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Samsung’s 8K TVs are so advanced content providers can't keep up

See the ambience: QLED TVs can display a “wallpaper” image of your choice. Photo/Supplied

Hardly any true 8K content is available, so it will be years before anyone gets the full benefit of stunning Samsung screen.

It seemed as good a way as any to show off a state-of-the-art TV – an episode of Game of Thrones. I invited my friends around, turned out the lights and we settled down in front of the 75-inch Samsung “8K” QLED display to watch the Night King’s army descend on Castle Winterfell in GoT episode 3, The Long Night.

But it was soon apparent something was wrong. We could barely see anything. The night-time scenery was so dark we couldn’t make out the characters’ faces. Once Daenerys’ dragons arrived and the air filled with the smoke of battle, the picture looked truly awful. What should have been perfectly crisp blacks and delicate shades of colour turned to a blotchy, pixelated mess. It was like watching a pirated 1990s-vintage VHS tape.

No amount of fiddling with the TV’s settings made a difference. Having talked up this super new TV, I sheepishly switched to YouTube to show my guests some stunning drone footage of Maui, shot in ultra-high-definition (4K).

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

This wasn’t Samsung’s fault. It turned out to be a perfect storm of a cinematographer’s effort to pursue a natural night-time look and a highly compressed HD video stream delivered by Sky TV. The Samsung’s Quantum 8K processor is meant to upscale high-definition video to near 8K quality, using artificial intelligence to add millions of pixels to every frame for a more detailed picture. But it wasn’t able to cope with The Long Night.

And that’s the only caveat with Samsung’s ambitious new top-end TV. Hardly any true 8K content is available, so it will be years before anyone gets the full benefit of the stunning screen. The few made-for-8K clips I have viewed were incredible. The colour accuracy, and detail and sharpness of the image, even within a metre of the screen, is remarkable.

The same holds for 4K content, of which there is a growing selection on video-streaming platforms Netflix and Amazon Prime, as well as on YouTube. The bottom line is that upscaling works better when the TV has less guesswork to do, so going from 4K to 8K is best.

The TV can enhance the plain old HD image most of us are currently watching, but the results are variable. Sky’s sports channels benefit from smoothing of the edges on high-motion shots. But it is hard to know if the Rugby World Cup will look substantially better on an 8K TV than a 4K or even HD screen.

Still, Samsung’s 8K line-up undoubtedly represents the best screen quality the company has produced, thanks to an improved processor, support for high dynamic range and a better viewing angle. Design-wise, it is plain if chunky, with black trim and a recessed mount for flush wall fixing. The brains of the TV are in a separate unit, which connects to the screen via a thin cable. The intuitive and responsive user interface is the same as Samsung’s 4K line.

Samsung has always boasted a generous range of apps and the new models get Apple’s iTunes video content in addition to Netflix and Lightbox.

The 8K TV also comes with “ambient” mode, which allows you to display an artwork or the texture of the wall behind the screen when you’re not watching a programme.

The TVs are expensive, and the 4K QLED line-up will suffice for most, but as a statement of where viewing is heading, they paint an impressive picture.

65-inch, 75-inch and 82-inch models cost $11,000, $16,000 and $20,000 respectively.

Click here for an explanation of 8K and TV upscaling.

This article was first published in the June 1, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.