The new breed of 4K Ultra HD sets featuring HDR support are at the top of today's video food chain. Samsung's 55-inch UN55KS9000F ($1,799) is one of the premium sets in that rarefied atmosphere, with picture performance that contends with similar sets from Sony and even puts it within spitting distance of LG's vaunted but much more expensive OLED models.
Design: Ready for Its Closeup
Most TVs are plain black rectangles best shoved up against a wall. Samsung's KS9000 is an exception, designed to be the centerpiece of a room. It has a crisply thin bezel, but what's really noteworthy is its arched backside with horizontal striations in charcoal. The usual unsightly plugs and ports are hidden, with a single cord stretching from its behind to what Samsung calls a One Connect box. Of course, it's not a single connection, because the external box the set is connected to has a series of four HDMI, two USB (an additional one is on the set), and a coaxial cable port.
Some owners may find it's an awkward arrangement because it forces one to deal with an additional box that's about the size of power transformer. On the other hand, it allows you to hide the plugs away from the set and show off the the KS9000's posterior if you want.
HDR Support Built-in
HDR stands for high dynamic range, indicating that a 4K Ultra HD set can display more colors and better contrast than previous 4K or high definition sets. This Samsung set adheres to the industry's Ultra HD Premium HDR specification (but it is not Dolby Vision compliant). The benefit of HDR is noticeable, but it requires HDR programming, of which there is precious little at the moment. (Ultra HD sets can upscale HD content as well as boost colors in some content.)
Samsung's 55-inch KS9000 is a quantum dot LCD set with edge LED lighting. It's a combination that produces a generally winning picture, even if it lacks some backlighting precision and the video vibrancy of OLED sets costing nearly 40 percent more.
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The 55-inch version of Samsung's KS9000 performed well in our tests and subjective evaluations. Even when compared cheek-to-jowl to pricier much pricier LG OLED sets, it held its own. The KS9000 also delivered more subtle detail and shading than a Dolby Vision compliant 55-inch Vizio P Series set ($1,100). Our color gamut charts reflected the difference, with the Samsung displaying more accurate colors in our tests.
In selecting a picture mode, Samsung offers a few presets, including Movie, Natural, Dynamic, and Standard (energy saving) modes. Oddly, "Natural" looked more like an unnatural vivid setting; Movie mode proved to be was the best setting in terms of color accuracy and we stuck with it for our viewing tests.
Overall, the KS9000 did an excellent job rendering saturated colors with HDR and 4K content. It also did a great job upscaling Blu-ray recordings without introducing picture artifacts or distortions. This set expertly rendered variegated colors, such as in the rain scene in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, without banding the image, or making transitions appear blotchy. Where I did notice issues were in scenes with changing points of light in which the set would produce a flash in a corner of the screen, most likely due to image processing associated with the edge lighting.
The Samsung also matched up well against other top-tier sets with excellent color accuracy when playing standard HD and 4K fare. It was less strict about color accuracy with HDR material, tending to lean toward creating a warmer, more reddish picture. Our color tests confirmed both impressions.
When compared against sets such as LG's 55-inch B6 OLED, differences were most evident in the extreme dark and bright elements of a picture. White pillars in an office scene in Skyfall looked pure and clean on the OLED set, but had a slightly grayish cast on Samsung's quantum dot set. The KS9000 also could not match the deep blacks of OLED displays (nor could any other LCD), but the Samsung will look brighter in a sunlit room.
Audio: Just Adequate
Like most flat panel sets, the Samsung KS9000 isn't going to win any audiophile contests. Its sound is adequate, offering a few preset modes for standard TV viewing, music, ClearVoice (to enhance dialog), and amplify (for extra punch). I found Movie sound mode best for most programs, delivering precise vocals and a tighter (but not very resonant) bass sound.
There's not much dynamic range overall, but changing to Music mode will return some missing midrange. The best feature is the Bluetooth support for connecting wireless headphones for late-night listening.
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Interface: Confusing Remote
There came a point in cellphone design when the phones got so small that the handsets were no longer functional. Samsung may have reached that inflection point with the miniature remotes that accompany its top sets. The so-called Smart Remote Control that comes with the KS9000 is no larger than a pack of gum and has just a few buttons and no numeric keypad or individual buttons for functions like switching inputs.
While the eight or so buttons on the tiny remote keep it uncluttered, I had to consult the manual just to operate the volume (it's a silver button that's slightly raised and toggles back and forth). To enter numbers, you have to invoke an on-screen display and use the directional pad to enter digits.
There's also a mic button on the remote for voice control. You press and hold the button to issue commands, which include a wide array of instructions ranging from switching channels to lowering the volume (because you can't figure out the abstruse switches). You can also search for content or apps across the Samsung smart hub screen, even lower the volume, making it a surprisingly accurate and handy feature. Those worried about possible privacy issues can turn this feature off.
The set is centered around Samsung's Smart Hub design. It brings all the "smart" connected features and sources under a single, horizontal set of icons across the bottom the screen. It's clean, easy to follow and quick to respond. Samsung supports a wide array of apps, as well, although several readers have reminded me that at any time, support for a function could end (such as the termination of Skype).
Within its price class, the Samsung does extremely well, arguably delivering a more detailed and subtler picture than similar models from Vizio, and holding up well compared to Sony's XBR55X930D. It’s also one of the better-looking TVs out there, but its remote is too minimalist to be useful. Still, if you're looking for a premium set with all the bells and whistles, put the Samsung KS9000 on your short list.