In my 24 years as a publisher and 30 in the specialty AV business, no single product category has transformed the marketplace more than the flat TV. For many of us, it is hard to remember what a "big screen TV" looked like before the days of early plasmas and LCDs, but let me remind you: they were physically huge yet the screens themselves were relatively small as compared to what you can drag home from Costco for $500 or $600 these days. Consumers, far beyond the realm of our enthusiast bubble here at HomeTheaterReview.com, flocked to specialty retailers to consider spending big money on a plasma, and why not? You could literally hang one on a wall like a piece of art and that was a concept anyone could see the benefits of.
Since the introduction of the flat TV, we've seen billions upon billions of dollars invested into manufacturing thinner, bigger, and much better video display technologies. Which brings me to the Samsung Frame 2019 Edition (in various sizes, colors. and configurations).
This is a 4K Quantum Dot UHD/4K television that appeals to the higher end customer who wants a TV to look like art in every possible way, not just conceptually. Literally speaking, the Samsung Frame 2019 Edition comes in a form factor that mounts on the wall, not so much like a TV, but more like a Warhol or Picasso. The Frame comes with wooden border options in different colors and finishes that can be set as you like and changed over time with a little bit of effort. It can be mounted on an optional, three-pronged stand if you want your UHD TV to standout in the room as a design statement. The configuration options are bountiful with The Samsung Frame, but the real appeal of this display is that it hides the behind-the-scenes workings of your TV and in some rooms - specifically my living room - that is just an aesthetic game-changer.
An AV industry friend of mine back in Philadelphia recently texted me a photo of the local grocery store circular offering a coupon for a $399 65-inch LG LED 4K TV. If that deal appeals to you, this isn't your TV. The Samsung Frame comes in 43-, 55-, and 65-inch models, and are relatively expensive. While I own two current Samsung Frame products (55- and 65-inch) the subject of the review is the 2019 Edition 65-inch model, currently priced at $1,795. That price doesn't factor in the cost of installation, which we will get into more in a bit.
Another caveat is that if you're here for gamut plots and grayscale charts, this also likely isn't the TV for you. There are other expensive sets like Sony Master Series and LG OLEDs, Samsung's less design-oriented QLEDs and the like where such measurements make sense, as performance is everything. Here's the thing, though: while all of those TVs deliver AMG levels of performance, they just can't do a Mark Rothko impersonation while hanging on your wall, no matter what mounting hardware you buy. As such, I'll be focusing as much on The Frame as a design statement as I will be on its merits as a TV.
One thing you need to know about the Samsung Frame is that the most of the guts of the UHD TV are housed in Samsung's now-standard One Connect: a rectangular box about the size of one of today's super-slim UHD Blu-ray players. And that box needs to somehow be hidden in your wall if you want the slick look of a TV that hangs like a piece of art. Unless you're pretty handy, this is the work of a custom installer. My go-to firm, Simply Home Entertainment, installed a back-box behind the TV and coordinated with my electrician to have AC power installed between the studs. HDMI is run over CAT-7, thus that connection is easy. The front end of my system is via Crestron DM video switching, but any modern AV receiver could serve as a way less expensive option. I use Crestron so that all of my sources can be accessed in every system in my house, but that is a pricey way to go even if the overall cost of this level of integration has dropped by two thirds in the past 10 years. A $500 AV receiver could easily pull off these tricks in a single room system.
One unusual thing to consider is that you'll want to select the correct frame color for the display, but once you get everything hanged and the frame in place, you immediately understand why you paid four or five times more for a 65-inch UHD TV. The Samsung Frame looks absolutely killer on the wall. This is what we thought we were buying with generation-one plasma sets.
I wrote a lot about remote controls here at HomeTheaterReview.com in 2019. The Control4 Neeo was inspiration for much of that discussion, but even the stock, non-backlit DirecTV remote caught my attention. One thing the DirecTV remote does well is to have actual hard buttons or toggles if you will for volume and channel control4, which is super-useful. The very narrow, white, non-backlit Samsung has the same concept for volume and channel. The rest of the remote is very simplified. There is a voice activation button, which I never use because I don't like voice control of AV components (Millennials can tell me how crazy I am in the comments, but I don't really care). There is a power toggle, a home button, pause, and a few others. Most of what you use, though, is on the directional pad in the middle of the remote. At the very bottom, you see the outside influence on the remote, as there are hard buttons for Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. What will Samsung do when Apple comes calling? Or Disney? Oh, the politics of it all...
Despite what those three quick-access buttons may lead you to believe, the Frame actually has access to most of the streaming apps you might want to use. Much of my 4K viewing was done on Amazon Prime and or Netflix, but there are all sorts of other streaming options. Personally, I prefer a Roku external streamer from a performance angle to built-in streaming apps, but I am an extremist. I could see how 90 percent of lifestyle-oriented users will be just fine with the internal apps.
Internal (and External) Audio Performance
One thing to consider with a TV like the Frame is that you likely won't be using it in conjunction with a full-fledged component home theater system. Considering the form factor, though, the internal speaker solution is... well, it's acceptable. Honestly, any upgrade you make to the sound will be a huge improvement--even a soundbar without a subwoofer.
I am using Nakymatone invisible speakers above my Samsung Frame paired with Grey Sound in-ceiling subwoofers, both powered by the new Anthem MRX-8 distribution amp complete with Anthem Room Correction. The invisible speaker system pair with the Frame is like mating peanut butter with chocolate, and if you're really looking to do this TV justice, it's the sort of solution you want to consider.
Buying Art for The Frame
The Samsung Frame 2019 Edition doesn't just provide an art gallery look and feel in the physical domain; it actually offers you the option to buy artwork to display on your screen. For just under $5 per month, you can have access to an entire host of images that you put in regular rotation on your TV when you're not watching it. While I simply hate the recurring revenue model, where so many companies want to get their blood from you every month, I signed up for review purposes. Let me say this: the collection has many options, but not many that appealed to me. There are some free ones that you can use or you can upload your own images and make your Frame act like one of those rotating frame thingies you got your Gran for Christmas in 1999. That's the free way.
The more expensive way has you buck up by making an account and in my case connecting my PayPal account. From there, it gets even more complicated. During Thanksgiving, I sat with my mother who has a Masters in Fine Art to select images to rotate, but we encountered some really glitchy issues, in that the menus are provided by art collection. Once you are done with one of them, you revert back to the start of what is a pretty long list.
But things get worse in that some functions that you need to set the rotation are in the bottom of the on-screen menu, with other key functions at the top of the menus. This is just maddening, but I eventually got through it with a selection of about seven or eight images that we agreed to. What is cool is the idea that the TV can be left on as a painting of sorts, and it will power save when you aren't in the room but will snap back to life when you trigger its proximity sensors.
At first, I set the rotation too fast, but eventually had the art change on the hour. I have some really good photographer friends whom I am going to ask for images to upload to the set so I can cancel this recurring subscription ASAP, but it was worth playing with for a few months as part of the review. Simply put, Samsung needs much more access to 20th century art (think: Warhol, Lichtenstein, Picasso, etc.) to be worth the money. Much of the more modern art isn't blue chip enough, although there is more to choose from if you are into, say, abstract expressionist for example.
I watched a lot of 1080i and 1080p content upscaled by The Frame, as well as some 4K content (mostly streamed) for good measure. As for setup, I didn't bring my friend, David Abrams from AVICAL, in to do the video calibration but I might later. The reality is that with most TVs these days, especially those in this price range, you don't really need professional calibration as the display is likely 95 percent perfect or better right out of the box as long as you put it in the right picture mode. As an extremist, I might still get a professional calibration down to road just to ensure that Nth degree of performance, but as Andrew Robinson has proved over and over again with his measurements for other TV reviews, the modern delta in performance between out of the box measurements and afull calibration is small and getting smaller every year.
With that said, please do not allow your TV of any variety to be set to "dynamic mode," as it is too cartoony and it hurts the long-term life span of the set. Cinema or Standard modes can be perfect. Subjectively, The Frame looked too dark to my eyes and in my room in the movie mode. Standard was the best stock option to my eyes. But your results may vary based on ambient light levels.
The NFL NFC Championship game on DirecTV looked really good as I watched it in a whole lot of daylight. The Quantum Dot technology kept up with the demands of this fast-moving and vibrantly colorful content. With quick movement going on everywhere, there were few if any motion artifacts, and the zoom-in images were scaled up nicely and looked great.
I fired up some Season One of Breaking Bad in 4K via streaming, and the overall detail was really good. The blacks were very good but not OLED good, just to set your expectations. There is a price to pay with a design-oriented UHD TV like The Frame and this is where it is paid.
Still, a much younger looking Walter looked, well, younger and in this case very believable. I revisited the same few scenes at night with the house lights off and the performance was much better, but still not that inky-dark black that you get from the top performing, non-Frame TVs.
Day-to-day content like CNN, MSNBC, and ESPN looked perfectly good on The Samsung Frame 2019 Edition. Nicole Wallace on MSNBC looked quirky-hot as she always does, but you could see the make-up covered signs of aging under her eyes, which look realistic and alluring on The Frame. While you might want to mute him in the morning, Steven A. Smith and the First Take crew made a very respectable image in the bright light of morning viewing. Like most other higher-end sets, The Samsung Frame looked better with better-made content, even though not everything we watch in the course of any given day lives up to videophile standards. The reality is today that the video scaling in your UHD TV (or in a receiver or preamp) has a lot to do with how much you enjoy your legacy content. Spooling up DVD-Video quality scenes from The Sopranos was enjoyable, but The Frame can't buff them into something that they never were.
The hidden cost and difficulty of installation, due to having to hide the One Connect box, must be mentioned here. Average TV users might be able to stash the box below a set, but then again, why would you pay this kind of money for a set that sells on you on the illusion of not being a TV only to then have to deal with cable clutter?
There is a lot that I like about the remote, but it not being backlit is just a glaring mistake, especially if you aren't replacing it with something more advanced such as a Harmony, a Control4 Neeo, or something like my pending Crestron hard-buttoned channel-surfing remotes.
We covered the issues with the art store in that the menu structure is terrible. The selection of art doesn't warrant access to a month-in and month-out charge to my credit card, either.
Comparison and Competition
Oh boy. One could argue that there is no meaningful competition for the 2019 Edition of The Frame, as there is nothing else like it on the market. You can try to sink a TV into the wall, thus getting it mounted pretty close. You can use, say, a fabric wall to make this look even slicker. But it's still no Frame.
LG and Sony are trying to keep up with The Frame, but Samsung is winning the aesthetics battle in the world of mass-market displays you can buy at Best Buy. That really leaves you with something like B&O, but most of their design-oriented TVs are intended for stand or floor placement rather than wall-mounting.
Samsung's The Frame 2019 Edition is a design as well as a technology statement. It is an excellent but not state-of-the-art UHD television. It is capable of delivering a very, very good image and it looks great doing it. You know whether or not you have a room that demands this level of design excellence, and if you do, you likely also know that no other TV is going to look as good physically on the wall.
Even with the nits that I had to pick here in this review, Samsung deserves a lot of credit for looking outside of the traditional box when it comes to expensive TV design with The Frame. Because they thought differently, I spent differently in my new house and that earned them not just one sale but two.
• 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.