Things are moving so fast in the world of AV technology these days that stuff which once would have struck me as amazing is starting to feel commonplace. The 2017 TVs Samsung has just unveiled on the eve of the annual CES in Las Vegas, though, have put amazing firmly back on the agenda.
On show at Samsung’s big CES unveiling were the brand’s new flagship Q9 and Q8 TV series. Both of which employ a new, advanced generation of Quantum Dot technology Samsung has decided to call QLED.
The early facts and figures I’d been able to pick up about these new QLED TVs ahead of the CES (see my earlier story) had set expectations high. Terms like ‘Real Black’ and ‘HDR 1500’; hints at new color standards; and even the prospect of an end to LCD’s traditional viewing angle problems had made the first QLED sets sound like a true next generational leap compared with the relatively iterative step forward Samsung delivered with its 2016 SUHD TVs.
Having now seen the new TVs in the flesh, it seems that Samsung’s first QLED TVs not only live up to the hype, but if anything surpass even my most ‘out there’ hopes.
Both the Q9 and Q8 create a good first impression by looking more elegant and subdued (in a good way!) than some of Samsung’s other recent TV releases, and by boasting a really impressive build quality. The Q9 is flat while the Q8 is curved.
All about the pictures
Frankly, though, I found it hard to take the time to study the TVs designs properly for the simple reason that I had so much picture quality goodness to lap up. Seriously, pretty much everything about the pictures being shown in Samsung’s TV demos was incredible. So much so that it’s hard to know where to start describing them.
Since it was an area of slight disappointment during Samsung’s 2016 CES unveiling, let’s kick off with the new QLED TVs’ black level performance. Which appears to be phenomenal.
Although the glamorous demonstration room Samsung was using at CES was too bright to let me confirm precisely how deep the new TVs’ black levels get, my impression was that these are the best black levels I’ve seen from an LCD TV, and actually challenge the black levels usually associated with OLED technology.
Even better, despite the fact that the Q9/Q8 TVs apparently use an edge LED lighting system, their inky blacks are delivered with what appears to be exceptional uniformity. The banding and haloing problems usually associated with edge LED TVs weren’t visible while watching Samsung’s demo footage on the QLED models.
Again, I’ll need to see the TVs in a much darker environment to be sure just how well Samsung has tackled this traditional LCD TV issue, but my impressions so far are that the improvement from 2016 to 2017 is of night and day proportions.
Making this ground-breaking black level improvement all the more impressive is the fact that it’s accompanied by an instantly obvious and really quite breath-taking increase in brightness versus 2016’s Samsung models. Samsung claims the Q9 can deliver 2000 nits of brightness – an increase of around 40% over 2016’s flagship KS9800 flagship TVs.
As well as combining with the new improved black levels to deliver a jaw-dropping sense of contrast, this extra brightness gives Samsung more headroom to play with when mapping the tones of the 1000-nit HDR masters used on many Ultra HD Blu-rays. Plus, of course, it enables the latest TVs to deliver more detailing in the brightest areas when handling UHD Blu-rays mastered to 4000 nits.
And there’s more. The addition of so many nits of brightness also has what can only be described as a transformative effect on the wide color spectrums associated with most HDR sources. There’s a level of vibrancy, detail and naturalism (even in dark areas) on the Q9/Q8 models that I just haven’t experienced before. And I’m able to form this conclusion, let’s not forget, from my experience within a far from ideally lit demonstration room, rather than within a carefully controlled test environment.
Other screens (including LG’s OLED TVs) have claimed before that they can cover almost all of the so-called DCI color range, like these QLED TVs do. What the Q9/Q8 demonstration rams home, though, is the importance in the HDR age of color volume – the completely different appreciation of color you get when you add luminance to the usual two-dimensional TV color measurement model.
Naturally Samsung is keen to talk up the idea of color volume given that it’s an area where OLED TVs will likely always struggle given their apparent brightness limitations. But it’s hard not to feel persuaded by Samsung’s arguments when the impact of all that brightness on color is hitting you square in the face.
Viewing angle: solved
Pacing around in front of Samsung’s new TVs also uncovers one more unexpected but hugely important step forward: somehow the structure of these debut QLED TVs seems to have solved LCD’s previous problems with viewing angles. Where normally you’d expect an LCD TV’s picture to start losing color and contrast dramatically as soon as you’re sat at an angle to the screen of more than 30-35 degrees (slightly more with IPS types of panel), with these new QLEDs I swear I could stand almost at right angles and still enjoy a picture full of contrast and color.
In fact, colors at extreme viewing angles are retained more accurately than they were with last year’s OLED TVs, which exhibited a noticeable shift in color tone when viewed from the side.
So how exactly has Samsung achieved all this apparent TV wizardry? I’m still waiting for all the juicy technical nitty gritty to come through, but I do know that one of the biggest advances involves the addition of a new metal alloy to the TV’s nano-sized Quantum Dots – an achievement that’s enabled Samsung to improve both color accuracy and luminance efficiency.
The performance characteristics of the new metal alloy Quantum Dots have also enabled Samsung to deploy a completely reworked LCD panel structure. For instance, whereas normal displays, including OLED, focus light in one direction, the new Quantum Dots can be applied to light sources firing in multiple directions. It’s this that’s responsible for the greatly improved viewing angles.
Perhaps because of this Samsung isn’t seemingly talking about backlighting in the usual ‘edge or rear’ way. My sense is that its new TVs are using edge lighting with advanced local dimming, but if so this just makes the stellar black level performance and contrast all the more remarkable.
The efficiency of the metal alloy Quantum Dots also means Samsung has been able to apply three layers of anti-reflection filtering to its new TVs, thereby reducing the impact of ambient light on the new TV’s apparently ground-breaking black levels.
As more information comes through in the coming weeks I may publish a technical article or two on what feels to me like a significant moment in the development of HDR television. Needless to say, I’ll also be reviewing the new TVs just as soon as finished samples are available (likely end of Feb/Early March).
In the mean time, if Samsung’s QLED TVs are indicative of the sort of treats the 2017 CES has in store, it’s fair to say we’re in for a heck of a week.