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

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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.

7.7 Overall
  • Design 10
  • Features 10
  • Performance 9
  • Value 5

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.

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.

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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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).

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