The Samsung UE55F9000 is Samsung’s first ‘mainstream’ Ultra High Definition (UHD) 4K TV, packing a 3,840 x 2,160 native pixel resolution together with Samsung’s most powerful quad-core processing engine, active 3D playback and arguably the world’s most advanced Smart TV system. In other words, it’s one of the year’s most exciting and eagerly awaited TVs.
The UE55F9000 is not, of course, the first (just about) affordable 4K/Ultra HD resolution TV we’ve tested. First out of the traps was the mighty Sony KDL-65X9005A. And given what a mightily high bar Sony’s TV has set, there’s no doubt that the 55-inch Samsung UE55F9000 is going to have its work cut out to keep pace with its Japanese rival.
Not that the Samsung UE55F9000 shows any outward signs of being phased by this Sony pressure. On the contrary, it presents a very confident face to the world with its quietly classy, glass-fronted, slim-bezelled design.
The design isn’t as showy as that of the Sony 65X9005A, and its trim bezel is a million miles from the flagrant enormity of Sony’s set. But that doesn’t make the UE55F9000 aesthetically inferior to Sony’s model; it just makes it different. And when you’re trying to offer audiences a unique experience, different is good.
Another way in which the Samsung 4K TV's exterior is different is its connections. Instead of putting all its connections on its rear as you might expect, it instead puts almost all of them onto an external connections box. Connections on this long, thin, elegant box include four HDMIs, three USBs, a LAN port and built-in Wi-Fi, while connection with the TV is achieved via a single proprietary cable.
One interesting connection point about the UE55F9000, however, is that unlike the Samsung F8000 and F7000 ranges, it doesn’t feature a slot for one of Samsung’s Evolution Kits. Thankfully, Samsung categorically assures us that its F9000 series will be upgradable to handle the upcoming, UHD-friendly HDMI 2.0 connection format when it comes online. In fact, it’s even told us how this upgrade will likely happen. It’s also told us that it doesn’t want us to reveal the method yet; hopefully we’ll be able to discuss it publicly at the IFA technology show in Berlin in September.
Samsung’s willingness to confirm the upgradability of its Ultra HD set stands in contrast to Sony’s initially rather noncommittal comments regarding the upgradability of its 65X9005A. Sony has thankfully since significantly upped the strength of its upgradability promises, but it hasn’t yet supplied any technical backup for this statement of intent.
Aside from the rather important matter of its UHD native resolution, one other potentially massively significant spec advantage the Samsung UE55F9000 delivers over Samsung’s step-down, ‘normal’ HD F8000 models is its use of local dimming technology in its edge LED lighting array.
Given how good the contrast of Samsung’s F8000 models is, the thought of what the brand might be able to achieve with the addition of local dimming is positively mouthwatering. So long as it can keep a lid on that pesky light blocking problem around bright objects that still plagues the local dimming systems of some LG and Panasonic TVs.
Elsewhere, the Samsung's 4K TV is extremely similar in feature terms to the F8000 models. It’s got all of Samsung’s Smart functionality for a start, including gesture control, voice control, the same five-hub content-dividing onscreen interface, the same facility to learn your viewing habits and make recommendations accordingly, and the same brilliantly extensive collection of video streaming apps.
As well as Lovefilm, Blinkbox and Netflix, these streaming services include all four of the key UK catch-up TV services: the BBC iPlayer, ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5. Samsung is currently the only TV brand offering all these catch-up platforms, and by our estimation Samsung's smart TV system is the best around. You can read our full Samsung Smart TV review to find out why in more detail.
There’s additionally a bounty of options for adjusting elements of the ultra-powerful picture processing engine that should live at the heart of any self-respecting 4K TV.
Some of these, such as the noise reduction and motion controls, should be used sparingly and carefully. But, as we’ll discover presently, the part of the processing system designed to work on the mammoth task of upscaling non-UHD footage to the screen’s UHD resolution is immensely accomplished.
The only surprise about the UE55F9000’s suite of picture setup tools is that there’s nothing specifically focussed on the set’s UHD capabilities.
Sony’s 4K TV has menu options that let you specifically tweak the sharpness and noise reduction elements of its 4K upscaling, as well as a ‘Mastered in 4K’ option designed to optimise the picture’s settings to get the best from Sony’s upcoming Mastered in 4K Blu-rays.
With the Samsung 4K TV, on the other hand, you just get the same calibration options no matter what sort of source you’re watching, arguably denying you a little of the finessing of 4K upscaling that you get with the Sony.
Having said that, it’s quickly apparent that the normal adjustments the Samsung UE55F9000 provides do actually give you plenty of say over how the set’s upscaled pictures look, with the Sharpness setting being particularly important when it comes to achieving your preferred balance between extreme detail and video noise.