Samsung is today announcing its upper tier of 2021 8K and 4K HDR TVs. And like TCL and LG before it, the company is moving to a more precise backlighting system that uses Mini LED technology for improved contrast and greater picture quality than its previous full-array local dimming systems — and Samsung’s premium QLED LCD TVs were already impressive.
The latest Mini LED advancements are being branded as “Neo QLED” and will be found in several different tiers in the 2021 lineup. There are two 8K models: the QN900A (a successor to last year’s top-tier 8K QLED with barely there bezels) and the QN800A. From there, three series of 4K TVs will get Mini LED: the QN95A, QN90A, and QN85A.
(Note: All photos in this story were captured at a private briefing in New York City arranged by Samsung. Strict social distancing and sanitization precautions were in place, and masks were worn by everyone on site.)
Samsung says the LEDs in these TVs are up to 40 times smaller than those in sets with traditional full-array backlighting, where you get a few dozen “zones” that light up and dim in accordance with what’s happening on-screen. Packing more LEDs into a smaller space results in more precise backlighting that should greatly reduce blooming, which is the halo effect you can sometimes see around bright objects on a dark background on LCD TVs when the light bleeds into a different dimming zone.
While LG tossed out some numbers for its upcoming LCD TVs with Mini LED — “up to almost 30,000 tiny LEDs” and “up to 2,500 dimming zones” — Samsung isn’t being as forward about the exact number of LEDs and dimming zones it has achieved. Similar to past years, these TVs retain quantum dot expanded color range; that’s what the Q in QLED stands for, after all.
Samsung’s 2021 QLED TVs are also aiming to make life simpler for gamers who recently purchased an Xbox Series X / S or PlayStation 5. There’s a new “game bar” with quick access to settings like refresh rate, aspect ratio, and so on. All of the HDMI 2.1 functionality you’d hope for — 4K at 120Hz, variable refresh rate, auto low latency mode, and eARC — are supported, though you’ll give up some features at the bottom of the lineup. And Samsung is bringing the ultrawide 21:9 and 32:9 ratios of its gaming monitors to the TV screen so you can get a more comprehensive view of all that’s happening.
As for sound quality, Samsung is building more speaker drivers into the 2021 TVs for what it calls Object Tracking Sound. The TVs analyze scenes and try to make it seem like sound is coming directly from the source on screen — and moving with it. A new “SpaceFit Sound” feature that uses a built-in mic on these TVs to analyze a room’s acoustics and automatically apply the best audio settings. (Yes, that mic can also be used for Google Assistant or Alexa — and it can be disabled if you don’t want it on.)
Samsung is also putting a bigger emphasis on its Samsung Health software on the big screen. These latest TVs can be paired with a video camera for a new “Smart Trainer” feature that tracks you through an interactive fitness class. Here’s what Samsung says on that:
The Smart Trainer displays an AI trainer on the left screen, and an image of yourself on the right screen, allowing you to check your posture, count your reps, and receive real-time feedback on how you’re doing—just as if you were at an in-person workout class. The AI trainer even remembers how you like to exercise, from workout type to intensity. Finally, you’ll get feedback on your calories burned and other metrics, so you can keep track of your fitness journey. And with a new auto-sync feature that links select Samsung Smart TVs, Galaxy phones, and Galaxy watches, you can pick a workout on your phone and cast it to your TV, while your watch automatically tracks your progress — without touching a button.
It’s plain to see the tit for tat that Samsung is trying to play against Apple Fitness Plus, Peloton, and other services.
Pricing for all of the new TVs will be announced closer to when they start shipping in a few months, but it should be pretty comparable to the 2019 series TVs on Samsung’s store right now.
An even more frame-like The Frame
The only one of Samsung’s “lifestyle” TVs being updated for CES is The Frame. Samsung has reduced the thickness; it’s now 24.9mm thick, which the company says “mirrors the depth of a traditional picture frame.” The 43-inch model can now be rotated into a portrait orientation, and Samsung says customers who subscribe to its Art Store — The Frame can be configured to display artwork when idle — will now get better AI-powered recommendations.
Samsung also says “there are more bezel choices than ever, from slim, neutral, and minimalist to big, ornate, and bold.” The Frame’s bezels can be swapped in a way that, in some cases, according to the company, “you can literally frame The Frame.” As for the TV itself, you get the same QLED 4K HDR picture as before.
More sizes of MicroLED
Last month, Samsung announced that it will be making a massive 110-inch TV that uses the next-gen MicroLED technology that has previously been available in the company’s modular (and only-for-the-filthy-rich) display known as The Wall. Now, the company says that 99-inch and 88-inch models will join the 110-incher, bringing MicroLED to a “traditional TV form factor” for the first time.
Instead of requiring professional installation, you’ll just take these out of the box and mount them like any other TV. Aside from the OLED-like benefits of MicroLED — self-emissive LEDs for each pixel and no backlight required — Samsung says its Multi View feature lets you watch four sources of content simultaneously on any of these sets.
Thing is, all of these TVs will still be silly expensive for a long time to come. So the Neo QLED TVs are what the vast majority of consumers will be eyeing in 2021.
Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge