The single biggest TV story to emerge from 2021’s (frustratingly) virtual CES was the rebirth of Mini LED backlight technology.
TCL will already be shouting at the screen that it’s been selling mini-LED TVs for two years now, and that’s true – it has. But Mini LED’s status as a potentially ‘next-gen’ TV technology was undoubtedly lifted to a whole new level by the announcements by both Samsung and LG that they, too, would be incorporating Mini LED technology into their 2021 TV ranges.
Samsung has become the first of the South Korean electronics giants to release one of its debut Mini LED sets into the wild. And surprisingly given the push the brand has been giving 8K in recent years, that first Samsung Mini LED is its flagship 4K model for 2021: The 65-inch QN65QN90A.
The Samsung QN65QN90A is the brand’s first TV equipped with Mini LED technology.
Anyone reading this article in Europe should note that this exact model is not available there. The closest equivalent model is the QE65QN95A, which uses the same screen spec, but ships with an external connections box instead of building all of its connections into the main TV chassis like the QN90A does. The European version will cost more than the $2,600 QN90A, but final European prices have yet to be announced.
As well as potentially allowing Samsung to deliver game-changing levels of backlight control, the shift to Mini LED technology (which removes the bulky lens and ‘packaging’ elements associated with normal LED lights) for the 65QN90A has enabled a much slimmer design than you got with last year’s equivalent model. As a rather ‘unsvelte’ person myself, I kind of liked the chunky monolithic design of that predecessor. But there’s no doubt that the 65QN90A’s back-end trimness makes for a more elegant, refined presence in your living room – especially given that the frame around the screen is so slim you barely notice it.
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The big deal with Mini LED technology, of course, is that making the lighting units that illuminate the screen much smaller makes it possible to fit many more of them into the same screen area. Partner this with advanced local dimming capable of driving far more separate lighting ‘zones’, and you’ve got a potentially transformative backlight scenario.
In the 65QN90A’s case, this equates to 792 separate dimming zones. This is not the thousands of dimming zones mentioned in some general Mini LED hype, and is apparently less than we can expect to find in Samsung’s upcoming 8K Mini LED TVs. On the other hand, 792 ones is considerably more than the 480 zones that marked the most we found on any of Samsung’s 2020 sets. In fact, 2020’s 4K flagship only benefitted from 120 separate dimming zones – even though that set actually cost $100 more at launch than the 65QN90A.
Samsung has completely redesigned its backlighting algorithms to accommodate Mini LED’s capabilities, including reconfiguring the extra power management element (where power is continually redistributed from dark areas that don’t need it to bright areas that do) that proved so effective on last year’s equivalent Q90T model.
The Samsung QN65QN90A
Managing so many lights in real time clearly requires a lot of brainpower. This is provided by a new Quantum Matrix system that also powers a new Black Detail Boost feature designed to retain more shadow detail in dark picture areas.
More QN65QN90A processing oomph is provided by the Neo Quantum Processor, complete with so-called ‘multi-intelligence’. Whereas Samsung’s 2020 premium TVs had to go with the image analysis outcome of a single upscaling neural network, the Neo Quantum Processor can draw on the image outcomes of a massive 16 neural networks, and then intelligently select the optimal outcome from these 16 possibilities for each and every image scenario.
Naturally this huge increase in AI input could have profound implications, in particular, for the quality of Samsung’s already strong upscaling.
The 65QN90A continues Samsung’s love affair with ‘QLED’ Quantum Dot technology, as you’d expect. Except now the combination of Mini LED with Samsung’s Quantum Dots has spawned a new Neo QLED nomenclature.
Samsung has always been keen on expressing the brighter side of the high dynamic range (HDR) equation, so it’s not surprising to find it jumping at the possibilities Mini LED introduces for unleashing light. I measured the QN65QN90A delivering a massive 2,700 nits of brightness on a white HDR square occupying 10% of the screen. Achieved in the TV’s Dynamic mode, though, this massive light peak is only sustained very briefly before the brightness backs off rapidly. So the much more stable 2007 nits achieved using the Standard preset is arguably a more realistic brightness figure for most day to day use.
Completists might want to note that the Natural and Movie presets deliver 1445 and 1746 nits respectively, while even the Filmmaker mode (designed to meet the specification of the independent Ultra HD Alliance) hits 1652 nits.
While we’re hoping to see more premium OLED TVs turning up this year boasting peak brightness levels of more than 1,000 nits, the move to Mini LED certainly seems to have helped Samsung retain the brightness advantage over its deadly OLED rival that it’s leveraged so hard for generations now.
The Samsung QN65QN90A. And no, that isn’t me.
While the QN65QN90A’s specifications and features have all looked pretty rosy so far, things hit an unexpected bump with the set’s connections. At least where the US model is concerned. For despite gamers now being able to get their hands on (ongoing restock issues notwithstanding!) PC graphics cards and two new consoles capable of shipping out 4K HDR graphics at 120Hz frame rates, the QN65QN90A only carries a single HDMI port capable of handling that level of data. Most of LG’s 2019, 2020, and 2021 OLED TVs, by comparison, carry four 4K/120Hz-capable HDMI ports.
Buyers of the QN65QN95A in Europe are much better served, with that model’s external One Connect box offering four 4K/120Hz-capable HDMIs. Though as noted earlier, European buyers will have to pay extra for this privilege.
In other areas, thankfully, the QN65QN90A’s game features are much more substantial. Input lag, for instance, is now a class-leading 9.2ms in the most basic Game mode. This rises to 14ms with the Game Motion Pro system switched on, which adds some gentle motion smoothing – but that’s still an excellent result in the circumstances.
There’s even an option now to deploy a black frame insertion-based LED Motion Control option while gaming, and even this only upped the input lag to a still-respectable 39.2ms.
The QN65QN90A further stands out from the gaming crowd by being the first set to support the Freesync Premium Pro ‘standard’ alongside the HDMI 2.1 version of variable refresh rate technology and NVidia G-Sync (though the latter is currently not officially mentioned in Samsung’s menus).
It’s also the first TV to support the 21:9 and 32:9 ultra wide aspect ratio options now provided by a growing number of PC games.
With so many potential game input standards to think about this year, Samsung’s new Game Bar feature is much appreciated. This pops up when a game source is detected to tell you at a glance such key information as what frame rate and VRR system your game source may be putting out, as well as giving you quick access to some of the key gaming picture adjustments.
The Samsung QN65QN90A
It was a relief to find that the QN65QN90A suffers none of the playback issues with the PS5’s 4K 120Hz output that are still ongoing at the time of writing with Samsung’s 2020 TVs.
One expected feature shortcoming of the QN65QN90A that also impacts gaming is its lack of Dolby support. There’s neither built-in Dolby Atmos decoding (though Atmos can be passed through to external audio devices over the TV’s e-ARC HDMI) nor Dolby Vision HDR.
Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision appear on many 4K Blu-rays and streams these days, of course, and Dolby Atmos also appears on a significant and growing number of Xbox and PC games (a full list of which can be found here). Furthermore, while Dolby Vision games are currently restricted to barely a handful of PC releases, the Series X is set to get a Dolby Vision game upgrade later this year.
The QN65QN90A does support the baseline HDR10 format, the broadcast-friendly HLG format, and the Samsung-developed HDR10+ format. The latter, like Dolby Vision, adds extra scene by scene picture data to help compatible TVs deliver more accurate and dynamic-looking pictures. While Samsung’s vested interest in HDR10+ may explain its reluctance to embrace the ‘rival’ Dolby Vision system, the lack of built-in Dolby Atmos decoding is more puzzling. Many other brands now carry it in their premium TVs, after all, and the QN65QN90A’s sophisticated, multi-channel speaker system feels tailor-made to accommodate Atmos’s ‘3D’ sound approach.
That speaker system features a 4.2.2 configuration capable of delivering sound from all of the TV’s edges, rather than just from the bottom edge as happens with most TVs. This allows Samsung to provide an Object Tracking Sound (OTS+) system that’s able to place sound details with more precision, so that they seem to be coming from exactly the right area on the screen (or off the edges of the screen, actually).
The QN65QN90A’s audio set up can also unlock Samsung’s Q-Symphony system, where a Samsung soundbar connected via the TV’s ARC HDMI port can combine with the speakers in the TV to deliver a larger, ‘higher’ wall of sound.
A trio of final cool features worth covering are Tap View, which allows you to connect compatible Samsung phones just by tapping them against the TV’s bodywork; the fact that the small ‘smart’ remote is solar powered; and Multiview, which lets you watch up to four difference sources on screen at once.
Let’s get right to the point: Does Mini LED really make a difference to picture quality? Even though the 4K 65QN90A has fewer Mini LED ‘zones’ than Samsung’s 2021 8K sets are going to have, the improvements in terms of blooming and object dimming really are impressive.
The Samsung QN65QN90A’s ‘smart’ remote control
Typical LCD ‘torture tests’ such as the scenes beginning at 02.35 and 34.16 in It, the meeting with the commander that starts at 05:09 in 1917, and Chapter 7 of Exodus: Gods And Kings are all handled incredibly well by the 65QN90A.
Black levels are sensational, for starters; OLED-like in their depth and, even more surprisingly, their consistency. There’s no sign of baseline black level ‘flicker’, and when this TV fades to black, its screen completely blends in with the pitch darkness of a blacked out room – something I haven’t seen before outside the premium OLED world.
Even better, using video (rather than game) picture presets, the intense black levels are hardly ever disturbed by so much as a hint of backlight leakage or blooming, even where near total blackness sits around a seriously bright HDR highlight.
The 65QN90A is also much better than any previous Samsung LCD TVs have been at retaining the intensity of bright highlights that appear against dark backgrounds. In the past, Samsung’s focus on suppressing backlight blooming has sometimes led to stand-out bright image content such as white text credits on black backgrounds, or the white space ships of 2001: A Space Odyssey, being deprived of so much brightness that you couldn’t help but be distracted by it. Now that this is much less likely to happen on the 65QN90A thanks to its Mini LED lighting, and is much less severe even on the rare occasions where it does happen, the image becomes far more consistent and immersive.
There doesn’t even seem to be any blooming or clouding in the black bars above and below wide aspect ratio films on the 65QN90A. I don’t know if this is because moving to Mini LED has enabled Samsung to go back to completely switching off the lights in these bars when they’re detected, as used to happen with some Samsung TVs a few generations ago, or whether it’s just a handy side effect of the generally increased backlight accuracy. But whatever the cause, I’m very pleased to see it, as it substantially reduces the potential for backlight controls to become distracting.
Yet more good news concerns the naturalism of the black levels. In other words, there are no blue, grey or purple undercurrents to the blackness, and shadow detailing is superb, with pretty much no significant black crush. This is even the case when using the TV’s fairly extreme (in brightness, contrast and colour terms) Standard picture preset.
The Samsung QN65QN90A. And no, that’s not my house.
Nothing about any dark scene on the QN90A feels hollow or empty. In fact, it’s the TV’s ability to look as three-dimensional and full of detail with dark scenes as it does with bright scenes that most reveals just how real (rather than forced) the QN90A’s Mini LED-driven contrast and black level prowess is.
Making a further contribution to the immense black level performance of Samsung’s latest TV is its anti-reflection screen, which really does suppress ambient light reflections brilliantly. Direct light sources can cause a dull ‘rainbow spread’ effect across dark areas, but this is less overtly distracting, for me, than the usual glaringly bright points of reflected light.
There is a ceiling, to be clear, to what even Mini LED can do with respect to local light control. As I said earlier, while stand-out bright objects are much less likely to suffer significant dimming on the 65QN90A than they are on Samsung’s normal FALD screens, there is a size-based limit to this. So if an area of intense brightness is particularly small, it can still end up looking significantly dimmer than it would on a screen technology such as OLED that uses self-emissive pixels.
A perfect example of what I’m talking about occurs in the Georgie basement scene in It, at 03.38. The two ‘eyes’ peering out of the darkness lose so much of the gleam I know they’re supposed to carry that you barely notice them.
Crucially, though, the size ‘threshold’ for where the dimming down of stand-out bright objects is still very aggressive really has become pretty tiny thanks to Mini LED. So, for instance, while the pin pricks of light in the aforementioned It shot cause a problem, the notoriously difficult to show candles at 24.42-24.45 in Exodus look pretty much undiminished in their intensity on the 65QN90A, despite still being pretty small in the context of the whole image.
The Samsung QN65QN90A’s smart remote has a solar panel on its rear.
At which point it’s high time I started talking about the real-world contribution of the massive brightness figures I measured earlier. For while the screen’s black level prowess might be the first thing you notice given LCD’s usual relative weaknesses in that area, the 65QN90A is also capable of delivering levels of brightness OLED screens can only dream about.
In fact, the combination of this brightness with the improved local light control produces an almost luminous quality and intensity to many HDR images that goes beyond anything I’ve experienced before on any TV with the exception, perhaps, of Sony’s insanely expensive Z9G 8K models.
As a result, daylight exteriors in aggressively mastered 4K HDR Blu-ray titles such as Mad Max: Fury Road, It and Pan enjoy a remarkably believable, realistic level of luminosity – especially as the 65QN90A can maintain its immense brightness with most of its picture presets even when the whole screen is full of bright imagery.
The brightness is also transformative with both natural and artificial light sources in otherwise predominantly dark images. The stained glass windows in the room where Pennywise jumps out of a coffin to attack Richie (1.22.47) in It Chapter 1 look, again, as fearsomely intense as they would in real life. As does the lamp on Bill’s desk as he makes the boat with Georgie at 04.10.
The luminous quality of the HDR imagery is not only subjectively beautiful, but rams home spectacularly just how critical brightness is to the HDR experience. Especially since the TV is capable of producing such rich blacks and dark tone subtlety alongside its explosive brightness.
The Samsung QN65QN90A’s connections
There are, though, a couple of issues with the backlighting aside from the aforementioned dimming of really tiny bright objects. First, the left and right edges of the picture can – depending on what you’re watching – look slightly dimmer than the rest of the image for around a cm or so.
The other issue is some ‘dirty screen effect’. The shot in Blade Runner 2049 at around 3:50, where K approaches Sapper’s home, reveals faint vertical shadowy bands within the shot’s whiteness – especially if you’re using the Movie picture preset. There’s also a slight horizontal banding effect in the sequence at the start of Chapter 2 of BR 2049 as the Spinner flies across the city towards HQ. This can also be seen in the bland grey walls of some shots in K’s apartment, from 17.14 until the end of the scene. Especially, again, in Movie mode, or when using the TV’s Intelligent Adaptive picture mode.
Fortunately these effects occur only rarely, or are typically faint enough to barely be noticeable.
The QN90A’s sharpness, meanwhile, is exceptional. Thanks to the efforts of Samsung’s latest processing and panel structure, even native 4K sources seem way sharper – at least when using the Natural and Standard presets – than they look on most other 4K TVs. As we fly over the landscape of greenhouses in the opening sequence of BR2049, for instance, there’s a level of texture and detail on the roofs of the crop covers that I’ve never noticed before.
What’s particularly cool about this extra Standard mode sharpness is that it has mostly been achieved without the unwanted side effects (stressed object edges, shimmering/moire noise over areas of very fine detail) that used to be a fairly common issue with Samsung TVs. Only occasionally with very tiny lines can some stressing still be apparent (such as the seagulls swirling above the beach in Exodus during the scene that starts around 2.00.37).
It is possible if you sit unhealthily close to the QN65QN90A to see a very thin horizontal line structure in the picture, caused by the screen’s highly effective wide angle/anti-reflection technology. This is pretty much impossible to detect from a regular viewing distance, though.
I guess the default Standard and Natural mode sharpness, in tandem with their brightness and colour vibrancy, might be a bit too aggressive for some people (though probably not many people, I suspect, given that these eye-catching image attributes have been achieved without causing unwanted artefacts). If it is, though, then the QN65QN90A’s sharpness adjustment offers a pleasingly granular level of control this year, while the Movie preset immediately softens things down too.
The Samsung QN65QN90A
The only aspect of the 65QN90A’s clarity that I don’t think works well out of the box is its motion processing. The ‘Auto Clarity’ processing mode active by default with the Dynamic, Standard and Natural picture presets cause motion to look too smooth, too soft, and/or too prone to distracting processing artefacts, such as shimmering halos and ‘twitching’ around the edges of moving objects.
This isn’t to say you can’t get good results from Samsung’s motion processing with a little manual effort. Personally I found the most natural results came from selecting the Custom option and then setting the blur and judder components to around four each, with the LED Motion and Black Frame insertion options turned off.
The effect on motion of the BFI system is actually very effective. However, it removes quite a lot of the 65QN90A’s brightness – and I suspect that once most people have experienced the full brightness the QN90A can offer in its Standard mode (the Dynamic mode is just too much), the amount of dimming the BFI causes will feel hard to take.
As I’d hoped from its combination of very high brightness, excellent black levels and use of Quantum Dots, the QN90A produces truly spectacular colors across a huge range of ‘volumes’. Even better, the subtlety of the color reproduction is mesmerising (possibly due in part to the more refined use of light Mini LED has made possible.)
There’s very little HDR color striping this year, either. Even the skies of the difficult beach at dusk sequence in Exodus: Gods And Kings (1.58.21-1.59.50) look almost entirely stripe-free. And skin tones look impressively believable regardless of whether they’re appearing in a dark or light scene.
The aggression of the QN65QN90A’s pictures, especially in Standard preset with the Eco features turned off (which I suspect most users will choose as their preferred out of the box setting) can occasionally pull an extreme color tone slightly off track. The reds of Pennywise’s balloon and the red writing of ‘Replicants’ at the start of Blade Runner 2049, for instance, tend to look slightly pink, and the brassy colour of the discarded artillery shells outside the bunker at 33.27-34.12 in 1917 can slip into a slightly unnatural-looking yellow.
Rather artistic impression of Samsung’s new NeoQuantum processor.
Very bright HDR peaks can glint and ‘flare’ (losing subtle shading details) a little too much, too, in Standard mode. Look at the stones on the mountainside in Exodus at 2.04.34-49, for instance. Or the reflections on the people’s skin at 18.38 in the same film.
Some of these issues made me think the default Standard preset could have been calibrated a touch less aggressively by Samsung, leaving the Dynamic preset for people who really want to feel like they’re basically looking into the sun while watching TV. And the Standard mode isn’t by any means ‘accurate’ in its picture presentation.
Nonetheless, it throws up far fewer issues than previous generations, and shows off the TV’s strengths and technologies much more than the softer and more muted Movie and Filmmaker Mode presets.
The Movie and Filmmaker Mode presets work well as quick go to film-viewing options for AV fans who want images that look more like ‘the director intended’. The Filmmaker Mode, of course, has actually been approved by the independent UHD Alliance as delivering images that track closely to film industry standards. And it does so on the QN65QN90A without losing the set’s inky black levels.
One final picture preset, ‘Natural’, seems designed to provide a good mid-point between the brightness, colour and sharpness extremes of Standard, and the softer, warmer, less dynamic look of the Movie/Filmmaker Mode options. While it achieves this aim well in some ways, though, it strangely crushes a lot of shadow detail out of dark areas. So much so that I don’t think it’s a realistic option for discerning viewers.
The 65QN90A does, of course, carry a bounty of calibration features for professional calibrators to call on if you decide to call one in.
Side view of the new slimline Samsung QN65QN90A
As well as the main presets, the 65QN90A carries an Adaptive Picture mode available as part of its ‘Intelligent’ image processing options. This is interesting because it provides arguably the most fulsome workout for Samsung’s newl AI-based picture features.
In some ways it works very well. The room light adaptation feature is more effective than most – not least because it doesn’t automatically dim the picture too heavily when viewing in a dark room. This helps ensure, too, that shadow detail is retained well in dark areas, avoiding the black crush problem commonly found with other TVs’ light-adaptive HDR modes. I guess this is a sign of how rounded and balanced the Intelligent Adaptive processing is in the way it takes into account both the image content and your room conditions.
There are, though, a couple of issues with the Adaptive Picture setting. One involves some peculiar color banding/loss of tonal subtlety with bright HDR content. So in the opening of BR2049, the white clouds and mist as K arrives at Sapper’s place contain some very defined blue, white and greenish stripes.
The default motion options in Adaptive Picture mode cause similar problems to those described earlier with the Standard preset, too, requiring the same manual fixes rather than relying on the TV’s brain.
Another area of the 65QN90A’s picture performance that should give us a good idea of Samsung’s improved processing is its upscaling of sub-4K content. Happily it’s outstanding, doing an amazing job of increasing sharpness and resolution without exaggerating or adding to noise. It also adapts itself very well to different types of source noise, be it MPEG compression blocking or excessive grain.
The NR (noise reduction) part of the Picture Clarity settings can introduce a slightly artificial look to grainy upscaled sources – so that the grain seems to lie over the image, like a net curtain, rather than being baked into it. Yet if you turn the NR off, grain can come on a little strong in the final upscaled image. For the vast majority of the time, though, the 65QN90A’s upscaling is almost unfathomably good.
The Samsung QN65QN90A supports a !-Symphony feature that lets its speakers join in with some Samsung … [+] soundbars to deliver a larger sound stage.
I’ve focused so far on the 65QN90A’s video performance. For many high-end TV buyers, though, a TV’s gaming performance is now also a key part of their buying decision. So it’s great to find that for the most part, once you’ve got past the disappointment of there only being one 4K/120/VRR-capable HDMI, Samsung’s new 4K flagship delivers a dazzling gaming experience.
The screen’s phenomenal brightness, colour range and sharpness are in their element with gaming images, getting the maximum value out of the new generation of 4K HDR titles that have started to appear on the latest consoles and PCs. Especially as the Mini LED backlighting means that the image’s dazzling brightness and color is typically still combined with some impressively deep black levels.
Details and sharpness are so extreme you almost start to think the consoles have suddenly started delivering their once-promised 8K capabilities without telling anyone. Daylight scenes look so bright you feel like you’re actually outside in the real world. Colors are phenomenally intense, but not at the expense of subtle toning. There’s no sign of washed out shades in the brightest image areas, either, proving further that the QN65QN90A has enough genuine color reach to keep pace with its extreme brightness.
The eye-popping beauty of the QN65QN90A’s gaming images is particularly wondrous if you’re playing a 120Hz title such as Call Of Duty Black Ops: Cold War. The TV handles all the incoming image data associated with 4K at 120Hz beautifully, and the almost complete lack of judder leaves you watching pictures of such clarity and purity that you never want to drag your eyes off them. Plus they leave you with no technical excuse (sadly, in my case!) for any gaming failures you may endure.
The Samsung QN65QN90A plays very nicely with the Xbox Series X – aside from some unexpected issues … [+] with its default Freesync Premium Pro support.
Dark areas/sequences in Game mode aren’t quite as mesmerisingly gorgeous as bright ones. As usual with Samsung TVs, the local dimming engine doesn’t seem able to run quite as intensively in Game mode as it does out of it, meaning that mid-dark scenes or locations that contain a complex mix of light and dark content can look a little grey [UPDATE: This issue can be improved by reducing the Shadow Detail game setting by two or three notches].
There can also occasionally be a little straight-edged backlight blooming around stand-out bright objects in Game mode – though oddly this is more likely to occur where bright objects appear on a greyish background than a truly black one. The misty Assassin’s Creed Valhalla loading screens, for instance, or the vignettes you see when you kill a member of the secret order, for instance.
For the vast majority of the time, though, the new generation of games look so good on the QN65QN90A that they put the ‘next gen’ in next gen consoles.
The only problem with the QN65QN90A’s pictures comes, unexpectedly, from the Freesync Premium Pro support. It appears that signing up to Freesync Premium Pro requires Samsung (which is the first TV brand to support the system) to meet a wide-ranging and stringent roster of image setting requirements that go way beyond mere VRR functionality – into areas such as color temperature and white balance. And meeting all those requirements does not, in my opinion, do the 65QN90A any favors.
Using the default Freesync picture settings, the general colour tone feels uncomfortably warm, making graphics look much flatter, less exciting and actually less natural than they look using the Standard Game mode preset. Worse, something about the Freesync picture make up – luminance consistency requirements, perhaps, or a clash between the mode’s warm color temperature and the cooler natural backlight tone – causes much more noticeable backlight blooming.
So while playing Assassin’s Creed Valhalla on the Series X with VRR active using the TV’s default Game mode settings (which brings Freesync into play), if the game’s ‘compass’ line at the top appears over a night sky, you can clearly see quite pronounced square/rectangular boxes around any highlights (treasure indictors, shop icons and so on) that appear on the compass track. In fact, the whole compass line can generate a quite obvious block of rectangular extra light around it, which is especially visible as you move and pan around the landscape.
The QN65QN90A does not join Samsung’s 2020 TVs in having issues playing 4K 120Hz feeds from the PS5
Photo: Sony PlayStation
The Freesync settings also lead to game pictures looking both generally darker and softer than they do with the 65QN90A’s regular Standard game setting.
Thankfully, the Freesync Premium Pro mode doesn’t lock you out of making adjustments to the picture. And personally I found setting the color tone to Warm 1 or Standard rather than the Freesync default of Warm 2 immediately made the picture look like a more natural fit to the Samsung screen. Setting the Local Dimming Option to Low rather than its default High and changing the Contrast Enhancer from its Low default to High also makes the picture look much brighter and more dynamic while also, crucially, greatly reducing the obviousness of the backlight blooming.
So while it’s unfortunate that a feature Samsung presumably had to work so hard to get onboard doesn’t really pay off, the bottom line is that you can work around it while still getting the extra clarity while panning around games that Freesync provides.
The 65QN90A sounds good to very good. On the upside, in the default audio setting the sound is clean and detailed, and those details don’t sound harsh or sibilant even when they contain lots of treble. Voices are clear, convincing and nicely contextualised against the rest of the mix (rather than standing too proud of it).
Voices and effects also typically sound remarkably accurately positioned on the screen thanks to the OTS system, and there’s a decent amount of bass too. Not as much as we’ll likely hear from Samsung’s 8K TVs for 2021, which feature an array of extra woofers built onto their rears, but enough to stop action scenes from sounding thin or lop-sided. This bass tends to remain free of distortion and crackling, too.
Maximum volume levels are a little limited, though, and the sound can appear a bit reserved/lacking in direct, forward facing attack.
A provided ‘Amplify’ option improves this latter situation, though, by seeming to cast the sound further forward in to your room. This approach can lead to impact sounds becoming a touch harsh, but for the most part it’s a helpful option for adding more drama and impact to movie soundtracks.
The Intelligent Mode’s Adaptive Sound+ setting also works well for ‘big’ films. This noticeably expands the soundstage, creating more of a wall of sound that exists beyond the edges of all four sides of the TV’s bodywork, and giving the sound a more dynamic and direct quality.
The QN65QN90A’s OTS audio system is able to make sound effects seem to be coming from the exact … [+] place in the screen where the pictures show they’re supposed to be coming from.
There’s a nice Gaming Surround Sound audio option, too. Activating this adds more dynamism and impact to a game’s audio mix, and presents both ambient and specific location effects with more accurate positioning. For instance, if you stand under the rotating chopper blades at the start of the Fracture Jaw mission in Call Of Duty: Cold War, the sound all seems to be coming from within the screen area with Surround Sound mode off. With Surround Sound mode on, though, the sound of the rotor blades appears to be clearly projected beyond the upper edge of the screen.
Dialogue is consistently clearer in Surround Sound mode too, and the action feels more immediate and immersive. Gunfire, for instance, sounds somehow separate/distanced from you with Surround Sound off, but feels much more impactful and full of attack with it on. The whole soundscape just feels more alive – and any scoring work carries more force, too.
At very loud volumes some shrill sounds (crickets chirruping and so on) using the Game Surround Sound option can become a touch dominant, and occasionally a really loud impact sound can become a little harsh. These are relatively small complaints in the great scheme of things, however.
While Samsung’s move to Mini LED feels more on the QN65QN90A like a backlight evolution than a flat-out revolution, it’s a massively welcome evolution nonetheless.
After all, it enables Samsung to enhance the already spectacular color and contrast it’s become renowned for in recent years while also fixing almost all of the lost shadow detail and backlight compromise/inconsistency issues the brand has previously had to wrestle with on its regular Full Array LCD TVs.
Couple this with improved processing and (bar the shortage of 40GB HDMI ports) a comprehensive array of highly effective next-gen gaming features, and it’s hard to imagine how much more imposing a gauntlet Samsung could have thrown down to its 2021 TV rivals.
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