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Samsung UNF9000 series review:

A great 4K TV you still shouldn't buy

The difference was by no means drastic, but I do think most viewers observing carefully at my seating distance could tell them apart consistently in a side-by-side comparison. To put it into perspective, the difference in detail was nothing like the one between DVD and HDTV, however; it was closer to the difference between a good high-def Netflix stream and a Blu-ray movie.

Unfortunately, neither format looked as good as it could. I suspect the "Timescapes" Blu-ray of being slightly soft (compared with exemplars like "Samsara" for example) and of the relatively small 4K file I tested of being more than slightly compressed. "The Ultimate Test" this was not.

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I didn't manage to test any other 4K video sources before I had to return the Samsung, so I moved on to a PC game. I was able to get a very playable frame rate (just above 40fps) out of BioShock: Infinite at 4K resolution using a relatively powerful PC -- a Velocity Micro Edge Z55, equipped with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 video card. On the 65-inch screen, the game looked superb. Detail was tremendous, even with High (as opposed to Very High) graphics settings, and I really appreciated the extra sharpness of the lines and oomph in the textures.

I also played the same game at the same settings and seating distance on the 1080p 65-inch TV, except I specified 1080p resolution. The difference was pretty easy to see: details didn't look as sharp, textures appeared a bit flatter, and the game didn't seen as crisp or lifelike overall. It still looked great, just not as good as on the 4K TVs.

For what it's worth, the two 4K TVs both resolved every line of a 4K test pattern supplied by Joel Silver of the ISF. I also looked at a few 4K test patterns from Joe Kane, supplied by Samsung, but didn't learn much beyond the fact that both TVs behaved as I suspected they would. I neither calibrated the TVs in 4K nor to any measurements of 4K sources. For the tests above I used my 1080p calibration (below) for 4K sources, and they appeared similar.

High-definition sources testing For the next few years anyway, 4K TVs are going to be displaying, at best, 1080p high-definition content most of the time. The majority of my testing of the F9000 used various examples of high-def, from Blu-ray to broadcast TV. The F9000 is an excellent performer overall, but in no case did its extra pixels afford any improvement to high-def video seen from normal seating distances.

I expanded my comparison lineup with HD sources to include all of the following TVs.

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.

Comparison models (details)
Panasonic TC-L65WT600 65-inch 4K LED LCD
Panasonic TC-P65S64 65-inch plasma
Samsung UN55F8000 55-inch LED LCD
Sony KDL-55W900A 55-inch LED LCD
Panasonic TC-P60ZT60 (reference) 60-inch plasma

Black level: The F9000 can deliver extremely deep black levels, so despite some compromises, it's still one of the best LED LCDs I've ever tested in this department. Watching the black-level torture test that is "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2," the F9000 was one of the best-looking TVs in the room. Yes, the two plasmas showed a more consistently deep black level, especially the superb ZT60, but in the darker scenes, the F9000 outdid the depth of the S64's black, too.

The opening shots of Chapter 14, for example, where the magical artillery assaults Hogwarts, showed the black of the Samsung's letterbox bars as darker than those of any other set, aside from the ZT60. The Sony W900 came in second, while the other sets were all about equal in this scene.

During brighter scenes, however, such as when fire engulfs the Room of Requirement (1:00:51), the F9000 brightened considerably, losing its black-level advantage over any of the others, while the plasmas remained admirably dark. Indeed the TV's global dimming -- the brightening and darkening of the entire screen, as opposed to just a local part -- seemed more aggressive and variable on the F9000 than on any of the other LCDs. That said, it didn't spoil my enjoyment, since that brightness never spiked too high, and overall contrast remained excellent regardless of how bright the scene became.

The biggest dark-room difference between the two 4K TVs, the Samsung F9000 and the Panasonic WT600, was also the biggest reason I preferred the Samsung's picture: excessive blooming on the Panasonic. In many scenes the Panasonic's bright areas spilled over into adjacent dark areas noticeably, creating a distinct clouding effect and spoiling much of the impact its otherwise deep black levels conveyed. The F9000's blacks remained free of such blooming to a large extent, owing, I assume, to its more precise local dimming. It also managed to maintain the brightness of highlights, an area where the Panasonic struggled in comparison. The F9000 didn't manage the level of contrast seen on the plasmas, but it was still very good.

Shadow detail was solid enough, but nonetheless represented a relative weakness. In the very darkest areas, the TV obscured some of the near-black areas, for example parts of the hillside and some of the school's structure during that Chapter 14 assault. Each of the other sets looked more detailed to a certain extent. I actually preferred the F9000's look to the overly bright shadows of the S64, but not to any of the others. I tried adjusting the local-dimming setting to try to reclaim that detail, but it didn't help. To put it into perspective, however, this negative is niggling indeed, and I highly doubt it would be noticeable outside a side-by-side comparison.

I mentioned above that Cinema Black, the setting designed to dim the letterbox bars independently, is available on the F8000 but not the F9000. Comparing the bars of each TV, I didn't see much difference, and in many scenes the F9000's bars actually appeared deeper.

Color accuracy: As evinced by its dead-accurate measurements, the F9000 has no issues in this area. Turning to the tour de force "Tree of Life," colors looked excellent during Chapter 5, from the flesh tones of the wife's face to the vibrant greens of the grass and trees. At times, certain hues, like the face of the son at dinner (51:18) picked up a slightly more pinkish look than on the Sony and ZT60, but that's really splitting hairs (and again invisible aside from a side-by-side comparison).

Honestly, between the F9000, the two smaller LCDs, and the ZT60, it was tough picking a subjective winner for color. The two Samsungs generally showed a very slightly more lifelike and exciting look, while the ZT60 was a bit more subdued, and the Sony split the difference.

The F9000's advantage over the Panasonic WT600 showed up mostly in improved apparent saturation and punch, a direct effect of its superior black levels. The Samsung also looked closer to reference color temperature in whites and bright areas, where the Panasonic tended a bit toward blue.

Upconversion from 1080p to 4K: With the prevalence of 1080i and 1080p sources, I don't specifically test 1080p TVs for their ability to convert incoming sources to their native resolution (a process known as upconverting). Since there are almost no 4K sources, on the other hand, this ability is marketed as important for 4K TVs. I'm skeptical of those marketing claims because, in reality, both of the 4K TVs in my lineup upconvert well enough that any differences between them are minor.

The real important piece of information, judging from those two TVs and how they compare with the 1080p TVs in my lineup, is that 1080i and 1080p sources played back on the 4K-resolution screen don't look appreciably better, and in fact can sometimes appear slightly worse. In other words, from what I've seen so far, 4K at 65 inches does nothing to improve the look of today's HD sources -- from Blu-ray to broadcast TV.

Blu-ray is the highest-quality HD source currently available, and in my book, "Samsara" is one of the highest-quality Blu-rays. Details are exquisite and the languid cinematography enables the viewer to really home in on the finer areas -- and, in my case, look for differences. Chapter 4, where the monks painstakingly assemble their mandala from brilliantly colored grains of sand, is a feast for the eyes, but it was impossible in most scenes for me to distinguish any difference in detail between the 4K and the 1080p TVs. The grains looked equally detailed on all of the sets, as did most shots I compared, from a woman's wrinkled face to the script in a prayer wheel to the houses on a mountainside -- you name it.

At times, for example the stone face and carved, weathered facades in Chapter 5, the same-size S64 1080p plasma actually appeared a bit sharper, especially in the finest textures. That sharpness advantage also appeared in the rooms in Chapter 6, and the statues in the churches in Chapter 7, for example. I had to stare hard at the TVs to pick out the differences, but in these and other scenes, if there was any sharpness advantage it went to the 1080p TV, not to the 4K sets.

I showed the "Samsara" comparison using the three 65-inch sets to a lot of other viewers as well around the CNET office, and all agreed that the differences were subtle to nonexistent. None was able to pick out the 4K TVs until they walked right up to the screen -- close enough to see pixel structure on the 1080p plasma. For me, that distance is about 4 feet.

I tried a few other films on Blu-ray, including "Brave," a spectacularly detailed animated Pixar title, and the action-heavy "Skyfall," but in every case the only advantages in detail -- subtle and infrequent as they were -- were enjoyed by the 1080p TV.

I also checked out HD sources on television, including the recent Jets vs. Patriots game via my Fios connection at 1080i, and it was more of the same. The 4K TVs did a good job of converting the lower-resolution sources to the higher-resolution screens without introducing artifacts, but there was no magical increase in detail -- visible differences were again extremely subtle, and most of the time I simply couldn't tell them apart. Turning to some worse material on TV, including a daytime talk show and Obama's midday address regarding the site issues, differences in detail were again nonexistent.

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On the chance that the 4K TVs' upconversion was the culprit, I also hooked up an Oppo HD-105, a high-performance Blu-ray player capable of upconverting 1080p to 4K resolution. I couldn't perform true side-by-side comparison of the F9000's upconversion (for that I'd need a second F9000) but the observations I could perform, based on watching same same sequences on the F9000 with the Oppo's upconversion turned on and then off and comparing them with the other TVs simultaneously, were enough to convince me the TV's processing wasn't the problem. There was no noticeable increase in detail regardless of whether the player or the TV handled the upconversion, and in both cases the 1080p TV looked basically just as detailed.

Video processing: The F9000 is capable of delivering true 1080p24 film cadence, as expected from any TV at this level. Unlike most other such LED LCD TVs, however, it can also deliver full motion resolution -- 1,200 lines according to our test -- at the same time. In other words, you don't have to engage the oversmooth Soap Opera Effect (SOE) to get optimum motion resolution .

On the other TVs, no mode offers true film cadence with zero smoothing and full-motion resolution. The Sony's Cinema Smooth: Clear mode comes closest, with the same excellent motion resolution score, but it has a touch of smoothing. The same goes for Motion smoother: weak on the WT600, although at 900 lines, its motion resolution score is a bit worse than on the other two. Granted the differences are slight, and both of those competitors come close to the F9000's ideal, but neither quite matches it.

Watching some of the difficult motion tests from the FPD benchmark disc, differences emerged between the F9000 and the others. The striped shirt of the girl swinging on the rope broke up into macroblocking frequently, while on the others (especially the F8000) it did not. The F9000 also didn't look as clean as the F8000 in the license plates of the passing cars and the swinging metronome. On the other hand, the WT600 generally looked blurrier in these sequences than the F9000, however, even when I engaged its strongest Motion Smoother modes (the ones that introduce the Soap Opera Effect). While both 4K TVs looked worse than the F8000 and the plasmas on most of these motion tests, between the two I'd pick the Samsung. (Note that since my motion test is based on a 1080p Blu-ray, it's not ideal for judging the F9000's true motion resolution. It is the best I have at the moment, however, so I included the numbers anyway.)

Of course if you're a fan of smoothing you might also appreciate the F9000's 10-point dejudder control under Custom for Auto Motion Plus, which enables you to dial in as much Soap Opera Effect as you like.

I did discover a strange quirk of the Custom setting when I fed the Samsung Blu-ray upconverted to 4K from the Oppo player, however. The Samsung slipped in and out of smoothing seemingly at random, introducing the SOE some of the time and other times producing correct film cadence. For now (at least until Samsung fixes Custom with a firmware update sometime before real 4K sources become available), I recommend sticking with an Auto Motion Plus setting of Off or Clear if you don't want SOE in 4K mode. The Panasonic WT600's smoothing, for its part, behaved consistently.

The new LED Clear Motion setting under the Auto Motion Plus menu reduces light output very slightly, and unlike on the F8000, it didn't improve the look of our motion tests at all. For that reason, I left it turned off.

As usual with Samsung, you'll need to select the Auto 1 setting under Film Mode if you want correct 1080i deinterlacing of film-based sources; the default Auto 2 failed our test.

In Game mode the Samsung showed a decent input lag measurement of 56.5ms. Renaming the input "PC," unlike with some past Samsungs, didn't improve that score.

Uniformity: As long as you keep local dimming engaged, the F9000's dark-field uniformity is very good, if not quite at the same level as the Sony. Turning it off reveals some minor clouding, although nothing as bad as what we saw on the F8000. There were no other major uniformity issues in bright or dark fields, although compared with the perfection of the plasmas, very minor brighter areas could be seen along the edges, for example in letterbox bars.

From off-angle the F9000 and the Sonys lost fidelity (mainly black depth and color purity) at about the same rate -- much faster than the WT600, which was among the best LCDs I've ever seen in this department. Of course, the plasmas didn't lose any fidelity from the side, and maintained perfect uniformity across the screen.

If you're planning to sit close to your 4K TV in an attempt to drink in as much extra detail as possible, it's worth noting that at close range, the far edges and corners of the screen suffer minor losses in fidelity since they're somewhat off-angle relative to the prime seating position in front of the middle of the screen. Again, the loss is much less noticeable on the WT600.

Bright lighting: The F9000 has the same screen finish as the F8000, and behaved the same under the lights. Like any glossy LED-based LCD, its main issue in bright rooms is reflections. Bright objects caught in its screen, for example a lamp, a white couch, or even a white shirt work by a viewer, reflect from the mirrorlike screen finish all too well and can prove quite distracting. Reflections appeared dimmer (better) on the matte-screen Panasonic WT600, as well as on the plasmas.

The F9000 is still a better performer in bright rooms than the plasmas, however, because of its superior light output. Blacks looked slightly punchier on it (and the F8000 and W900A) than on the Panasonics, including the ZT60.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

3D: As I mentioned above, it's kind of disappointing that the 4K Samsung uses active 3D and not passive. With passive 3D in 4K, judging from what I saw on the Sony XBR-X900, for example, you get the best possible 3D experience with no crosstalk, comfortable unpowered glasses, and none of the jagged edge and visible line artifacts that can plague 1080p passive 3D TVs, especially from close-up.

On the other hand, the F9000 did deliver excellent 3D quality for an active TV, showing as little prevalence for crosstalk as the F8000 did. During "Hugo's" most crosstalk-intensive scenes, such as Hugo's hand (5:01), the tuning pegs on the guitar, and head of the guitarist (7:49), and the outlines of Hugo and Isabelle as they talk at night under the snow (17:01), the ghostly double image was as faint and unnoticeable as on any active TV I've seen, outdoing the Sony, the WT600 (which also uses active 3D), and the ZT60 in this regard.

The F9000's 3D image in default Movie mode (we don't calibrate for 3D) was quite pleasing in other areas, too, showing plenty of light output and even slightly better color than on the F8000. The dimmer WT600 and ZT60, on the other hand, didn't have the punch to overcome the active glasses' tint, and so seemed duller in comparison despite their deeper black levels. Shadow was also solid on the F9000 in 3D.

Panasonic and Sony's throw-in 3D glasses fit much better than Samsung's. The flimsy temples of the Samsung 5100GBs barely kept them secure on my head, especially when I wore my prescription glasses, and the design let in a substantial amount of light from the side. At least they were very light. Of course, if you're springing 5 grand for an F9000, you can likely afford better 3D glasses, too.

GEEK BOX: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0017 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.2 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.865 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.978 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 1.008 Good
Avg. color error 0.510 Good
Red error 0.764 Good
Green error 0.707 Good
Blue error 0.793 Good
Cyan error 0.338 Good
Magenta error 0.299 Good
Yellow error 0.156 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) 56.5 Average

Samsung UN65F9000 CNET review calibration results

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