If you’re the person who buys a discount TV through places like Kogan or ALDI, Samsung’s Q900 8K QLED TV is probably not going to be for you. Not unless you win the lottery anyway.
However, if you were already looking to buy one of the company’s pricey and premium QLEDs like the Q90, the terms & conditions involved mean the case for Samsung’s first 8K TV isn’t quite as closed and shut as you might think.
Yes, there’s not really much 8K content out there apart from YouTube clips designed to show off an 8K TV like the Q900. Yes, the starting price of the Q900 - $13,999 - is hardly affordable. However, the reality is that the high-end price of getting into 8K early isn’t that far off the top-end of 4K TVs today. And if you're already spending that much, why not spend a little more and make the jump from 4K to 8K ahead of time?
As with LG’s Z9 OLED, a big part of what the central pitch for what the Samsung’s Q900 offers comes down the processor inside it. These days, it’s not so much about how many pixels you have but what you do with them.
Powered by the same Samsung’s Quantum Processor found in the Q90, the Q900 is capable of upscaling content of all shapes, sizes and resolutions all the way up to 8K. Some of this upscaling involves cleaning up image noise and picture grain. Some of it involves edge detection & sharpening.
[Related: Everything You Need To Know About 8K TVs]
A big part of it involves using machine learning to do what Samsung call ‘texture recreation’ - an image processing technique that identifies textures on the screen and then upscales them using an algorithm that’s designed to make them appear more lifelike. While this might sound like a bunch of smoke and mirrors, texture recreation was probably the first noticeable advantage that I picked up on during my hands-on with Samsung’s 75-inch Q900 8K QLED TV.
4K Vs 8K
My hands-on session with Samsung’s first 8K TV involved seeing how it fared when directly compared to last year’s flagship 75-inch Samsung Q9F. And while I wouldn’t say that the jump from 4K to 8K is quite as large and immediately-rewarding as the jump from 1080p, I wouldn’t say that I didn’t notice a few clear advantages either.
It wouldn’t be right to say the Q900’s 8K resolution simply looked better - though it absolutely did. It’s more a case of highlighting the devil in the details - starting with skin tones.
With the Samsung Q9F, characters in Game of Thrones, Star Trek: Discovery or The Expanse looked great - but the darker shadows of their faces were sometimes came across as ever-so-slightly artificially lightened. On the Samsung Q900, the contrast between the darker and lighter elements of faces and skin tones was noticeably different and the colors on the screen carried a more potent (and authentic) richness of tone, likely owing (at least in part) to the higher peak brightness available to the Q900.
I do suspect that the kind of content you throw at the Q900’s upscaling does play a role here - as would your own personal preferences. Still, if the question is which did I prefer, then Samsung’s first 8K TV comes away a clear winner.
As with the Q90, you get the best results from the best content. You get out what you put in. Properly-optimized HDR10+ content like the latest season of American Gods (available via Amazon Prime Video) looked particularly good & 4K-compatible games running on an Xbox One X (with Game Mode enabled) often produced sharper, crisper and smoother results than the Q9F did without.
Across most fronts, the Q900 came off better - though I can’t honestly say it came off as better by the fourfold-margin that you might expect. The texture recreation, enhanced color saturation, sharper contrast and bigger resolution are all proven ingredients in the Q900’s recipe for improved picture quality but the question of whether its improved enough to justify the premium price is probably going to depend on your individual circumstances.
And as with the Q90 (again), you’re getting all the usual perks. You’re getting the One Connect Cable. You’re getting the One Connect Box. You’re getting the One Remote. You’re getting Samsung’s Tizen-powered Smart TV interface. You’re getting Ambient Mode. You’re getting Bixby voice controls and you’re getting an Apple TV+ app before everyone else.
The Q900 does feel more powerful than every other TV Samsung are selling in 2019 but it’s very much subject to diminishing returns in the way that ultra premium TVs have always been. Even if does feel like a big step up - it’s still only another step up. A 75-inch Samsung Q900 is double the RRP of the 65-inch Samsung Q90. The experience you’re getting here isn’t twice as good. That’s just not how TVs work.
If you want the best TV Samsung are selling in 2019 - this is absolutely that. But if you just want a really nice TV, this feels like it might be overkill.
Really, the only fair way to evaluate the Q900 is to see how it compares against another 8K TV. And we would undertake that comparison if we could. The problem is that there aren’t really any other 8K TVs available in the Australian market right now.
So 4K content looks better. What else are you getting here that you aren’t on a 4K TV?
Honestly, the above is a question I really struggled with.
And I think it’s something that Samsung - along with every other TV brand - are going to struggle with for some time. You can put someone in a room with an 8K TV and show them how content looks better on an 8K TV than a 4K TV one easily enough. Articulating why that "betterness" is worth buying into right this second? That’s a whole lot trickier.
Unless you’re a big fan of anime, that is.
See, in addition to live action staples like Game of Thrones and American Gods, my hands-on with the Q900 also gave me the chance to see how animated content fared when upscaled by the 8K TV’s Quantum Processor.
And, to my genuine surprise, the difference between animated content that’s been upscaled to 4K and animated content that’s been upscaled to 8K wasn’t just noticeable. It was almost revelatory. Honestly, I have never seen any anime - in this case, Netflix’s adaptation of Castlevania - look this good.
Compared to 4K, there was an authentic, inky hand-drawn quality here to outlines of characters and objects. Even the static backdrops of scenes looked noticeably richer in texture and tone. It’s certainly a niche but it feels entirely possible that the best thing you can watch on Samsung’s first 8K TV might actually be anime.
Speaking of niches - I was also curious about - and then a little unimpressed with - how the Q900 handled esports content. I mean, don’t get me wrong. If I owned this $14,000 TV, I would definitely 100% watch Overwatch League on it. But I was a little disappointed in how the Quantum Processor fared here.
As I watched the London Spitfire take on the Shanghai Dragons, I found that the colors of each team did carry a bit of extra verve but there were a few spots where I felt the edge sharpening techniques of the Q900 fell short. I do suspect this might be because esports content isn’t something that Samsung’s AI algorithm has been briefed on but it’s still a minor let down nevertheless.
In the end, my hands-on with the Q900 has left me with two questions that often feel closer together than they actually are.
Do 8K TVs look good enough to justify upgrading from 4K? Yes. Totally.
Should you buy an 8K TV right now? Well, it depends on who you are and whether you can stomach the caveats - because, aside from bragging rights that come with being able to say you own an 8K TV (or the ability to watch incredibly nice-looking anime), there are plenty of reasons to hold off on buying the Q900 right now.
This is currently a TV that caters to a standard with more-or-less no native content for it. This is a TV with more-or-less no legitimate competition in the local market. It’s also a TV that’s incredibly expensive. If you can’t - or won’t - get over those caveats, you probably shouldn’t buy this TV.
There’s no disputing that the Q900 looks great in action but whether or not the advantages it offers over competing 4K TVs (beyond a natural affinity for anime) are worth overlooking the disadvantages of early adoption presents a more lopsided dilemma. It’s a more personal question, and as much of a conversation as it is a conversation starter.
If nothing else, Samsung’s 8K Q900 still feels like a contender for the best TV you can buy in 2019. The thing is that not everyone needs to - or is looking to - buy the best possible TV at any given moment. Most of the time, they’re looking for the best possible TV within their budget - and the hefty price-tag afforded to the Q900 and 8K is a hard hurdle to overcome.
Even if it's not necessarily a 4K-killer that everyone should go buy right now, the Q900 is still the best TV Samsung is selling in 2019. Plus, anime does look really good on it.