As well as being even brighter and more colorful than last year’s equivalent model, Samsung’s 2018 flagship screens use a completely different lighting system to combat its predecessor’s contrast problems: Full Array Local Dimming rather than edge-lit LED lighting. The FALD panel works in tandem with Samsung QLED Quantum Dots to produce a picture that’s brighter and more colorful than near any we’ve seen come from the South Korean manufacturer.
This means they can be driven harder without losing the plot/aging too fast, resulting in more brightness and a wider color range – or, at least, more color volume – than any other type of consumer TV technology to date.
Do those features alone make Samsung Q9FN the best TV on the market? No, but throw in technology like HDR10+ and Q HDR EliteMax – what Samsung bills as its maximum High Dynamic Range experience that’s exclusive to the Q9FN – and there’s very little doubt in our mind that this is Samsung’s best TV ever.
Picture Quality: Dazzling? Yes. Accurate? Mostly
Let me be clear from the get-go: The Samsung Q9FN produces a deeply engrossing, enchanting, and engaging viewing experience. Over and over the word dazzling appears in my notes. Indeed, I was dazzled … constantly. This isn’t a perfect TV – but the overwhelming majority of people who see this TV will be sucked in, then blown away by its picture quality.
Let’s talk about brightness first, because this is an area in which the TV particularly shines (sorry). If the TV can reach 2,000 nits as Samsung has suggested, it is only in specular highlights and with out-of-the-box TV settings. After our adjustments, we found the Q9FN could reach just over 600 nits with a full-screen window, and closer to 1500 nits with a 5 percent window. This is to be expected, since it requires a lot of power to drive all the LEDs in the TV to maximum brightness, whereas diverting all power to just just a few LEDs yields more intense luminance. Here’s another way to put it: This is, broadly speaking, the brightest TV I’ve ever tested.
The 65Q9FN’s combination of extreme brightness, wide color response, peerless color ‘volume’ and (thanks to its new backlight engine) outstanding contrast helps it deliver HDR pictures that can only be described as jaw dropping.
While watching the most extreme HDR movies we can find – predominantly Warner Brothers titles mastered to 4000-nit brightness peaks – the 65Q9FN reminded us emphatically of the importance of brightness to the HDR experience: Samsung’s new star delivers such extreme images with a level of dynamism and intensity we just haven’t seen before, unlocking more of HDR’s stunning potential than any other TV.
It’s not just that the 65Q9FN’s pictures are bright, though. It’s also the way the screen’s new direct lighting and local dimming can deliver its competition-crushing levels of peak brightness without compromising dark parts of the picture.
There’s none of the light/dark compromise usually seen with LCD TVs. Nor, even more excitingly, is there any of the backlight ‘striping’ or haloing around stand-out bright objects that you’d normally expect to see on an LCD TV when watching contrast-rich HDR images.
The difference in this key respect between the 65Q9FN and last year’s equivalent model is night and day, leaving me in no doubt of the benefits of using direct lighting with lots of dimming zones if you’re really serious about doing HDR on an LED TV.
In fact, the backlight management of Samsung’s new flagship TV is so outstanding that contrast-rich scenes look almost OLED like in their black level uniformity – except, of course, that the bright parts of such scenes look far brighter on the Samsung than they can on any current OLED.
Even Sony’s outstanding ZD9 LCD TVs aren’t able to keep backlight blooming down to the tiny amounts the 65Q9FN suffers with.
Although the 65Q9FN’s audio is not as stand-out awesome as its pictures, it’s still the best sound we’ve heard from a Samsung TV for years.
It’s powerful enough, for starters, to combine pretty extreme volumes and a wide dynamic range without sounding muffled or distorted. It also manages to project its sound away from the TV’s bodywork, creating a three-dimensional audio space that has depth, width and height.
Dialogue sounds clear and locked to the screen, where it should be, and you can hear plenty of subtle detailing – despite the fact that the set’s pretty much invisible speakers also deliver more bass than most built in TV sound systems.
Well worth a mention here, too, is Samsung’s new Smart Sound feature. This analyses the incoming sound and automatically adjusts the quality of the sound to suit the type of content you’re watching. For instance, it will adopt a stadium-style sound tone if you’re watching sports, or a movie-friendly tone if you’re watching a film. The system also equalizes sound levels across different inputs.
Gimmicky though it sounds on paper, Smart Sound turns out to be an unexpectedly brilliant feature, making everything you watch sound palpably better without you needing to touch any sound adjustment menus.
Our only complaint about the 65Q9FN’s audio is that very shrill tones can cause a momentary buzz from the TV’s chassis. When this is the worst you can come up with on a flat TV’s sound performance, though, you know you’re generally in pretty positive territory!
Sound TL;DR: The 65Q9FN sounds impressively powerful, well rounded and dynamic – and its new Smart Sound feature is a revelation.