Samsung SUHD smart TV (JS9500) review
Samsung's JS9500 holds a lot of promise and wastes some too
- One Connect box offers clean set up and upgradable hardware
- Tizen OS is well designed and holds promise
- UHD resolution
- Not enough UHD content and upscale engine leaves non-UHD content looking grainy
- Limited support with non-Samsung smartphone and tablets
- Thick panel, especially considering it works with a secondary computing box
Price$ 9,999.00 (AUD)
Brains are the first part of a television to grow obsolete. Processors have a lifespan of about a year, as do operating systems and imaging software. This poses a problem for smart televisions, which source appeal from being able connect to the internet and perform tasks common to smartphones and computers.
Screen technology is a little different. It takes several years to innovate on panels and an increase in screen resolution is a rare occurrence.
Why then do we invest in smart televisions that will grow outdated within a year?
Samsung’s solution to this dilemma could prove ideal: split the screen from the processing guts. Buy the company’s top-of-the-range 9500 and it’ll come with a separate “One Connect” box. It houses the television’s octa-core processor, its Tizen operating system and all of its connections. It plugs into the TV through a single cable. Come next year the investment in this television can be protected by simply upgrading the One Connect box, and that’s a lot cheaper than buying a whole new set.
Odds are the 9500’s screen will still stand with the best in the years that follow. It tops Samsung’s premium range of SUHD televisions and its 3840x2160 resolution packs four times as many pixels as today’s leading standard.
The television’s LED-backlit LCD panel curves for effect and is offered in options of 65, 77 and 88-inches. Samsung has introduced nano-crystal technology for a range of colours that are wider and brighter. Local dimming technology, which turns off select parts of the screen, combines these colours with darker blacks. Overall picture quality is good, though the television is not without its drawbacks.
Some televisions ‘wow’ even with the screen off. Whether or not the 9500 does is a matter of perspective. Stare at it front on and the bevelled aluminium frame looks, well, beautiful. Working with it is a large and heavy stand that holds the television up from the back as to create the illusion the screen is floating. These metallic elements give the thick television a touch of class.
Step to either side and the television’s bulk becomes more apparent. That screen technology hogs serious space even though all of the processing is handled by the independent One Connect box. The size brings to mind the extinct plasma category of televisions, which although were superior in picture quality, struggled to compete on aesthetics. Place it next to a wafer-thin OLED set and the 9500 feels less special.
All of this is moot when the screen is on and the right content is playing. Native ultra high definition content best showcases the SUHD television’s performance. Play the movie TimeScapes and the level of detail will transfix. You could stand centimetres away from the screen and notice fine details are rendered clearly. This is the by product of having more than 8-million pixels on the screen and a knack for nuanced colour.
There is a scene in TimeScapes that chronicles the process of night turning into day as a timelapse video. A dead tree stands in the foreground, its colour flushed so that it is deep black, and it clashes with the bluey-black of the night sky. Seconds later the rays of the sun begin to reveal some of its details, like the flow of its grain and its tiny crevices. Parts are rotten and branches are charred. Here, the colours change from light to dark dynamically. Contrasting tones blend into one another free from gradation. The quality of this picture is as good as I have seen on a television 65-inches in size, and it is unfortunate that this kind of picture will be seldom experienced.
Finding native Ultra high definition content is difficult. Few movies have been released in UHD and those that have generally cost more than $50. Select video-on-demand services, such as Netflix, have a small UHD library, but actual Internet speeds in excess of 9.5Mbps are needed to enjoy the high fidelity stream, along with a generous data allowance.
This means most of the content viewed on the 9500 will have to be upscaled from live television (576i) or content purchased in HD (720p) or Full HD (1080p). Unfortunately the upscaling technology left a lot to be desired.
Watching a Blu-ray movie on this screen underwhelms. Parts of Casino Royale were effectively upscaled. Scenes with shadows or that have been recorded at night were marred by enough image noise to spoil what should have been an immersive experience.
And it gets worse with lower resolution content. Watching Se7en on DVD made the David Fincher film look dated. The high UHD resolution of the 9500 then made content of quality look great, and those that weren’t look even worse.
All UHD televisions suffer from this problem, though the 9500 failed to deal with it as well as some of its rivals, such as Sony’s X9000B.
Modern video-on-demand services perform better on this television. Samsung claims Presto and Stan will support its Tizen operating system and it already ships with Netflix. We tested a UHD stream of Daredevil and found the overall quality suited to the large and pixel-rich screen of the 9500. Our actual Internet speed dipped below 9.5Mbps in the afternoon, eventually to a speed of 1.5Mbps, and the stream automatically moderated its way down to 480p.
Built into the thick television is a decent 4.2 speaker system. The 60-watt sound system is enough to not let the screen down, but this is the kind of television that needs a surround sound system.
Samsung’s Tizen has all the makings of a comprehensive operating system, although its potential has yet to be realised. Large and colourful icons get the most out of the screen real estate and the structure of the menu has been simplified.
First generation Samsung smart televisions had a five-panel home interface. It was inefficient and overwhelmed with information. The revamped menu brings all of the most commonly used services together in a slick looking ribbon. Apps can be pinned to the ribbon or deleted on a whim, and this organisation style makes it possible to use commonly used apps and services in a few clicks.
Pride has been taken in the software’s aesthetics. The file manager is a series of thumbnails that sweep horizontally across the vast screen. Switching to another source, like a secondary USB drive, can be done easily from the tabbed interface.
Content from some Android smartphones can be thrown to the television. We were able to stream videos and photos from a Sony Xperia Z3 with little trouble. Content casting is tricky because it relies on the quality of a home network, and in the case of our humble pocket Wi-Fi, it struggled casting videos larger than 135 megabytes to the television.
Miracast was another story. No smartphone application has been designed to make mirroring a smartphone screen easier. Samsung instead have a screen listing instructions and warn if it doesn’t work, then the smartphone simply isn’t compatible. This is a big blow because Miracast makes every function possible on a smartphone viewable on the large screen of a television.
In this sense, the 9500 is a proprietary television. Select functions have been designed to work solely with the company’s Galaxy smartphones. Existing customers will see the value, but everyone else will not.
General smartphone support is weak. Rivals LG and Panasonic offer an application that transforms at least Android devices into a compatible remote control working over a home’s Wi-Fi network. Samsung doesn’t bother as its range of products come kitted with remote control smarts.
The 9500 is a victim of its own success. Samsung’s SUHD technology is capable of phenomenal image quality, but it depends a lot on the content. The upscaling system will make quality content look fantastic and low-resolution content look even worse. The resolution does little to boost the entertainment experience today.
Parts of the television are undeniably attractive. The One Connect box, for instance, is the kind of feature that will sway unsure buyers towards a Samsung. It is a deal maker. Tizen also holds promise, though it would benefit further from working with non-Samsung smartphones and tablets.
A big let down is the disparity in price. The 65-inch 9500 sells in Australia for $9999. In the US, it sells for a lot less at $US5499, and we just can’t figure out why.
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