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Monday, March 12, 2018

Samsung 2018 QLED UHD TVs: Disappearing is Just Their First Trick

Samsung 2018 QLED UHD TVs: Disappearing is Just Their First Trick
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With electronics companies making up new acronyms by the minute, it's hard to separate what's truly revolutionary from what's just a new name for the same old technology. When Samsung came up with the term "QLED" (Quantum Dot Light Emitting Diode) as the moniker for their high end TVs last year, there was some debate on just how revolutionary it was.

When it comes down to it, a Samsung QLED TV is still an LCD TV with an LED backlighting system. The "Quantum" part (quantum dots) is an advanced technology for handling color reproduction while also managing higher transmissivity (brightness). But Quantum Dot films have been used by several LCD TV makers for a few years, now. QLED TVs can look stunning, with vivid color reproduction and high peak brightness levels, leading to excellent contrast and images that pop off the screen. But last year's QLED TVs still had some limitations on image quality.

At Samsung's "First Look" event in lower Manhattan, hundreds of journalists from all over the globe got a close look at the company's 2018 QLED TV line.
At Samsung's "First Look" event in lower Manhattan, hundreds of journalists from all over the globe got a close look at the company's 2018 QLED TV line.
This week in New York City, Samsung held their "First Look" event to show off how far they've come in 2018. In this year's QLED line, Samsung has clearly focused on picture performance, addressing three of LCD technology's main drawbacks: off-axis viewing, lighting uniformity and reproduction of true blacks. Much of the improved picture quality can be attributed to Samsung's decision to go back to full array LED backlighting. While this does make the TVs slightly thicker than their edge-lit counterparts, the improvements to lighting uniformity and contrast speak for themselves.

Samsung's 2018 Q8 and Q9 series LED/LCD TVs both utilize a full array of LED backlights, enhanced with advanced local dimming technology. This allows the new sets to provide excellent on screen contrast with bright areas of the screen standing out on a pitch black background without the usual halo effects that we see on lesser LCD TVs.

Using a scene from Lala Land where Ryan Gosling's character appears in a bright spotlight with deep shadow surrounding him, Samsung allowed us to compare the 2018 Q9 model against a few competitive models. This scene and a few others were shown simultaneously on the 2018 Q9 set, a 2017 Q9 QLED model, the Sony Z9 LED/LCD set (full array, from 2017) and even a 2017 LG OLED TV. With the 2018 Q9's superior lighting control, the new Samsung flagship offered noticeable improvements over the Sony and 2017 Samsung sets, and even gave the OLED a run for its money. The 2018 Q9 set was clearly brighter than the LG OLED in this scene and black levels of the areas adjacent to the spotlight were very close to the OLED.

The company also highlighted the claim that their 2018 QLED models are capable of accurately reproducing 100% of the P3 color spectrum, and they demonstrated how effective the new screen filter materials are at rejecting ambient room light -- so you can actually watch TV in a bright room without completely sacrificing image quality. And although image quality is clearly in the spotlight this year, it's not the only thing on Samsung's TV agenda.

Samsung's President of Visual Displays introduced the company's 2018 QLED TVs.
Samsung's President of Visual Displays introduced the company's 2018 QLED TVs.

One neat trick the company unveiled at the event is called "Ambient Mode." This feature allows the TV to virtually disappear into the background, while still offering the viewer the ability to read news (New York Times, as in "real news"), see time and weather or display a family photo slide show on the screen. To enable the feature, you need to mount your TV on the wall or on its stand, and then take a picture of the mounted set in its environment. The set then generates an image on screen that matches the background wall, effectively blending into the background. You can even superimpose stock artwork over the background image to make it look even cooler.

To set up "Ambient Mode," first you take a picture of the QLED TV and its background.
To set up "Ambient Mode," first you take a picture of the QLED TV and its background.

Once you input the photo, the TV generates an image that matches the background to effectively blend into the wall.
Once you input the photo, the TV generates an image that matches the background to effectively blend into the wall.

"Ambient Mode" can overlay stock art, news headlines, time, weather or a custom photo gallery over the background.
"Ambient Mode" can overlay stock art, news headlines, time, weather or a custom photo gallery over the background.

The results vary a bit, depending on lighting. In a demo room at the event, the TV image was virtually identical in color and appearance to the textured wall behind it. On the main stage, the bricks on screen looked slightly redder than the background wall, but the effect was still impressive. The company also highlighted improvements to the user interface, specifically in relation to how easy it is to set up the new TVs and how they integrate with whole home automation.

Samsung's TV user interface has been refined in 2018 through integration with the Smart Things app.
Samsung's TV user interface has been refined in 2018 through integration with the Smart Things app.

With Samsung's acquisition of the Smart Things home integration platform, a Samsung TV can now be the centerpiece of an automated home, showing and controlling lighting, security, thermostats, laundry status and much more. Also, set-up of the TV's more advanced features like Network connectivity and app set-up has become a matter of just pressing a few buttons. With the Smarter Things app integrated to the TV and installed on your mobile device, you can effectively clone your WiFi and streaming app settings and passwords from your phone onto your TV. So gone are the days of typing in an arcane 16 digit hex code for your WiFi password and clicking a TV remote repeatedly to enter in your e-mail address and password for Netflix. Just click a few buttons, accept the terms, and you're up and running on your TV.

After the parade of Samsung executives, New York Times President and CEO Mark Thompson came on stage to discuss the publication's content partnership with Samsung. "QLED TV's Ambient Mode is an exciting new way for viewers to experience The Times' unrivaled, deeply reported and visual journalism," said Thompson in a statement.

New York Times President and CEO Mark Thompson shakes hands with Samsung's president of Visual Displays, Jonghee Han to close out the event.
New York Times President and CEO Mark Thompson shakes hands with Samsung's president of Visual Displays, Jonghee Han to close out the event.

Pricing and availability of the full line of Samsung QLED TVs will be forthcoming soon.



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