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.
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 à la 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.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
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