A few weeks back I tested and was frankly pretty blown away by Samsung’s 2015 flagship TV, the 65-inch UN65JS9500. There is, though, just one itsy bitsy little problem with this envelope-pushing screen: it costs $6000. If your wallet had eyes, you can be pretty sure they’d be watering right now.
Which is where the Samsung UN65JS9000 (UE65JS9000 in Europe) comes in. Kind of. For despite retaining the same key feature triumvirate of high dynamic range support, a native 4K UHD resolution and Samsung’s shiny new Tizen operating system, this step-down 65-inch model only costs $388.
OK, yes, using the word ‘only’ in relation to a sum of $390 is probably optimistic. However, when it comes to truly cutting edge AV technology pricing is always an exercise in relativity, and on the face of it getting HDR, UHD/4K and Tizen features as well as the same sized curved screen for a $388 less than the same features cost on the UN65JS9500 really could sound like a good deal to early adopting AV fans. So much so, in fact, that the first thing I should do here is identify exactly where the $1k price difference comes from.
The answer lies in the two TVs’ backlighting systems. For while the UN65JS9500 uses a no-expense-spared direct LED lighting system, where the LEDs are arrayed directly behind the screen, the UN65JS9000 uses an edge LED lighting system, where the LEDs are – surprise surprise – ranged along the screen’s edges.
Both the UNJS95000 and UN65JS9000 drive their respective lighting systems using local dimming, whereby segments of the LEDs can be controlled independently of each other to boost contrast. But here’s the kicker: it’s clearly easier to deliver more accurate, localised and dynamic lighting differences if your lights are sitting right behind a screen’s pixels than if they’re having to shine light across a screen from its edges. So the direct-lit system should be able to deliver a fuller expression of the new High Dynamic Range picture feature the TV carries. HDR being, if you’re not familiar with it, a new way of mastering and then showing video that includes a much wider luminance and colour range than previous living room video formats.
There’s also an aesthetic difference between the JS9000 and JS9500 sets, with the JS9000 losing the chamfered, sharply inclined frame of the JS9500 in favour of a more straightforwardly flat and shiny look. It also replaces the JS9500’s silky smooth rear with a striking corrugated look. It is, though, clearly the backlighting difference that accounts for the lion’s share of the price difference, so this review will ultimately boil down to whether the JS9000’s posher lighting system really does deliver $1000’s worth of reduced picture quality.
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As noted previously, the UN65JS9000 is, like its flagship brethren, a curved TV. This will likely polarise opinion – for good reason, as discussed in depth in my Curved TVs: 6 Reasons You Should Buy One — And 6 More Why You Shouldn’t feature. But if you want the highest level of Samsung’s picture quality for 2015, then you’ll have to bite the curved bullet, as none of its flat offerings are going to offer the same level of picture specification.
A highlight of this specification beyond the HDR and UHD headliners already discussed is the way colours are produced using a Nano Crystal engine derived from Quantum Dot technology. This delivers a far greater range of colour than typical LCD TVs – up to 93% of the colour spectrum delivered by the Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) format used in commercial movie theatres. Also extremely important in explaining why the the UN65JS9000 is so much more expensive than typical 65-inch UHD/4K TVs is its extremely high brightness: around 1000 nits versus the 300-500 nits of normal LCD technology. This is particularly important in enabling the UN65JS9000 to deliver high dynamic range pictures successfully.
If you can actually find any native high dynamic range pictures to watch, that is. For sadly at the time I’m writing this there isn’t ANY HDR content typical consumers can get their hands on. Netflix has started working with the format and is promising HDR streams by the end of the year, and the upcoming new Ultra HD Blu-ray format is going to support HDR too. But right now if you buy a UN65JS9000 it’s a simple fact that you won’t be able to exploit its picture potential to the full.
This has probably got you wondering how exactly I’ve managed to test the UN65JS9000 properly if there’s no native HDR content around. The answer is that thankfully Samsung has been working with Fox to get clips of both The Life Of Pi and Exodus mastered in HDR, and the brand provided me with these clips on a USB stick.
Fortunately if you buy a UN65JS9000, though, you won’t have to wait months to enjoy at least some of its high brightness and wide colour capabilities. For while it is possible to ‘flatten’ the TV’s performance in line with old-school LCD TVs if you’re an AV purist, its high brightness, high contrast and wide colour response can also work their magic on normal broadcasts, DVDs and Blu-rays if you give them the chance.
Wanting to see the UN65JS9000 at its absolute best first, I fed in the native HDR and UHD Life Of Pi/Exodus clips from the Samsung USB drive – and the TV immediately reminded me of just how exciting the HDR future is shaping up to be. For instance, colours look incredibly intense, rich and dynamic, giving the familiar clips a new lease of life and leaving the same clips from the films’ Blu-ray versions looking remarkably flat and pallid by comparison when watched on a standard LCD TV.
This colour intensity doesn’t look in any way over-the-top, imbalanced or unnatural with native HDR, though. On the contrary it looks more life-like than non-HDR colour content.
Making sure the colours are driven off the UN65JS9000’s screen so forcefully is a truly extreme amount of brightness by LCD TV standards. I would have said the brightness was unprecedented, in fact, had I not recently tested the even brighter UN65JS9500.
As well as helping colours look more aggressive and rich, this brightness delivers a purer sense of white than I’ve witnessed on a TV before; helps the screen show off more subtle colour delineations than you can see on duller screens; and lets you see far more shadow detail in dark areas than you commonly can with LCD technology. There’s no overstating how refreshing it is to see dark scenes enjoying the same sense of depth and detail as bright ones, given how flat and hollow they can look on regular LCD TVs.
All too often in the past, in both the TV and projector worlds, high brightness has been accompanied by poor contrast. But the extreme brightness of the UN65JS9000 is partnered by remarkably deep and convincing black colours largely free of the sort of milky grey infusion I would have expected from an edge-lit LCD screen that’s having to work so hard. This is handy, for it’s in its extreme contrast range – and its ability to deliver seemingly infinite shades of varying luminance between – that HDR’s biggest strength lies, helping pictures look as if they’ve got more depth, more solidity and more detail than normal video content. In this latter respect HDR reveals itself to be a perfect partner for the UN65JS9000’s native UHD resolution.
This UHD resolution, of course, makes its own predictable and welcome contributions to the picture quality cause, delivering levels of detail and clarity comfortably above anything possible with HD, as well as enhancing the sense of depth as details are resolved further into the horizon before they soften and flatten out.
While the UN65JS9000 does still deliver a genuine HDR experience with HDR content, though, it can’t ultimately give you HDR images as truly blistering in their intensity as the UN65JS9500. If you try to run the UN65JS9000 at its maximum brightness/intensity, the edge backlighting system can create some rather obvious areas of clouding during dark scenes – especially if those dark scenes contain a few areas of brightness. You have to reduce the UN65JS9000’s backlight setting considerably – to its 13 setting or lower – if you want to neutralise the clouding and get black colours looking suitably uniform right across the screen. And once you’ve done that, you’ve inevitably taken some of the punch out of the HDR experience.
To be clear, pictures once you’ve got rid of the clouding do still look outstanding by LCD standards. They’re also clearly brighter and more dynamic than those of any previous edge LED TV I’ve seen to date. But I just want to point out that if money’s no object to you, the $1000 extra you need for the UN65JS9500 is worth it if you want to optimise the return on your HDR investment.
Shifting my attentions to the UN65JS9000’s performance with non-HDR material, the overall situation is more or less the same as it is with native HDR content. Namely that its image specifications help you enjoy more punch, brightness and colour richness than you get with any other edge-lit LCD TV tested to date, but don’t reach the giddy heights of the UN65JS9500.
There’s in truth more to be positive than negative about here, though. For actually the way the UN65JS9000 manages to expand the colour and luminance range of non-HDR content to take advantage of its cutting-edge screen specifications without leaving things looking artificial or noisy is highly impressive.
Running non-HDR content on the UN65JS9000 side by side with a non-HDR TV emphatically confirms the Samsung’s advantages in terms of colour saturation, brightness and contrast, proving the set doesn’t need native HDR content to justify its price hike over the $2000 or so you may be expecting to pay for some non-HDR 65-inch UHD TVs in 2015. Though to be clear on this point, ‘upgraded’ non-HDR content on the UN65JS9000 doesn’t rival the contrast range and colour intensity you get with native HDR content, so it’s only when that starts to appear in the wild that you’ll be able to unlock the TV’s full potential.
While a sensibly calibrated UN65JS9000 is without doubt a fantastic TV, though, there are a couple of other issues with its pictures you should be aware of. First, while the curve can deliver a greater sense of depth and immersion if you’re sat right in front of and quite close to the screen, it can also distort reflections across a greater amount of the screen than a flat TV would, and can cause geometry issues if you have to watch from an angle down the sides greater than 30-35 degrees.
Second, while the UN65JS9000’s upscaling to UHD of HD sources is impressive, standard definition sources can look rather noisy and soft. But if you’ve spent $388 on the UN65JS9000 and don’t intend to keep as much standard definition content out of its diet as possible then frankly you have more money than sense.
Clearly the prospect of gaming on a screen as big and talented as the UN65JS9000 is mouthwatering. However, some previous 4K/UHD TVs have tended to suffer with quite high input lag – the time it takes for their screens to actually render images having received image data at their inputs. I’m pleased to say, though, that Samsung seems to have cracked this problem with the UN65JS9000 as it records an input lag delay figure of just a fraction over 20ms. This is one of the lowest measurements I’ve got from a TV, and shouldn’t have a significantly detrimental effect on your gaming abilities.
3D Picture Quality
While I’m not sure 3D can now ever make a big comeback after years of delivering sub-standard 3D movies and TV hardwares, there’s no doubt that the Samsung UN65JS9000 delivers a superb 3D experience. Its ultra-high brightness counters the dimming effect of Samsung’s active shutter 3D glasses superbly, while the screen’s huge contrast range and ultra-punchy colours both help to define an outstanding sense of space with well-made 3D Blu-rays.
Since the UN65JS9000 uses the active 3D system (rather than the passive system favoured by LG) meanwhile, it has to upscale today’s HD 3D Blu-rays to UHD. Something it does very well, resulting in pictures that look denser and more detailed – precisely what you want if you’re hoping to get truly immersed in a 3D world.
The only problem is that there’s a little crosstalk ghosting noise around very bright, contrasty edges in the 3D frame. However, this is actually much less distracting in its regularity or intensity than I would have expected considering how immensely bright the UN65JS9000’s images are, so overall the UN65JS9000 is one of the best 3D TVs I’ve ever tested.
Every year Samsung gets a little closer to cracking the conundrum of how you get good sound quality out of a TV when you haven’t got much frame around the screen to play with. The UN65JS9000 sounds good by flat TV standards generally, with surprisingly accurate effects placement, reasonably clear and crisp vocals, and more punch and dynamic range than I usually hear with TVs that fire their sound down rather than directly out at you.
However, the UN65JS9000’s audio certainly isn’t as cutting edge as its pictures, falling short, for instance, of the grand-standing efforts achieved by some premium Sony and LG TVs.
While the UN65JS9000’s picture performance is its headline attraction, it would be remiss not to also highlight its Tizen-powered smart TV system. For while this isn’t by any means perfect yet – it can run sluggishly, and currently lacks the recommendations feature that worked so well on Samsung’s 2014 smart platform – it’s a much slicker, less obtrusive and more intuitive system than anything Samsung has offered before. Particularly useful is the way it seems to have learned lessons from LG’s ground-breaking webOS-based system when it comes to putting content discovery first.
Samsung also informs me that its recommendations system will be coming to the Tizen OS in the next few months, while experience suggests that it may be able to improve the system’s running speed with future firmware updates. So it’s likely that the version of Tizen I can test today is only a work in progress rather than the finished deal.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to find the $388 you need for the UN65JS9500 then I would recommend that you spend it, as that set’s direct LED lighting does significantly lift the impact of the new HDR technology.
However, if $5000 is your absolute limit, or you’re thinking the grand saving versus Samsung’s flagship model could pay for a seriously tasty external audio system or a hell of a Blu-ray collecti