Samsung UNHU9000 review: Great picture quality, but the curved screen is a flat-out gimmick

In my living room at home, even on a 65-inch screen, the curve didn't have any major effect on the picture aside from reducing reflections somewhat. When seen from the sweet spot in the middle, or even a couple seats to either side, the minor distortions introduced by the curve don't really register unless you're looking for them. Yes, if you move farther off-angle the screen's unusual shape becomes more apparent, as it does if you sit closer. But from my "the daddy seat" at a standard seating distance -- remember, most people, including me, sit around 9 feet from their TVs at home -- the curve is subtle at best.

Even in my dark AV lab, from a 6.5-foot seating distance, next to an array of flat sets in a variety of side-by-side comparisons, I rarely noticed it for better or for worse. Colleagues who I invited in to evaluate resolution differences (see below) also either didn't notice the curve at all, or told me they immediately forgot it was there.

I said "minor distortions" because most of the changes wrought by the curve, compared to a flat-screen TV, are exactly that. The most prominent is the slight bowtie shape, where the edges of the screen seem larger than the middle. It's most noticeable on letterbox bars and other content with horizontal lines that stretch across the screen, but again it's not that obvious from the standard position/distance.

As I moved off-angle the distortions increased. The near edge seemed larger than it should be, and the middle to far middle seemed too small, before growing again at the far edge. Beyond the slightly warped shape of the entire TV itself, horizontal lines again accentuated the distortion further.

In none of my testing, either with the HU9000 compared to the other TVs in my lab, or with the HU9000 alone on its credenza in my living room, did I notice the increase in "immersion" supposedly brought on by the curve. The image seemed no more immersive than any other 65-inch TV. For the record I measured the screen's vertical height and it was close enough to the flat sets (about 0.25 inch smaller) that it shouldn't make a difference, although side-by-side the curved set does appear very slightly smaller than its flat counterparts.

The biggest positive impact of the curve was its reduction of reflections. A flat TV "catches" more of the surrounding reflections, increasing the chance that a particularly bright object -- like a window or, in my case at home, a sconce in the next room -- is reflected back to the viewer. The curved TV misses more of those reflections. On the other hand it can actually increase the apparent size of reflected objects it does catch, for example a bright shirt worn by a viewer, stretching them into funhouse mirror shape. But in most rooms a curved TV will reduce reflections compared to a flat one.

So what it comes down to, for me, is the question of whether the reduction in some reflections is worth a few subtle distortions. I'd have to say it's not. In other words, all things being equal (namely price and picture quality), I'd prefer it to be flat.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

4K sources testing

While the UNHU9000 did a very good job with 4K, none of its picture quality advantages had to do with resolution. They stemmed primarily from its excellent contrast and black levels, as well as from other factors that apply regardless of whether the source is 4K or otherwise.

If you've read my review of the Sony X900B you'll experience some deja vu reading the information below, because I performed many of the tests simultaneously on all four comparison 4K TVs, and the results were largely identical.

Methodology: Compared to last year there are a few more 4K sources publicly available, namely Netflix -- "House of Cards" season 2 and now "Breaking Bad" -- and additional content that comes by way of Samsung's UHD content pack. I also had access to more test content for this test than last year, including a 4K-signal generator (the DVDO AVLab TPG), two hard drives full of 4K demo content supplied by Sony and another TV maker who asked to remain nameless (these drives are used by dealers and unavailable for sale to the public), and a wide variety of individual files from various sources that I played from a PC. To send the 4K signal to each TV, I used an Atlona AT-HDDA-4 distribution amplifier.

Unlike the other sets, the Samsung didn't consistently "play nice" with the Atlona. I experienced frequent dropouts, flashes and other issues. I can't say whether the fault lies with the distribution amp or the TV, and it's unlikely a home user would experience similar issues (I had no problems with sources directly connected to the TV) but it's still worth noting.

In the interest of time, I did not perform a full 4K calibration on any of the TVs I compared for the 4K portion of this test. Instead, I simply chose the most accurate picture setting (determined during each TV's full 1080p calibration; see below) and adjusted basic settings, namely light output, contrast, and black level. For comparison purposes, I arranged all four 4K sets so they were as close to the same seating distance as I could make them: between 77 and 87 inches (roughly 6.5 to 7.5 feet, which is quite close for 65-inch TVs). To make this arrangement work, one TV (the LG in this case) had to be the odd man out, with a distance of about 115 inches.

4K TVs with 4K content: My first goal was to see if any of the TVs' rendition of the best 4K material I had on-hand looked substantially different. The answer is yes, but only because of differences that had nothing to do with 4K resolution. Instead, the major differences were in contrast (black level), color, uniformity, and picture quality areas detailed in the 1080p tests below.

Of course most of the 4K demo content looked exceedingly good. The demo boxes from both TV makers contained spectacular footage, some of it at 60fps, of breathtaking scenery, cityscapes, natural and man-made wonders, baroque interiors, a concert, golf and soccer, and of course tech demos extolling the virtues of said manufacturer. Details were sumptuous across the board, and the camera work and subject matter was designed to show off the extra resolution. Unfortunately, since I didn't have a 1080p version of the same material to compare, I couldn't tell how much that extra resolution made a difference.

Differences in detail from one TV to the next were nonexistent to my eye. Color was the biggest difference between the TVs, but since I didn't calibrate for 4K, I don't know which TVs were more "correct" or accurate. Differences in black level were similar to what I describe below in the 1080p section.

The same went for the demo files I tried, including a particularly nice piece of demo material: "The Ultra Definition showcase" from Florian Friedrich, available at UHDcontent.eu. Its shots of a beachside town, animals, and mountains were equal in quality to any of the manufacturer-supplied footage I saw.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

4K vs. 1080p content from Samsung's UHD content pack, test files, and Netflix: I didn't have access to the RED players I used last year to compare the same content at 4K and at 1080p resolution, but I did have some video files in both 4K and 1080p, as well as Netflix's feeds. I also took the opportunity to compare "The Counselor," one of the best-looking Hollywood titles included in Samsung's UHD content pack, to the Blu-ray equivalent. For comparison purposes I swapped in a Panasonic TC-P65S64 to represent 1080p and kept the seating distances the same as described above.

Perhaps the best test was the 4K version of "The Counselor" played on the Samsung, versus the 1080p Blu-ray of the same film played on the other sets. I stared hard and some extra detail was apparent in the 4K version, for example in the extreme close-ups of the faces of Penelope Cruz and Cameron Dias as they chat poolside (Chapter 7) or the bush in the driveway outside a mansion, or a leopard-print pillow (Chapter 5).

These areas looked great on the Bu-ray, but on the 4K version they were ever-so-slightly sharper in my side-by-side, theatrically close lineup. The differences in detail were so subtle that in the vast majority of scenes I couldn't tell the Samsung playing 4K from the others. I also asked three other colleagues to weigh in and only one was able to successfully identify the 4K TV from the others. When I moved the couch back to about 8.5 feet, the differences disappeared.

I viewed the same PC-based footage I described in the Sony review and again any differences I saw were exceedingly subtle, and invisible from about 8.5 feet on the 65-inch sets.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

I tried Netflix 4K as well, streaming a couple of episodes of "Breaking Bad" and "House of Cards." The latter looked most impressive, but both appeared slightly better-looking than the Super HD (1080p) stream. I compared the Samsung at 4K to the other sets (including the S64) at Super HD from my PS3's Netflix app, and the slight increase in sharpness and detail was apparent in some areas, like faces and fine fabric textures. It was quite subtle, however, and I bet most viewers would have a tough time telling the difference, even at the theatrically close distance from which I was sitting. Both streams also reverted to lower-resolution versions quite frequently, a bandwidth issue that many home users trying to stream 4K will also likely experience.

1080p sources testing

The majority of my testing was done with mere high-definition resolution sources, and the Samsung was excellent in most regards. Deep black levels thanks to well-implemented local dimming were its main strengths, followed by superb color and very good, if not perfect, processing. I was also impressed by its uniformity, bright-room and 3D performance, albeit less so by its sound.

picture_settings3.jpg

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.

One note on the comparison lineup listed below: I don't have the Sony X900B on-hand to compare directly anymore, as the company has taken back its review sample. I am including it in the comparison model list, however, because I made extensive comparisons to the Samsung HU9000 when I did have the Sony. See the Sony XBR-X900B review for more details on how they compare.

Black level: While the HU9000 didn't reach the same velvety, inky depths as the Sony X900B, it still delivered excellent black levels for an LED LCD, outdoing most of the other TVs in the comparison. Only the Sony was consistently darker in the darkest scenes of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Part 2," for example the invasion of Hogwarts from the beginning of Chapter 12. The F8000 generally matched the depth of black I saw on the HU9000, while the F8500 plasma was actually lighter in those extremely dark scenes.

The Sony still had the best showing in this area overall, the HU9000 stood out among the rest of the LCDs, by maintaining highlights that were almost as bright and realistic as the plasmas. In mixed albeit still mostly dark scenes, like the Room of Requirement (57:40 and 59:36), the bright areas in the furniture and bric-a-brac looked better, with a tad more realism and punch, than on the F8000 and the Sony, approaching the excellence of the plasma. The Vizio, LG and Panasonic lagged behind in this area, as well as in overall black level.

Shadow detail on the HU9000 was very good, but not quite as well-realized as on some of the other sets, particularly the F8000 and the Sony. The arches of the hallway surrounding the ghost (47:48), for example, were a bit better-defined on those set, as well as on the Panasonic. This crushing wasn't a major issue, however, and the F8500 and HU9000 showed similar levels of it.

As with the other local dimming sets the HU9000 suffered from some blooming - where the backlight illuminates dark areas adjacent to light ones -- and was worse overall than the Sony in this area. My Oppo Blu-ray player's pause icon in the upper right, for example, caused blooming in the nearby letterbox bar, lightening up the surrounding blackness to about the same extent as the F8000. Only the LG showed worse blooming than the HU9000 overall, but in the case of the Panasonic and Vizio, their lighter black levels seemed to be the main reason blooming was minimized.

Color accuracy: I expected superb color from the measurements I took and the HU9000 didn't disappoint. In the Sony review I noted a slightly less-saturated red from the HU9000 compared to the Sony, but aside from that TV that the Samsung looked as good as any I've recently tested.

Watching Chapter 5 from "Tree of Life" for example, skin tones from the mother's skin to the baby's looked superb, not too pale and not too saturated, and the HU9000 seemed as accurate and natural as any of the others. The intense blues of the water and the walls, the green of the grass and the brown of the shoes and suits were also convincing, as was the neutral white of the bedsheets and other grayscale areas.

As always, deep black levels lent the colors extra vibrancy and pop. I also appreciated that in near-black areas the Samsung didn't take on as much of the bluish tinge as I saw on many other LED LCDs.

Video processing: The HU900 offers the same basic suite of processing adjustments as Samsung's standard 1080p TVs all the way down to the H6350 series, and it's among the most versatile in the business. That said, one of the settings I lauded in the past turns out to not be as impressive as I first thought.

As expected the TV is capable of delivering true 1080p24 film cadence. Unlike most LED LCD TVs, however, it can also deliver full motion resolution at the same time -- you don't have to engage the over-smooth Soap Opera Effect to get optimum motion resolution. On the Sony and most other sets, conversely, no mode offers true film cadence with zero smoothing and full motion resolution.

To get that performance you'll have to use the Custom setting under Auto Motion Plus (AMP), turn Blur Reduction to 10 and Judder Reduction to zero. It works well with 1080p/24 Blu-ray sources in my experience, but when watching film-based 1080i high-def from a cable box, I noticed an issue. Every so often parts of the image will hitch or catch slightly, particularly during quick movement or pans. I never noticed this issue before, but when I had the TV at home, watching film-based shows like Game of Thrones and Mad Men, it made me a mad enough man that I turned AMP Off completely, which solved the problem. For the record, I also noticed the same issue with the F8000's Custom mode, so I assume it afflicts many so-equipped Samsung sets.

Meanwhile the AMP setting of Off also delivers true 1080p/24 film cadence, while the other modes (Standard, Smooth and most Custom settings with judder reduction set above zero) introduce some level of smoothing, or Soap Opera Effect. The other exception is Clear, which produces the slightly stuttery motion characteristic of 3:2 pulldown with film-based sources.

Engaging LED Clear Motion setting under the AMP menu reduces light output by about 25 percent, but that's not a big deal since this TV (like most LED LCDs) has plenty of light output anyway. The bigger deal is that, on the HU9000, that setting introduced significant flicker. For both of those reasons I left it turned off.

In both the On and Off positions for LED Clear Motion, the HU9000 was able to achieve the full 1,200 lines of resolution -- a superb score for a 120Hz television. On looked very slightly cleaner in our test pattern, however, so sticklers for blurring who don't mind the flicker may want to leave it there. The Off position for AMP, meanwhile, delivered a mere 300 lines of motion resolution, but due to the hitching issue described above, I'd use it with film-based 1080i sources anyway.

4K upconversion: Because the Samsung performed just as well as the other 4K TVs in this category to my eye, I'm basically repeating this section from the Sony review, with only some minor changes.

To test how well the Samsung converted 1080p material to its 4K pixel array I wanted a lineup of same-size TVs viewed from the same distance. I removed the smaller F8000 and F8500 from the lineup and swapped in the 65-inch Panasonic TC-P65S64 to use as my 1080p reference. I also arranged them in the same theatrically close seating distance I used for 4K testing, described above.

I chose the best-looking Blu-ray I know, "Samsara," and stared hard at highly-detailed scenes to try to discern any difference in resolution, sharpness, perceived depth of field, and so on between the 4K Samsung and the 1080p S64. If there was any, I didn't see it. The material from the monks' mandala to the destroyed buildings (Chapter 6) to the Baroque interiors (Chapter 7) looked equally detailed on all of the sets.

Switching to a lower-quality source, my Verizon Fios TV connection at 1080i, was the same story. I checked out an episode of "Mad Men" and a baseball game, and none of the 4K sets provided any increase in detail or resolution. As with the Blu-ray, none of them looked any less-detailed either.

I also asked a couple of CNET staffers to check out the same scenes from "Samsara," and while one agreed with me he couldn't see any difference, the other was able to pick out the 1080p S64 relatively quickly. When I asked him why, he said he noticed the very subtle presence of pixel structure in some flat fields, for example blue skies, and that tipped him off. He didn't pick out actual pixels from that distance, but did describe a vague sense of the picture elements nonetheless.

When we moved the couch back to about an 8.5 distance he said he didn't notice the difference as much, but at that point we agreed confirmation bias was too much of an issue to fully trust what he saw. In any case, he stressed that the difference he saw was minuscule, likely impossible to pick out when not looking at a side-by-side comparison using select parts of extremely high-quality material, and much less important than some other aspects of picture-quality differences he noticed, like black level and color.

Uniformity: The curve of the HU9000's screen doesn't have an obvious negative effect on its uniformity. With flat field test patterns from black to full white the TV showed no obvious brighter or darker areas, and the uneven lighting I saw on the LG and Panasonic was nowhere in evidence on the Samsung. Yes, the Sony and Vizio looked a bit more uniform, without the very slightly darker edges (compared to the middle) I saw on the Samsung, but the difference was not visible in program material.

Seen from off-angle the HU9000 washed out relatively quickly, losing black level fidelity quicker than the Sony in particular, but also more quickly than the Panasonic and LG. In the case of the latter two, however, the difference could be ascribed to that fact that they didn't have nearly as much depth of black to lose in the first place.

The curve had a negligible effect on off-angle uniformity. The curved HU9000 didn't lose black level fidelity any more quickly than the curved F8000 -- in other words, both washed out from off-angle relatively quickly. I expected to notice more washout in certain areas of the screen, since their angles were slightly different due to the curve, but from a regular seating distance (8.5 feet) the curved introduced no such anomalies.

Bright lighting: With the combination of its reflection-reducing curve and very good screen finish, in addition to the inherent brightness of LED LCD, the HU9000 is a stellar bright-room TV. It maintained black levels as well as any TV I've tested, matching the Sony and the F8000 and beating the other sets in this area. Its reflections were a bit brighter than those of the Sony and especially the F8500, but the refocuing effect of the curve, described above, made it the best non-matte TV I've ever tested in a bright room.

Sound quality: I didn't expect the kind of phenomenally good sound produced by the big-speaker Sony, but the HU9000 sounded a bit worse than I expected. With music the vocals came across as thin and scratchy, lacking in midrange. Yes the bass was decent, outdoing that of the F8000 for example, but overall the F8000 had a more even, natural sound. The Panasonic sounded best among the non-Sony 4K TVs, with the best balance of the bunch, and while the LG was muddier it still sounded better than the HU9000. On movies, I thought the HU9000's decent bass would help, but the explosions from "Mission: Impossible 3" merely sounded distorted, with little real impact. At least the curved 4K set didn't sound as bad as the pathetic F8500 plasma, but it wasn't all that much better.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

3D: Like most high-end Samsung LED LCDs the UNHU9000 is a very good performer for an active 3D set. No, the 3D image isn't as bright and clean as the passive 3D of the LG, but it still looked very good, with a relatively bright presentation and minimal crosstalk.

On "Hugo" the trouble spots that typically create those ghostly double images of crosstalk were nicely minimized, from Hugo's hand reaching toward the mouse to the sleeve of Méliès. Yes, there were faint outlines visible in many places, but the HU9000 did every bit as good a job at reducing them as the F8000, my current active 3D reference. The Panasonic for its part was also very good, but its default 3D settings were much dimmer. The plasma looked significantly worse than any of the other active sets, with the exception of the terrible Sony.

As usual, the fit of Samsung's cheap glasses was loose. They felt flimsy, but in their favor they remained light and comfortable for long periods of time.

Geek Box

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.001 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.33 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 1.114 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 1.88 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 1.64 Good
Avg. color error 1.435 Good
Red error 2.023 Good
Green error 1.25 Good
Blue error 2.613 Good
Cyan error 0.805 Good
Magenta error 1.764 Good
Yellow error 0.157 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 1200 Good
Input lag (Game mode) 68.5 Average

Samsung UN65HU9000 CNET Review Calibration Report


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  • Enhanced Refresh Rate 1440 Hz
  • 3D Yes
  • Display Format 4K UHDTV (2160p)
  • Diagonal Size 55 in
  • Type LED-backlit LCD TV
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