Now that I’ve seen Samsung’s 8K UHD Q900—the company’s best TV to date—I’m truly regret that the industry didn’t just skip over the 4K generation (2160p) and jump straight from HD (1080p) to 8K (4320p). It’s not that the best 4K TVs look bad, it’s just that 8K gets darn close to the life-like detail that’s been the goal of high-definition TV from the start.
I’m also just a tad melancholy because we’re once again facing a familiar conundrum: Buy obsolete technology that’s just adequate, but is affordable? Or wait for the next generation that’s just coming to market, but is far from affordable for most of us? And with the 75-inch version of Q900 costing around $6,500 from Amazon, and the 65-inch model going for $4,000 from the same retailer, early 8K UHD TVs aren’t exactly commodity items. Prices will drop as more 8K TVs hit the streets, but that won’t happen for a while.
Design and specs
But let’s put aside emotion and move on to the facts: The Q900 is a LED-array-backlit, quantum dot LCD TV featuring 8K UHD resolution (that’s (7860 x 4320 pixels). Samsung is mum on the exact number of zones in the backlight grid, but my eyes tell me there are quite a few. The model I tested was the 75-inch class (74.5 inches measured diagonally), which is 66 inches wide, 40 inches high, and 1.4 inches thick.
It’s wide enough and heavy enough (about 94 pounds with its feet) that you’ll need two strong individuals to wrangle it. The illustrations in the setup sheet actually show four humans, but we managed with two. There also 82-, 85-, and 98-inch models available. Hire a gang if you bring one of those home.
The leg stands are housed on the back of the Q900. They don’t swing out, you simply remove a pad and they’ll fall out. We’re guessing they’re placed there so you don’t lose them if you wall mount the TV.
The 13.3-inch-deep legs come housed in small indentations in the back of the set, but they’ll fall free when you remove two small pads. Samsung says it’s to store them, yet keep them handy, when the TV is wall-mounted. There are two pairs of mounting holes for said feet, so you can rest it on narrower furniture. That’s a considerate feature we first encountered on the Hisense H8F.
The Q900 uses Samsung’s One Connect technology, which means that the majority of the electronics and all the ports, including the AC jack, are housed in a breakout box. In this case, a significantly larger and heavier breakout box than shipped with previous Samsung TVs—it weighs 10.9 pounds and measures 15.5 inches wide, 3.1 inches high, and 7 inches deep. The box connects to the TV via one thin wire. Samsung calls the wire invisible. It’s not.
Samsung’s One Connect box isn’t much to look at from the front, which is a good thing if you don’t like wires. Most of the connections are on the back, but there are three USB ports on the right-hand side.
Ports on the back of the box include four HDMI 2.1 (required for 8K); coax for cable, satellite, or an over-the-air TV antenna; digital audio out (optical); EX Link (RS-232C); power; and the One Connect that plugs into the TV. There are three USB ports on the right-hand side. These are marked according to their power-delivery capacities: One is rated at 5.0 amps, one at 1.0 amp, and the third at 0.5 amps. There are no legacy A/V ports, such as composite, RCA audio, or component. Marrying old-school and new school is not something Samsung envisions, I suppose.
A more powerful CPU was definitely in order to handle 8K video, which features an astounding 33,177,600 pixels, compared with the “mere” 8,251,200 pixels that 4K UHD offers. Samsung has labeled its new processor, not illogically or unexpectedly, the Quantum Q8. Then again, I could say “confusingly,” as it’s a quad-core CPU. Whatever the name, it does a very good job.
A large CPU and lighting four times the pixels means you’re going to use a lot more power. With 4K UHD TVs, the Energy Guide stickers generally claim $20 to $30. The Q900’s sticker says your annual tab will be more than $60. Bear in mind that those are best-case numbers garnered using ECO mode or the like. In real life, expect to pay more. The heavier power consumption is also the reason for the larger One Connect box: It provides better cooling.
Other features include Samsung’s Bixby digital assistant for voice control; USB and Bluetooth mouse/keyboard/game controller support; playback of a wide variety of audio, video, and image formats from USB media and over your home network; a universal media guide; calibration tweaks up the wazoo; and FreeSync support to reduce latency while gaming.
TV manufacturers’ marketing folk have been working overtime creating moderately indicative (higher numbers are generally better), but otherwise meaningless terminology to describe the technology in their products. Samsung has upped the ante by introducing three new ones, so I thought I’d create a glossary (in alphabetical order):
100% color volume This claim from Samsung’s reviewers’ guide sounds impressive, but seeing as it could be filling any of a dozen color spaces, it’s meaningless. Samsung would have done themselves a favor by reporting that this TV delivers 100 percent of the DCI-P3 color space, which is impressive.
Direct Full Array 16X The Q900 has direct array backlighting; i.e., multiple lights arranged in a grid behind the filters and LCDs that can be controlled individually. Apparently 16 times more than an unspecified baseline.
Motion Rate 240 The Q900 has a 120Hz hardware refresh rate, but because Samsung does stuff like strobing the backlights to process motion, it feels entitled to make up a term and a number. To be fair, most vendors do the same thing. The question you’ll want to ask when you go shopping is this: “What is the hardware refresh rate?”
Quantum HDR 32X This means the TV offers high dynamic range (a greater difference between the darkest and brightest points in the displayed picture). But 32 times what, I can’t tell you. The average HDR set peaks at around 600 to 700 nits, and the Q900 measured 1,100 nits on our Minolta 120 meter, so it’s not that. While we’re discussing HDR, Samsung supports HDR10, HDR10+, and HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma), but it continues to resist supporting Dolby Vision (which is similar to HDR10+, but supports 12-bit color depth).
Real 8K Of course it’s real—unless you’re talking about the TV industry’s proclivity for rounding up specs in its definitions of video resolution: 2K is 1920 x 1080 pixels, 4K is 3840 x 2160 pixels (switching the emphasis from horizontal resolution to vertical resolution), and 8K is 7680 x 4320 pixels (ditto).
Remote control and user interface
Samsung’s universal remote is arguably the best combination of minimalism and functionality in the industry. The split between the buttons and how they interact with the user interface is nearly perfect. I’d prefer dedicated transport controls for videos played from USB media, over the network, or even from a disc player, but that’s a tiny deal. To my eye, Samsung’s high-end remotes are the classiest in the biz.
The clever and minimalist One Remote universal remote control marries well with the on-screen interface. My only wish: Dedicated transport controls for playing material from USB and for controlling a Ultra HD Blu-ray disc player.
The on-screen interface is also easy on the eye, logically laid out, and behind the scenes does cool stuff like automatically name attached equipment. But it would be nice if the menu returned you to where you left off each time you accessed it. Regardless, it’s easy and has all the usual apps, so it’s one of my favorite TV operating systems (Roku and LG being the others).
Picture and sound
Happily, I had one of Samsung’s 2018 Q8-series TVs on hand that I could compare to the 75-inch Q900. The technology is similar and it’s the same brand—I couldn’t have hoped for better A/B comparisons between 4K UHD and 8K UHD.
Long story short, the Q900 is superior—even with most 4K UHD content. There’s more detail in 8K (with the proper material) and 4K UHD looks better. Pack four times the pixels in the same space as a 4K UHD TV can and you get that “retina” effect Apple is so proud of. It’s the same level of detail, but smoother and clearer detail, if you will. Quite a lot of the effect is likely due to Samsung’s excellent processing and upscaling, but the pixel density sure doesn’t hurt.
Samsung has also done a great job improving its array backlighting—there’s some very mild blooming (an unintended halo around bright objects on dark backgrounds) here and there, but it’s only really noticeable under extreme conditions, such as neon signs against a moonless sky. The Q900 isn’t OLED-like with the black, but it’s getting darn close.
The Q900 also handled pattern- and chroma-upscaling stress tests well, with only the barest amount of moiré during the most strenuous tests—significantly less than the Q8 exhibited. On the extremely rare occasion where a momentary touch of moiré was visible during panning shots, it was finer due to the higher pixel density. Given Samsung’s obsession with sharp detail, which is notoriously hard to achieve without artifacts, I was impressed.
The Q900’s image is the best Samsung has produced to date. The 8K is wonderful, and the 4K UHD renderings are better to our eyes than on a native 4K display.
8K video absolutely shows more detail than 4K. I’d say it gets mighty close to what you’d see with average eyes using decent-quality optics. And that was the original point of HD. 4K UHD just doesn’t quite get there, hence my commentary up top. All that said, it’s not light years better, at least with video.
Where the uptick in detail was really noticeable is with photos, which aren’t as compressed as 8K UHD video is. When I switched from 8K photos to 4K, the latter looked “soft and puffy” as a friend of mine might say. Put on an 8K slideshow or stream some of the 8K available on YouTube (provided your ISP can deliver the bandwidth), and I guarantee your guests will be impressed.
Color is absolutely top-notch: rich, saturated, and accurate. Motion was very smooth, and with auto motion on, really didn’t require any tweaking of settings as some previous models did. The automatic motion compensation also seems to engage more quickly than it does on last year’s models. You can still see a tiny lag where the video stutters before it kicks in on a particularly quick pan, but it’s not bothersome.
Alas, the Q900 is not perfect. The first issue is some subtle, strange flickering over large areas of medium to light brightness with 4K material. I found it hard to tell if this was an upscaling artifact, or something odd happening with the backlight, but it was a bit annoying given how well the TV handles most material. Toggling Digital Clean View or any of the other settings did not eliminate the phenomena.
The other caveat concerns overall screen uniformity. I detected just the slightest touches of cloudiness here and there. Perhaps whatever coating or screen technology that facilitates the increased viewing angle for this year, which is indeed wide, is the culprit. Uniformity is still better than what you’ll find on most TVs; but given the price, I was anticipating near perfection.
Audio performance is—decent. There’s not a lot of bass, but that’s par for the course unless you’re an OLED. This is just a guess, but using the display as the speaker—as Sony OLEDs do—is probably not a good idea with LCD technology, which has more layers of material. The Q900’s sound overall is clear and doable for normal viewing, but I’d opt for something more substantial in short order. TechHive has a great collection of soundbar reviews here.
Is 4K already dead?
It’s difficult to swallow, after so few years, but I’m already thinking of 4K UHD as a technology of the past. As an economic reality, of course, it remains the dominant tech and will remain so for at least a couple more years. But as a technology, it’s a goner. I still primarily watch 1080p content, but I watch it on a 4K UHD display, which makes it look better. I’ll be quite happy to watch that same material on an 8K TV, as the pixel density really does enhance the experience.
The best news is that the underlying LCD technologies—color, backlighting, HDR, video processing, and more—at the advent of the 8K era are far superior to what was available when 4K TVs first came to market. TVs will improve, of course, but the pace of change won’t be nearly as dramatic as it has been over the last few years. (With the exception, perhaps, of microLED.) So if you take the 8K plunge today, it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter buyer’s remorse in short order.
Samsung’s best TV
There are a couple of reasons to buy Samsung’s Q900: It future-proofs you in terms of resolution, and it’s the best LED-backlit LCD TV I’ve tested to date, despite the minor issues I discussed above. When it comes to rendering highlights and details, no one outdoes Samsung. This is an excellent TV.