I was a little worried about Samsung back at CES. After introducing a complete new high-end "SUHD" line of 4K televisions with much fanfare in 2015, the company really only highlighted one TV at CES 2016: the supposed "flagship" KS9500 SUHD TV, which didn't even have a full-array LED backlight. Frankly, I'm not a huge fan of edge LED lighting in general, even in lower-priced 1080p TVs. But when we're talking about the premium SUHD line with High Dynamic Range capability, the thought that the flagship model would not use a full-array backlight was disconcerting.
Fast-forward a few months to the company's spring line show, where Samsung announced the full SUHD lineup featuring five series in all, ranging in size from 49 to 88 inches. The company also showed off the "really flagship" KS9800, a full-array LED/LCD panel offered in screen sizes of 65, 78, and 88 inches. That's more like it.
Samsung sent me a sample of the 65-inch UN65KS9800 TV, which is a curved panel. To get a flat panel, you have to move down to the edge-lit KS9000 Series. In addition to its full-array LED backlight with Precision Black Pro local dimming, the UN65KS9800 uses cadmium-free 10-bit quantum dot technology for improved color performance, has a 120Hz refresh rate to reduce motion blur and film judder, and features yet another revamp of Samsung's smart TV platform.
Samsung UHD TVs use the HDR10 format for High Dynamic Range and do not support Dolby Vision. In Samsung's literature, you may see reference to the phrase "HDR1000" to describe its High Dynamic Range technology, which really just means that these TVs are reportedly capable of at least 1,000 nits of brightness in HDR mode.
The original MSRP of the UN65KS9800 was $4,499, and this TV currently sells for $4,000.
Setup and Features
The UN65KS9800 is the first curved LED/LCD TV I've received from Samsung in some time. I've stated often in the past that I think the curve is silly and mostly useless; so, for the past two years, the company has sent me lower-tier flat UHD models instead (2014's UN65HU8550 and last year's UN65JS8500). This year I really wanted to see how the flagship model performed, so I'm embracing the curve. Kind of. To be honest, the only time I gave the curve much thought was when the TV was turned off--that's when you can't help but notice reflected objects being stretched across the curved part of the panel. Most screens these days are reflective, and I've grown used to seeing window and lamp reflections in the screen out of the corner of my eye. But the stretched reflections call more attention to themselves...even my seven-year-old noticed them immediately and refers to this review sample as the "bended" TV.
The panel has a simple but attractive design. There's no raised bezel along the top and sides, only about a quarter inch of black border within the screen itself. The bottom of the screen does have a raised black bezel about a half-inch wide, and a brushed aluminum accent strip runs around the outer frame of the screen. The brushed black stand has a square base that extends about six inches behind the TV to add stability, while the front two legs extend into a wide V. The TV indeed feels quite stable. Because it uses a full-array backlight, the 65-inch KS9800 is just a little heavier than last year's 65-inch JS8500, weighing in at 62.2 pounds versus the JS8500's 60.8 pounds. Full-array LED lighting can also add to a TV's depth, but the curved design really renders that a non-issue. Factoring in the curve, the depth is listed at 4.6 inches.
The majority of the KS9800's inputs are housed in the separate One Connect box: four HDMI 2.0a inputs with HDCP 2.2 copy protection, dual USB 2.0 ports for media playback and the connection of peripheral devices, the RF tuner input, and an optical digital audio output. It's worth noting that there are no analog inputs of any kind. On the TV itself, you'll find the One Connect port, a third USB port, the EX-Link port to connect the TV to a control system, and a LAN port for a wired network connection. 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 has been redesigned yet again. Like previous high-end Samsung remotes, it has a minimal number of buttons--10 in all, plus a directional wheel. Last year's model had motion control but not voice control; this year's model reverses that, so you'll find a microphone button up top to launch voice commands and voice search. Instead of discrete up and down buttons for volume and channel, each of those functions gets a raised, silver rectangular bar that you can easily feel in a dark room; push up on the bar for volume or channel up, push down on it for volume or channel down. It's a simple change, but I liked it a lot. I also liked that the Home button was slightly concave, so it too was easy to locate in the dark.
As usual, this Samsung TV is loaded with advanced picture adjustments, including two- and 10-point white balance adjustment, multiple gamma presets, multiple color spaces, an adjustable backlight, a full color management system, noise reduction, and more. You can choose how aggressive you want the local dimming to be through the Smart LED setting; the options are Off, Low, and High--with Low providing a darker black level and more aggressive local dimming and High providing better brightness (it's the default option when the TV switches into HDR mode). Auto Motion Plus is the function that controls motion blur and judder issues, and this year the options have changed. Gone are the Clear, Standard, and Smooth modes from previous years. Now you get Off, Auto, and Custom. The Auto mode basically replaces the Standard and Smooth options; it's the mode that employs frame interpolation to eliminate judder and create smoother motion with film sources. You used to be able to choose between the more subtle Standard mode and the more aggressive Smooth model; now you only get one option. The Custom mode, meanwhile, allows you to independently adjust blur and judder reduction to your liking and turn on LED Clear Motion black-frame insertion. We'll talk performance in the next section.
One significant new addition to the Picture menu is the new "Special Viewing Modes" section. There you will find Game and Sports modes, along with a brand new HDR+ mode that allows you to force the TV into HDR mode with SDR sources. Up to this point, every HDR display I've tested can only enter HDR mode when it receives an HDR signal----and this TV will still do that automatically. When it receives an HDR source, the UN65KS9800 will automatically max out its backlight, switch to the High Smart LED setting, and switch to its Native color space to produce a wider color gamut. Now, with the new HDR+ mode, you can engage these parameters with any source (it also turns on the TV's dynamic contrast, but you do have the option to turn that off). Honestly, I didn't use HDR+ too much. Yes, it really makes the image pop; however, with content that has not been mastered specifically for HDR, it seems to me that all you're really getting is a lot of brightness and a not-necessarily-accurate color palette.
On the audio side, the TV has two front-firing 10-watt speakers and two 20-watt woofers, and the menu includes five preset sound modes, with a five-band equalizer, an Auto Volume function to limit volume discrepancies, and the ability to adjust for delay, change the audio input/output formats, and pair your TV with Bluetooth and other multi-room audio products. 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.
A major emphasis for Samsung this year is on improving the user experience to more seamlessly integrate and navigate all of your sources, whether they are connected via HDMI, USB, DLNA, or the Internet. As a result, the Tizen-based smart TV platform and the "Home menu" have gotten a fairly extensive makeover. You can read about last year's initial Tizen-based smart TV design here. This year, the design still pops up as toolbar along the bottom of the screen when you hit the remote's Home button, while your source continues to play full-screen behind it. However, the toolbar consists of two rows: at the very bottom is a row of apps (like Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Video, Hulu, HBO Now, and others you choose to add), as well as options for Settings, Sources, and Search. The second row takes you deeper into the content options for any app or service that you highlight. For instance, if you scroll over to YouTube or Hulu, the second row will show direct links to the most popular videos and shows at the moment.
As with previous high-end models, the UN65KS9800 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. You can also directly access this setup function via a "Universal Remote" tool within the Home menu. For the purposes of this review, I connected three sources directly to the Samsung TV: a Dish Hopper HD DVR, a Samsung UBD-K8500 UHD Blu-ray player, and a Roku 4. It takes just seconds to add a source, and the TV remote was able to control all of them.
Once you've set up the TV to control new sources, you can scroll over to the Source option in the toolbar and see all the connected sources--in my case, everything I connected via HDMI (clearly labeled as Dish Network, Samsung, and Roku), but also my Seagate DLNA server and a connected USB drive. It was quick and easy to switch between them with no guesswork regarding which source was connected to which input.
Also, because I set up the TV to control my Dish satellite box, an option for Channels was added to the toolbar, where I could quickly add in some favorites. Because the small TV remote has so few buttons, functions like "Guide" and "Recordings" have also been integrated into the toolbar. The remote's "123" button brings up an onscreen number pad to tune directly to a channel, while the "play/pause" button brings up an onscreen controller for play/pause, stop, FF, and RW. Having to access these functions on the screen does slow down the set-top box navigation; it's still faster to use the remote that came with your cable/satellite box or a dedicated universal remote with a full button layout. Still, every year Samsung tweaks the system a bit more and makes it a bit better.
One nice perk is that Samsung has brought back the cross-platform search function that was missing last year. You can use the remote's microphone to search for a movie, TV show, actor, director, etc. Results will pop up on the screen, with a list of which apps offer that content. Netflix is notably absent from the list of options, but YouTube, Amazon Video, HBO Go, and Hulu were represented.
In terms of UHD-friendly apps, Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, and FandangoNow (formerly MGO) include UHD content, but Samsung does not yet offer the UHD version of VUDU. Both Netflix and Amazon Video stream some titles in HDR, and I had no issue with HDR playback when streaming them through the UN65KS9800.
Finally, the UN65KS9800 is a SmartThings hub, meaning that that you can add a variety of SmartThings-compatible home automation products and use the TV as a central controller. I didn't have any SmartThings devices on hand to test this function, but I hope to do a separate review on it later.
Let's begin by discussing the UN65KS9800's performance based on current HD standards (D65 color temp, Rec 709 color points, and a 2.2 gamma target for TVs). As always, I began my official evaluation by measuring the TV's four picture modes as they are right out of the box, to see which is the closest to reference standards. And, as always, Samsung's Movie mode was the closest. The maximum gray-scale Delta Error was 9.43, due mostly to a large blue push in the white balance (or color temperature) with the brightest signals. The gamma average was 2.1. The six color points were very accurate out of the box: all of them had a Delta Error under three (which means the error is imperceptible to the human eye). For more info on these numbers, see our Measurements box on page two.
Through calibration, I was able to further improve the accuracy, lowering the maximum Delta Error to just 1.07. I used the TV's 10-point white balance control to remove the excessive blue push at the bright end and got a much more neutral white balance across the board. The final gamma average was 2.16. I chose not to adjust the six color points any further.
Ultra HD content has a wider color space, called Rec 2020 or BT.2020. In order to measure the Samsung's color capabilities in this respect, I switched the TV from the Auto color space to the Native color space and measured the six color points again; you can see the results in the charts to the right (click on the chart to view it in a larger window). No current TV can do Rec 2020 color, so it's not a surprise that the Samsung's color points, especially green, fall short in the top triangle. Right now the goal is the DCI-P3 theatrical color triangle, shown in the bottom chart. The Samsung UN65KS9800 falls a bit short of P3 targets, with red having a Delta Error of 6.25, followed by green and blue at 4.85.
So that's how the Samsung UN65KS9800 measures. Now let's talk about other performance parameters like brightness and black level. Obviously, brightness is a major selling point for these new SUHD TVs, and this one is brighter than any TV I've measured to date. The Dynamic mode is the brightest (but least accurate) of the four main picture modes, and it measured about 182 foot-lamberts (623 nits) with a 100 percent full-white field. The Movie mode measured a fairly bright 72 ft-L (246 nits) out of the box--which I lowered to about 40 ft-L during calibration for watching everyday HD/SD sources.
I don't yet have an HDR-capable test pattern generator to perform a full measurement/calibration routine, but I did obtain one HDR pattern from SpectraCal (downloaded to USB) that launches the TV's HDR mode and shows a five percent white window. With this pattern, the UN65KS9800 measured 422 ft-L or 1,445 nits--so yes, this TV does live up to its "HDR1000" promise. Compare that with LG's 2015 65EF9500 OLED TV, which measured 135 ft-L or 462 nits. LG's newer 2016 OLED TVs are reportedly brighter than the 2015 models, but I haven't tested one yet to confirm. I also put the TV into its HDR+ mode to compare the brightness numbers with "true" HDR: a 100 percent full-white field measured about 190 ft-L (650 nits), and a five percent window measured about 450 ft-L (1,541 nits).
So, as we all probably could have predicted without measurement equipment, a Samsung LED/LCD HDR-capable TV can put out a lot more light than an LG OLED HDR-capable TV. But what about black level, which is characteristically a strength of OLED? Let's talk about how the Samsung's local-dimming full-array LED backlight performed in a direct comparison. I ran through a variety of my favorite black-level demos from The Bourne Supremacy (DVD), Flags of Our Fathers (BD), Gravity (BD), The Revenant (UHD BD), and The Martian (UHD BD). I have to say, the UN65KS9800 came very close to matching the OLED's black-level performance in many scenes. This LED/LCD can produce a very deep black level--which, when combined with all its incredible light output, produces an image with outstandingly rich contrast and depth. In scenes where there were large areas of darkness, the LG and Samsung's black-level performance were almost identical. Where the OLED had the advantage, however, was in scenes where dark and light areas were intermingled more complexly, like the star-filled space scenes in Gravity and The Martian. The Samsung TV definitely suffers from some halo effect, or glow around bright objects. This can be a common issue with local-dimming LED/LCDs, and the Samsung's extreme brightness with HDR content just made the halo/glow effect even more evident in scenes from The Revenant and The Martian on UHD Blu-ray. In these cases, the more precise OLED technology had a bigger advantage in preserving the dark areas and the finest black details.
Aside from that one limitation, the UN65KS9800's performance with Ultra HD Blu-ray and regular Blu-ray content was fantastic. The Martian UHD BD was simply gorgeous, with exceptional contrast, rich color, and outstanding detail. With pretty much every UHD BD, I planned to watch just a few minutes here and there, yet I found myself constantly drawn in to the gorgeous picture quality.
When I switched from viewing content at night in a fully darkened room to viewing it during the day, the Samsung's huge bump in brightness gave it a huge advantage over the OLED with HDR content. Let's just say it was much easier to discern the Samsung's brightness advantage in a well-lit room than it was to discern the OLED's black-level advantage in a dark room. Plus, this year's SUHD models use a new Ultra Black screen coating designed to more effectively reject light, and this TV did a very good job of rejecting ambient light to further improve image contrast in a brighter room.
The UN65KS9800 also passed all of my 480i and 1080i processing tests, and it produced a clean image with very little digital noise. As for motion blur and judder reduction, since I don't like the effects of frame interpolation, I used to prefer Samsung's Clear mode in the Auto Motion Plus menu to reduce blur without affecting the quality of film motion. That mode is now gone, so I went with the Custom mode, with blur reduction set to maximum and judder reduction set to zero. This produced good results in test patterns on the FPD Benchmark Blu-ray disc, showing clean lines to HD1080. However, with real-world content, I still occasionally sensed that there was some smoothing going on, even with the judder control set to zero. Ultimately, I just turned off Auto Motion Plus, since I'm not bothered by motion blur anyhow.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...