Samsung QN90AReviewed at $1,800.00 (55")
Ports & Connectivity9.3/10
OS, Apps and Features9.5/10
Price / Quality9.2/10
- Great overall brightness
- mini LED provide improved light control
- Very nice contrast
- Tizen remains top notch
- No Dolby Vision
- Blooming is not entirely absent
- No DTS support
- Depending on the market there may be only one HDMI 2.1
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Today marks our first review for the 2021 TV releases and in a way it marks a new era as this is the first time in a long time that we will be reviewing a new LCD that packs some new and frankly interesting technology. For a long time Samsung was trying to evolve their LCDs in order to be equal to LGs OLED technology but the limitations of this aging tech was always a problem. Here comes the new Neo QLED which comes with the new mini LED backlight technology aiming at improving what their older tech could not. And in our Samsung QN90A review we will be looking at the flagship 4K release and what it brings to the table.
And speaking of flagship models in true Samsung fashion we need to clear up the model numbers a bit as the QN90A may be the flagship model in the US market but there is also a QN95A in Europe that is similar but also comes with our favorite One Connect Box. On the other hand the QN90A in Europe seems to be slightly different than its US variant as it seems it misses the Ultra Viewing Angle layer for some reason. And to add more confusion it seems that not all QN90A are similar as some have only one HDMI 2.1 port while in some other markets all four ports are HDMI 2.1 enabled.
The QN90A seems to pack all the features that characterize a true flagship, even if we are talking about a 4K TV. This means that except from the new mini LED backlight with its hundreds of zones, it also comes with the new Neo Quantum Processor 4K, a 120Hz panel, supports HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG, uses Samsung’s Object Tracking Sound+ system and features the new HDMI 2.1 ports along with FreeSync Premium Pro. As for its smart functionality Samsung has used their latest 2021 version of Tizen which comes with a few new additions compared to last year.
It’s interesting to see Samsung adding the new mini LED in their 4K releases also and not trying to push this only in their 8K TVs. But is this new technology enough to battle LGs dominance with their OLED releases? Let’s find out…
For one more year we are disappointed to see that Samsung keeps the One Connect Box for only a fraction of their releases. Instead of making it a unique feature for their TVs like Philips has Ambilight for example they instead use it only for their top flagships. Keep in mind that in the US they don’t have a single 4K model that uses this and only the European QN95A is getting it which is a huge head scratching decision. Basically its the same as they did last year so we don’t find any changes on where they are using the One Connect Box. Huge potential is lost with this decision in our opinion.
In terms of design the QN90A is extremely similar to last year’s Q90T with the only major difference being its panel thickness which Samsung calls their NeoSlim Design. Basically this comes down to the fact that the QN90A instead of using a Full Array with Local Dimming backlight system uses the new mini LED one which helps to minimize its overall thickness greatly which in the new models is just 1.06″ (2.7 cm) making it look amazing when hanged on the wall.
The entire back face is also extremely similar to the Q90T and is covered by a plastic panel that in true Samsung fashion has a brushed texture look on it. All ports are grouped together in an inset that is placed at the left side and all look sideways for easier access if you have it on a wall while on the lower part there are special grooves in order to place your cables and drive them through the central stand. The power connector is placed on the right side while the only other thing at the back is the holes for a VESA wall mount.
Continuing with the similarities the stand that comes with the QN90A looks awfully similar to the one we had seen in the Q90T with only slight differences on the plastic part that connects the panel with the stand. Having a central stand does help with placing the TV on smaller furniture but it can make the TV wobble slightly more but not enough to be in danger of falling. It is made entirely out of metal and only the connecting part between the TV and the stand is made out of plastic and has special grooves to keep all your cables together.
For 2021 it seems that Samsung decided to make a facelift on their One Remote and while fundamentally it’s the same one we have seen the last few years we do find some noteworthy changes. First of all its shell is still made out of plastic but has been redesigned and frankly it looks more premium now than before. Buttons layout has remained the same as last year but the big change with this one is that it doesn’t use disposable batteries. Samsung has included a solar panel at the back for charging or alternatively by using the included USB-C cable.
No other changes as we get the same built-in microphone that you can use in order to issue voice commands, it has the same HDMI-CEC functionality as it can act as a universal remote for other devices while it can also be used even if there is no support for HDMI-CEC. In general the remote got some cosmetic changes while the inclusion of a rechargeable battery is an interesting one even if not everyone will like it.
Overall the QN90A follows on the same steps the Q90T did before it and by making it a slimmer design it certainly has its merits. The QN90A is a flagship TV and it has the looks and build quality necessary.
Processor technology used
For 2021 the new 4K Neo QLEDs are all equipped with the updated Neo Quantum Processor 4K. Samsung does not provide specific details on what has been updated compared to last year’s Quantum Processor 4K so we don’t have exactly a point of comparison between the two.
What Samsung has mentioned about this new processor is that it uses up to 16 different neural network models, each trained in AI upscaling and deep learning technology, and this way the Neo Quantum Processor can optimize picture quality to 4K picture output regardless of the input quality. Not exactly the most detailed description and borderlines the usual marketing material but Samsung was never very open about the way their processors work.
As always we did try various content in different resolutions in order to see how the TV will handle it and frankly we didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Low quality SD content would scale nicely but obviously it is limited by the quality of the source material while 720p and 1080p resolution videos would fare much better. Especially 1080p content will show very nice on the QN90A and depending the content it surely feels that the TV is handling the material with great efficiency.
A few features we got the previous years also find their way here and one of them is Adaptive Picture which is a function that can make the TV analyze it’s environmental light conditions and change the image settings accordingly for the best possible outcome without the need for you to do anything.
As for the sound the Neo Quantum Processor 4K offers Adaptive Sound+ which is an updated version of what we found last year and Active Voice Amplifier (AVA) which can improve the sound outcome in all kinds of ambient sound conditions. We will talk more on these technologies in the appropriate section shortly.
Lighting technology used
For a long time LCD TVs were plagued by mediocre backlight systems and in 2021 this is the first time we see a major step forward in this regard. So far the best backlight system to be used was a Full Array with local dimming system (FALD) but even this was very much dependent on the number of dimming zones available. The more dimming zones, the more precise light control. But this had a major impact on the final price of the TV.
The QN90A is instead using a Quantum Mini LED backlight which is precisely controlled by Quantum Matrix Technology. The major advantage of Quantum Mini LED is that it has 1/40 the height of a conventional LED. Instead of using a lens to disperse light, and a package to fix the LED in place, the Quantum Mini LED has incredibly thin micro layers filled with many more LEDs. This way Quantum Matrix Technology has much better and more precise control of the densely packed LEDs, preventing what was the most obvious disadvantage of previous LCD backlight systems, blooming.
Keep in mind that while mini LED technology is vastly superior to any other LCD backlight system so far it is not alleviating the blooming problem completely and it is still very much dependent on the number of zones that have been added to each panel. The 55″ of the QN90A for example seems to be using 576 dimming zones in a 36 x 16 configuration while the bigger sizes come with even more available zones reaching as high as 1320 zones for the 85″ one.
And while the inclusion of the mini LED system’s main feature is to primarily combat blooming and offer more precise light control it also affects the overall design of the TV making it slimmer than what we are used to see with FALD TVs that have a slightly thicker panel due to the included LED array at the back.
The new mini LED technology seems to be a small step to the right direction if you consider how little improvement we had seen the last few years in LCD technology. It may not be the all out solution that will stand head to head with OLED but it certainly improves the current LCD problems that plagues this old technology for many years. And while the 55″ of the QN90A may not offer the 1000s of zones the bigger sizes have, with 500+ zones things improve vastly especially if you consider how very few zones the Q90T had last year.
Brightness / Contrast
Next comes our brightness tests and as usual we always take our measurements using the Movie mode and setting brightness and Local Dimming to their max values. In our SDR brightness test over a 10% white window we got 1396 nits which is excellent really and more than enough for any kind of SDR material. On our HDR brightness test over a 10% white window we got 1451 nits of brightness which is amazing and has one of the highest values we have measured in any TV yet.
The new backlight seems to do wonders when it comes to brightness output and the numbers above show that the mini LED technology, even in its first generation release, is a clear improvement over anything we have seen in backlight technology so far.
In terms of contrast the QN90A comes with a VA which means good things in general. The inclusion of the Ultra Viewing Angle technology does have a slight negative impact on this but with the TV using such a capable local dimming system contrast is much better than expected.
Also keep in mind that the QN90A as with all Neo QLEDs increases the luminance scale to 12-bit with 4096 steps, this helps make dark areas darker and bright areas brighter, resulting in a more precise and immersive HDR experience.
Overall the TV shows that is a clear improvement over last year as all numbers have changed for the better and the QN90A is surely a winner in this regard.
Regarding viewing angles things are pretty much the same with all the other flagship Samsung models before it. The QN90A is equipped with a VA panel which in general doesn’t mean good things when it comes to viewing angles. In order to combat this Samsung has used what they call Ultra Viewing Angle which is a technology that minimizes the light leakage by focusing the light on the right direction and as a result we can get better image results at far greater angles than without it.
In the case of the QN90A we would say that this extra layer helps a lot in order to bring the viewing levels up to average levels although in no way it can compete with what OLEDs can offer. As such we would say that up to about 40 degrees you get very respectable results but anything more and the image quality degrades rapidly.
One thing to keep in mind is that it seems the European QN90A is not using the same Ultra Viewing Angle tech and instead uses the less efficient Wide Viewing Angle. Although we don’t have the means to compare the two this certainly means that the European release will fare worse in this regard.
HDR support is another area where Samsung has included the same across their whole TV series. As such we get the most basic HDR10 that is required for 4K UHD playback, there is HLG that is used mainly for broadcasting along with the newer HDR10+ which is the most advanced HDR protocol that uses dynamic metadata in order to provide the best image quality on a frame by frame basis and is the main rival of Dolby Vision.
Samsung continues to say no to Dolby Vision and this is one of the few low points this TV surely has. It seems that Samsung is very confident by continuing to support HDR10+ instead so it remains to be seen if this will be a right decision in the future.
As with all the QLED models the QΝ90Α is using what is known as Quantum Dot technology which basically is a special layer on the panel that has nano-sized Quantum Dots, that are finely tuned particles, which can turn light into the billion plus colors you see on the screen. This way you can enjoy colors that have more depth, are more vivid and lifelike.
But while all the QLEDs are featuring similar technology they tend to perform slightly different from one another. So in the case of the QN90A we managed to measure 95% coverage of the DCI-P3 color range which is excellent and one of the highest we have seen while on the wider REC.2020 color range we got a 73% coverage which is also extremely good.
The numbers above show that the QN90A is a clear improvement over last year’s Q90T in both the DCI-P3 and REC.2020 color spaces.
Moving on to our motion performance tests the QN90A seems to come with a 120Hz panel along with a backlight dimming frequency of 960Hz which is exactly the configuration we saw in last year’s flagships like the Q90T. Having such a high frequency ensures that flickering is completely invisible but this also depends on the picture mode you will be using as in many of the them the frequency drops to 120 Hz.
Obviously we also get motion interpolation which Samsung has renamed this year to Motion Xcelerator Turbo+. The QN90A did a pretty good job at removing motion blur and judder but during hectic scenes things became a little wonky as artifacts were all over the place. Enabling motion interpolation can be done by going in the Picture Clarity settings in the menu and by adjusting the two sliders for blur or judder you can set them according to how you like it. Very high value in the sliders and the “Soap Opera Effect” will appear but keeping a very low value like 1 or 2 seems to be good enough without any major alteration to the overall motion presentation.
Black Frame Insertion (BFI) is also available as usual which can be enabled in the menu with the LED Clear Motion option. BFI is a technique that inserts a black frame in between two individual frames in order to smooth out motion. Although the end result is very good it has a couple of side effects. First due to the black frames brightness takes a visible hit while due to the lower frequency used some flickering may become noticeable.
The QN90A also supports both FreeSync Premium Pro and Nvidia G-SYNC, although the latter is not officially supported yet in any specs material we have seen, that are enabled automatically when another device that supports these is connected to the TV. Overall the QN90A is not leaps and bounds better than the Q90T but here Samsung already had some solid performance and continues to do so.
In terms of input lag we were expecting the QN90A to follow the trend we have seen the last few years with all Samsung models offering incredibly low values. And this turned out to be correct as the QN90A with Game mode enabled gave us a value of 10.5ms which was the average we saw in both 1080p and 4K resolutions. With so low input lag if you are a serious gamer rest assured you will get the best out of it.
Outside of Game mode things are not so clear cut as different modes tend to give different results but in general we got an average of 78.1ms which is still good enough for casual and offline gaming where rapid response is not so crucial. The TV also comes with Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) and all the latest consoles support this which can be of great benefit.
We still use our copy of F1 2019 for some real world testing but this time we played it through our new shiny PS5! The QN90A was incredible as there was no sensible delay in our commands and all button presses were registering instantly on screen. We really couldn’t find anything bad to say and the TV managed to give us a very pleasant gaming session.
Image quality impressions
The QN90A marks a new era regarding top of the line LCD technology with its mini LED backlight system. It’s the first true step forward in some time and the numbers confirm that as the TV has more brightness, better colors and more tight light control than we had seen last year in the Q90T making it a clear improvement in almost all aspects and in a way Samsung redeems themselves as the Q90T was a small disappointment overall compared to the 2019 releases.
As for the Neo Quantum Processor 4K it still offers remarkable up-scaling capabilities, the Ultra Viewing Angle technology really helps in creating a more family oriented TV where many members can watch from different angles without much reduction in image quality and motion performance keeps being stellar even if not the best among the competition.
If there is one area that manufacturers are still struggling with after so many years is in the audio department. These ultra slim TVs simply don’t have the space required to equip them with audio systems capable at offering more immersion and better sound. We have seen most TVs lately incorporating various techniques and features but most of them are mostly software based and the end result is not much better than we could hope for.
For the QN90A Samsung used the same system we had seen in their 8K sets last year, like the Q800T, and this is no other than the Object Tracking Sound+. A more simplified version of this system we had seen in the Q90T and Q80T but it seems for 2021 they decided to bring this in their 4K sets also which is the best audio system you can have in a Samsung TV and includes speakers that are placed at the top as well as at the sides and bottom of the rear side and with this speakers array the TV can output sounds that track the movements of the on-screen action and thus make the whole experience far more believable. It’s a neat feature and although the included speakers are still limited by the TVs thickness the effect can be very satisfying in certain situations.
The QN90A features a 4.2.2 channels audio system with a power rating of 60 watts in total which is more than enough for casual viewing. The included speakers provide very clear dialogue and good separation of sound while panning effects do feel more precise and this extends in both axis giving not only width but also height to the performance. This is not the first time we experience the Object Tracking Sound+ system and our opinion of it remains the same. It’s a cut above almost all other TV audio systems we have listened so far and while it cannot provide the immersion of a full surround system it is the best native system we have listened so far.
The TV supports Dolby Audio but there is no native Dolby Atmos. And to be honest even with a sound system as advanced as the Object Tracking Sound+ is, Dolby Atmos wouldn’t be able to be reproduced faithfully with the hardware available so you are not missing much. At least you can pass-through Dolby Atmos through the included eARC to some Dolby Atmos soundbar or dedicated sound system. DTS support is completely absent once again this year as it is not only missing from native support but it cannot also be passed-through from any of the available ports which is rather disappointing.
But Samsung has packed more audio features with most of them returning from last year. The first one worth mentioning is called Adaptive Sound+ with which the TV analyzes the content being played and for each scene can identify and render the best sound type. This whole process starts by separating and classifying audio input signals. Key characteristics are then pulled out and rendered to best suit the scene.
Another feature set is SpaceFit Sound along with Active Voice Amplifier (AVA). With the help of spatial analysis the TV can adapt to the different acoustics of each room. This is done by sending inaudible signals that analyze your room and can optimize the sound accordingly. And by using AVA the TV can detect environmental noise and enhance the voice output of the content you watch for a more pleasant viewing experience.
Lastly we get Q-Symphony which is a feature that you can use to combine the TVs audio system with an appropriate soundbar that also supports that. This way the audio will be synced and output from both devices for an even more immersive audio experience. Samsung has released a whole lineup of soundbars that support this feature in case you are thinking of getting one.
The Object Tracking Sound+ system remains as capable as we remembered it from the Q800T. It is not a substitute to a full surround system but it is far better than the usual mediocre audio systems we see more than often in many of our reviews. It will certainly elevate the overall experience but if you are more demanding then a soundbar or a full surround system is definitely needed.
Ports and Connectivity
It terms of port connections Samsung has been using a pretty standard layout for many of their TVs and the QN90A seems to be awfully similar to the Q90T in this regard. As we mentioned above the QN90A has no One Connect Box, only the European QN95A has that, with all ports being together on the back left side of the main body of the TV while all of them look sideways which is far better in our opinion and makes connections easier to reach if you are planning to put in on a wall.
Starting from the top we find two USB ports for connecting external storage or streaming devices, a digital audio optical output, four HDMI inputs, an Ethernet port for wired connection to the internet, an Ex-Link jack and the usual antenna/cable connector.
Now as for the USB ports these are v2.0 which is greatly disappointing for such a high profile flagship. There is also a single HDMI 2.1 in position 4 but this depends on the market as some QN90A models come with four HDMI 2.1 ports instead. The HDMI in position 3 also comes with eARC support which allows you to send high-quality object-based audio like Dolby Atmos to another device and is another handy feature that many seek nowadays.
As for it’s wireless capabilities the QN90A comes with the usual built-in WiFi and also with Bluetooth that is unfortunately the older v4.2 which is very disappointing as last year was also the same and we were at least expecting an update for 2021 to a newer version.
OS, Apps and Features
Let’s now take a look at the smart platform that we get in the QN90A which is no other than our favorite Tizen platform that has been updated to it’s 2021 edition. When it comes to smart functionality the TV brings everything we saw last year but adds a couple of new features that we will analyze shortly. Everything else seems very similar to what the Q90T had so let’s see what has changed in this one year.
The 2021 version of Tizen is highly similar to previous years and the visual appearance of the new 2021 is no different from last year. Samsung retained the more dark visual design but this is purely an aesthetic thing and functionality remains as good as ever.
The general layout has remained completely the same with the launcher bar sitting at the bottom of the screen while a second row appears on top and offers several selections that include additional content and various suggestions. Customization couldn’t be missing as with so much content available it can become increasingly difficult to navigate through the apps and services especially if you use many of them at the same time. Tizen offers many customization options so you can re-arrange everything to your liking.
The first real addition this year is the Super Ultrawide GameView & Game Bar. This is an on-screen menu that lets you make real-time adjustments to screen ratio, input lag check, FPS, HDR, wireless headset settings and more. This can be a really handy feature to gamers as you don’t have to mess with menus every time you want to check on a specific setting. With this quick feature you have everything in front of you with the click of a button.
When it comes to content the Tizen platform is famous for it’s enormous support from developers. The QN90A offers practically all known services and platforms you can think of with Netflix, Apple TV, Disney Plus, Youtube, Amazon, Hulu, Rakuten, Demand 5 and BBC iPlayer just a few of the big names available. There is also Samsung TV plus which offers hundreds of subscription-free channels to choose from. Many of these services can playback in both 4K with HDR like Netflix and Amazon while in general navigating through several services felt smooth and without any noticeable lagging.
But if having so many apps available can be increasingly difficult for you then you can use a handy feature called “Universal Guide” which makes a return from last year. This is a feature that analyzes your viewing patterns and creates a ‘For You’ page that includes content you may be interested in seeing according to your viewing habits. So in case you are watching a specific series all the time this page can propose you to see the next available episode which can be a rather practical feature.
A function that has been retained from the last few years is SmartThings integration. With it you can make your TV the central hub of all your smart houses devices. These can be lights, electronic locks, alarms, vacuum robots, thermostats and everything that supports the SmartThings platform.
Obviously another feature that could not be missing is voice control. It seems that Samsung is really trying to market their own Bixby service but even if you are not very fond of that there is Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant to choose from. While if you are an Apple guy then don’t get disappointed as there is also Airplay support and you can use Siri through it for your voice commands.
One feature that we saw for the first time last year and makes a comeback is Multi-View and although at it’s core it’s not something entirely new Samsung took it a step further. Multi-View is basically a more advanced screen mirroring and with it instead of just simply projecting the screen from your mobile device on the TV you can choose to have two screens showing both TV content and what your mobile device shows. How useful this can be we leave it to you to decide because we are still scratching our heads for this one.
In addition to Multi-View there is also Tap View and with it you can mirror your phone on your TV with just a tap to continue enjoying movies, music, and apps on the bigger screen within seconds.
Another returning feature is Ambient Mode+ which is a slightly enhanced version of the Ambient Mode we get in many Samsung models for the last few years. With the plus version now except from the ability to display various images on the TV when not in use it can also project various information including weather updates, news headlines, photos and music.
Lastly we have one more new addition this year and this is Samsung Health. It seems that with the coronavirus pandemic and many people staying indoors Samsung thought that exercise at home would be on the rise. So many of their TVs this year come with Samsung’s program in order to stay in shape. If you like to exercise at home you may like this one but otherwise we don’t see this being used very much.
In general every year it seems that Samsung finds something new to squeeze inside their already fully packed system. Not much have changed in terms of basic design and layout but the addition of the useful Super Ultrawide GameView & Game Bar and the not so useful Samsung Health features do spice up things a bit more than already are. Tizen remains a behemoth in the Smart OS ecosystem and Samsung makes everything they can to keep it that way.
Last year it was obvious that Samsung tried to downgrade their 4K models in order to promote more their 8K releases and this definitely left a bitter taste to many potential consumers. The arrival of mini LED technology seems to have changed that as the QN90A brings back all the technological advancements that a true 4K flagship should have.
The QN90A is a really premium offering and its slim design definitely will find many supporters that was impossible to create by using a FALD backlight. But mini LED didn’t only brought slimmer designs as it managed to provide the unit with better brightness and more tight control over its light elements in order to improve what was the Achilles heel of all FALD LCD units, blooming. But the TV managed to improve in some other areas also like color coverage, contrast and input lag while retaining solid performance in others like motion, up-scaling and viewing angles.
If you add on the above the new 2021 Tizen platform with all the bells and whistles from last year along with a couple new additions and all the HDMI 2.1 functionality you will ever need like FreeSync Premium Pro VRR and ALLM then there is hardly anything missing from this one.
On the downsides we still find the omission of Dolby Vision a stinky one. It’s unacceptable for such a premium TV to be missing this but if you decide to go with Samsung this is something you have to learn to live with. Also while mini LED vastly improves on the blooming problem it is not entirely solving it as there is still some visible in certain scenes. Also we don’t like that Samsung has completely dropped DTS support while you should keep in mind that some versions of the QN90A, depending on the market, has either one or four HDMI 2.1 ports.
Closing our review we can definitely say that the Samsung QN90A is a step to the right direction and if the first generation of mini LED technology is anything to come by then we are hopeful that the future can get even better for this emerging new tech. If you want a new flagship TV and you have decided to go for a 4K LCD one then the QN90A should be a serious candidate.