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Review: Samsung S95D QD-OLED TV

Samsung’s new flagship OLED takes a big anti-glare swing with (mostly) fantastic results
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Photograph: Ryan Waniata; Getty Images
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Fantastic clarity and image processing. Top-notch brightness for dazzling HDR. Vivid yet refined quantum dot colors. Excellent motion handling. Expansive onboard sound. Stylish and well-built design. Versatile setup options. Loads of gaming features and other extras.
Matte screen can sometimes cause a perceived loss in picture depth. Samsung Tizen is still clunky. No Dolby Vision. No Chromecast.

Light happens. From sunlit windows to lamps and chandeliers, most environments have some kind of light obstruction, and few of us watch TV in perfect darkness or carefully controlled home theaters. That’s partly why the best LED TVs have increasingly juiced up their backlights to extreme levels in recent years, letting you watch even the darkest scenes in nearly any viewing environment.

OLED TVs have gotten a lot brighter too, but even the fanciest models can’t keep up with the brightest backlit TVs. Samsung’s flagship S95D QD-OLED takes a two-pronged approach to the situation. Not only is the S95D one of the brightest OLED TVs on the market, pushing around 1,700 nits at peak brightness, but it also employs an innovative new anti-glare screen material that dissipates even direct lighting across its matte surface for unprecedented reflection control.

This new screen tech doesn’t come without compromises. I won’t go so far as to call it divisive, but it does affect the overall picture perception in some scenarios which may not appeal to all premium TV buyers. Matte screen aside, the S95D dishes up phenomenal picture quality with fabulous HDR punch, deep and vibrant colors, and the kind of knockout clarity and refined detail that stands tall with the very best TVs you can buy.

Stunning Style, Stuffy Smarts

Photograph: Ryan Waniata

Before you even turn it on, the S95D looks as suave as any TV out there. The thin panel is a uniform plate, with smoked chrome bezels along its exterior that match its stylish pedestal stand. The 20-pound stand’s unwieldy base plate made setting up the 65-inch model I reviewed an awkward chore, but it feels sturdy and facilitates Samsung’s attractive “floating screen” effect. The new matte look adds extra style points, instantly appealing to car aficionados.

The TV’s backside is nearly as attractive as the front, but sadly Samsung’s One Connect box, which harbors all inputs and the power supply, works best when the TV is mounted flush to the wall. If you’re not mounting the S95D the box can feel like an extraneous component on your console, but it can also be mounted to the TV’s backside for an array of options.

Samsung has refined its remote to a near-perfect design, compressing everything into an ergonomic, micro-sized wand. It’s half the size of many competitors and offers solar charging, with USB-C as a backup. It's not backlit, but raised buttons make navigation intuitive.

Photograph: Ryan Waniata

Maybe that’s why Samsung’s obstinate Tizen interface feels so vexing? The system is easy enough to set up on the TV itself (it crashes every time I’ve tried to use the mobile setup option). It’s aesthetically pleasing and makes connecting and labeling devices a breeze. Yet its scattered layout can make some features feel inordinately difficult.

Adding the Peacock app, for instance, was twice as hard as it should be. It’s not featured in the app store and didn’t register in search until I typed it out completely. Once I found it, as with all new apps, I had to manually add it to the home screen or it lay hidden in the “Installed” window like a second-class citizen.

The main settings bar is similarly unintuitive, with various picture settings randomly interspersed between other settings. You can rearrange things, but it’s usually simpler to just click All Settings to access the legacy setup window. I also experienced a few odd Tizen quirks over a week or so of testing, like apps freezing and even some audio dropouts. Unplugging and replugging the TV seemed to fix things apart from a few minor video-loading issues.

Credit where it’s due, Tizen is packed with extras, from its swath of health and fitness apps to split screen features. There's even a handy Game Hub with built-in cloud gaming from apps like Xbox Cloud Gaming, NVidia GeForce now, and Amazon Luna. Like most competitors, there’s also a dedicated gaming bar for on-the-fly adjustments.

A (Mostly) Loaded Package

Samsung’s Gaming Hub complements the S95D’s stout collection of gaming features, including VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) and Freesync Pro for buttery high-frame-rate gaming, and ALLM (Auto Low Latency Mode) for speedy input response. All four HDMI 2.1 inputs support high refresh rates at up to 144 Hz to match high-frame-rate gaming from PCs, and there are a slew of game-oriented picture modes, making it easy to lock in a gorgeous picture.

The TV’s 4.2.2-channel audio system provides surprisingly solid sound. There’s some moderate punch in the lower midrange and fantastic overhead expansion (especially for a TV this thin), shooting Dolby Atmos effects overhead and side to side. Adding a newer Samsung soundbar with Q-Symphony lets you utilize both devices in concert.

Other features include options like Amazon Alexa or Samsung Bixby voice control, Apple AirPlay streaming, and support for HDR10, HDR10+, and HLG (Hybrid Log Gamma) HDR formats.

What you don’t get here is Dolby Vision HDR or, bizarrely for a company that makes Android phones, Chromecast streaming support. These omissions are pretty common across Samsung devices, but each year I hold out hope they’ll eventually cave and add them.

The main advantage of omitting Dolby Vision is one less picture setting to mess with, not that you’ll need to do much to the picture settings anyway. The TV looks almost flawless out of the box in the Filmmaker mode, requiring only minor tweaks. For those who like a slightly brighter picture, the Movie mode is also solid, though you may want to turn off settings like motion smoothing. Whatever your settings, you'll want to ensure the oddly inaccurate Intelligent Mode is off.

Inner Reflection

Samsung’s new anti-glare screen technology is the S95D’s most exclusive feature and works phenomenally well compared to other such options. As previewed at Samsung’s TV event in March, the matte surface is incredibly effective at reducing reflections, even with lights aimed directly at the screen from mere feet away.

There is a trade-off for killing the glare. Part of the beauty of a perfectly black screen on which pixels only pop on demand is just that: perfect black. With the matte screen, lights or reflections aren’t the conspicuous eyesores they are with traditional screens, but they don’t all disappear completely. The screen diffuses but also expands some reflections across a broader area, raising its backdrop from glossy obsidian to lighter charcoal.

Photograph: Ryan Waniata

This can cause some loss in shadow detail for daytime watching with the shades open, or even at night with moderate lighting, though it's easy to adjust for this in the picture settings. When there’s a lot of light to reflect, there can also be a perception of raised black levels in areas of the screen where no pixels are turned on, which affects some of the overall image depth.

Still, the matte screen is more of a personal preference issue than an objective problem. It’s a nonfactor in most scenes even in daylight. Those with lamps or recessed lights causing reflection issues will likely be astonished by what the S95D can do, providing an edge no other TV in its class can match.

Smooth Spectacle

Whatever your thoughts on the matte screen, the S95D’s overall picture quality is undeniable, providing images as beautiful and refined as you’d expect from Samsung’s flagship QD-OLED. You'll get rich and poppy quantum dot colors, silky image processing for superb clarity, and fantastic motion handling with minimized object blur even in challenging scenes.

What really struck me is the TV’s stunning attention to fine details, from upscaled HD content to the best 4K scenes, giving Sony’s renowned A95L (8/10, WIRED Recommends) a run for the money. Nature scenes are a visual feast, as the TV fine-tunes every nuance, feather, or skin dimple like a microscope. Its rendering of the slow-motion fishing expedition at the beginning of the “Fresh Water” episode of Our Planet is among the most captivating scenes I’ve encountered. The bird’s metallic blue feathers glimmer brilliantly, the water rises like molten crystal, and the hundreds of little droplets expand and fall with astonishing precision. It’s the kind of shot that makes you want to just take out your credit card.

Photograph: Ryan Waniata

The S95D continued to show off as I moved through go-to testing content like Disney’s Moana. The more resigned Filmmaker mode tends to look a little dim with some TVs during daylight viewing, taking away from some of the film’s sun-drenched Polynesian escapism. Not so with the S95D. As one of the brightest OLED TVs available, it provides dazzling punch in effects like the lava monster’s luminous fireballs or the sparkling clear water, yet it's subtle in more resigned moments. The film’s velvety lavender sunsets looked so realistic I could almost feel the coolness of the waning light.

The combination of OLED’s fantastic off-axis performance and the glare-free screen tech let me keep the lamps on as I sat in my side-view easy chair with no notable picture quality loss in anything but the darkest scenes. Samsung’s tactful color grading made in-scene black levels like the oily shimmer of a whale’s fin splashing into the water pop with realistic depth.

The S95D is a big investment, even after its price inevitably falls throughout the year. Because reflections aren’t a major issue in my natural viewing habits, I’d likely consider Sony's A95L or LG's G4 (which I have only seen briefly so far) first. Not to mention more affordable options like LG’s C4 and Samsung’s own S90D, which eschews the new glare-free tech.

What I love about the new-look S95 is it swings big and stands out, and that’s something to applaud in any flagship product. It’s great to see a TV that caters to those plagued by reflection issues who still want all the punch, poise, and premium picture quality of a top-tier OLED. Even more than last year, it’s a glorious time to be in the market for a new TV – whatever you're after.