Samsung KS9800 Series HDR LED TV Review
Gorgeous colors and searing brightness: The KS9800 is what HDR should look like.
About the Samsung UN65KS9800
This is the 65-inch model of Samsung's KS9800 HDR LED TV series. This is the exact model we tested and reviewed in our labs, so this review applies directly to the UN65KS9800.
About the Samsung UN78KS9800
This is the 78-inch model of Samsung's KS9800 HDR LED TV series. While we reviewed the 65-inch model in our labs, we expect very similar performance from the UN78KS9800. Conclusions below still apply to this model.
About the Samsung UN88KS9810
This is the 88-inch model of Samsung's KS9800 HDR LED TV series. While we reviewed the 65-inch model in our labs, we expect very similar performance from the UN88KS9800. Conclusions below still apply to this model.
The Samsung KS9800 series ($4,499–$19,999) is Samsung's top-of-the-line flagship series for 2016, and it has the looks and hardware you'd expect. The KS9800 series is—first and foremost—essentially the current standard for the HDR10 High Dynamic Range format, boasting a 1000 nit reference brightness, full-array local dimming backlight system, and quantum dot-enhanced colors.
The KS9800 series is available in three fairly gigantic screen sizes: a 65-inch option for $4,499; a 78-inch option for $9,999; and a massive 88-inch option for $19,999. Each TV is curved, and fronts a minimalist design and a heavy full-array local dimming backlight system. The main advantage to Samsung's KS9800 series (as opposed to the flagship OLED TVs from LG) is not only that they're much brighter overall, but they're much cheaper per-inch. For example, LG's flagship 65-inch G6 HDR OLED is $3,500 more expensive.
The KS9800 is an awesome TV. Like most LED/LCD sets, it struggles slightly in areas where OLED doesn't: viewing angle and shadow/dimming consistency, specifically. However, it more than makes up for it with sheer blasting power and light output, and is one of the year's most impressive TVs in terms of HDR presentation and color saturation. If you want to really see what High Dynamic Range is all about, the KS9800 is practically the poster child for HDR.
Editor's note: We're currently working on implementing HDR testing (and HDR10 CalMan calibration) into our general workflow. Expect an update to the review soon with more details on its HDR peak brightness, 10-bit color performance, and percent coverage of the DCI-P3 color space, as well as full HDR calibration results.
About the KS9800 Series
Samsung's KS9800 flagship HDR LED TV series is available in three screen sizes:
• 65-inch (UN65KS9800), MSRP: $4,499
• 78-inch (UN78KS9800), MSRP: $9,999
• 88-inch (UN88KS9810), MSRP: $19,999
The KS9800 TVs all share roughly the same basic specs. We expect performance to be very similar between models, however we expect backlight dimming to vary notably between the huge 88-inch model and the more normalized 65-inch model.
• 4K (3,840 x 2,160) resolution
• Quantum Dot color enhancement
• Full-array backlight with local dimming
• 1,000 nits Premium Certified HDR performance
• 120 Hz refresh rates
• Curved screens
• OneConnect Mini connectivity
• Smart Hub platform & Smart Remote included
We received the 65-inch KS9800 on-loan from Samsung, and gave it about 48 hours of runtime and a full factory reset prior to testing and calibration. I spent more than a week with the TV, watching both standard and high dynamic range content, including Netflix, HDR Blu-rays, standard Blu-rays, and our full gamut of test patterns.
What We Like
The KS9800 is one of 2016's brightest and most colorful TVs.
If summer is a time for bright, heavy sunshine and beaches bursting with color, the KS9800 is the perfect summertime TV. This is one of the brightest and most color-rich TVs I've ever seen. In the same way everybody in my office stops and gawks at the perfect black of OLED, they are similarly spellbound by the KS9800's hyper-saturated colors and blinding brightness. Wowza. I'll try to show with pictures, but it doesn't do justice.
The KS9800's stunning performance (in this area) and high price tag both stem from its dedicated hardware improvements. First, it uses a full-array backlight with local dimming (or FALD). This means it has LEDs behind the entire screen (not just at the edges), and it can control groups of them independently, making them brighter or dimmer to suit content.
It also has a sheet of quantum dot film, which allows it to achieve a much higher color saturation than the average LED LCD television. Both the FALD and quantum dot hardware enhancements are key to the KS9800's High Dynamic Range functionality.
Samsung wasn't kidding—this thing really does look good from every angle.
One of Samsung's marketing schemes during CES was that the company's 2016 TVs look good from every angle. While the KS9800 wasn't around at CES, it seems to be keeping in sync with that idea. The curved screen and minimalist stand evoke a smooth, semi-circle aesthetic that really does look fetching from most angles.
The KS9800 comes with Samsung's newly designed "Smart Remote" (more on that in a bit) and the OneConnect Mini, a dedicated external box that houses the TV's HDMI 2.0, USB, and optical/digital audio connections, as well as an input for an IR blaster.
The KS9800 is an excellent performer by traditional standards, not just HDR.
Sure, the KS9800 might be the brightest TV I've ever seen and deliver blissfully colorful vistas thanks to its quantum dots, but it isn't a one-trick pony. I tested and calibrated the TV for standard home theater performance, measuring color accuracy, colorimetry, and contrast in its Movie mode, and calibrating it to "standard dynamic range" levels too.
As you'd expect from a flagship TV, this one's out-of-box settings in the accuracy-facing Movie mode were pretty much spot on. I made some small improvements during calibration (which you can check out on the test results page), but overall you can expect great performance for all your non-HDR content. The TV upscales well, and renders motion smoothly and without excessive blur or judder. It's properly white balanced and hits the old color standard with terrific accuracy.
This one's HDR brightness levels may just blow your mind.
High Dynamic Range is the big thing in TV right now, and Samsung's flagship is perfectly poised to do it right. The company claimed "1000 nits" of brightness back at CES 2016, and that benchmark has since become the standard for mastering HDR10 content for capable TVs.
A "nit" is the equivalent of one candela per square meter, or roughly the volumetric light output of a candle. For reference, your smartphone boosts up to around 400 or 500 nits outside in the sunshine. However, that doesn't mean the KS9800 averages such massive brightness, but rather is capable of it to bolster the relative contrast of different scenes and video situations.
These kinds of high-brightness, small area points are usually called "specular highlights." They're things like sunflares, reflective points on chrome, a single burning match in a dark room, and so on. As bright areas get larger than pinpoints, they typically grow dimmer. However, HDR mastering typically bolsters all the elements of light in a scene, taking full advantage of a TV's overall brightness—and this is one area where the KS9800 seriously "shines."
I measured speculars (2% and 10% patches) over 1,000 nits during HDR content, just as Samsung has advertised. Stay tuned for an incoming update to HDR brightness and Wide Color Gamuts, which we're conducting separately in an HDR calibration process and which will spell out the KS9800's HDR abilities in much greater detail.
For such a bright set, this one's shadow production is still great.
One big concern for HDR-capable TVs is that they'll get too bright to simultaneously produce respectably dark, inky shadows. In my opinion, you need a full-array local dimming (FALD) style backlight to make a proper HDR-capable LED/LCD TV, and fortunately the KS9800 is packing.
Using the standard ANSI checkerboard pattern (in the Movie picture mode defaults), I measured a black level of about 0.03 nits (with a reference brightness of 241.90 nits). Not only is this extremely bright for the normally dim "theater" mode (the Backlight setting was only 7), but that black level is excellent for an LED TV, and especially one dealing with the unrealistic demands of the ANSI checkerboard.
The yet again redesigned Smart Hub is yet another step in the right direction.
I found 2015's Tizen-based Samsung Smart Hub to be an improvement over the 2014 version, but it wasn't without flaws. Fortunately, this year's iteration cleans up a lot of excess clutter, adopting an LG webOS-type approach by keeping most of the screen free of clutter when you're browsing through the Hub.
The best thing about the new Smart Hub is its ability to recognize connected source devices over HDMI. If you plug in a PS4, Comcast Cable Box, Xbox One, or Samsung UBD-K8500 Blu-ray player, the TV can automatically recognize it and label the HDMI input as such.
Jumping between connected devices has also been sped up considerably, making a jump from your cable connection to, say, the Netflix app a much snappier process. The remote's lack of on-screen cursor this year does slow down the web browsing experience a bit, but the TV's got good enough processing that navigational typing isn't too much of a pain.
Do you REALLY like HDR? Samsung's got a "mode" for that.
Finally, one of the coolest new things about the KS9800 is Samsung's "HDR Plus" special viewing mode. In the picture menu, you'll find a set of three specialized viewing modes to complement the usual selection: Game Mode, Sports Mode, and HDR Plus mode.
HDR Plus mode is an especially interesting addition. It's basically a refined "Vivid" or "Dynamic" mode meant to give the appearance of High Dynamic Range mastering to non-mastered content. So if you want to spice up the same old Channel 5 news you've been watching for 15 years, you can trigger "HDR Plus" mode to up the overall light output and color saturation, taking full advantage of the KS9800's abilities.
Needless to say, this mode is also a lot like a "Vivid" or "Dynamic" mode in that it's not 100% accurate. If you're looking for traditional, subtly-presented standard dynamic range content, this mode isn't going to give you that. But it's an awesome way to enjoy the TV's full range of abilities without hunting for actual HDR content.
What We Don't Like
Samsung, PLEASE stop curving your flagship TVs!
I've said it in the past: There's nothing inherently wrong with curved TVs. That said, there are plenty of people who are immediately discouraged from investigating the otherwise excellent KS9800 simply because of its curved screen.
At the very least, we'd like to see a similarly priced flat-screen option that's of the same quality. The KS9800 stands alone at the top of Samsung's 2016 lineup, however, and if you want the best the company has to offer, you've got to stomach the curve.
The curve looks aesthetically nice, sure, but it can also compound reflectivity problems and make backlight bleed trickier to control. For a TV that's aiming to be the reference model for "1000 nit HDR," I think a flat screen would have been better for a number of reasons.
The new Smart Remote is fine—but a more traditional clicker should have been included.
One thing I (and a lot of other stiff-upper-lipped videophiles) really liked about LG's flagship G6 4K OLED is that it comes with two remotes: the smaller, spiffier, Magic Remote and a more traditional, silvery, heavy-duty clicker.
The KS9800 just has the one remote: the Smart Remote. It's been redesigned since last year, maximizing button efficacy and thumb stretching while including newer features like voice search and cursor control on-screen.
It works great in tandem with the Tizen-based smart platform, but isn't ideal for cable/satellite viewers, or consumers who'd rather not abandon things like a full number pad. Even still, the simplified volume/channel buttons and smooth tactile feedback are very nice touches. But where's my big, traditional clicker?
The KS9800 does an alright job with dimming, but it can make for coarse presentation.
Local dimming on Direct LED (full-array) backlit TVs is a tricky thing to get right. If you have too few zones, you run into issues where you're dimming/brightening the wrong content during complex scenes. If your range of dimming isn't granular enough, you end up with stair-stepped shadow levels that dramatically change depending on their proximity to a bright object on screen.
The KS9800 has a bit of a problem with the latter issue. It has plenty of zones and zone control, but the difference between black levels when the screen is mostly shadow versus only partially shadow is pretty noticeable.
For example, if around 10% of the screen is dark, you can expect black levels of about 0.05 nits. If a large majority of the screen is dark, those levels drop dramatically, to about 0.005 nits.
While both measurements are great for an LED TV, the difference between the two is substantial, and occasionally the KS9800's presentation of shadows shows off this discrepancy in an aberrant way. It's not a huge problem for most content (especially brighter HDR content, or things like sports, news, weather, nature documentaries), but more complex, filmic content mastered for standard dynamic range can occasionally be given the staircase treatment.
A narrow viewing angle and curved screen may limit the possibilities for group viewing.
One thing we love about OLED TVs is their super-wide viewing angles. These "emissive" style displays communicate lateral light much better than their LED/LCD counterparts, which are "transmissive," accelerating light through a transistor layer from a backlight schema.
Combine this with the KS9800's VA (Vertical Alignment) style LCD panel, which favors contrast over light effusion, and you have a fairly narrow viewing angle already. The curved screen can offer up occasional sweet-spots, but can also compound limited viewing.
I measured a total viewing angle of just 23°, or ±11.5° from the center to either side of the screen before contrast drops below 50% of its head-on value. Of course, because the KS9800 is so bright, its contrast drops primarily due to brightening shadows and dark areas as opposed to lost luminance or color shifting. So for sports, video games, and the like, this isn't even a huge concern. It's movies and filmic content that are prone to looking grayish during off-angle viewing.
This is plenty for a moderately sized amount of viewers, but if you wanted to wall-mount the KS9800 in a particularly large room, it'd be trouble. It's also worth noting that the vertical viewing angle is equally limited, so if you're going to wall-mount at all, make sure you measure for eye level.
Should You Buy It?
Yes—especially if you typically watch in a well-lit room.
The KS9800 may not take our #1 spot, but it's still one of the best TVs of 2016. LG's G6 and E6 OLEDs still reign supreme in terms of black level and viewing angle, but this one definitely wins out on sheer brightness. In fact, the KS9800 is the best bright room TV we've ever seen.
The KS9800 also has a huge advantage over competing OLED models in terms of room flexibility. This TV is so beautifully bright and colorful (without detail loss or clipping, a key point), it can fight off any and all incoming ambient light to present a detail-rich picture no matter the environment. And with the awesome HDR Plus mode, you don't even have to worry so much about available content. If you want to be blown away by HDR, the KS9800 is an awesome choice.
It isn't free of problems. As the reference for "1000 nit HDR," it's calibrated beautifully out of the box, but is still held back by occasionally coarse local dimming and narrow horizontal and vertical viewing angles.
But outside of these well-known issues inherent to LED TVs, the KS9800 is truly a marvel of engineering. While even the cheapest 65-inch KS9800 is still way beyond most people's budget, if you have the extra $4,500 laying around we are hard-pressed to think of a better way to spend it. For the rest of us, the KS9800 may never make its way into our living rooms, but it's a wonderful standard bearer for HDR and a glimpse at the future of television technology.
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