Samsung UN65F9000 UHD LED TV Review
Jaw-droppingingly sharp, but (too) ahead of its time
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The Korean giant's brand-new UHD display—the 65-inch F9000 (MSRP $7,499.99)—isn't the company's first ever. Nor is it Samsung's most-expensive UHD offering. Those honors belong to the 85-inch S9, which stomped through CES in January. But not everyone needs a television the size of a studio apartment. The much more reasonably sized F9000 sports similar design to flagship models, and packs the same great smart platform— powered by voice and gesture controls. The major difference? About six million pixels.
Let's put aside price and pixel count for a second, though. Samsung's F9000 looks absolutely breathtaking with actual UHD content. In fact, it even makes upscaled 1080p content look great. There is definitely a lot to be excited about with this display.
There would be even more excitement if UHD content was plentiful, but that's just wishful 2013 thinking.
What Is UHD and Why Should I Care?
Pixels, pixels, and more pixels
Ultra high definition (UHD), or "4K," is the TV buzzword of the year (tied with OLED). Normal high definition (HD) refers to a display's resolution, usually 1,920 pixels wide by 1,080 pixels high. UHD displays pack four times that amount, measuring 3,840 pixels wide by 2,160 pixels high. That's a staggering total of over eight million pixels!
So why should you care about more pixels? Because it means a sharper, more detailed picture... as long as you have the appropriate content.
Consumers can't just buy a UHD TV like the Samsung F9000, pop in a Blu-ray, and expect mind-blowing visuals. No, you need actual UHD content to take full advantage of the technology. And as luck wouldn't have it, said content is incredibly scarce at the moment.
Fortunately, these new TVs do something called upscaling, which means they can take a 1080p (or lower) source and display it using four times as many pixels. This process involves a complex algorithm that tells the TV how to stretch the content over all these pixels.
Want to know more about the wonderful world of UHD? Check out this handy little guide.
Spine-tingling with native UHD content, mildly impressive without
Got some premium UHD content handy? Good, then you're gonna love Samsung's F9000. When watching video shot in the proper resolution, the result is instantly noticeable. Scenery looks more lifelike, thanks to the added pixel density. Even more impressive is the stunning depth of field—some scenes literally look 3-dimensional because of this.
Don't have any UHD content? I can't blame you since it's really hard to find. Samsung provided us with a USB stick that has two short UHD video clips, but that got boring after watching them about 100 times.
I'm happy to say that 1080p content looks great, although it can't compare to actual UHD footage. The fact that Blu-ray content looks so good on a 65-inch TV like this is an impressive feat—thank Samsung's upscaling algorithm for that. Think about it: A 1080p source sends the F9000 1/4 as many pixels as the TV has. Instead of displaying this smaller picture in the middle of the screen, upscaling fills in the pixel-gaps, dispersing the image across the screen—yet the picture doesn't look stretched at all. Therein lies the beauty of this TV's upscaling ability.
I tested a decent contrast ratio on the F9000, with a very similar black level to the 1080p Samsung's flagship model. Unlike that TV, though, Samsung's UHD display has a retina-searing white level. Got a sunny living room causing unwanted reflectivity? This TV can handle it.
Perhaps the F9000's biggest strength—aside from its pixel count—is its excellent color accuracy. Red, green, and blue all look the way they should; even white is spot-on, with no discoloration. Colors transition from shade to shade with outstanding smoothness, meaning you'll see more transitional hues.
The F9000 also impressed us with its fluid motion performance. During the intro to The Hobbit, dwarves fled a dragon without much blur at all. Users will note a bit of blur when scenes pan in movies, but nothing too distracting. Samsung's motion enhancement options are distracting, though. Using the minimum de-judder and de-blur settings turned The Hobbit into The Young and the Restless. If you pay over five grand for a TV, you probably don't want this.
Slim, sleek, and familiar
Unlike Samsung's 85-inch S9 UHD TV, which is attached to a stand resembling an easel, the F9000 looks almost identical to the company's F8000 model—not a bad thing at all.
The panel is delightfully slim—less than two inches deep—with 0.5-inch bezels that neatly trace its perimeter. On the top of the TV, you'll find a pop-up camera that's primarily used for gesture controls. All this sits atop Samsung's "arc stand," which gives the 65-inch TV the appearance of floating. As a side note: The UHD F9000 is quite heavy. If you need to lug this thing around, clear a path and grab a friend.
A truly interesting design aspect of this TV is its One Connect box, which serves two purposes. First, it's an actual box that houses the majority of the F9000's ports, including four HDMI inputs, a spot for the included component adapter, two USB slots, an RF connector, an ethernet jack, and a digital audio output. Say goodbye to fumbling with a tangled mess of cables behind your TV—Samsung's little box deserves heaps of praise for this alone.
The One Connect's other purpose is integral to how the TV functions. This little box contains the TV's internals, including a quad-core processor and all software updates. Without this device, you cannot use your TV.
Aside from the One Connect, everything else is familiar 2013 Samsung territory at this point. You still get Samsung's superb Smart Touch Remote, which includes a microphone for voice commands. Press a button and ask for ESPN—the TV will take you there. Lastly, users will also find four pairs of passive 3D glasses and a funny looking cord with a little black cube at the end. What is that? It's an IR blaster for controlling a cable box (more on this in a moment).
A state of TV zen
Samsung's menu interface strikes a great balance between easy-to-use and in-depth. We've praised the company's menus all year, and the F9000 is no different. Adjustment options are neatly arranged towards the left with a brief description on the right. Not sure what 10p White Balance is? Let the TV do the explainin' (although you still shouldn't touch this unless you're an expert).
New this time around is an option called Sound Customizer, which is a calibration mode for your TV's audio. The F9000 emits six different test frequencies, repeating each tone until you can hear it. After selecting the volume for each one, you can save your calibrated sound profile. I'm not sure it made much of a difference, though—the F9000 has fantastic audio to begin with.
On the internet side, Samsung's Smart Hub platform is as good as it gets. Quality apps are plentiful, including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, VUDU, and HBO GO. In fact, Samsung is the only smart TV platform to include HBO's streaming app. True Blood and Game of Thrones fans can rejoice.
Aside from apps, the best feature on the Smart Hub is its ability to integrate cable TV content. Simply input your location and your cable provider and the TV will deliver beautiful posters of movies and shows with informative blurbs. Wanna watch Law & Order? Just click the icon for it and Samsung's Smart Hub will alert you when the show airs.
Samsung also includes a gimmicky gesture control feature, in case your fancy remote isn't good enough. Waving your hand at the F9000's camera will produce an on-screen cursor, which can be used to manipulate volume and channel controls, or to navigate the Smart Hub. I'll be the first to admit that this feature works really well, but it gets tiring after a few minutes. Pass me the remote—I'm sitting down.
For an in-depth look at Samsung's 2013 Smart Hub, check out our guide.
An excellent TV, but for the price you can do better.
There's no getting around it: Samsung's ultra high definition F9000 (MSRP $7499) is a great television. It's pricey, but at least the initial asking fee is down to $5,499. Color accuracy, motion performance, smart features, design—this big-screen hits all the right notes. One of the only complaints I have is the F9000's good-not-great black level.
Oh, and there's that whole thing about the lack of UHD content on the market.
As good as this TV is, what's the point of buying it if you can't experience its full potential? I can list plenty of TVs that are as good, if not better, than the F9000—for cheaper, too! Case in point: Panasonic's fabulous 65-inch ZT60 can be bought for less than $4,000. Sure, the ZT60 can't display UHD content—but that content isn't widely available anyway. The ZT60, hands down, has better picture quality—and since we can all enjoy that here and now, that makes Panasonic's top-tier plasma the better bargain for today.
If you're looking to future-proof your TV investment, you could do a lot worse than Samsung's newest UHD darling, but by the time ultra high definition content is widely available, displays like this should cost far less. If you insist on adopting early, though, just research carefully: Seiki's super-cheap UHD is little more than eight million ho-hum pixels, while Sony's 55-inch X900A is almost identical in performance to the F9000—just smaller. We'll have more UHD TVs trickling in over the next week, so be sure to stop by again soon.
Behind the Screens
Samsung's ultra high definition F9000 looks amazing when it plays the appropriate content, but what do our numbers say? Plenty of good things, actually. While this tele won't floor you with OLED-quality black levels, it does have some of the brightest whites we've ever seen. Colors are saturated just right, not to mention there isn't a hint of color temperature error to be found. Alas, viewing angle—a test most LCDs struggle with—isn't anything to get excited about.
Resolution & Upscaling
What it's all about
What makes the 65-inch F9000 worth almost eight grand? Yes, the screen is huge, but what's really spectacular about it is its Ultra High Definition (or 4K) resolution.
As you'll see, this thing's pretty average, contrast- and color-wise. It adheres to standards, fosters a decent dynamic range, and is fitted with the same accoutrement as Samsung's other high-end TVs. What sets the F9000 apart is that its panel hosts 8,294,400 pixels. Compare that to the 65-inch Panasonic ZT60, which hosts the standard for 1080p: 2,073,600 pixels. In camera terms, this is 8 megapixels versus 2 megapixels.
Mathematically, we can simplify further and say that "UHD has four times the resolution as HD." Conceptualizing the resolution difference in this manner only goes so far, however. In order to fit four times the pixels onto a TV's display, there are two options: Either the TV needs a massive screen, or the pixels have to be smaller.
Smaller pixels means more pixels per inch on a 65-inch UHD TV than on a 65-inch HD TV. Given the same surface area between the two, a UHD TV hosts four times as many pixels, regardless of the area. Mapping the same image to either screen means that the UHD TV's pixels each have less "workload" per cubic inch, resulting in a much sharper, more-detailed image.
Another way of looking at this is to consider the actual image on screen. When the F9000 and the ZT60 display the same blade of grass, the F9000 has four times as many pixels to allocate to it—meaning its edges, green coloration, and any motion will look far more intricate. To put things in the simplest terms, UHD TVs have many more pixel "workers" tending to the details than normal HD TVs.
So what's the drawback to UHD? At the moment, there's just not very much content that can be mapped to all those pixels. To avoid making DVDs and cable content look terrible, manufacturers fit UHD TVs with "upscaling engines"—dedicated processing chipsets that scale an incoming signal to fit the TV. The TV interprets the incoming signal via an algorithm that aids it in recognizing the saturation, hue, luminance, contrast relationship, and sharpness signal of content—kind of like when Photoshop "guesses" at pixels it's creating to fill in space.
What does this mean in more practical terms? That the F9000 can make almost anything look more detailed. Its upscaling engine recognizes sharpness patterns and color gradation well enough to boost and smooth an incoming 1080p signal so that it looks perfectly palatable—even a little better. However, not all upscaling engines are the same quality, and that's the biggest risk that early adopters face. The real question is: Does it make current content look almost $8,000 better? Without improving color saturation or contrast, the answer is no.
A sunny living room's best friend
Contrast ratio is a numerical representation of a TV's dynamic range. To determine that number, we divide a display's peak luminance by its minimum luminance. Contrast ratio is far and away the largest determinant of a TV's overall picture quality—and unfortunately, the F9000's above average pixel count doesn't render a particularly spectacular contrast performance.
That's not to say the TV doesn't look incredible when playing back native 4K content, it's just that from a classical display perspective, it doesn't stand out much from other 2013 LCDs. We tested a disappointing black level of 0.113 cd/m2 , and (fortunately) a very high peak brightness of 396.90 cd/m2 . That tells us that the F9000 is best viewed in a bright, vibrant environment, as it is capable of combating all manner of ambient light with its own light output.
No matter the content, the F9000 will show it accurately.
UHD resolution aside, Samsung's F9000 is still an LED LCD at base, and that means it adheres to the same color standards as everything else. What's more, it does so with surprising accuracy and integrity.
A color gamut is a visual representation of the millions of colors a TV can produce. The F9000 matches the Rec. 709 color standard for RGB primaries quite well—except for its blue point, which is quite oversaturated. This means that blue areas of the picture are going to stand out on screen more than they ought to—but you're not going to notice that very much while you're watching. You, like all humans, see blue very poorly.
Our color and grayscale gamma test reveals how efficaciously a TV renders the full range of colors and grays it's meant to produce. Some TVs struggle to properly display the full "legal levels" of TV gradation steps, but not the F9000: Its ramping and peaking, from 0 to 100 IRE, maintains a smooth and even pattern.
Last but not least, our color temperature adherence test checks the integrity of a display's white point across its grayscale. Ideally, we want to see the same "flavor" of white maintained at all times, lest mixed gray, black, or white areas take on a visually blue- or orange-tinted hue, which is (obviously) quite distracting. The F9000 performed well here, only creating perceptible deviation in the darkest shadow tones, which is just barely visible.
More pixels, not more viewing angle
The F9000, UHD it may be, but it's still an LCD, so its horizontal viewing angle is expectedly sub-par. Not to say it's terrible, it just doesn't provide the full, 178° viewing ideal that we see from plasmas—and now OLEDs too. We tested a total viewing angle of 50°, or ±25° from the center of the F9000 to either side. Want to see that incredible resolution? Better sit towards the center of the couch.