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16 April 2021

How to buy the best Samsung TV

Samsung is a dominant force in TVs, and its range of LCD and QLED sets command attention with cutting-edge technology and intriguing designs. We take a look at what its latest ranges have to offer, to help you decide which set to buy.
Samsung Neo QLED QN85A
Martin Pratt

Samsung is the biggest TV manufacturer in the world, thanks to its broad range of 4K and 8K TVs with LCD and QLED displays.

Each year it debuts a new raft of TVs at CES, either digitally or in Las Vegas. It usually leads with high-end sets with cutting-edge features and the latest tech.

In this guide we'll explain the key differences between all of Samsung's TV ranges and go into detail on the technology that makes them tick.

We review almost every TV Samsung releases. Find out which models deliver the best sight and sound in our expert Samsung reviews


Samsung's TV technology explained

There are plenty of features that make Samsung's QLED and LCD TVs stand out, including ambient mode, invisible connections and a new backlight. 

  • Neo QLED

In this update to standard QLED, Neo QLED screens can be found on the 8K QN9OOA, QN800A as well as the 4K QN95A, QN94A, QN90A and QN85A. 

Neo QLED makes the LEDs in the display much smaller and packs more of them in. This means contrast should be improved. Neo QLEDs will have more control over colour and which parts of the screen are lit. It also means the TVs are slimmer than standard QLEDs.

Whether this will get the contrast to OLED levels remains to be seen, but it's likely to be a step in the right direction.

  • AI upscaling

All TVs can upscale content to make it appear to be a higher resolution with sharper lines, but in 2018 Samsung debuted something new to improve its upscaling. 

AI (artificial intelligence) upscaling analyses every object on screen and refers back to an enormous database of reference images to reduce blur and increase the clarity of whatever's being displayed. Originally this was reserved for 8K sets, but now all of Samsung's QLEDs can do it.

On an 8K TV, AI upscaling brings SD, HD and 4K footage close to the quality of true 8K content. We've seen the results, and the sharpness is staggering. Without this technology, 8K TVs would currently be completely irrelevant, since there's no consumer 8K content available yet – on broadcast TV, streaming services or DVDs. 

Samsung builds on this technology every year to improve the upscaling and it's now found some 4K TVs, too.

You can learn more about 8K TVs, 8K content and more in our 8K TV guide.

  • AI sound

Like a bat sending out sonar to understand the layout of its surroundings, Samsung TVs with AI Sound register their position in the room and the location of any furniture to adjust sound for the best audio experience.

AI sound adjusts volume automatically, too, so if someone starts vacuuming in the other room and volume will get louder to compensate.

  • Ambient mode

If you've long wished your TV would just blend in seamlessly with your living room decor, then ambient mode is for you.

When in ambient mode, your TV screen will copy the wall behind it – whether or not the TV is mounted – although the effect will be better if you have your TV on the wall. Wallpaper, brickwork, paint, wood; just about any surface can be displayed on the screen. 

First, you take a picture of your wall and send that to your TV. The screen can then mimic your decor, adjusting to the pattern, colour and brightness. This technology, coupled with the new invisible connection and ever-shrinking bezels, means Samsung TVs can go virtually unnoticed when they aren't turned on.

Alternatively, ambient mode can display news bulletins, the weather, or your own photos.

Ambient mode is present on all Samsung QLED TVs.

  • Bixby

If you have a Galaxy smartphone, then you'll be familiar with Bixby. Samsung's voice assistant is now making the move to TVs, and it's built into all of the brand's QLED TVs plus its 8 Series. You'll be able to use Bixby to control your TV. Just speak into the remote to control anything from searching for specific programs to opening apps. 

To activate the microphone you usually need to press a button on the remote, but in 2019 Samsung added far-field microphones similar to those found in Amazon Echos. These improved mics let you talk to the TV even when the remote isn't in your hand or you've misplaced it.

It's more conversational now, too. Your first question could be asking to see what Star Wars films are available. You could then ask to watch the third one from the list and Bixby will understand that you're referring to the list drawn up by your first question. These contextual responses are important for assistants to be more useful.

  • FreeSync

This addition to Samsung TVs is focused on gaming and making the framerate as stable as possible. Framerate is basically how many frames of an image the TV displays per second. Some TVs can now display up 120 frames a second, but sometimes games struggle to output a steady framerate.

That's where FreeSync comes in. It uses variable refresh rate to register when a frame is missing and smooth out the picture so you don't notice. This minimises judder and screen-tearing while gaming.

  • Full array and edge-LED backlights

All of Samsung's TVs, even the QLED sets, use LCD displays with lights behind or around them creating the image. A full-array backlight means the LEDs sit directly behind the screen. Since there are more LEDs in full-array backlights, the TV has more control over which areas of the screen are lit. This minimises colour bleeding onto darker areas of the screen.

Edge-LED backlights put the lights around the edge of the TV. This means there are fewer dimming zones and less control over what's lit on screen. Edge-LED TVs are more likely to suffer from halo effects, where light bleeds from light images onto a darker background. 

You'll find full-array backlights on most QLED TVs. Some cheaper QLEDs and Samsung's LCD ranges have edge-lit screens.

  • HDR10+

While its competitors look to Dolby Vision for HDR, Samsung is putting its weight behind HDR10+. Samsung isn't alone though: Amazon Video, 20th Century Fox, Universal, Paramount and Warner Brothers are all planning to support HDR10+. You can learn more about high-dynamic range in our HDR TV guide.

HDR10+ is built into all of Samsung's QLED and LCD TVs.

  • Invisible connection

Along with ambient mode, invisible connection is Samsung's way of making its TVs as inconspicuous as possible. None of the HDMI or USB ports are on the TV itself; instead, one thin transparent wire connects the TV to a separate box housing the connections. This means you won't have any unsightly cables descending from your TV and you have greater freedom about where you put your connected devices. 

The invisible connection is only available on Samsung's most high-end 4K and 8K QLED TVs.

  • Micro LED

Samsung isn't shy talking about Micro LED technology at every tradeshow, and 2021 is finally seeing some Micro LED TVs hit the market. It's Samsung's first true OLED competitor, thanks to its self-emitting pixels that create their own light, just as OLEDs do. This means a backlight isn't required to make a picture, allowing the TVs to be thinner.

Where Micro LEDs differ from OLEDs is the pixels, which are inorganic. This means, unlike OLEDs, the pixels won't degrade over time. Samsung says this allows them to push the displays harder, creating brighter images than OLED.

Generally, TV screens are made of one sheet of glass with several layers underneath, but Micro LED screens are made of several smaller panels that can be arranged in different shapes and sizes. 

Samsung hasn't revealed every aspect of the TV yet, but it's possible that one day we could increase or decrease the size of our TV. Imagine moving house to somewhere with a bigger living room and rather than buying a whole new set, you could just add a few panels to it.

  • Object Tracking Sound+

This intriguing tech does exactly what it says on the tin. The speakers, which sit behind the display rather at the base pointing down, follow the sound around the screen. Imagine a car roaring from the left of the screen to the right, the sound should follow it to create a more positional and immersive effect.

  • QLED

All Samsung's TVs use backlights, but on a QLED TV the bulbs illuminate quantum dots rather than liquid crystals. This technology is said to produce more vibrant colours without compromising realism.

  • Smartphone setup

Rather than fiddling with your new and still unfamiliar remote, you can use your smartphone to set up the TV instead. Downloading the SmartThings app lets you use your phone to input any details the TV needs, such as your email address and password for your Samsung account. 

With your permission, it can copy over the password for your wi-fi and any apps you have on your phone that are also on the TV, so you don't need to enter the same information repeatedly for each app. This could be for Amazon Video, BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Spotify and other streaming services.

Samsung 2021 TV range overview

Samsung's 2021 TV ranges come packed with many of the features we've highlighted above; we've rounded up what each of the brand's new Neo QLED series have to offer.

Samsung QN900A range

These top-tier 8K sets come with all the bells and whistles you'd expect from such a high-end range. They use Neo QLED displays meaning they are thin and should have better contrast than other backlit TVs. 

They use a new processor, too. The Neo Quantum Processor 8K promises, as usual, to offer the best possible picture. It's main job will be making SD, HD and 4K content look somewhere close to 8K, since there's precious little actual 8K content to watch.

It's one of Samsung's brightest displays and has more speakers than most. They sit behind the screen to create a more positional sound that appears to come from different points on the screen, such as an actor's mouth or distant explosion. This type of speaker array has taken off, with Sony employing similar technology, and it could make a real different to sound quality.

The QN900A range is one of the few to have Samsung's Infinity Screen, which, not unlike an infinity pool, seems to have no edges. This bezel-less design is meant to draw you in and make for a more immersive experience. Whether you agree with that or not, you can't deny the range looks pretty.

In an attempt to keep the clean minimal lines free from clutter there will only be one wire connected to the TV and it's almost transparent. It plugs into a separate connections box which houses your HDMI and USB inputs, as well as the power cable, so you can keep all those unsightly wires out of sight.

The QN900A range comes in 65, 75 and 85-inch screen sizes, and with prices starting at £5,999 at launch – best start saving.

Samsung QN800A range

The cheaper and less high-end 8K sets make up Samsung's QN800A range. With prices starting at £3,999 for the 65-inch model though, you're still making a sizeable investment.

So how does the range differ from the QN900As?

Importantly, QN800As are still Neo QLED TVs and it have the same processor, so picture quality shouldn't be wildly different, although the tech specs don't account for any additional tuning or development that goes on behind the scenes in Samsung's labs.

The screens won't be as bright and the HDR boost may be less noticeable since the QN800A software isn't as advanced. It uses Object Tracking Sound+, but doesn't have as many speakers as the QN900As so the effect may be diminished. 

Aesthetically the two ranges are pretty similar, though. QN800A TVs have Samsung's Infinity Display, as well as the separate connections box. At £1,500 less than the QN900As at launch, these cheaper 8K sets are starting to look like a pretty good deal.

Samsung QN95A and QN94A ranges

It's not just 8K TVs that get all the Neo QLED fun, there are several 4K ranges that have these displays, too. As with the two 8K ranges, the differences between the QN95A and QN94A ranges is relatively small and the prices are close at launch.

Both have the 4K equivalent of the Neo Quantum Processor, Object Tracking Sound+ and the same HDR support as the QN800A. The main reason you're paying more for the QN95A, on paper at least, is the separate connections box. 

Both ranges have a maximum screen size of 85 inches, but the smallest screen of the QN94A series (50 inches) is smaller than that of the QN95A (55 inches). 

Prices start at £1,899 for the 50-inch QN94A and £2,199 for the 55-inch QN95A at launch. 

Samsung QN90A and QN85A ranges

The two cheapest ranges to support the new (for 2021) Neo QLED display technology are the QN90A and QN85A.

There are some clear differences between these models and the QN94A above them, but how much impact these difference will have on overall quality remains to be seen. 

First is HDR. At first glance, Samsung keeps it simple here by making all its 4K TVs support HDR10+, one of the advanced formats. However, to complicate things a touch, each TV also has an HDR rating. The maximum rating is HDR 4000 on the QN900A 8K range. The QN90A and QN85A have ratings of HDR 1500 and HDR 24x respectively. 

In theory, the higher the number the better the boost to contrast and colour, but our testing has found that the technology and HDR formats a TV supports is not a clear indication of HDR image quality. Don't assume a higher number here equals better HDR.

Object Tracking Sound (OTS) is the other key difference. The 50-inch QN90A has a 'light' version of OTS, presumably because it's harder to create that sense of sound tracking across a screen when it's smaller. Larger models have the OTS+ technology. 

The QN85A uses the light, rather than the '+', version of OTS across all TVs in the range. There are fewer speakers (six) in a Samsung with OTS, while models with OTS+ get eight or more.

Samsung 2020 TV range overview

We've tested models from almost every Samsung 2020 range, including 8K models. Here we give a run down of the differences that separate the high-end from the more basic sets, so you can see which range works for you.

Samsung Q800T range

It's one of Samsung's more affordable 8K series though, let's be clear, these TVs are only affordable by 8K standards. You can buy a top tier 4K set for a similar price or less. 

Models in this range have QLED displays and should upscale SD, HD and 4K content to something approaching 8K. With no native 8K content to watch, how well this upscaling works is vital to the Q800T's success.

Read our review if you're interested in an 8K TV that isn't absurdly expensive.

Samsung Q700T range

We thought the Q800T range would be the cheapest 8K range Samsung would release, but we were wrong. The Q700T 8K sets are the cheapest of any manufacturer.

We didn't expect to see 8K TVs become (relatively) affordable in such a short time from their debut in 2018.

Key differences between the Q700T range and more expensive Q800T are down to the TV backlights. Both are full array, which means the bulbs sit behind the screen, but the Q700Ts have fewer dimming zones. In theory, this means they'll have inferior contrast and less control over the lighting when compared to Q800T sets.

Our reviews reveal whether this reduction in the number of dimming zones reduces the appeal of the UK's cheapest 8K TVs.

Samsung Q90T range

The Q90T range comprises Samsung's most high-end 4K TVs. Any Samsung TV with a Q in the name has a QLED display. They have a layer of quantum dots, which are designed to boost colours.

It's Samsung's answer to OLED displays, which other leading brands favour for their high-end sets. The main difference is is the backlight: QLEDs have them and OLEDs don't. This means QLEDs can be brighter, but OLEDs tend to have better contrast.

The Q90T TVs should be some of the best on the market. They feature Samsung's top of the line technology and have a bevy of extra features that make the TV look more attractive, particularly when it's turned off.

Check these TVs out if you want to see what the finest minds at Samsung can do with some of the best technology around.

Samsung Q85T range

Another high-end QLED series that shares most of its features with top-of-the-range Q90Ts, Q85T TVs have slightly inferior HDR output and fewer dimming zones in the backlight. This could make for weaker contrast, but – as our tests often find – specs on a sheet don't always tell the whole story.

One visible difference is the cable system. On Q85Ts, as with almost all TVs, you connect your HDMI leads to the back; the more premium Q90Ts use Samsung's 'invisible connection' system (see above).  

This is a lovely feature to have, but it will never be as important as picture and sound quality. If Q85T TVs impress there, we won't hesitate to recommend them. 

Samsung Q70T and Q60T ranges

Samsung's QLEDs have dropped in price since the technology launched, and these are its cheaper ranges. We expect to see Samsung's ranges including more QLEDs in years to come, with LCD sets being replaced.

All Samsung's 4K sets support the same HDR formats and have similar processors, so the difference comes in the subtle changes to features such as backlights and motion control. One bonus of the Q60T range is the sizes it's available in; it's the only QLED range with a 43-inch model.

There's also the Q65T range, which is the same as the Q60T models, but is only sold in certain stores.

Our reviews reveal whether these cheap QLEDs hold a candle to Samsung's more accomplished ranges, and how the 43-inch set holds up.

Samsung Q70T reviews

Samsung Q60T reviews

Samsung TU8500 and TU8000 ranges

Moving away from QLEDs and into Samsung's LCD ranges, the TU8500s are Samsung's most advanced 2020 models. 

Unlike QLEDs, there's no layer of quantum dots to boost colour. That doesn't automatically mean they'll be worse TVs though; we test more than 100 LCD TVs every year, and several get Best Buy rosettes. 

There aren't many notable differences between the TU8500 range and the slightly cheaper TU8000 range. They have different colour engines, so the more expensive TU8500 range should be capable of more vibrant, accurate colours. A more obvious difference is the stand; TU8500 models have a central stand, while the TU8000s have separate feet at each end of the screen. 

You'll also see several ranges with similar names, such as the TU8507 and TU8510. These are essentially the same as the key series, but may come with a differently designed stand or in a different colour.

If you're after a more advanced TV but don't want to push your budget into QLED territory, our reviews reveal if these ranges are worth a look.

Samsung TU8500 reviews

Samsung TU8000 reviews

Samsung TU7100 and TU7020 ranges

These are the budget TVs in Samsung's 2020 line-up. They lack features that we've come to expect from 4K sets, such as a PVR for recording onto a USB hard drive. Both ranges have HDR10+ formats, though; it's rare to see such an advanced format on cheap 4K sets.

There's also the TU7000 range, which, other than the design, is the same as the TU7100.

TU7020s are the most basic models of all. They don't have any Bluetooth connection for phones or headphones. They use a older wi-fi protocol, too, which could affect how well they work with your router. There are no clear differences when it comes to audio and picture technology, though.

Find out how Samsung's cheapest 2020 TVs fare in our full reviews.

Samsung TU7100 reviews

Samsung TU7020 reviews

Samsung Q950TS

The bezel is the enemy – at least as far as TV manufacturers are concerned. Whatever the colour, finish or material, the rectangle that frames a TV screen is something they would all like to see the back of. 

The 8K Samsung Q950TS comes closer than any other TV to eradicating it. The bezel is there, but it's hair-thin. Most of what you see is screen: it makes up more than 99% of the front of the TV. Samsung calls it the 'Infinity display' and it's not far wrong. 

The Q950TS range is pricey though (the 65-inch model is £5,000) and, as we've previously mentioned, there just isn't any 8K content to watch. Samsung can justify releasing an 8K TV thanks to the smarts of its AI quantum processor. It boosts just about every aspect of the TV from picture to smart features. Upscaling is perhaps its most important job. It pushes the quality of anything below 8K, which is pretty much everything, to pristine and true-to-life 8K resolution, according to Samsung.

If this upscaling works well then this TV could be a success. If it doesn't then you're paying a premium for a screen that can display something that doesn't exist; 8K broadcasts and streaming are still years away.

Most TVs have sensors that can adjust the brightness of the TV based on the level of ambient light in the room, but the new Adaptive Picture tech in the Q950TS goes further. It accounts for light levels in the scene being displayed to tweak the picture while keeping the contrast rich. 

Speakers ring the almost bezel-free display and work in harmony with Object Tracking Sound+ to match the movements of objects on screen. Sound should be more positional as a result and better able to create the surround-sound effect many TVs promise, but few deliver. 

Just as the screen adjusts to the light in your room, the speakers adjust to the sound. It will listen for distracting ambient noise, such as vacuum cleaners, and improve the vocal clarity to compensate.

Samsung The Sero

 

The Sero is something we never expected, and we're not entirely sure if it's necessary. The Sero can rotate to display in landscape or portrait, just like a smartphone. In fact, that's who it's aimed at: people who want to display their phone screen on a TV and not have the black borders around it. Usually that's what you get because a phone screen isn't a natural fit for the 16:9 aspect ratio of a TV.

It’s a traditional TV too, of course, with tuners, HDMI inputs and everything else you would expect from a high-end QLED. The 43-inch model is available for £999.


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