside. It’s early days for 2021 TVS, but Samsung has thrown down the gauntlet in style and it will be fascinating to see how its rivals respond.
“The QN95A is a stunning performer overall. It’s so dynamic and vibrant it makes its rivals look flat. Whites are incredibly pure and punchy”