How do you know what the best
TV for most well-heeled Aussie’s needs is? You ask someone that has
spent quality time with the top-of-the-range 4K, 2019 Samsung Q90 QLED TV.
In the reviewer’s game, you get invited to swanky hotels, plied with room service and grog and watch a 4K movie or three on a flagship 4K Samsung Q90 QLED TV. That is the fun bit. Going home and watching content on a lesser TV is the hard bit.
I could say that Samsung Q90 QLED is the best TV I have seen.
I could say that if you have a spare $6,499/9,399/11,799 for a 65/75/82-inch version, then you can’t go wrong. And I would
But I want to be objective, avoid hyperbole and empirical (observed but not scientifically proven) claims.
Review: Samsung Q90 QLED TV
Australian Website here GadgetGuy price and 2019 range overview here
How does a flagship 4K, Q90 QLED TV look – technically?
We test grey-scale to determine black levels. It was able to reproduce 97.5% black, and that is very good.
Otherwise, the grey scale was perfect going up in 2% increments to 100% white. I have not seen another LED/LCD do that.
Next colour bars.
Most TVs succeed in reproducing primary red, green and blue (the use RGB LEDs after all) but fall over with secondary colour mixes and white. This test also reveals the effectiveness of the backlight and allows you to see if its edge-lit or back-lit.
Colour bars were perfect with no overlap and even
brightness. Yes, I expect this of a Samsung Q90 but these were pin-sharp and had even brightness.
I did not have a colourimeter with me but to my eyes, primary RGB was perfect (as it should be)
and secondary colours like pink, yellow, light blue and white were very good
There was no banding at all courtesy of 480 individual lighting zones. At one stage we
did detect a very slight light bleed on a large, fast moving white square that zooms
around the screen (tests tearing and light zones). Lesser TVs have perceptible light
Even at 75° off-angle viewing the colours were perfect – I
have not seen that on an LED/LCD before.
Samsung claims to have addressed the reflectivity issues of its 2018 Q9 series.
Yes and no. It is better (see the 2018 Q9 photo), but you still need to be very careful with placement of overhead lights, rear lights and external light sources like windows.
How does it look – with a movie?
I have seen most of the 4K movies, and so I watched SpiderMan – Into the Spider-Verse. It is a Marvel cartoon, 4K (upscaled from 2160), HDR10,
HEVC/H.265 encoded, with 24-bit/48kHz Dolby Atmos 7.1.4 sound. The photo below
probably does not do the reality justice, but
the detail in the bag texture and bag tag, the HDR10 detail in the shadow
crossing the bag and under his chin were very good.
I am still concerned that Samsung does not support Dolby
Vision, but for 99% of the time, its HDR10+ and HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma)
makes this excellent for Hollywood movies.
Let’s look at a few of the Samsung marketing terms and what
All TV makers have marketing jargon. For example, Sony is
famous for it with Tri-Luminous (RGB LED), X-1 Extreme or Ultimate (processor),
X1-wide angle (like Samsung’s wide angle), X-tended
Dynamic Range PRO (HDR) and X-Reality/Motion Pro … despite that, it produces some great TVs. So too does Panasonic
with similar, if not slightly more conservative marketing terms. At this level, the basic difference between these top-level
brands/models is back-lit QLED/LCD or back-lit LED/LCD.
In theory, QLED has an
edge in colour saturation and black but until I see all their 2019 ranges all I
can say is that Samsung Q90 QLED stands out as having it all.
Direct Full Array Elite III
This means the screen
is lit from behind (back-lit instead of from one edge on most LED/LCD TVs)
using White LEDs grouped into zones. The Q90R QLED has 480 zones. By comparison, the Q80/Q70 has 96/48.
The number of zones doesn’t
maketh the TV – some TVs claim 1000 or more zones. What is more important is
the control of the zones, and that means
a processor powerful enough to make it pop. The analogy is buying a Ford
Mustang – it looks a million dollars, but it must have the thumping V8, not an
eco-4-cylinder, under its bonnet to excite.
Quantum Processor 4K
I can’t find out much about this except it is quad-core, ARM
processor, has a separate neural processing core (AI), a separate image processor (GPU), tone mapping (storage)
and power to control 480 dimming zones. If it is anything like the power and sophistication
of the Samsung Exynos 9820 SoC in the Galaxy S10/+,
then you begin to understand what this processor does although on a much larger
and faster scale.
For example, Samsung analyses millions of images (Samsung
calls it Machine Learning Super Resolution or MLSR) and have added, for want of
a better word, metadata tables to allow
the processor to select the best image for the content type and to upscale
almost anything to 4K. It has put a lot of R&D in here because the Quantum
Processor 8K version has to do so much more work.
As a ‘purist’ I was sceptical of upscaling which simply means adding similar pixels around each pixel
in a lower definition image. You cannot add something that is not there!
Samsung’s AI does a great job even with 720p content. Its AI
creates better edge definition, reduces noise and produces a detailed, sharp
image – at least to my eyes.
These 480 zones mean the screen has a maximum brightness of
1500 nits – well over the 1000 nits it needs for HDR10+ (Samsung’s version of
High Dynamic Range). An ambient light sensor adjusts the light to the room. I
opened the curtains, and it ramped up to
match the bright sunny day outside. It also acts as a sensor to activate the
Ambient mode that was previously a feature of the Samsung Frame.
Wide viewing angle – perhaps the compelling 2019 feature
Most LED TVs suffer from loss of colour in off-angle
viewing. Sit more than 45° off-angle, and
you see faded colours.
In our tests, we
managed up to 75° off-angle with no perceptible difference in colour.
QLED Quantum Dot
So much has been written about QLED that I won’t bore you.
Suffice to say that it produces better, more focused colours than standard LED/LCD
TVs. There are other brands now advertising QLED but remember that Samsung has
had several years ‘to get it right’. In our tests the panel colours were as
close to perfect – 100% DCI-P3 colour gamut – as it gets.
No one can beat an OLED for deep, inky blacks. Why? In OLED all pixels are either on
or off – showing colour or dead black. Having said that OLED is not as good in
bright Aussie lounge rooms (lower brightness levels) and this QLED reaches
97.5% of the OLED black level. Most will never know the difference.
Samsung has Bixby voice recognition and control. In 2019 it
is the key to getting the TV to do something via Google Assistant or Amazon
Alexa. You can use voice control to set reminders, recordings, bring up the
EPG, and offer relevant content. It can answer simple general knowledge
questions like the weather. It did not work within Netflix – not sure why.
More importantly, it
works with Google Assistant or Alexa (and we presume Siri when Airplay 2 and
iTunes comes later this year). While these third-party voice assistants lack
the machine functionality of Bixby, they
do more elsewhere.
It also is the access to the SmartThings
home automation hub.
It’s a lovely, svelte, silver remote that takes the most
common commands and reduces them to a few
buttons. It’s a wonderful companion for the Samsung UI that also now includes
It also comes with a
decidedly complex, old style remote with buttons for everything.
It will cast (screen share) from an Android phone (iOS not tested), later Galaxy Phones (in DeX
mode) and a Windows 10 device (called Remote PC) and can even access Office 365
in the cloud. It will also run a VMWare client. I understand Mac connectivity
is coming. But for the most part, it can
be a hulking big 4K screen if you connect via HDMI.
Viewing and mounting
4K is 3840 x 2160 – that is a lot of pixels. You can sit
closer (say 2-3 metres) as the image is denser than 1080p (1K). I tested the
77-inch and placed a chair at 2m, 3m, 4, and 5m.
Purely from a neck comfort level around 4-5 metres distance
is best. It can wall mount, but the
centre of the screen needs to be at eye height for best comfort – if you sit on
a typical couch that is about 120cm off the ground. If you place it on a TV cabinet,
then you can go a little lower. Remember the Samsung Q90 has a very wide
horizontal viewing angle but not so much a vertical one.
I am impressed with the One Clear Cable and the One Connect
Box. The translucent cable runs power and data up to 15 metres (5m comes with it). This
means the control box is separate and accessible and can go on a suitable bookshelf
or TV cabinet that lets IR through.
One small issue – while HDMI 2.0 will transfer data at up to
18Gbps (compressed [email protected], 10-bit colour) it lacks the flexibility of HDMI
2.1 at 48Gbps ([email protected] or [email protected]) and Samsung does not mention if it
supports eARC – I suspect not. It would be nice to have some future proofing
given the 8K Q900 should have both.
I did not test this. So, let’s just list the enhancements
Auto Game detection and adjustment for that
device and genre
Shuts down other background functions to allow
for lower input lag – now 13.5ms
definition in black areas without blowing out light areas
FreeSync and variable refresh rate – the screen
matches the GPU frequency
I did not test this, but
in essence, it can act as a very large picture
frame when not in use.
I tested with and without the $1099 Samsung HW-Q70R,
slimline sound bar. I did not hold high hopes for this 3.1.2, 330W, soundbar
that does Dolby Atmos via its acoustic beam technology – it would be better
than the TV for sure.
Why? Well, I have last year’s $1999 HW-950N 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos (replaced by the new HW-Q90R) that does not rely on ‘acoustic beam’ (virtual processing or psychoacoustic trickery ) – it has real front, centre, rear and up-firing speakers. I even said “No soundbar worth its audiophile heritage will simulate sound.”
No, I won’t withdraw that statement, but I will say that the
Q70 is not bad and yes, it’s better than the TV speakers.
It has seven speakers for 3.1.2 (I could only find six – Front
left/centre/right, front up-firing left/right, and 8-inch sub) and decodes/downmixes
up to 5.1.2 Dolby Atmos or Dolby Digital Surround. You can add a pair of
Samsung’s wireless rear speakers to make it 5.1.2.
Samsung claims 35Hz-20kHz frequency response – true
But it doesn’t provide figures for maximum volume and Total Harmonic Distortion. Fortunately, I can measure that!
The maximum volume was 80dB. While that is adequate for a
25m2 lounge, I would have expected a
little more like 90-100dB from a 170W soundbar and a 160W subwoofer. Still, I was listening at level 30 – the same setting as the 512W HW-950 I have, and there was heaps of volume left. The sound was clean with a focus on clear voice
(centre channel), and distortion at
maximum volume was almost imperceptible although I noticed some spiking
(harshness) around 10kHz.
Bass kicked in at 35Hz as claimed – very good – and was
strong before mids kicked in and gradually lessened falling off at about 16kHz.
Its collaboration with Harman Kardon and it’s
acoustic research has paid off – this is an almost perfect warm and sweet
Now, what about that psychoacoustic trickery?
The Dolby Atmos 5.1.2 content provided front 3.1.2 with a perceptible sound stage above the TV (up-firing). What it lacked was the side and rear sound stage 5.1.2 or 7.1.4 separation that I am used to.
So, it sounds great, but no way would you skimp so buy the
7.1.4 HW-Q90R if you are spending this much on a TV.
The Q-series sound bars include adaptive sound (like the
TV), DTX:S sound upscaling, Dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 4K/3D/HDR10+
pass-through, HDMI In and Out, and Optical in.
The TV has 60W in a 4.2 channel arrangement.
I suspect it decodes Dolby Digital 4.1 and downmixes to 3.1. I don’t want to rain on Samsung’s excellent TV, but the sound was ordinary barely achieving 77dB and offering acceptable left/centre/right separation but lacking in any spatial depth. It had recessed bass, boosted mids and recessed treble. This is a mid-signature and characteristic of a focus on voice, not movies.
However, this could have been due to Samsung’s adaptive
sound algorithms. I repeat if you spend
this kind of money but a sound bar to match the content you are going to play
and the volume you need. I suspect the HW-QR90R at $1999 is the one to covet.
GadgetGuy’s take – Samsung Q90 QLED TV
Clearly you are not
going to walk into a TV store with the comprehensive feature/specification shopping
list that we use. There is no point because if you have the money for a Q90 QLED
you are going to take one look at the picture quality and perhaps be impressed
with its off-angle viewing – sold.
However, just let me
say that the list of features (paradigms) we compare against are met or exceeded
by the Samsung Q90 QLED. Perhaps that is why Samsung has been Australia’s
number one brand for 13 years.
Would I buy it?
Yes and no.
Yes, if you have the cash and you like finer things.
It is so far ahead of the Q80R and Q70R in backlighting that
I could not muster enough cognitive dissonance needed to convince myself that spending
less makes little difference.
No, when seeing all three side by side they all have excellent
picture quality and all the Samsung Smarts. So maybe the Q80R is the sweet
What size 55, 65, 75, or 82-inches?
I currently own recent high-end 55 and 65-inch 4K LCD and OLED TVs. I might be convinced to go 75-inch, but it then becomes a matter of having the cavernous room space for that. In any case, these are a huge jump from the 28-inch CRT and 38/42-inch Plasma that I was happy with ten years ago!
Am I a TV snob?
Regrettably so. Seeing the best like the 4K Samsung Q90 QLED spoils me for most other LED/LCD TV. I can’t get over things like edge-lit bloom, banding, uneven brightness, light bleed, splotchy or poor secondary colours etc. They stand out like the proverbial dog’s b***s.
Yet my son is happy with a <$1000, 65-inch 4K special, my daughter with an 8-year-old 42-inch Samsung series 4, my mum with a 38-inch dumb TV. Two things. Stay blissfully ignorant of TV tech and buy what you can afford.
I always want to apologise at this stage to LG, Sony, Panasonic because their TVs, regardless of model are damned good too.
Value for money
Ease of Use
Reader Rating68 Votes
Samsung quality, build and longevity
Its flagship 4K QLED lives up to its name
Love the addition of wider off-angle viewing
One Clear cable connect is the best mounting process I have seen
Lacks Dolby Vision (but not a deal breaker)