Lots of TVs look good when they're turned on, with bright and vibrant colours and fancy on-screen interfaces. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. But flick them off, and most -- most, not all -- look a bit weird, ugly and cheap. Not any more. Samsung's most expensive TV for 2016 looks just as good when it's switched off as it does when it's switched on. If you think about it, that's kind of important.
What Is It?
Samsung's Series 9 range of top-of-the-line edge-lit LED/LCD televisions comprises two models: the flat KS9000, available in 55- and 65-inch screen sizes, and the curved KS9500 available in 55-, 65- and 78-inch screen sizes. They all come with commensurately high price tags, at $3999 and $4299 for the 55-inch flat and curved screens respectively, $5999 and $6299 for the 65-inchers, and a whopping $12999 for the phenomenally large 78-inch. As you'd expect, all of these screens have a native 3840x2160pixel Ultra HD resolution and a massively high 1000 nit maximum peak brightness.
- Screen Size: 55-, 65-, 78-inch
- Resolution: 3840x2160 pixels
- Smart TV: Yes, Smart Hub
- Connectivity: 4x HDMI 2.0, 3x USB 3.0
- Wi-Fi: Yes
Being a premium TV, you'd expect all the connectivity on offer to be equally high-end, and it is. Four HDMI 2.0b ports, three USB 3.0 ports for high-speed media file playback (with, crucially, MKV and H.265 file format and codec support and 4K over USB possible) and wired Ethernet and high-speed wireless 802.11ac round out a perfectly adequate range of high-res digital connectivity options. Of course, you'll need a brand new gaming PC or one of only two Ultra HD Blu-ray players to get the most out of this TV.
And Samsung has put more time and effort into designing this Series 9 than any other TV before it. From the front, the Series 9 looks familiar -- it's still recognisably a TV, of course, with a big black 16:9-ratio rectangle in its centre, with a tiny border edged first by glass-covered black plastic and then by brushed aluminium, and a two-pronged stand that extends from a little way behind the screen to slightly in front of it, to counter-balance such a large panel. From the back, things have changed -- Samsung has removed all the tiny screws and ugly flat panels from the rear and replaced them with a lovely dark brushed metal finish.
The Series 9 is a SUHD TV, and that of course means it has a LCD panel using quantum dot technology to significantly boost the range of colours that the TV can display. There's that, plus new support for the HDR-10 standard which means that the Series 9 is one of Samsung's first Ultra HD Premium televisions. The Series 9's sound system is a gutsy 60-Watt one, with two 20-Watt full-range stereo speakers and two 10-Watt low-frequency woofers; for a skinny TV it does an incredibly good job.
What's It Good At?
Switch most TVs off, and they look a little bit boring -- big black rectangles. Samsung has never been guilty of this, though, and never less so in the Series 9 line of consistently stunning LED displays. The KS9500 especially, the curved model, looks awesome both at the front and the back -- yep, this screen looks good from the rear, and the design refinement that a decade of building LED screens with plastic and metal. The screens are almost borderless, but even the border, just like the pronged stand, is finished in beautifully brushed aluminium. Everything just looks mature and adult and the Series 9 looks like a piece of hardware that will make your living space look more refined.
And switch it on and things only get better. With a HDR-enabled 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player (Samsung's own UBD-K8500) and a few different 4K HDR discs, the Series 9 TVs (both curved and flat) look incredible, with perfect pixel-level detail and excellent detail in both bright and dark areas of the screen. There's a very good reason that HDR works so well -- it gets the absolute best out of every single frame of a piece of video -- and the Series 9 is able to get the most out of HDR video of any non-OLED TV I've seen. It's a significant jump in quality from even 12 months ago.
Even with 1080p Full HD video from an appropriately high quality Blu-ray source, the Series 9 TV does an incredibly good job of upscaling content to near-4K visual quality. This is a Good Thing, especially since the lion's share of the content that we watch these days is 1080p; that's just about the maximum you're going to get from any regular Australian internet connection's pipe to Netflix, and that's the vast majority of content uploaded to most popular YouTube channels. 1080p to 4K conversion requires interpolating four times the pixels of the native content, and the Series 9 handles that process with aplomb.
Samsung's new Smart Hub is one of the better smart TV interfaces out there, and has access to important streaming apps for SVOD (Netflix) and catch-up TV with big names . The combination of HDR-10 support -- through Ultra HD Blu-rays and Netflix's small but growing library of streaming HDR content -- and quantum dot pixels for a larger-than-sRGB colour gamut means that when you're watching high quality video, you really see the difference versus a non-HDR TV. I've been saying for a while that 2016 is a good year to upgrade your TV because of the proliferation of HDR, and the proliferation of quantum dot technologies on Samsung and Sony screens at the same time just amplifies the potential picture quality available.
And Samsung's new One Remote is an excellent way to navigate around the entire thing too. The company has clearly taken some inspiration from Apple's Siri Remote for the new Apple TV, but goes a little further with a raised directional control pad and a control wheel -- an iPod's click wheel? -- for changing volume or flicking through chaannels. Voice control is, as usual, OK, but you don't really need it in the first place since you're navigating around so seamlessly with the One Remote's few but useful buttons.
What's It Not Good At?
It's expensive. That's a given for a top-end TV, especially as you move up from the popular 55-inch screen size to the larger 65- and behemoth 75-inch monsters, but the fact remains that you're paying slightly more for the Samsung logo and Samsung's 10 years of experience building edge-lit LED TVs and the effort that the company has gone to in building its own smart TV platform on the Tizen operating system.
This is not a criticism, but it's worth noting the fact that Samsung's KS9000 and KS9500 flat and curved LED TVs are functionally and visually very similar to last year's JS9000 and JS9500 models -- which Samsung continues to list on its website and which retailers continue to sell on clearance. If you want a top-of-the-line TV, but don't want to pay a top-of-the-line price, you might be seriously tempted away from the 2016 Series 9 by the almost-there capabilities of the 2015 Series 9. You do forego HDR, though.
And then, as we're so fond of talking about on Gizmodo, there's the ever-present spectre of LG's top OLED screens, which are in a similarly high price bracket as the Samsung Series 9. If you're willing to trade off the additional cost of OLED ($5499 versus $3999 at the 55-inch size), the additional energy to run it, and the additional time of setting it up right -- and you don't mind the look of LG's WebOS 3.0 versus Samsung's Smart Hub, especially since the two have a similar range of streaming apps -- then it's an especially hard decision to make. You'll be paying $8999 versus $5999 for a comparable 65-inch, so there's a significant price difference, but either is a lot of money for a TV.
With almost any edge-lit LED TV, there are a few small compromises you have to make in picture quality. I saw no bloom on the Series 9's edges, which is an amazingly good result, but even with local dimming there's a small amount of bloom around sharp bright highlight points on an otherwise dark screen. This is the price you pay with edge lighting. The Series 9's viewing angles, especially on the curved panel, aren't quite as good far off-axis as some of the other top LEDs we've seen.
Should You Buy It?
Samsung's top-of-the-line Series 9 SUHD TVs remain the most attractive screens you can buy for your living room, especially when they're switched off. If that sounds like a criticism, it's absolutely not: it's a testament to the amount of time and energy that Samsung has put into make both the curved and flat Series 9 TVs into impressively well built panels of glass and metal, in the same way that its smartphones continue to impress us with their design and construction.
Price: from $3999
- Excellent 4K, HDR picture quality.
- Beautiful phsyical design.
- Useful One Remote.
- Minor bloom on high-contrast points.
- Similar to last year's visually.
If you want the best LED TV on the market, at the moment, your choice is restricted to three screens. You can choose LG's ColourPrime UH950T, you can choose Sony's beautiful Bravia X9400D, or you can choose the Samsung Series 9. You're lucky that all three are great, and the difference comes down to small changes like Sony's Android TV versus Samsung's Smart Hub.
Samsung also has a small leg up in the fact that it's the only TV maker with a complementary 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player available in Australia too -- the UBD-K8500. Sure, it'll work with any other TV, but there's something to be said for the peace of mind in having every single home theatre component in your stack coming from the same manufacturer.
And the fact remains that the Series 9 is just an absolutely stunning TV to behold when it's displaying the right content. Load up a 4K HDR video, and every frame is just about as good as we've seen any LED TV ever look. Even lower-resolution content -- Blu-rays look great, but that's a given -- like YouTube and streaming Netflix or Stan look consistently impressive. And that, at the core of things, is exactly what you want a TV to do.