Samsung QNQ7F series review: QLED TV serves up innovative design, familiar LCD picture quality
The high-end Samsung Q7 will appeal more to design-conscious buyers who hate wires than home theater fans who demand peak picture quality.
Samsung's "QLED" is a brand-new term for a lot of people, and the world's No. 1 TV maker calls it "the next innovation in TV." With the Q7 series, however, there's more innovation in design and features than in picture quality.
The Q7, Samsung's least costly (but still expensive) QLED TV, is a tour de force of sleek extras. Its awesome "invisible" fiber-optic cabling combines with an external connection box to make clean-looking installations easier than ever. It can control connected gear automatically using just the TV remote, even if your stuff is stashed away in a cabinet. And its beautiful aesthetics, down to the remote, the stand and even the backside, are perhaps my favorite of any TV yet.
The TV's design is so good I gave it a "10" in that category and lowered the design scores of other competing sets I've tested, including LG's C7 OLED TV. But this QLED can't compare to that OLED in the category with the most weight in CNET's TV rating system: picture quality.
In side-by-side comparisons the QLED TV's picture looked similar to many other LED LCD TVs. It's very good, especially in bright rooms, and will certainly satisfy most viewers. But in darker environments where expensive TVs should cater to picky home theater fans too, it falls short of the better LCD-based TVs such as the Vizio P series, as well as OLED-based sets.
Editors' Note July 5, 2017: The price of this TV has fallen substantially since initial publication, so its Value score has been increased from 5 to 6, pushing its overall rating from 7.3 to 7.6. The review has not otherwise been changed.
The magic of 'invisible' wiring
Samsung has always made some of the nicest looking televisions, and the Q7 is another stunner. From the front it's almost all picture, with a very thin black frame edged in silver, with a tiny chrome Samsung logo on the bottom. From the side it lacks the razor-thin profile of OLED, but it's still superthin at 1.8 inches deep.
I'm a big fan of Samsung's new stand designs this year. The Q7's consists of a tubular bar along the front and an angled support that lets the TV seem to hang in space. It's simple and attractive.
Even the back is well thought-out, with textured horizontal lines and covers that conceal two of Samsung's 2017 TV innovations. One is the new "Invisible connection," a thin, white fiber-optic cable that runs between the TV and a separate One Connect box, into which you'll plug your AV gear, antenna and USB devices.
It's not quite invisible, but is thin and small enough that you could run it along the outside of a wall and it would be tough to spot, depending on the wall coloring. The Q7 ships with a 16-foot cable, which should be plenty long for most people, and unused slack can be wrapped in the included rubber puck. Convenient! The TV's power cable and the thin wire can be hidden in a channel on the back of the stand, for the most discreet wiring of any TV I've seen.
The other innovation is an optional "no-gap wall-mount" ($150 for 55 and 65-inch sizes, $175 for 75-inch). It attaches to the same recessed socket the stand uses, keeps the TV flush against the wall, allows easy leveling and is relatively easy to install. The TV is also compatible with standard mounts ($20 and up), although they'll introduce a wider gap between the TV and the wall.
A TV smart enough to manage your gear
Samsung has improved one of my favorite features from last year: the TV's ability to automatically recognize and control connected devices using its own remote and on-screen display. The biggest change is an infrared blaster built into the OneConnect box, allowing its remote signals to reach gear inside cabinets or otherwise hidden.
A good universal remote is more capable, but certainly not as easy to set up. Simply plugging in a device during initial TV setup is often enough to get the Samsung to recognize it and completely set up control using Samsung's TV remote. This unique auto setup ability worked for many of the devices I tried, but there were exceptions, such as the Nvidia Shield, Apple TV and PlayStation consoles. That's not bad, but it's hardly "universal."
Cable box control is particularly impressive and allows you to ditch your cable company clicker for most commands. My Fios box was automatically integrated into the TV's Home menu bar complete with its own Fios icon. The TV's on-screen display let me select the box's own guide (also accessible by pressing the remote's "channel" button), its DVR recordings, its main menu or change channels, all using Samsung's TV remote.
The TV remote can also pause and fast-forward through commercials, although it relied on a pop-up menu instead of dedicated buttons (although Samsung did add forward and reverse skip). You can also direct-dial channel numbers and access special keys like A, B, C, D and "Last" using other pop-ups. If the pop-ups are too tedious, voice commands such as, "Watch channel 570," "ESPNHD" and "Pause" work too.
You'll need to plug your stuff directly into the TV, so if your setup incorporates an AV receiver it won't work. In the end I'd stick with my Harmony, but people with simpler systems that use supported devices might be fine using just Samsung's sleek remote to control everything.
Decent app support, new voice controls
Carrying over the same design from 2016, Samsung's homegrown Tizen-based smart TV system is very good for a TV, but its app coverage isn't as comprehensive as that of Android TV (on Sony sets) or Roku TV.
4K streaming with HDR is available from Netflix and Amazon, as well as the Fandango-powered TV Plus app, but Samsung's Vudu app currently supports neither 4K nor HDR. The UltraFlix app has some niche 4K content and there's 4K support on the YouTube app. Other major apps like Hulu, Plex and both HBOs (Go and Now) are on-board too, but if you want more you'll probably still need to connect an external device like a Roku or Apple TV.
I like that app tiles and connected devices both appear in the same menu bar along the bottom, and you can arrange them to taste. Click the Home button and you'll be able to browse content from within apps like Netflix and Hulu while your current video keeps playing in the background. The menu even serves suggestions and, on some apps, lets you resume stuff you were watching previously.
If you want to avoid the menu entirely, you can try speaking into the remote. Commands such as "Netflix," "Hulu" and "YouTube" worked well to launch apps, but "Amazon" launched the website instead -- I had to say "Amazon video" to launch its app. You also can't use voice commands within an app. In a cool twist, settings like "Movie Mode," "Game Mode" and even specific settings like "Backlight 8" can also be adjusted via voice.
Key TV features
|Edge-lit with local dimming
The main extra Samsung touts is QLED, which it says stands for "quantum dot light emitting diode." Quantum dots are microscopic molecules that, when hit by light, emit their own, differently colored light. In Samsung's 2017 QLED TVs, the dots are contained in a film, and the light that hits them is provided by an LED backlight. That light then travels though a few other layers inside the TV, including a liquid crystal (LCD) layer, to create the picture.
Samsung has been using quantum dots in pretty much the exact same way for the last two years in SUHD TVs such as the KS8000 and JS8500, but says its 2017 dots deliver better color and more brightness. There's a new proprietary structure that "consists of a metal core, a graded ZnSeS layer and a metal jacket," Samsung says. In my book, the current generation of QLED TVs are basically souped-up LED LCD TVs, not a separate type of display like OLED. Check out the article below for more.
The Q7 has an edge-lit LED backlight with local dimming, and unlike Vizio, Samsung doesn't disclose the number of dimming zones. It does say that step-up models like the Q8 and Q9 have more zones, but it's tough to speculate on whether that will improve their image quality. The superexpensive Q9, for its part, has an extra called "Elite Black+ with Infinite Array," which might perform better.
The set supports high dynamic range (HDR) content in the standard HDR10 and the upcoming 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.
- 4x HDMI inputs with HDMI 2.0a, HDCP 2.2
- 3x USB ports (2x version 2.0, 1x version 3.0)
- 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 Q7 is one of the few TVs that doesn't at least offer one analog input, audio or video.
All of those connections are housed in the separate OneConnect box, which is bigger than last year's and equipped with infrared emitters. It also has its own power supply, separate from the TVs, so you'll have to plug it in as well. In conjunction with the invisible wiring system, the box makes stashing all your gear in a cabinet easier than with any other TV.
And if you opt for in-wall installation of the wire, which does not carry power, it may interest you to know that Samsung is in the process of receiving in-wall certification, although there's no timeline for when it may actually receive it. The proprietary connection for LG's wallpaper OLED TV, which does carry power, is not in-wall certified. As always, you should consult a professional for in-wall installations to make sure everything is up to your local code.
Here's where I mention that Samsung's SmartThings Extend control dongle, promised last year, has no release date as of early May. Samsung has not confirmed to CNET whether it will eventually be released.
The Samsung Q7 can deliver a very good image, but didn't match the cheaper Vizio P series or the more expensive LG E7 OLED TV I had on-hand to compare. (For this review I no longer have LG's C7 OLED TV on-hand to compare, but the E7 delivers essentially identical image quality.)
Its black levels and contrast were worse, particularly with HDR material, and the color advantages Samsung claims with its QLED technology were tough to spot. Video processing and bright-room performance were excellent, and uniformity is better than last year's KS8000, but overall I don't expect the Q7 to end the year among the best performing TVs I've tested.
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: The Samsungs were OK performers in a home theater environment with the lights down low, both significantly outdoing the lowly Sony, but neither could best the Vizio or the LG E7 OLED. The Q7's black levels were generally a bit darker (better) than those of last year's KS8000, but the two were still very close.
Watching Chapter 3 of the "Oblivion" Blu-ray disc, for example, where Jack explores the buried building, the Q7's letterbox bars and shadows had a lighter cast than the Vizio or LG, where ideally you'd want them to stay completely black. As his flashlight gun and other lights played across the interior, I saw the stray illumination of blooming in the letterbox bars as well, while the Vizio did a much better job maintaining their integrity (and the OLED's bars were perfectly black). The Q7 did beat the KS8000 in this regard, however, because it lacked that set's brighter top and bottom edges, and also showed slightly darker letterbox bars.
Shadow details were solid on the Q7, better than the washed-out Sony and comparable to the others, albeit slightly less realistic because of their lighter shade of black levels. Compared to the Vizio the Q7 also showed brighter highlights in some areas, for example white credits on a black background, a sign of less aggressive dimming. I still preferred the Vizio by a large margin in a home theater environment, however.
Bright lighting: The Q7 can get brighter than any TV we've tested at CNET, registering almost 1,800 nits at its brightest in Dynamic mode with HDR test patterns, and about half that with standard dynamic range material. That's blinding by any standard.
Light output in nits
|10% window (SDR)
|Full screen (SDR)
|10% window (HDR)
There's a bit more to it, however. In Movie mode, which is much more accurate than the others, light output in HDR is lower at about 1,100 nits. How long peak light output could be maintained also varied depending on how I measured it. With my standard static 10 percent test pattern, Dynamic's light output dropped in half after about 15 seconds, while Movie fell by 40 percent after 45 to 55 seconds. A smaller 2 percent test pattern measured dimmer, and one with moving video to better simulate real-world light output (supplied by Samsung and Florian Fredrich) was dimmer still at about 900 nits in Movie, falling to about 550 after about 30 seconds.
The numbers prove that the Q7 can get significantly brighter than any OLED TV and many LCDs. Its advantage over OLED is especially evident when a larger portion of the screen is bright -- think a hockey game or a white-out scene. But in HDR program material, OLED actually looks brighter and better (see below), and in any case I consider OLEDs plenty bright for just about any room lighting situation.
The Q7 dealt with reflections and ambient light very well, maintaining black levels and dimming reflections better than any of the others. The Q7 is the best bright-room TV I've tested, surpassing even last year's KS8000 for that honor.
Color accuracy: According to my measurements the Q7 was very accurate in Movie mode both before and after calibration. In program material the Samsung backed up my measurements, with accurate skin and gray tones in the opening chapters of "Oblivion." The more colorful "Samsara" Blu-ray also looked great, with excellent saturation and accuracy in the green jungles, the tan temples and the vibrant costumes of the dancers. Compared to the other sets, all highly accurate as well, the Q7 didn't show any major color advantages, however.
Video processing: As usual the Samsung aced my tests in this category, delivering true 1080p/24 film cadence with film-based sources and full motion resolution (1,200 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, so if I had this TV I'd "set it and forget" it right there.
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 under 22ms. I didn't test 4K/HDR lag, but plan to soon.
Uniformity: The Q7 improves on the KS8000 with less light leakage around the edges of the screen, namely on the top and bottom. It's less uniform than the Vizio P series and the LG OLED, however, and still shows a brighter screen along the bottom and the sides than along the top and middle with full-field test patterns. As mentioned above, blooming is also an issue.
As I moved off-angle, away from the sweet spot seated directly in front of the TV, the Q7 lost fidelity and became discolored as is typical of LCDs I've tested, a process that happened in dark areas faster than the Vizio. Samsung claims improved off-angle performance, but I found it difficult to discern. As usual the OLED was essentially perfect from off-angle in comparison.
HDR and 4K video: The Q7's 4K HDR picture was a couple steps below that of the Vizio and the OLEDs overall, although colorwise it did outperform the Vizio.
For a TV with such prodigious light output according to test patterns, you might expect a brighter image with HDR on the Samsung. In fact, as I also noted in the LG C7 and E7 reviews, the two Samsungs looked dimmer and less impactful overall than the others in the HDR material I watched, an appearance spot measurements with my luminance meter backed up.
Jack's departure from home base in Chapter 1 of "Oblivion" contains plenty of punchy HDR awesomeness in the 4K Blu-ray version, from brilliant glinting sun to expansive cloudscapes to the sunlit faces of Jack and Julia. In the TVs' best default settings for HDR (Movie mode for the Samsungs, again), the Q7 looked duller than the Vizio and LG, and measured dimmer in most areas, for example the swatch of bright sky next to the plane's engine at 5:05. A few other highlights were closer, but in no case I saw was the Q7 brighter in highlights than the others.
In dark scenes like Jack's exploration of the building in Chapter 3, the Q7 again looked more washed-out and unrealistic than the Vizio and the OLED, with brighter arches and silhouette at 17:46, for example. The blooming in letterbox bars was also obvious. As usual the maxed-out backlight mandated by HDR made these issues even more noticeable than in standard material.
Colors on the Samsungs, the Sony and the LG were much more accurate in HDR than on the Vizio, which had a reddish tint in dark areas and slightly redder cast to skin tones. Other differences in HDR color were tough to spot. Samsung touts QLED's superior "color volume," which it says should make bright highlights more colorful. I don't measure that parameter yet, in part because there's no agreed-upon standard for doing so, but observations of program material are always more important than measurements in my book anyway.
Samsung's QLED technology didn't make a major impact in "Oblivion's" color from what I could see, so to look for differences I turned again to a scene recommended by a Samsung engineer, the Doomsday flight from "Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice," which features lots of colorful special effects. Differences were subtle even there.
The lines of fire surrounding Doomsday (2:28:13) appeared a deeper red on the Q7 than the Vizio or the other LCDs' and about the same as the OLED -- which jibes with my measurement of the sets' respective P3 color gamuts (see the Geek Box below). The difference was fleeting and restricted to ultrabright spots of color, however, and any Samsung advantage in color I could see was far outstripped by its weaker black levels and blooming.
I also checked out built-in streaming 4K and HDR on the Samsung and it performed very similar to 4K Blu-ray. Watching Netflix's "OA" in HDR10 on the Q7 and Dolby Vision on the Vizio and the LG, for example, the latter two looked better, with brighter images and superior pop and contrast. When I switched all of the TVs to HDR10 by sending the same video via a Roku Ultra, I saw essentially the same differences. The takeaway? As usual the TVs' performance itself has a greater impact on HDR image quality than the format (Dolby Vision or HDR10).
|Black luminance (0%)
|Peak white luminance (100%)
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)
|Dark gray error (20%)
|Bright gray error (70%)
|Avg. color error
|Avg. saturations error
|Avg. luminance error
|Avg. color checker error
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)
|Motion resolution (max)
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)
|Input lag (Game mode)
|HDR (Movie mode default)
|Peak white luminance (10% win)
|Gamut % DCI/P3 (CIE 1976)
|Avg. saturations error
|Avg. color checker error