Samsung Q900R 8K QLED initial review: It all starts here

“It’s easy to make an 8K TV,” said Samsung as we sat down to learn more about the future of Samsung’s TVs. In literal terms, it is easy to make an 8K TV. You buy the panel, you buy the components, you stick it in a frame and Bob’s your Uncle, it’s an 8K TV.

What this simplistic approach ignores is that not all TVs are made equal. The thing we’ve seen over the past few years is that – even with the same panel – there’s a can be a big difference in the final TV that appears in a customer’s home. And Samsung’s 8K QLED is designed to sit in your home: this isn’t a concept, Samsung is committing to and investing in this step forward in TV technology, as the demand for bigger TVs continues to rise.

There’s a healthy dose of Samsung Q9FN about it

Samsung knows that to bring a TV to market, it needs to deliver everything that Samsung TVs already do.

It’s no surprise, then, that at its core, the Q900 is similar to the current Q9F – the flagship QLED 4K TV.

Pocket-lintSamsung Q900R 8K QLED image 2

The interface, the services it offers, the mode of interaction is all reassuringly familiar, an important part in delivering a TV that people will actually want to buy, because connectivity and convenience is something that Samsung delivers in bucket loads in its QLED models, from ambient display to aspects of the physical design. Looking at the design, the Q900 has a slim bezel around the edges, but this isn’t a skinny TV, there’s some bulk to it. That’s actually nothing to do with 8K, that’s because it’s a full array panel – yes, like the Q9FN – so it can drive the illumination up to 4000 nits, as well as accurately control the dimming locally in zones, for better contrast and impactful HDR delivery.

Flip around to the back of the TV and you’ll find that it offers other convenience features, like a mounting point so it can be flush-mounted to the wall and that single connection point – for Samsung’s Invisible One Connect cable. The power cable is also neatly hidden, so this is a TV designed to be shown off from all angles.

Pocket-lintSamsung Q900R 8K QLED image 7

On the bottom are two legs to support its bulk – and there will be some bulk as it only comes in 65-inch plus sizes – and these feet can be repositioned. Exactly how than can be adjusted, we don’t yet know.

Naturally, there’s a One Connect box, so everything you connect to the TV will be through that box rather than to the display directly.

This is a story about AI upscaling

So let’s get to the elephant in the room. There’s no 8K content, so why do you need an 8K TV? That’s the hard sell, because those who looked at 4K TVs early in the cycle will remember that there was nothing to play.

Now there’s a proliferation of 4K content – you can stream it from Netflix, shoot it on your phone or find it on YouTube. You might even have an Ultra HD Blu-ray player (you lucky thing). In a case of history repeating itself, the Samsung Q900 is the realistic starting point for domestic TV’s 8K story.

So where is the content going to come from? Samsung’s Guy Kinnell, vice president visual display, simply said that “8K content will grow over time,” when unveiling the new TV at IFA 2018. We all know that, but until that happens, you’re going to be leaning on 8K upscaling to take all your existing content – SD, DVD, YouTube, Netflix, everything – and lift it to a higher level.

Pocket-lintSamsung Q900R 8K QLED image 11

It’s 8K upscaling that has to deliver on the promise of a better TV experience, or you might as well buy a 4K TV and be done with it.

Samsung’s line is that this is where an 8K TV is really made. It’s not just the panel and the components, it’s the processing that will deliver a better image. And there’s a whole suite of upscaling powered by the Quantum Processor 8K, to reduce noise, add sharpness to edges and remove jaggies, for example on diagonal lines which look blocky.

Machine learning and AI are playing their part, looking to take the image – from any source – and boost it and improve it.

How effective is Samsung’s 8K upscaling?

We’ve seen a full range of demos on the Q900, comparing to the performance rival 8K TVs, Samsung’s own older QLED TVs and there’s a lot going on. Of course, we need to preface any comments by saying that all the demos are exactly that – designed to show improvements in a controlled environment – so the jury is still out on how effective this will be once on your home. Let’s start by saying that the colour performance looks really impressive.

We’d expect that and it’s part of Samsung’s drive with QLED, to deliver the best colours. Others will argue that it’s not as good as OLED models like the excellent Panasonic and LG TVs this year, but it’s still punchy and vibrant. But you can also see the difference that the upscaling is making, it’s not just throwing it into a 7,680 x 4,320 pixel panel, it’s analysing and correcting, changing and cleaning up.

Pocket-lintSamsung Q900R 8K QLED image 9

We’ve seen demos where surface textures look improved, with sharpening adding detail, or the perception of detail.

But we’ve seen other demos where the colours across the entire screen look boosted, but some of the texture details seem to be lost. That’s usually the case with picture processing on TVs, where enthusiasts tweak and change the settings to find a happy optimum. Banding and noise can be a problem when it comes to streaming, with things like block colours often getting noise, rather than being smooth – even on high-quality sources.

We’ve seen some demos where some of the noise handling looks really good, smoothing those textures without losing the look and feel of the scene. Jagged edges on things like text can become noticeable on large screens when there’s not enough data to draw that straight line. Here we’ve seen some really good examples where the text is clean and sharp, from a source that was fuzzy and jagged.

Size is about immersion, 8K is about size

So while the upscaler is working hard to clean those sources and present a better image of itself, we still need to talk about size.

In Europe the Q900R will be coming in 65, 75 and 85-inch sizes, with Samsung saying that this is where the demand is. It won’t be coming in smaller sizes, because you can’t then see the difference – the 8K experience needs to be big. The size is also very much about immersion.

The bigger the TV and the closer you get, the more you’re in the action. Viewing distances still apply, of course, because if you’re too close, then you’ll be moving your eyes or head around to see all of the screen – like sitting too close to the cinema screen.

Pocket-lintSamsung Q900R 8K QLED image 6

But there’s another advantage that comes from size and that’s the natural pop or holographic impression that you get from the display. Some of that comes down to the viewing angles as you look at the TV, the wider angles through which the image arrives at your eyes, creating a greater separation between fore and background.

Is 8K going to be worth it?

It’s very early days for 8K.

We’d go as far as saying that realistically, this is day 1 for 8K TV. Like all new technologies, it’s something for the early adopters, for the real technology enthusiasts who want the best. Samsung’s proposition gives you the best that Samsung already offers, so you’re starting with a premium TV and building.

What we’ve seen so far has been impressive, but for many households (in traditional UK homes), the size that 8K requires might mean that you don’t even need to consider it – 4K is going to serve you perfectly well. When will 8K content appear? That’s a question that no one currently has an answer to.

We know that the Tokyo Olympics will be filmed in 8K and Vimeo supports 8K, but it’s still a rare beast.

Certainly, what we’ve seen is very impressive, but it’s far too early to be able to recommend whether you spend your hard earned cash on it, especially when we don’t know how much it’s going to cost.

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