- Fantastically bright, colourful HDR pictures
- Unprecedentedly deep and uniform black levels for an LCD TV
- Good sound quality
- Loses shadow detail in very dark scenes
- Limited viewing angles
- No Dolby Vision support
- 55-inch LCD TV with a native 4K resolution
- Direct lighting system with hundreds of zones of local dimming
- HDR10, HLG, HDR10+ support
- Uses ‘QLED’ Quantum Dot technology
- 2000 nits of peak brightness
WHAT IS THE SAMSUNG QE55Q9FN?
The Samsung QE55Q9FN is the brand’s premium 55-inch LCD TV for 2018.
The £2500 set uses a direct lighting system, with hundreds of local dimming zones and Samsung’s ‘QLED’ advanced Quantum Dot technology, to deliver exceptional levels of HDR-friendly brightness, contrast and colour. The result is the best 55-inch LCD TV ever made.
DESIGN AND BUILD QUALITY
The Samsung QE55Q9FN enjoys a super-innovative design. For starters, it uses an external connections box that hooks up to the TV via a single, ultra-thin cable. This cable carries the screen’s power as well as picture and sound signals.
Meanwhile, an Ambient mode enables you to display a digital artwork or photo on the screen when you’re not watching it. This is far more desirable than the black rectangle TVs usually leave you with when they’re off.
Note that the Ambient mode runs with minimal power, so even if used for many hours a day, your electricity bill shouldn’t balloon. Also, since we’re talking about LCD rather than OLED screen technology, there’s no need to worry about the the mode causing permanent screen burn.
If you’re not wall-mounting the TV, the clever cantilevered, single bar-style stand design is impressively minimalistic – not to mention, more than a little bit cool.
The only sour note in the design is the unit’s rather deep rear – presumably a result of its direct LED lighting system. Of course, its mild chubbiness is exaggeratedby the insane thinness of the latest OLED TVs.
The Samsung QE55Q9FN ships with two remote controls. The ‘standard’ unit is decent, providing plenty of direct access buttons without feeling cluttered or complicated. For day to day use, however, I recommend the ‘smart’ remote. This is beautifully finished in silver metal, and manages to strip back the button count massively without feeling too limited.
The only area where the smart remote’s lack of buttons can be problematic is if you’re trying to use its ‘universal control’ versatility. Having to remember how its limited buttons control all your external connected equipment never stops being a chore.
The Samsung QE55Q9FN’s advanced backlight engine delivers a measured peak HDR brightness of around 2000 nits. That’s pretty much on a par with the outstandingly high figure recorded in our previous review of the 65-inch QE65Q9FN. No rival TV can get as bright.
There appear to be 320 zones of dimming control in the QE55Q9FN. This is an impressively high number for a 55 inch LCD TV – although it’s worth noting that the QE65Q9FN carries more than 400 dimming zones.
The Samsung QE55Q9FN’s backlight system illuminates Samsung’s metal-clad Quantum Dot ‘QLED’ technology. Encasing the QDs in metal enables them to be driven harder, resulting in more brightness, colour, and colour volume.
In other words, it can reproduce more of the full range of colour tones of which today’s HDR and usually attendant wide colour gamut technologies are capable.
In addition, Samsung has reduced the Quantum Dot wavelengths of its 2018 QLED TVs, so they can deliver better colour refinement.
Another key ingredient in the QE55Q9FN’s success is a new technology that gently reduces each dimming zone’s brightness as the picture spreads away from that zone’s brightest point. The TV can thus combine its extreme brightness with unprecedented deep and cloud-free black levels by LCD standards.
Black levels and HDR images generally should also benefit from the Samsung QE55Q9FN’s impressive anti-reflection filter.
Smart features on the QE55Q9FN come courtesy of Samsung’s latest ‘Eden’ system. This is an excellent platform, in terms of the amount and usefulness of the apps it supports, and its interface.
It provides access to plenty of content in a compact, logically organised and easy-to-follow interface. It runs slickly, and is super-easy to customise. You can also access pretty much every aspect of its features – and the TV’s adjustments – via an excellent voice-recognition system.
Also worth mentioning while we’re discussing the QE55Q9FN’s ‘brain’ are its new gaming features. For instance, it can now detect when a console is running a game into the TV, and activate the set’s Game mode accordingly.
This game mode reduces input lag (the time the TV takes to render images) to an impressively low 24ms. The QE55Q9FN can also support FreeSync/Variable Refresh Rate technology up to 120Hz.
There are a few small issues with the QE55Q9FN’s smart features. Eden’s menus are a little clunky-looking, in some respects. I’d also like to see Samsung joining other big-rival brands in using Freeview Play or YouView to enhance the UK catch-up TV experience.
Finally in the negative column, while it’s great in principal, Samsung’s system for auto-detecting and adding universal remote support for connected equipment still feels a bit buggy.
Connectivity on the Samsung QE55Q9FN’s external box are as you’d expect of a flagship TV these days. The most important ones are four HDMIs (all 4K/HDR/60p capable), three USBs for multimedia playback or recording to USB HDDs, and the inevitable Wi-Fi and hardwired network connections.
One last feature to consider is HDR support. The TV can play the industry standard HDR10 system, the new broadcast-friendly HLG system, and the new HDR10+ system, with its extra scene-by-scene picture data.
However, it can’t play the alternative (and currently much more common) Dolby Vision system.
The Samsung QE55Q9FN is quite a flexible beast, capable of adapting to pretty much any viewing condition and content type. Provided you take the time to learn your way around its picture set-up options, of course.
My first tip would be to stick with the Standard picture preset for most of your viewing. Some may prefer the Movie setting for films, but for me, Movie just doesn’t take enough advantage of the TV’s picture quality capabilities.
If using the Standard mode, though, ensure you turn off the TV’s Eco settings. These adjust the picture according to ambient light, which can hugely reduce the TV’s HDR impact in dark room settings.
I found the local dimming setting best set to High on the QE55Q9FN (versus Standard on the 65-inch Samsung Q9FN). I’d also suggest setting the Contrast Enhancer – which reduces excessive differences between bright and dark areas – to Low.
The Auto Motion Plus motion processing can just about run on Auto for normal 50/60Hz TVs. For 24p moviesI’d suggest Custom, however, with the Blur and Judder settings both set to three. The Auto mode tends to cause too many unwanted side effects with 24p content.
If you generally watch regular TV content in a bright room, it’s worth experimenting with Samsung’s HDR+ mode. This tries to make SDR sources more like HDR, and can give images greater punch and vibrancy.
Be warned, though: it can make skin tones look rather plasticky and dark areas look a bit too dominant.
One last tip would be that if you find the QE55Q9FN’s out-of-the-box brightness a little too intense (I didn’t!), nudging the TV’s backlight down can calm things down without taking away too much of the picture’s punch.
For the most part, the QE55Q9FN’s pictures are truly remarkable for an LCD TV.
Particularly stunning are its black levels. This is an LCD TV that can deliver dark scenes that actually look black where they should, rather than a washed-out grey.
Even better, Samsung’s new local dimming management means that there’s no clouding or inconsistency amid the general darkness. Even when bright HDR objects appear against black backdrops, you see no significant light ‘haloing’ around the bright object. This is simply unheard of with LCD technology.
Perhaps the ultimate testament to this TV’s black level achievements is the fact that I’m discussing it ahead of brightness in a review of a TV that’s capable of hitting 2000 nits of peak brightness.
However, that’s not to say that this extreme brightness isn’t also hugely important to the TV’s success.
While brightness certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all of HDR, it helps. And sure enough, the QE55Q9FN’s extreme light output unlocks parts of HDR pictures we’ve just not seen before on a 55-inch TV.
There’s a lifelike intensity to daylight scenes and a wonderfully natural look to highlights (such as artificial light sources, reflections of sun on metal, and direct sunlight) that just hasn’t been seen before on a domestic 55-inch TV.
It isn’t just with the very brightest sections of HDR pictures that the QE55Q9FN scores over rival (and less bright) OLED screens, however. Its average brightness level is also higher with HDR sources, giving them consistently more punch and underlining HDR’s advantages over SDR.
In addition, the high levels of brightness unlock remarkable intensities and tones of colour. OLED screens can look gorgeously rich with mid-bright and dark scenes. But the QE55Q9FN reveals completely natural-looking tones in ultra-intense images, such as rich blue desert skies and brightly lit gleaming cars, that can cause OLEDs to look slightly strained.
It’s a joy, too, to see these ultra-dynamic colours appearing free of the slightly bleached areas noted on last year’s QLED TVs. This is another great result of Samsung’s shift from edge to direct LED lighting.
There are shading and tonal subtleties in the very brightest parts of HDR pictures that elude duller sets, too. In fact, colours look stunningly refined and dazzlingly rich almost right across the board.
It’s remarkable, as well, how well both the intensity and contrast of the QE55Q9FN’s HDR pictures hold up, even in fairly sun-drenched living rooms.
Oddly, I don’t feel the ambient light filtering on this year’s sets is quite as effective as it was on last year’s high-end QLEDs, but it remains an important feature.
While the QE55Q9FN’s contrast and brightness are its stand-out, bar-setting attractions, the TV also has a trio of other key strengths.
Native 4K images look exceptionally detailed and sharp. This is especially true, in background areas of 4K pictures. This helps to define an excellent sense of depth and space in both intimate and large-scale film locations, as well as making the picture feel consistently 4K from one corner of the screen to the other.
Provided you’re careful with your motion settings, the impressive 4K detailing is hardly reduced by judder or motion blur, either.
The QE55Q9FN isn’t just a hero with 4K HDR content. It also does an excellent job of upscaling HD sources, adding bags of detail without exaggerating noise.
Samsung has also refined its HDR+ SDR-to-HDR conversion processing for its 2018 TVs. Its results still won’t be for everyone – including me, actually. But if you just have to have that HDR intensity the whole time, HDR+ is certainly far from a disaster.
For all its stunning and strikingly consistent spectacle, the QE55Q9FN isn’t perfect. Its main flaw is that with really dark scenes, the backlighting system’s near-obsession with avoiding backlight clouding and haloing can cause significant amounts of shadow details to go AWOL in the darkest areas. These shadow details remain clearly visible on OLED TVs.
Also, where a fairly substantial bright object appears against a mostly dark backdrop, the QE55Q9FN has to remove quite a lot of intensity from the bright object. Again, presumably, to avoid disrupting those remarkably (for LCD) deep black levels.
The pixel-level light accuracy of OLED TVs serves them well at these extreme contrast moments, allowing them to retain noticeably more brightness, intensity and even colour saturation for the bright areas – without sacrificing any black level depth or uniformity.
I should stress that the sort of extreme content that catches the QE55Q9FN out is fairly rare. And, actually, you generally don’t tend to become distractingly aware of the lost shadow detail unless you’re doing a side-by-side comparison with an OLED.
So, overall, while it’s something for Samsung to work on for next year, putting deep, even black tones ahead of some lost shadow detail looks on balance like a sensible choice.
The QE55Q9FN also loses out to OLED on viewing angles. From anything more than 25 degrees or so off-axis, it loses colour saturation and suddenly starts to show light halos around stand-out bright objects.
It would be nice to see how good the QE55Q9FN could look with HDR10+ 4K Blu-rays – but none are available yet. And, of course, it won’t play Dolby Vision titles.
One last minor issue with the Samsung QE55Q9FN’s pictures is that they’re not quite as spectacular as those of its bigger QE65Q9FN sibling.
Even though both sets enjoy pretty much the same measured peak brightness, with real-world content the QE55Q9FN’s pictures just don’t look quite as intense and bright – especially in scenes that contain a mixture of bright and dark content. This is presumably because it carries significantly fewer dimming zones than the 65-inch model.
The QE55Q9FN’s sound quality is an impressively potent accompaniment to its mostly outstanding pictures. It can go loud without distorting or becoming harsh. It sounds open and rounded, yet sharp enough to deliver plenty of subtle detailing. Voices sound full-blooded but always clear, and finally the pleasingly wide mid-range is underpinned by some punchy, well-controlled bass.
Samsung’s new Smart Sound technology helps, too, in the way it can automatically and effectively adjust the sound to suit whatever sort of content (sport, movie, concert etc) you might be watching.
The QE55Q9FN is an outstanding TV that takes HDR in particular to places no 55-inch TV has taken it before. However, there are a few other contenders to consider.
For starters, its 65-inch sibling is actually better – if you can afford the £800 step up. Its increased number of dimming zones delivers a slightly more spectacular and consistent level of performance.
Then, of course, there are LG’s latest OLED TVs. The 55-inch LG C8 is £200 dearer, but features a stunning design and delivers dark scenes with more punch and detail than the QE55Q9FN. The Samsung model delivers much higher light peaks and colour volume, though.
If you want something cheaper, meanwhile, Sony’s KD-55XF9005 offers excellent pictures for under £1500 – although, inevitably, it lacks the backlight precision and brightness of the Samsung QE55Q9FN.
The QE55Q9FN combines unprecedentedly bright HDR peaks with the deepest, most consistent black levels the LCD TV world has ever seen.