Samsung KE55S9C (S9) Curved OLED TV Review
There's a new kid in town
What is the Samsung KE55S9C?It hasn’t been the easiest of births for the OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) TV, with plenty of false alarms and wasted trips to the hospital but finally the big day has arrived. Ever since the technology was first applied to televisions the potential has been obvious with the absolute blacks, fast response times and wider colour gamut providing a tantalising glimpse of the future. Higher resolution is one thing but there is so much more to an image and OLED is the next stage in the evolution of TV technology.
But what is OLED? Well in simple terms it’s a layer of organic material that glows when an electrical current is passed through it. So in that sense it's similar to plasma which is also a self-illuminating technology. As a result OLED is capable of incredibly deep native blacks, deeper even than plasma because there is no after-glow in the sub-pixels. However OLED is also capable of delivering high levels of brightness, far brighter than any plasma - so in that sense it is more like a LCD TV. This combination of deep blacks and brightness is the best of both worlds and should result in amazing contrast ratios and dynamic range.
An OLED screen has other advantages too, including a very wide colour gamut and much faster response times. Whilst the standard for colours currently remains Rec.709, the wider colour gamut on an OLED screen does open the door for an increased standard at some future date. The faster response times should result in improved 3D performance and has enabled Samsung to develop their Multi View feature which allows two viewers to watch completely different programmes simultaneously. These two programmes can even be in 3D, which gives you an idea of just how fast the response times on an OLED screen actually are.
What an OLED screen isn’t is an ‘LED TV’ but thanks to some rather disingenuous marketing (put your hand up Samsung) there could be some confusion amongst consumers. Despite the impression given by the manufacturers an ‘LED TV’ is not a new technology, it’s just an LCD panel with LED backlighting, as opposed to CCFL. OLED however is the real deal, a new technology that offers the potential for a quantum leap in image quality. Of course such cutting-edge technology doesn’t come cheap but in a strange way, a retail price of £6,999 seems quite reasonable for the television of the future. So let’s see if the Samsung KE55S9C was worth the wait and delivers on all that early promise.
Design and ConnectionsSamsung have made a habit of creating striking televisions and the S9 is no exception. With its ‘Timeless Arena’ design and curved screen, it certainly stands out and will grace even the most elegant of living rooms. However the curved screen itself could prove divisive amongst enthusiasts, with some appreciating its aesthetic appeal whilst others bemoan the affect it has on off-axis viewing. On a 55-inch flat panel television there is no reason for the curve, other than the fact that it’s easy to do with an OLED screen and it will clearly differentiate the new technology from the competition.
In reality the curve is quite minor and you don’t notice it when sat in the centre, although it is more apparent once you move off-axis. This is a shame because one of the other advantages of OLED is its incredibly wide viewing angle, even at the most extreme points there is no degradation in image quality. The other disadvantage of a curved screen is that it precludes wall mounting, although if this is important to you, Samsung will be launching a flat OLED screen next year.
The curved screen could prove divisive amongst enthusiasts...
The ‘Timeless Arena’ design is essentially a frame around the entire screen, with the panel itself attached at the top where the built-in camera is situated and at the bottom where the built-in speakers are connected. Despite appearances the screen can not be swivelled and according to Samsung this was in order to make the structure more rigid. For the same reason Samsung made the panel deeper than it needed to be, measuring 1.5cm at the edge and 4.5cm at the centre where it attaches to the frame. Since an OLED screen doesn’t need a backlight, it can be made very thin indeed but Samsung decided it was more sensible to make the screen as robust as possible. There is a foot that attaches to the rear of the panel that supports it at a slight angle and the curve of the frame itself is more exaggerated than the actual screen.
The black metal frame has a silver trim on the outer edge and black fabric around the inner section. This is because the speakers are built into the frame, giving the S9 discrete forward firing speakers that should improve the audio quality. The entire design is a beautiful combination of elegance and simplicity which carries over to the rear. The back panel is just black brushed metal with only two connections - the proprietary cable for the One Connect box and the power cable. Even these can be hidden behind a magnetic panel, giving the S9 a clean and minimalist look wherever it’s placed in the room. In fact every aspect of this OLED TV, from the design to the packaging to the accessories, reflects its premium nature and helps justify the cost.
The inclusion of the One Connect box might seem strange at first but there are valid reasons why Samsung are including it with the S9. Firstly from a purely aesthetic aspect it allows you to keep all the connections away from the panel itself, so no unsightly cables poking out of it, although the fact that the S9 can’t be wall mounted does eliminate one of the other big advantages of this approach. Of course the S9 is a 1080p panel and thus there are no concerns about changing standards or later versions of HDMI but the One Connect box also includes a lot of processing power - which is one of the reasons why it gets warm. As Samsung announced at IFA, for future Smart Evolution upgrades they can just replace the One Connect box, which seems like an elegant solution.
In terms of the connections themselves, there are a healthy number befitting the flagship status of the S9. We get four HDMI inputs with support for ARC and MHL. We also get two USB ports, along with an Ethernet port, a digital optical audio out, aerial and satellite connectors and legacy connections using breakout cables. The One Connect box itself is attached to the screen via a 3m proprietary cable but according to Samsung longer versions are available.
The S9 ships with two remote controls, an attractive if fairly standard remote and a smaller touch pad version with a built-in microphone. Both are well made, easy to use and comfortable to hold, with a solid and nicely engineered feel. In the case of the more standard controller the button layout is quite intuitive, although it would seem the aspect ratio button has now gone the way of the dodo. Generally we preferred using the standard remote but that is largely a matter of personal preference. Of course this being 2013 there is also an excellent remote app for both iOS and Android.
Samsung's new Multi View glasses allow two people to watch different programmes simultaneously.
The S9 includes two pairs of Multi View glasses which, whilst appearing similar to Samsung’s previous 3D glasses, do have some noticeable differences. Most obviously there are pods at the end of each arm where the ear buds are stored. These are used when the glasses are in Multi View mode to deliver the audio channel for whichever programme you are watching. There is also an A/B switch on the left hand arm for swapping between video feeds and a volume control on the right hand arm. At the end of the left hand arm is the on/off switch and beneath this is a small USB port for recharging. The lenses appear to be slightly larger than before but remain incredibly light and fit easily over regular spectacles. The added weight of the pods rests over the ears, so the glasses remain comfortable to wear, even over long periods of time. Although we're not sure how hygienic sharing the glasses amongst family members will be, especially when it comes to the ear buds.
MenusThe S9 uses Samsung’s standard menu system, so there is no need to go through it in detail but there are a few new options that are worth noting. In the main Picture menu there are the usual controls including Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness, Colour and Tint. In addition, and emphasising OLED’s similarity to plasma, there is also a Cell Light control for increasing the overall brightness. Moving further down the Picture menu we find the Picture Size submenu where you can select the aspect ratio and the 3D submenu which is self explanatory. New for the S9 is the Samsung Multi View submenu where you can choose the two sources that you are going to use for your Multi View experience. The submenu takes you through the entire process, so it’s fairly straightforward.
Next up we have the Advanced Settings and here you’ll find some fairly useless controls, including Dynamic Contrast, Black Tone and Flesh Tone - all of which can be zero’d or turned off. There is a choice of a two- and a ten-point white balance control for those wishing to calibrate the greyscale and a Colour Space control. Here you can select Auto or Native and if you want to access the Colour Management System (CMS), select Custom. Finally in the Picture Options submenu there is the Colour Tone (Colour Temperature) control and the Motion Plus feature - more on that later.
FeaturesThe major new feature on the S9 is Multi View and whether or not this will get extensive use, there’s no denying how impressive the technology is. The fact that you can seamlessly switch between two completely different 3D images is quite incredible and there was generally no crosstalk within the 3D or between the two separate images. We did on occasion spot some slight crossover between the two images but this seemed to be related to us turning our head and might be down to limitations in the LCD lenses of the glasses. However whether it’s 2D or 3D content, the Multi View feature certainly works and our only complaint would be that it defaults to a ‘dynamic’ style of picture mode that can’t be changed. The technological achievement aside, only time will tell whether Multi View is a sad indictment of modern life or a saviour for failing marriages.
If there is one area where Samsung have developed a clear lead, it’s in terms of video-on-demand services where they currently offer all the major catch-up and streaming services. There are apps for BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5, along with Netflix, LoveFilm and Blinkbox. In addition Samsung have recently added Wuaki.tv to the list of services they offer on their Smart TV platform, so it really does offer a one-stop shop when it comes to video-on-demand. There's also YouTube and Vimeo of course, as well as a host of other smart features including media playback, social networking and file sharing. You can read an in-depth review of Samsung’s Reference Status Smart TV platform here.
If there is one area where Samsung have developed a clear lead, it’s in terms of video-on-demand services.
Audio QualityThanks to the forward firing speakers built into the frame surrounding the S9, the audio performance is better than many other TVs we’ve reviewed recently. There’s no doubt that the manufacturers are aware of the poor sound on modern TVs and have been looking at innovative ways of addressing this. In the case of the S9 there are 10W speakers either side of the screen and a 20W woofer built in along the bottom. This approach seems to have been effective, with good stereo separation and an open front soundstage. Dialogue remains clear, whilst sound effects and music are well positioned. Given the size of the speakers, the bass is somewhat lacking but the S9 can go reasonably loud without distorting. The built-in audio certainly won’t replace a good soundbar and given the price we would expect owners to use some form of outboard audio solution. However if you are planning on using the built-in speakers, the S9 won’t disappoint.
Test ResultsWe started by selecting the Movie Picture Mode and adjusting the Contrast, Brightness and Sharpness controls. We selected a Colour Tone of Warm2, a Colour Space of Auto and left the Gamma at zero. The out-of-the-box performance was reasonably good, with gamma tracking at 2.2 and the DeltaEs (errors) measuring between 2 and 6. Whilst these errors were visible, the result of a slight excess of green in the greyscale, they were only minor. The colour gamut was also very good, with all the colours measuring close to their targets and excellent accuracy in terms of luminance. There was a minor error in the hue of red and a slight over-saturation in green but overall this is an excellent out-of-the-box performance.
The S9 includes both a two- and a ten-point white balance control and it was relatively easy to adjust the greyscale using the two-point and then fine tune with the ten-point. The result was reference greyscale, with errors that were less than one (well below the threshold of human perception) and a gamma that still accurately tracked 2.2. For reasons best known to Samsung, when you select the Custom Colour Space it defaults to the panel’s native gamut which is pretty big. That means you have to do a fair amount of correction with the CMS, especially in green and cyan, to get the colours back to Rec.709. However once you have, the S9 can deliver a reference colour performance as well.
When we measured the tracking at saturation points below 100%, it was a different story and clearly having to adjust the native colour space so much using the CMS had affected the lower saturation points. This is one of the reasons that we run this test because 100% saturation doesn’t give you the whole picture. Since the Auto colour space was already very accurate, we reverted to that and found that tracking was much improved. As a result we would generally recommend calibrating the greyscale and then using the Auto colour space setting. The images produced have a lovely natural appearance and any errors are below the threshold for human vision.
If there is one area where OLED has been expected to deliver, it’s in terms of black levels and the S9 certainly lived up to its billing here. We measured black at 0.000cd/m2, so essentially if the S9 was putting out any light our Klein K-10 was unable to register it. The S9 was also very bright, easily hitting the 120cd/m2 that we use as a target for our critical viewing tests. That means that technically the S9 has an infinite on/off contrast ratio, although as we all know it’s the ANSI contrast ratio that really matters. Well the S9 blew that out of the water as well, as the graph below demonstrates. We’ve never seen measurements that good and the resulting ANSI contrast ratio was 71,000:1! The S9 sets new benchmarks when it comes to black level, contrast ratio and dynamic range.
We were also pleased to see that the screen uniformity was excellent with no light pooling or bright edges. In fact the S9 delivered a wonderfully consistent image that was free of any of the annoying issues that so often plague LCD and plasma TVs. So there was no banding, haloing or dirty screen effect, nor were there any dead pixels - which is just as well since Samsung advertise the S9 under the banner “life in every pixel”. Sorry Mark but I thought I’d get that gag in first. There have been reports of image retention and screen burn with OLED TVs but there was no evidence of this on our review sample. As with plasmas there is a screen burn protection feature in the menu that brings up a screen saver after a specified period of time. As far as the lifespan of an OLED TV is concerned that remains to be seen but Samsung are confident this won’t be a problem. One other well reported issue with OLED is that blue decays faster than both red and green. To combat this, the blue sub-pixel is twice as big as the red and green ones - again Samsung are confident this will address the issue.
The S9 sets new benchmarks when it comes to black level, contrast ratio and dynamic range.
The video processing on Samsung TVs has always been impressive and the S9 continues that tradition, never putting a foot wrong in our tests. It had no problems deinterlacing and scaling standard definition content, with excellent detail and no unwanted ringing. The S9 also had no problems detecting both 3:2 and 2:2 cadence correctly and, as long as the Auto2 Film Mode was selected, scrolling video text over film was also delivered perfectly. The S9 performed superbly in all the other tests as well, delivering an almost flawless performance in every regard. The quality of the video deinterlacing at 1080i50 was just as good as it was for standard definition and there were no apparent issues with 24p content. There were also no signs of clipping in red, green or blue; whilst we could see all the detail up to video level 255 and down to video level 17.
The one area that did surprise us was motion handling. Given the incredibly fast response times of OLED, we had expected motion to have a more plasma-like appearance but in actual fact it was very LCD-like, delivering about 300 lines of resolution with Motion Plus off. According to Samsung the reason for this is that the OLED pixels are driven using a method called ‘sample-and-hold’ which, as the name suggests, displays and holds a static frame until the next one is refreshed. Since our eyes are always moving when tracking moving objects, this approach causes the held frame to blur across the retina. The flicker of an impulse-driven display like a plasma or a CRT shortens the frame samples and, coupled with the natural phosphor decay, eliminates motion blur. Samsung claim that ‘sample-and-hold’ is used because otherwise the motion on an OLED screen appears unnatural to the human eye.
The only way to reduce motion blur caused by ‘sample-and-hold’ is to shorten the amount of time the frame is held for - either by extra refreshes or black frame insertion. Within the Motion Plus control Samsung offer both options with frame interpolation being used to increase the refresh rate. If you choose Custom and then turn Clear Motion off, you can adjust the Deblur and Dejudder controls to produce excellent motion handling without introduce unnatural smoothing. This is especially effective with fast-paced sports action. If you turn Clear Motion on that turns off the frame interpolation but introduces black frame insertion instead. This approach immediately reduces the brightness of the image, although you can easily adjust for this but it also results in increased flicker. Whilst the flicker wasn’t really an issue, Clear Motion does disable 24p playback which is not ideal for Blu-rays and for film-based content we generally left Motion Plus off because we still felt the use of frame interpolation resulted in the 'soap opera effect', however mildly.
We measured the input lag at 146ms with Game Mode off and 62ms with it on. We managed to shave a couple of milliseconds off this by renaming the input to PC but even 60ms will be too high for a serious gamer. However for those of us with less-than-cat-like reflexes, gaming on the S9 proved to be very enjoyable. The images looked gorgeous and the motion handling was great (especially with Motion Plus engaged), resulting in a highly enjoyable bout of mayhem on GTA5. The superb 3D on the S9 was very evident during a prolonged session playing Wipe Out, with the bright image and deep blacks making the experience more immersive than ever before.
The following measurements were taken with a full screen 50% white pattern:
Out-of-the-Box – Standard Mode: 136W
Calibrated – Movie Mode: 137W
Calibrated - 3D Mode: 175W
The S9 simply blew us away with some of the best images we have ever seen.
Samsung KE55S9C Video Review
Samsung KE55S9C Picture QualityTests and measurements are all very well but it’s what the actual images look like that’s important and the S9 simply blew us away with some of the best images we have ever seen. The absolute nature of the blacks means that the picture always has a rock solid bed on which it is based and in conjunction with the inherent brightness the dynamic range is breathtaking. The intra-frame contrast performance has to be seen to be believed and even the best plasmas don’t come close. It is incredible to see total blacks in the same frame as bright images and in dark scenes the S9 really comes into its own. In fact when scenes faded to black it could be slightly disconcerting as the TV became the blackest thing in room. It was also good to see that the S9 didn’t achieve this by simply crushing the blacks and always retained shadow detail just above black.
The accurate greyscale and colours also added to the impact of the image, with a picture that reminded us of plasma but was free of any noise or false contouring. The image was very detailed with clean and beautifully rendered high definition pictures. Thanks to the excellent video processing, the S9 was equally as assured with standard definition content, resulting in an impressive all-round performance. The superb screen uniformity, coupled with the absence of any other distracting problems results in a hugely enjoyable experience. The curve of the screen was never an issue, although we were sat directly in front of the TV, and there was no problem with reflections either. Whilst the S9’s staggering black levels made watching in a dark room a revelation, it was more than bright enough to strut its stuff in the daylight.
We watched our recently purchased Blu-ray of Man of Steel and the S9 did a wonderful job of replicating the film’s subdued colours and realistic tones. The black levels and image detail are also exemplary, perfectly capturing the deliberate use of film grain. For something a little cleaner, brighter and more colourful, we chose Monsters University and again the S9 just knocked it out of the park with a truly gorgeous image. Moving on to some high-def TV programming and both Agents of Shield and Homeland looked spectacular, whilst football and rugby was equally as impressive. We even found standard definition content to be very watchable, especially on DVD where there wasn't as much compression.
It truly does represent the best of both worlds and it was only with motion blur that the S9 didn’t come out on top. Plasma still has the edge there but with that venerable technology heading the way of CRT it’s largely a moot point. Besides the motion handling on the S9 was still excellent and we found it difficult to fault the Samsung in just about any area. It could be argued that the lack of a 4K panel is a limitation but let’s be honest here, how long will it be before 4K makes up a significant part of our viewing experience? Two years? Five years? Most people are still watching a lot of standard definition content so it really isn’t an issue in our opinion.
It was easily one of the best and most immersive 3D experiences we have had to date.
Picture Quality 3DWhen it came to 3D content, the S9 just blew us out of the water, delivering hands down the best 3D we have seen and that includes passive on a 4K panel. The combination of image accuracy and brightness were important, as was the staggering black levels that gave the 3D images a genuine sense of solidity. However it was the total absence of crosstalk and flicker that really moved the 3D on the S9 into a class of its own. We put on Happy Feet Two which, with its black penguins on white snow is a notorious torture test for crosstalk. On the S9 however not only was there absolutely no crosstalk but the blacks were completely black and the whites were a brilliant white. Once you combined that with a staggering level of detail, the result was easily one of the best and most immersive 3D experiences we have had to date.
- Absolute black levels
- Reference dynamic range and contrast ratios
- Reference greyscale and colour accuracy
- Excellent video processing
- Reference 3D performance
- Reference features and smart platform
- Gorgeous design
- Superb build quality
- Good sound
- Curved screen will divide opinion
- Can't be wall mounted
- Input lag too high for serious gamers
- Motion resolution is 300 lines with Motion Plus off
Samsung KE55S9C (S9) Curved OLED TV ReviewIt may have taken longer to arrive than we had hoped but OLED has certainly been worth the wait. The Samsung KE55S9C lives up to all its early promise, producing the kind of black levels that enthusiasts have only dreamed about before. It can also do this whilst retaining plenty of brightness, resulting in a contrast performance and dynamic range that quite simply sets the bar higher than ever before. Once you include the image accuracy and excellent video processing, you get some of the best pictures we have seen from a consumer television. Whether you're watching 2D or 3D or even both at the same time, the S9 doesn't put a foot wrong.
If that isn't enough, and it really should be, the S9 also includes an incredible array of features including a built-in camera, Multi View and the best Smart TV platform on the market. Yes it isn't perfect - the curve may put some off and precludes wall mounting, whilst the input lag will be too high for serious gamers but these are very minor points in our book. Some might bemoan the lack of 4K but that's a moot point in our opinion and whilst the S9 isn't cheap, you get what you pay for in this life. Samsung have been on something of a roll recently and the KE55S9C is a remarkable technological and engineering achievement. The future is here and it looks stunning.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £6,999.99
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level10
3D Picture Quality10
Ease Of Use9
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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