Samsung KS9500 4K TV Series

Gorgeous Design, But Is the Picture Quality Up to Samsung's Usual Standards?

Samsung Ks9500
The Samsung KS9500 in all its 'almost bezel-free' glory. Samsung

Back in 2015, Samsung caught its rivals napping when it launched its so-called SUHD (explained here) range of TVs combining native 4K resolutions with what was then a brand new technology called High Dynamic Range (HDR).

The expanded brightness, contrast and color performance of these SUHD TVs enabled them to set standards most other TVs just couldn’t compete with and set what felt like a template for future HDR 4K TVs.

Not surprisingly, then, hopes are high for Samsung’s 2016 4K/UHD TVs. With HDR picture standards now more or less locked down, surely Samsung’s already strong 2015 HDR performance (a review of the outstanding 65JS9500 can be found here) can now be taken to new heights?

Full review samples of Samsung’s new TVs aren’t due for a few weeks yet. But I have now had the chance to have an extensive play with an early version of one of Samsung’s headline 2016 models, the 55KS9500. And … actually, I’m a little concerned by what I’ve seen.

What's In a Name?

The KS9500 series (known as the KS9000 in the United Kingdom) sits just one rung off the top of Samsung’s 2016 TV range, below the KS9800. The main difference between the two TV series is that the KS9500 uses edge LED lighting while the KS9800 uses direct LED lighting, where the lights are placed directly behind the screen.

In previous years we might have expected to see Samsung unveil its flagship TV model for the year first, but apparently, the KS9800 is apparently not yet ready to show. So the KS9500 it is.

Aesthetically the KS9500 is extremely easy on the eye. Samsung has sensibly ditched the rather large screen bezels it introduced to its high-end 2015 TVs in favor of a ‘barely there’ frame that lets you focus fully on the pictures. Its rear is an ultra-minimal, rivet-free affair too.

The Right Lighting?

The use of an edge LED lighting system in the KS9500s is perhaps a slight surprise given that direct LED lighting systems seem better suited to high dynamic range playback. But edge LED screens are much cheaper to make, and actually, last year’s equivalent Samsung models also used edge LED lighting to impressive effect.

The edge LED lighting system hasn’t stopped the KS9500 TVs from hitting the specifications recommended by the new Ultra HD Premium ‘standard’, either. You can find full details of what Ultra HD Premium means here, but briefly for the purposes of this preview, the KS9500 has earned the Ultra HD Premium badge thanks to its native UHD resolution, its ability to deliver more than 1000 nits of brightness, its ability to produce more than 90% of the so-called DCI-P3 cinematic colour spectrum, and its 10-bit colour depth.

One of the first things I noticed while playing with a KS9500 was its new and improved smart TV operating system. This seems to run more slickly than last year’s Tizen-run effort and introduces a second tier of icons on the home screen that relates to what you’ve got selected in the main tier. This double-decker approach instantly makes the smart menus feel more intuitive and personal.

Taking Over Your Home

Samsung even showed off during my demo a feature it intends to add to the KS9500 — and many of its other 2016 Smart screens — later in the year: support for the so-called Internet of Things. In other words, the TV will be able to communicate with potentially hundreds of external devices so that you can control them from the TV. For instance, in the demo, we could use the TV to turn on a lamp, or access and watch the feed from a video camera overlooking a doorway.

Another neat touch is the way the new KS9500 remote control is capable of automatically detecting and then working with any other kit you may have connected to the TV. Like a universal remote but without the setup hassle. What I was most interested in checking out during my time with an early KS9500, though, was its picture quality. And it was here I felt just a little letdown.

Small Moves

For starters, perhaps unreasonably, I didn’t feel as if the picture quality had advanced all that far from last year’s SUHD sets. There’s a touch more brightness in pictures, and colors look slightly richer and more dynamic. But the advance is much more limited than the huge leap Samsung delivered between its 2014 and 2015 ranges. 

To be fair, with Samsung having already made the leap to HDR with its 2015 TVs it was probably never going to be the case that its 2016 TVs would deliver the same extent of improvement. But actually, it’s not just the sense of only a relatively small improvement that slightly troubles me. 

It also seemed to me during my time with a demo KS9500 that the backlighting was exhibiting signs of clouding around bright parts of the image when they appear against dark backgrounds. Backlight clouding was something you had to try and work round with last year’s equivalent Samsung models too, but on the early KS9500s I’ve seen the clouding seems a bit more object-related (less generalized, in other words). Which could mean it’s harder to find a way to work round. 

I should say, though, that I wasn’t able to play around with the TV’s settings during my hands on, so there’s every chance this potential issue will be solvable when I can finally have a full and unfettered play with a KS9500. Finished samples of the KS9500 should be available soon, so keep an eye on this channel in the coming weeks for a full review.