- HDR pictures look better than ever before
- Powerful sound
- Attractive design
- Curved screen won’t suit everyone
- Some backlight flaws with dark HDR content
- Some colour striping when using most accurate HDR settings
- 65-inch LCD TV with direct LED lighting
- Local dimming
- Native 4K resolution
- HDR playback
- HDR+ upscaling of standard dynamic range content
- Manufacturer: Samsung
WHAT IS THE SAMSUNG UE65KS9500?
The £3,800/$5,700 UE65KS9500 is Samsung’s flagship 65-inch TV for 2016. It’s chock-full of headline-grabbing features: an unprecedented, HDR-friendly peak brightness of 1,400 nits, a direct backlight system with local dimming, quantum dot colours, a curved screen, and what appears on paper to be the most advanced SDR to HDR conversion system the TV world has seen to date.
DESIGN AND FEATURES
Samsung’s love affair with curved screens continues with the UE65KS9500. This will immediately put off some folk, making it a pity that the company doesn’t offer a similar specification in a flat-screened option. However, it’s an attractive look thanks to its slim and luxuriously finished frame, and the fact that it sits low on a glinting, T-bar stand.
The curve makes the TV look rather clumsy if wall-mounted, though, especially since its use of direct LED lighting gives it a deeper profile than most rival edge-lit sets.
As is usual with Samsung’s high-end TVs these days, the UE65KS9500’s connections sit in an external connections box, so that you only have to feed a single cable from the box to the TV. Unlike last year’s Samsung flagship TVs, it isn’t possible to replace this box in the years to come to upgrade the TV with future Samsung features and picture technology.
This is a shame given these uncertain AV times. Samsung claims it’s ditching the idea of its upgradeable connections box because consumers just haven’t taken advantage of it in significant enough numbers over previous years.
Four HDMIs – all able to take high dynamic range and native Ultra HD signals up to 60 frames a second – head up the extensive selection of connections. They’re joined by a trio of USB ports, headphone and tuner ports, and wireless and wired network options.
Apps available include the 4K and HDR versions of Amazon and Netflix (the HDR10 standard, not Dolby Vision). Samsung says all of the main UK catch-up apps will be supported at some point. At the time of writing, My5 and All 4 weren’t available.
It’s the UE65KS9500’s picture technology that really sets it apart from its lower-end siblings, particularly its use of direct LED lighting. Here, the screen’s lights sit directly behind the screen rather than ranged around its edges. Used with a local dimming system, the direct lighting option is clearly better equipped to handle the light extremes introduced by the arrival of HDR.
This is especially true when you’re talking about a TV capable of outputting as much brightness as the UE65KS9500. It pumps out a measurable light output in excess of 1,400 nits, which pushes far beyond the light output witnessed on any previous TV. LG’s latest OLED TVs, by comparison, can only muster around 700 nits.
That being said, OLED TVs are capable of hitting much deeper black levels. They achieve vastly more localised light control than any LCD technologies.
On paper, the UE65KS9500 appears exceptionally well equipped to handle the wide colour spectrums that accompany the majority of HDR content.
It sees Samsung shifting back from its Nano Crystal technology of 2015 to a proprietary take on Quantum Dot technology. It lets the UE65KS9500 get to around 95% of the DCI-P3 colour standard, more than the 90% you need for the industry’s UHD Premium badge.
Samsung has introduced an “HDR+” system for upscaling standard dynamic range content to HDR. The company claims HDR+ goes much deeper than rival systems in the way it works to “upgrade” SDR sources. Its results come from a processing database developed by Samsung engineers. Apparently they spent countless hours poring over SDR and HDR versions of the same content to identify the chief differences.
One last thing to mention in this section is something the UE65KS9500 lacks: 3D support. Samsung has called time on 3D across its entire 2016 TV range.
When watching HDR, one key setup point to remember is that the Standard picture preset uses a fairly low backlight setting, which doesn’t deliver a full HDR experience. Samsung has had to use such a setting in order not to fall foul of the EU’s stringent TV power consumption regulations.
So, if you want to get a true HDR experience with the Standard setting, you’ll have to manually up the backlight to its maximum 20 level.
To achieve the most accurate HDR image you should switch to the Movie mode for HDR viewing. You’ll need to up the Dynamic Contrast feature to its medium or high level from its default Off position.
Movie mode delivers a markedly more subdued HDR look than the other picture presets. But if accuracy is your thing, then a slightly tweaked version of Movie mode is what you should aim for.
With SDR content, I’d recommend making sure the backlight is reduced to below its 50% level if your room is reasonably dark. You could also establish a separate daylight viewing setting with the backlight set to around 13.
Turn off all noise-reduction facilities while watching any Ultra HD or good-quality HD source. You shouldn’t use Samsung’s motion processing on a very high level, if you want to avoid the picture looking processed.
While the UE65KS9500 isn’t by any means perfect, I have no hesitation in saying it’s capable of delivering the most spectacular picture quality I’ve ever seen.
Any HDR footage that’s predominantly bright looks explosively gorgeous on the UE65KS9500. Samsung’s genuinely ground-breaking LCD panel combines its immense brightness potential with a vast colour range and a spectacular talent for bringing out a 4K Blu-ray’s extra detail and sharpness. HDR pictures so good that l initially found myself rather distracted by the sheer majesty of the image quality on show.
The TVs brightness is hugely significant when trying to address why the UE65KS9500’s HDR pictures are so often magnificent. It gives bright peaks in HDR pictures a level of punch and expressiveness I’ve not seen before. It also has some clever tonal mapping to unlock levels of detail and colour tone that no other screen to date can match. (The Panasonic’s DX902 range gets reasonably close, though.)
Being able to view such detail in areas of the picture with the brightest whites and colours really makes you realise just what a transformative effect HDR can have on picture quality.
The amount of brightness the UE65KS9500 delivers is joined by impressive black-level performance, by LCD standards. Thanks to its local dimming system, the UE65KS9500 is capable of producing deep blacks and amazingly bright whites and colours within a single frame, enabling images to look fantastically contrast-rich.
Samsung’s light management is good enough to ensure that there’s plenty of shadow detail in dark areas of HDR content; there’s no hint of that hollow look seen on some HDR-capable TVs. Similarly, the set is impressively free of “silhouetting”, the phenomenon where dark objects in predominantly bright HDR shots can look like dark outlines.
Colours enjoy a stunning combination of vibrancy, subtlety but also naturalism too. The Samsung unlocks today’s wide colour gamut sources far more effectively than even 2015’s excellent Samsung UE65JS9500.
Samsung has always had a knack for making its pictures look exceptionally sharp, but sometimes this has been accompanied by a rather grainy, noisy finish. Not so with the UE65KS9500, as the image now looks natural and clean at the same time. It delivers levels of detail and crispness that I don’t think any rival brand can quite match.
Even with standard dynamic range content, it looks superb. Colours are rich and beautifully balanced, black-level response is spectacular and detail levels continue to look awesome. There’s practically no sign of clouding, blooming, blocking or other common LCD backlight problems. Only LG’s latest and more expensive OLED TVs might fairly claim to do a better job with SDR material than the UE65KS9500.
The UE65KS9500 also benefits from Samsung’s uncanny knack for upscaling Full HD sources to the screen’s Ultra HD resolution. Upscaled pictures look more detailed and sharp, but without sacrificing colour nuance or exaggerating/creating noise.
Perhaps most startling of all is the UE65KS9500’s new HDR+ system. This does a class-leading job of improving SDR material with an HDR-grade luminance range and an expanded colour gamut. It even manages to deliver a sense of tonal detailing in the bright peaks of SDR sources. It does a robust, vibrant and generally convincing job of amplifying SDR colour “volume” over any rival HDR upscaling system.
The HDR+ effect isn’t perfect, though, and shouldn’t be considered a replacement for tracking down native HDR content. There are shots where the colour balance doesn’t look quite right, with some tones slightly dominating others. And there’s a tendency for relatively warm content to end up looking slightly yellow in tone.
Some people will understandably take issue with the very notion of trying to convert native SDR into anything else. But there’s no doubt in my mind that HDR+ is generally far more capable of making SDR sources look like HDR than any rival system.
The UE65KS9500 is also a ridiculously good gaming monitor. Tests for input lag recorded a measurement of just 25ms when using the TV’s Game picture setting. This is exceptionally low for an Ultra HD TV, where figures of between 30 and 60ms are more commonplace.
Having finally exhausted the UE65KS9500’s strengths, let’s go through the reasons why it isn’t a perfect TV.
First, when you’re watching a very bright HDR object against a dark backdrop, excess light can seep into the dark areas. The blooming effect becomes more noticeable if you have to watch the TV from an angle, but then the curved screen precludes you from a viewing angle of more than around 30-35 degrees anyway. Strangely, the blooming issue with HDR is also less problematic if you use the Standard picture preset rather than the more accurate Movie mode.
Next, the UE65KS9500 suffers with some colour-banding problems in the Movie picture setting with Ultra HD HDR content. Samsung is working to rectify this, but at the time of writing the only way to substantially reduce the banding is to set the dynamic contrast to Medium or High. In brightening images with this option, though, you’re no longer seeing an absolutely accurate HDR picture. Again, that’s something purists will not feel especially happy about.
Other smaller issues are some surprisingly aggressive judder during rapid camera pans, a (very rare indeed) flickering issue when a picture contains a lot of extremely fine detailing. There’s also a faint “torchlight” effect coming in from the bottom corners when the TV is showing high-contrast HDR material. That’s unexpected, considering this isn’t an edge-lit TV.
Despite making this flagship smaller than last year’s, Samsung has managed to increase both the power and dynamic range of its audio. Its speakers project sound cleanly and aggressively for some distance beyond the confines of the TV’s chassis, building a wide, deep, but also convincingly cohesive soundstage that really immerses you in the world of the film or TV show you’re watching.
Voices sound clear and never become swallowed by a loud backing track. There’s more bass to underpin soundtracks than you usually hear with slim TVs. Treble detailing is plentiful enough to inject life into a mix without creating harshness, and the speakers can go extremely loud without distorting or dropping out.
The UE65KS9500’s audio gives even the sound bar built into the LG OLED65E6 a run for its money. That’s seriously impressive for a TV that shows no visible speakers when viewed from the front.
SHOULD I BUY A SAMSUNG UE65KS9500?
If you want to see the most spectacular demonstration of what high dynamic range Ultra HD picture quality is capable of, you should buy a Samsung UE65KS9500. With Ultra HD Blu-ray content, the UE65KS9500 delivers simply incredible results, the likes of which I haven’t witnessed before. This includes other strong HDR contenders such as the Panasonic TX-65DX902 and Sony KD-75XD9405.
But while the UE65KS9500 is unbeatable with mostly bright footage, there is a price to pay for its fearsome brightness and dynamism. During predominantly dark scenes, you can quite often spot signs of light haloing around any bright picture areas.
If you don’t want to be troubled by any such backlight issues then you’ll be better off opting for one of LG’s new OLED TVs instead, such as the recently reviewed OLED65E6 or OLED55C6. However, those TVs offer only half the level of brightness of the UE65KS9500, and lose detail in bright areas.
The UE65KS9500’s picture quality establishes it as the most jaw-droppingly potent demonstrator of HDR the TV world has seen so far. The few backlight issues a relatively small price to pay for the otherwise staggering performance.