Samsung’s Neo QLED is excellent for bright settings, but it can’t match OLED’s contrast

Samsung's Neo QLED is excellent for bright settings, but it can't match OLED's contrast

Samsung 65-inch QN90A Neo QLED 4K TV

Pros: Brighter than an OLED, little LED backlight with remarkable contrast, broad viewing angles for an LCD, solar-powered voice remote, HDMI 2.1 connector
Cons: Contrast isn’t nearly as precise as an OLED, there’s no Dolby Vision compatibility, certain video appears somewhat overexposed, and there’s a rainbow effect with some reflections.

Samsung’s QLED TVs from last year had some of the greatest color and brightness performance on the market. In 2021, the business expands its selection by introducing “Neo QLED” models to the mix, such as the flagship QN90A.

The extra “Neo” branding is more than just a marketing tactic; it truly signifies a significant upgrade, delivering a better backlighting system that utilises Mini LEDs rather than normal LEDs.

The QN90A can manage contrast more precisely thanks to smaller LEDs. The result is a stunning TV that comes close to the black level quality of an OLED while maintaining Samsung’s signature punchy brightness.

Samsung 65-inch QN90A 4K TV specifications 

Samsung 65-inch QN90A 4K TVSpecifications
Panel type:65-inch Vertical Alignment (VA) LCD 
Resolution:4K Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160)
Refresh rate:120Hz native refresh rate
Local dimming:Full-array with Mini LEDs
HDR support:HDR10, HDR10+, and HLG
Color:Wide color support with quantum dots
Dimensions:56.9 x 35.2 x 11.2 inches with stand attached
Weight:69.2 pounds with stand attached
HDMI ports:Four HDMI inputs (one eARC, one HDMI 2.1)
Smart TV system:Tizen
Connectivity:Wi-Fi, Apple AirPlay 2, and Ethernet
Audio:4.2.2 integrated speakers
Remote:Samsung SolarCell remote with Bixby, Alexa, and Google Assistant

Setup and design

With a substantial pedestal stand and a wonderfully thin display, the QN90A has a premium appearance to match its flagship status. The stand is easy to put together, albeit it does come in two components that must be put together first.

The QN90A, like the Q90T from last year, has all of its connections and components integrated within the panel itself rather than a separate connection box. In the past, Samsung used connecting boxes with some of its high-end TVs, but I like having everything built right into the panel.

Although there are four HDMI ports on the TV for connecting external devices, only one of them supports HDMI 2.1 for enhanced gaming features. Although HDMI 2.1 is welcome, the QN90A only has one 2.1 connection, which is disappointing given that many other TV makers have several 2.1 ports.

Samsung's Neo QLED is excellent for bright settings, but it can't match OLED's contrast

The bundled voice remote is small and simple, but it gets the job done. It also has a unique solar panel for charging, which eliminates the need for batteries. Samsung claims that the SolarCell technology is “effective enough to run on electric lighting, such as conventional lightbulbs,” even though sunlight will suffice. This means you can just flip the remote to charge via your living room’s indoor lights.

If you need to charge the remote through USB-C, it is also possible. This is a great, forward-thinking design feature, and I hope that other TV manufacturers follow suit.

You’ll be directed through normal setup screens and terms of service agreements after turning on the TV, but the procedure is straightforward. I recommend using the “Filmmaker Mode” or “Movie” settings with all further processing deactivated for the most accurate out-of-the-box picture. For standard dynamic range (SDR) content, I prefer to have local dimming set to standard, and for high dynamic range (HDR) content, I prefer to keep it set to high.

Performance in the film

The QN90A produces powerful HDR highlights and deep black levels, giving in image quality that rivals that of a top 4K TV. Samsung was able to cram in more dimming zones than prior QLED models thanks to the display’s innovative Mini LED backlight, resulting in stunning contrast.

Brightness and dimming

The Q90T had 120 zones last year, but the QN90A ups the ante to a whopping 792 zones. The resulting contrast can’t quite equal an OLED panel’s pixel-level precision, but it’s closer than ever while providing a brighter image.

High-end OLED TVs have a maximum brightness of roughly 800 nits. I measured a high of roughly 1,700 nits on the QN90A using an X-Rite i1Display Pro Plus Colorimeter and test patterns from the Spears and Munsil UHD Benchmark disc. That’s a lot more than the 1,000 nit level for which a lot of HDR video is mastered, so you’ll get the full effect.

In a dark environment, the black levels are beautiful and inky, allowing black bars in letterbox movies to entirely vanish. In fact, this display has some of the best local dimming I’ve ever seen, making backlight alterations practically undetectable when watching most content.

Samsung's Neo QLED is excellent for bright settings, but it can't match OLED's contrast

However, some minor blooming does occur around bright objects on occasion. This problem is plainly obvious in a test pattern with a starfield, generating halos and vignetting around individual stars, but it is rarely visible when watching actual movies and shows.

When a program cuts to an image with a very dark or very bright background, certain brightness fluctuations are visible. In some HDR footage, I also detect a slight overexposed look on faces, with highlights in skintones seeming flat.

These are primarily minor quibbles, as the QN90A’s image quality is outstanding overall. Blu-rays and streaming titles in 4K Ultra HD simply pop off the screen. The TV easily handled my usual selection of 4K demo titles, from “The Matrix” to “The Fellowship of the Ring,” exposing no major flaws.

Gaming

The QN90A is designed with next-generation gaming in mind, including HDMI 2.1 on board. I connected my PS5 and was able to get full 4K HDR 120Hz support. VRR is also supported, though I don’t have a gaming device with this functionality to test it out on.

Sharp detail, lush colors, and smooth animation make games like “Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart” and “Final Fantasy VII: Remake” seem stunning. When a console is recognized, you can set game mode to automatically start, which helps to eliminate input lag (the delay between pressing a button on the controller and the action happening on-screen).

Samsung's Neo QLED is excellent for bright settings, but it can't match OLED's contrast

In game mode, the QN90A also has a helpful Game Bar overlay that you can toggle by holding the Play button on the remote. This brings up a pop-up menu with gaming information such as aspect ratio, HDR, input lag, VRR, and refresh rate.

Angles of view and reflections

For an LCD-based TV, the viewing angles are quite excellent. When sitting off to the side, blooming becomes more evident, but colors don’t distort as much as they do on other QLED TVs from Vizio, TCL, and Hisense.

Direct reflections are generally handled effectively as well, but some lights might create a distracting rainbow look on the screen when viewed from certain angles. When I put up the TV in my living room, I didn’t notice any reflections, but the way street lights shine through the blinds in my home office at night was more visible. This isn’t a problem that blackout curtains can’t solve, but it’s something to consider.

Features of Smart TVs

Samsung’s Smart Hub platform, which is based on the Tizen operating system, is used by the QN90A. With quick navigation and a simple, clean UI, I feel this OS to be one of the more trustworthy smart TV platforms on the market.

Samsung’s usage of a pop-up menu to access apps and menus rather than a regular home page, as most smart TVs do, is particularly appealing. This design allows you to switch between apps without having to exit and return to the home screen.

Samsung's Neo QLED is excellent for bright settings, but it can't match OLED's contrast

Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, Vudu, Sling, YouTube, HBO Max, and Peacock are among the main streaming apps included. All of the main 4K providers support HDR10, with Prime Video and Paramount Plus offering HDR10+ support. Unfortunately, Samsung does not yet support Dolby Vision.

The supplied remote allows you to pick between Samsung’s Bixby, Amazon Alexa, or Google Assistant for voice control. The ability to use a wake word instead of holding the mic button to initiate commands is available, however I prefer to use the button to avoid inadvertent use.

Despite how good Samsung’s smart TV experience is, I still prefer to watch on my dedicated Roku Ultra. To be clear, this is true of practically every smart TV I review, as standalone players almost always provide smoother navigation.

Should you purchase it?

The Samsung 65-inch QN90A is an excellent value at $2,100 for anyone looking for a true flagship 4K TV that prioritizes brightness. For an LCD TV, the display’s sophisticated Mini LED panel offers high-end HDR picture quality, outstanding contrast, and viewing angles.

When it comes to overall home theater performance in a dark room, similarly priced OLED displays still beat out the QN90A, but Samsung’s set is a better option for consumers who watch TV in brighter conditions.

What other options do you have?

Similar 65-inch Mini LED TVs from TCL and LG are among the QN90A’s primary competitors.

The TCL 6-Series ($1,300) is less expensive than the QN90A, but it can’t be as bright and has narrower viewing angles. The Roku version lacks HDMI 2.1 connectors as well, although the new Google TV device does.

We haven’t tried LG’s new 90-Series “QNED” ($2,000), but it appears to be a viable Mini LED competition. However, I did get an opportunity to see the 8K QNED model in action, and while it produces a stunning image, I did notice a small checkerboard pattern on the screen with some programs. I believe the Mini LEDs are to blame, but it’s not something I’ve ever experienced on Samsung’s QN90A.

Samsung's Neo QLED is excellent for bright settings, but it can't match OLED's contrast

For those looking for a less expensive QLED, Vizio’s P-Series ($1,200) and Hisense’s U8G ($1,250) are good options, but both sets don’t use Mini LEDs, so contrast and dimming aren’t as good.

OLED vs. Neo QLED TVs

As an alternative to Samsung’s Neo QLED, buyers looking for a premium TV should explore OLED models. LG, Sony, and Vizio all have 65-inch OLED TVs that cost around the same as the QN90A and offer similar features.

The black levels on an OLED TV are more exact, the contrast is better, and the viewing angles are wider. However, depending on what you’re watching, the changes can be modest, and Neo QLED TVs can get much brighter than OLED TVs. As a result, the QN90A is a better suited for rooms with more natural light.

With a Neo QLED, you also don’t have to worry about permanent burn-in. If you leave a static image on the screen for too long, it might cause burn-in on OLEDs. As a result, a ghost image becomes fixed on the screen. Most OLED consumers with normal watching habits shouldn’t be concerned about this, but QN90A owners won’t have to.\

Compare Samsung TVs

QN90AQN900AQN800AQN85AQ80A
Sizes85″, 75″, 65″, 55″, 50″, 43″85″, 75″, 65″85″, 75″, 65″85″, 75″, 65″, 55″85″, 75″, 65″, 55″, 50″
ClarityQuantum Matrix TechnologyNeo Quantum Processor 8KNeo Quantum Processor 8KQuantum Matrix TechnologyQuantum Processor 4K
ContrastQuantum Matrix TechnologyQuantum Matrix Technology ProQuantum Matrix Technology ProQuantum Matrix TechnologyDirect Full Array Backlight
ColorQuantum DotQuantum DotQuantum DotQuantum DotQuantum Dot
HDR (High Dynamic Range)Quantum HDR 32x / 24XQuantum HDR 64x/48xQuantum HDR 32xQuantum HDR 24XQuantum HDR 12x / 8x
SoundObject Tracking Sound+Object Tracking Sound ProObject Tracking Sound+Object Tracking SoundObject Tracking Sound
Gaming4K @ 120HZ4K @ 120HZ4K @ 120HZ4K @ 120HZ4K @ 120HZ
Motion TechnologyMotion Xcelerator Turbo+Motion Xcelerator Turbo+Motion Xcelerator Turbo+Motion Xcelerator Turbo+Motion Xcelerator Turbo+
Voice AssistanceMultiple Voice AssistantsMultiple Voice AssistantsMultiple Voice AssistantsMultiple Voice AssistantsMultiple Voice Assistants
HDMI 2.1 Features (# of ports)44444
Smart TVSmart TV powered by TizenSmart TV powered by TizenSmart TV powered by TizenSmart TV powered by TizenSmart TV powered by Tizen
Key Step up FeaturesUltra Viewing AngleInfinity ScreenAttachable Slim One ConnectAnti-ReflectionWide Viewing Angle

Last but not least

Samsung's Neo QLED is excellent for bright settings, but it can't match OLED's contrast

For around $2,100, Samsung’s 65-inch QN90A offers premium picture quality and a high-end smart TV experience. The “Neo QLED” name isn’t just a marketing ploy; because to its Mini LED lighting, this year’s model provides substantial improvements. Although the improvement in performance isn’t significant, it’s still a welcome addition.

TCL, Vizio, and Hisense have cheaper choices for those who aren’t concerned with top-of-the-line picture quality, but the QN90A is a better-looking QLED TV if you can afford it.

Samsung's Neo QLED is excellent for bright settings, but it can't match OLED's contrast

Samsung 65-inch QN90A Neo QLED 4K TV

Pros: Brighter than an OLED, little LED backlight with remarkable contrast, broad viewing angles for an LCD, solar-powered voice remote, HDMI 2.1 connector
Cons: Contrast isn’t nearly as precise as an OLED, there’s no Dolby Vision compatibility, certain video appears somewhat overexposed, and there’s a rainbow effect with some reflections.


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