Australian Review: Samsung Series 9 KS9500 65-inch SUHD 4K TV (2016) - Whole lotta HDR
Samsung has gone head over heels for high dynamic range (HDR) with its 2016 TV family, with the new tech making an appearance in a good chunk of the company's latest and greatest. This year's focus on HDR - in roundabout sort of way - suggests the size wars are coming to an end. It's no longer about making bigger and better TVs capable of displaying higher resolution images; it's all about picture quality. With the KS9500, Samsung is making a bold tactical choice. It's not going head to head with LG's pricier OLED displays. It's staking out the middle ground.
The KS9500 is Samsung's not-quite-a-flagship TV for 2016, and comes in a choice of 55-inch, 65-inch, or 78-inch. I say not-quite-a-flagship, because a somewhat ludicrous 88-inch KS9800 takes the crowning spot in Samsung's 2016 line-up, but it will set you back a massive AUD$29,999. For comparison, the 65-inch KS9500 I spent time with for this review will set you back around AUD$4,500. While I spent time with the 65-incher, the tech specs are identical across the all three KS9500 sizes.
In terms of aesthetics, the KS9500 is quite a clean TV. A black bezel surrounds the screen, which is all enclosed in a silver frame and mounted on top of an incredibly shiny stand. The TV's bottom bezel is asymmetrical thanks to a small Samsung logo, and honestly, this bugs me more than it should. But that's just me nit picking. Overall, the KS9500 is a nice looking TV, whether it's on or off.
The KS9500 is Samsung's curved variant. I'm really not a big fan of curves, but this one isn't too offensive. It still picks up light and exaggerates reflections, but this is subtle enough to not be a big deal. If you're like me and just don't get curved TVs, the KS9000 is Samsung's flat version of the KS9500. Specifications are incredibly similar on paper, and you might even be able to get it for a bit cheaper too.
While Samsung isn't doing "TV upgrade kits" anymore, the KS9500 still has a breakout box for its main connectors - namely, four HDMI ports. As someone who has too many HDMI devices and is regularly juggling cables, I love having a separate input box; it's a much easier solution than reaching back behind the TV and hoping for the best.
The KS9500 comes with a streamline new remote, which works quite well for the most part. The lack of a number pad does however mean you'll need to use a virtual one when changing channels or use the home key for changing input source (but more on that later). While Samsung's "modern" remote will be more than enough for some, those who prefer a more traditional remote are still catered for; a classic option is also included in the box.
When it comes to TV tech, the KS9500 is a whole different beast to last year's comparable model (the JS9500). The JS9500 made use of a full array backlight, whereas the KS9500 is edge lit. For those not familiar with the terms, a full array backlight means a TV a large number of LEDs placed behind the display, whereas edge lit TVs only have LEDs along the sides of the screen.
This change in technology has two major repercussions. The first is pricing; the JS9500 launched at an asking price of AUD$9999, while the KS9500 will currently set you back less than a half of that. The second is that the KS9500's local dimming is awful. If you're watching in a dim environment, you'll notice inconsistencies when the KS9500 tries to adjust the backlight to compensate for dark areas on screen. Even the black bars you get when you're watching 21:9 content aren't uniformly lit. If you prefer to watch TV in a dark room, this could bother you, but it's much less noticeable when watching in a brighter environment. That being said, you can just turn off local dimming entirely.
Dimming aside, backlight consistency is great for the most part (no noticeable clouding on black, only minor distortion when looking at a full white screen), and even with the backlight fired up, you can get reasonably dark blacks for a non OLED display. It's not "perfect black" (which requires an OLED television), but blacks actually look black, rather than just dark grey.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the KS9500's big selling points is that it's HDR ready. A HDR display has a higher contrast ratio than a typical 4K TV display; essentially, the difference between how bright it can go and how dark it can go. HDR promises deeper blacks, and brighter whites. This also results in a wider colour space, which means images displayed by the TVs aren't just capable of going brighter, they're also more vivid. In short, a HDR TV is all about providing a more detailed, true to life image. For a more in depth explanation of HDR and the various competing standards, have a read of my primer "WTF is HDR".
But not only is the KS9500 HDR ready, it also meets the UHD Alliance Premium Certification, which is ostensibly a shiny badge manufacturers can plonk on their TV if they meet required specifications in regards to colour, contrast, and brightness. So on paper, the KS9500 is equipped to make the most of HDR content.
Based on my time with KS9500, if I were to hazard a guess, more people would be able to tell the difference between HDR content and non-HDR content then 4K and high definition. I flipped back and forth between 4K HDR versions of a couple of movies and non-HDR high definition copies throughout my tests, and in some cases, it was like day and night.
HDR performance will vary from movie to movie. When it came to Mad Max: Fury Road, the difference between the HDR version and the standard Blu-Ray was incredible. The HDR version offered far more graduation in colours, with more life-like contrast a balance. In comparison, the Blu-Ray version felt flat and lacked detail.
In the case of Batman V Superman, the difference wasn't quite as pronounced. The HDR version noticeably offered a more vivid, more detailed image, but not to the same degree as Fury Road.
While I'd say the move to HDR is a much more meaningful jump than the leap to 4K, not everyone is going to care about this. HDR colour is a nice improvement, but if you just want a big screen that looks okay, better colour isn't really going to be what you make your purchase based on. And of course, there's not really a lot of HDR content out there at the moment; it's limited to what you can buy on 4K Blu-Ray, and whatever Netflix decides to stream in HDR (which at the moment is just Marco Polo). At the very least, HDR content seems to be ramping up faster than 4K.
There is however one downside on the HDR front. At present, Samsung is only supporting HDR10, one of the two competing HDR standards on the market (the other being Dolby Vision). While Dolby Vision content is even scarcer than HDR10 at (HDR10 is used for 4K Blu-Ray), it's far too early to pick a clear winner. If HDR is the main reason you're looking at a new TV, it's also worth considering LG's 2016 range, much of which supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision.
But even if you have no intention of watching HDR content (at least in the foreseeable future), the KS9500's panel still looks great. Colourful content - like No Man's Sky, for example - simply sings. You'll want to avoid using Samsung's "Vivid" present which oversaturates colours, but "Standard" and "Movie" look quite nice right out of the box. You might also want to turn off "Auto Motion" when watching movies or shows, but even when on, the "soap opera effect" isn't quite as pronounced as it was on past models. The KS9500 also does an alright at upscaling content, but not amazing. There's only so much you can do If you're dealing with standard definition material, but the result is still watchable.
As with Samsung's 2015 SUHD TVs, the KS9500 goes bright. Bright enough that you can comfortably watch it without needing to draw the blinds on a sunny day. It can still pick up glare, but for the most part, it doesn't really affect the viewing experience in an overly detrimental way. The KS9500 is easily viewable from reasonably wide angles, but this can affect colour quality. For the best experience, you'll want to sit close to front on.
The KS9500 also makes use of Samsung's updated smart TV operating system. The interface is incredibly clean, and simply to use. Each HDMI input essentially appears as an app in the launcher, and apps like Netflix are able to expose content straight to the dashboard (so you can jump back into the next episode of Stranger Things without even dealing with Netflix's interface). The settings menu has also been cleaned up, making finding and tweaking settings a much easier affair than last year. Netflix, Stan, SBS on Demand, and ABC iView apps are all available in terms of local SVOD content.
Samsung's made a couple of compromises when it comes to the 65-inch KS9500, but at an asking price of AUD$4,500, they're almost all forgivable. It's a big, high-end TV that doesn't come with an asking price that approaches fives figures. If you're okay with an edge lit display (which is all you're going to get in this kind of price range) and aren't too bothered by poor local dimming, the KS9500 is easy to recommend in terms of both value and image quality. Doubly so if you're after a high quality option for viewing HDR content.
At the same time, I wouldn't be rushing out to buy a HDR-ready TV just yet. As aforementioned, there isn't a huge deal of HDR content available at the moment. HDR will be a big deal, and it's the next big improvement in television picture quality, but I wouldn't upgrade for the sake of upgrading right now. But if you're in the market for a new TV anyway, it's worth getting a HDR ready TV so, that at the very least, you can be futureproof.
If you're looking at spending around AUD$4,000 to AUD$5,000 on a TV, a high quality display, excellent HDR performance, and impressive screen brightness all make the KS9500 worth considering.
Alex Choros reviewed the KS9500 at QT Sydney as a guest of Samsung Australia.
Cybershack Score -
|Great HDR performance||Poor local dimming|
|Bright panel makes daytime viewing painless||Curved screen is prone to reflection|
|Good value for money||No support for Dolby Vision|