It's a plasma! It's an LCD! No, it's OLED! If you follow the TV industry, then you've undoubtedly heard writers like me discuss the Superman-like potential of OLED. For several years now, we've enticed you with promises of a display technology that can deliver the best of what plasma and LCD have to offer, all in an incredibly thin, light, energy-efficient package. After many fits and starts, after many a promised release date came and went without a TV arriving on store shelves, it began to look like large-screen OLED televisions may not see the light of day. Then, last summer, LG and Samsung pleasantly surprised us all by introducing 55-inch OLED TVs that you can actually purchase and take home. Alas, I had to miss Samsung's press event at which several video reviewers were given the chance to spend a little time with the KN55S9C so, when the company recently asked me if I wanted to get an OLED sample sent to me for review, the answer was an enthusiastic yes.
Needless to say, the first large-screen OLED TVs are not cheap. The 55-inch KN55S9C carries an MSRP of $8,999.99. That's about $6,000 more than Samsung's newest 55-inch Ultra HD LED/LCD TV, $6,400 more than the company's top-shelf 60-inch PN60F8500 1080p plasma, and $6,700 more than the UN55F8000 1080p LED/LCD that we recently put on our Best of 2013 list. As you'd hope for the asking price, the KN55S9C is loaded with all of Samsung's top-shelf features, including the excellent Smart Hub Smart TV platform with a QuadCore processor, built-in WiFi, a built-in camera, voice/motion control, universal control capabilities, and active 3D capability with the new Multi View feature.
That's the overview. Now let's dive in to the good stuff.
Both the LG and Samsung OLED TVs are curved, which certainly gives them a distinctive appearance. Samsung's "Floating Canvas" design is quite stunning: the curved OLED panel, which measures only about a half-inch thick, hangs within a larger and an even more curved frame that has black mesh material around its inside and a chrome silver finish around its outside. The floating design adds about four inches of open space between the frame and each side of the screen, making the overall width longer than that of your standard 55-inch TV. Likewise, the curved design increases the overall depth to about five inches; add in the stand that extends straight back from the base of the TV, and the overall depth is 14.2 inches. These days, I can pretty much lift and assemble a 55-inch edge-lit LED/LCD by myself, and I was expecting to do the same with an uber-thin, light OLED panel; however, all the design choices surrounding the KN55S9C add enough weight (about 60 pounds total) and bulk that I needed to call in the hubby to unload the TV and set it in place.
Given OLED's thin form, there's really nowhere to house the electronics and input panel. All of the KN55S9C's processing and connectivity options are housed in the separate "One Connect" box that links to the TV via a proprietary cable. So you can run all of your connections to the box, which has a sturdy build and measures about 14.25 inches long by 3.25 inches deep by one inch tall, and then run a single cable to the TV. The box has four HDMI inputs, one mini-jack component input with a supplied breakout
cable, one basic composite input, and one RF input to access the internal tuners. A LAN port is available for those who prefer a wired network connection over the built-in WiFi. Two USB ports support media playback and the addition of peripherals like a USB keyboard. An optical digital audio output and mini-jack analog audio output are onboard. Samsung's EX-Link serial port is also available for integration into an advanced control system, as is an IR Output to which you can attach the supplied IR emitter cable that allows you to control your cable/satellite box or Blu-ray player through Samsung's universal control system. The package includes both the Bluetooth-based Smart Touch touchpad remote with voice control and the standard IR remote.
The KN55S9C's features are essentially identical to those of the UN55F8000 that we have already reviewed. Instead of rehashing that discussion here, let me just point you to that review to learn more about the design and functionality of the Smart Hub Smart TV platform, the voice/motion control, the advanced search and recommendation features, the iOS/Android control apps, and the TV's universal remote capability. DirecTV subscribers might be interested to learn that this TV has built-in RVU, which allows you to tune in your DirecTV signal without a set-top box.
One feature that's unique to the KN55S9C is Multi View, which is tied to the TV's active 3D capability and allows two people to watch different HD sources simultaneously using the shutter glasses. The TV comes with two pairs of active 3D glasses, which also have integrated earphones in the wraparound-style frames, so that each user can listen to the audio attached to their specific source. Multi View is easy to set up, and the feature worked fine when I tried it out. It also works with compatible split-screen videogames, allowing each player to have a full-screen experience. Frankly, I see this latter option as being the more common use for Multi View.
As with other top-shelf Samsung TVs, the picture menu is loaded with all of the advanced tools you need to fine-tune the image quality, including four picture modes (Dynamic, Standard, Relax, and Movie; a professional calibrator can also customize Cal-Day and Cal-Night modes through the service menu), an adjustable Cell Light control to tailor the brightness to your viewing environment, two-point and 10-point white balance controls, plus color temperature presets and flesh tone adjustment, seven-step adjustable gamma, three color space options (Auto, Native, and Custom) and full color management of all six color points. a blue-only mode to help with proper color and tint adjustment, and digital/MPEG noise reduction.
Interestingly, this TV also has the Auto Motion Plus function found in Samsung's 120Hz/240Hz LED/LCDs to address issues of motion blur and judder. The judder part I understand - some people love those de-judder smoothing modes, so much so that even plasma TVs have them, despite the fact that motion blur is not an issue with plasma. I had always been led to believe that motion blur would not be a concern with OLED either, but that has not proved to be the case with these first two OLED TVs from Samsung and LG. Samsung has incorporated the full complement of Auto Motion Plus options here: the Clear mode reduces motion blur without changing the quality of film sources, the Standard/Smooth modes add frame interpolation to reduce judder, and the Custom mode lets you independently adjust the blur and judder tools. Within the Custom mode, you can also enable the Clear Motion option that inserts black frames to further improve motion resolution at the expense of image brightness. We'll discuss performance in the next section.
The KN55S9C puts two tiny speakers and one woofer in the frame that surrounds the OLED panel. Given the lack of real estate in said frame, it should come as no surprise that the audio quality is nothing to write home about. Then again, if you're buying a TV this expensive, I sure hope you plan to make a similar investment on the audio side.
Click to the next page for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion . . .