Samsung Q90R 4K HDR QLED Review: The best LED TV
“Go ahead, splurge on the Samsung Q90R and never look back. It’s a marvel of a TV.”
- Extremely bright picture
- Outstanding blacks and off-angle viewing
- Loads of HDR punch
- Best-in-class user experience
- Great for gamers and movie buffs alike
- Loss of detail in the brightest highlights
If you’re looking for the best TV money can buy right now, you’ve got a tough decision ahead of you. The Samsung Q90R 4K HDR QLED TV reviewed here (not to be confused with the Samsung Q90R soundbar reviewed here) should most certainly be on your short list. This TV does things no other 2019 LED TV can. The lingering question is: Does the Q90R belong in your living room, or might you be better off going with another super-premium 4K TV like the LG C9 OLED, Sony A9G OLED, or Vizio’s P Series Quantum X LED TV? Let’s find out together.
Out of the box
If you’re the sort of DIY enthusiast who wouldn’t dare hire a professional installer, then we have good news: The Samsung Q90R makes certain installation elements an absolute breeze. You will need a friend to help you out, though, because whether you’ll be placing the Q90R on a stand or wall mounting it, the hefty weight of this TV is going to demand some extra muscle. Maybe even have two extra sets of hands at the ready.
There’s good reason this is one of the heaviest TVs I’ve tested since the good ‘ole plasma days: Build quality. Not only is the TV itself solidly constructed, but the Q90R’s stand is seriously weighty. The extra ballast is for stability, and it’s needed because Samsung thankfully decided to move away from placing legs at the far ends of the TV (thus requiring a very wide entertainment stand when stand-mounting) in favor of a very classy, discreet metal pedestal. The pedestal sits narrowly below the TV’s center, allowing just enough vertical clearance for a low-profile soundbar — which Samsung will be very happy to sell you.
There’s good news for those of you who want to wall-mount, too. Any wall mount hardware rated to handle the weight of the TV will work just fine, but to get the sleekest install, I would strongly consider looking at Samsung’s own No Gap Wall Mount. This mount connects to a recessed portion of the TV and — as the name would imply — positions the TV almost smack against the wall. It’s a great look and worth a few extra bucks. If you want to save money, there are third-party no-gap mounts available, but I’ve not been able to test for quality, so buyer beware.
No matter your mounting method, prepare to be thrilled with Samsung’s One Connect box. The convenience of being able to connect all your components (game console, cable box, Blu-ray player, etc.) to one box tucked away in a cabinet or media stand, then run all video signals and power to the TV through one tiny, almost invisible cable can not be understated. With this system, you can avoid punching any holes in the wall and fishing cables up and down to the TV. You don’t have to install a power outlet behind the TV, either. It just doesn’t get any simpler than this.
She’s a looker!
The Q90R may not be thinner than your phone the way OLED TVs are, but it’s still stunning to behold. With insanely thin bezels, the attractive stand I and no-gap wall mount options, and incredible anti-glare screen coating, the Q90R looks very modern and sleek. There’s not a hint of “cheap” to be found anywhere, and it will seriously impress your friends and family.
There’s a lot of confusion about the state of future-proofing TVs right now thanks to the emergence of HDMI 2.1. If you’re not familiar, here’s a full explainer. In a nutshell, HDMI 2.1 is an official spec for the next generation of TV connectivity and supports a bunch of new features like 8K resolution at 60Hz, 4K at 120Hz, variable refresh rate (VRR), auto low latency mode (ALLM), and eARC (for which we have a separate explainer here).
With Tizen, I can swap between the apps with just two or three clicks, and the video previously running on that app immediately resumes.
The Q90R doesn’t support the full HDMI 2.1 specification and therefore doesn’t qualify to have it stamped on its box. But that doesn’t mean the TV doesn’t support some HDMI 2.1-associated features already, with the possibility of more support in the future. Specifically, the Q90R supports VRR – with specific support for FreeSync – and ALLM through one of its HDMI ports. This is great news for gamers.
The Q90R does not support eARC and, frankly, I wouldn’t expect to see it added down the road since there are precious few devices which are eARC compliant. Still, if I had to pick one feature I’d like to see on this TV, it would be eARC. There’s an audio delay issue going on with many soundbars we’re testing right now (which is mostly the TVs fault), and eARC would address that.
Some might argue that not having HDMI 2.1 and all its features makes this TV less future-proofed than others. I would push back on that argument.
HDMI 2.1 is in its infancy. LG was the only TV manufacturer that did support HDMI 2.1 in its 2019 TVs, and, for now, that’s not an especially valuable inclusion. We may see some HDMI 2.1 source devices next year (ahem, game consoles!) though, so if you’re an early adopter, keep this in mind when considering a purchase.
Outside of HDMI ports (of which there are four) expect the standard digital optical audio output, three USB ports, a TV antenna jack, and an Ethernet jack (use this for internet if you can!). You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about composite or component video connections and that’s because there are none available. Is that a big deal? Probably not to most of you.
Fancy user features
Let’s talk about the Q90R’s user interface for a moment. Samsung uses its own smart TV OS, called Tizen, rather than use something like Roku or Android TV. Though I tend to favor Roku, on the whole, Tizen works pretty well. I especially like how it makes switching between apps and content very snappy. I often switch back and forth between sports and shows on Netflix, Hulu, or Sling TV. With Tizen, I can swap between the apps with just two or three clicks, and the video previously running on that app immediately resumes. This feels more like channel swapping from cable or satellite TV.
I’m also a fan of how Tizen shows the last few viewed programs on a given app when that app is highlighted. Not only is it showing the last four or five shows I’ve watched but clicking on any of those immediately starts me where I left off — down to the season, episode, and time stamp.
Samsung’s Quantum Processor 4K is among the very best in the business.
As well as Tizen works, Samsung’s digital assistant, Bixby, isn’t worth using. At least not yet. It’s true the Q90R works with the Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa in that you can order the TV around through a Google Home or Amazon Echo smart speaker, but neither assistant is baked in. As such, any voice search for content must be run through Bixby and our experience doing so was … less than pleasant. To put a fine point on it, Bixby simply had a hard time transcribing my voice commands correctly. A search for 8K video on YouTube came up as “hate kay video.” Trust me: You’re not interested in that search result.
That being the case, I suggest the older-school method of pecking out search requests using Tizen’s on-screen keyboard. When you do, I think you’ll be pleased with the relatively platform-agnostic results, which show you where you can buy or rent shows or movies and for how much. If the title is available on one of your subscribed services, the results show your free option.
AI in the house
Samsung’s video processing has been solid for many years now, but there are specific elements worth calling out in the Q90R. The first is the TV’s tendency to track on the bright side of life. That is, the TV tends to amp up brightness levels in HDR mode relative to the standard by which content is made, even in the TV’s most accurate HDR Movie picture mode.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. The average viewer might simply perceive a brighter, more dazzling image with plenty of sparkle in what we call specular highlights like a tiny lens flare or the sun refracting as it sparkles in snow. A more discerning viewer will note that the image seems a bit more intense than it should and may observe some lack of detail in super bright scenes.
This is the kind of thing videophiles and TV enthusiasts debate over and is probably not a big concern for most people. In fact, I would point out that this kind of brighter tracking tends to make HDR pop a bit more in rooms flooded with bright light. Still, if you want to learn more, check out Vincent Teoh’s technical explanation of what’s going on at the 13:50 time stamp on his highly in-depth technical review of this TV.
The other aspect of the Q90R’s picture processing worth honing in on is its A.I. upscaling. We’ve seen this upscaling engine at work in the Q900, Samsung’s monstrous 8K TV. On Q900, the upscaling of lower resolution content to 8K (which is, like, pretty much anything you would watch right now) was impressive, particularly with upscaling 4K content.
I wouldn’t expect performance to be quite as impressive when scaling from, say, a 720p cable box signal up to 4K. The more information there is to work with, the better the upscaling engine will perform. Unfortunately, those 720p broadcast signals are a hot mess, and there’s not a lot any upscaling engine can do to make them look as sharp and clear as 4K or even 1080p content. With that said, I find Samsung’s Quantum Processor 4K (as it’s called) to be among the very best in the business. You can expect excellent picture processing from this TV.
How about that picture quality?
The most important consideration for a TV at this level is picture quality. All the bells and whistles in the world can’t save a TV with a picture that leaves you wanting more — especially at this price. Fortunately, I’m happy to report that the Q90R puts out absolutely stellar picture quality.
Between Samsung’s advanced backlighting system and a new optical layer, which the company calls “Q Ultra Wide Angle,” deep blacks with mitigated blooming and much-improved off-angle viewing make the Q90R one of the best LED TVs ever made. Sure, there’s still a special place in my heart for Sony’s Z9F, and, to a lesser degree, its successor the Z9G, but when I consider the Q90R’s picture quality along with its design and user experience, I can’t help but feel it’s a very special package in a league of its own.
Form and function come together in a very special way with the Samsung Q90R.
I tested the Q90R using a series of test patterns in SDR and HDR modes using the Spectracal VideoForge Pro pattern generator as well as 1080p and 4K content in both SDR and HDR from 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, standard Blu-ray discs, Netflix, and YouTube. Had it been available at the time I would also have used the new Spears and Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark disc.
First off, black levels on this TV are outstanding for LCD-based technology. As most TV manufacturers chase OLED-like black levels, Samsung currently leads the pack. We’ll see some new technologies in the coming years challenge both OLED and LCD/LED TVs for perfect blacks at an affordable price, but for the time being the Q90R is the stand-out winner in this area. Add to excellent black levels the ability to produce extremely bright whites and an expanded palette of color and what you get is a TV that absolutely dazzles the viewer.
Out-of-box color in the TV’s movie mode is as accurate as one should expect from an uncalibrated display. For that last tiny bit of adjustment, a professional calibrator would be necessary, but for most folks, I think the out-of-box experience is more than satisfactory.
Compared to the Sony X950G, the Q90R offers better black levels, better off-axis performance, and better overall brightness, even though I would characterize the Sony X950G as a more accurate or “faithful” TV under the scope of reproducing images as they were intended to be seen by creators. I’d also say that while Sony’s processing is slightly better at cleaning up artifacts introduced by low-bitrate content sources (like YouTube or Hulu) the Samsung is no slouch in this regard.
The Samsung Q90R also has the Vizio P-Series Quantum X beat in the black levels department and blows that TV out of the water in off-axis viewing as well. While the Vizio is highly competitive in the peak brightness category, the Samsung’s better overall black levels contribute to better contrast and a more satisfying image overall. I’d also take the Samsung user experience over Vizio’s current SmartCast interface, though a recent update to SmartCast 3.0 could change my stance there, so I’ll update this review accordingly.
Otherwise, the Samsung Q90R’s only real competition are OLED TVs from LG and Sony (and, if you live in Europe or other non-U.S. markets, Panasonic). That’s saying a lot. Given the Q90Rs low input lag, auto low latency mode, automatic game console (and other sources, too) recognition, and FreeSync capability, this TV is an outstanding option for serious gamers looking to take their PC gaming experience to the big screen without sacrificing quality or competitive gameplay.
It’s also an excellent TV for movie buffs who like a bright, dazzling picture with solid black levels and a modicum of blooming around bright objects on dark backgrounds. I’d also like to point out that the Q90R is excellent at exposing shadow detail. So far, the Q90R outperforms all other TVs we’ve tested under the grueling “Game Of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 3, The Long Night” test. This episode, which many found unviewable when it aired, looked the best we’ve seen yet on the Q90R. There’s some high praise for you.
You pay a premium for the Samsung Q90R, but in my opinion you get every cent’s worth and then some. Form and function come together in a very special way with this TV, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to the enthusiast who wants the best and brightest money can buy in an LED/LCD TV.
Samsung offers a 1-year parts and labor warranty, covering the Q90R against manufacturing defects in materials and workmanship
Is there a better alternative?
Not in an LED/LCD TV. You can pay less for the aforementioned Vizio P Series Quantum X, but the user experience isn’t as good. In order to get better picture quality, one would need to look at LG’s C9 or E9 OLED or Sony’s A9G or A8G OLED televisions. However, none of those TVs can match the Q90R in terms of sheer brightness, so for those who want the most punch in a bright room, the Q90R is the way to go.
How long will it last?
The Q90R will last for years to come, but if we’re considering the future-proofing of the TV, it’s worth pointing out that HDMI 2.1 is not fully supported. For most, this is not a crucial consideration, but for anyone on the bleeding edge of Home Theater technology, it might be worth looking at an LG OLED or simply waiting for Samsung’s 2020 TV line, which will almost certainly cover all aspects of the HDMI 2.1 spec.
Should you buy it?
If you want the best overall LED/LCD TV money can buy, then, yes, splurge and know you are getting an outstanding TV that will dazzle you and your friends for years.
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