Samsung UN65JS9500 4K HDR TV Review

Welcome to the Next Generation of Television

The JS9500 is Samsung’s flagship TV series for 2015, and it’s represented in this test by the 65-inch UN65JS9500. You can also get 78-inch and 88-inch versions if you’ve got the space.

The JS9500 series is defined by three main features. First, it’s got a native 4K UHD pixel count of 3840x2160 - that’s four times as many pixels as you get with HD. Second, it’s got a curved screen design. Finally, it’s the very first TV to support high dynamic range playback. 

Full details of high dynamic range (HDR) can be found here, but briefly it’s a new picture technology that lets you enjoy more contrast and richer colours so long as both your TV and the content you’re watching on it are made to HDR standards.

To make the UN65JS9500 compatible with HDR, Samsung has had to deliver a number of innovations in its LCD screen (hence its rather eye-watering $6,000 asking price!). First, a new proprietary Nano Crystal technology delivers a much wider range of colours than you can get with a normal LCD screen - up to 93% of the colour spectrum you see in commercial digital cinemas, versus less than 80% with normal LCD TVs.

Next, it uses a new ultra-transmissive panel design to produce much more brightness than any consumer LCD TV before; as much as 1000 lumens in fact, which makes it pretty much three times as bright as typical LCD TVs. 

Compromise-Free LED Lighting

Given how LCD TVs work, the worry has to be that so much brightness will result in dark scenes looking grey and washed out. However, Samsung’s flagship set has hopefully got this covered too thanks to its direct LED and local dimming combination. The direct lighting places the LED lights directly behind the screen rather than around its edges like most TVs do, while the local dimming system is able to control clusters of the LEDs individually, so they can output different levels of brightness to boost the screen’s contrast performance.

While it’s the picture features that mostly explain the 65JS9500’s cost, it does also carry Samsung’s new Tizen smart TV operating system. This replaces Samsung’s previous rather overpowering full-screen menus with a much tidier, less intrusive system of overlaid menus that treat everything - even AV inputs and TV channels - as apps, to aid navigation. 

The system isn’t perfect, but it certainly makes it much easier to quickly access your favorite content than anything Samsung has done before.

Keen to see the 65JS9500 running at its absolute best right away, I fed it the only HDR footage available to me at the time of writing: clips on a USB drive from The Life Of Pi and Ridley Scott’s Exodus, specially mastered in HDR for Samsung by Fox. And to say it looked jaw dropping would be an understatement.

HDR Amazes

First of all, colours enjoy a richness, intensity and dynamic range that I just haven’t seen from any TV before. There’s nothing remotely cartoon-like about this effect, either; on the contrary these explosive colours actually look more life-like as well as more impactful. Especially as the TV’s Nano Crystal technology and clearly ultra-powerful processing helps it produce colour blends with unprecedented precision. A precision which is itself backed up perfectly by the screen’s 4K UHD resolution.

The new levels of brightness the 65JS9500 achieves play their part in driving the set’s ground-breaking colors powerfully off the screen too, as well as helping it reproduce amounts of detail and degrees of color tone accuracy during dark scenes that are simply not visible on typical LCD TVs.

In fact, so long as you’re a little careful how you set it up (I’d say don’t use the Smart LED local dimming feature any higher than its Medium setting, and also keep the backlight set to around its 14-15 level), the 65JS9500 delivers the richest, most convincing and most dynamic contrast and black level performance the LCD TV world has seen so far.

Comparing the same Exodus and Life Of Pi scenes from non-HDR Blu-ray on a non-HDR TV merely underlines just how much HDR is bringing to the party. Its impact is actually for me more profound than 4K UHD, and once you’ve experienced it on a screen as powerful as the 65JS9500, it’s painful to have to go back to today’s video ‘normality’.

Also Looks Awesome Without HDR

The only problem with the 65JS9500’s HDR talents is that for now, at least, you won’t actually be able to enjoy them for yourself because of the current absence of readily available HDR content. It’s fortunate, then, that the 65JS9500 also happens to be a superb performer with non-HDR content.

Colours still look more dynamic and richly saturated than they would on a normal TV, the screen’s unprecedented brightness still makes non-HDR footage look more luminous and intense than it does on regular TVs, and the exceptional local dimming/direct LED engine still leaves other TVs for dead on the contrast front.

To be clear, it’s not the case that the envelope-pushing LCD panel Samsung has designed for its first HDR TV can turn non-HDR content into something close to HDR in its dynamism. When I tried the 65JS9500 with non-HDR versions of the same Exodus scenes I’d watched in HDR, the non-HDR versions fell comfortably short, especially where colour saturations were concerned. At the same time, though, the 65JS9500’s rendering of non-HDR content is also comfortably more dynamic than it looks on any other LCD TV I’ve seen to date. 

HDR Sets It Apart

While it’s the 65JS9500’s HDR talents that really set it apart from anything else in the market right now, it also makes the most of its native 4K resolution. Samsung TVs have long had a knack for bringing out every last available pixel of detail from whatever source resolution you feed them, and this is especially true with the 65JS9500 given that its native UHD pixel count is backed up by the panel’s new colour and luminance talents. The combination of so many pixels and so many colours and light subtleties really does make you feel like instead of watching a TV, you’re actually looking at real life. Only better.

In short, the 65JS9500 emphatically proves at the first time of asking that HDR and UHD are a match made in AV heaven.

First-rate UHD Upscaling

Unfortunately, native 4K UHD content is also still not as widely available as it really should be (check out this comprehensive guide to help you track down what’s available). But once again the 65JS9500 isn’t phased by this, using its powerful processing to add in all the extra pixels necessary to turn today’s common HD sources into something which while not as good as native UHD does at least look far more detailed and crisp than HD normally does.

For the record, watching standard definition on the 65JS9500 isn’t much fun. Having to conjure up so many millions of pixels to turn standard definition into UHD proves a bridge too far even for a TV as powerful as this. But we’ve yet to see any 4K UHD TV that does make standard definition look decent, and in any case, if you’ve spent $6,000 on a 4K UHD TV and then feed it anything less than HD you arguably deserve everything you get!

If you’re still into 3D, or you actually want to see how it should be done for a change, the 65JS9500 is once again a revelation. The way it upgrades HD 3D Blu-rays to 4K UHD makes 3D worlds look incredibly tangible and immersive, while the panel’s extra brightness works wonders on both combatting the usual dimming effect caused by 3D glasses and helping to define a convincing sense of 3D space.

Sound Quality

If there’s one performance area where the 65JS9500 isn’t up there with the best of the competition it’s sound. It’s certainly no slouch, delivering a convincingly open, clean mid-range and plenty of treble detail. But it lacks the raw attack, power and bass extension of audio stars like the Sony X900 series. 

The 65JS9500 is really all about its pictures, though, as its never-seen-before combination of HDR and 4K UHD resolution delivers images of genuinely - and literally - unprecedented brilliance.

It has to be said that as we sit here today the 65JS9500 is so far ahead of the AV curve that you’ll struggle to find the UHD and especially HDR content you need to unlock its full potential. But that content really is coming, and when it gets here it’s hard to imagine any TV being able to deliver it in all its glory better than this Samsung trailblazer.