With a TV like the Samsung Q950TS it’s possible to set up your living room like a cinema, but ultimately it shouldn’t matter what screen you watch your favourite films and shows on, says Henry Burrell.
Despite writing about technology for a living I have never been that fussy about TVs. As long as the picture is clear and Netflix doesn’t buffer, I have not obsessed over the size of the screen, definition of the picture, or the quality of the audio from any TV I’ve had in the last decade.
This is reflected in the fact that I bought the cheapest TV on Mighty Ape for about $250 (I checked, it’s not even on sale there any more) when I moved to New Zealand and have been fine with it for the best part of a year. My fiancée is equally nonplussed by the skimpy screen’s bog standard smarts, and we tore through seasons one to three of The Wire without ever thinking that Baltimore might look and sound better on another TV.
Then Samsung asked if I wanted to review a TV. I was safe in the knowledge that literally any other TV in the whole country was an upgrade, so I asked which model they had in mind. That’s how I got to have a $13,000 65-inch 8K QLED TV dominating my living room.
Seasons four and five of The Wire have been a significantly more high definition experience.
Please bear with me for this dense paragraph. QLED is a fancy version of LCD (liquid crystal display), the display technology that most TVs have. QLED is a marketing term used by Samsung that stands for quantum dot LED TV. LED (light emitting diode) is the backlight needed for an LCD TV. QLED updates the traditional backlit LCD TV screen by adding a layer of so-called quantum dots that emit their own light, augmenting the picture and supposedly improving its vividness and clarity.
You can see why I’ve never been that fussed about TV tech, such is the minefield of jargon and confusing tech specs. Each Q, Z or X in a model name seems to come with an additional few thousand dollars on the price tag. The Q950TS QLED 8K TV I took delivery of is no different.
Two very helpful friendly blokes were sent to help set it up in my house, and they told me they usually get sent to set them up for TV showroom floors. At the moment it’s listed on Harvey Norman as “Available by Special Order Only” for $12,824. I also tested out the Samsung Q70T 3.1.2ch Soundbar with subwoofer ($1,099!) to turn my humble abode into a makeshift cinema.
Putting specs and price aside for a moment to revel in the technology on show though… wow. This TV should by all rights ruin any other TV for me. My little $250 TV is sulking in the corner, ashamed to have ever shone anything into my living room. Sorry, little guy.
The Q950TS is an impossibly thin slab of TV screen, a unit just 15mm thick that sits on its stand (you can also wall mount it) and shines 65 inches of glorious digital vistas into my lounge. The edges have no bezel, so the picture goes right to the extreme edges and makes it look like a floating window hovering low in the corner of the room, a UFO beaming out nature documentaries or Clint Eastwood films depending on who has the remote.
It’s an 8K TV capable of double the number of pixels as 4K, which is itself better than regular HD, but the problem is there’s simply no 8K content available. This is still the case today even after 8K TVs became commercially available about two years ago, and it means that most of the stuff I watched was below 4K resolution. But don’t get me wrong, it still looked incredible.
Curb Your Enthusiasm looked great streamed in HD over Neon via the Neon app installed directly on the TV but episodes were limited by the resolution they were shot in. The TV can make older reels look better, but it can’t magic them into 4K existence.
I also restarted Super Mario Odyssey on my Nintendo Switch. It looked so good and was so immersive that I had to be very strict with myself otherwise I would have done absolutely no work for a month, such is the tightrope life of a work-at-home freelancer.
The TV claims to be able to smooth images on the fly to look sharper, but I turned this setting off. Motion smoothing (Samsung calls it ‘Picture Clarity’) turns the intentionally moody cinematography of films like John Wick or Nightcrawler to as oddly in-the-room as an episode of Neighbours. Even Tom Cruise has rallied against motion smoothing, or the “soap opera effect”. Basically, leave it on for live TV and sports, and turn it off for everything else.
As well as Neon you can directly fire up apps like Netflix, Prime Video, Spark Sport, and Disney+ meaning you don’t need a Chromecast, but you might realise just how much you spend on TV subscriptions. There’s also Apple AirPlay built in if you want to cast from an iPhone or iPad, and there’s even Amazon Alexa or Samsung’s Bixby voice assistants if you’re too lazy to push buttons on the remote. These assistants can be used to control connected smart home devices around your house or to call up the shows you want to watch. It’s all a bit overkill when you just want to slob and watch Grand Designs.
The issue there is that terrestrial TV through an aerial looks a little grainy in comparison to the HD and 4K Netflix streams available, channel depending. Pulling that analogue signal through a cable and out over 65 large inches means actual normal telly is not as pin sharp to watch, with newsreaders occasionally appearing to be made of fleshy Lego.
But put on a decent film, draw the curtains and turn up the subwoofer and soundbar and the TV has the ability to transform your front room into a cinema, and that’s basically what you’re paying for. TV manufacturers can add voice assistants and screensavers with your calendar on them as much as they want, but if you are prepared to spend this much on a TV it’s because you want to recreate a night at the movies in the comfort of your home. With lockdown in New Zealand back in effect, that’s not a bad idea – just remember there are other HD and 4K TVs out there than this one for much less that will achieve close to the same experience.
Despite my month with one of the most expensive and undoubtedly one of the best TVs in the world, I won’t be too sad when it gets picked up and taken away. I still feel about TVs how I feel about musical instruments. You can buy the best guitar in the world but it won’t make you a good songwriter. Genius songs can be written on an op shop six string.
Even if end up watching Citizen Kane or Moonlight on my $250 TV next week, they are still masterpieces. I’ll still guiltily enjoy the odd episode of Millionaire Hotseat without it dominating an entire corner of my house. $13,000 TVs exist, and they are great if you genuinely have money to burn and a large home that can accommodate a mini cinema set up, but I still feel that for most of us it should be about what TV programme or film you’re watching and enjoying rather than the prestige of the equipment that you’re watching it on.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.