Samsung Q900R first look: Meet the first 8K TV you can actually buy

Samsung has unveiled its latest flagship TV at IFA 2018. It’s called the Samsung Q900R, and it’s a monster in several ways – not least because it represents the first 8K TV most people will actually be able to buy. 

Let’s start with the obvious: the Q900R is massive, with screen sizes ranging from 65 to 85 inches. It also has an 8K resolution. Nope – this isn’t a drill, nor a prototype, or proof of concept, or any of the rubbish we’ve been teased with over the past decade with no intention of coming to market. This thing will actually go into shops in a matter of months.

Here’s everything I know so far. I’ll be updating this article throughout the day as I get more information and hands-on time.

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Samsung Q900R

Samsung Q900R – Release date

The Samsung Q900R will be in stores from the end of September 2018. In the UK, we’re looking at the middle of October.

Samsung Q900R – Price

This has yet to be confirmed. I’ll update this article when I get a figure, but it’s safe to say that the Q900R won’t come cheap!

 

Samsung Q900R

Samsung Q900R – Key specifications

We already knew Samsung was doing something in 8K, thanks to some very unsubtle posters put out earlier this month. So here’s the confirmation. The Samsung Q900R will have a native 8K resolution. That’s 7680 x 4320 pixels – or 16 times the Full HD standard.

Since native 8K footage is rare, Samsung has invested heavily in processing. It has a new chip, the Quantum Processor 8K, whose chief role is to handle ‘AI Upscaling’ of lower-resolution footage to fit the screen’s 8K resolution.

Essentially, Samsung has come up with an algorithm to recognise patterns and calculate the extra pixels are needed (and where). The chip will use a huge image database, which Samsung says will constantly update itself as it learns of new images.

It would be silly to have such a massive pixel count without the appropriate real estate, and to that end Samsung has confirmed that the Q900R will be made in 65, 75, 82 and 85-inch models. At this stage it isn’t clear which sizes will come to the UK, but given the average size of our homes, I’d say the two ‘smaller’ sizes are most likely.

Peak brightness has been ramped up to 4000 nits. Many 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays are mastered to 4000 nits, so look forward to a picture that isn’t only sharp but also hugely dynamic too. Of course, such brightness will be a challenge for any LCD, and Samsung has seen fit to use a FALD (full array local dimming) system. They’re calling it ‘Direct Full Array Elite’, and I’m told it offers greater backlighting control than that employed on the Samsung Q9FN.

High dynamic range formats supported include the standard HDR10 and the broadcast-friendly HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma). As always, this TV will not offer support for Dolby Vision. Along with Panasonic, Samsung is pushing the alternative metadata-toting format known as HDR10+.

Future gazers, rejoice: one of the HDMI ports will be HDMI 2.1. This supports 8K image input at 30fps, Samsung told me. As for gamers, the auto-detect Game mode makes a return, with a promised minimum input lag of 15ms.

Related: What is HDR?

Samsung Q900R

Samsung Q900R – Design

Since the Samsung Q900R will be available in huge sizes, Samsung has reverted to placing feet at the corners of the screen, for reasons of stability. But since customers, and reviewers like myself, nearly always moan about this, there’s also an option to stick the feet in the middle.

The Q900R also brings back a few elements I liked from the Q9FN, namely the One Invisible Connection system, which keeps all the plugs separate in an external connections box. That box connects to the TV via one thin and nearly (but not entirely) invisible cable.

For wall-mounters, the Ambient Mode makes a return, so you can pretend the TV is part of the wallpaper.

Samsung Q900R

Samsung Q900R – Why 8K?

“Why are we talking about 8K resolution?” you ask. To be fair, 4K has only just been established. And it’s pretty darn good already.

Samsung says one of the main reasons it’s pushing 8K is the increasing popularity of larger screen sizes. A few years ago, the most popular screen size sat below 50 inches. Now all the flagship TVs come in 65 inches or over.

When you stretch the same picture resolution over larger screen sizes, pixel density becomes an issue. A discussion on pixel density will usually be heard in smartphone circles, but it’s now made it over to TVs.

A Full HD TV at 55 inches has a pixel density of 40ppi (pixels per inch). Upgrade that to 4K and that jumps to 80ppi – which is the reason TV reviewers such as myself have been singing 4K’s praises.

But as you increase in screen size, that density drops. Ultra HD 4K at 65 inches yields 68ppi. Go up to 75 inches and it drops to 59ppi. Up to 85 inches, and pixel density goes down to 52ppi. Essentially going bigger undoes the impact of 4K.

8K is there to address that, for those who are fortunate enough to have the space and cash to spend on such sizeable screens. At 65, 75 and 85 inches, you get a respective pixel densities of 136, 117 and 104ppi. 

Of course, the reality of the situation is that there are still limitations on storage price and data transfer rates. We’re moving in the right direction, though. Maybe by the time 8K becomes mainstream (after some years), the UK will have half-decent internet.

Samsung Q900R – Picture quality

The tricky thing about 8K is that there’s virtually no content right now. I’m not even sure there’s a camera out there that can shoot in 8K, besides whatever proprietary system the NHK in Japan is using. And so my private demonstration with Samsung was done with footage of various lower resolutions, in order to show off upscaling skills.

First, I was shown some 4K footage, updated to 8K. That was stunning. The Samsung Q900R absolutely had no problems upscaling this, as everything looked beautifully sharp. Everything was so nicely defined that it really looked a little better than what I’m used to seeing from 4K. And that’s to do with pixel density – I generally review 4K TVs at 65 inches, which yields 68ppi, but 8K at 85 inches yields 104ppi. The picture was so nicely defined that I even felt a slight 3D effect.

So that’s the first hurdle: upscaling very high quality footage and making sure it comes out just as good or even better. Job done. But the percentage of 4K content is still relatively low, and I was shown upscaled 1080p (Full HD), a well as 720p (HD Ready) footage.

It became clear that inferior sources were being used. There’s no getting around that. The lower you go in resolution, the less detail there is to work with. But the Samsung Q900R does what it can. Noise reduction is one. An 8K resolution is 16 times that of Full HD, so you’d assume that would look like a grainy mess. But it didn’t – it looked surprisingly clean.

Of course, the definition took a hit, and textures got increasingly vague as we dropped down to 720p, but noise remained at a minimum at all times.

I was also surprised to see how well the Samsung Q900R dealt with difficult areas, such as contours and curved lines. Whatever Samsung’s algorithm does, it seems capable of tackling the jagged lines that generally plague low-resolution contours. This worked on objects as well as text.

Throughout all of this, I was struck by how natural the pictures looked. There’s no getting past the fact that lower-resolution pictures show less information, but I didn’t see any of the telltale artefacts that come from overly aggressive sharpening.

Initial impressions

Treated as a product in its own right, the Samsung Q900R absolutely does what it intends to do, which is to keep images attractive at the crazy sizes. I’m very pleasantly surprised the slight improvements it made to 4K content, as well as the amount of damage limitation it did to low-resolution footage.

But there remains the issue of 8K’s viability – the massive screen sizes needed, the high prices attached and the lack of native content to supplement upscaled video. Then there’s the consumer – the European TV market is a tough crowd, and we’ve only just about swallowed the 4K pill. With our small homes and our generally poor video ecosystem (ahem, ITV) it will be an uphill struggle to find an average consumer who cares.

On a personal note, I’m just glad to see one of these things actually come to market. I’ve lost count of the trade shows I’ve attended where somebody boldly proclaims something is the world’s first 8K something, only to have nothing come of it. Whether or not anyone in their right mind will buy the Samsung Q900R isn’t the point here – I’m just impressed anyone’s crazy enough to make one at all.

What do you think of 8K? Is it utterly pointless, or should we be aiming for 8K like they are in Japan? Tweet your thoughts to us @TrustedReviews.

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