Posted Fri Mar 9, 2018 at 07:00 AM PST by Steven Cohen
Earlier this week, High-Def Digest attended Samsung's 2018 home theater lineup launch event. Held at the American Stock Exchange Building in New York City, the first-look event featured a Keynote presentation with the company's top brass and a series of hands-on demos with all the latest gear.
From quantum dot QLED TVs and a stunning 8K display to a room-filling Dolby Atmos sound bar and a show-stopping MicroLED Wall TV, the showcase was packed with impressive products and demonstrations, offering an extensive look at the collection's exciting new performance and smart connectivity upgrades.
Following the TV's initial reveal to the public back at CES, Samsung once again brought out its stunning new 146-inch 4K display, appropriately dubbed The Wall. Using a modular MicroLED design based on the tech used in the company's commercial Cinema Screens, the display features self-emitting picture technology with micrometer (µm) scale LEDs that do not require a backlight or color filters. As a result, the display is capable of achieving incredible contrast, deep black levels, high color volume, and close-to-perfect viewing angles. In other words, it's everything you love about OLED, with the brightness of a QLED or LED. Also, the screen's modular, bezel-free construction allows users to make the TV larger (up to 146-inches) or smaller by adding or removing modules in any configuration with no impact on performance. Likewise, customers can also reconfigure the modules to match whatever aspect ratio they desire.
After first hearing about the TV back in January, I've been dying to see this thing in action for myself. And even with all the hype building it up, the screen does not disappoint. In fact, based on what I got to sample, it just might be the most impressive display I've ever seen. The demo at the showcase featured a reel of gorgeous HDR footage filled with vibrant images of nature, swirling cosmos, cityscapes, and classic art. Throughout all of the material, the screen demonstrated perfect blacks without sacrificing incredible brightness in specular highlights. Hell, the image got so bright in a few shots that it made me squint a little. Likewise, color reproduction was breathtaking, revealing a wide and vivid palette of hues, and picture quality did not seem to degrade at all when viewing from an extreme angle. And despite being made of several individual modules (an exact number not specified), the seams between the pieces were completely invisible.
One shot featuring a landscape of hot magma was particularly striking, as the highlights on the red/orange molten rock popped from the screen with lifelike intensity while the rest of the image maintained a deep and inky appearance. I've seen many impressive HDR displays over the last few years, but I've never seen a TV pull off such a convincing and intense glowing effect around such pinpoint areas on the screen before. Basically, it's the closest a TV has ever made me feel to actually being in the environment shown on screen.
Samsung's The Wall is set for release this August, though pricing has not been announced yet. But based on how new and groundbreaking the tech is and how large the TV can get, we're expecting a pretty big number here. (Like maybe brand new Ferrari big?)
While MircroLED is next-gen amazing, Samsung's new QLED TVs are pretty spectacular in their own right. In fact, the flagship model is shaping up to give LG's reigning OLED displays a run for their money when it comes to picture quality. During the event, Samsung had Q9F, Q8F, Q7F, and Q6F units all on hand, showing off the lineup's beautiful image performance and intriguing new Smart TV features.
All of the 2018 4K QLED displays feature LCD panels with quantum dot technology for 100% color volume in the P3 wide color space, along with Bixby Voice control and playback support for standard HDR10 plus the new dynamic HDR10+ format (but sadly, not Dolby Vision). With that said, Samsung is not revealing exact brightness specs this year, though based on what I saw it looks like the displays are capable of similar if not superior Nit levels compared to last year's models.
The flagship Q9F Series comes in 65-inch, 75-inch, and 88-inch screen sizes. Also, the set offers Samsung's Direct Full Array technology dubbed Q Contrast EliteMax, which features a panel of controllable backlight zones to offer superior black levels and contrast. Previously, all of the company's 2017 models only offered inferior edge-lit dimming, so the switch here to Full Array offers a major improvement in dark room performance. For detailed thoughts on the Q9F, be sure to check out our separate Q9F First Look piece (HERE).
Meanwhile, the Q8F Series comes in 55-inch, 65-inch, and 75-inch screen sizes. Likewise, the set offers a slightly less robust version of Samsung's Direct Full Array technology dubbed Q Contrast Elite, which also features controllable backlight zones for superior black levels and contrast. A demo of the 75-inch model was showcased at the launch event, playing a reel of colorful, detailed images including shots of nature, swirling paint, and marbles. In general, the TV looked gorgeous with a vibrant and rich image marked by bright HDR highlights (though the saturation seemed a little too high in some shots). Unfortunately, the ambient lighting in the room made it difficult to really see the benefits of the Full Array dimming in action, but if it works at all like the Q9F, the feature should be very impressive.
Introducing two screen-types into the mix, the Q7 model comes in a flat-screen Q7F version with 55-inch, 65-inch, and 75-inch options, or a curved-screen Q7C version with 55-inch and 65-inch options. Unlike the step-up Q8F and Q9F models, however, the Q7F and Q7C do not feature Full Array dimming. Instead, the displays offer an edge-lit backlight. Like the Q8F, a 75-inch Q7F model was on hand at the show demoing a similar reel of colorful images. Again, due to the lighting conditions in the room, it was hard to see any real discernable difference between the edge-lit backlight of the Q7F and the Full Array dimming of the Q8F. Still, though we'll have to wait to judge dark room performance, the two appear to offer similarly impressive picture in brighter environments.
Finally, the entry-level Q6F Series comes in 49-inch, 55-inch, 65-inch, 75-inch, and 82-inch screen sizes. Like the Q7F Series, this model only incorporates an edge-lit backlight. Also, its HDR performance isn't quite as advanced as the step-up QLED models. An 82-inch set was demoed at the event showcasing a soccer match. Unfortunately, though still solid overall, this appeared to be the least impressive TV of the bunch, with a slightly exaggerated color palette that made the player's red uniforms bleed a little. With that said, this is likely something that better source material or different settings could alleviate.
Beyond picture quality, Samsung showed off several cool new SmartThings features for the QLED lineup like Bixby voice control. Likewise, a new Ambient Mode which can display headlines, traffic reports, and weather updates throughout the day when the TV isn't being used was demoed as well. And when the display is wall-mounted, Ambient Mode can even reproduce the appearance of a customer's wall directly on the actual screen, allowing the display to seamlessly blend into a user's room.
I got to see this mode in action and it worked exactly as advertised. The TV was hung in front of a brick wall pattern. The Samsung rep simply took a picture of the TV and wall with the SmartThings app. The app then used texture synthesis and color correction to reproduce the look of the wall right on the screen itself.
Also, the SmartThings app can also be used to connect the display to a user's mobile device via Bluetooth, allowing the TV to automatically receive your Wi-Fi settings and login info for compatible apps that you're already signed into on your phone. This "Effortless Login" feature means you don't then have to re-enter all your info for each app on the TV.
Though pricing and availability have not been announced yet, Samsung also had a brief demo of its upcoming 85-inch 8K Q9S QLED TV. The display features 8K resolution, offering four times the number of pixels found on a standard 4K Ultra HD display. Likewise, the set incorporates new AI upscaling technology. This feature uses a proprietary machine learning algorithm to intelligently upscale the resolution of the content being displayed, allowing the TV to produce advanced upscaled 8K images from any source.
With that in mind, AI Upscaling was the emphasis of the demo, pitting the Q9S side-by-side with Samsung's 2016 J7100 85-inch 4K TV. Both TVs displayed the same signal, demonstrating how they scaled 4K HDR, HD, and SD source material. When comparing a 4K reel of a spinning diamond/crystal helmet on the native 4K TV and 8K TV, the upscaled 8K image looked noticeably sharper with more fine detail and clearer separation between each little element on the item. Close-ups of a newspaper also revealed cleaner and easier to read text when upscaled to 8K. Perhaps even more impressive, was just how good upscaled standard definition material looked. An SD reel of skateboarders in San Francisco was blurry and marked by clear artifacts and aliasing on the 4K set. In contrast, the video looked like genuine HD material with no artifacts when being upscaled on the 8K display.
And outside of just scaling and detail, the new Q9S offered very impressive black levels and brightness. Though full specs haven't been revealed, the panel is apparently using some kind of hybrid dimming system that mixes Full Array and MicroLED tech with over 20,000 zones.
The big takeaway, for us at least, is that when pitting the 85" 8K Q9S against the 146" 4K Wall MicroLED, it's clear that 8K resolution is far from necessary (and a long way off in terms of native content). However, Samsung's AI Upscaling technology works wonders, and buying a TV with this feature won't be money wasted.
While displays were the main highlight of the event, Samsung also had its new HW-N950 Dolby Atmos Sound Bar on hand. The system features front-firing, up-firing, and side-firing speakers in the sound bar unit itself, along with separate up-firing rear satellites and a subwoofer to complete a full 7.1.4 surround sound experience.
For demo purposes, I got to sample a Dolby Atmos scene from Everest along with a Dolby demo called Leaf. Unfortunately, the area the sound bar was set up in was far from ideal, with a very low make-shift ceiling, no place to sit, and plenty of ambient noise from the rest of the show. Plus, my ears were not in the best location to really hear the up-firing effect correctly. Still, the system offered a very immersive and wide front soundstage as raging snow, and crashing ice engulfed the room. The side-firing surrounds were particularly effective, really making it seem as if there were more speakers to the left and right of the room. Likewise, the Leaf demo provided a convincing 360-degree effect as the leaf circled the area.
Exact pricing and availability have not been announced yet, but the HW-N950 is expected to carry an MSRP similar to the previously released HW-K950 Sound Bar system.
Samsung's latest QLED displays are set to start rolling out to stores later this month. Though my time with the TVs was relatively brief, the new models appear to offer similarly impressive bright room and color performance as last year's models, while also stepping things up with impressive Full Array Local Dimming on the Q8F and Q9F Series, finally providing some worthy competition to OLED panels. Likewise, the new SmartThings features, Bixby Voice Control, and Ambient mode all offer some clever and convenient lifestyle perks that should help elevate the QLED collection above some other Smart TV platforms.
Bottom Line: Based on my demo time, though great in bright rooms, the edge-lit Q6F and Q7F will likely be beat when it comes to overall picture quality by similarly, and even lower, priced models from the competition. That said, the Q8F and Q9F are both poised to be two of the top 4K displays on the market this year. Meanwhile, the 8K Q9S is showing a lot of promise with its impressive AI upscaling and contrast, even if 8K is overkill. Finally, the seemingly peerless MicroLED Wall TV is in an entirely new class of its own -- I just hope its price point won't be too.
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