Andrew Robinson began his career as an art director in entertainment advertising in 2003, after graduating from Art Center College of Design. In 2006, he became a creative director at Crew Creative Advertising, and oversaw the agency's Television Division, where he worked for clients such as TNT, TBS, History, FX, and Bravo to name a few. He now has one of the most popular AV-related channels on YouTube.
I'm going to cut right to the chase: Samsung's newest flagship display, the Q9FN QLED UHD display is brilliant. Utterly, unequivocally, breathtaking in its performance. Virtually without equal, and a true statement piece from a brand known for making big, bold, beautiful displays.
But... I'm not sure I like it. Sure, when it comes time to binge-watch my favorite Netflix show or take in the latest UHD release on Vudu, there is no display I'd rather bask in front of than the Samsung Q9F. And yet, I'm not sure I would buy this TV.
Please allow me to explain.
The Q9FN is Samsung's statement display, featuring the company's Quantum Dot technology. Quantum Dot technology is a way for traditional LED-backlit LCD displays to achieve OLED-like performance as it relates to color and contrast, whilst retaining the brightness LED-backlit displays are more known for. Brightness is critical when it comes to reproducing proper HDR imagery, and the Quantum Dot aspect of the equation helps with the reproduction of color, allowing LED-backed displays to recreate color gamuts necessary for today's UltraHD content. The Q9FN utilizes a Quantum Dot layer between a traditional full-array LED backlight panel to cut down on RGB color pollution and thus achieve more accurate and rich colors across the entire color gamut, which in the case of the Q9FN is DCI-P3. Samsung isn't the only company or brand playing with this technology, though they are arguably the most vocal when it comes to extolling the virtues of Quantum Dot, and rightfully so, because it's bloody brilliant.
The Q9FN comes in two sizes: 65 and 75 inches. Both models, as of this writing, have experienced a sizable price drop, with the 65-inch QN65Q9FNAFXZA (reviewed here) possessing a MSRP of $3,499.99, and the 75-incher retailing for $5,499.99. As far as 65- and even 75-inch displays are concerned, that's not exactly cheap, but then again statement products rarely ever are. I have to imagine the Q9FN isn't a high-volume product for Samsung; that designation likely falls to their "lesser" Q-based models like the Q6F. Measuring 57 inches across by nearly 33 inches tall and sporting a depth of only one and a half inches, the Q9FN is dimensionally sleek, though for a display with no internal I/O board (more on this later), it's rather heavy at 60 pounds.
Looking for an overview of the best TVs on the market right now? Check out HomeTheaterReview's 4K/Ultra HD TV Buyer's Guide.
From the front, the Q9FN is minimal chic. Not quite OLED-sexy, but in a way it's not as confused, for its shape is consistent edge-to-edge. The front features a narrow bezel, not unlike those found on many of Samsung's displays over the years. The bezel is sort of dark graphite in color, which looks nice; although, given the Q9FN's flagship status, I wish Samsung had equipped it with interchangeable decorative rails ala The Frame, although in fairness the two displays are targeted at two very different consumers.
Around back is where the Q9FN gets a little more interesting. Yes, the back of the display is what's interesting. The Q9FN's backside is (largely) seamless. That is to say it's one large, uninterrupted swath of dark grey plastic. No inputs of any kind (save for the One Connect Box umbilical port), not even power. This allows the Q9FN to boast a 360-degree design, so if you mounted it on the accessory Studio Stand or Gravity Stand, guests to your home would likely not lose their lunch should they happen to gaze upon the backside of your display--or so Samsung would have you believe. Brief aside: while the Q9FN ships with only a standard table stand (and No Gap Wall Mount), seeing pictures of the Q9FN resting atop the accessory Studio Stand makes for one hell of a design statement, and definitely elevates the display's cool factor by an order of magnitude. I just wish the Studio Stand wasn't so expensive.
The Q9FN utilizes a Samsung staple, their One Connect Box, to house all of its inputs and outputs. The thinking behind the One Connect Box is simple, and came about during the early days of Ultra HD adoption. The idea was twofold: first, the One Connect Box could clean up cable clutter by housing the TV's inputs in an AV rack like a receiver versus running cables to the display itself; and second, it could help make older displays current should there be a running technology change during the product's lifecycle. While I'm not sure the latter ever really took hold for consumers, the notion of cleaning up cable clutter definitely did. The Q9FN's One Connect Box goes a step further than past boxes in that it houses the display's power supply as well, so the only cable running out of the Q9FN is a very thin umbilical that looks more like narrow medical tubing than an AV cable. The One Connect Box itself possesses four HDMI inputs, three USB inputs, a LAN port, RS232 Control port, and optical audio port. There is Bluetooth and WiFi (802.11AC) built-in as well, all housed within a very non-descript semi-gloss black plastic box that looks like any other AV component if every other AV component was void of buttons or dials.
Under the hood, the Q9FN possesses an Ultra HD panel with a native resolution of 3,840 x 2,160. The Q9FN claims a 240Hz refresh rate, which should make gamers happy, a market Samsung is keen to cash in on, as evidenced by the Q9FN's laundry list of gamer-friendly features. It boasts a slew of Samsung Q-branded features, too, starting with Q|Color, Q|Contrast EliteMax, Q|HDR EliteMax, and Q|Engine. In a nutshell, and not to take away from Q9FN's performance in any way, but all of the "Qs" add up to the display possessing bold, rich, accurate color via its larger color gamut, HDR capability, class-leading contrast, and brightness all courtesy of its proprietary processing engine.
Getting a little more specific, the Q9FN has support for the following HDR10, HDR10+, and HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma). As stated earlier, the Q9FN's Quantum Dot technology allows it to recreate 100 percent of the DCI-P3 color space, and its brilliant contrast reproduction--not to mention its insane light output--comes courtesy of Samsung's finest (as in small) Full Array LED back panel. For more on all of the Q9FN's features please check out its product page on Samsung's website.
If you clicked on that link, you may have noticed the Q9FN's remote. I'm extremely critical of remotes and have been throughout my AV reporting career, so when I say the Q9FN's remote is beautiful, well, that's saying something. Milled out of a seamless piece of aluminum (yay!), the Q9FN's sleek remote control looks like it belongs with a flagship product such as the Q9F. That being said, it may just be a little too much form over function. The size and shape feel good in hand, and the buttons, while varied in their style (touch versus toggle/switch), aren't exactly clear in their intent, nor laid out in such a way that you go, "yes, that makes sense."
The Q9FN arrived on my doorstep in your traditional flat panel display type box. I've lifted 65-inch displays by myself in the past, much to the chagrin of my chiropractor, but the Q9FN isn't a display you'll want to be attacking solo--not with its 90 plus pound shipping weight. Unboxing the Q9FN is a job for two people. Lucky for me, my brother was in town and he helped with the entire installation process.
For the duration of this review the Q9FN took the place of my 65-inch living room TV, a Samsung 7 Series UltraHD display from a few years ago. We have our 7 Series display mounted on a Sanus articulated wall mount made for displays up to 85 inches diagonally, so the Q9FN's size wasn't going to be an issue. However, the ever so slight bulge or curvature of its back panel was. I cannot confirm this to be 100-percent accurate, but my review sample Q9FN seemed to have a back panel that was not exactly flat, and thus it made mounting it to the rails of my Sanus wall mount tricky. I know the Q9FN ships with Samsung's own gapless wall mount, but there was no way my girlfriend was going to let me put more holes in our wall just for one review, so we made the Sanus work--albeit temporarily in what would be the first of many workarounds. Note: should you consider buying the Q9F, you may want to consult with your dealer about truly compatible mounts, as I cannot say with absolute certainty that Q9FN is a one-mount-fits-all friendly display.
Once on the wall, the Q9FN looked sleek and not at all out of place among our modern décor. I connected the display to the large (and heavy) One Connect Box via the included umbilical, which is quite long, and unable to be shortened, so steps needed to be taken to deal with the excess cable in order to keep things tidy. Still, having all the electronics rest inside our cabinet pleased my girlfriend very much. Connecting other components to the Q9FN's One Connect Box is simple and straightforward. For this review I utilized the latest generation Apple TV, my trusty DuneHD media player with my entire disc library ripped to internal hard drives, and an LG soundbar utilizing the ARC equipped HDMI port on the back of the One Connect Box.
With everything connected, it was time to dial the Q9FN in. Straight away, there were a few things that jumped out at me about the display. First, it powers on faster than any display I think I have ever seen. Second, its smart TV functionality is virtually without peer in its ability to set up, label, and otherwise get all of your components up and running on its own without too much fuss (more on this in a moment). Lastly, the Q9FN's ARC functionality, for whatever reason, is about as reliable as a Yugo. My existing Samsung 7000 display from nearly two years ago has no issues with my LG soundbar, in that when I power on the TV the soundbar turns on and automatically switches to its ARC mode. Power off the TV, the soundbar follows suit. Easy. The Q9FN simply couldn't replicate the same effortless compatibility with either of my soundbars for some reason. Meaning, to get them (my soundbars) to work, required a multi-step workaround (the second so far) each and every time, which got old. Fast.
It should be noted that the Q9FN has two sets of menus: one a quick menu meant for everyday "chores," and the second, a more in-depth menu, for heavy lifting tasks like calibration. For 90 percent of users, the quick menu will be all they will ever see or use, and to that affect it's pretty handy and easy to understand. Getting from it to the more in-depth menus, on the other hand, isn't.
I always measure a display's performance out of the box to see just how close to the mark they are. I plugged in my PC laptop to one of the open HDMI inputs on the One Connect Box and sat down for what I thought would be a routine calibration. Nope. Here's how smart displays can be a little too "smart" for their own good. Upon connecting my laptop to the Q9FN using an HDMI cable, the display automatically switched to the input now being used by my computer and labeled it "Computer." At first glance this was not an issue, until I realized that by automatically doing so, the Q9FN also took away several picture profiles and greyed out key menu functions needed to calibrate the display.
Even renaming/remapping the input manually so that the Q9FN thought my computer was nothing more than a Blu-ray player resulted in no change to the menu options afforded me. In other words, the Q9FN couldn't be fooled. It knew I was using a laptop and wasn't about to let me tell it differently. Unplugging my computer returned full functionality to the Q9FN's menus. Which brings me to the discovery of my third workaround necessary to get the Q9FN to perform as any other flat panel display would. Letting the Q9FN do all of its auto configuration with my laptop was step one; from there I had to make sure my computer didn't use the Q9FN as its primary monitor, but rather its secondary one. For whatever reason, if the TV detected a desktop then the only picture profiles I had access to were Standard or Dynamic, and the only higher controls I could alter were brightness, backlight, contrast, and saturation (if memory serves me).
Turn off desktop by making the Samsung a non-mirrored display and suddenly I had full control over everything. Although Samsung provided invaluable assistance in finding this workaround, no one at Samsung could explain to my satisfaction why the display becomes so limited when connected as a computer's primary video output, other than the fact that it's designed for consumer use, with an emphasis on simplicity. Why is this an issue? Well, if you're not one to calibrate or connect a computer to your display then it likely isn't one. However, the notion that the Q9FN restricts you to what it thinks is best in certain scenarios or setups depending on your ancillary equipment absolutely is.
My Q9FN shipped with its Standard picture profile engaged, which without getting into too much detail is two things first and foremost: too bright and too blue. You're going to want to skip Standard and switch the picture profile to Movie, which out of the box is better than Standard, but not great. First, let's discuss the Q9FN's brightness. It's bright. Really bright, hovering around 800 Nits out of the box. However, the picture, despite having semi-accurate colors, has a grey scale that is all over the place and heavily biased towards green, which I had never encountered before.
Thankfully, with a little TLC (and the workaround I spoke of earlier), I was able to dial in the Q9FN's performance using CalMan to a noticeable degree. I cannot say, though, with 100-percent honesty that I was able to calibrate the Q9FN to the same exacting degree I was able to dial in Sony's flagship OLED display--or even their lesser LED backlit LCD displays. Still, post calibration the Q9FN's greyscale shaped up dramatically, with all errors falling well below the perceivable limits of the human eye save for two: the 20- and 30-percent grey patterns (not a big deal). I was able to maintain proper contrast throughout without sacrificing brightness, so HDR fans rejoice, for the Q9FN was basically as bright post-calibration as it was out of the box, which is rare. Color accuracy improved post-calibration, though there was still a subtle bias towards green and cyan. These biases were only able to be seen by my light meter and did not really appear out of sorts to my naked eye.
All-in-all, the Q9FN did look noticeably different (as in better) post-calibration when compared to its out-of-the-box performance. I would say if you're considering purchasing the Q9F, and image accuracy is high on your list of priorities, then the Q9FN will require professional calibration to get you to the promise land since its out-of-the-box performance isn't as accurate as some other displays on the market today. But if you take the time, and budget a little more, the Q9FN will reward you with an image that beggars belief.
Because Samsung touts Quantum Dot technology as being OLED-like in its ability to reproduce deep, rich blacks while still maintaining LED-level brightness, I wanted to put those claims to the test beginning with, my low-light torture test, Se7en (New Line). I know, on paper, that the Q9FN does not achieve absolute black the way Sony and LG's OLED displays do; however, to the naked eye one cannot tell, since the Q9FN's black level performance is on par when viewing real world content. Sure, there will be those two or three individuals on the Internet who will be up in arms over this, but the difference between absolute black (OLED) and 98 percent absolute black (Q9F) is so miniscule and imperceptible that Samsung is not out of bounds for suggesting the Q9FN has OLED-like black levels and contrast. In fact, as it pertains the contrast, the Q9FN outshines the OLED competition thanks in part to its brightness. Yes, OLED can recreate absolute black, but on certain source material the darker scenes can seem a little too "one note," whereas the Q9FN does have the brightness (and contrast) to retain and delineate the finer shades of black and dark grey just a little more clearly. This allows for scenes like the Gluttony scene in Se7en to appear dark as per the director's intent, but still be intelligible edge-to-edge, with no detail being lost to a lack of contrast. Moreover, when the scene calls for a little more light and color, the Q9FN absolutely shines, presenting an image that is both accurate and three-dimensional in its rendering.
Satisfied that I had put the Quantum Dot versus OLED black level debate to rest (for me at least), I moved on to the film Only The Brave (Sony) starring Josh Brolin and Miles Teller. This little-known 2017 drama has it all: great performances, real-world visuals, and a varied color pallet perfect for evaluating a display like the Q9F. The film's daylight desert scenes, in which the hot shots prepped for fire season, were true to life, never coming across as artificially enhanced, either via a heavy-handed colorist or the Q9FN itself. The sun-worn skin tones of the firefighters were rendered brilliantly, possessing all the fine natural detail and sharpness you want from a quality Ultra HD display such as the Q9F, without any sharpening artifacts. Motion was also smooth and artifact-free throughout, be it the movements of the firefighters themselves or the roaring flames racing after them. The Q9FN's brightness, contrast, and overall edge fidelity rendered the soaring flames with such aplomb that they seemed almost knife-like at times, which only served to enhance their violent nature. In later scenes, the juxtaposition between the open blue skies of Arizona and the grey/black lunar-like surface of the charred desert scape was incredible to behold, and something the Q9FN rendered beautifully. There was zero perceivable backlight haloing or color smearing through the Q9F, proving that you don't have to (necessarily) turn to OLED if you're trying to combat the negative effects of local dimming.
I ended my evaluation of the Q9FN with the binge-worthy Lost In Space redux on Netflix. The series, like Only The Brave, runs the gamut in terms of color, as well as dark and light scenes. It's also beautifully shot, using the latest and best digital cameras on the market today, making for a picture that is routinely out of this world in terms of its natural sharpness, fidelity, and color. My girlfriend and I watched upwards of four episodes before I realized I was supposed to be taking notes and commenting on all the wonderful things the Q9FN was showcasing for us, but admittedly I just got sucked in to watching the show, which is high praise.
It's high praise because it's difficult for me to turn off my excessively critical eye (or ears for that matter), as I'm that guy--the one who can be relied upon to offer up some unsolicited comment on why most TVs suck. But not this time. Not with the Q9F. Despite my earlier hiccups during setup and the frustrating handshake issues that plagued the Q9F, once all is up and running, it's one of the finest displays I've had the pleasure of parking my ass in front of. There was literally zero for me to gripe about when watching Lost In Space in UltraHD via Netflix, so I simply put my pen and paper down and enjoyed the show.
I'm going to try and keep this section brief, as I believe my gripes about the Q9FN are so well documented that they don't really need repeating. The Q9FN is a fine display--among the very best available today--so it was a letdown for me when I kept having so many day-to-day challenges with it. I like a lot of what Samsung is trying to do design-wise with their latest crop of Ultra HD displays, but I have to say my biggest disappointment about the Q9FN was that it didn't ultimately feel like the true flagship product it's meant to be.
For starters, I don't think the Q9FN is as physically pretty as Samsung's own Frame display. Sure, the Q9FN sports a 360-degree design, but it's cumbersome, and the backside, while void of most everything, isn't anything to write home about. It's no Bang & Olufsen product.
I love the Ambient Mode and power saving features packed into the Q9F, but again, they're just not quite there in terms of their implementation. I for one wanted to love the concept of the Q9FN turning into a 65-inch digital picture frame showcasing my girlfriend's latest works, but alas, the Q9FN didn't really sell me on its ability to replace good ol' prints. Maybe with time Samsung will get there, but for critical photography or art lovers the Q9FN is no substitute for the real thing.
The Q9FN is among the fastest displays ever to power up, but upon power up you're treated to what I can only describe as graphical bloatware: a lower third that like the dock on a Mac pops up and down as if to say, "look at me!" Lastly, and this was a big one for me, the choice to hinge so much of the Q9FN's voice control on Samsung's own Bixby was a mistake, one Samsung has since apologized for. Alexa and Google Home have the market on voice control and to not have both integrated into a display as feature-packed as the Q9FN is a major oversight.
Comparison and Competition
Without question, the technology the Q9FN wants to be most closely associated with is OLED from the likes of LG and Sony. While OLED may have it over Quantum Dot at the extremes in terms of color accuracy and black level reproduction, Quantum Dot does have its advantages too. The Q9FN is brighter. It doesn't suffer burn in, and can very likely withstand more physical wear and tear than many of today's OLED designs.
This means if you're one to mount your TV atop a piece of furniture, or have curious children or pets, the Q9FN may be the better all 'rounder for your money given that it's 98-99 percent as good as OLED, but far less fragile.
Of course the other fly in the Q9FN ointment comes from a newly announced Quantum Dot-based display from Vizio, the P-Series Quantum. Retailing for far less money, PQ makes justifying the cost of the Q9FN even more difficult. I'm set to receive a P-Series Quantum display for review here soon, so I cannot definitively say which is better just yet. Needless to say, a 65-inch Quantum Dot based display for nearly two-grand less is one hell of an argument for the P-Series Quantum over the Q9F.
With a retail price now hovering at around $3,500 for a 65-inch model, the Q9FN isn't quite as expensive or outside the realm of possibility for many consumers as it seemed to be at first. While I do consider the 75-inch model to be far more cost prohibitive at $5,500, both sets are moving in the right direction price-wise if they hope to snag consumer eyeballs, not to mention their wallets. But where does that leave the Q9FN in terms of performance? Without a doubt, the Q9FN is one of the finest displays I have ever seen. While not technically perfect in an absolute sense, in real world scenarios you'd be hard pressed to tell the Q9FN apart from perfection. I absolutely loved watching television and movies on this display, and so long as the content was engaging and I was able to simply set the remote down, the Q9FN dazzled me each and every time.
But the more I had to interact with it, the more I had to dive into and scroll through menus just to get basic operations, like making my soundbar work, the more I became frustrated with the Q9F. While handshake issues are not always or ever the fault of one manufacturer, I (nor Samsung) can explain why their nearly two-year-old 7 Series display functions flawlessly with every third-party soundbar I had on hand, whereas their newest flagship display, the Q9F, did not. And it was just little annoyances of that sort that added up to a mixed user experience for me. I am truly torn when it comes to my outright opinion of the Q9F. Do I love the picture? Yes. Do I love the Q9FN on a whole? Well...
• Visit the Samsung website for more product information.
• Check out our HDTV Reviews category page to read similar reviews.
•Samsung Releases Bixby-Equipped Sequel to "The Frame" at HomeTheaterReview.com.