Samsung UE65JS9500 - Picture Quality Review

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Samsung UE65JS9500 – Picture Quality

Inevitably we couldn’t

resist starting our tests with HDR UHD, delivered in the form of

showreels of HDR masters of The Life Of Pi and Exodus. And we might as

well get straight to the point and say that the images are simply

incredible – the best we’ve ever seen on a domestic television, in fact.

There are a number of reasons for this.

First, the sense of

contrast is incredible. The blisteringly bright and pure peak whites and

gorgeously deep blacks – can this really be an LCD TV?! – catch the eye

first, especially with extremely contrast-rich content such as The Life

of Pi’s night sequences. No other screen we’ve tested has delivered

anywhere near such extremes of light and dark before. And we include in

this statement even the greatest plasma TVs.

While the light and

dark extremes are the most immediately impactful thing about the HDR

images, though, the real star of the show for picture enthusiasts is

what you can see between those extremes. The gorgeous subtleties of all

the seemingly infinite luminance levels and colour tones between pure

black and white; the incredibly intensity with which bright elements in

dark images really pop out of the gorgeously natural blackness around

them; the stunning intensity and, crucially, naturalism of the colours

at all levels of luminance within the image… We’ve just never tested

anything like it before.

Samsung UA65JS9500

The

point about the colours is worth reiterating. It’s really not just

their spectacular, brightness-driven vibrancy that blows you away; the

combination of the vast amounts of colour processing in the TV and the

new Nanocrystal technology delivers unprecedented subtlety

across the entirety of the vast colour palette. This gives a stunningly

filmic look to images that we haven’t experienced before.

It’s

noticeable, too, how the incredibly fine distinctions between colour

tones do a great job of maximising the potential detail in native UHD

sources.

Plasma and OLED have both previously managed to impress

greatly with their black levels and contrast, of course, but never

before has this been connected with so much brightness. Brightness is

something that weaknesses in flat TV technologies has previously led us

to be suspicious of, but the UE65JS9500 has made us realise almost for

the first time just how important it is to a truly spectacular TV image.

We

had been concerned that LCD TV panels might not be able to cope with

the brightness demands of HDR, leading to backlight clouding problems

and shallow, greyed-over black colours. But as you’ve hopefully realised

from what’s been said already, nothing could be further from the truth

with this Samsung trailblazer.

Blacks look remarkably, inkily

black, and even more surprisingly, when the TV’s incredibly punchy

whites are appearing against black backdrops there isn’t nearly as much

haloing and light clouding around the bright objects as we had feared,

at least from a sensible viewing angle. The amounts of shadow detail in

the dark parts of the image are also magnificent, making dark scenes

look even more deep and natural.

The UE65JS9500 uses a

combination of a direct LED lighting system with local dimming to

deliver its extraordinary contrast; it’ll be intriguing to see how well

the edge LED lighting systems that kick in further down Samsung’s range

cope with HDR’s demands. But for now all we can do is marvel at the

incredible spectacle the UE65JS9500 delivers.

Another interesting

effect of a true HDR experience is that it strangely made us feel more

aware of the image as a whole. Weaknesses with normal TV technology tend

to make them use subtle techniques to focus you in on the

highlight/most important parts of the image, as they don’t have the

ability to render every part of the image equally effectively. With the

HDR screen here, though, there’s enough brightness, colour richness and

processing power to simultaneously produce every part of the image with

equal intensity, precision and focus, resulting in a more balanced

all-round image, more like the sort of immersive experience you get at

the cinema.

The combination of extreme sharpness and contrast

join with the curved screen in helping HDR pictures look like they’ve

got more depth of field than normal – almost 3D without the glasses. The

latest depth-enhancement processing engine appears to be helping this

impression by eking even more impact of the image’s localised contrast

differences.

Samsung UA65JS9500

We

were struck, too, by how much more accurately the new depth-enhancement

feature delivers its relative sense of depth across the screen. In

other words, it’s not just the centre of the image that seems to be the

deepest. If the deepest part of a shot is off to the left or right,

that’s where the extra depth really seems to be. This is clever stuff

given the curved shape of the screen, and actually overcomes one of my

usual issues with curved screen technology.

A combination of

apparently improved screen filtering and the higher brightness of the

pictures also reduces my previous concerns about distorted reflections

on the curved screen. Yes, bright light sources are still stretched

across more of the image than they would be on a flat TV, but the

intensity and range of the reflection is reduced greatly from last year.

So much so that if you darken your room for movie viewing you may

scarcely notice the problem at all.

Irresistible though HDR is,

it’s unfortunately a simple fact that there’s not going to be much of it

around for a while – though as well as Netflix, HDR is mercifully

confirmed as being supported by the upcoming UHD Blu-ray format. So how

does the UE65JS9500 fare when it comes to upgrading non-HDR content?

To

find out we compared the native HDR Life of Pi footage with a non-HDR

UHD version of the film on Samsung’s 2014 UHD Video Pack – and the

results were startling.

Compared with the HDR content the non-HDR

version looks considerably more muted with its colours; less dynamic

with its contrast range; less full of detail, especially in dark areas;

and less subtly colour toned in dark areas. The difference isn’t night

and day, but it’s certainly dusk and day. So it’s clear at this point

that getting a full HDR experience does require an HDR source.

However…

It’s critical that we stress that comparing the “upscaled to HDR” Life

Of Pi UHD transfer with the same transfer on a non-HDR UHD TV shows that

the UE65JS9500’s HDR upscaling delivers much brighter, much punchier,

much more vibrantly coloured, much richer in contrast, and sharper

images than you get with the non-HDR TV. In other words, while native

HDR content is a truly generational leap, even the upscaled images are a

gorgeous progression from those you get with any previous screen

generation.

Samsung UA65JS9500

As

noted previously, some purists may take offence at the idea of

Samsung’s new TV brazenly “souping up” non-HDR images from the original

colour format they were mastered in. Personally, though, we felt that

Samsung’s upscaling engine converts non-HDR to HDR so well that we never

felt like reverting to the TV’s Rec 709 setting. Colours still look

predominantly balanced and believable post HDR revamp, but with a much

more engaging and enjoyable dynamism, while the extra contrast range is

just mouthwatering.

One last element of the UE65JS9500’s

performance we should look at is its UHD upscaling. This was good last

year – though in the final analysis it was probably pipped by that of

Sony’s top-end 4K TVs. But Samsung has noticeably improved things for

its HDR debutante, with the latest version proving much more effective

at suppressing noise without losing the natural sense of grain an image

might possess. There’s also almost no sign this year of the

over-stressed edges, bluish ringing noise and moire interference over

fine details that have been issues with previous Samsung UHD TVs.

While

the UE65JS9500’s pictures are overall nothing short of spell-binding,

delivering a huge leap forward for TV technology in general, we did

manage to find a set of small issues Samsung could work on for the

future.

First, we sometimes felt a little more aware of noise

when watching HDR images than we did with non-HDR sources – though this

was dealt with pretty handily by taking down the backlight and contrast

settings further than suggested in the Setup section. But then it makes

sense that HDR might naturally be quite unforgiving of any noise in a

source – so it’s handy that HDR looks set to be partnered with high-quality UHD content creation.

Next, while the Standard preset is

surprisingly effective by Samsung standards, the other three aren’t.

Dynamic makes images look strained and pushes white so hard it can hurt.

Natural tends to push the contrast to such extremes that dark areas in

particular can start to look anything but natural. And the Movie mode

uses a level of colour temperature warmth which interestingly doesn’t

sit comfortably with the  expanded colour palette of Samsung’s new

HDR-capable panel.

Samsung’s motion processing could still be

improved too, we feel. There’s a little judder without any motion

processing in play – especially during 3D viewing – and while the motion

processing can fix this, it’s difficult to find a setting which

delivers an absolutely perfect balance between motion clarity and

unwanted processing side effects.

Occasionally when watching

non-native HDR content very bright areas can look just a touch bleached

and short of detail, and finally the screen didn’t respond especially

well to having its backlight reduced heavily, with shadow details

starting to get crushed out. We can’t imagine many people wanting to

radically reduce the backlight to be honest, but maybe Samsung could

slightly tweak its algorithms to “balance out” the contrast a little

more at lower brightness levels.