There’s a reason why Samsung is the leader in the global TV market for the past 9 years, and on track to get its 10-peat this year: a wide variety of models and competitive pricing aside, it consistently makes the best LCD TVs in the market, 4K or not.
While 4K and curved TVs are still a thing this year, Samsung, like many other TV makers, is rightfully refocusing its efforts to shore up two areas: TV user interface and image quality. The former is done mainly by building its smart TV platform on top of the Tizen OS; the latter by featuring a new quantum dot (QD) layer in the light generation process.
Of course, as a company which prides itself on leading industry standards and always on the edge of display technologies, Samsung would like you to believe that its use of the semiconductor material is different from other TV makers. I won’t delve into Samsung’s implementation details here (e.g., how the light is guided and how the QDs are cadmium-free), but generally, the company’s quantum dot-based ‘Nano Crystal Color’ tech, which also takes into account the interaction between the hardware and software engines, promises a wider color gamut, more accurate colors, higher peak brightness, and deeper blacks - all music to videophiles' ears.
For marketing purpose, Samsung is calling its QD-based 4K TVs "SUHD" 4K TVs. No one really knows what the "S" stands for, and it doesn’t matter. Just know that it represents Samsung's most premium line of 4K TVs; and that these TVs use the Nano Crystal Color tech and run on Tizen OS.
At present, there are four series in Samsung’s SUHD TV lineup: JS9500, JS9000, JS8000, and JS7200.
The main difference between the four series is that the JS9500 and JS9000 are curved TVs, and the JS8000 and JS7200 are flat TVs. Expectedly, the JS9500 is the flagship, and it’s the only series to start at 65 inches, with bigger 78 and 88-inch models also available for those with deep pockets. 55 and 65 inches are the two common screen sizes you’ll find in the other series, with an additional 50-inch model that’s only found in the JS7200.
For this review, I’m looking at the flagship JS9500 and JS9000. Both share many specs, including the aforementioned Nano Crystal Color tech and Tizen OS, a curved 10-bit panel, an octa-core processor, UHD upscaling, and HDR support.
For the most part, the S$500 premium you pay for the JS9500 over the JS9000 is for the former's direct-lit LED backlight unit, which does full-array local dimming, as compared to the edge-lit LED backlight unit in the JS9000. In theory, with the hardware-based local dimming, we should see even higher brightness, deeper blacks, and purer whites on the JS9500.
The other obvious thing you’ll miss on the JS9000 is the built-in camera, and along with it, the associated face recognition and motion control features. If you need that down the road, you can always pick up the optional VG-STC5000 TV camera accessory.
Otherwise, the JS9500 and JS9000 tick very similar feature checkboxes, including built-in wireless LAN, four HDMI 2.0 (HDCP 2.2 compliant, naturally) and three USB ports. Consistent with Samsung’s previous high-end 4K TVs, they also come with the external One Connect box, which houses the brains of the TV and all the I/Os. This clever implementation enables you to do certain hardware and software upgrades later on without having to throw out the entire TV. Not to mention, it gives you more freedom in how you place or mount your TV since the One Connect box manages all I/O connections.
I don’t have much to nitpick on the TVs’ designs. In short, they look great. And magestic too, if you’ve been to megastores like Best Denki at VivoCity, where Samsung likes to put three SUHD TVs side by side to create a giant curved canvas. The TVs’ minimalist, non-swivel Y-shape stand is also stylish, well constructed, and weighty enough to support the panel. Upon closer inspection, you’ll also notice that the JS9500 has a brushed metal bezel that’s chamfered at the edges; and the metal plate that wraps behind the JS9000 has a shirring pattern. The latter is basically Samsung saying that it’s paying attention to even the smallest of details, even at places that most people don’t look at, such as the back of a TV.
A prominent member in the Tizen Association, Samsung is intimately familiar with the open-source Tizen OS, having used it in several of its mobile products, such as the recent Z3 smartphone and Gear S2 smartwatch.
This year, Tizen has made its leap to Samsung’s smart TVs, with the aim to bring a more user-friendly UI, a more integrated entertainment experience, and more content to the table.
For example, the new single-screen Smart Hub UI, which displays recent content and recommendations, is tastefully designed and a welcomed departure from the previously cluttered UI. And for the most part, the menus try not to get in the way of the current content. At first glance, it does remind me of LG’s WebOS interface; but Samsung is ahead in terms of providing a richer and more varied viewing and control experience, thanks to stuff like the gesture controls (for the JS9500), the comfortable Smart Control remote with its surprisingly smooth pointer button, and Multi-Link Screen - just to name a few.
There’s also Quick Connect, which allows the TVs to automatically recognize recent Samsung smartphones (Galaxy S4/Note 3 and newer) once paired over Bluetooth Low Energy. TV-to-mobile and mobile-to-TV mirroring and sharing processes are all simplified. The TVs can even pull info from your Galaxy smartphone and wake up automatically to show you information such as the weather and your schedule.
Moving forward, we foresee Samsung building more devices, be it smart computing devices or smart home appliances, based on Tizen, and using the TV as a control center of sorts. The promise of a larger content ecosystem will also take time, at least in this part of the world.