It’s become pretty much customary now for Samsung to try and set the TV pace every year by being first to market with its new flagship TV. And the Korean company has thrown everything at the 65-inch Super UHD UE65JS9500 – it has HDR (high dynamic range) playback, native 4K/UHD resolution, a Nanocrystal colour system, a curved screen and the new Tizen Smart TV system.
The pace it sets is so extreme that we’re hearing reports of grown cheetahs crying. Let's see if it ends up a winner or if it outpaces itself...
SEE ALSO: What is 4K/UHD?
Aesthetically the UE65JS9500 is a bold move in a number of ways. Particularly striking is the way it consciously bucks the trend for ultra-thinness. The rear is the chunkiest we’ve seen from a premium Samsung TV in years, with its central portion even approaching the depth of last year’s hefty Sony wedge TVs.
You don’t notice this depth when you’re watching from the front, though, so while the chamfered metallic bezel is also slightly wider than those wrapped around many of today’s screens, you certainly can’t accuse of it taking over an unreasonable amount of your living room.
The bezel is keener than most modern examples to make its presence felt, though. As well as boasting that gleaming metallic finish, it stands some distance proud of the screen at its edges and angles back towards the display. This creates quite a severe, angular effect in stark contrast to both the gentle curvature of the screen and the boomerang shape of the physics-defying silver stand.
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The main issue with the design is that the angled bezel can distractingly catch any strong light sources in your room – especially if you have ceiling lights. Plus, of course, some people will not like the fact that the UE65JS9500’s screen is curved…
We’re not going to get into all the pros and cons of curved screens here, as we’ve done it all before in a separate feature. But you should know that if you want the highest level of picture performance from a Samsung TV this year, you’ll need to get the UE65JS9500, curves and all. There’s not going to be a flat equivalent. Though if it helps we can say right away that one of the biggest problems with curved TVs – distorted onscreen reflections – is certainly greatly reduced on the 65JS9500 versus last year’s models. More on this later.
After what felt like a relatively small evolution with its 2014 TV range, Samsung has pulled out all the feature stops for the JS9500 series – also available in 78-inch and 88-inch sizes – to deliver a genuinely huge leap forward.
The undoubted star of the show is its high dynamic range capability, which is a way of filming and then showing content that delivers a much wider luminance range, with brighter whites, deeper blacks, and a far more extensive greyscale and colour range in between.
Demos of HDR have consistently looked remarkable, so even though there’s still a debate over the best industry standard for HDR in the living room, we’re hugely excited to be able to experience it already on the first TV of 2015. It’s interesting to note, too, that while other brands are hinting at HDR compatibility with their 2015 flagship TVs, no other brand has formally confirmed it – at least not for any models with a fairly imminent launch date. So it could be that Samsung opens up quite a lead over its rivals in HDR terms.
SEE ALSO: What is HDR TV?
To deliver on its HDR promise, the UE65JS9500 claims a huge native brightness output of 1000 nits – versus a typical 300-500 nits – and claims to be able to deliver up to 93 per cent of the Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) colour range you see at commercial cinemas.
How has Samsung achieved this? First it’s developed a new proprietary nanocrystal take on Quantum Dot colour technology. Second, it’s developed a new 10-bit – versus the normal 8-bit – panel with high light transmittance capabilities. Third, it’s employed a new type of light source, which in the JS9500’s case is positioned directly behind the screen and driven by local dimming for enhanced contrast. And finally it’s developed a new processing engine focused on optimising the new Quantum colour engine, better controlling the lights and darks in the HDR image range, and being cleverer about recognising and then accurately dealing with different types of picture content.
It also, of course, has the processing knowhow to both recognise HDR content when it’s fed in, and potentially "scale" that HDR to fit its screen’s parameters and capabilities. Arguably even more importantly, given that HDR content is currently non-existent to consumers, is that the UE65JS9500 has the processing power to upgrade non-HDR content to fit with the expanded brightness and colour range its panel can deliver.
This is potentially as controversial as it is intriguing, with a certain type of videophile likely arguing that they want to see things that look faithful to the format they were created in – usually the Rec 709 image standard – rather than material that’s gone through some sort of "expansion processing". But fear not; if that sounds like you, there's a setting on the TV that lets you see images accurate to the Rec 709 standard. Our experience, though, has been that once you’ve seen anything "HDR'd", going back to a standard that was developed for CRTs decades ago feels almost painful.
Returning briefly to the current lack of native HDR content, there is some good news in that Netflix is now mastering most, if not all, of its home-grown shows in HDR, and intends to start streaming them this year. Samsung is in discussions with Netflix to nail down the specifics of how this HDR streaming will happen, but it assures us that the 65JS9500 will be able to handle the HDR streams when they go live.
We also wouldn’t be surprised if Samsung launched some sort of HDR Video Pack, like the UHD Video Pack launched for its 4K TVs last year – especially as it’s already able to provide HDR showcase reels for The Life Of Pi and Exodus.
Inevitably the UE65JS95000 sports a native UHD (aka 4K) pixel count of 3840 x 2160, to deliver four times HD levels of detail. And Samsung claims to have improved the quality of its 4K upscaling engine from last year’s already high level.
SEE ALSO: What are quantum dots?
As for the curved screen, it features seemingly the same degree of curvature that Samsung was using last year, though the brand claims to have enhanced the depth enhancement processing it applies to images to make them more suited to a curved environment.
This processing, too, could be a source of controversy, given that you can’t turn it off. But at least Samsung has genuinely improved the way it works, as we’ll cover later.
Yet another key feature of the UE65JS9500 is its new powered-by-Tizen Smart TV engine. As usual we’ll be covering this in depth in a separate article, but here’s a flavour of it to keep you going until then.
Powered, along with the video processing, by a new Octa Core brain, the new Smart engine represents a substantial shift from last year’s content-rich but long-winded and sometimes confusing system, delivering a much more friendly, stripped down and useful experience. Most of the Smart menus are now overlaid on a relatively small part of the image, so they don’t disrupt your viewing, and they’re much more focused on getting you faster to the content you want. A huge part of this involves treating everything – including individual TV channels and each input – as its own app, so that they can populate a Recently Watched list that pops up as soon as you hit the Smart TV button.
It’s all pretty reminiscent of the LG webOS system, to be honest, but this is no bad thing. And Samsung has introduced a few neat ideas of its own, including icons that crop up in the centre of each side of the screen when using gesture control or the remote’s point-and-click function as shortcuts to volume control, setup menu access, Smart menu access and channel shifting/EPG access.
One final thing worth stressing about Tizen – indeed, arguably its biggest selling point – is the way it claims to hugely simplify integration with your Smart devices, to the point where if you have a Samsung phone from the S4/Note 3 onwards the TV will detect that phone’s presence as soon as it enters the room, and automatically establish communications with it. The feature wasn’t ready in time for this review, but it’s safe to say that when it’s working, removing the usual manual labour from such connectivity will make it much more likely that you'll engage with second-screen features such as video sharing between devices.
The last key feature of the UE65JS9500 we need to cover is its connectivity. As with the past couple of generations of Samsung’s high-end TVs, the 65JS9500 ships with an external One Connect device containing all of its sockets. These include four USB ports and four HDMIs, but the most important point about using an external connections box – which also houses the TV’s brains – is that it can be replaced with an updated model as new chipsets and even, potentially, new connections become available.
This is a potentially very significant feature. After all, we’ve already seen a recent shift from HDMI 1.4 to HDMI 2.0 to support UHD at 50/60Hz, and there’s plenty of talk of a second wave of UHD quality requiring yet another connection upgrade in the next two to three years. So offering an easily upgradable connections system is a great future proof touch that we’re frankly surprised other brands haven’t started to copy.
First, some really great news: the 65JS9500 is much more forgiving in picture setup terms than previous Samsung TVs. In fact, while once again we find ourselves wishing Samsung would include more preset options than four – plus a hidden game one – the Standard preset is now pretty usable without you having to make wholesale changes to it.
That said, there are a few settings we’d suggest you invest time in to really optimise things. First, turn off all noise reduction systems for UHD, and arguably even HD, sources. Drop the contrast level to between 85 and 90 from the 100 preset level. Set the Dynamic Contrast to Medium or even, at a push, High – the new panel design supports and even relishes this in a way the previous generation of panels never could. Leave the Black Tone feature off – you just don’t need it, and it can suppress shadow detail – and make sure you track down the Game preset in the General submenu of the Systems menu when gaming.
Finally we’d recommend that you set up a custom mode for the Auto Motion Plus processing that sets the Blur and Judder reduction elements to around 4 each.
Even if you do precisely none of these changes, though, the UE65JS9500’s pictures will instantly have your mouth hanging open in awe. Especially if you’ve managed to secure some native HDR content.