Samsung's 2018 QLED TVs Get Smarts, Sleek Designs

Samsung is angling to put the smart TV at the center of your home, if the 2018 TV lineup it unveiled today (March 7) is anything to go by. Laying out all of the designs and features of its high-end QLED TVs, Samsung showed off sets that combine the luxurious looks of last year’s models with new features aimed at bringing the TVs more seamlessly into your life, from design updates that make the set almost disappear when not in use to smart TV functions.

Bigger and Just as Beautiful

Samsung’s new premium models included updated versions of the Q6F, the Q7F, the Q8F and the Q9F. These models will come in a variety of sizes: The Q6F has the greatest range (49, 55, 65, 75 and 82 inches), with the Q7F and Q8F lines coming in 55-, 65- and 75-inch models, and the top-of-the-line Q9F available in 65-, 75- and 88-inch sizes. All of these new 4K sets feature flat screens and include HDR support, with an emphasis on Samsung’s HDR 10+ format. The curved TV fad is also nearly dead – Samsung only had flat screen models to show off at the event – but Samsung will have one solitary curved TV model this year.

Display quality will see a number of improvements, with enhancements to QLED, Samsung’s OLED competitor that uses quantum dot display tech. The new displays boast improved filtering that cuts down on unwanted backlighting, reducing the visibility of halos and cutting down the elevated blacks that make LCD screens look grey when they try to display true black. When I first saw the improved QLED displays side-by-side with OLED at CES earlier this year, the differences between the two seemed to almost disappear.

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The 360-degree design aesthetic continues strong in 2018, lavishing design attention on the normally overlooked portions of the TV: the TV stand and the backside of the chassis. The various models each have their own style stand, making them easy to distinguish at a glance, but all feature brushed metal and elegant designs. The back side if each TV chassis has a molded surface with the same textured surface we liked so much on the 2017 models.

The Disappearing Act

Samsung is also making efforts to turn the TV into a chameleon, with an Ambient Mode that matches the TV to its surroundings when not in use. Simply take a photo of the TV with your smartphone and the accompanying app will generate a background for the display that matches the wall behind it, whether it’s basic white paint, exposed brick or patterned wallpaper. Instead of turning off when not in use, the TV shifts into an ultra-low-power mode, displaying the new background like a screensaver, becoming nearly transparent to the casual observer.

If you want something more functional, ambient mode can also display helpful information, like weather and news headlines. There's also an art mode that shows photos and artwork as a framed image on the wall. These extra functions also use very little power, encouraging you toward never fully turning off the set.

The new TVs can also be used with Samsung’s new zero-gap wall-mount and artistic floor stands. The wall mount lets you put the TV on the wall nearly flush with the surface, eliminating the unsightly gap that normal wall-mounting hardware leaves between the chassis and the wall. New floorstand options combine Samsung’s design sensibility with TV mounting hardware, letting you set up the display on a sleek-looking easel or pedestal base if you don’t want to set the TV on an entertainment unit or hang it on the wall. The whole thing matches the brushed metal finishes and aesthetics of the TVs, and has mounting brackets that are compatible with Samsung’s Q-Series TVs.

Making Cables Vanish

Samsung is making further progress and the never ending battle against cable clutter, reducing the number of cables needed to connect a TV, and reducing the visibility of the cables that are made.

The hardware has also been updated, with Invisible Connection 2.0, Samsung’s answer to the unsightly clutter of cables that surround most TVs. Last year, Samsung offloaded the connector panel from the backside of the TV to an external box that housed all of the HDMI and other connectors, connecting the TV to the box with a thin, nearly invisible single cable that was easy to hide. This year, Samsung has updated this connection technology to include power, eliminating the last ugly cable from the TV, leaving only the slim Invisible Connection cable. The cable itself is more slender than most, with its fine filaments sheathed in transparent plastic. The Q-series TVs will all come with the new cable, with a 5-meter length included standard and a 15-meter version available for purchase.

The connection uses a proprietary connector that clips into place on the backside of the TV and features the same textured surface as the backside of the TV, letting it disappear when connected. The plug has also been redesigned for easier installation, with a 90-degree connection that plugs right into the back of the TV without the contortionist’s reaching and blind fumbling usually required to plug in an HDMI cable.

Smarter In Every Way

Content discovery is also getting a boost, with TV Plus, a media aggregation tool that also offers personalized recommendations for shows, movies, and more.

But the real improvement is Samsung’s Universal Guide, an onscreen content guide that not only pulls together all of the offerings from apps like Netflix and Hulu, but also live TV from sources like cable and satellite.

“This is something we’ve really ramped up from last year,” said Andrew Sivori, vice president of TV marketing at Samsung Electronics America. “It not only browses your OTT content [streaming services, like Netflix and Hulu] it browses live TV service, as well. Whether you’re trying to find your favorites or search across everything available, it puts it all in one spot.”

Gamers get some love with enhanced gaming support that detects your XBox when it connects to the TV or powers on before gaming, and automatically shifts in to a low-latency game mode with optimized 4K and HDR support. PC Gamers aren’t left in the cold either, with SteamLink coming to the Samsung app store. This game streaming technology lets you play any game from your gaming PC on the big screen, streaming wirelessly while still maintaining high speeds and visual fidelity.

As the connected home becomes the new normal, Samsung wants the smart TV to be the nerve center of your household, serving as a dashboard for controlling all of your connected stuff. To that end, Samsung is making its SmartThings hub work with an array of devices, like Ring Doorbell, Nest Cam and Nest Thermostat, along with robot vacuums, smart speakers and more. All of this is in addition to integrating with Samsung’s own connected products, from smartphones and tablets to laundry machines and refrigerators.

Finally, it will also be easier to get all of these services and devices setup and synced, with Samsung’s easy connection technology and SmartThings app. With the app installed on your phone, current Samsung phones will automatically detect other smart devices and apps and can log them in automatically. It will even snag your wi-fi login information from your phone, removing yet another step from the setup process. Similar functionality will also be available for other Android and iOS phones using Samsung’s SmartThings app.

Here Comes Bixby

Samsung’s Bixby smart assistant — Samsung’s answer to Siri and Alexa — will also be baked into the new smart TVs, providing a richer interactive experience. Using the microphone built into Samsung’s One Remote, you can not only adjust volume and search for content, you can also use the voice functions to browse content across everything in the Universal Guide.

But the functions aren’t limited to traditional TV controls. You’ll also be able to check the weather, look up sports scores and control connected devices just by speaking into the remote.

Affordable Sets Get Premium Features, Too

All of Samsung’s smart TV improvements will be found on all of Samsung’s smart TV lineup. SmartThings connectivity and Bixby voice assistant won’t be limited to the Q-Series shown today. “Most of [these features] will be on the NU8 Series, as well,” Sivori said. “So you don’t have to go to our top-of-the-line to get the technology.”

Outside of the Q-Series lineup of QLED-based TVs, Samsung has a number of other 4K models to choose from in 2018, including the NU8500 and NU8000, which boast many of the same features, including HDR10+ support, a clean cable solution similar to the Invisble Connection, and advanced smart TV features like Bixby voice assistant.

Othe ultra HD models include the NU7100 ( in 75-, 65-, 55-, 50-, 43- and 40-inch models) and the NU7300, available in 65- and 55-inch versions. While these mid-range models won’t feature every perk found on the Q-Series (most notably missing Bixby), they will still feature 4K HDR picture, minimal cabling, slim designs and most of the capabilities available on Samsung’s smart TV platform including the Universal Guide, TV Plus for content recommendations, and SmartThings integration.

Samsung’s Q-Series and NU-Series TVs will be available starting this month. Specific pricing has not yet been announced.