Samsung Neo QLED QN900B 8K hands-on review: A gorgeous but incremental upgrade
The new Samsung Neo QLED 8K TV has just dropped in Australia. But is it worth it with no 8K content? We tested out its gaming and streaming capabilities to find out.
- The new processor makes a noticeable difference
- Dolby Atmos
- Near-perfect next gen gaming experience
- No Dolby Vision
- Soundbar drop outs
- Game mode settings could be a little less rigid
Samsung is serious about 8K TVs. So much so that despite the sheer lack of native 8K content out there, the company is releasing new ones every year. I got a chance to spend some time with the latest Samsung Neo QLED 8K, which is cheaper and better than ever.
Not that this statement means much. It stands to reason that the newest version of something will generally be the best. But that does force one to wonder what makes it better than the previous generation and if it's worth indulging in the latest iteration.
That's difficult to say after spending a mere overnight dalliance with the Samsung Neo QLED 8K. And this is worth keeping in mind as you read this, or any TV "review" that is based on just a few hours of usage.
Fortunately, I happen to have been using the previous generation Neo QLED 8K in my own home for almost a year now. So I have a pretty solid idea of what these TVs are about and how the latest one compares and differs.
The Samsung Neo QLED has a sleek, near-bezeless and thin design that would suit most lounge and bedroom spaces. The continued use of the OneConnect Box (which all the wires plug into, rather than the TV) also helps to keep clutter to a minimum, which is a feature I've personally loved for years.
Samsung has also continued its green push by including a solar powered remote, which means no batteries! I've had one from the previous generation for about a year and have never consciously stuck it in the sun. It charges with whatever light happens to filter into my lounge room and it's great.
The only small thing was that the remote looks very similar to the new soundbar remote, which had me mixing them up a few times during the overnight review process.
One of the biggest selling points for 8K TVs is for gaming, which is why I dragged my PlayStation 5 and Nintendo Switch OLED along with me.
A strange combination to be sure, but it's really helpful to see how cutting edge televisions take advantage of current gen consoles as well as ones where the upscaling will be put to the test. And that's certainly the case with the Switch, which offers a mix of 720p and 1080p output, depending on the game.
The PS5 uses HDMI 2.1, which means it is able to output an 8K signal. However, we're still waiting on proper 8K media content and you should continue to not hold your breath on that one.
On the plus side, there are a handful of games that can run 120Hz with 4K, which is where TVs like the Samsung Neo QLED 8K is going to shine. In fact, my experience with 60Hz at 4K with this TV (and the previous gen) have been brilliant.
Now, do keep in mind that taking photos of a TV with a phone camera is not ideal. The PS5 games don't look as good as they do in real life. And funnily enough, on the flip side, the upscaling issue I had with older anime (which I'll get to later) are difficult to see because the phone uses noise reduction. So you'll just have to take my word for it.
Returnal ran like liquid butter on this thing. I don't think I have ever had a gaming experience smoother than this one. I wanted to lick the damn screen. The dark reproduction the TV was able to output here (as with all the games I tested) was also fantastic.
Similarly, the details and movement in Ghostwire: Tokyo were gorgeous. In this case, I recommend sticking to 60Hz at 4K (if your connection is stable enough to handle it). Your cable of choice can also make an impact here so the game can better take advantage of its Ray Tracing functionality. This made the game truly beautiful and offered less motion blur. Even simple things like the rain hitting the camera, shadows and the weapon slicing the air was visual poetry.
Control was a little less smooth and suffered more with artefacts appearing. However, this was partially due to the game doing a lot more heavy lifting with its effects, as well as it being developed with a film grain by default, which does suit the aesthetic and storyline. But you can turn this feature off if it bugs you, or for testing purposes. Plus, the trade off is worth it for the quick attack effects alone, which look stunning on the Neo QLED.
While we're on speed, I would be remiss not to mention how perfectly Gran Turismo 7 ran on this thing. The game was truly designed for this PS5 x 8K collaboration. The graphics capabilities not only showcase how hot these cars are, but the processor allows for near-perfect reaction times on the track. There was no lag and quick camera angle changes caused zero issues.
For comparison, I've spent hours playing GT on my previous gen Neo QLED at home, which also handles the game beautifully. The Samsung Neo QLED 8K definitely adds some small visual and handling improvements to an already fantastic experience.
One thing that is worth mentioning is bleed on the borders, subtitles and logos in some games. This is not a new thing for Samsung due to its use of QLED technology.
Unlike OLED, QLED doesn't run on pixels that are individually turned on and off. One of the pitfalls of this is bleed.
But Samsung has been working on this. In last year's crop of shiny 8K TVs it introduced a new Quantum Mini LED layer. This enables more precise light control by increasing the dimming zones, which targets bleed.
I found this to be only marginally helpful in the previous generation, but there has been a marked improvement this time around. It's still not OLED, but I was pleased at having to look harder for this problem.
One thing I was less pleased about was game mode sound dominating all else. For example, if I switched to adaptive sound and then fired up a game, it wouldn't remember the preset. Instead, it would switch to game sound automatically. This meant I had to bring up the settings and change it again while in game.
A minor gripe, to be sure, but one that impacted my enjoyment somewhat.
Nintendo Switch OLED
Now for the real test. How does such a massive television handle upscaling 720p and 1080p gameplay?
To be honest, it's a bit of a struggle. But it definitely looks better than the QN900A Neo QLED I have at home.
For one thing, this year it actually automatically switches to Game Mode with the Switch which certainly helps the display quality. I also found that the menu and games such as Mario Kart 8 looked nicer and ran a bit smoother.
I'm not sure if everyone would notice this, but I am coming at it from someone who has been using a direct comparison product for a year.
That being said, Slay the Spire still sadly looks quite bad when blown up to this size. To be fair, I've been playing it on the brand new M1 iPad Air (which is hot) as well as the Xbox Series X lately, so it's truly an unfair visual comparison. But it's still a shame to see such a lovely card game looking this sad.
The same goes for Hades, a visually tasty game that is just not done justice on the Nintendo Switch on a giant 8K TV. Please play it on the PS5 instead so you can take advantage of the deep blacks and gorgeous pops of colour on this telly.
Here's the thing though. These are massive TVs, so the full blame can't be placed on the processor and its upscaling limitations.
The bigger the model, the more it's going to be stretching out 720p and 1080p Switch games that are genuinely suited to smaller screens. For example, all of the games I mentioned above look better on my 65-inch Samsung 4K than they did on any of the 3 Samsung 8Ks I've tested them on over the past year, all of which have been between 75 and 85 inches.
So I'm going to make the same argument I did last year – if you dock your Switch a lot and are looking at buying an 8K TV, you might want to consider a smaller model.
Samsung NEO QLED 8K review: Streaming performance
But what if we want to simply lay on the lounge, mouths agape, staring at the wonders streaming services have to offer?
Well, obviously a brand new 8K is going to shine here too. Especially when it comes to optimised 4K content.
The likes of The Witcher were perfect for testing this due to the plethora of dark and light contrasting scenes, as well as rich costuming.
The latter is particularly relevant this year due to Samsung's new Neo Quantum processor, which is said to be even better than last year.
But what does that actually mean in the real world? One of the new features it offers is Shape Adaptive Light. This basically takes advantage of the Quantum Mini LED backlight to be more precise. Rather than putting everything on the screen on blast, it uses the AI of the processor to identify which objects should be brightened or highlighted. This results in a richer picture that looks more complex and layered.
If you're ever looking for 8K content, there are test videos on YouTube.
This was further helped by Samsung's new Real Depth Enhancer feature which again, doesn't blindly process the image. Instead it can tell the difference between the foreground and background layers and processes accordingly, creating a better depth of field for the viewer.
And I gotta say, all of this was noticeable. For shows like The Witcher, Chef's Table and Billions that play around a lot with dramatic lighting, intricate fabric and interesting props, it really made their scenes pop.
But for all these advancements, there are still noticeable absences from the Samsung Neo QLED 8K line-up. A year on and we still don't have Dolby Vision HDR or DTS:X passthrough. While not obligatory (there are other HDR and audio codec options after all), it still seems weird. They're incredibly popular and the former is the preferred HDR option for Netflix.
On the plus side, there is in-built Dolby Atmos sound this year, which is lovely. It made a nice addition to the soundbar and dual-rear speaker set-up. Together, along with the TV's internal speakers, they offered an evenly distributed surround sound experience, especially with the Q Symphony feature. This balances and evenly distributes the sound, which is great for people like me who can be sensitive to loud noises.
My only gripe here is one I have long-had with Samsung soundbars – their proclivity for dropping out. This only happened once during the review period, but has been a consistent issue with both my Samsung televisions at home. Having to go into the settings to swap between the soundbar and internal speakers and back again is very annoying, especially when you have to do it a couple of times a day. I hope this is something that's addressed in the future.
But back to the picture. Of course, 4K content is going to look awesome, but what about the upscaling while streaming?
Samsung has been proud of its TV processor capabilities over the last few years, boasting their ability to make lower-grade content look awesome on its 8K tellies. And it's true.
But you will notice some issues with older content, especially when you hit 720p and under. I found that anime such as Cowboy Bebop suffered from quite noticeable noise over the entire picture. While not unwatchable, it was distracting. Neon Genesis: Evangelion faired a little better, though it had more artefacts going on in the background.
The real cursed content came from a 360p episode of Pingu. While it was still cute, it was difficult to watch when stretched across such a large television. Poor little guy.
Still, most lower quality content (720p and above) on streaming services are still likely to look quite good on the Samsung QN900B Neo QLED, which is great news for my fifth entire rewatch of The Office.
Should you buy the Samsung Neo QLED 8K?
- Buy it if you’re looking for a brand new 8K TV at a decent price.
- Don't buy it if you already have an 8K TV or love OLED.
Nice try! While I do love telling people what to do, I'm not going to make a recommendation on a $12,000 product after 1 night, even if it is a cool $2,000 cheaper than last year's model.
And this is something I appreciate. A mere 3 years ago I was weeping at the exorbitant price of 8K TVs across most manufacturers. It made no sense considering the sheer lack of 8K content.
And while that is still an ongoing problem, at least the price tags aren't.
Sure, they still cost a pretty penny, but they're also solidly future-proofed. And I certainly feel this is the case with the Samsung QN900B Neo QLED 8K. It's a beautiful, almost-bezel-free machine that will undoubtedly elevate your gaming and viewing experience.
That being said, it is an incremental upgrade on last year's model. And after a year with it I still think it's an excellent buy that you will be able to get for even cheaper now the new ones are hitting the market. So if you don't mind going for a slightly older model, this is a solid option.
Still, if you want the best possible option and aren't an OLED evangelist, the new Neo QLED is stunning and probably worth considering.
Samsung Neo QLED 8K review: Pricing and availability
How we tested
The Samsung Neo QLED QN900B 8K was tested overnight in a hotel environment. The author has been testing and reviewing phones for over 5 years and won best reviewer at the 2021 Australian IT Journalism Awards.