Grab the popcorn, folks. There are some mighty interesting developments going on in TV land.
After decades of Japanese dominance, the top of the TV market is a battle royale between South Korean and Chinese brands. The shift to 4K is in its early stages, and along with it, we’ll also see a transformation in smart platforms, content delivery, and how commercials work. OLED TVs are getting cheaper, and 1080p TVs are practically free.
Perhaps most importantly, the sets themselves are getting more and more stunning. Samsung, still the global market-share leader in the TV industry, launched its new SUHD TVs today. “SUHD” is the company’s code name for its quantum-dot-enhanced 4K TV lineup, its first collection of sets to run a new Tizen-based operating system for its smart ecosystem. It’s not just one TV, it’s a slew of tiered models—a sign that Samsung (and the rest of the industry) is betting heavily on 4K momentum this year. The top-end SUHD models are very very nice. The top-end models are also very very expensive.
One of the proposed advantages of quantum-dot technology is that it’s able to produce vivid, OLED-like colors at a fraction of the price of an OLED TV. That’s because quantum dot (or as Samsung is calling it, “revolutionary nano-crystal technology”) involves adding an extra component to an LCD TV rather than having to revamp the manufacturing process from scratch.
Alas, deep savings are not a trait of these first sets. The highest-end model in the SUHD lineup is the JS9500, an incredible-looking 65-incher that ships this month. It’s curved, it’s sharp, it’s vibrant, and it has a “Peak Illuminator Ultimate” feature which basically sounds like Samsung’s marketing spin on HDR. In other words, it boosts its full-array LED backlight system in the brightest areas of scenes, making it possible to see spectral highlights and life-like shimmering water.
The picture quality looks amazing, and the set has an elegant, sweeping design that makes it droolworthy even when it’s powered off. A modular One Connect box lets you upgrade its capabilities over time with new codecs, remote-control tricks, and other features without having to buy a new TV. And with a $6,000 starting price, you won’t want to buy a new TV for a while.
The “step-down” model is an even pricier proposition. The curved 78-inch JS9100 sports an edge-lit backlight system instead of the JS9500’s full-array LED setup, but it has many of the same features otherwise. The JS9100 is only available in that huge 78-inch screen size, and it’ll set you back $10,000 starting in May. Ouch.
They’re Not All Crazy Expensive
From there on down, you can find semi-savings. The edge-lit 65-inch JS9000 is basically the JS9500 without full-array, motion-control features, or a built-in camera—which many people would consider a plus—for $5,000. There’s also a 48-inch ($3,500) and 55-inch ($4,000) version of the JS9000, although those are small screen sizes for a 4K TV. The flat 65-inch J8500 ditches the curves, has a quad-core processor instead of the pricier sets’ eight-core CPUs, and has a 40W sound system instead of the 9000 series’ 60W speakers. That one clocks in at $4,000, or a cool $3,000 for a 55-inch version.
From there, you have lower-end SUHD sets that can save you money at smaller screen sizes. The most-affordable model is the curved JU6700, which costs $1,150 at 48 inches and $1,500 for a 55-incher. But even though it’s 4K, don’t expect the same kind of stunning picture as those 9000 series and 8000 series sets.
So the highest end of Samsung’s SUHD lineup looks terrific in terms of image quality, and Samsung’s sets generally churn out the best-looking video in the business. Still, all this hubbub about 4K sets getting cheap doesn’t apply to the company’s best offerings, even if they are based on cheaper tech than OLED.
But the bird’s eye view is a wonderful trend. It’s great to see the TV industry shift focus back to picture quality. After the past few years of 3D TVs, remote-control gimmicks, and curvy screens (oh wait, that one still exists), manufacturers have strayed from what matters most. With a 4K transition in the works, promising technologies like HDR and quantum dot gaining momentum, and LG’s incredible 2015 TV lineup bound to compete with these Samsung SUHDs in terms of quality and price, the big picture for consumers is nicely calibrated.