The Samsung QN900A 8K 85″ mini-LED is huge, I tell you, huge. First and last impressions count, and that is precisely what I said to the check-out clerk after a night where size was the only thing that matters. Never mind any specs – take those as a given – the Samsung QN900A 85″ 8K mini-LED literally fills the room. Perhaps that needs to be my first caveat. You want 85″, make sure you can handle 85″.
Pair it to the new Samsung Q950A, a huge 11.1.4 Dolby Atmos soundbar that can make lots of noise. Capable of waking the dead and sometimes scaring the bejesus out of you, especially as it has added rear side wide speakers to an already impressive Atmos soundbar.
UPDATE 17/3/21 – critical information
The Demogods have struck again and the pre-production TV we reviewed was not performing at its best. After reading this review, Samsung tested the unit and stated, “It is performing at about 80% of its capability”. So while the review is accurate (and other Australian reviewers have used the same TV) we will be running the same tests in a few weeks on a full retail model. It is safe to assume that the test results and the rating will improve.
The Samsung QN900A 8K 85″ mini-LED is excellent at:
Upscale but not necessarily to 8K. That is not easy, especially with 576i TV that I managed to find on lots of catch-up channels or older 4:3 format TV (it is 16:9 these days)
Colours are very good
Brightness is good
Contrast ratio (the difference between pure black and white) is the highest I have seen on QLED
TV Sound is good, but the soundbar is better
Gamers will love it
And there is a degree of future-proofing – but 8K native content won’t be mainstream for many years
What it is not so great at:
Your wallet – at $13,999 plus the soundbar at $2,099 it is a fair whack of change
You need the right room for it; otherwise, it dwarfs the room and you. It will likely need a wall mount (a few hundred dollars installed)
You need the right kind of room to make the most of this and the soundbar. That room needs good light control (the screen is reflective), the right acoustic properties (for the soundbar to bounce channels off) and adequate viewing distance. While you can get as close as 2-metres, we think 4-5-metres back and reasonably straight on viewing is best.
And the elephant in the room is Dolby Vision. Politics and royalties (cost to use) aside, Samsung supports its HDR10+ format – not Dolby Vision. It must believe it will win out by the sheer bulk of TV numbers. Dolby Vision is downmixed to HDR10 (not HDR10+) and is frankly uninspiring. At that level, it uses static metadata – once per movie, versus Dolby Vision frame-by-frame metadata that adds so much more. You lose significant tone, natural colours, detail, and it is flat in comparison. So if you want Dolby Vision, head over to LG’s OLED or QNED mini-LED.
* We have asked Samsung to confirm the warranty length. For a device of this price, it needs a minimum of 3-years ACL compliant warranty. Australian Consumer Law also states that the vendor must do on-site repairs or cover freight to and from the repairer for this kind of device. We will update with Samsung’s response.
First impressions – huge
The size of this unit is just, well, huge. Other words fail me. Seeing the 85″ screen in a hotel room, albeit in a suite with a separate bedroom and lounge room and a couch not quite 3 metres away, it is a massive unit. Size is 2140mm (84.6”) diagonal or 1872 (w) x 1053 (h) mm x 43kg (without desktop stand) and that excludes the Slim Connect Box.
Then you look a little closer at the .9mm bezels (invisible for a 97.98% screen to body ratio); the 15.2mm depth perforated stainless steel grill around the edges; the desktop stand (another 11kg and needs 434.3mm desktop depth plus any soundbar); and eight ‘speakers’ on the backside that act as woofers.
By the way, this needs a professional courier delivery to lift a 71.5kg box (2098 x 1252 x 221mm) from the truck and hopefully not up too many tight twisting stairs. My advice – pay for professional delivery and wall mounting if it’s not already included in the price from your retailer.
The right room makes a huge difference
Let me start by saying that as a budding audiophile and videophile (OCD perfectionist), the following is what I expect to deliver the best image/sound for your $16K plus investment. Despite Samsung claiming a low-reflectivity screen (and it may well be by its TV standards), it is not. It ably reflects ceiling, wall, tabletop, behind, mood, stand-mounted lighting, and light reflected off the couch sitters.
Rule #1 – be able to control all reflective light
It has quite a bright panel, but direct sunlight will wash it out. Use thin daylight reduction curtains to get light back under 400 nits. Comparing the screen during the day and in the dark is like chalk and cheese.
Rule #2 – be able to control ambient light, outside light from windows and gaps in curtains.
The review unit was in a lounge room with high ceilings, thick sound dampening curtains to the right, a large artwork to the left (moved from the wall and replaced by the TV) and the rear speakers bounced off the right curtains and the left entry foyer. We will address the effectiveness of the ‘Space Fit Sound’ feature, which analyses the acoustic environment via this TVs microphone and re-calibrates your settings accordingly.
Rule #3 sound is half the experience, so allocate resources to fixing acoustics.
The Samsung soundbar uses a certain degree of psychoacoustic trickery to bounce sounds off the ceiling and walls to give you the 11.1.4 3D Dolby Atmos 3D spatial experience or even the 6.2.2 TV sound. All soundbars do this – you need dedicated separate speakers otherwise.
Rule #4 – even though it is big, don’t spread out the chairs too much – effective viewing distance is around 4 metres and about 4 metres wide.
The sitting position needs to be as close to straight on as possible. While the VA panel has a claimed +/-178° viewing angle, our tests show its about 140° (70° off-horizontal) and 120° (30° of vertical) before you lose colour accuracy.
How does it look?
Terrific once you get the room issues under control. Now another caveat or three. A hotel room for the night does not allow us to use the calibration tools for an ‘accurate’ measurement. We can run various on-screen tests, and we photograph the results with a 108MP camera, but our observations are largely subjective. There are no test tools and apps for 8K TVs yet. So, we can only test to 4K that is upscaled.
Samsung describes the screen as a 10-bit panel, 8K (7680 x 4320/16:9), providing 1 billion, 100% DCI-P3 colours. Frankly, these are throw-away marketing specs that any 8K OLED or Neo QLED or even a FALD ULED should deliver.
Independent tests show 96.5% DCI-P3 and Delta E of 2.24 (<4 is good) out of the box. It may require professional calibration to get to 100%. Still, you are not going to notice any difference.
Nits go nuts
There are no specifications for nits brightness (typical, maximum, peak) or contrast. These help us to understand (and compare) different brands and panels – perhaps that is why there are none. We could not measure nits in the hotel environment. One independent review claims that when set to 100% brightness and backlight it measures:
4000nits on a 2% white window on black for five seconds (peak meets HDR10+ standards)
2000 nits in a 10% white window on black for five seconds (max and more realistic)
400nits in a 100% white window for five seconds (typical)
The reality is that it is not an uber-bright screen. It can handle typical office light levels and offers good HDR levels.
Contrast is equally important
Samsung doesn’t reveal contrast (the difference between its black levels and pure white). OLED, for example, is infinite (pure black and pure white). Instead, it refers to Quantum HDR 64x. It is 48X in the 75/65-inch model and 32x in the QN90A series. Sorry but that marketing term means nothing. We are looking forward to seeing independent black level tests.
HDR is effective
The closest we can get is that it is HDR 64x is a USA term and roughly equates to the HDR 2,000 (2000nit max) standard. Dolby Vision is HDR 10,000 standard.
LEDs and Zones
Nor are there specifications for the number of mini-LEDs or dimming zones – ditto. It is not OLED, where each pixel is self-emissive. We were able to run a test pattern that revealed about 30 horizontal zones and 70 vertical zones – around 2000 dimming zones.
Independent tests on the 75″ version found 1920 dimming zones (60×32) and a peak brightness under 2000 nits. That is called HDR 48X. As for mini-LEDs, these are 1/40th the height of traditional LEDs, and we can’t even begin to guess the number. But remember that 1/40th the size also equates to 1/40th the light output, so at best, mini-LED has a better array coverage.
Despite publicity to the contrary, the screen is quite reflective as per the example shown below.
Like all TV vendors, Samsung has its version of AI upscale. In essence, the old practice of wrapping similar pixels around an original one does not work. You can read more about bad and good upscaling in our Techies Guide to TV. Samsung’s AI upscale is clever. It only upscales as far as it can without introducing more noise artifacts and then shows it at that level – only 1080p and 4K upscale to 8K.
How does it sound?
It has an 80-watt 6.2.2CH surround sound system. The maximum volume (measured at 3 meters) is 76dB. Loud but not overly so. It can decode:
mono PCM to the left and right speaker and via frequency cut-over can use the sub-woofer and tweeter)
Stereo PCM to left and right speaker and ditto for frequency cut-over
3.1 uses left, right and centre front – ditto
5.1 sound uses 3.1 with the left and right surround
Dolby Atmos uses the front two up-firing speakers as well for front 3D height.
In OTS (Object tracking), it phases the sound between speakers to follow an object. It is a proprietary Samsung algorithm that uses AI to identify the image and the sound it makes. Our limited test experience is that it is ‘patchy’. It does not apply when using a soundbar as that does its decoding.
We have no other information, but we understand that the eight speakers are 7.5W (60W), two subs are 10W each = 80W. This comprises:
6 = Front (Left, Right, Centre, Left/Right surround, tweeter)
2 = 2 banks of four speakers (sub-woofers) on the rear left and right
2 = two upwards firing Left/Right speakers
The TV sound system native sound signature is not bad (it could be louder). It has no low bass; a little mid-bass starts to build to 100Hz, and then it is flat to 10kHz. It gets harsh at maximum volume, so back off to 75% for the best sound. You can change the pre-set signature slightly – all tests were with AI support off.
Samsung Q950A soundbar 11.1.4
This is a $2099 soundbar with nine channels in the soundbar (there is a mix of 21 mid-range woofers and tweeters), one subwoofer and four in the rear 2.0.2 speakers, e.g., 11.1.4.
Front-firing Left/right/centre (3)
Side-firing Left/right surround front (2)
angle-firing Left/Right wide surround (2)
Front-firing Left/right surround (2)
Angle-firing Left/Right wide surround rear (2)
4 3D height
Upwards-firing – Left/right front (2)
Upwards-firing Left/right rear (2)
As mentioned earlier, this relies on bouncing sound (as almost all soundbars do) off walls and ceilings. The hotel room has dead acoustics and we calibrated using Space Fit Sound using the TVs microphone. If you don’t have a Samsung Q series TV, then you can only calibrate the sub-woofer.
Before that, the Dolby Atmos tests had poor results with left side or 3D height sounds. After calibration we found reasonable compensation for the heavy curtains and ceiling height but the left rear wide surround was not affected as it had no wall to bounce off. Again, perfection comes down to proper room design.
The sound signature is brilliant. Low bass builds well to 50Hz – you know it is there more by the vibrations you feel. Mid-bass is strong and adds to the gravitas of bass-heavy scenes. The mid-kicks in (flat and strong – good) and is flat to low-treble (dips to avoid harshness) and then flat to about 15kHz, where it gradually drops off.
The soundbar is best with the Samsung Q series TVs, where in Q-symphony mode, it uses the centre and tweeter to add more dialogue clarity to the soundbar. In tests, it is not all that noticeable.
We hope to review the HW-Q950A soundbar separately, but in brief, it has:
It is a competent TV OS with a logical screen layout. And it is getting smarter. It supports most major video streams, universal EPG and AI viewing recommendations. It now supports in-app and content purchases and has just introduced Samsung TV Plus to Australia (more later). You can connect a Logitech USB camera for a webcam. Use it to self-monitor a fitness workout while watching a video tutorial or making video calls using Google Duo. It has Smart Things for use with smartphones and tablets (iOS and Android) integrate smart home device control.
It has a game mode. Input lag for a [email protected] is 9.4ms. You can adjust the input lag, changes fps, HDR, refresh rate, wireless headset settings and other parameters. You can also select 21:9 and 32:9 aspects. We don’t yet have specs on VRR, ALM, Free Sync, etc., we understand it supports all PC and console games modes.
Dynamic – Brighter and clearer in bright viewing environments.
Standard – Default mode suitable for general viewing environments
Natural – Reduces eye strain for a comfortable viewing experience.
Movie – Watching TV or movies in a dark room
Filmmaker Mode developed by the Ultra HD Alliance. It automatically puts the television into the best mode for film-based movie content. It may look darker.
Using Intelligent Mode
This lets the TV analyse the surrounding and the content you are watching to provide the best viewing experience.
Intelligent Mode: The TV recognises and analyses the surroundings, noise, content, and usage patterns. You can turn the options on or off.
Adaptive Picture Optimises brightness and the best picture quality in real-time, based on the lighting condition and the content
Active Voice Amplifier analyses ambient noise and provides optimal sound depending on the noise.
Adaptive Sound+ Provides optimised sound quality by analysing the viewing space and the acoustic components of the content.
Adaptive volume automatically adjusts to a specific volume level while you are watching TV. The TV analyses your volume history and automatically adjusts it when you use an app or switch to an external input source.
The remote uses room light solar power or USB-C to charge a small internal battery. Some may consider the bottom selection too simple, requiring most actions to be executed by navigating the menus. The remote does have three shortcut buttons for Netflix, Prime Video, and Samsung TV Plus apps. (Samsung TV Plus is Samsung’s free content portal with advertising support.) There’s mouse and keyboard support, which is a great idea too but only works in the browser app and PC connect mode.
Tap view (Samsung Galaxy only cast)
Internet – no file download, flash video, purchases or VPN
Ambient mode – art mode, a.k.a. The Frame and a paid art store subscription or from your own from USB
Search – voice
Samsung Smart TV Plus
Device care and diagnostics
Intelligent mode for image and sound
PC connect via Wi-Fi and Mac connect via AIrPlay2
Screen Mirror via Wi-Fi
Microsoft 365 – cloud apps or Word, Excel and Outlook – it may require a subscription
There was a time when you could watch a dumb TV and fill in a rating book. Now any internet-connected TV exfiltrates an awful lot about the viewer. Currently, it is not specific to a person unless you log in with your email and password. A large part of the sign-up is to get credit card details for potential in-app or content purchases. You may want to set up multiple profiles so the kids can’t spend up.
You can quickly turn on or turn off the functions, such as Voice Guide, Picture Off, Audio (Video) Description, Caption, High Contrast, Enlarge, Grayscale, Colour Inversion, Learn TV Remote, Learn Menu Screen, Multi-output Audio, Sign Language Zoom, Slow Button Repeat, Accessibility Settings
Samsung TV Plus
It is ad-supported free content. The ads tend to be content-related or more prominent international brands as Samsung starts selling to smaller local brands.
Are the ads intrusive and frequent? Yes. Especially as they are not personalised to a large degree – yet. The content is limited and US-centric But hey, it is no worse than catch-up TV (Freeview) or Free-to-air TV.
No official specs, but we suspect that it will come in around 650kWh. Assume $350 per year based on 8-hour viewing per day.
Difference between Q900A and Q850A
As far as we can tell, it is mainly screen brightness and contrast. Again a lack of published specifications makes comparisons difficult.
Finally, image quality
Comments are below each image.
Samsung QN900A 8K 85″ mini-LED is the best QLED we have seen. First, my apologies for writing over 3000 words. I wanted to cover it comprehensively as a) it is the first 8K mini-LED I have seen, and b) at $14K, there will be a few readers that want a deep-dive.
It is impressive, if only for its size. I am disappointed that Samsung is publishing far fewer and less relevant specifications and hiding behind marketing hype. Let it do both because I naturally suspect it is hiding something by withholding that information.
As a segue to illustrate, OPPO now publishes full smartphone specs that make it easier to review a phone, and Samsung publishes very little. No wonder OPPO is rapidly gaining ground and journalist support. I hope you get the drift, Samsung.
On a performance front, it is not quite as good as I expected. Oh, it is good, but the so-called brightness and contrast are not much above a quality FALD ULED. In fact, the vastly lower-cost 75″ Hisense 8K U80G ULED easily passed all tests and supported Dolby Vision. Samsung is well behind!
As this is the first mini-LED, we have little exposure with the technology. So we will start with a pass mark of 8/10. It should lose serious points due to the poor downmixing of Dolby Vision to HDR10. In fact, if that is what you want, then don’t buy this or any other Samsung. But to Samsung’s defense, it sells truckloads of TVs, so the importance we place on Dolby Vision may not be as significant to its buyers. This does not affect the rating.
We have flagged that if it comes with a 1-year warranty (Samsung to confirm as this is a generic TV warranty period), it fails. No TV at this price should have less than a 3-year with on-site service or freight-paid both ways warranty. Until advised, this does not affect the rating.
It gains points for the good TV sound system (probably the best we have reviewed), comprehensive Tizen OS, and Samsung’s quality. And its picture quality is up there – better than its current ULED TVs. We can’t comment on other brands yet. We are not enamored with Samsung TV Plus ad-supported TV but its more about adding value, and it does not affect ratings.