Tech reviews

Samsung Q85R 4K HDR QLED TV hands on review

The Q85R is potentially the most interesting high-end QLED in Samsung’s 2019 range. It’s positioned just below the flashy-as-heck flagship Q950R, and strategically ahead of the Q80R, Q70R and Q60R.

What makes it fascinating is that it’s unique to the UK and Europe. A halfway house between models above and below, it could offer buyers a better deal for barely any compromise in quality, when it lands in store this March.

Like all but one of this year’s QLED offerings, it uses direct LED backlighting, rather than edgelight, for superior contrast and HDR precision.

Price and availability

The Samsung Q85R will be available in 75-, 65- and 55-inch screen sizes. They’ll all become available from March of 2019, with pricing yet to be revealed.

However, note that these are just UK and European exclusive releases. You’ll have to import them if you’re buying from elsewhere, and while the cost of the sets has yet to be revealed, you’d have to assume any import charges will bring you close to the price of the Q950R flagship, at which point you should probably opt for that instead.

Design and image quality

So what is the main difference between the Q85R and the Q80R? Well, most significantly, like the Q90R, it comes with a One Connect box. This outboard function junction relegates connectivity to a separate unit which can be stashed amid other components – streamers, consoles, Blu-ray players and so on.

It also means you need run just a single ‘invisible’ cable to the panel. This routes not just AV but power as well. Useful if you want to keep things tidy when wall mounting. 

As mentioned above, the Q85R is available in 75-, 65- and 55-inch screen sizes. We had an opportunity to take a closer look at the set in its two largest guises, when it was unveiled at the Samsung Forum, held recently in Porto, Portugal. 

A lack of Dolby Vision support will be a disappointment to many enthusiasts. While HDR10+, the open standard dynamic metadata alternative, is finally showing some commercial life, with Amazon on board and a select number of UHD Blu-ray releases (including Bohemian Rhapsody) available, it still isn’t anywhere as common as Dolby Vision.

The Q85R isn’t quite as honed as the no-compromise Q90R. It doesn’t have the same number of backlight LED zones. Samsung quotes 8x compared to 16x on its step-up model, which leads us to think it has half the number (Samsung is keeping mum on just how many are used), and consequently it’s not as bright when it comes to HDR peaks. The cheaper Q80R has a 6x rating, so a few less dimming zones than the Q85R.

Samsung quotes a peak brightness of 1500 nits for the Q85R, compared to the 2000 nits of the Q90R.

However, subjectively its images seem comparable and remain extraordinarily vibrant. This wide color gamut screen certainly lives up to its WGC billing, delivering deep, rich reds and oceanic blues, with no overt noise. 

The set’s black level performance appears good too. There was no obvious sign of blooming, or haloing during high contrast scenes. That said, remember that this Q85R sample was on display in a brightly lit showroom where screen uniformity was next to impossible to access. 

It’s black level is not, perhaps, as deeply satisfying as the Q950R, but that may well be down to different screen filtering between the two models.

The set uses Samsung’s new Quantum 4K image processor. This adapts technology from the first wave of Samsung 8K models, using AI algorithms to upscale video from any source.

Design is minimal, but terrific. The bezel itself is extremely slight, and there’s a thin central T-bar stand keeping everything upright. I suppose the idea is you align your Samsung soundbar against the bar.

The use of direct LED backlighting means the screen isn’t as wafer thin as you might imagine. A gentle curve takes the edge off its depth, but it’s still quite chunky.

We doubt this would prove an issue though. If your plan is to park on wide, low AV furniture, the depth of the set becomes academic. If you’re going to wall-mount, don’t expect it to sit flush, although it does come with Samsung’s No Gap wall Mount.

One of Samsung’s new party tricks is Ultra Viewing Angle technology. This re-engineered panel is able to more evenly distribute the backlight for improved off axis viewing. The good news is this new light control appears to work well. Slouching off to the left and right doesn’t see any significant reduction in contrast and color. Mission accomplished!

Before this shift to AI processing, image handling was based on a preset ‘if this then that’ decision making process. By introducing an AI chipset, the silicon can theoretically improve image handling with firmware updates.

The new AI chip will also supposedly allow the Q85R to dynamically manage HDR tone mapping, for better tracking of maximum brightness and color information. We can apparently look forward to greater accuracy as a result.

Smart features and audio

It’s not just video which gets an AI injection. The Q85R will also offer AI based audio. This is a far more contentious development. When used, the TV automatically analyses programme material, and adjusts to a specific preset. Frankly, we’d prefer to hear what was in the original mix, the way it was originally intended.

The screen is fully smart, with access to the usual wide range of streaming apps. It looks like Samsung is still giving Freeview Play a swerve, but we would expect to see a full complement of catch-up apps, as well as the big hitters like Netflix, Amazon Video and YouTube, when it ships. The big new content story is the arrival of an Apple iTunes Movies and TV app, which removes the need for an Apple TV when it comes to accessing your online movie purchases. Now you can ask Siri to play your Game of Thrones box sets, directly.

If you opt for a 65- or 75-inch model, and wall-mount, then the brand’s Ambient mode can be used to help blend it into its surroundings, as well as news, images and weather information, when in Standby mode. The set will also interface with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Samsung’s own Bixby voice platform.

Early verdict

When it comes to 4K UHD performance and features, the Q85R ticks a good many boxes. It’s clearly a premium performer. One key aspect of the Q85R not revealed at the Porto unveil was price. It remains to be seen just how this model compares with models above and below. However, on the evidence of its showcase performance, you can color us excited.


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