It's not quite as good as OLED, but Samsung's Q8 TV finally matches excellent image quality with the company's class-leading design and features.
It might surprise you to learn that while Samsung is the No. 1 TV maker in the world, its TVs haven't sniffed CNET's best picture quality list since late 2015 with the JS9500. Not coincidentally, that TV was also the last Samsung I reviewed with full-array local dimming (FALD).
With its two best 2018 QLED LCD TVs -- the Q8 reviewed here and the step-up Q9 -- Samsung rejoins the FALD fold. And how. The Q8 produces some of the best LCD-based images I've ever seen: not as good as OLED, but good enough to propel it back onto that picture quality list with a bullet. I haven't reviewed the Q9 yet but I expect it to be even better. And it should, given its significantly higher price.
In early summer 2018, the Q9 and its main competitor, LG's C8 OLED TV, cost about the same, while the Q8 is a significant chunk of change cheaper (albeit slightly more than a 2017 OLED). That makes it a solid alternative for the high-end TV shopper who's wary of OLED burn-in or needs a 75-inch TV.
Samsung's list of extras is typically long, headlined by a unique Ambient mode that helps it blend into your decor when you're not watching TV, an excellent smart TV system that includes the ability to control your devices, and some of the best gamer-centric doodads available. Bixby built-in is a bit of a bust, but you're probably not spending this much on a TV for voice control, are you?
At its current price the Q8 isn't quite as good a deal as the Sony X900F but it's a slightly better TV overall, thanks to superior features and design. And for midrange, value-centric buyers I like the over-achieving TCL 6 series better than both. But if you appreciate the finer things and demand a world-class picture yet find the Q9 or an OLED too expensive, the excellent Q8 makes a ton of sense.
Samsung's TVs have always been great-looking, and often that's synonymous with ultrathin cabinets. I still really like the look of the Q8, but it's noticeably thicker. The reason, Samsung says, is to accommodate that full-array backlight, but it only really matters when you look at the TV in profile.
From straight on it's typically minimalist and modern, with a thin strip of black along the picture framed by a lighter edge of gray. The edge-to-picture distance on the top, sides and bottom is just as narrow as any other TV at about a half-inch, but while competitors have wider bottoms, the Samsung's frame maintains the same distance on all four sides. And the logo is tiny -- smaller than the "Samsung" on the back of my phone.
Like most modern TVs, the Q8 has little legs splayed to either side for support, and while they look kinda spindly they feel plenty solid. A channel on the back lets you route cables, but don't expect the same kind of neat treatment you'd get from a Q7 or Q9, which feature the company's external input box and "invisible" connection. Samsung dropped that extra on the Q8 in favor of standard back-panel inputs, in part because of requests from custom installers, company reps told me.
The remote is similar to last year, but black instead of silver. It's super simple, easy to hold and reliant on as few buttons as possible -- most of the action happens on-screen, or, if you're feeling adventurous, via Bixby voice control. A dedicated key brings up menus like a numeric keypad and other context-sensitive options, for example for device control.
Ambient mode is a new feature, exclusive to Samsung's QLED TVs, that fills the TV screen when you're not watching TV. The idea is that instead of a big black rectangle in the middle of the living room, you get... something else. It's pretty cool, especially if you hate that black rectangle, but its signature feature -- the ability to match your wall -- can be hit or miss.
I started with one of the preset color swatches and attempted to match a plain, off-white wall behind the TV. Despite adjusting the brightness and color controls, I never got it as close to matching as I wanted. Later with a brick wall in CNET's video studio, however, it worked better.
I also tried taking a picture of the wall using the SmartThings app on my phone, which then beams it to the TV and attempts to line it up. I didn't have much luck getting a match, but at least Samsung hedges its bets by calling the photo-match feature "experimental." YMMV.
When it's on, artful images -- perhaps accompanied by the time, a weather report or news headlines -- appear on the screen. You can choose from mountains, different clocks, water or a few other designs, or choose photos -- either stock or, via the SmartThings app, from your phone. The images are quite a bit dimmer than regular TV. Exactly how bright depends on your room lighting, because Ambient mode uses a lighting sensor.
There's no way to have the TV automatically engage Ambient mode. Instead you have to do so manually by pressing a dedicated button on the remote or choosing a menu item. It will turn off automatically when it no longer senses movement in the room, or after a set period of 1, 2, 3 or 4 hours.
Beyond Ambient mode, the SmartThings app also lets you do stuff like make calendar reminders appear on the TV (Google Calendar is supported), mirror the phone to the TV, mirror stuff from the TV on the phone (with very poor sound and video quality in my tests) and allow sound from stuff on TV to come through the phone's speaker or (more usefully) headphones, much like Roku's private listening feature.
Samsung's built-in smart TV system is superb. I prefer it to LG's WebOS by a hair, in part because TV shows and movies from Netflix and Prime Video appear for immediate selection, so you can continue watching quickly. Netflix even lets you switch profiles to different family members.
It's not as good as Roku overall, however, mainly because I prefer Roku's breadth of apps and full-screen, app-centric layout. Roku also gets new apps and updated features more quickly. Sony's Android TV system also has more apps than Samsung, but Samsung's is much quicker and more responsive.
Samsung's system is also the only one that allows direct control of devices in your system using the TV remote, which in my experience can be a viable substitute for a Harmony remote, albeit not quite as capable.
Where Samsung falls down compared to LG and Sony, however, is in its use of Bixby for voice controls. Those two have built-in Google Assistant, which trounce Bixby in pretty much every way.
The biggest issue is that Bixby failed or misheard my commands more often than Google Assistant. It did fine with the weather, but misheard "turn off game mode" as "turn off demo" the first time and failed, and more than once when I asked to "switch to HDMI 1" it offered to search for that term instead of executing the command.
Even when it heard me correctly, the results from Bixby were often disappointing. Saying, "Show me dramas on Netflix" just presented me with a couple of places to search ("on TV" or "the web"), neither of which gave relevant results. Same with, "Is there any pizza around here?" Each command worked as expected using Google Assistant on the LG C8 and Sony X900F.
Bixby is also disabled completely within Netflix. That's not the case with Google Assistant, for example, which functioned normally whether or not I was in Netflix. And if you care about smart home integration, Bixby -- which ties into Samsung's SmartThings universe -- can't work with nearly as many devices as Google Assistant. Perhaps Bixby will improve as Samsung continues to develop it, but right now it's leagues behind its voice competitors.
The Q8 costs a bundle but it's still the cheapest Samsung TV with full-array local dimming. 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 screen. The main image quality difference between it and the top-of-the-line Q9 is more dimming zones and a brighter image, according to Samsung. The company doesn't say exactly how many zones each has, however.
|Display technology||LED LCD|
|LED backlight||Full array with local dimming|
Like the Q9 and other Samsung QLED TVs, its LCD panel is also 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, according to Samsung. The Q8 uses a true 120Hz panel, which improves the TVs' motion performance, but as usual the "Motion Rate 240" specification is made-up.
The set supports high dynamic range (HDR) content in the standard HDR10 and the HDR10+ formats only. 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.
New for 2018 Samsung has improved some gaming features, and it's arguably the best equipped TV for gamers. The Q8 is compatible with variable refresh rates, called FreeSync, from some devices, currently including select PCs and the Xbox One X and One S. The Q8 doesn't have full HDMI 2.1 (no 2018 TV does), so it allows rates up to 120Hz or resolutions up to 4K -- but not both at once. According to Samsung the supported resolutions are 1080p at 120Hz, 2,560x1,440p at 120Hz and 3,840x2,160 (4K) at 60Hz, and all can support HDR games too. I didn't test it for this review.
To use FreeSync you'll have to turn on the Auto Game Mode feature, also new for 2018. In addition to enabling VRR, the feature lets the TV automatically switch to game mode -- reducing input lag -- when it detects you're playing a game. This year game mode also adds motion smoothing capabilities, called Game Motion Plus, although they do add a bit of lag (see below for details).
This list is mostly solid, unless you happen to own a legacy device that requires analog video (component or composite) or audio. The Q8 is one of the few TVs that doesn't at least offer one analog input, audio or video.
Unlike the Q7 and Q9, which use an external input box and a new, thinner "invisible" connection between the box and the TV, the Q8 has inputs built into the back of the TV, just like most other sets. Samsung says it received requests for a high-end, box-free model from some consumers and installers.
It's no OLED, but the Q8 is still a serious performer.
Compared directly to similar FALD-equipped TVs, the Samsung was my favorite overall by a nose, with superior bright-room performance and the most impressive HDR. At the same time it didn't perform significantly better than the less expensive Sony X900F or the TCL 6 series. The former was the most accurate and balanced in my lineup and almost as bright in many scenes, while the latter delivered deeper black levels in many areas and maintained highlights more consistently. In the end all three earned the same "8" in image quality.
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.
Dim lighting: Thanks to full-array local dimming the Samsung showed superb punch and contrast in my dark room, matching and in some ways exceeding the image quality of the three other FALD-equipped TVs in my lineup. They were all exceedingly close, however.
Watching the newly remastered The Matrix on standard Blu-ray, for example, the Q8's letterbox bars provided the kind of inky backdrop that made the rest of the image pop during the initial nighttime rooftop chase. In most spot measurements the Samsung's bars were neck and neck with the depth of black of the TCL, significantly better than the Q7 and visibly superior to the Sony and Vizio M, although of course they couldn't match the OLED's depth of black. (Speaking of black, the 1080p Blu-ray looked a bit, well, grayer than the 4K HDR version, with elevated black levels that robbed some scenes of punch. It's not the TVs' fault, but still worth noting.)
In dark shots from other films, for example The Greatest Showman and Black Panther, the TCL did show a deeper shade of black more consistently than the Samsung, but on the other hand it controlled blooming (stray illumination) a bit better.
On the other hand the Q8 tended to dim highlights a bit more than the other FALD TVs, so in some scenes there was less pop. In The Matrix, as Trinity leaps across the wide street, for example (4:39), the reflections of the streetlights measured dimmer on the Q8. In effect, Samsung's dimming slightly prioritizes black levels over highlights -- and in a dark room, I think that's a good choice in most cases.
The Q8 preserved details in shadows very well, matching the Sony and surpassing the TCL by a hair. The difference would be tough to spot outside of a side-by-side comparison, however.
Bright lighting: Continuing its reign as the brightness king, Samsung again has the brightest TV I've ever measured. The Q8 beat the two runners-up, the Sony X900F and the Q7, by a healthy margin. That said I expect the Q9 and possibly the Vizio P series Quantum to be even brighter.
|TV||Mode (SDR)||10% window (SDR)||Full screen (SDR)||Mode (HDR)||10% window (HDR)|
|TCL 65R617||Brighter/Vivid||653||480||Brighter/Dark HDR||824|
|LG OLED65C8P||Vivid||419||141||Cinema Home||792|
Unlike Samsung TVs from previous years, the Q8 didn't cut its HDR light output in Movie mode over time. I measured a rock-steady 1,200+ nits over a period of about 5 minutes. In Dynamic mode with both HDR and SDR it fluctuated much more, however, starting out at more than 2,000 nits but falling almost immediately to just over 600.
Samsung makes the best antireflective screens on the market, which further helps improve contrast and pop in bright rooms. The screens of the Q8 and Q7 were about the same at preserving contrast and reducing reflections, and better than any of the other TVs in the lineup.
Color accuracy: According to measurements, the Q8 was good in this category before calibration and even better afterward. The muted color palette of The Matrix was conveyed nicely, from Trinity's pale face in the club to the green wash of Neo's office cubicle to the more natural light inside the virtual sparring dojo. Saturation was excellent and the only TV in my lineup that looked consistently better with color was the LG OLED. That said, they were all extremely close, and as usual differences would be tough to discern beyond a side-by-side comparison.
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 an Auto Motion Plus 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.
If you're keeping track, the results aren't quite as good as what I saw on the Q7 from 2017, which was clean enough on my test pattern to register a full 1,200 lines in the same settings.
If you want to tinker, you can always 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 recent tradition of excellent input lag in game mode with a score just over 14 milliseconds with both 1080p and 4K HDR sources.
Speaking of game mode, new for 2018 it gives you the option of adding motion smoothing and improving motion resolution with the Game Motion Plus mode. According to my test patterns, it boosted motion resolution from 300 lines to about 600 when maxed-out at Blur Reduction 10. Again it can be improved by engaging LED Clear Motion, but the flicker was even worse so I doubt many viewers will want to use that setting. The downside? It doubles input lag to about 30ms.
Uniformity and off-angle: Like the other sets with full-array dimming, the Q8 maintained a uniform image across the screen, with no overt brighter areas, banding or spotting. With full-field test patterns it did look slightly brighter in the middle compared to the edges, and compared to the Sony, TCL and Vizio, the Q8 did look less uniform -- brighter on the bottom in the darkest patterns. I couldn't detect either difference with program material as opposed to test patterns, however.
From off-angle the Q8 lost black level and color fidelity about as quickly as the Sony and the Q7. The TCL maintained black levels better but color shift was worse, while the OLED, as expected, trounced the LCDs from off angle.
HDR and 4K video: The Matrix looks spectacular on the new 4K HDR version -- seriously, if you own a new 4K HDR TV and like this movie (and who doesn't?), seek it out. It trounces the HD Blu-ray version, and makes the movie even more enjoyable.
As I mentioned in previous reviews, among the non-OLED TVs in my lineup the Q8 was my favorite with HDR by a hair, thanks to superior contrast: black levels that matched the TCL in most scenes (and beat the Sony and the Vizio) combined with the brightest highlights. Its advantage with HDR punch wasn't extreme, however; each LCD has its strengths, and none could come close to matching the LG OLED.
I noticed the Samsung's advantage on the very first images, the computer-green Warner lot and logo as well as the stylized characters in the titles. The green looked more saturated and monochrome-sickly (as it should) on the Q8 and the LG OLED than on the other TVs, a difference I attribute to their wider color gamuts.
Samsung also showed a visible, and measurable advantage in contrast. Immediately after the opening title sequence (1:34) the flashlight of a policeman searching the building measured brightest on the Samsung and Sony (about 650 nits), slightly dimmer on the LG and TCL (~600), and significantly dimmer on the 2018 Vizio M and the Q7 (~430).
The Samsung's biggest HDR flaw was the tendency, as seen before with SDR, to dim highlights more than the others. For example, after Trinity's flying leap through the small window the light above measured dimmer (323 nits) than on the other sets, which hovered around 500. On most scenes, however, it maintained the brightest highlights in my lineup.
During the ensuing chase of Trinity, the Samsung and TCL were closely matched as the best of the non-OLED sets in terms of black level, but the Samsung consistently controlled blooming better, and its superior highlights gave it the overall contrast win with more kick and power. It also did a better job exposing shadow details new black, for example the murky uniforms of the police as they ogle the leaping agent as he clears a rooftop (4:47). These scenes also exposed the lighter black levels of the Sony, the Vizio and especially the Q7, while (as usual) revealing the excellence of the C8's perfect black levels.
Switching to streaming I fired up Amazon's Man in the High Castle. I watched the Samsung's internal Amazon app compared to an Apple TV 4K streaming to the other sets, synced for easier side-by-side comparison.
Again the Samsung and the LG led the pack overall, with the TCL and Sony close behind. This subtler title revealed more of the Samsung's color accuracy advantage over the TCL, which looked a bit off and too reddish in skin tones, as well as its more dynamic image compared to the Sony. As revealed by my measurements, the Sony and LG did appear a bit more color-accurate, with the Q8 showing a slightly more yellowish cast, but the difference was subtle.
My setup also allowed me to look for any advantages afforded by Samsung's HDR10+ format -- present in the title as well as Samsung's app, but absent from the Apple TV 4K as well as a Roku Ultra I also used for the same comparison. Although the Samsung looked as good as ever, so did the others. It was difficult to see any difference, major or minor, that I could attribute to HDR10+ and its dynamic metadata in this title.
|Black luminance (0%)||0.002||Good|
|Peak white luminance (SDR)||2348||Good|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.39||Good|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||0.69||Good|
|Dark gray error (30%)||1.04||Good|
|Bright gray error (80%)||0.46||Good|
|Avg. color checker error||2.80||Good|
|Avg. color error||2.64||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||1200||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||1000||Good|
|Input lag (Game mode)||14.10||Good|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.006||Good|
|Peak white luminance (10% win)||2388||Good|
|Gamut % UHDA/P3 (CIE 1976)||97.98||Good|
|Avg. color checker error||4.88||Average|
|Input lag (Game mode, 4K HDR)||14.30||Good|