Samsung UN65F9000 UHD LED TV Review
Jaw-droppingingly sharp, but (too) ahead of its time
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The Korean giant's brand-new UHD display—the 65-inch F9000 (MSRP $7,499.99)—isn't the company's first ever. Nor is it Samsung's most-expensive UHD offering. Those honors belong to the 85-inch S9, which stomped through CES in January. But not everyone needs a television the size of a studio apartment. The much more reasonably sized F9000 sports similar design to flagship models, and packs the same great smart platform— powered by voice and gesture controls. The major difference? About six million pixels.
Let's put aside price and pixel count for a second, though. Samsung's F9000 looks absolutely breathtaking with actual UHD content. In fact, it even makes upscaled 1080p content look great. There is definitely a lot to be excited about with this display.
There would be even more excitement if UHD content was plentiful, but that's just wishful 2013 thinking.
What Is UHD and Why Should I Care?
Pixels, pixels, and more pixels
Ultra high definition (UHD), or "4K," is the TV buzzword of the year (tied with OLED). Normal high definition (HD) refers to a display's resolution, usually 1,920 pixels wide by 1,080 pixels high. UHD displays pack four times that amount, measuring 3,840 pixels wide by 2,160 pixels high. That's a staggering total of over eight million pixels!
So why should you care about more pixels? Because it means a sharper, more detailed picture... as long as you have the appropriate content.
Consumers can't just buy a UHD TV like the Samsung F9000, pop in a Blu-ray, and expect mind-blowing visuals. No, you need actual UHD content to take full advantage of the technology. And as luck wouldn't have it, said content is incredibly scarce at the moment.
Fortunately, these new TVs do something called upscaling, which means they can take a 1080p (or lower) source and display it using four times as many pixels. This process involves a complex algorithm that tells the TV how to stretch the content over all these pixels.
Want to know more about the wonderful world of UHD? Check out this handy little guide.
Spine-tingling with native UHD content, mildly impressive without
Got some premium UHD content handy? Good, then you're gonna love Samsung's F9000. When watching video shot in the proper resolution, the result is instantly noticeable. Scenery looks more lifelike, thanks to the added pixel density. Even more impressive is the stunning depth of field—some scenes literally look 3-dimensional because of this.
Don't have any UHD content? I can't blame you since it's really hard to find. Samsung provided us with a USB stick that has two short UHD video clips, but that got boring after watching them about 100 times.
I'm happy to say that 1080p content looks great, although it can't compare to actual UHD footage. The fact that Blu-ray content looks so good on a 65-inch TV like this is an impressive feat—thank Samsung's upscaling algorithm for that. Think about it: A 1080p source sends the F9000 1/4 as many pixels as the TV has. Instead of displaying this smaller picture in the middle of the screen, upscaling fills in the pixel-gaps, dispersing the image across the screen—yet the picture doesn't look stretched at all. Therein lies the beauty of this TV's upscaling ability.
I tested a decent contrast ratio on the F9000, with a very similar black level to the 1080p Samsung's flagship model. Unlike that TV, though, Samsung's UHD display has a retina-searing white level. Got a sunny living room causing unwanted reflectivity? This TV can handle it.
Perhaps the F9000's biggest strength—aside from its pixel count—is its excellent color accuracy. Red, green, and blue all look the way they should; even white is spot-on, with no discoloration. Colors transition from shade to shade with outstanding smoothness, meaning you'll see more transitional hues.
The F9000 also impressed us with its fluid motion performance. During the intro to The Hobbit, dwarves fled a dragon without much blur at all. Users will note a bit of blur when scenes pan in movies, but nothing too distracting. Samsung's motion enhancement options are distracting, though. Using the minimum de-judder and de-blur settings turned The Hobbit into The Young and the Restless. If you pay over five grand for a TV, you probably don't want this.
Before you buy the Samsung UN65F9000, take a look at these other televisions.
Slim, sleek, and familiar
Unlike Samsung's 85-inch S9 UHD TV, which is attached to a stand resembling an easel, the F9000 looks almost identical to the company's F8000 model—not a bad thing at all.
The panel is delightfully slim—less than two inches deep—with 0.5-inch bezels that neatly trace its perimeter. On the top of the TV, you'll find a pop-up camera that's primarily used for gesture controls. All this sits atop Samsung's "arc stand," which gives the 65-inch TV the appearance of floating. As a side note: The UHD F9000 is quite heavy. If you need to lug this thing around, clear a path and grab a friend.
A truly interesting design aspect of this TV is its One Connect box, which serves two purposes. First, it's an actual box that houses the majority of the F9000's ports, including four HDMI inputs, a spot for the included component adapter, two USB slots, an RF connector, an ethernet jack, and a digital audio output. Say goodbye to fumbling with a tangled mess of cables behind your TV—Samsung's little box deserves heaps of praise for this alone.
The One Connect's other purpose is integral to how the TV functions. This little box contains the TV's internals, including a quad-core processor and all software updates. Without this device, you cannot use your TV.
Aside from the One Connect, everything else is familiar 2013 Samsung territory at this point. You still get Samsung's superb Smart Touch Remote, which includes a microphone for voice commands. Press a button and ask for ESPN—the TV will take you there. Lastly, users will also find four pairs of passive 3D glasses and a funny looking cord with a little black cube at the end. What is that? It's an IR blaster for controlling a cable box (more on this in a moment).
A state of TV zen
Samsung's menu interface strikes a great balance between easy-to-use and in-depth. We've praised the company's menus all year, and the F9000 is no different. Adjustment options are neatly arranged towards the left with a brief description on the right. Not sure what 10p White Balance is? Let the TV do the explainin' (although you still shouldn't touch this unless you're an expert).
New this time around is an option called Sound Customizer, which is a calibration mode for your TV's audio. The F9000 emits six different test frequencies, repeating each tone until you can hear it. After selecting the volume for each one, you can save your calibrated sound profile. I'm not sure it made much of a difference, though—the F9000 has fantastic audio to begin with.
On the internet side, Samsung's Smart Hub platform is as good as it gets. Quality apps are plentiful, including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, VUDU, and HBO GO. In fact, Samsung is the only smart TV platform to include HBO's streaming app. True Blood and Game of Thrones fans can rejoice.
Aside from apps, the best feature on the Smart Hub is its ability to integrate cable TV content. Simply input your location and your cable provider and the TV will deliver beautiful posters of movies and shows with informative blurbs. Wanna watch Law & Order? Just click the icon for it and Samsung's Smart Hub will alert you when the show airs.
Samsung also includes a gimmicky gesture control feature, in case your fancy remote isn't good enough. Waving your hand at the F9000's camera will produce an on-screen cursor, which can be used to manipulate volume and channel controls, or to navigate the Smart Hub. I'll be the first to admit that this feature works really well, but it gets tiring after a few minutes. Pass me the remote—I'm sitting down.
For an in-depth look at Samsung's 2013 Smart Hub, check out our guide.
An excellent TV, but for the price you can do better.
There's no getting around it: Samsung's ultra high definition F9000 (MSRP $7499) is a great television. It's pricey, but at least the initial asking fee is down to $5,499. Color accuracy, motion performance, smart features, design—this big-screen hits all the right notes. One of the only complaints I have is the F9000's good-not-great black level.
Oh, and there's that whole thing about the lack of UHD content on the market.
As good as this TV is, what's the point of buying it if you can't experience its full potential? I can list plenty of TVs that are as good, if not better, than the F9000—for cheaper, too! Case in point: Panasonic's fabulous 65-inch ZT60 can be bought for less than $4,000. Sure, the ZT60 can't display UHD content—but that content isn't widely available anyway. The ZT60, hands down, has better picture quality—and since we can all enjoy that here and now, that makes Panasonic's top-tier plasma the better bargain for today.
If you're looking to future-proof your TV investment, you could do a lot worse than Samsung's newest UHD darling, but by the time ultra high definition content is widely available, displays like this should cost far less. If you insist on adopting early, though, just research carefully: Seiki's super-cheap UHD is little more than eight million ho-hum pixels, while Sony's 55-inch X900A is almost identical in performance to the F9000—just smaller. We'll have more UHD TVs trickling in over the next week, so be sure to stop by again soon.