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

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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 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 Dynamic 3,221 724 Dynamic 3,173
Samsung QN65Q8F Dynamic 2,348 638 Dynamic 2,388
Vizio PQ65-F1 Vivid 2,184 749 Calibrated 2,441
Sony XBR-65Z9F Vivid 1,550 662 Custom 1,697
Sony XBR-65X900F Vivid 1,183 696 Vivid 1,203
Vizio P65-F1 Vivid 997 462 Vivid 1,101
LG OLED65B8P Vivid 393 130 Technicolor Expert 771

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


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

Samsung Q9 CNET calibration by David Katzmaier on Scribd

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