The world of technology is a strange one. Chances are Joe Bloggs is still getting his head around the arrival of 4K, and you can’t even watch local news in HD yet.
Of course, tech companies don’t care about any of that, and some of the biggest players in the game have used this year’s IFA to outline their intention to kickstart the 8K revolution, even though there is quite literally nothing you can watch in that resolution in the UK. 8K gives you 16x more detail than full HD, but at the moment that’s just numbers to you and me.
So why take the plunge now, you might very reasonably ask. Well, Samsung used a behind-closed-doors event at IFA 2018 to talk up the AI upscaling abilities of its new Q900R 8K QLED range, which is expected to hit stores in just a month’s time.
Put simply, it takes both the high and low resolution and finds a better meeting point between the two, giving you a smoother and more vibrant picture, whatever you’re watching. So there’s that, as well as 4,000 nits peak brightness and full colour reproduction. But should any of this make you as excited as Samsung wants you to be? I had a look at the range in search of some answers.
Design: Go big or go home
The dawn of 8K is largely down to a growing amount of people leaning towards more wall-swallowing big screens for their living rooms. The larger the screen, the more pixels you need to fill it.
Stepping into Samsung’s TV booth, then, I was naturally drawn to the gargantuan 85in set. With very little bezel muscling in on the picture, the promo footage totally engulfs you when you’re right up close.
The TV’s wide-set feet aren’t the most stylish, but they hold the huge screen in place, and that’s the most important thing.
Stick your head behind the TV and you’ll notice that, by modern telly standards, it’s pretty chunky, but there’s so much tech in there that anyone buying one of these probably isn’t going to mind.
Like Samsung’s now practically medieval 4K flagship the Q9FN, the Q900R features the company’s One Invisible Connection system, which hides away all the plugs in a box connected to the TV via a single cable.
Features: In order to succeed you must (up)scale
Without any 8K Netflix to show off, Samsung’s telly from the future actually has a rather modest goal: take UHD content and lower, and employ some behind-the-scenes wizardry to make it look better than it would on a 4K TV tasked with the same job.
In the demo I sat in, we were shown side-by-sides of everything from 1080p footage and cartoons, right down to low-res YouTube clips. In each scenario, Samsung’s Quantum Processor 8K will improve textures and tackle noise, while reducing jagging and blurriness.
It’s taking every picture, applying machine learning to correct it on the fly, and making sure that every one of the 7,680 x 4,320 pixels are being put to good use. The same process is even applied to DVDs.
The Q900R has in it a Direct Full Array Elite system too, which apparently gives greater backlighting control, as well as Hollywood-worthy 100% colour volume.
And there are advantages for gamers too. Support for FreeSync variable refresh rate should eliminate screen-tearing, while Samsung’s Motion Plus feature gives you a smoother gameplay experience for the price of a teeny increase in input lag. Handily, game mode is activated automatically when you switch on your console, meaning less time jabbing at your remote.
Performance: Bright idea
Just like ketchup can immeasurably improve the most bang average meal, the 8K Q900R’s AI upscaling really does make lower resolution content look better.
720p footage is noticeably less jaggy and crisper overall, and sticklers for sharp text on their screens will pleased to know that Samsung’s processing tech does an admirable job considering the size of the panels it’s working with. Stills from a cartoon showed less noise on the newest QLED and just looked a bit softer.
None of the images looked great, obviously, but you can see how the Quantum Processor spruces them up without having to squint your eyes.
It’s impossible not to be blown away by the retina-searing brightness, the colours and the HDR10+ performance exhibited in the looping stock clips, which only makes it more disappointing every time you have to remind yourself that we’re still years away from native 8K content being readily available in your living room.
Samsung Q900R QLED 8K first impressions
The fact that Samsung’s new TV can make 4K look even better on a humongous 85in panel is great. That it can prevent your 20-year-old Happy Gilmore DVD from looking diabolical? Also great. Add to that the dazzling 4,000 nits peak brightness and awesome HDR performance, and it’s hard not to get reeled in.
But there’s no getting around it: with quite literally nothing to watch, even early adopters with more wall space than they know what to do with are going to have a hard time justifying the (inevitably) sky-high price tag at this stage. That 4K OLED you’ve been eyeing up hasn’t suddenly been rendered obsolete, and it’s a more sensible investment at this stage. Already have one? Remove it from the bin immediately.
Still, it’s good to see that, rather than pretending 8K is right around the corner, Samsung is pushing its new TV's abilities in the here and now. If we’re able to somehow fit one through the door, we’re looking forward to spending a lot more time accessing those AI features.
At this stage the 8K war feels almost as pointless as a pet rock, but the Q900R is coming very soon, and I’d like the future to get a move on.