Back at CES in January, Samsung announced its 2017 line of premium UHD TVs, dubbed QLED. Yeah that name looks a lot like OLED, but don't be fooled: the tail of the Q makes all the difference. QLED TVs are still traditional LCD TVs that use an LED-based light source. The Q stands for Quantum dots, a technology that Samsung has been using in its premium UHD TVs for several years now to help produce the wider color gamut of the Ultra HD spec. You can read our original story about Quantum dots here.
So what's different about this year's TVs to inspire Samsung to do away with the previous "SUHD" name and embrace "QLED" instead? Well, to be honest, some of it is just marketing speak (Samsung has said it would like other manufacturers to embrace the QLED name to signify the use of Quantum dot and LED technologies). However, Samsung has made improvements to its Quantum dot technology, adding a new metal material that's designed to improve color accuracy and luminance efficiency. In terms of color performance, Samsung says that the new QLED TVs aren't just capable of reproducing the DCI P3 color space, but that they're capable of 100 percent color volume within that space--which means that the TVs can accurately express the colors at a variety of brightness levels. If you want to learn more about the importance of color volume, watch the first few minutes of this video from the folks at Portrait Displays who develop the CalMAN calibration software that we (and pretty much everybody else) use for our display evaluations.
The 2017 QLED lineup consists of three series: Q9, Q8, and Q7. All three series use edge LED lighting with local dimming (Samsung did not introduce a full-array backlit model this year), and all support the HDR10 (and HDR10+) and HLG High Dynamic Range formats, but not Dolby Vision. All three series also support DCI-P3 color, have a 120Hz refresh rate to reduce motion blur, and feature Bluetooth and Samsung's Smart Hub smart TV platform. The top-shelf Q9 Series has a flat design and uses Samsung's "Infinite Array" edge lighting only along the sides of the screen, while the Q8 Series is a curved design with edge lighting along the top and bottom. Otherwise, their performance specs are identical. (The step-down Q7 combines curved and flat designs and apparently uses a less robust speaker system.)
The Q8 Series includes screen sizes of 55, 65, and 75 inches. The 65-inch QN65Q8C that I reviewed carries an MSRP of $3,499.99.
Setup and Features
If you like the form factor of a curved TV, I think you'll really like the QN65Q8C's appearance. Samsung put a stronger emphasis on design with this year's flagship offerings, and they really do look nice. The QN65Q8C has no bezel, just a roughly quarter-inch black border within the screen itself. The outer edge of the screen has a brushed silver finish, and the matching pedestal stand is basically an angled bar that extends back behind the screen and then comes forward to the front and attaches to a long, thin, slightly curved stabilizing bar. The stand elevates the TV about four inches off the tabletop, which is a suitable height to prevent many of today's soundbars from blocking any part of the screen. The entire backside is also brushed silver, with matching panels to cover any and all gaps, for a clean, seamless look. This 65-incher weighs 58.4 pounds without the stand and measures 4.2 inches deep (factoring in the curve); Samsung offers an optional $150 no-gap wall-mount, although I'm not sure a super low-profile mount is worth the investment when you put a curved panel into it.
Most of the QN65Q8C's inputs reside on the separate One Connect box, which connects to the TV via a proprietary cable. This year, said cable is a very thin, clear fiber-optic cable that comes rolled in a small, white, rubber puck. The cable measures about 15 feet long, giving you lots of flexibility to locate the One Connect box far from the TV. Add in the cable's nigh-invisibility against the wall, and it's another way that Samsung has focused on creating a clean look around your TV.
The One Connect box contains four HDMI 2.0a inputs with HDCP 2.2 copy protection, three USB inputs (two 3.0, one 2.0) for media playback and the connection of peripheral devices, an RF input, and an optical digital audio output. This year Samsung also moved the LAN port and the EX-Link control port to the One Connect box; they formerly resided on the TV itself. Now the only connections on the TV are the One Connect port and the power port. The TV also has 802.11ac Wi-Fi for a wireless connection, as well as Bluetooth to wirelessly connect peripherals like headphones, speakers, and keyboards.
The small, Bluetooth-based remote control is almost identical in size and button layout to last year's premium remote, and it has the same brushed silver finish as the TV. There are 10 buttons in all, plus a navigation wheel. The remote lacks backlighting, but it features voice control (for both TV functions and content searches) and the same raised volume/channel buttons that I liked on last year's UN65KS9800; the buttons are like little levers that you push up and down to control volume and channel changing, and you can easily feel them in a dark room. Maybe it's just my imagination, but I felt like all the buttons were a little closer together this year. I often found myself accidentally hitting the Home button when I meant to hit the Down button that sits just above it.
As usual, this Samsung TV is loaded with advanced picture adjustments, including two- and 20-point white balance adjustment, multiple color spaces, an adjustable backlight, a full color management system, and noise reduction. This year's Gamma control reinforces the TV's HDR nature, with options for HLG and ST.2084, as well as BT.1886 for SDR content. The TV switches automatically to the correct gamma mode to suit the content being displayed, and slider controls are available to adjust the gamma accuracy within each mode. For motion blur and judder reduction, the Auto Motion Plus menu includes options for Off, Auto (which includes smoothing/frame interpolation), and Custom (with independent blur and judder controls). You can also choose how aggressive you want the local dimming function to be through a menu option that's now succinctly called "Local Dimming"--the Low option provides the darkest black level and the most aggressive dimming, and the High setting produces the brightest image--it's the default option when the TV switches into HDR mode.
Speaking of HDR, the QN65Q8C will automatically switch into HDR mode when it detects an HDR source, and the QLED models actually have three HDR picture modes to choose from: HDR Standard, HDR Natural, and HDR Movie. When connecting external UHD sources like an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, you need to make sure that the TV's HDMI UHD Color is enabled for the HDMI input you use (this can be found under General settings, in the External Device Manager section). In my review sample, UHD Color was enabled for HDMI 1 and 2 out of the box. As with last year's UN65KS9800, this TV includes Samsung's HDR+ technology that allows you to force the TV into HDR mode with SDR sources--and, as with last year's TV, I really didn't use HDR+ that much. Yes, it makes a really bright image, but it just doesn't look natural or accurate to my eyes.
On the audio side, the TV features a 60-watt, 4.2-channel front-firing speaker system, and the menu includes three sound modes (Standard, Optimized, and Amplify), with a seven-band equalizer, a balance control, and a delay adjustment. You can change the audio input/output formats and pair your TV with Bluetooth speakers. The sound quality is respectable for a flat-panel TV; I didn't have to push the volume too high to get good dynamics, and vocals did not have that hollow, nasal quality that's so common in today's TVs.
Samsung did not significantly redesign its Smart Hub Web platform this year, and that's a good thing--since I really liked what the company did with it last year, as reviewed in the UN65KS9800. Sure there are some minor differences, but the basic layout and navigation elements are similar. Hitting the remote's Home button brings up the first row of the Smart Hub toolbar, which includes services like Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play, and VUDU, as well as options for Settings, Sources, Sports, Music, Internet, and more. When you highlight a particular service, a second row pops up that takes you deeper into the content options for that service. For instance, if you scroll over to YouTube, you'll see direct links to popular or recommended clips. If you've signed in to Netflix, you'll see your recently viewed shows and movies. It's all very slick and easy to maneuver without being overly disruptive to the content you're currently watching on the screen.
Cross-platform search is available via both voice and text. For instance, I spoke "Lego Batman" into the remote's microphone, and got options to rent it through Amazon, YouTube, VUDU, and FandangoNOW.
In terms of UHD-friendly apps, Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, Google Play, and FandangoNow all feature UHD content, and Samsung has finally added the UHD version of VUDU. Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, and Google Play offer HDR content in the HDR10 format for you to watch, but VUDU only offers Dolby Vision HDR, which won't work here. The apps launched quickly, played reliably, and always enabled HDR when they were supposed to.
As with previous high-end models, the QN65Q8C offers a universal remote control function where you can easily set up the remote to control your cable/satellite box and other sources, without the need to attach an IR cable. You can do this during initial setup, or the TV will auto-detect when you've attached a new device via HDMI and ask if you want to set it up. I connected an Apple TV, and the QN65Q8C easily identified it and set up the remote control. It also added an Apple TV icon to the Smart Hub toolbar so I could navigate directly to that source without having to pull up the Source menu. I tried connecting three different Blu-ray players at different times: the Oppo UDP-203, the Sony UBP-X800, and the Samsung UBD9500. The TV correctly identified them all as Blu-ray players and created a Smart Hub menu option for them, but it only set up the remote to control (strangely enough) the Sony player. The remote did not control the Samsung or Oppo players.
As always, I began my official evaluation of the QN65Q8C by measuring the various picture modes just as they come out of the box, to see which one is the closest to current reference HD standards. As I expected, the Movie mode was the most accurate, but I was surprised that the out-of-the-box numbers weren't better (see the charts on page two for more info). Usually, Samsung's Movie mode is close to reference standards without too much adjustment required, but this TV's Movie mode had a higher maximum gray-scale Delta Error of 17.96, and the Delta Errors for the color points were also in double digits. I surmised from the numbers that I was dealing with a luminance issue, as both the gamma and color luminance were way off target. Then I noticed that the QN65Q8C's Movie mode is set by default to the "Medium" Local Dimming mode instead of the darker "Low" mode. The simple act of switching the Local Dimming mode to Low resulted in much more accurate measurement results across the board. The color temperature was still a little too cool (or blue) with brighter signals, but the maximum gray-scale Delta Error fell to 5.5, and the color points measured significantly better, with cyan being the least accurate at a Delta Error of just 3.3. So, if you buy this TV and switch to the Movie mode (as you should), remember to also go with the Low Local Dimming setting for the best accuracy (and black level).
Should you choose to have the QN65Q8C professionally calibrated, you can enjoy even better results. I was able to dial in a very neutral color temperature, get a gamma average right at 2.2, and lower the max gray-scale Delta Error to just 1.1. Plus, Samsung's color management system allowed me to dial in highly accurate color points. (A note to calibrators and DIY enthusiasts: the 2017 version of CalMAN supports auto calibration of all Samsung QLED TVs, so you don't have to make all the adjustments manually. I didn't have the necessary cables to do this.)
Samsung says that one of the improvements owed to the new Quantum dot technology is an increase in "luminance efficiency," which translates into better brightness and a better black level. The TV's brightest picture mode with SDR content is the Dynamic mode, which measured 187 ft-L (644 nits) with a full-white 100-IRE pattern. Compare that with last year's UN65KS9800 full-array panel at 182 ft-L. Of course, the Dynamic mode is also woefully inaccurate. The more accurate Movie mode measured a still-high 95 ft-L (330 nits), which is abundantly bright for watching TV in a well-lit room--too bright for movie-watching in a dim to dark room, though, so I lowered the brightness to about 45 ft-L during the calibration process. The TV's reflective screen does an excellent job rejecting ambient light to improve contrast in bright viewing conditions, so the sports and HDTV shows that I watched during the day looked fantastic, with rich depth and color and great detail.
While the QN65Q8C is very bright, it's not as bright as the brightest LED/LCD TV I've measured to date. That honor belongs to Sony's XBR-65Z9D, which maxed out at 210 ft-L in its brightest SDR picture mode. With HDR signals, the QN65Q8C didn't quite get to the 1,500- to 2,000-nit range that Samsung says is possible with the QLED line. It measured 1,180 nits at 100-IRE in a 10 percent window, while the Sony Z9 measured 1,800 nits. But it is a lot brighter than my 2015 reference LG OLED at 436 nits.
Another stated benefit of the improved Quantum dot tech is that color saturation holds up at wider viewing angles, and that proved to be true. I found that, with brighter TV shows and sports, the QN65Q8C's viewing angle was much wider than that of most LCDs I've tested; I was able to move quite far off-axis and still get great color performance. However, the black level still shifts off-axis, so darker scenes don't hold up as well at wider viewing angles.
Now let's talk about that all-important black level. It's no secret that I prefer full-array LED panels to edge-lit ones. Edge lighting is very difficult to do well, and these panels often suffer from brightness uniformity issues, where certain parts of the screen (often the corners and edges) are clearly brighter--which is most problematic when watching dark scenes in a dark room. I can safely say that the QN65Q8C is one of the best edge-lit panels I've ever reviewed: I saw no light bleed at the corners and no patches of brightness (clouding) anywhere around the screen. Overall, the black level is quite good, allowing most movie scenes to look very rich and well saturated in a dark room--and the TV's ability to reproduce the finest black details was excellent. However, with my favorite black-level demo scenes from Gravity (BD), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (BD), Flags of Our Fathers (BD), and The Bourne Supremacy (DVD), as well as scenes from Star Trek Beyond (BD), Sicario (UHD), and Pacific Rim (UHD), the QN65Q8C couldn't quite keep pace with my reference LG 65EF9500 OLED TV or the Sony Z9. The LG consistently produced a deeper, more precise black level, which led to better contrast. The QN65Q8C does produce some glow or halo around bright objects (a common issue with local-dimming LED displays): the black areas around text and other bright objects were clearly lighter than they were on the OLED; however, based solely on my memory and my notes, I'd say that this TV produces less distracting glow than last year's KS9800, even though that model was a full-array panel.
Two areas where the Samsung QN65Q8C excels, with both HDR and SDR content, are color depth/accuracy and processing. Measurements confirmed that the TV is indeed capable of 100 percent color volume in the DCI-P3 color space, compared with my reference 2015 LG OLED that's capable of 84 percent. The HDR Movie picture mode is far and away the most accurate of the three HDR modes and the only one I recommend that you use. As I moved through my arsenal of UHD Blu-ray discs--including Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Pacific Rim, and Batman vs. Superman--the QN65Q8C consistently served up lush color, with reds, blues, and greens that looked richer and also more accurate than those of the OLED. In the processing department, the QN65Q8C passed all of my 480i and 1080i processing tests, both with test patterns and real-world signals. The picture is very clean when the Digital Clean View noise reduction is enabled, and I saw mostly smooth light-to-dark transitions and minimal color banding in scenes from Gravity, Batman vs. Superman, and Sicario.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...