The battle between OLED and QLED continues to rage, but with this year’s line of Neo QLEDs, Samsung has made serious strides in leveling the picture quality playing field.
The 4K UHD QN90A, with its Quantum Matrix and Mini LED technology (“tiny hyper-focused light cells”, as Samsung excitedly puts it) and full array local dimming, lays down a compelling argument for the ongoing utility of the ever humble and dependable LCD panel.
It’s gaming where the argument is strongest, I think. I’ve been testing out the 65-inch QN90A for the last few days, and while OLED may still reign supreme when it comes to deep black contrast levels, Neo QLED is a bright, fast and beautiful contender. At a wallet-busting $2,600, you’ll certainly pay for the upgrade, though.
Setting up the Q90A is an absolute breeze, minus the back pain of moving it around, seeing as it’s heavy and awkward. Attaching the especially beefy stand is pretty simple; a curved plastic piece needs inserting into the back plate of the TV via two screws and then the seriously solid metal base gets attached to the plastic by way of four additional screws. The stand is significant — this TV isn’t going anywhere once it’s bolted in. You could also wall-mount it, though.
After that, the panel is up and ready to go, almost appearing to levitate above the stand like some sort of alien technology. The overall visual effect of how the stand effortlessly supports the display has a lot of living room appeal and leaves just enough room under the panel for a booming soundbar.
If you’ve got the Smart Things app on your Samsung phone like I do, initial software setup is almost too convenient. Probably via dark magic that only Samsung is privy to, the QN90A finds the companion app, and through your mobile device, grabs all the relevant info for transfer. I didn’t even have to enter my router WiFi password, which is simultaneously convenient and terrifying.
Side note: The new SolarCell remote, with its rechargeable battery via back solar panel, is a neat novelty. However, this refreshed remote doesn’t seem as responsive as past iterations. I found that I needed to point it directly at the TV for an immediate response, whereas previous remotes could be used without line-of-sight motion.
Something similar could be said of the TV’s Tizen OS. It’s just not as snappy as I want it to be and can feel sluggish when attempting to move quickly through options.
Lastly, hooking up consoles is very easy. The instant I connected my Xbox Series X to the lone HDMI 2.1 port, the QN90A recognized the hardware, created a green Xbox menu icon for future source access and immediately moved me to the Xbox home screen. On the 4K TV settings option in the Xbox dashboard, everything had a green checkmark except Dolby Vision, which the QN90A does not support.
Let’s address the connection-shaped elephant in the room: There’s only one dedicated high-bandwidth HDMI 2.1 port on this television. Is this a big deal? I would answer, in the year 2021, with a resounding yes.
Sure, if you only possess one of the current-gen heavy-hitter consoles, then a single HDMI 2.1 port will suffice. But if you own both an Xbox Series X and a PS5, plus maybe a gaming PC with an RTX 3090 that you’d like to keep connected for Steam, Epic or GOG games, then you’re going to be doing a lot of cable swapping. That, or buying a separate (and potentially pricey) HDMI 2.1 splitter or external receiver.
It’s a strange design decision on Samsung’s part, seeing as the competition (LG, largely) has recently been opting for multiple HDMI 2.1 ports on its sets. Sometimes, like in the LG C1’s case, up to a total of four. Perhaps it was a cost-saving measure, but in the end, it leaves serious gaming enthusiasts at a relative loss in regard to what has become the most in-demand display input for consoles.
Additionally, I found myself lamenting the loss of Samsung’s excellent One Connect box, which is solely reserved for even higher-end Neo QLEDs this year. Fumbling around the back of a giant TV in order to swap out cables is a real pain. At least the inputs are offset to the far right of the display for easier access.
If you don’t read any further, just know this: Playing games in 4K at 120Hz on the Neo QLED is marvelous. Everything is crisp, clean and smooth, with practically no ghosting, blurring or artifacts, which is largely due to the excellent response time. Colors are incredibly vibrant and it feels like this set was tailor-made with Microsoft’s and Sony’s new consoles in mind. Really top-notch stuff.
I haven’t tracked down a PS5 quite yet, but I did hook up my Xbox Series X and downloaded a handful of titles that I know to support 4K 120Hz gameplay. This included games like Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Second Extinction and the charming Psychonauts 2. That is something to note: not every Xbox Series X game can run in 4K at 120FPS. The list is steadily growing — the upcoming Halo Infinite will have such targeted resolution and framerate performance — but know that many games will clock in somewhere lower than that.
Like previous Samsung TVs I’ve tested, the QN90A automatically switches to the built-in Game Mode when launching a game, denoted by an on-screen notification toward the top of the display. Game Mode applies custom settings that largely help to reduce input lag (at some visual quality expense), but with it enabled, I couldn’t detect any noticeable lag whatsoever.
Samsung claims Game Mode lowers input lag to as low as 5.8 ms at 120Hz, and while I don’t have any reason to disbelieve that claim, I wasn’t able to specifically test it with specialized hardware. I suppose we’ll have to trust the marketing numbers on this one.
One of the more interesting Neo QLED gaming features is the Game Bar, an edgy game-ified pop-up that you can summon by holding the play/pause button on the remote. It’s like a very bare-bones and specialized version of MSI Afterburner on PC, in that you can monitor FPS, HDR status, amount of input lag, VRR (variable refresh rate, like FreeSync Premium Pro) and sound output.
You can also adjust aspect ratio and screen position for PC games in the Game Bar. This is notably useful for titles that support ultrawide, an impressive and sprawling display setting that hasn’t made its way over to consoles quite yet.
On the subject of Samsung’s OTS (Object Tracking Sound): Its a little more lively and directional than your typical on-board TV speakers, which makes it great in a pinch or generally suitable if you don’t want to spend cash to add extra sound power beyond the TV’s egregious price tag. But truthfully, nothing is going to compare to hooking up a nice soundbar or a high quality receiver with a 7.1 surround sound system.
Whether you’re on console or PC, games truly shine on the QN90A. VRR via FreeSync Premium ensures little to no screen tearing and HDR, with titles that support it, make for gaming moments that pop and brood with impressive, borderline OLED, contrast.
I’ve played games on OLEDs before and truthfully, the deep blacks are difficult (if not impossible) for an LED TV to beat. However, the Neo QLED, with its Mini LED and full array local dimming, puts up an impressive fight.
The panel produces deeply dark scenes with stunning highlights and inky blacks that, while maybe not surpassing, truly rival anything that LG has produced. But, a searing brightness (pushing a peak of 1,900 nits in various modes according to some reports) that, if we’re being honest, blow most OLEDs out of the water. This makes gaming in a bright room a sight to behold.
Blooming and haloing are kept to a bare minimum with the extensive local dimming, though small bright objects like character dialogue text and some pinpoint HUD elements against darker backgrounds can produce a noticeable bloom.
DSE, or dirty screen effect, is definitely an issue though. Uniformity is an area that OLED tends to excel in over LED. This problem varies from panel to panel, so you could score a display with more or less DSE.
My particular review unit has rather glaring DSE, and it’s apparent when viewing moving objects over single or uniform color backgrounds. In games specifically, I tend to see it most when I’m panning a camera over uninterrupted single-color areas, like skies or oceans. Really bright one-color environments can also be culprits.
For the most part though, when gaming or watching typical content, it stays relatively hidden. Busy scenes tend to hide it the best and you really have to look for it to be bothered.
If you’re a stickler for black levels, you either already own an LG OLED or are looking to buy one. You probably also don’t mind the burn-in risk associated with that particular technology.
On the other hand, if you pine after OLED black levels but are willing to jump over to something strikingly comparable, the QN90A is a commendable choice. Plus, there won’t be any burn-in with a VA panel, a true win for PC gamers who might be keeping static images on this display for extended periods.
Despite its disappointing lack of extra HDMI 2.1 inputs, the display is an absolute gaming powerhouse and amplifies the console experience in a way that I’ve yet to encounter otherwise.
Now, if only Samsung could bring back that glorious One Connect box…
Disclosure: Samsung provided review product for coverage purposes.