QLED is Samsung's name for its latest quantum dot LED-backlit TVs, and QLED means business. Samsung is promising black levels that you'd only otherwise expect to see on a top-of-the-line OLED TV, and colours that are not only incredibly vibrant and bright, but also accurate. The Q8 is a $4500-plus screen that'll make your Netflix sessions look amazing.
What Is It?
Samsung's QLED TVs are LCD TVs using a quantum dot layer over the sub-pixel structure, with these microscopic nanoparticles responding physically to create monochromatic light from another light source. The cut and thrust of it is that QLED turns an energy-efficient blue backlight into extremely bright red, blue or green light from each pixel, with extremely narrow light emission meaning those colours are incredibly precise and accurate.
LED, ULED, SUHD - now QLED. Samsung's quantum dot LED-backlit LCD panel TVs are promising a huge improvement in picture quality, and now we know how much they'll set us back.
Samsung is putting three variants of its QLED TVs on sale in Australia — the flat Q7 in 55-inch ($4499), 65-inch ($6499) and 75-inch ($10,999) screen sizes, the curved Q8 in 55-inch ($5499), 65-inch ($7499) and 75-inch ($12,499) screen sizes, and the range-topping curved Q9 at a wallet-shattering price for 65-inch ($9499), 75-inch ($14,999) and 88-inch ($39,999). That last one — oof.
The big selling point of QLED is its incredible brightness levels — 1500 nits from the Q8. That's a big deal when it comes to HDR, which requires a panel that can produce the highest peak brightness possible from its LED backlighting. That's also a big deal for colours, which usually drop in brightness throughout the saturation range. Samsung is saying the QLED Q8 and Q9 are the world's first DCI-P3 colour-accurate panels, achieving 100 per cent colour volume.
What's It Good At?
The Samsung Q8 QLED TV has the best picture quality we've ever seen from a LED-backlit LCD TV, hands down. That much is a sure thing. Is it better than an OLED — our current gold standard for TV picture quality? Well, yes and no. Yes in a lot of ways, because it's definitely significantly brighter and has more vibrant colours that are way more true-to-life out of the box than even LG's best. No, because OLED still has that very slight edge on black levels.
If you're buying a TV this year — and it's a good year to buy a TV — then you have only a few choices to make before you've picked out a great screen. As well as working out whether you want 4K or HDR, and what screen size you're after in the first place, and what inbuilt smart features you want, your main choice is what TV backlighting technology you want your new big-screen telly to use. We're here to tell you the difference between edge-lit and back-lit LED, LCD and OLED, quantum dot and local dimming, and more.
In the same way that Samsung's smartphone skin on Android has improved on itself massively year-on-year, the same is true of the company's TVs. After a misguided dalliance with a 3D-cubed home screen, Samsung's Smart Hub on the Q8 QLED is flat, simple, and straightforward: it's just a slim bar at the bottom of the screen with direct access to video streaming apps like Netflix and Stan and YouTube, and to your most used inputs. Nothing more, no mess, no fuss: no complaints here at all.
Samsung's One Remote is even further refined over last year's already impressive attempt at a one-size-fits-all candybar clicker. For the 2017 QLED range it's a slim, silver device with scant few physical buttons — rockers for both volume and TV channel, and a five-way navigational pad. Beyond that you've only got a quick-access button for the QLED TV's voice control, a quick play-pause and virtual number pad and info button access, and power. That navpad is your main point of contact for pretty much every navigation of Samsung's flat, simple Smart Hub, so get used to it.
What's It Not Good At?
While Samsung's voice recognition software on its Tizen-powered smart TVs is getting better with every iteration, it still feels... superfluous. In my humble opinion, you're better off spending five minutes learning where every feature is on the on-screen interface, and then putting your thumb to good use clicking away. Voice control is fantastic on a smartphone where you have the power or Google or Apple and an ongoing series of contextual responses to guide your navigation, but on a TV where your use is — really — limited to Netflix or YouTube or free-to-air telly, it's not a big draw card for me.
While those fancy quantum-dotted pixels do an extremely good job of blasting bright and accurate and amazingly vibrant colours at your face when you're sitting in front of it, Samsung's Q8 loses a bit of that vibrance as you move to side viewing. What becomes more obvious is the QLED TV's backlighting, which has a bit of obvious bloom when you're looking at bright white objects on a dark background: the impossible test for any LED TV. This is most obvious when you're viewing from an extremely off-axis position, so it's a particularly niche complaint of ours, but it's also worth keeping in mind that this isn't a problem you'll have with Samsung's OLED competition from LG and that tech's individual self-lighting pixels.
And — it feels like I write this on most Samsung reviews I write these days — the Q8 is an expensive piece of hardware. It's an investment, to be sure — you should be keeping your TV for at least five years, not changing it out on a whim, and the QLED tech makes a noticeable and substantial difference to the point that it is worth considering as a direct competitor to OLED. But the QLED Q8 is $7499 for the 65-inch model I tested, and the cheapest QLED is a $4499 flat 55-inch Q7. These are pricy TVs. And you can get a hell of a lot of screen, and sound system, and accessories, and furniture, for that price if you look at Samsung's competitors.
Should You Buy It?
I loved the Samsung Q8. So much. It has excellent black levels and absolutely phenomenal colours, especially in the brightest scenes of the brightest movies — it's a screen that spoils animated films like Frozen and makes just about the best compromise possible with dark films like The Revenant. It's an amazing panel and it's a TV that would bless any home lucky enough to have it.
But at the same time, it's really hard to recommend a TV that's so expensive. You're able to buy a TV equally as large as any of Samsung's QLEDs with 90 per cent of the picture quality for half the asking price. In the case of an OLED, you'll sacrifice brightness but get slightly better black levels. With any other LED, you'll sacrifice some colour accuracy and brightness, but you have to ask yourself — is it worth it?
For someone like me, whose life is spent in front of a screen of one kind or another, it's a difference that I like to think I could justify to myself and my (increasingly empty) chequebook. It's all a matter of perspective, though — if you're dropping $100,000 on a reservation or $700,000 on a property in the first place, what's another hundred stack between friends?
You spend a lot of time in front of your TV, and it's worth buying a good TV. We think so, at least. And, so, I'll sign this off by saying that the Samsung Q8, and by extension all QLED TVs, are some of the best I've ever seen. If I was buying a new TV, it'd be a close call between this and an OLED.