Ultra HD has become the hottest topic in consumer electronics since the arrival of the first flat-panel HDTVs. At CES 2013, all of the key video players showed off UHD sets, including Sony, LG, Sharp, HiSense and Vizio. But nobody made a bigger splash than Samsung with its 85-inch UHD TV that hangs in an easel-like frame. Normally, I'm a sucker for beautiful booth models, but this Ultra HD set made the sexy women who surrounded it look downright frumpy. As I lingered in a booth that was more crowded than a Seoul subway station and drooled over the Ultra HD demonstration video (which had a 3,840 x 2,160 resolution, four times that of 1080p), it dawned on me that this high-concept, sculpture-like video display was probably just some form of show one-off and wouldn't ever come to market. That's not uncommon at CES, where all sorts of vaporware products are floated out to the 150,000-plus attendees to gauge interest more than promote a real, tangible product. Guess what? I was stone-cold wrong. The Samsung UN85S9 or "UHD S9" is as real as a heart attack. I've seen it at two local retailers: Magnolia and Video and Audio Center on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, California, and I just had a chance to sit down and spend a few hours with one at a colleague's home to get a feel for how this TV performs.
Setup & Features
With an MSRP of $44,995, the UN85S9 isn't for those without serious means; it's expensive even by UHD standards. Sony's 84-inch XBR-84X900 carries a $25,000 MSRP (which includes a server with Ultra HD content), and LG's 84-inch 84LM9600 has an MSRP of $20,000. Both the Sony and LG models use an edge-lit LED lighting system, while the Samsung has full-array LED backlighting, with local dimming.
That Bang and Olufsen-like frame is striking to the eye before you even hit the power button. The television seems to hang in free space, yet is very stable in its stand. The speakers are hidden in the actual frame. An art broker friend of mine seriously considered taking the plunge for $40,000 (that's the street price, in case you're wondering if you can get a deal), mainly because he liked the merger of the aesthetic and the new technology. Samsung even pushes the art pitch on its website, and why not? The TV is absolutely stunning to behold.
Another unique feature is the TV's external input/processor box. The inputs, TV tuner and video processor are in a separate box that attaches to the S9 via a proprietary cable. The "One Connect" box includes four HDMI 1.4a inputs, two USB 2.0 inputs, an RF input, shared component/composite inputs, an optical digital audio output, an Ethernet port and IR/RS-232 control ports. The TV itself has an additional USB input installed slickly behind a panel on the back. Beyond allowing for a clean, one-cable connection to the TV, the external box is designed to be an insurance policy for future upgrades for those who take the early and expensive plunge into Ultra HD. The One Connect box can be replaced with a new one that includes inputs like HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort. Why is this important? Because these first-generation UHD TVs have some inherent problems. First of all, they all use the current HDMI 1.4 spec, which will only support 3,840 x 2,160p at up to 30 frames per second. So, on these UHD TVs, you could watch a 2D film with a 3,840 x 2,160 resolution at 24fps, but you couldn't watch 3D Ultra HD, nor could you watch any potential 60fps content. HDMI 2.0 will support higher refresh rates and 3D Ultra HD; likewise, DisplayPort 1.2 supports 2160p at 60 Hz. Then there's the fact that the new Rec 2020 standard for Ultra HD has been announced but not yet implemented; this standard will support a wider color gamut and 10- or 12-bit color, which surpasses the capabilities of today's UHD sets. The upgrade from 8-bit to 10- or 12-bit color represents billions of colors that anyone with normal eyesight will absolutely see and be blown away by. This is much more exciting than Ultra HD's increased resolution, but today's UHD sets can't handle the bit color that Ultra HD promises. Samsung representatives have suggested to me that, in order to accommodate 10-bit color, the local area backlighting in the S9 could be used to increase the bit depth to get the colors that we want, need and love. I wouldn't call the TV "future-proof," because I don't like that term much, but Samsung at least seems to understand that the times, they are a-changin' fast in the world of Ultra HD.
Let's get back to what the S9 offers right now. In terms of features, be prepared for the works (at this price, you should expect the works). The S9 includes all the features that Samsung offers in its top-shelf 1080p TVs, like the F8000 LED/LCD. This includes Clear Motion Rate 1200 technology to reduce motion blur, as well as active 3D capability, with four pairs of glasses in the box. You get Samsung's Smart Hub Web platform, with a quad-core processor, built-in WiFi, an integrated camera, a Web browser and voice/facial recognition. I loved the new interface that helps you sort through what movies are on with cover-flow artwork. It's pretty amazing. (Adrienne Maxwell will provide a full rundown on the features and interface in her upcoming review of the UN55F8000.)
If you actually buy the UN85S9, chances are that you won't set it up yourself, but will instead have a dealer do it. If not, you'd better get some help, as the thing weighs about 190 pounds with the stand.
Read about the performance of the Samsung UN85S9 on Page 2.