What is the Samsung QE65Q9FN?
The Q9FN arrives with a certain degree of expectation. After something of a misstep last year, the Korean giant has returned with a direct array LED backlight on its top-end model that is better suited to HDR. The promise of increased brightness, deeper blacks and more effective local dimming has encouraged LCD enthusiasts after a year in which OLED has largely run riot.
Aside from the backlight and local dimming, what else can we expect from the 65Q9FN? There's support for 4K Ultra HD, High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) of course, along with Hybrid Log-Gamma and HDR10+. The TV's smart platform has been upgraded, adding a host of new features, and the One Connect box now handles the power as well, meaning a single thin cable is all that connects the panel.
All this high-end goodness doesn't come cheap and the QE65Q9FN costs £3,799 as at the time of writing (May 2018). That makes Samsung's flagship LCD TV slightly cheaper than higher-end OLED TVs from LG, Sony and Panasonic, so if it delivers in terms of performance then we could be on to a winner. Right that's enough of a preamble, let's get down to business.
What that basically means is that you get a tiny black bezel just 5mm wide around the screen, that has a slight chamfered effect to add a bit more detail. The flat edge of the panel has a black brushed metal finish, and the rear panel is black textured plastic with horizontal lines that is in keeping with Samsung's 360 degree design ethos. There's also a thin air vent along the rear of the panel, towards the top.
There's only one cable going to the TV itself (more on that later), which sits flush with the rear of the panel, and since the connector has the same textured finish it's almost invisible once attached. There is a panel to cover where the stand connects to the rear of the TV and there are 400x400 VESA fixings if you decide to wall mount. Samsung also offer a No-Gap wall bracket that is available separately.
The overall build quality is excellent, as befits a flagship TV, and the 65Q9FN measures 1450 x 890 x 353mm (WxHxD) with the stand attached and weighs in at 30.9kg but if you take the stand off to wall mount, then it measures 1450 x 830 x 39mm and weighs 26.7kg.
In terms of connections there are four HDMI 2.0 inputs that support 4K/60p, WCG, HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG, along with VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) via a future firmware update. One of the HDMI inputs also supports ARC (Audio Return Channel) and there's also an optical digital output and an Ethernet port, although naturally the Q9FN has built-in WiFi. There are twin terrestrial and satellite tuners, three USB 2.0 connections at the side, a CI (Common Interface) slot and the connector for the single cable that goes to the TV.
Beneath the central navigation controls there's a Home button, along with return and play/pause. Further down there are also volume and channel controls, which have rounded edges to make them more ergonomic. In addition to moving the volume up and down with the volume control, you can mute the sound by pressing it. On the back of the remote is a black button which opens the remote and there are also release buttons to make changing the batteries as simple as possible.
As you'd expect with a modern TV, you also have the option to control your Q9FN using your smartphone or tablet. This year the remote app is built into Samsung's new SmartThings app which not only allows you to set up the TV from your smart device but also allows you to control all your connected smart devices via a single hub. We'll cover this more in the next section but from the perspective of controlling your TV, the SmartThings app mirrors the controls available on the One Remote.
Samsung have expanded on last year's Q Smart platform to create what they call SmartThings, which essentially turns your TV into a hub for all the smart devices in the home. Assuming they're smart enough, then everything from your fridge to your vacuum cleaner can be monitored and controlled from the SmartThings hub. You can also get notifications on your TV in the form of pop-up messages showing updates from your home's IoT devices, calendar reminders, when your favourite content is on and information from your mobile phone. If you're a Samsung smart device user, you can also take full advantage of the Samsung Cloud and sync your photos with other Samsung smart devices.
One of the great new features is the ability to set up your TV using your mobile phone and the SmartThings app. It's freely available for both iOS and Android, and works extremely well with both operating systems. Using the SmartThings app, you simply follow the on-screen instructions and it will take you through the set-up procedure step by step. That means it will automatically share your network information with the TV, if you have a Samsung account it will share that information too and also allow you to add any apps that aren't already on the Smart Hub. The TV will even set-up your tuner in the background, whilst you're doing everything else. As already mentioned, as you connect your various sources to the One Connect box via HDMI, the TV automatically detects and sets up that input, and even adds the control commands for the One Remote.
Setting up the TV isn't the only thing that is simple because the Smart Hub itself is also well designed and highly intuitive. Thanks to the Q Engine built into the TV, it also has sufficient processing power to actually run the operating system, making it a slick and responsive experience. When you press the home button there's a main launcher bar from which you can access Notifications, Settings, Sources, Search Function, Apps, Ambient Mode, Universal Guide, Live TV, TV Plus, SmartThings, Gallery and the Internet. Selecting these options brings up further options on a layer above, that offer more choice or shortcuts to a programme that you're currently watching on Netflix for example.
With so much content available from so many different providers, it's easy to get confused. So Samsung have now added their Universal Guide which places all your content in a single location and then recommends more content that has been tailored just for you, based on your viewing habits. With multiple sources integrated into a single app and personalised recommendations, the Universal guide makes browsing and playing content easier than ever.
The One Remote includes a voice assistant feature that allows you to change channels, search for content and open apps, among other things. Whilst this feature did work and I was able to control the TV to a degree using my voice, I must admit that I ended up using the One Remote itself most of the time. Too often I got a "I did not understand you message" which might just be me, but it seems the system is very dependant on how you actually phrase an instruction. However there's no denying the voice control feature is an improvement on previous years and will undoubtedly increase in importance as voice control and personal assistants become the norm.
In terms of actual apps available at the time of review, there was Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, Spotify, FB Video, Deezer and Rakuten TV. All of these worked flawlessly and I'll cover the picture quality on Netflix and Amazon Video later in this review. If you're wondering where BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, All4, My5 and NOW TV are, Samsung have assured me that these will be added via a firmware update in mid-May. Samsung have also demonstrated the Steam Link app at various press events. This will allow you to seamlessly play games on your TV in high quality graphics, without having to use a separate Steam Link set-top box.
One final new addition to the functionality of the Q9FN is the Ambient Mode feature. This is essentially an alternative to putting the TV into standby and instead you can use the TV to show backgrounds, images and information. There is a dedicated button on the remote for selecting Ambient mode and there's also a menu system for customising the layout. You can use Decor to choose from a range of backgrounds (Mountain, Gravity, Water, Palette by Bouroullec, Basic, Board, Mono and Duo). You can also select what kind of information you want on an Ambient background (Weather or Headlines), as well as use your own photos from your mobile or the Samsung Cloud. You can change the colour of the ambient background and even take a photo of the wall behind the TV and use that as a background. This can be particularly effective if you wall mount your TV, blending it into the wall itself. Finally there are settings for the Brightness, Colour Tone (Cool to Warm), Auto Brightness and Ambient Timer (Off, 1, 2, 3 or 4 Hours). Samsung claim that the energy usage is fairly low in Ambient mode, but obviously this will depend on the size of your TV and the set-up you've chosen. In a default set-up on this 65-inch Q9FN, I measured the energy consumption at 60W, which is fairly high, but you could get that down if you adjusted the settings.
Features & Specs
First there's Q Colour which basically means the Q9FN uses an updated version of the quantum dot technology introduced in last year's QLED models. This year the luminance efficiency has been increased by 5% and, like last year, Samsung claim the TV can cover 100% of DCI-P3. In terms of the colour spectrum, the TV can reproduce the wavelengths of red, green and blue with even greater precision, resulting in purer colours compared to last year.
Next up we have Q Contrast Elite, which relates to the backlight and panel structure of the Q9FN. The TV still uses a VA panel for superior native black levels, but the panel structure has been updated to reduce diagonal light leakage by up to 40% and thus improve the off-axis performance. In addition Samsung are using a 'moth eye' filter on the panel, which they call Ultra Black Elite. This has been designed to reduce reflections and improve the perceived blacks as well as the gradations in dark parts of the image. As already mentioned the Q9FN uses a direct full array LED backlight, allowing for increased brightness, deeper blacks and more control. The local dimming not only uses the independent dimming zones in the backlight, but also applies optical prediction algorithms to ensure minimal blooming.
Finally we have the Q Engine, which is the single chip processing heart of the TV. This processor can master colours using a 16-bit colour mapping process and uses a 3D colour control. It also has HDR mastering that uses 16-bit multi-curve processing and an HDR image based on dynamic metadata. Then there's contrast mastering which applies a scene-based contrast algorithm and ambience analysis controls to deliver an improved contrast experience.
Samsung introduced an auto-calibration feature last year, which has been updated for 2018 to allow for the colour management system to adjust saturation points at 50 and 75, as well as 100%. This is a useful new addition because whilst the auto-calibration did an excellent job of calibrating the greyscale and gamma, it wasn't as successful when it came to the colour gamut. That's because it was only correcting at 100% and the result was sizeable errors at lower saturation points.
Out of the Box Measurements
Panel Uniformity and Viewing AnglesThe panel uniformity of the Q9FN was excellent, showing none of the banding that often plagues TVs using a direct LED backlight. The problem usually relates to the LEDs behind the panel itself being visible as columns, which then become more apparent on camera pans, but this was not the case with the Samsung. When using a 100% white field the image was clean and uniform, and free of any discolouration or dirty screen effect. The same was true using a 5% pattern and I'm really impressed with the advances that Samsung have made in this area.
The viewing angles were less of a success but then that is an inherent limitation of VA panels and Samsung have tried to improve the performance in this area. It's still not great compared to an OLED TV, which has very wide optimal viewing angles, but the angles do appear better than previous Samsung TVs. Having said that there is still a perceptible drop in contrast and colour performance once you move more than 15 degrees either side of centre, and blooming becomes more apparent. Ultimately this is simply a weakness of the technology, so to mitigate it just make sure you're sat central to the screen.
Black Levels and Contrast PerformanceThis is an area where the Q9FN really impressed, delivering incredibly deep blacks thanks to the combination of a VA panel, direct LED backlight and local dimming. Annoyingly you can't turn off the local dimming on the newer Samsung TVs, making it impossible to measure the native contrast performance of the panel. However the contrast performance with the local dimming engaged delivered an on/off contrast ratio of 250,000:1. The 'moth eye' filter on the Q9FN is also very effective at reducing reflections and improving perceived contrast, making the Q9FN the best LCD TV we've seen in this respect.
Although Samsung wouldn't officially confirm the number of LED zones we counted just under 500. Whilst that is slightly less than the DX902 and over 100 less than the ZD9, the local dimming on the Q9FN is superior. In fact the local dimming is one of the most impressive aspects of this TV, delivering deep blacks and bright highlights without introducing blooming. This was true with both SDR and HDR and I'd have to say that this is the best local dimming I've ever seen; the algorithms that Samsung use to blend edges that cross two zones are really quite remarkable. Depending on the setting you choose, the local dimming can deliver incredibly deep blacks, but on the higher settings you will lose some of the detail just above black.
Motion Handling and Video ProcessingThe motion handling on the Q9FN was excellent and the TV performed extremely well in our tests. There was no visible judder with 24p content, the TV was just as adept at handling 50 and 60p content as well, and I also had no issues with 50i content. Overall the Q9FN was one of the best LCD TVs that I have tested in terms of motion and is also better than many of the OLED TVs that I have tested to date.
The TV defaults to the Auto setting, which introduces the 'soap opera effect' (SOE) to motion, so I would recommend either turning it off or using the Custom mode. The latter gives you the ability to adjust Judder and Blur Reduction to suit your personal tastes, and it gives you the option to turn on the LED Clear Motion setting. This is a black frame insertion (BFI) mode, which proved very effective at improving the motion handling without creating SOE or noticeable flicker. The addition of black frames does darken the picture but that's no problem on a TV as bright as the Q9FN, and you can simply turn up the backlight to compensate.
The video processing was equally as impressive, with the Q9FN performing exceptionally well in various tests. The TV had no problems de-interlacing the test scenes on numerous test discs and, as mentioned above, the motion handling was excellent. It was very effective at upscaling lower resolution content to match the 4K panel and in the case of Full HD broadcasts or Blu-rays, the results were extremely impressive. The TV could even upscale standard definition content very effectively but bear in mind that a 576 line signal is never going to look great on a 65-inch TV, especially when dealing with some broadcasters, although DVD was surprisingly watchable.
Input LagIn Game mode, the Q9FN delivered the same impressively low input lag measurements as we saw on last year's Samsung TVs. So for 1080p and 4K SDR gaming the lag was 21ms, whilst for 1080p and 4K HDR gaming it was 22ms. It's important that you do use the Game mode because otherwise the lag jumps up to nearly 80ms. However Samsung have introduced a great new feature this year and when the TV detects a games console it automatically goes in to Game mode. This feature worked perfectly and every time I selected the HDMI input that my PS4 Pro was connected to, the Q9FN automatically switched into Game mode. Samsung plan to add VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) support to their 2018 QLED TVs, although as far as I know it hasn't been added yet. However VRR support is sure to be popular with gamers once it is added.
Power ConsumptionThe Q9FN is surprisingly energy efficient considering its size and using a 50% full field pattern I measured its Movie SDR mode at 88W. The Standard SDR mode that the TV ships in measured 132W, whilst the Movie HDR mode used 142W. As mentioned earlier the new Ambient mode still pulled 60W, which is worth bearing in mind if you plan open using that a lot.
Sound QualityThe sound quality of the Q9FN was about average for a modern TV with a 65-inch screen size but the lack of marketing relating to the audio on the Q9FN suggests it isn't high up Samsung's list of priorities. The manufacturer no doubt assumes that anyone buying the 65Q9FN will use some form of outboard audio solution, and they're probably right. As it stands the larger screen size does allow for better stereo separation, and the slightly deeper chassis does mean the speakers have more room to breathe. However their downward-firing configuration means they are limited in terms of creating an expansive front soundstage. The mid-range and higher frequencies weren't bad but the low end extension was minimal, so don't go expecting any big bass moments. For basic TV watching the built-in audio is fine but for big sporting events, TV dramas and blockbuster movies, I'd suggest looking at a soundbar or AV receiver.
Out of the Box SDR PerformanceDynamic Mode: If for some bizarre reason you decide to use this mode, then be prepared for a shock. The picture is simply terrible and that's not a criticism of Samsung, these modes always look awful. The backlight is at the maximum setting, so it feels like someone is shining a torch in your face. The full native colour gamut is used, so all the colours are boosted and thus appear garish, whilst the Colour Tone is set to Cool, so all the whites are blue. The Auto Motion Plus setting of Auto also adds some SOE but at least Samsung have resisted the temptation to go mad with the sharpness control. This setting is best avoided.
Standard Mode: This is the setting that the TV defaults to and whilst it's better than Dynamic, it's still not ideal. The backlight is still set way too high, the Native colour gamut is used so colours are still garish, and even though the Standard Colour tone is used it's still too blue. Once again the Auto Motion Plus setting of Auto results in SOE but as with the Dynamic mode, the sharpening isn't too aggressive.
Movie Mode: This is the best mode to select and Samsung have done a great job of setting it up, so there really isn't much you need to do. The backlight is set to 20, which was ideal for my room but the Contrast needs to be dropped from 45 down to 40 to avoid clipping. The Sharpness control defaults to zero, the Colour Tone is Warm2 which is closest to the industry standard, and the Colour Space is set to Auto which means it matches the input to the correct colour gamut. The Auto Motion Plus setting is Custom with Blur Reduction set to 10 and Judder Reduction set to 3. You can either adjust this to suit your tastes, turn the Auto Motion Plus setting off completely or try the LED Clear Motion (BFI) setting.
Picture Size: Make sure you select the 16:9 Standard Picture Size setting and turn Just Scan on to ensure that the image isn't being over-scanned because the associated processing will rob the image of fine detail.
SDR Gaming Performance: The Q9FN is absolutely superb when it comes to gaming, with all the elements we've discussed so far delivering a hugely enjoyable experience. The image is bright, colourful and detailed, whilst the motion handling is excellent, resulting in a fluid gaming experience. The fact that the TV automatically goes into Game mode is a nice touch and the low input lag resulted in a responsive gaming experience, making Star Wars Battlefront and Wipeout particularly fun and graphically impressive.
Out of the Box HDR PerformanceBest Out of the Box Setting: The Movie mode remains your best bet when watching HDR content, with an image that has superb specular highlights, deep blacks and natural colours. As with the Movie mode for SDR content, there is very little for the user to do other than select this mode, sit back and enjoy this TV's superb HDR images. As I mentioned in the HDR section, the Dynamic mode is capable of a higher peak brightness but the greyscale and colour accuracy is awful, so stick with the Movie mode.
HDR Gaming Performance: All the factors that applied to SDR gaming, apply just as much to HDR gaming whether that's in 1080p or 4K. Obviously the best experience is with 4K HDR games where the increased resolution and wider dynamic range result in images that are often breathtaking. Horizon Zero Dawn looked stunning on the Q9FN, with game play that often felt almost photorealistic and thus made the experience more immersive. If you're a big gamer, the Q9FN has to be at the top of your TV short list.
Calibrated Image Performance
SDRRight, let's get down to the brass tacks. Graphs are all well and good but how does the Q9FN look with real world material? In a word – superb. This is easily the best LCD TV that I've ever seen, delivering an image that is accurate, detailed and bursting with dynamic range. The black levels were really impressive, especially when sat central to the screen, and the local dimming was incredible. White credits against a black background had absolutely no blooming in SDR.
We used our usual Gravity torture test, where Sandra Bullock's character tumbles into space and the Q9FN handled it extremely well. Most LCD TVs simply throw in the towel on this scene but not the Samsung. This TV was able to deliver the bright white of Bullock's space suit without blooming and still retain the detail of the stars in the blackness of space. The same was true of the notorious scene where Voldemort's army amass on the hill overlooking Hogwarts in the last Harry Potter movie, and again the Samsung retained the many details within the dark image. I'd say that OLED is still better at delivering shadow detail just above black but pull up a 5% full field pattern and you won't see any of the banding that affects an OLED. I'm used to seeing an OLED image at home but I often forgot I wasn't looking at one when testing the the Q9FN, and I can't think of higher praise for the black levels on an LCD TV than that.
The Q9FN obviously has brightness to spare when it comes to SDR and in combination with the superb black levels, the resulting image was incredibly punchy with exceptional dynamic range. The greyscale, gamma and colour accuracy also play their part, whilst the excellent video processing means that regardless of the source material it can still look impressive on a 65-inch 4K screen. A good quality Full HD broadcast could look breathtaking, with BBC documentaries often showing the Q9FN at its best. The excellent motion handling and lack of banding also means that football looks great, with the ball and players all clearly defined as the camera constantly pans across the pitch. This is definitely a perfect TV for any sports fans and is sure to prove popular as the World Cup approaches.
In anticipation of Avengers: Infinity War at the cinema, I watched my Blu-rays of The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron. The Q9FN did a marvellous job of delivering all the comic book action, rendering every tiny detail in the image whilst effectively reproducing the suitably primary colours. The blacks were deep, the highlights bright and the image had an almost three dimensional depth to it as well. The handling of 24p was also flawless, resulting in motion that was free of judder and overall the TV delivered an exceptional image.
HDRIf I thought the SDR performance was good, then nothing quite prepared me for the experience of watching HDR on the Q9FN. The TV's inherent ability to deliver incredibly bright peak highlights, combined with LCD's ability to also deliver a brighter full field image resulted in some quite remarkable HDR images.
The local dimming really proved itself with HDR, able to deliver incredibly bright peak highlights with almost no blooming, whilst also producing deep blacks that retained most of the information just above black. The more aggressive nature of the local dimming in HDR meant that the blacks were prone to slightly more crush when compared to the SDR image but frankly I'll take that for an overall HDR image this impressive.
Of course HDR isn't just about brightness and dynamic range, its also about colours and the Q9FN's wide colour gamut and huge colour volume resulted in images that looked both saturated but also natural and realistic. The 10-bit panel also ensured that images were free of banding and for films that used a 4K DI, the level of detail was often astonishing.
We immediately put on the 'Arriving in Neverland' scene from Pan and the sun was clearly defined with absolutely no clipping or loss of detail in brighter images. The entire film is a riot of colour and the Q9FN delivered those vibrant hues with verve and precision.
In terms of HDR streaming, both Netflix and Amazon Video looked superb. The new Netflix series Lost in Space was fantastic in HDR10 and the added dynamic range and vibrancy really brought the alien planet to life. Samsung support HDR10+ and Amazon now offer much of their content in the dynamic metadata format. The Grand Tour certainly looked impressive but annoyingly neither the TV nor Amazon identify the content as HDR10+.
Moving on to a native 4K film like The Revenant and the level of detail is exceptional, whilst the colours look incredibly natural. The film's many bright snowbound sequences were handled particularly well by the Samsung, whilst the local dimming reproduced the night scene lit only by burning torches superbly well. This is another scene that would have reduced lesser LCD TVs to quivering wrecks.
My new favourite test disc is Blade Runner 2049, which is another native 4K disc but also boasts a 10,000 nit master. It's a film that deliberately uses shadows and colours as both a creative and narrative device and the Q9FN delivered them all with aplomb. The orange dust that fills the air of nuked Las Vegas (best thing for it really) looked suitably saturated and free of banding. The climatic fight in the water at night was also handled by the local dimming extremely well, whilst the scene between Deckard and Wallace was also rendered with skill. Faces move in and out of shadow and the Samsung kept the shadows black when they were supposed to be but also retained detail where necessary.
I could go on, describing the lovely images that this TV produced with other favourite discs like Life and Passengers but you get the idea. The Q9FN is the best HDR display I've seen to date and really demonstrates the full potential of the format.
Samsung Q9FN Video Review
- Exceptional picture quality
- Superb contrast and black levels
- Impressive image processing
- Excellent motion handling
- State-of-the-art smart features
- Great design and build quality
- Optimum viewing angles are limited
- Occasional black crush
- No Dolby Vision support
Samsung Q9FN (QE65Q9FN) Review
Should I buy one?If you're in the market and you've got the budget, then yes you probably should. The Q9FN is the most accomplished TV Samsung has ever made and proves that there's plenty of life left in LCD, especially where HDR is concerned. I have avoided awarding reference badges when it comes to TVs over the last few years because standards have been changing so fast and the market is divided between two differing technologies.
However standards seem more stable now and the key technologies behind HDR appear to have matured to point where I feel I can effectively evaluate a display's performance. There are still two very different TV technologies but they each have their own strengths and weaknesses, so no single TV can really be called a reference point. However there's absolutely no reason why a specific TV can't be considered a reference point for LCD TVs, in the same way that a single model might also be chosen as a reference point for OLED TVs.
So I have decided to award the Samsung QE65Q9FN a Reference Status badge, primarily because it deserves it. This is the best LCD TV that I have ever reviewed, delivering a beautiful image with spectacular dynamic range. In terms of SDR content the Q9FN can give an OLED a run for its money and in terms of HDR it's simply peerless. Whether you're watching the football, putting on a disc or playing a game, the Q9FN can deliver exceptional picture quality in both SDR and HDR.
However, whilst picture quality is of primary importance, it's also worth remembering that a TV is a smart hub these days, as well as a lifestyle product. In this sense the Q9FN is equally as impressive, with a lovely design and build quality, a superb set of smart features and a host of set-up and installation options. It's simply one of the most complete TVs that I've ever seen, with just about every aspect of the user experience carefully thought through.
Naturally the Q9FN isn't perfect but no TV is, and whilst some might bemoan the lack of Dolby Vision support, the only real negative I can think of is that the optimum viewing angles are limited but that's normal for a VA panel. The local dimming is so good at delivering deep blacks without blooming, that I'm also happy to accept the occasional bit of crush. The sound quality is mediocre as well, but otherwise I'm really struggling to find fault.
It isn't cheap but flagship TVs never are, and if you have the budget then you owe it to yourself to demo the Samsung 65Q9FN – I promise you won't be disappointed.
What are my alternatives?As far as alternatives are concerned, you're looking at a fairly limited selection because very few LCD TVs can come close to the performance of the Q9FN. The obvious choice is the Sony KD-65ZD9 which is the only TV that can compete with the Samsung in terms of brightness. It actually has more LED zones but the local dimming on the Q9FN is superior and overall I prefer the Samsung's SDR and HDR performance. As far as the rest of the package goes, the Q9FN simply wipes the floor with the ZD9 in terms of design, features and smart platform. So what are you waiting for, get down to your nearest store and check out Samsung's Q9FN for yourself.
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