Samsung Q80T series (2020) review: High-end design, excellent picture, approachable price
In 2020, Samsung's TV lineup seems skewed more than ever toward higher-end models: There are three series with 8K resolution, a bunch of lifestyle models such as The Frame, The Sero and even a crazy-expensive outdoor television called The Terrace. Among relatively "normal" TVs, the Q80T stands out. It's not cheap, but it is the least expensive Samsung QLED TV to feature full-array local dimming, which gives it an excellent picture.
The Q80T's big brother, the Q90T, also has FALD and I expect it to perform even better, but once again there's an issue with price. In the 55- and 65-inch sizes the Q90T costs basically the same as my favorite high-end TV for 2020, the OLED-powered LG CX, and in my experience the OLED will have a better picture overall. That puts the Q80T in roughly the same price-to-performance sweet spot as the Sony X900H, the Vizio P-Series and TCL 6-Series.
I compared all four in my basement TV lab side-by-side and the Samsung Q80T was indeed excellent, but despite costing more than the other three, it didn't put out a better picture. Instead its strength lies in design, with sleeker looks, an excellent remote and, yes, that Samsung nameplate. Like the others it's also well-suited to pair with an Xbox Series X or PS5 thanks to variable refresh rate capability and 4K/120Hz input.
If you have your heart set on a Samsung, you want a great picture and you don't have money to burn, the Q80T is pretty sweet. But if you're brand-agnostic, the Vizio and TCL are both better values.
Sleekness from the stand up
When you pay a little extra for a Samsung you expect superior design, and the Q80T delivers. The most obvious upgrade is the stand: Samsung uses a central pedestal, which to my eye looks a lot sleeker than the two separate legs to either side that most new TVs employ. The base is a single slab of metal, flush against the tabletop. An angled chunk of metal and plastic supports the panel, creating a nice floaty effect.
Black with a minimal frame around the image, the Q80T also has a textured backside and a cable management system that lets you channel power and HDMI from their ports through the stand, making for a cleaner look.
Samsung's clicker is also among my favorites, with minimal buttons and just the right feel in-hand. Channel and volume keys click up and down, Ambient mode gets its own button as does the mic for voice, and even the Netflix and Amazon app shortcut keys are nicer than on other remotes: They lack garish colors and instead just match the rest of the wand.
Ambient mode is designed to show stuff on the screen when you're not watching TV. It's a cool feature if you don't like the big black rectangle of an inert TV, and can display your photos, designer art, the weather, headlines and even adjust backgrounds to match your wall.
Alexa and Google join Bixby
Samsung's homebrew Bixby voice assistant is built into the Q80T, as you'd expect, but new for 2020 you can choose the overwhelmingly more-popular Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant instead. You can select between the three in the menus and whichever one you choose will be available when you press the mic button on the clicker.
Alternately you can set the remote's mic to listen for the "Alexa" or "Hey, Google" wake words, allowing you to issue commands hands-free (it worked well as long as I stayed relatively close to the remote). And like most TVs you can also pair the Q80T with separate Alexa or Google speakers.
Beyond voice, Samsung's on-screen smart TV system is excellent, with quick responses and plenty of apps, and I'd take it over LG or Vizio's systems. I still like Roku and Android TV (found on Sony TVs) better overall, however, because they have even more apps. Just like most TVs now (including Roku), Samsung has the Apple TV app and works with Apple's AirPlay system.
Full-fledged features and HDMI connectivity
Full-array local dimming sets the Q80T apart from cheaper Samsung TVs. This technology, which improves LCD image quality significantly in our experience, boosts black levels and contrast by making certain areas of the picture dimmer or brighter in reaction to what's on the screen. The step-up Q90T and the company's 8K models have more dimming zones and brighter images than the Q80T, but Samsung doesn't say exactly how many zones each has.
|Display technology||LED LCD|
|LED backlight||Full array with local dimming|
|HDR compatible||HDR10, HDR10+|
Like all of Samsung QLED TVs, as well as most higher-end TVs from Vizio and TCL, the Q80T's LCD panel is augmented by a layer of quantum dots -- microscopic nanocrystals that glow a specific wavelength (i.e. color) when given energy. The effect is better brightness and color compared to non-QD-equipped TVs. The Q80T uses a true 120Hz panel, which improves the TVs' motion performance, but as usual the "Motion Rate 240" specification is made up (note that the 49- and 50-inch sizes are 60Hz/MR 120).
The set supports high dynamic range content in the HDR10 and the HDR10 Plus formats. It lacks the Dolby Vision HDR support found on most competitors' HDR TVs. I've seen no evidence that one HDR format is inherently "better" than the other, so I definitely don't consider lack of Dolby Vision a deal-breaker on this TV -- instead it's just one more factor to consider.
Gaming features are one of the Q80T's strong points. It's compatible with variable refresh rate, as well as the FreeSync and G-synch VRR formats, available from devices including select PCs, the Xbox Series X and PS5, although the latter doesn't support VRR yet. The Q80T also accepts 4K/120Hz input on HDMI 4, which is conveniently marked with a little game controller icon. The TV supports Auto Game Mode too, which lets it automatically switch to game mode to reduce input lag when it detects you're playing a game. (Note that the 49- and 50-inch sizes lack 4K/120Hz input and VRR.)
- 4x HDMI inputs
- 2x USB ports
- Ethernet (LAN) port
- Optical digital audio output
- RF (antenna) input
- Remote (RS-232) port (EX-LINK)
This list is mostly solid, unless you happen to own a legacy device that requires analog video (component or composite) or audio. The Q80T is one of the few TVs that doesn't at least offer one analog input, audio or video.
Picture quality comparisons
The Q80T is an excellent performer overall, with good local dimming and contrast, excellent brightness, color and video processing. It fell short of the black levels and brightness of some less-expensive TVs, such as the Vizio P-Series and TCL 6 series, especially with HDR material, but showed less blooming and a slightly cleaner image, earning the same score of 8 (Excellent) in this category. I preferred the Vizio and TCL overall for image quality and liked the Sony X900H a bit less, but all four occupy the same general plane.
Dim lighting: I started with the excellent-looking Blu-ray of Parasite. In brighter scenes the Samsung generally matched the image quality of the others -- all four were excellent overall. Differences emerged in darker scenes, for example during Park Dong-ik's ride in the back of the car in Chapter 4. The TCL and the Vizio both showed darker, more realistic "black" in the shadows and letterbox bars, with less bleed from bright areas into dark, compared to the Sony and Samsung. The latter two were close, but the Samsung has a slight edge over the Sony. The differences weren't drastic -- all four TVs have very good black levels and contrast -- but still visible side-by-side.
Here's where I mention an unusual thing Samsung did with settings, which I liked. The Brightness control handles backlight level but there's an additional Shadow Detail slider under Gamma (where it should be) that controls exactly that (and does a lot of the same work as a standard Brightness/black level setting). According to my measurements it does what it claims: boosts brightness at low levels (5% to 20%) as you creep up. The default "0" setting is the most accurate but cranking it up did reveal more, yes, details like the car seat cushions and floor of Parks car became more visible.
Bright lighting: These days TVs just seem to be getting brighter but the Q80T is an exception, measuring dimmer than many TVs at its level including the TCL, Vizio P and Sony, and even slightly dimmer than the Q70 from 2019. It's still bright enough for just about any room, however, and has plenty of punch to make HDR look impactful.
Light output in nits
|TV||Brightest (SDR)||Accurate color (SDR)||Brightest (HDR)||Accurate color (HDR)|
Don't let the high score in Dynamic fool you. Aside from being woefully inaccurate, it fluctuated quite a bit, starting out at over 1,200 nits but falling almost immediately to around 300. Most other TVs don't show such dramatic fall-off, and none of the Q80T's other modes did either.
For the Accurate measurements in SDR I used the Natural picture mode in combination with the Warm color temperature setting (the default temperature for Natural is quite blue). I prefer Vizio and TCL's approach of a dedicated, accurate bright-room picture mode.
Unlike previous Samsung TVs I've tested the Q80T didn't excel at handling ambient light. In a bright room all of the TVs in my lineup were better at reducing the brightness of reflections to preserve the fidelity of the image. The difference wasn't massive but definitely noticeable in dark areas of program material.
Color accuracy: The Samsung's Filmmaker Mode and Movie modes are both accurate before calibration but I prefer the former because it disables most video processing by default (see below). After calibration, as expected, it was excellent. During Parasite, colors like the green lettuce and red kimchi in the cafeteria in Chapter 4, as well as the skin tones of the family as they eat, looked natural and well-balanced. Then again so did the other displays -- it was difficult to see any real color differences even side-by-side with non-HDR colors.
Video processing: As usual the Samsung aced my tests in this category, delivering true 1080p/24 film cadence with film-based sources and plenty of motion resolution (1,000 lines) with video-based sources. The TV achieved both results with a Picture Clarity setting of Custom with Blur Reduction at 10 and Judder Reduction at 0, so if I had this TV I'd "set it and forget it" right there. Note that Filmmaker Mode's default setting is to turn Picture Clarity off, which results in less motion resolution, but you can adjust it to taste.
You can also add more smoothing or soap opera effect by increasing Judder Reduction or choosing Auto instead of Custom. Meanwhile the LED Clear Motion option makes motion even sharper with the help of black frame insertion, at the expense of flicker and a dimmer image.
Samsung continues its tradition of excellent input lag in game mode with a score just over 14 milliseconds with both 1080p and 4K HDR sources.
Uniformity: With demanding, full-field test patterns the Q80T's screen was quite uniform, with more-even lighting from edge to edge than the Vizio, whose sides looked slightly dark, and slightly less-even lighting than the TCL. With program material I saw the same minor issue on the Vizio while the others were very similar (note that uniformity can vary from sample to sample). From off-angle the Samsung was the best LCD TV I've tested, maintaining color fidelity, brightness and contrast better than the others.
HDR and 4K video: With high dynamic range sources the differences between the four TVs became more apparent, and the Vizio and TCL looked slightly better than the Sony and the Samsung overall. The Q80T's highlights appeared a bit dimmer than the others, including the Sony, while its black levels were lighter and less realistic than the TCL and Vizio, it's contrast did beat the Sony's.
Watching the Spears and Munsil HDR benchmark's test montage, the ferris wheel at night (4:51) was a good example, with a slightly gray-blue cast to the sky, and less pop in the lights on the Q80T. It still looked great, with plenty of punch and contrast I expect from HDR, but next to the TCL and Vizio it didn't convey quite the same sense of realism -- although it looked better overall then the Sony.
Brighter scenes, like the closeups of flowers and insects (3:26), showed less of a difference but the Samsung still appeared very slightly dimmer than the TCL and Vizio, an impression backed up by spot measurements of my light meter. Colors were crisp and vibrant, however, and the orange of the monarch butterfly for example appeared a bit deeper and more saturated than the TCL, if not quite as powerful as the Vizio.
The Samsung and Sony had one advantage during the montage however: they were slightly cleaner than the TCL and Vizio in the first fade up from black to a bright sky. The latter two showed faint, subtle banding in the sky as the image brightened, while the two "S" TVs didn't.
Another advantage: The Q80T was the best among the three at controlling blooming, so stray illumination wasn't an issue even in difficult mixed bright-and-dark scenes. One major reason, I suspect, was its less-aggressive brightness compared to the more blooming-prone TCL and Vizio.
Switching over to Parasite in HDR, the Samsung's image held up better than before thanks to its ability to control blooming and maintain black levels (at the expense of brightness). During the dark Chapter 4 car ride, for example, the Q80T's black levels were darkest and it showed less stray illumination in the passing streetlights. On the other hand those lights and other bright spots were more brilliant on the TCL and Vizio, and both exposed more shadow detail than the Samsung -- while the Sony had the best shadow detail and the worst contrast. I still ended up preferring the TCL and Vizio overall, but the Samsung was much closer.
In brighter scenes where blooming is less visible the superior light output of the other TVs shined gave them more characteristic HDR punch, particularly in highlights like the sun as TK approaches the house in Chapter 3. The Samsung still looked brilliant, saturated and impressive, but the TCL and Vizio looked just a notch more-so in my side-by-side comparison.
|Black luminance (0%)||0.003||Good|
|Peak white luminance (SDR)||664||Good|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.22||Good|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||0.64||Good|
|Dark gray error (30%)||0.90||Good|
|Bright gray error (80%)||1.37||Good|
|Avg. color checker error||2.70||Good|
|Avg. saturation sweeps error||2.01||Good|
|Avg. color error||1.29||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||1000||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||1000||Good|
|Input lag (Game mode)||20.77||Good|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.005||Good|
|Peak white luminance (10% win)||1243||Good|
|Gamut % UHDA/P3 (CIE 1976)||91.85||Average|
|ColorMatch HDR error||5.52||Poor|
|Avg. color checker error||2.65||Good|
|Input lag (Game mode, 4K HDR)||20.37||Good|
Portrait Displays Calman calibration software was used in this review.