Samsung Q8 series (2018) review: Luxury design and features meets top-notch picture

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The Good The Samsung Q8 series serves up excellent image quality, with deep black levels, prodigious brightness, accurate color, superb video processing and powerful high dynamic range performance. It has sleek, modern styling and best-in class features. Its unique Ambient mode helps blend into your decor when the TV is "off."

The Bad More expensive than many TVs with similar image quality, and not THAT much cheaper than an LG OLED. Bixby can't compete with Alexa or Google Assistant.

The Bottom Line Samsung's Q8 has the image quality, design and cool extras to make a compelling alternative for high-end shoppers who don't want an OLED.

8.1 Overall
  • Design 10
  • Features 10
  • Performance 8
  • Value 6

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Thicker than usual, but still stylish

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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: Bye bye, black rectangle

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.


The background is pretty close, but I couldn't quite get a match. At least the mountains are pretty.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.


Here I try to match a yellow wall by taking a photo with the phone. It didn't work that well.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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. 

Smart TV, dumb Bixby

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.


Samsung's smart TV system lets you choose from Netflix profiles without entering the Netflix app proper.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

More features, many connections

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.

Key features

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

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).

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