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Samsung Q9 series (2018) review: Sumptuous picture quality in designer garb at a luxury price

Samsung's high-end Q9 delivers the best picture quality of any non-OLED TV on the market, scads of features and sweet design. So can it knock off its OLED rival from LG?

David_Katzmaier.jpg
David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg
David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David runs CNET's home entertainment division, where he leads a team that covers TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home audio. If he doesn't know something about the gear you use to keep yourself entertained at home, it's not worth knowing.

Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
15 min read

The fight at the top of the TV market has never been tighter. In one corner, the challengers are flagship LCD-based TVs like the Samsung Q9 reviewed here, the Vizio P-Series Quantum and the Sony Master Series Z9F. In the other, the undefeated champions: OLED TVs like the LG B8 and C8 and the Sony A9F.

Samsung Q9 TV
7.7

Samsung Q9 series (2018)

The Good

The Samsung Q9 has the best overall picture quality of any non-OLED TV I've reviewed, with exceedingly bright highlights, inky black levels with minimal blooming and best-in-class off-angle and bright-room performance. Its innovative design makes hiding wires and stashing gear easy, and includes a unique Ambient mode that helps it blend into your decor when the TV is "off."

The Bad

More expensive than OLED TVs with superior image quality. Bixby can't compete with Alexa or Google Assistant. Not available in a 55-inch size.

The Bottom Line

The Samsung Q9 is an amazing performer with exquisite design and loads of extras, but it costs more than OLED TVs and doesn't perform as well.

I just refereed another hard-fought bout in CNET's TV lab, comparing those three LCDs against the cheapest 2018 OLED TV, the LG B8. The short story? The champ retains its belt, but it didn't win by a knockout this time. The runner-up Q9 lasted the whole fight and vanquished the other LCDs (and in case you didn't know, QLED is a version of LCD).

Although it's Samsung's best TV that costs less than $15,000, the Q9 is still really expensive. The 65-inch model has never fallen below $3,000, which is a few hundred more than LG's 2018 OLED TVs. You read that right: This TV costs more than an OLED, and doesn't perform as well. 

Samsung has done some great things with its LCD tech, such as reducing blooming while simultaneously increasing brightness, dealing with reflections in bright rooms and even improving off-angle image quality. But it can't beat OLED's contrast, the main building block of a good picture.

Samsung Q9 TV shows super-high-end style (and picture)

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There are still a few reasons for high-end shoppers to consider the Q9, however, starting with the 75-inch size. If you want a TV that big and have a huge budget, the Samsung Q9 is the best choice. Its image quality surpasses both the more expensive Sony Z9F and the much, much cheaper Vizio P-Series (non-Quantum), my picture-for-the-dollar pick at 75 inches. On the other hand, if your budget is indeed that huge, maybe it can be stretched another couple grand for a $7,000 77-inch OLED

Then there are all the non-picture-quality reasons to choose the Q9 over the others. I'm talking about unique styling and design touches like Ambient mode, optional designer stands and flush wall mounts and a separate One Connect box with hidden wiring system. Features like universal remote control of connected devices, sweet gaming extras and the best smart TV system not made by Roku. Immunity to OLED burn-in, if that worries you. And yes, the cachet of an expensive Samsung in your living room.

If that's enough for you, maybe the Q9 is worth the price after all. If not, get an OLED or the best cheaper OLED alternative at 65 inches, Vizio's P-Series Quantum.

Samsung Q9 TV
Sarah Tew/CNET

Future-modernist TV design when on or off

Samsung makes some of the nicest-looking TVs around, and as you'd expect from the company's best (non-8K) 2018 TV, the Q9 pulls no design punches.

OK, maybe one: the thinness punch. The Q9 is noticeably thicker than razo-slim OLEDs or even many LCDs sets like Samsung's own Q7. That's because the Q9 uses a full-array LED backlight, a worthy trade-off for a chunkier profile in my book.

From straight on, the set is all screen: sleekness incarnate. The image is bordered by a superthin border, angled like a picture frame toward the watcher, that's the same width on all sides. The only other forward-facing feature, the Samsung logo on the bottom-middle, is tiny and as unobtrusive as any.

The silver remote is dead simple, easy to hold and reliant on as few buttons as possible. Most of the action happens onscreen, 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.

Samsung Q9 TV
Sarah Tew/CNET

The stand consists of a matte-black rectangle, rounded on the front. It's low-slung, keeping the space between the bottom of the panel to the tabletop as short as possible. Compared with the wide-splayed, double-leg stands used on most TVs today, it looks nicer and its narrower spread requires less base space. And speaking of nicer looks, the 65-inch Q9 is also compatible with the optional studio stand ($600) or gravity stand ($700).

Speaking of expensive options, the Q9 is also compatible with Samsung's no-gap wall mount ($150 to $180) which keeps the TV more flush to the wall than third-party mounts. It works fine with those, however, and they generally cost a lot less.

Samsung Q9 TV
Sarah Tew/CNET

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 -- was hit or miss when I tested it on the Q8. I didn't retest it here, so check out the Samsung Q8 review for more details if you're curious how it works.

Hide the wires, control the gear, skip the Bixby

If you're obsessed with hiding wires and equipment, the Q9 is your jam. All of the connections -- including power -- are housed in a chunky, separate box Samsung dubs the One Connect. You plug your HDMI gear, such as a cable box, game console or streaming device, into the box and not into the TV itself. This setup allows you to easily hide all those boxes somewhere in a cabinet.

Samsung Q9 TV
Sarah Tew/CNET

The only wire you need to connect to the TV itself is the proprietary Invisible Connection. It's a fiber-optic strand that runs -- via a clever channel across the back of the TV and even through the stand legs -- to the box. The cable is thin enough to run across a wall, down a corner or along a baseboard without exciting much notice, allowing you to avoid costly in-wall cable runs.

It's different from (and incompatible with) the 2017 version because it carries power too, and as a result the strand is slightly thicker. The included cable is 15 feet long and you can spring for the 50-foot model ($300) if that's not enough.

Samsung Q9 TV
Sarah Tew/CNET

Like previous Samsung TVs the Q9 can also control connected gear, which it detects automatically as soon as you plug it in. The One Connect box even has built-in infrared emitters so it can command gear inside a cabinet. In the past I've liked this feature, but still prefer a dedicated universal remote like a Harmony. I didn't retest it this time around, so check out the 2017 Q7 review for more details.

I also skipped extensive testing of Samsung's Smart TV system, including Bixby voice control via the remote, for this review. In my test of the Q8 from earlier this year Bixby was disappointing, falling well short of the Google Assistant voice controls built into LG and Sony TVs. I like Samsung's onscreen Smart TV system better than those two brands' however, and consider it second-best overall, after Roku TV. Again, my Q8 review has more info.

The queen of QLED

Key TV features

Display technology LED LCD
LED backlight Full array with local dimming
Resolution 4K
HDR compatibility HDR10 and HDR10+
Screen shape Flat
Smart TV Tizen
Remote Standard

Among Samsung's 2018 TVs only the Q8, the Q9 and the 8K Q900 have 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 the Q8 and Q9 is more dimming zones and a brighter image on the Q9, but the company doesn't say exactly how many zones each TV has. Meanwhile the Q900 8K TV -- call it the king of the QLEDs -- is brighter still.

Samsung QLED vs. LG OLED TV: What's the difference?

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 with non-QD-equipped TVs, according to Samsung. The Q9 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. Check out the picture quality section for more.

Samsung Q9 TV
Sarah Tew/CNET

2018 Samsung sets are arguably the best-equipped TVs for gamers. The Q9 is compatible with variable refresh rates, called FreeSync, from some devices, currently including select PCs and the Xbox One X and One S. It 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.

Samsung Q9 TV
Sarah Tew/CNET

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).

  • 4x HDMI inputs with HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2
  • 3x USB ports
  • Ethernet (LAN) port
  • Optical digital audio output
  • RF (antenna) input
  • Remote (RS-232) port (EX-LINK)

This input list is mostly solid, unless you happen to own a legacy device that requires analog video (component or composite) or audio. High-end Samsungs like the Q9 are among the few that don't offer at least offer one analog input, audio or video.

Picture quality

Samsung Q9 TV

Click the image above to see CNET's basic recommended picture settings and HDR notes.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Among all of the LCD TVs I've tested the Q9 comes closest to matching the picture quality of OLED. In my comparisons its subjective contrast is better than any LCD I've seen yet, thanks to deep black levels, bright highlights and less blooming than any of its competitors. It's consistently brighter than any OLED TV and just about every LCD as well, which (along with best-in-class handling of screen reflections) leads to superb bright-room image quality. It's even better than other LCDs from off-angle.

The Q9's "9" score in this category matches that of the Vizio P-Series Quantum, and Vizio beats the Q9 in some ways, but between the two, money no object, I'd take the Samsung. But overall I'd still take an OLED.

Dim lighting: My favorite litmus for black level is still Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Chapter 10, where Voldemort's gang invades Hogwart's. It showed both the strengths and weaknesses of the Q9's home theater image with exceedingly dark content.

In its favor the Q9's letterbox bars and black areas were better -- darker and less washed-out -- than any of the other LCD sets in the lineup, and indeed any LCD I've ever tested. Only the LG OLED's blacks were darker, and the Q9 was really close to OLED's black perfection, and blooming was basically nonexistent.

The flipside was a lack of shadow detail ("crushing") in the darkest areas near black. The folds of Voldemort's robe and nuances in the black clothing of his supporters in the background (46:30) were more obscured on the Q9, for example. Overall both the Sony Z9F and the Vizio PQ handled this scene better despite their lighter black levels than the Q9, while as usual the OLED looked the best.

Few scenes are so punishingly dark, however, and with the majority of other dark scenes I watched, shadow detail wasn't a problem for the Q9. In the fireside chat from Solo: A Star Wars Story for example (27:09), the other sets didn't look any more detailed in the darkest areas like the hair of Val (Thandie Newton) or Beckett's (Woody Harrelson) leather jacket. Meanwhile the Q9 looked second-best overall, trailing only the OLED in this and other dark scenes like the sabacc game (52:57) where its depth of black created just a bit more pop and contrast than on the Vizio and the Sony Z9F.

The best geek movies of 2018, ranked

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The story was the same in another dark-scene favorite, Chapter 2 of Black Panther where the heroes ambush the guerrilla fighters in the Nigerian night. The Q9's inky black levels -- evinced in the letterbox bars and deep shadows of the jungle -- and bright highlights -- like the white titles and flashes of muzzle fire -- combined for the best non-OLED contrast of the bunch, while shadow detail wasn't an issue. 

The Q9 also controlled blooming, which is stray light in dark areas caused by inexact dimming. The differences between the three best LCDs (the Q9, the Vizio and the Sony Z9F) weren't drastic with relatively dim SDR, but again I'd pick the Q9 among those three. Of course the OLED showed no blooming.

Bright lighting: For bright rooms the Q9 is the best TV I've ever tested, with the highest light output and the best anti-reflective screen. That said Vizio PQ's was just as bright (and sometimes brighter) in picture modes that deliver accurate color.

Light output in nits

TV Mode (SDR)10% window (SDR)Full screen (SDR)Mode (HDR)10% window (HDR)
Samsung QN65Q9F Dynamic3,221724Dynamic3,173
Samsung QN65Q8F Dynamic2,348638Dynamic2,388
Vizio PQ65-F1 Vivid2,184749Calibrated2,441
Sony XBR-65Z9F Vivid1,550662Custom1,697
Sony XBR-65X900F Vivid1,183696Vivid1,203
Vizio P65-F1 Vivid997462Vivid1,101
LG OLED65B8P Vivid393130Technicolor Expert771

3,000+ nits is impressive, but it deserves an asterisk. The Q9 could only maintain that intense brightness for a few seconds before it dropped precipitously, down to around 740 nits. None of the other TVs showed this behavior.

Dynamic and Vivid are terribly inaccurate, as usual, so if you want a bright SDR picture that's actually good, Vizio PQ has a slight advantage over the Q9. Vizio's separate "Calibrated" setting puts out a healthy 443 nits in its default settings and climbs to a very impressive 1,570 if you turn the local dimming (er, "Xtreme Black Engine Pro") setting to Medium. To get an accurate bright-room SDR image out of the Samsung Q9 I had to play around with the picture modes more, for example maxing out the backlight in Movie mode and setting Local Dimming to High (which nets 1,600 nits) or adjusting Natural mode by changing its color temperature to Warm 2 (for 1,400 nits). I like Vizio's implementation of an accurate bright-room picture mode, and it would be nice if Samsung offered one too.

With HDR sources the Samsungs were brighter in their Dynamic modes, but the Vizio PQ's Calibrated mode was actually its brightest as well as quite accurate. The Q9's accurate Movie mode was plenty bright in HDR too at just under 2,000 nits, but that's still about 450 short of the Vizio.

The Samsungs beat the Vizio and Sonys handily at reducing reflections. The screen of the Q9 and Q8 do the best job I've ever seen of dulling bright spots while simultaneously maintaining deep black levels in a bright room. The LG OLED's screen was also superb in bright rooms, a bit better than the Vizio PQ and the Sony sets, but none of them could match the Samsungs.

Color accuracy: No complaints here. The Q9 is a very accurate TV, but before calibration my review sample's Movie mode was slightly blue, better than my Sony Z9F sample but worse than the Vizio PQ. After calibration as you'd expect it measured almost perfectly, as did the others.

Solo has a muted color palette and even in the most colorful scenes like the desert in the latter half of the film it was tough to differentiate the TVs -- all looked very good. The Q9 still looked slightly more accurate than the Vizio however, with an image closer to the balanced look of the Sonys. Black Panther's much more vibrant Wakanda scenes brought out more differences -- the Vizio looked very slightly too red and overdone during the ceremony in Chapter 4, the Samsung's looked just a bit too restrained and the Sonys and LG OLED stuck the most pleasing balance of saturation and accuracy. As usual it would be tough to see these differences outside a side-by-side comparison.

Video processing: As usual the Samsung Q9 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.

Tinkerers 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 of 14 milliseconds with both 1080p and 4K HDR sources.

Speaking of game mode, 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 28ms.

Uniformity: The Q9 and Q8 showed the lineup's least uniform screen with test patterns. The Q9 displayed slightly more banding and backlight structure than the non-Samsungs, but the differences between all of them were minor and really difficult to discern with real video as opposed to test patterns.The Q9 also showed a slightly more noticeable dirty-screen effect -- where a moving image reveals minor variations in brightness -- than the Vizio and the Sony Z9F, although again the difference was really minor.

What made a major difference was the Q9's excellent image off-angle -- it's the best LCD-based set I've ever seen at keeping the picture true from seats to either side of the sweet spot right in front of the screen. It maintained black levels and contrast, and reduced blooming visible from off-angle, significantly better than any of the other non-OLEDs.

As usual the LG OLED trounced the others at just about every aspect of uniformity, with no variations in brightness or color across the screen and very little loss in fidelity from off-angle.

HDR and 4K video: The best TV in my lineup for HDR was the B8 OLED, but the Q9 came closer than ever -- and closer than any other TV in my lineup -- to upsetting it. That said, its highlights at times could look too bright.

Watching Solo: A Star Wars Story in HDR10 from the 4K Blu-ray, the OLED beat the Q9 and the other LCDs overall with its superb contrast: perfect blacks, bright-enough highlights and no blooming to impinge on those awesome black levels. But the Q9 delivered black levels nearly as deep and controlled blooming admirably while still maintaining very bright highlights.

In the Q9's rendition of the sabacc tournament, for example, the spots of bright lights were significantly brighter than the other displays but the surrounding dark areas stayed nice and dark, while on the Z9F and the Vizio PQ they were elevated in comparison. Yes, the shadows and letterbox bars stayed truest on the OLED, hence its advantage in richness and pop, but the Q9's brilliance arguably had just as much impact. The Z9F looked more accurate and natural overall but relatively washed out (because of lighter black levels) while the Vizio PQ appeared less detailed in shadows and duller in highlights, while showing some banding in light gradations (like the lamplight at 53:26).

There's an argument to be made that Samsung's highlights are too bright in the default settings I watched (Movie mode, Local Dimming: High) so I reduced the dimming to Standard to see how it worked. The effect was a significant drop in highlight brightness, borne out by measurements: HDR in Movie mode measures 1,900 nits in High and just 600 in Standard. In Standard the Q9 delivered even better black levels and less blooming, but the OLED now showed brighter highlights than the Q9 as well as perfect black levels with no blooming, increasing its lead over the Q9. I preferred the punchier Q9 image in High local dimming to the alternative Standard for most content, but in a perfect world it would be a bit dimmer. 

As usual the Samsung's lack of Dolby Vision didn't make a big impact as far as I could see. I watched Wonder Woman in DV (from iTunes on the Apple TV 4K) on the Vizio and compared it with the same film in standard HDR10 on the Samsung Q9 and the results were very similar to what I saw in HDR10 for all the sets: brighter highlights on the Samsung and the second-best overall image, after the B8 OLED.

I also tried checking out HDR10+, Samsung's Dolby Vision rival format. I compared Season 2 of Amazon's The Marvellous Ms. Maisel from both the Q9's Prime Video app and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K connected to the Q9 (HDR10+), versus the same show from the Roku Ultra (HDR10) connected to the other TVs. It looked brilliant on all of them once Amazon's pokey stream eventually ramped up to 4K -- it's a spectacular-looking show, with lush colors and dramatic HDR lighting used to great effect -- but again the same image quality hierarchy prevailed (OLED No. 1, Q9 No. 2) and it was tough to see any advantage imparted by HDR format or dynamic metadata.

Note that I can't be 100 percent sure I was actually watching HDR10+ since there's no indicator to that effect on the Q9, but those device/show combinations should net HDR10+, so I'll take Amazon and Samsung's word for it. And yes, Samsung/Amazon, if you're listening, an HDR10+ flag for the show, the Fire TV Stick and the TV would be nice.

Geek box

Test ResultScore
Black luminance (0%) 0.0005Good
Peak white luminance (SDR) 3221Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.38Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.37Good
Dark gray error (30%) 0.63Good
Bright gray error (80%) 0.64Good
Avg. color checker error 1.8Good
Avg. color error 2.34Good
Red error 2.72Good
Green error 2.06Good
Blue error 3.65Average
Cyan error 1.22Good
Magenta error 2.31Good
Yellow error 2.05Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) PassGood
Motion resolution (max) 1000Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 1000Good
Input lag (Game mode) 14.27Good



HDR10

Black luminance (0%) 0.005Good
Peak white luminance (10% win) 3173Good
Gamut % UHDA/P3 (CIE 1976) 97.70Good
Avg. color checker error 4.04Average
Input lag (Game mode, 4K HDR) 13.87Good
Samsung Q9 TV
7.7

Samsung Q9 series (2018)

Score Breakdown

Design 10Features 10Performance 9Value 5
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