In 2017, the premium end of the TV market comes down to a decision between 2 display technologies, OLED or QLED. While you’ll find a massive amount of conjecture online, the difference between them is diminishing with every generation and the black levels now achieved by QLED are black, not shades of grey, but black.
Modern TVs are as much computers as they are displays and the Q7F is a great example of this, featuring a 1.7GHz quad-core processor, 3GB DRAM, 8GB Flash storage, which combine to deliver a slick user experience, even thrown the challenge of rendering 4K HDR visuals.
After spending a few weeks with the Samsung’s Q7F it is easily one of the best TVs money can buy right now, so here’s a few thousand words to explain why.
This year’s QLED range focuses primarily on two key areas above last year’s models – picture quality and design. Samsung have put more thought into how TVs are a part of your living room. The back of the display is now completely redesigned to accommodate a new wall-mounting option, the no gap wall mount. This allows you to get the TV flat against the wall, rather be an inch or more from the wall with traditional wall-mounts.
With you’re TV hanging beautifully on the wall, you still need to connect your devices, which is now done using a single optical fibre cable. This can be run down your wall and is barely noticable, potentially avoiding a wall-run.
The display is bordered in a tiny bezel, so small we’re talking 3mm, don’t be surprised if next year we approaching an edge-to-edge display of that found in phones. Samsung offer the QLEDs in 3 tiers, the Q7 (review unit), the Q8 which is basically the same product with a curved screen and the top of the line Q9 which features HDR2000 over the Q7’s HDR1500.
While most of us will place the TV against a wall, that’s almost a shame, as the streamlined back of the display is beautiful to look at and would look great in a loft apparent, should the back be exposed to visitors. Its often something we don’t consider in purchasing a TV, but by paying attention to all facets of the design, it opens the door to its application in more environments, smart.
If you choose to mount the TV on its included metal stand, you’ll find the L-shaped base, connecting to a solid steel horizontal bar combines for a strong and robust platform that gives you confidence they can adequately support your expensive baby, while still remaining elegant. Its clear the designers at Samsung paid a lot of attention to the appearance of the stand and its relationship to the black art piece of glass that it supports. Its tempting to forget about the stand and assume most will wall-mount, but there’s a surprising number who don’t or can’t, like those renting for example, so the stand matters.
If you’re buying a new TV, you’re buying a 4K TV, that’s not up for debate, but not all 4K TVs deliver the same picture quality. Resolution is one thing, and delivering 3840 pixels × 2160 pixels is easy with today’s display technology, but its the processing power, brightness, colour performance, refresh rate and support (or not) for HDR that combine to determine the overall picture quality.
As display sizes increase (review unit 65″) the quality of the picture is incredibly important, given we’re also likely to be closer to the TV that in previous years. With Samsung’s Q7 (and the rest of the QLED range), this year the picture takes another leap forward, building on what was already pretty amazing in 2016.
The Samsung QLED range offers incredible colour performance, in a world first, displaying DCI-P3 colour space accurately, certified to be capable of reproducing 100% colour volume. This is the colour information delivered to each frame, ensures the image looks exactly as it was intended to be, as determined by the digital movie projection standards from the US-American film industry (aka Hollywood).
Delivering colour accuracy also requires a capacity to achieve a certain level of brightness and at the max (20) this TV is crazy bright, almost too bright, with peak luminance as high as 1,500 nits. I found myself tuning it down to between 10-15 for day-to-day use. If you plan on buying this TV, rest assured, its easy to see the picture even with copious amounts of sunlight pouring in the windows. If you’re concerned about buying a projector for your home theatre for this reason, rest assured the Q7F excels when you’re curtains don’t.
Night time viewing is also something TVs regularly struggle with, with the intended blacks becoming some horrible shade of grey as the light passes through the liquid crystal. That doesn’t happen with QLED and this is one of the rare examples where the marketing hype is met by reality. Blacks are black, really black with Samsung’s Q7F.
One of my favourite experiences during the review was firing up the movie trailer (in 4K obviously) of the latest Transormer’s movie. Watching at night, with the lights off the action scenes are interrupted with hard cuts to black, a pause in sound, then the action is returned with sound boombing. Its an on-off-on sequence of events that gets the heart racing and excitement level through the roof.
It’s in that 50ms or so where the screen goes black that’s perfectly long enough for your eyes to adjust to the lack of light in the room. What you see is nothing, no picture, no differentiation between the frame and the display. It’s as if someone turned the power off, but its not, its on and springs back to life, sending your senses into overdrive.
It was long thought that only OLED was capable of this, where black is achieve by killing power those areas of the screen that need to be #000000 or absolute black. With the Q7F, I can confirm that’s no longer the case. What Samsung have done with the Quantum dot is seriously impressive.
Motion smoothing is called Clear Motion by Samsung and its both frustrating and awesome. Personally I hate motion smoothing as applied to movies, often making a cinematic pan appear more like a budget soap opera. The counter to that is things like the tickers that run along the bottom of new channels like Sky News, ABC etc. This is one area where the motion smoothing actually really helps to have incredibly clarity on moving text, making it really easy to read.
Thankfully Samsung give you total control, including the ability to disable, clear motion in the Q7F. There’s a sliding scale for both Blur Reduction and Judder Reduction and I found the values 5 and 3 respectively, with LED Clear Motion disabled as the best balance. This seems to achieve a movie look to movies and smooth scrolling text on lower 3rd tickers.
When it comes to speed specs, the Samsung QLEDs run at 200Hz, refreshing video content 200 times every second. This helps removes the opportunity for fast moving action, snap pans and action packed sports to suffer from a lagging video.
Your interface to the TV, the remote has been completely rethought this year. The Remote for 2017 QLED TVs fits nicely in the palm of your hand and does away with physical buttons for most functions you access occasionally. This feels like the UI approach Tesla take to their cars, the absolute essentials are always available to you, but the once a week or once a year functions are available through software within a few clicks through the interface. Its a neat approach and one I encourage other TV OEMs to follow.
The remote is small, but certainly not dumb. The remote functions as a universal remote and many devices you connect to a HDMI port will be automatically detected. I connected the Telstra TV which is ultimately a re-branded Roku3. I did have to set this up manually, but that’s a quick process. I also had SONOS connected via optical cable, which was also easily configured.
About the only issue I’ve found is having the remote control 2 different devices at once. I couldn’t get remote to adjust the volume of the SONOS while on HDMI 1, when using the Terrestrial OTA TV or native apps like YouTube, Netflix, this worked fine.
Basically the control scheme is tied to the device’s input you’re currently using. With Telstra TV connected to HDMI 1, so it ignored the optical connection to SONOS, I really hope this can be fixed in a software update. Controlling the Telstra TV worked like a charm, with the Samsung remote navigating up, down, left, right, select and back out of apps, interact with the guide etc. Basically everything you need for day-to-day use of the device.
The universality of the remote worked so well, I put all remotes away and my coffee table just has a single remote now. This further exemplifies Samsung’s understanding of how their product will actually be used in our homes. Overall the remote for this TV is really well done, however if I had to find a fault, its that there’s no touch area, so navigating apps like the Internet browser become a little cumbersome.
The last thing I want to touch on is the speed at which the TV turns on and off. Its fast, easily the fastest I’ve used to date at just 1.3 seconds. Being able to sleep and wake the display fast, means you’ll do it more often, which ultimately saves you power in the long run.
Traditionally, one of the most painful processes is inputting text on Smart TV keyboards. You can certainly connect a bluetooth keyboard, but if can’t get that across the line with you’re significant other, consider voice, it actually works pretty well now.
To activate, just press and hold the microphone button on the top of the remote, ask for shows by name, or movies with your favourite actor in, the voice input is actually pretty accommodating of natural language, rather than forcing you to input using specific keyword phrases. Word of warning, there’s voice support for most, but not all apps.
Like most voice assistants, you can save time when performing tasks that are typically multi-step.
- You can set the timer with the command “Sleep reservation in 30 minutes.”
- To change the source, say “HDMI,” “TV,” or “USB.”
- To change the picture mode, say “Movie Picture Mode” or “Set Picture Mode to Standard.”
- To search, say “Search 4K Movie Trailers” or “Search 4K Trailers in YouTube.”
- To view Help, say “Help,” “What can I say” or “User guide.”
When you command the TV by voice, the results are aggregated so you can then select the app you wish to use to view the content. You may find some content is free on one service, but paid on another (often subscription dependent).
When searching the YouTube app for 4K content, I said “4K Movie Trailers” and the result was a little too smart, it resolved my voice command as 4000 movie trailers, not the same thing. Technically only UK English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Korean, Chinese (Mandarin) are supported, which may explain why my Australia accent created confusion.
Regardless of the brand of TV you purchase, your needs as a customer are essentially the same. Software however seems to be an area of innovation that manufacturers can differentiate on and win customers as a result of, when done well. If you’re unfamiliar with Samsung’s TV OS, its called Tizen and while Sony use Android TV, LG use WebOS, Tizen is easily one of the best on available.
With the processing power of this TV, the performance of the OS was snappy, making the process of jumping between inputs, channels and apps a breeze, meaning you’ll do it more often. The only time I found a speed issue was the initial load of the OTA TV Guide, which should certainly be resolved in future updates.
The basic premise of the OS is menu system called SmatHub, presented as a horizontal strip of shortcuts you select and order as you like. You can name and pin HDMI inputs, right along side apps, right next to the OTA TV. This really is a Smart TV OS, built for the modern consumer and I found myself with a menu that included ‘TV, TelstraTV (HDMI1), Netflix, YouTube, Nintendo Switch (HDMI2) etc. Using the TV day in, day out, this really felt like all apps, regardless of the method of content delivery (broadcast or IP) were finally equal. To be honest, with FTTP, IP-based content is now my 1st preference. 4K content just looks phenomenal and I’ve joked with my friends, I’d watch anything in 4K, regardless of the subject matter.
When you first fire up the TV, you’ll get taken through a simple guide to configure the TV, connect it to your network (Ethernet or WiFi) etc. This is a great experience out of the box and within a couple of minutes you’re watching content. If you’re anything like me, the next half an hour will be spent in the settings menu investigating what options you have. The answer is, lots. You can really go to town in advanced options for the Picture, Audio and general TV settings.
In terms of UI quality, text clarity, speed, the OS is fantastic, something that can’t be said for all TV operating systems. After backing out of an app, back to the Home menu, the 2nd tier of menu’s allow you to deep link, back to content from inside apps. This is fantastic if you want to quickly return to that Netflix binge session you left a few days ago. These shows are presented in rich, high quality thumbnails which makes the whole experience so much more visual than a text list. Nice work Samsung developers, this is a massive UX success.
Because Samsung’s Tizen is only used by Samsung, it means application developers have to allocate specific time to target this platform. There is a massive risk that Android TV (currently used by Sony) grows to be support by more manufacturers and the developer community follows. For right now, like in phones, Samsung are doing great work and there’s enough volume to get the necessary apps to the platform.
Right now there’s only a few that support 4K, namely Netflix, YouTube, but there’s plenty of other great apps that deliver content in HD that also looks great, thanks to a well executed upscaler. Other apps include Amazon Prime Video, Foxtel Play (yet to be updated to Foxtel Now), Google Play Movies & TV, Stan, Spotify, ABC iView, SBS OnDemand, TED and many, many more. There’s a range of different categories, including games, however you’ll definitely find far better casual games on your phone or tablet and any half-serious gamer would connect a console to the TV.
Broadcast or terrestrial TV is treated just like any other app. There is a TV guide and with a USB (must meet speed requirements) you also have yourself a DVR. After an auto-tune, one of the first things I do is jump in and delete the rubbish shopping channels and basically anything SD. This was actually a harder process than normal. First you have to build yourself a set of favourite channels, then flip the guide to only surface the favourites. After using it, it makes a lot of sense, particularly given you can rename Fav 1-5 as you like, so each user may decided to switch to their own set of favourite channels. Turns out this is a smart way of managing channels, it just takes some getting used to and thinking about the process differently.
Text entry is something you’ll encounter on a semi-frequent basis. From the first input of your WiFi password, to naming your HDMI inputs, or even the search interface, you’ll see the Samsung on-screen keyboard. Design-wise, its one of the more elegant I’ve seen from a TV or OTT device and functionally it works pretty well. The keyboard learns your input behaviours, much like the keyboards on our smartphones.
Entering a word or an email address to sign into an app, may ask you the whole thing the first time, but the second, third and beyond, the keyboard will help speed up the process. It does this in a couple of key ways.
First of all it tries to reduce the number of keystrokes requires to move the character selector up, down, left or right by presenting you with the next letter it guesses you need, right beside the current selection. This speeds up input considerably, although voice is still faster, so I’d suggest that’s the first option and manual entry is plan B.
The second way is automatically suggesting words which I found to be pretty accurate and improved over time, speeding up entry of text, making the best of controller input. Save for a physical qwerty controller input like that on the back of the Boxee remote, this software assistant is a pretty good second place.
Wireless (Wi-Di) connection
Many of watch TV with a laptop or phone as the second screen. There are times when you’ll want to project the content from those devices to the largest screen in your home. After recently reviewing another brand of TV, it was apparent the Samsung solution to this is far simpler. Elsewhere you first need to select a separate input to allow the TV to search for Wi-Di connections, so it was refreshing to experience the opposite on the Samsung Q7F.
Regardless of the content currently playing, you can, from any screen, simply start broadcasting your device’s display (Winkey+P on the Surface) to project wirelessly to the TV. The TV will prompt the users if they want to allow the connection and with a simply press of the button, the computer connected. This is Chromecast without a Chromecast with no input selection required.
TV Speakers are renowned for being neglected by manufacturers and even at the premium end, you still want a separate audio solution. The built in speakers are only good for 40 W and lack any sense of substantial bass. There is the ability to tweak sound with a 7 slider EQ configuration ranging from 100Hz to 10kHz. You can also adjust the audio delay from between 0 and 250ms.
Most of the review time was spent outputting to my SONOS home theater setup , but there’s a special couple of tricks the Q7F has, that’s worth detailing.
There’s often times where you want to watch a movie and your family members head to bed early. Thanks to Bluetooth Audio support, you can divert the audio stream from your TV (whatever the source) to your favourite pair of Bluetooth headphones which you can have as loud as you like. This is a seriously neat feature and one I’ll expect in all TVs from this point on.
Of course the Bluetooth support doesn’t just include headphones, it supports any Bluetooth speaker(s) you have. This sets up the opportunity to stream the TV sound to multi-room audio speakers that connect over WiFi.
The TV supports Dolby Digital Plus and the DTS Codec.
The final trick is support for Sound Mirroring, which accepts wireless streaming audio from your phone. This feature puts your TV into a audio visualiser mode when outputs through your TV audio setup. I used this from time to time to listen to podcasts, on days where I got sick of wearing headphones. This is super easy to setup, just enable it in the settings, then the Samsung Q7F shows up as an available bluetooth audio device to connect to.
With TVs being so thin and often mounted to the wall, there needs to be a solution for accessing the HDMI inputs on a semi-regular basis. Thankfully Samsung has a great one. Samsung breaks out the connection panel to a separate, One Connect box. This box connects to the TV via a single optical cable, terminated by oversized HDMI connectors. Its important to note just how big these are as they won’t fit down all cable conduits in the wall.
Instead the barely there, fibre cable can be run down the front of the wall and is barely visible in most light conditions. Its subtle, thin and clear, so it saves you front running it down your wall if you don’t want to or can’t. The One Connect box just needs power and supports the following connections. Antenna, 4 HDMI ports, 3x USB ports and optical audio out port as well as the OneConnect connector. This lets you tuck away the box in a lowline unit and commands issued at the TV are passed to the devices via this magical box that does it all.
No gap wall mount
This year the thinnest TV on the market is LG’s Wallpaper display. It is crazy expensive, like buy a car kind of money, so practically nobody will own it. For home theater enthusiasts, a TV like the QLEDs from Samsung, plus an optional no gap wall mount, provide the next best thing. This does involve some preparation, including routing your power cable through the wall so you can achieve a flush mount. This does away with the typical 1-2 inches required by most TV wall mount brackets and the room for cables at the rear of the display. If you can pull this off, its a phenomenal finish. If you’re like me and already have a wall mount, the TV still looks fantastic hanging on the wall.
Samsung also lets you connect and control the TV from your mobile phone, tablet or PC. Just download the app to whichever platform you choose, connect to the TV, accept the approval notification on the TV and you’re good to go. This lets you easily tap and launch any app installed on your TV, as well as providing a virtual remote.
Its always difficult to accurately capture displays on camera, that said, I think there’s benefit in seeing the TV in action and for that, we have a couple of videos. Spent 3 minutes with the Samsung Q7F QLED 4K TV, in this clip, you’ll get a sense of what it’s like to live with the display, what the user experience is like, clean, and fast.
The second clip shows the Transformers movie trailer, which shows off the pretty crazy black levels of the TV. This was captured on a DSLR, so again, remember, this looks even more impressive in real life.
Price and availability
When Samsung announced pricing for the TV back in March, the price for the 65″ version was set at an RRP of a massive $6,499. Fast forward to the end of June and there are some bargains to be had. Harvey Norman, not typically known for the best price in town, has the TV for A$4,235.
Keep in mind the TV is available in a range of sizes from 55″ to 75″. Your choice will ultimately be determined by 2 key things. The size of your living room or home theatre, or the size of your budget.
The premium end of the TV market is seriously competitive and the price tags are steep, but what you get for your money is an experience that’s simply divine. Probably the best commendation I can give the Samsung Q7F 65″ QLED 4K TV is I’ll be buying it. With all the displays on the market, this is the one I’m choosing to hang on my wall. The picture quality is just superb, the UI is slick, the design is beautiful and the long standing goal of creating a home cinema is finally achieved when paired with the great sound from SONOS.
Connected to the NBN by FTTP via MyRepublic, I regularly get 90Mbps+ down so streaming 4K content is an absolute breeze and doing other things on the network, never interrupted even the highest quality stream. While I appreciate this isn’t available to everyone, I have to say, its brilliant experience with streams starting almost as fast changing the channel. Using this TV today feels very much like a window to the future, a future where content is plentiful in 4K and streaming it makes the prospect of downloading TV shows and movies a laughable memory of times gone by.
After reflecting on my own viewing habits with the Q7F, this is the part I warn broadcasters and IP content providers to invest in 4K, because quality is certainly something users will chase after investing in a quality TV like this. Even the best upscaler can’t do much with Standard Definition content when stretched to 65″ and beyond. The signals that this day was coming has been there for years and some have been far too slow to respond. Its new companies like Netflix that show that a complete 4K production pipeline is possible, with Netflix Originals (even stand up comedy acts) a prime example of what’s possible if you invest. I’m now paying for the top tier of Netflix, not because I need 4 simultaneous streams, but to get 4K quality.
If money is no object, go for the Q9, but the Q7 represents a saving over similar sized OLED panels and delivers an absolutely brilliant home cinema experience. Its taken many, many generations, but in 2017 the hardware and software maturity on display here is nothing short of amazing.
- Display quality
- UI / UX
- Premium price