Testing revealed a decent black level, healthy contrast, accurate colors (per the international standard), and variable motion performance depending on which Auto Motion Plus settings you use—things we expected.
We weren't expecting such stellar local dimming performance, however, and it's a treat. Users can expect better light uniformity than in previous years: Black/shadow areas at corners and around the perimeter of the screen maintain their integrity even in a dark viewing environment.
Looking for the next big thing in 4K televisions? The Samsung UN65HU9000 (MSRP $5,999; $4,499 online) should be on your radar.
As Samsung's flagship 4K TV for 2014, this behemoth display is prepared for the content of tomorrow while delivering some of the best smart features and software from today.
It's true—there's really no abundance of viewable 4K content yet. Fortunately, the HU9000 is equipped with Samsung's 2014 upscaling engine, which does a terrific job making sub-4K content stand up to most scrutiny. Its real strength, however, lies in its core performance as a display.
Samsung's new Smart LED feature endows the HU9000 with deeper black levels and better light uniformity than what we found on the company's 2013 4K TV, and stellar color accuracy and dark/bright room flexibility are the cherries on top.
As far as 4K televisions go, the HU9000 could be one of the best we see this year. We're expecting big competition in the form of Panasonic's AX900U, Sony's X950B, LG's UB9800, and Vizio's Reference Series—but for now, the UN65HU9000 is the 4K TV to beat.
Edge-lit LCD takes a big step forward
Last year, Samsung delivered a stellar, if very expensive, 4K TV. The UN65HU9000 improves on that model in more than just asking price, though some core performance points are still slightly marred by weaknesses inherent to edge-lit LCD televisions.
Edge-lit LCD TVs typically struggle in a few key performance categories: consistency of black level, light uniformity, and off-angle viewing. Thanks to the HU9000's Smart LED local dimming, however, you can expect dark shadows and better overall uniformity compared to edge-lit TVs from recent years. Essentially, the typical drawbacks are minimized, making for a very solid TV overall.
In the TV's Movie pre-set, I tested black levels that look good in a dim room and great in a brighter room. What's more, the HU9000 gets plenty bright without compromising its black levels—it's flexible enough that you can use it almost anywhere.
As I mentioned, edge-lit TVs like the HU9000 often suffer from light uniformity problems (this refers to when LEDs are visible in areas that ought to be dark).
Samsung's Smart LED local dimming effectively helps with this, however. It shuts off LEDs in areas where light isn't needed, while still channeling it to parts of the screen that do.
The HU9000 is also a brilliant performer when it comes to color production, adhering to international color standards almost flawlessly. Viewers can expect grassy green fields, vibrant blue skies, or even the bubbling magma of Mordor to look as intended.
Viewing angle and motion performance are two key points that the HU9000 hasn't improved. There are also mild drawbacks to the Smart LED feature.
But what about the curved screen? The curvy contour does improve off angle viewing with certain "hot spots," but it's nevertheless a double-edged sword: The bent panel can also worsen ambient lighting at times, so that lamps and lights are occasionally stretched across the entire arc of the screen.
Samsung's Auto Motion Plus and Clear Motion modes make a return this year, ensuring decent—but not great—motion performance. To wit, you shouldn't go in expecting the kind of smooth motion panning you'd get from a plasma TV. While Auto Motion Plus can be configured to smooth out the most obvious blurring, it struggles to correct the juddering associated with horizontal panning. Turning on Clear Motion can help combat this, but it also reduces the TV's backlight considerably.
As to the Smart LED feature, its one issue is that it causes light limiting—where different amounts of white on-screen display at disparate luminance levels. For example, patches of light surrounded by dim or dark content are not nearly as luminous compared to when most of the screen is full of bright content, creating a varying contrast ratio from scene to scene. Consistent levels would be ideal, but it's still much better than the cloudy shadows that might result otherwise.
Finally, gamers may want to keep in mind that input lag—perceptible delay between input to a controller and the response on screen—is always going to be an issue when a display is upscaling the source content. Considering that the HU9000 is a 4K TV, most game consoles—PS3, Xbox 360, and anything by Nintendo—will exhibit input lag when used with this TV, though Samsung's Game mode does a very good job stemming this issue.
Who It's For
Overall, the HU9000 corrects numerous weaknesses inherent to LED LCD technology, while maintaining Samsung's usual strengths.
This TV is very flexible in terms of what kind of lighting you can watch it in, with the one caveat that it will look its best with at least some other light in the room. If you crave home-theater worthy black levels, take a look at this Panasonic.
Everyone else: If you're looking to adopt a 4K television, the HU9000's light uniformity and local dimming are surprisingly good additions to the successful formula Samsung crafted with last year's F9000. 4K or no 4K, the HU9000 is stacked with positive traits unusual to edge-lit LCD technology.
For a closer look at the hard data we gathered during testing, see the Science Page.
To calibrate the Samsung UN65HU9000, we sent a pure 4K signal from a QuantumData 780a signal generator which was directly controlled by SpectraCal's CalMan 5 Professional calibration software. Data was gathered in a black room, using the CS-200 and LS-100 meters from Konica Minolta.
Starting from the TV's Movie picture mode pre-sets, I targeted a gamma sum of 2.4 with a maximum luminance around 40 fL (120 cd/m2 ), as those are generally considered ideal pre-sets for dim or dark room viewing.
I also corrected minor errors within the hue and saturation of red, green, and blue. Using the TV's 2- and 10-point grayscale settings, I shifted the sub-pixel emphasis until most points along the grayscale (from 10 to 100 IRE) were targeting the D65 standard (6500K white).
Simple corrections involved lowering the Backlight setting from 19 to 11, and adjusting the Gamma pre-set from 0 to -2. In the following sections, you'll see the results of this calibration and how it affects the TV's grayscale, RGB balance, color gamut, and gamma performance. Note that the Contrast Ratio and Viewing Angle measurements were taken prior to the calibration process, to reflect the consumer experience.
It's also worth mentioning that if you plan on watching in a brighter room, you can still use these settings, but you may want to raise the Gamma pre-set to -1 instead of -2, and will want to be judicious about how much you lower the Backlight.
While the UN65HU9000 isn't capable of the same massive contrast you might find on a plasma or an OLED, its minimum luminance level (black level) and corresponding brightness are still divergent enough to look impressive and accurate, especially in mid or high amounts of ambient lighting. In Movie mode, I measured a black level of 0.08 cd/m2 and a default white of 160 cd/m2 , giving the HU9000 a contrast ratio of 2000:1.
Compared to Panasonic's AX800U from this year, and 2013 4K TVs from Toshiba and LG, the HU9000 is about average. It gets dark enough to create impressive shadows in night scenes and good contrast regardless of APL (average picture level), but is still bright enough to combat ambient lighting and sunlight from nearby windows. Note, however, that due to the curve of the screen, these contrast results may degrade or improve depending on your viewing angle.
What will the neighbors say?
Last year, there was an head-turning trend in the television industry: curved OLED TVs. Samsung's VP of visual display, HS Kim, told us in a recent interview of plans to focus on 4K over OLED—but the curved look hasn't gone anywhere. The 4K HU9000 series is sure to raise eyebrows with its sleek, inward curvature.
The stand mimics the panel with a slight bend of its own. Neither curve is terribly exaggerated, but you'd never miss them, either. There's a certain aesthetic here—the silver stand is complemented by a matching strip that highlights the perimeter of the screen. For a 65-inch TV, this Samsung feels rather understated and classy—no easy feat at that size.
The back of the panel is equally minimalist, since there's only one input port. Wait, what? Yes, you heard right: The HU9000 has just one port on the back which links to Samsung's OneConnect box. That way, instead of a mess of wires cascading from the back and sides of your TV, you can keep the wiry mess on an external box–and neatly store it out of sight.
The OneConnect box sports ports for four HDMI, three USB, ethernet in, shared component/composite hookups, a singular composite hookup, a coaxial jack, digital audio out, headphones/mini jack out, IR blaster out, and RS-232C.
Oh, and I should mention—the HU9000 absolutely will not function without its external brain box—so don't lose it, whatever you do.
Included alongside the panel, stand, and OneConnect box are two Samsung remotes—the traditional infrared kind, and a new touchpad remote called Samsung Smart Control. This new controller improves upon last year's model by producing an on-screen cursor (kind of like LG's Magic Remote), in addition to allowing more fluid selection via the touchpad. You'll also find four pairs of 3D glasses and a pop-up, top-mounted camera built right into the bezel.
Whether you're jumping through a menu or browsing the Smart Hub, the touchpad acts like a mouse, giving you an omnidirectional control that's impossible on the standard remote. Placing your thumb in the center of the touchpad brings up an on-screen cursor for even more precise selection, although like most technology of this kind, it's not very consistent.
Overall, the UN65HU9000 is a handsome television—even if its curved nature raises a few eyebrows upon first glance—and looks stellar in a spacious, well-lit place. We'd also like to remind readers that, despite the curve, the HU9000 can be wall-mounted if you so desire.
Our horizontal viewing angle test measures the contrast performance of a TV at 0° (head-on viewing), and then by 10-degree increments to either side. The HU9000 isn't the best choice if you want to be able to view from very extreme angles—but that's the norm for LCD TVs. I measured a total viewing angle of 31°, or ±15.5° from the center to either side of the screen.
Compared to its peers, the HU9000 is again an average performer in this category. You won't be able to watch from all around the room—consumers should keep this in mind if they plan on wall-mounting the HU9000 (yes, it can be done!).
Smarter every year
The UN65HU9000 features Samsung's streamlined Smart Hub, new for 2014. Its great streaming apps, snappy interface, and cool extras definitely make this smart platform one the best we've used to date.
Like last year's Smart Hub, you'll find all the old guard: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon, etc.
The Smart Hub still executes universal searches, too—just pop in the included IR blaster, answer some simple questions about your cable TV provider, and boom: All your cable content pops up, nice, neat, and organized, in the beautiful Smart Hub. Now all you do is search for a movie or show and the Smart Hub sifts through your streaming subscriptions (Netflix, etc), paid-for live TV, and free providers (Vudu), all in one go.
The 2014 Smart Hub sports some new features, too. There is a whole host of new-and-improved games, plus a touchpad/cursor-equipped Samsung Smart Control that greatly improves the web browsing experience (though it's still not better than smartphones, tablets, or PCs).
Because it's a 4K TV, the HU9000 has a feature that the others don't. Samsung's Multi-Link Screen turns your 4K TV into multiple 1080p TVs—sort of. Similar to the snap feature from Windows 8 or Xbox One, the HU9000 can allocate content to various windows that offer a full 1080p image.
For example, you can continue watching a full HD Blu-ray disc on one side of the screen while you look up its IMDb page on the browser in another. This isn't the most useful feature, but it definitely feels futuristic. Note that you can't put whatever you want in these windows like you could with a monitor—it's only pre-set content, like the browser or certain apps.
Last but not least, Samsung's software menu remains relatively unchanged—and it's for the best. A large, easy-to-read menu populates on the left side of the screen, offering up a ton of options for categories like Picture, Audio, and Network. Users can link the TV to their smartphone, adjust a variety of picture settings, set up external speakers or a surround sound imitator—there's lots to do, and nothing is skimped on.
The HU9000 exhibits higher grayscale error than we'd prefer within the Movie mode default. Prior to calibration, I measured a DeltaE (collective error) of 3.62, with error showing up primarily at 40, 50, and 100 IRE. This means at both peak white (the brightest output) and at middle gray, there's a slightly visible blue tint to those shades. Using the TV's 2- and 10-point grayscale controls, I was able to reduce the DeltaE to 0.97—an excellent total.
During testing, we also measured the HU9000's RGB sub-pixel balance—basically, how it emphasizes the sub-pixel strata by default. Like many LCDs, the HU9000 tends to favor the blue sub-pixel over the red and green. By altering how the TV emphasizes its sub-pixels, I was able to correct most of the white balance error while also smoothing out the relative luminance of the RGBCMY points relative to black, gray, and white. This creates a more balanced picture, with each shade corresponding to the same "color" of white, or white balance.
Edge-lit isn't a dirty word anymore.
Samsung has struck an excellent balance of style, functionality, and pure picture quality with the HU9000. Testing has revealed multiple strengths—among them a strong black level and good light uniformity—with very few weaknesses compared to current competition. Overall, the HU9000 is a better performer than last year's 4K crop, and is notably more flexible than Panasonic's similarly-priced AX800U.
At its current asking price of $4,500, the UN65HU9000 brings a lot to the table. The huge screen, commendable dynamic performance, and stellar color accuracy are boons whether or not you're able to take advantage of the TV's UHD resolution yet. It's worth noting, however, that any objective advantages of a curved screen have yet to surface.
A color gamut is a visual representation of a TV's color production. While the actual gamut is a three-dimensional object comprising hue, saturation, and brightness (luminance), our color gamut calibration tends to focus on the correct hue and saturation, fixing luminance during the gamma and RGB balance tests.
Testing revealed that the HU9000 produces accurate colors within the Movie mode default, with red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, and yellow points lining up expertly with the desired coordinates.
Gamma is what differentiates the best displays from the not-so-best displays. A gamma sum represents how quickly (or slowly) a display increases in luminous output from shadow tones through grays and into whites. Larger numbers represent a slower transition, covering smaller steps along a gradation.
Note that prior to calibration, the HU9000 tested with a gamma sum of 2.24—this means it gets brighter out of black at a rate ideal for normal amounts of lighting. During calibration, we were able to sync the HU9000 to a home theater gamma of about 2.4, the dark room ideal. This adds to the television's flexibility, meaning it can be calibrated to multiple types of lighting conditions.
Meet the tester
Editor, Home Theater@Koanshark
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
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