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Samsung Q950TS QLED 8K TV Hands On

An 8K technological statement

by Steve Withers - Updated:

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What is the Samsung Q950TS?

The Samsung Q950TS is the company's flagship 8K QLED TV for 2020. It boasts a host of AI-enhanced picture processing that takes full advantage of the panel's 8K resolution, while also adding new features to boost the peak brightness and improve the power efficiency. In terms of the audio capabilities, eight drivers and object-tracking processing help create a more immersive sonic experience. The Q950TS will be available in 65-, 75- and 85-inch screen sizes.

Samsung's smart platform has also been upgraded, with a 'digital butler' that makes connecting and setting up all your devices even easier. The already comprehensive support for video streaming services has been expanded to include Disney+, and an improved Universal Guide helps choose the content you want to watch. The gaming capabilities have been enhanced, with new features and an amazingly low input lag.

Note from the Editor: This is a hands on and is based on an early look at a pre-production sample last year. The full in-depth review with our usual weeks of real-world use and measurements will follow when we receive the finished retail version of the TV in our own test rooms. However, we do think it is important to produce a hands on feature so we can give you, the AVForums reader, an overview with the correct information and our initial impressions.

Design & Connections

The Samsung Q950TS sports the company's new ‘Infinity’ design, which eliminates the bezel, leaving only a tiny 2mm wide border around the top and side edges of the chassis, and a slightly wider border at the bottom where the Samsung logo is located. The resulting is a rectangular slab is completely flat and only 15mm deep, despite containing a direct full array LED backlight and eight drivers.
Samsung QE65Q950TS

The solid and sloped stand creates the impression the image is elegantly floating in space, and its narrow footprint ensures you don't need a wide surface on which to install the TV. The Q950TS looks attractive from all angles, but if you’d rather wall-mount it there’s the optional ‘No Gap’ bracket. Thanks to Samsung’s clever One Connect box, the screen is connected with a single fibre optic cable, making wall mounting extremely easy.

This nearly-invisible fibre optic connection provides the panel with everything it needs including power, allowing all the other devices to be connected to the One Connect box. This simple idea ensures the minimum of cabling is actually going to the panel, and helps keep things neat and today when it comes to cable management. The inputs on the box include HDMI 2.1, and there’s support for Apple AirPlay 2.

Related: What is HDMI 2.1?

Features

The Samsung Q950TS uses the latest version of the Quantum Processor 8K, which now benefits from an expanded database of picture information that includes more examples of low and high resolution images. As with last year’s version of the processor, AI machine learning is applied to build up a formula bank that’s loaded into the TV and then periodically updated.

This year Samsung has added deep learning, which uses a neural network to augment the existing machine learning. This neural network can create its own formulas and algorithms without resorting to a formula bank, and while the previous machine learning took a day to complete, the new deep learning can take up to a week.

This AI-enhanced approach to picture processing ensures that whatever the quality of the source content, any upscaled images always look impressive. The processing is done on a pixel-by-pixel basis, with the AI created formulas and filters applying noise reduction, edge restoration, texture creation and fine detail restoration. The deep learning aspect of the processing is primarily reserved for creating fine detail and dealing with complex images.

The use of neural networks requires massive amounts of processing power, the databases and formula banks require huge amounts of storage. So the algorithms, formulas and filters are created by Samsung using the combination of machine learning and neural networks before loading them into the TV's processor via periodic firmware updates. Minor updates are made on a regular basis, but major updates will only happen once or twice a year.

Related: What is TV AI?

Based on demonstrations made by Samsung, the new processor is able to make full use of the 33 million pixels in the 8K panel, effectively upscaling lower resolution content to fit the screen. The Quantum Processor then applies noise reduction to clean-up low quality material, as well as some banding reduction in order to deliver more precise gradations in all content.

The images are analysed as three layers – course, medium and fine – and then the detail texture creation is applied depending on the quality of the source content. This makes sense, because less processing is required for a high quality 4K source, but more fine detail and texture creation will be needed when dealing with low quality standard definition material.
Samsung QE65Q950TS

The processor also enhances motion by applying error improvements designed to prevent the distortion of small objects. In addition it applies pixel-based occlusion correction and concealment, to deliver smoother and more refined motion. There is improved judder reduction that avoids the ‘soap opera effect’, and a newly added ability to eliminate stutter caused by frame drops.

The Samsung Q950TS uses a direct full array LED backlight with local dimming zones. The company wouldn't confirm the exact number of zones, but apparently it’s the same as last year, in which case there are 488 zones. The use of a direct backlight and local dimming ensures the panel is able to produce deep blacks and brighter highlights with minimal blooming or haloing.

The contrast performance has been further enhanced by the addition of Adaptive Peak Brightness. The image is analysed and the backlight creates a current map based on this analysis, which is broken down into bright or dark areas. Using the dimming zones, this feature then applies more current to the brighter areas of the image, and less to the darker parts.

This kind of local power distribution technology, allows the Q950TS to not only relocate power from darker parts of the image to the brighter areas, thus producing a 20% increase in peak brightness, but also improves the energy efficiency of the backlight. In addition, there's an Intelligent Contrast feature that analyses the luminance distribution of an image, applying signal processing to fine tune the contrast performance.

The Quantum Processor doesn’t just improve the picture quality via upscaling and image enhancements, it also optimises the picture based on a user’s viewing habits. There's an Adaptive Picture feature that measures ambient light in the room using a light sensor, and adjusts the image depending on whether its day or night. These adjustments are based on both the measurements and the image itself, rather just globally based on the readings from the sensor.

Related: What is High Dynamic Range (HDR)?


Naturally the Q950TS supports high dynamic range (specifically HDR10, HDR10+ and Hybrid Log-Gamma), although Samsung still don't support Dolby Vision. However there is also a new feature called Adaptive Tone Mapping, which applies dynamic tone mapping to HDR10 and HDR10+ on a frame-by-frame basis, thus enhancing dark and mid-range images to produce a more impactful HDR experience.

Related: What is HDR10+?

Samsung demonstrated an early version of this feature, which certainly boosted the brightness in the dark and mid-range scenes. However the dynamic tone mapping was somewhat aggressive, and while HDR looked good in a brightly lit room, with the lights out the blacks were washed out. This feature was still being fine-tuned at the time of the demonstration, so hopefully this will be improved before launch, and there's also the option to turn it off.

Smart TV

As in previous years, Samsung’s smart platform uses the Tizen operating system, and its implementation is one of the best on the market. This year the platform has been enhanced, with a cleaner interface and a host of new features. Perhaps the most impressive is the Digital Butler, which allows for quick and easy connection of all nearby devices by automatically detecting them and then representing all of them in a graphical fashion.

The TV will scan the area for three minutes based on signal strength, looking for nearby Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices. The results are shown using an intuitive representation that also includes any infra-red devices and those that are physically connected via HDMI or USB. You can then select any detected device from the graphical interface and set it up, before moving on to the next one.

This feature makes detecting and registering devices incredibly easy, and allows the TV to act as a centralised control point for all the connected devices in your home. The Q950TS offers the benefits of built-in smart assistants in the form of Bixby and Amazon Alexa. It also has multiple voice control options thanks to Alexa and Bixby, as well as the ability to work in conjunction with Google Assistant.

The centralisation of all your devices through your TV, along with the connectivity offered by the Internet of Things (IoT) has made modern smart TV platforms vulnerable to hacking. In conjunction with Knox Security, Samsung has ensured that the Tizen OS is safe from malware and phishing activities, and can also provide secure remote access and payment services.
Samsung QE65Q950TS

Of course, as impressive as device centralisation, smart assistants and voice control are, you primarily use a TV is to watch content. So the more video streaming services a TV supports the better, and Samsung offers a comprehensive selection that includes Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, Rakuten TV, Now TV, and all the UK catch-up services. In addition, there’s support for TV Plus, Apple TV+ and Disney+.

The Q950TS also supports all the latest 8K codecs, allowing users with a fast enough broadband connections to enjoy native 8K content from services like YouTube and Rakuten. In addition Samsung has announced support for AI ScaleNet technology that reduces original data loss during streaming, as well as the NextGenTV broadcast standard.

The downside to all this choice is that you either can't find or simply can't decide what to actually watch, because you're overwhelmed with options. To help with this very first world problem, Samsung has developed the Universal Guide. This feature curates and recommends content based on your viewing habits, and this year it has been updated to be more content driven, rather than relying on the support of content partners.

Sound

The Samsung Q950TS boasts an enhanced sound system that built around eight drivers in a six speaker array. The creates a 4.2.2-channel layout with two height speakers on either side at the top, two width speakers at the sides towards the bottom, two front speakers on the underside firing downwards, and a pair woofers built into the rear of the chassis.

The integration of the speakers is seamless, hidden behind a pattern of tiny holes in the outer edge of the TV cabinet. In demonstrations the sound quality is certainly impressive, with an open soundstage and plenty of power in the amplification. However the demos were conducted using a stand mounted Q950TS, raising the question of how wall mounting would effect the woofers built into the rear of the TV?

Hopefully this is addressed when you first set the TV up, because there's a sound optimisation feature that sends out test tones and measures them using built-in microphones. The Q950TS also applies AI-enhanced processing to its sound capabilities, using audio spatial intelligence to analyse the signal and environment, thus allowing it to deliver an improved sonic experience.

There’s also Active Voice Amplifier, which detects ambient noise in the room and automatically adjusts the vocal clarity accordingly. Another major new audio feature is Object Tracking Sound Plus (OTS+), which uses the eight drivers built into the Q950TS to deliver a bigger soundstage with greater width, height and dimensionality.
Samsung QE65Q950TS

This is achieved by analysing the audio signal, and using the available speakers combined with sophisticated processing to create sounds that are aligned with the location of specific images on the screen. This certainly worked in the demos, with the sound of a bird flying across the screen being tracked by the acoustic processing from left to right. However, how effective this will be with real world material remains to be seen.

It’s interesting that despite the Q950TS having built-in height speakers, Samsung still doesn’t support Dolby Atmos (although the TV can send Atmos back via ARC from its internal apps to a supporting soundbar or AV receiver). The inclusion of HDMI 2.1 means it also supports eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel), which means it can also pass lossless audio back via ARC to a supporting soundbar our AV receiver.

If you have a 2020 Samsung soundbar, you can not only enjoy lossless audio, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X support, but you can also benefit from Q-Symphony which provides audio synergy with the TV. This feature enables the speakers in the soundbar to work in conjunction with the top and side speakers on the Q950TS, resulting in a more immersive surround experience. The demo used a scene from Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and while the experience was certainly more enveloping, the Samsung engineers were rather vague on exactly which channels the top and side speakers were used for, given that the soundbar was already using upward-firing drivers for overhead effects. It will be interesting to discover exactly how this feature works in testing.

Related: What is Dolby Atmos?

Gaming

The Samsung Q950TS has a host of features aimed at gamers, and since it uses an LCD panel there's no danger of image retention or screen burn, even after a marathon gaming session. Instead you can simply enjoy those bright and detailed 8K and HDR images.

The Q950TS supports VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) and ALLM (Automatic Low Latency Mode), but new this year is support for AMD FreeSync. In addition, when it switches into the Auto Game Mode, Samsung claims an input lag of 10ms or less.
Samsung QE65Q950TS

Other new features include a multi-view mode that allows users to game and watch game-related videos simultaneously. However, this feature isn’t just for gamers, and anyone can view two pieces of content at the same time, either side-by-side or as picture-in-picture.

There’s also a new surround mode specifically for gaming that offers extra tuning designed to emphasise sound effects within the game, and the existing Game Motion Plus feature has been improved by up to 40%, resulting in smoother movement when gaming.

Verdict

The Samsung Q950TS is an impressively specified 8K TV that boasts a host of high-end features. The design is striking, and the sophisticated AI-enhanced image processing delivers genuinely impressive results. The audio system not only boasts eight built-in drivers, but also benefits from additional AI-enhanced sonic processing and object tracking sound.

The already impressive HDR performance is improved by new features like adaptive peak brightness and adaptive tone mapping, although the latter may need tweaking. The smart platform is intuitive, secure and comprehensive, while only the lack of Dolby Vision and Atmos spoils what is otherwise a state-of-the-art TV package.

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