A quantum leap for 4K LCD TVs

The Q9F QLED TV offers extremely vibrant colors, great HDR quality, and works well in both bright and dark rooms.

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The Q9F QLED TV offers extremely vibrant colors, great HDR quality, and works well in both bright and dark rooms.

This year, Samsung is hell-bent on challenging the notion that OLED TVs are the best TVs money can buy. And the burden of proof has fallen to the company’s latest flagship, the new QLED series.

Available in three models, Q9F, Q8C, and Q7F, Samsung’s 2017 QLED TVs are still quantum dot-enhanced LED-lit LCD TVs, much like their 2016 SUHD brethren. The difference is that this year’s quantum dot material is strengthened by a metal shell and core, which purportedly leads to some significant picture quality gains.

According to Samsung, the flat Q7F and curved Q8C have a peak luminance of 1,500 nits, while the flagship flat Q9F in this review is able to hit a blinding 2,000 nits. All this is up from the 1,000 nits mustered by last year’s SUHD lineup.

Additionally, Samsung is boasting another world’s first for TVs: 100% color volume. This means QLED TVs are able to cover the wide DCI-P3 color gamut across the entire range of brightness levels, and not just at a certain luminance level. This is no doubt a swipe at OLED, which tends to drop the amount of DCI-P3 coverage once you crank up the brightness. Based on my testing, the flagship Q9F is able to display 99% of the DCI-P3 color gamut.

Image technicalities aside, “Invisible Connection” and “no-gap wall-mount” are two functional solutions that help to tidy up the space where you’re going to put your TV. The former is a thin fiber optic cable that transports all the signals from the One Connect breakout box; the latter an easy to fix $249 wallmount that hides most of its parts in the TV’s chassis, thus allowing the TV to sit flush against the wall. Neither is ground-breaking, but both are examples of how design and usability go hand in hand.

The QLED TVs can also be propped up by an easel-like Studio Stand ($999) or the metal Gravity Stand ($1,199). I’m in agreement that Samsung has priced these stands too high, but I’ll also admit that these are some decidedly premium-looking and superbly built stands. In a way, Samsung is trying to pull off a Bang Olufsen here.

On the software end, the QLED TVs run Tizen and feature largely the same Smart Hub user interface as last year. The biggest visual change, however, is the white frosted glass effect that permeated the whole UI, from the home screen right down to the system menus.

This year’s smart remote still lets you control compatible HDMI-connected devices from a single source and offers voice control for accessing common menu options and TV functions. The updated Smart View mobile app can now show content that’s available for the TV, complete with a row of icons at the top of the app that mimics the TV’s launcher bar. It’s a small touch, but I quite like the idea that I can just select what I want to watch next right on my phone, which is always with me.

With a peak luminance in excess of 1,700 nits in Dynamic mode, the Q9F is currently the brightest TV I’ve tested to date. Coupled with its excellent contrast and very good black uniformity, it works great in both bright and dark rooms.

The high luminance also lends well to HDR content: I found the colors in The Lego Movie to pop more than Samsung’s past flagships. And since it uses a VA panel, there’s no worry of image retention. The Q9F is also a good HDR gaming display, thanks to low input lag. None of the QLED TVs support 3D though.

Sitting front and center of the TV, I found blacks from the Q9F to be about as deep as how I remember them on OLED TVs. Viewing angles are generally better than last year’s models too, with color shifts only becoming a problem after veering more than 30° at either side. That said, blooming effects aren’t totally eradicated. The consolation is that these are only more noticeable at an angle.

Considering that it uses edge-lit rather than a full-array backlighting system, the performance of the Q9F surprises me. And with little motion blur and low input lag, this is also a very enjoyable screen to watch football or play games on. So yes, there’s a strong case to be made for the Q9F being the most well-rounded 4K LCD TV out there right now.