The Samsung JS9500 is the best-looking LED/LCD TV I’ve seen yet – emphasis on yet. I expect Sony’s flagship UHD TV to be extremely competitive this year, and based on what Panasonic accomplished last year, I’d say it very much remains in the running as well. With that said, Samsung sent me its flagship first, so it gets to be the recipient of my initial, unbridled excitement. And there’s a lot of that right now.In 2014, LCD TVs stepped into their own. Manufacturers pushed black levels deeper than ever and almost entirely tamed inherent flaws like halos around bright objects on a dark background and poor screen uniformity. The best LCD TVs were better than ever. And if 2014 was a landmark year for LCD TVs, 2015 will go down as the year 4K UHD came into its own.
What’s new for UHD this year is the addition of High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Wide Color Gamut (WCG) capabilities. At their most basic level, these unleash brighter, more colorful pictures, but such an oversimplified explanation fails miserably at communicating their visual impact. The improvements are obvious to anyone, and mean more to the average viewer than 4K UHD’s heightened resolution ever would have on its own. That’s what makes Samsung’s flagship SUHD TV such an awesome spectacle.
Out of the box
It’s nice to see Samsung ditching the now-ubiquitous black frame for something in a shimmering silver. The TV’s bezel looks like brushed metal, but feels like plastic. A similarly finished stand is all metal, however, and the two match nicely, especially since both stand and screen are curved. All in all it’s a handsome TV, though, as most design trends do, it could end up looking outdated in a few years.
Along with this model TV you’ll find Samsung’s One Connect box. The more I see this box, the more come to appreciate its genius. The premise is simple: By moving the TV’s inputs and processing to an out-board box, users can run just one cable to the television, no matter how may components they have. The box can also be replaced in a few years to take advantage of new features. Another fringe benefit is a slightly slimmer cabinet – and that’s a good thing, because this is not a thin TV.
The JS9500 doesn’t have a super-slim profile, and that’s because the best LED backlit LCD TVs never will. In order to pull off the full-array local dimming (FALD) system that gives a premium TV its excellent black levels and uniform brightness, the LEDs need space to be mounted. If a super-thin TV is really what you want, then you’ll want to sacrifice a little bit of picture quality for an edge-lit model, or plan to spend even bigger bucks on an OLED TV, which is thinner than an iPhone.
The JS9500 doesn’t have a super-slim profile and that’s because the best LED backlit LCD TVs never will.
Also in the box you’ll find Samsung’s latest remote, which features a new touch-activated, on-screen cursor system and embedded microphone. The remote is scant on buttons, relying instead on virtual on-screen buttons for less-frequently used tasks. If you prefer the old-school approach with rows upon rows of buttons (as I do), then I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Samsung no longer ships one as an alternative – you’ll need to embrace the idea of pointing and clicking.
Finally, sitting in a corner all alone like some forgotten plaything, is one pair of 3D glasses. One. This makes zero sense to me. I understand 3-D capability has long lost the interest of consumers, but if you’re going to do it all, don’t get skimpy, Samsung. Not on a $5,000 TV, OK?
I’ve already explained how the JS9500 can handle HDR and WCG and how wonderful all of that is. What I haven’t explained is the (temporary) caveat that comes with those abilities.
As I write this, there is no source that provides content with HDR or WCG information folded in. Netflix, Amazon, and Vudu are expected to start offering streaming or downloadable content with HDR support sometime this summer, and when Ultra HD Blu-ray comes around near the holidays, it will support both. But for now, there’s nothing you can feed the TV with right out of the box that takes full advantage of these nifty new features.
Don’t let that fact ruin your excitement, though. The JS9500’s processing makes existing content like Ultra HD Netflix streams and 1080p Blu-ray discs look better than you’ve ever seen them before.
Also new for this year is Samsung’s use of Tizen OS as its smart TV operating system of choice. In many ways, Tizen is a huge improvement over Samsung’s previous smart TV platform; it’s easier to use, less cluttered and faster. However, the TV’s basic functions like picture adjustment hide under a menu within a menu, so sometimes getting at the basics can be a little confusing.
Netflix streams and 1080p Blu-ray discs look better than you’ve ever seen them before.
Finally, this TV offers voice recognition and gesture control, neither of which I care for … like, at all. Fortunately, gesture control-related annoyances can be avoided simply by leaving the TV’s retractable camera stowed away. Unfortunately, turning off the voice recognition feature requires some deep digging. The TV’s menu buries the option under System/Smart Security/Settigs/Microphone where you can turn the mic off (screen shots of the menu navigation here). Not exactly a user-friendly method. In fact, we had to check with Samsung to find out that the feature could be defeated at all. That being the case, our viewing was interrupted any time the TV thought it heard the trigger words: ‘Hi TV.’ This happened far too often for our liking, even with the recognition responsiveness set at minimum. In the end, we got used to saying “close!” any time the TV activated its listening mode. Now we know better.
We set up our 65-inch model (UN65JS9500) about 10 feet from our viewing position on a low-slung entertainment credenza and connected to it a Pioneer Elite BDP-88FD Blu-ray player and an Amazon Fire TV Stick, The TV was also connected to our network via both Ethernet and Wi-Fi for exploring 4K content through Netflix and Amazon.
We were so happy with the JS9500’s Movie preset that we picked that and made only minor adjustments from there, including disabling Auto Motion Plus and picking Standard for the Smart LED (local dimming) option. We then applied the setting to all inputs. A professional calibrator can wrangle the TV’s more advanced settings to get slightly more accurate color, if desired.
Other adjustments we recommend fall outside of the picture settings arena. For instance, the TV, by default, was set up to power itself off if it detects no signal for a period of time, and it would power off after it had been on for a total of four hours. We appreciate the power-saving motivation behind these features, however it was unrealistic for us to leave them enabled during our review time, so we turned the options off under the Eco Solution portion of the System Settings menu. We also grew tired of the glowing Samsung logo along the lower bezel, so we turned that off by disabling ‘Light Effect’ under the general subsection of system settings.
I easily grow weary of Samsung’s hype machine, but when it comes to this TV, every bit of hype is well-deserved. The JS9500 is an exceptional television, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone.
Spectral highlights are this TV’s strong suit. Even though the Blu-ray discs I watched on this TV didn’t contain any HDR information, Samsung’s processing did an outstanding job managing to detect areas in which added luminance would make a difference, then folding it into the picture. And even though those same Blu-ray discs didn’t have any new color information on them, the JS9500 seemed to be mapping out hues and shades I’d not seen before on other televisions. Every scene was a new experience with this TV, and I found myself going back to some worn-out material from years past just to rediscover it with the JS9500.
The highlight of my evaluation wasn’t a 4K clip from Amazon or Netflix, or even the HDR/WCG demo clips Samsung provided me for this review. Instead, it came from a Japanese-issued 1080p Blu-ray disc produced by BBC Earth Films entitled Nature. The JS9500’s upscaling and processing made the Blu-ray disc look more beautiful than any Netflix or Amazon Instant stream I’ve seen so far – chalk it up to a lack of compression and lots more data. At any rate, with the JS9500, I never once felt cheated by a lack of 4K content, because the TV makes everything look awesome.
Nature is chock full of scenes that make the JS9500 spring to life. Sure you’ve seen shots of coral reefs and crashing waves before, but you’ve never seen them look so authentic. The magic is in the color and the gleam of bright highlights – the water here is rendered in hues that only the latest TV technology can reproduce, and the glint of a fish’s scales brings a new level of vibrance that’s so striking, it’s tough to believe you’ve been missing it all this time.
The effect is just as compelling on land where the TV’s excellent black levels offset its high brightness ability in unsuspecting places, such as an elephant’s tough, wrinkly, highly-textured skin. It might be hard to believe an elephant’s hide could be considered beautiful, but when you see it resolved with such detail, it feels like you couldn’t get any closer to the majestic animal outside of cozy encounter at a zoo or African safari.
And bear in mind, this TV’s true potential can’t even be tapped yet. I was this impressed based on a viewing an existing Blu-ray disc, so I can’t wait to see what this TV looks like when I feed it Ultra HD Blu-ray, chock full of HDR and WCG programming for it to chew on.
I must also point out that this TV’s display of content shot at 24 frame-per-second is superb, and that’s with the set’s motion smoothing technology completely disabled. Sure, there’s some judder present if you really look for it, but our Skyfall torture test did nothing to phase the JD9500, rendering almost buttery smooth horizontal pans in wide shots.
Is it possible I’m overstating things a bit? Perhaps I’m just really geeked out about a fancy new piece of technology? No. It really is that good. You literally have to see it to believe it, because, quite frankly, your imagination probably isn’t good enough to convey how good this TV looks. And this is coming from a reviewer who has, time and time again, professed his unending adoration for OLED, and derided LCD TV for years.
Naturally, I feel compelled to make a comparison between the JS9500 and a similarly-equipped OLED, but I’m afraid we’ll have to hold off on that for now. I will soon be pitting this TV directly against LG’s flagship OLED for 2015, and I’m sure I will have plenty to say. But for now I will say that it’s hard to argue against a TV that can deliver as much “wow” factor as the JS9500 does for its price. Sure, $5,000 for this 65-ich model is expensive, but that’s easily $2,000 less than a similarly sized premium TV from prior year that couldn’t perform quite as well.
Outside of its picture, I found the JS9500 performed well in its general operation. Its super-fast octa-core processor minimizes start-up times, and makes navigating and loading apps a super-quick affair. This helps to make the TV feel like a hot-rod in addition to looking the part.
Of course, no piece of technology is without its flaws, so let me list out the couple I discovered in the weeks I spent with the JS9500. We’ll start with its off-axis response – it’s just not great. Unfortunately, it seems the better an LCD panel is at blocking out its LED backlights to help achieve solid blocks of blacks and minimize halo effect, the worse it is when you move off to the side and above or below the TV (the inverse is also true). The curve helps some, but not much.
Also, not being able to easily turn off the voice recognition software is a big problem for me. This should be an optional feature, with a simple on or off under a submenu called Voice Recognition. I know more than a few people who don’t like the idea that a TV is always on standby, listening for its trigger words (just like the Amazon Echo Speaker). By making this option easily defeatable, it might give potential owners the peace of mind they need.
I’m sure that if I were able to spend more time with this TV I’d discover more little things that bothered me, but they’d be just that: little things. And considering how much I enjoyed the JS9500 on the whole, it’s hard to imagine more minor annoyances couldn’t be overlooked.
The JS9500 is a remarkable feat in television design and engineering – easily Samsung’s best TV to date. It produces some of the most enchanting images I’ve ever laid eyes on – the sort I have a hard time looking away from – and it is a showpiece that lures in all who see it. I expect some stiff competition from some of Samsung’s competitors, but I do believe the JS9500 will be on my list of the five best TVs introduced this year, if not the best of a very distinguished bunch.
- Incredible picture quality for the money
- Capable of HDR and WCG
- Dazzling color
- Super-fast operation
- Makes everything you watch look better
- Voice recognition hard to disable
- Underwhelming off-axis performance
- Silver is the only color option