The promise of 4K ultra high definition (UHD) video is about more than an increased number of video pixels. The UHD format also offers a color palette that extends far beyond the ubiquitous HD standard with richer, deeper hues - fully saturated reds being a particularly obvious color difference between the HD and UHD standards. UHD video can also deliver a greater range of luminance information that compatible TVs can use to render eye-catching high dynamic range (HDR) imagery.
The flagship Samsung JS9500 Series 4K SUHD TV beautifully presents today's best HD video sources and its forward looking technical features make it one of a handful of premium 2015 models that approaches the full potential of the 4K UHD format.
The style and design of Samsung's most advanced TV for 2015 is imbued with well-engineered character. Walking around the TV, its chamfered brushed metal bezel adds a silvery thin bit of contrast to the inky dark curved screen surface. The brushed theme extends to the TV's curved plastic-clad backside and its Y-shaped metal base stand. I was less enamored with the moderate flexing of my 65-inch review unit when perched upon its stand, but parents are always advised to secure any large TV to prevent potential tip over. Included spacers allow for the use of standard wall mount hardware.
The JS9500's UHD screen has 3840x2160 pixel resolution and is a 10-bit VA type panel that provides good black level performance with the trade off being a narrower viewing sweet spot compared to IPS panel technology with its brighter black levels and correspondingly reduced picture contrast. Compared to the other SUHD Series TVs (JS7000, JS8500, JS8600, JS9000, and JS9100), the JS9500 is the only one to feature a full array LED backlight with "many" zones of local dimming that enables inky dark black levels and superb brightness throughout the picture. The other SUHD models feature edge-lit backlight systems with local dimming, and all produce expanded color palettes using "Nano crystal color" technology otherwise known as quantum dots - learn more about how LCDs and quantum dot materials work in this article.
An advantage of the JS9500's full array backlight is that it generates a lot of light. When displaying a relatively small white window test pattern, the JS9500 produced about 930 nits in its brightest picture mode - two or three times the light output of most LCD televisions. However, a possible heat-related issue causes the JS9500's peak light output to decreases slightly over time, and I'm consulting with Samsung for further clarification and will update this article with any new findings. All of that eye-melting brightness from a dark colored screen is optimal for producing a well-contrasted picture even in rooms with lots of ambient light. However, high dynamic range (HDR) video is what the JS9500's impressive light output was meant to showcase. All Samsung SUHD TVs decode the metadata embedded within HDR-authored video content enabling the accurate depiction of an increased range of luminance information. In addition, the quantum dot enhancement of the SUHD series allows it to produce an expanded color palette that measured impressively close to the DCI color specification used extensively in commercial cinema.
Samsung provided a few curated clips to show off the JS9500's HDR and expanded color capabilities, and Amazon recently updated its video streaming app for the SUHD platform to add HDR support. Amazon's HDR-enhanced content selection includes a remastered season of Mozart in the Jungle, the pilot episode of Red Oaks, and more "coming soon". Examining episodes of Mozart before and after the HDR update, light sources in many scenes became more impactful without sacrificing dark details and superb black levels. Sunlit outdoor scenes appeared more natural with touches of brilliant intensity. The polished metal parts of instruments gleamed in a more realistic fashion. A lighter igniting in a dimly lit smoke filled room popped with colorful contrast, and lamp lighting in otherwise dimly lit rooms was almost too bright to gaze upon directly. The dynamic range within these scenes exceeded anything I've seen in an LCD television to date, and I look forward to seeing the selection of HDR content grow.
HDR video support is the primary feature of the upcoming Ultra HD Blu-ray players due later this year. These players will require an HDMI port that's been upgraded to the new 2.0a standard, and Samsung indicated that this update for its SUHD TVs would be forthcoming but provided no further details. The recently finalized Ultra HD Blu-ray specification also incorporates expanded color palette support that greatly exceeds the HD palette in use today. With streaming and physical UHD video options quickly maturing, it won't be much longer before we'll be able to gaze upon popular content with expanded color and HDR on a capable TV like the JS9500.
The curved and contoured shape of the new baton-style Bluetooth/IR remote feels terrific in the hand, but I did miss the larger combination directional pad/cursor control button of the 2014 Smart Remote (view my video demo). Also, the directional pad on the 2014 remote provided more tactile feedback with raised sections that were easier to locate without glancing down, but the new remote adds backlighting to most of its buttons. The Wiimote-like cursor control offered by the new remote maintained the smooth precision I've come to appreciate in Samsung's premium designs although a few software-related hiccups were observed when transitioning between apps and menus.
The JS9500 has two ports on the rear of its curved chassis: one for connecting the power cord and the other for attaching a custom 2-meter cable that connects the One Connect input box. The 78-inch and 88-inch models include a 3-meter One Connect cable, but this may still restrict wall mounting options where routing the cable in-wall is desired. All four HDMI ports on the One Connect box were HDCP 2.2 enabled for use with protected source devices like the Sony 4K Media Player (read my review), and a check with the DVDO AVLab TPG (read my review) showed all HDMI ports accepted 4K60 input with 4:2:0 color sub-sampling as well as 4K24/30 with 4:4:4 sub-sampling. An included dongle provides legacy analog AV input options.
Samsung's 2015 flagship TV features the company's new Linux-based operating system dubbed Tizen. The new interface makes better use of a 4K UHD display with larger and more detailed app icons and increased resolution of the app interface compared to Samsung's 2014 Smart TVs. I was also please to see the TV's on-screen cursor now functions with Netflix but this control feature is unavailable with most other apps. A new OS takes time to mature, and the SUHDs are awaiting the arrival of popular app options like HBO Go and MLB.tv. A recent update added Sony's PlayStation Now game streaming service and it most welcome as the other game app options proved unremarkable and unwieldy. PlayStation Now on the JS9500 requries a DualShock 4 controller as I was unable to pair a DualShock 3 controller I used when originally testing the service on the Sony XBR-X900B UHD TV (read my review). UHD streaming options continue to grow, and the JS9500 goes beyond the ever-present Amazon and Netflix with YouTube, UltraFlix, M-Go, and more in the works.
The JS9500's built-in 1080p camera retracts flush into the frame when not needed and laser-cut ports for stereo microphones blend seamlessly into the upper bezel. The good AV quality of the camera setup had me appreciating the JS9500 as a couch-friendly Skype machine.
Free HD television is always a good thing (ask a cord cutter), and the over-the-air (OTA) tuner built into the JS9500 made short work out of scanning for local channels. The quick guide that appears on the right side of the screen made it easy to scroll to the desired channel, but the grid style channel guide remains as sluggish as last year's version and is best avoided.
Uniformity and viewing angles
The JS9500's curved screen exhibited very good uniformity when displaying a full screen dark gray test pattern that makes anomalies easy to spot. Interestingly, disabling the TV's local dimming feature (aka Smart LED) significantly degraded uniformity with glowing cloudy spots noted across the screen. However, it's unlikely that a JS9500 owner would disable a key visual feature of the TV so this observation is largely a non-issue.
Viewing angle performance with the JS9500 was typically narrow for VA panel technology. In a dimly lit viewing environment with a calibrated picture setup, color saturation and contrast decreased dramatically when viewed anywhere besides front and center. Slight off-axis viewing also revealed increased halos around bright objects on dark backgrounds.
My experience calibrating the JS9500 for optimal HD performance was similar to what I've found with last year's premium Samsung models: the factory calibration (Movie picture preset) was very good and it was easy to improve upon the results with careful white balance setup using the 2-point and 10-point controls. Looking into the 4K future, the JS9500 delivered impressive accuracy when targeting the expanded DCI color space (Auto color space enabled), but it will be a few more years before we see a TV come close to covering UHD's gigantic Rec. 2020 color space.
Samsung TVs offer some of the best video processing capabilities of any brand, and the JS9500 exhibited very good performance with the variety tests I fed it. High frequency signal results were some of the best I've seen with only a slight chroma roll off that appeared similar to the performance of the 2014 Sony X900B (read my review) and X950B. The JS9500 breezed through the classic 1080i HQV benchmark including a superb diagonal edge filtering result that Sony TVs never seem to get right. Video lag testing using the Leo Bodnar meter saw a reduction to 24.7ms with the TV's Game Mode enabled - less than 2 video frames with 60Hz input making the JS9500 a very good option for gamers.
Loading up the 1080p masterpiece Samsara, I found the Sony X950B was slightly better at revealing the darkest details while the JS9500 excelled at maintaining darker letterboxed bars. The movie's many sky and desert panning shots revealed no signs of dirty screen effect (DSE), and the wide variety of skin tones were fantastically represented. I set the TV's custom dejudder setting to off for the most part, but a setting of 1 or 2 (out of 10) did a good job of minimizing this artifact without making it look like a soap opera. Samsara's military parade scene showed that increasing the dejudder setting to 6 or 7 dramatically improved motion resolution at the expense of an unnaturally smoothed presentation.
The Batman classic The Dark Knight is another reference title in my Blu-ray library, and the JS9500's precise white balance setup produced impressively consistent colors and detail throughout the luminance range. Fair skin tones like that of Bruce Wayne highlighted the JS9500's viewing angle limitations as there was noticeable washout with a single step left or right off-center. The Sony X950B exhibited similar artifacts but at slightly wider off-axis angles.
I'm convinced that the Samsung JS9500 Series will rank as one of the very best LCDs of 2015 with its main competition being Sony's new flagship X940C that also features a full array LED backlight system with local dimming. LG's quantum dot-enhanced UF9500 is an edge-lit LCD that likely won't come close to the light output of Samsung or Sony's best LCDs but it costs significantly less. When seated in its viewing sweet spot, the JS9500 delivered a superb HD viewing experience with epic contrast and sublimely accurate color across all luminance levels. During the few weeks I've spent examining the JS9500 it has received several software updates that have improved its performance and fixed minor glitches. I'm pleased to see the UHD format moving beyond simply more pixels, and I'm even more delighted to see capable TVs like the Samsung JS9500 standing ready to deliver a superb presentation of today's and tomorrow's best video content.