Samsung has announced a limited retail launch for its 55-inch curved OLED TV in Australia. From 29 August, you'll be able to get the KN55S9C for AU$10,999 from the Samsung Experience store in Sydney.
While we haven't had a chance to go hands on with one in Australia yet, our CNET colleague David Katzmaier in the US has. The model is the same in the US as here, although obviously some of the smart TV functionality may be different.
In the US, the KN55S9C is joining the LG55EM9800 curved OLED. The Australian version of this, the LG55EA9800, is expected to be available in September, although no pricing has been revealed yet.
It's also worth noting that it seems unlikely that we'll see a flat-panel OLED TV in the near future. Both LG and Samsung have indicated that they'll only be bringing curved models to market for the time being.
Some of David's initial impressions with the Samsung curved OLED TV are below.
Move over, plasma, there's a new TV picture-quality sheriff in town.
His name is OLED. He may have arrived a few years later and quite a bit curvier than expected, but he's finally here. And he kicks ass.
Having spent a few quality hours with Samsung's first production OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TV, the KN55S9C, I can say OLED lives up to the hype. Its picture surpasses plasma and LED LCD in the most important ways, with no major gotchas or downsides.
Simply put, the Samsung KN55S9C produces the best picture I've seen on any TV, ever.
Of course, there's another contender for the badge already: LG's 55EM9800. I can't say how it compares to the Samsung, because I haven't tested one in person yet, and I'll hold off on declaring a "best picture of 2013" until I do. In the meantime, there are plenty of other differences between the two, including price. (The LG55EM9800 retails in the US for around US$14,999.)
The TV is 55 inches, curved and 1080p. The concave shape of the screen is radically different from any flat TV out there, and accentuated by the even curvier frame.
I completely forgot the curve, for a while at least, when I turned it on. I've spent more than a decade paying close attention to how black a TV screen gets, because that's the basis of contrast ratio — the most important picture quality factor. My favourite analogy is that black is the canvas upon which a display paints, and OLED delivers the purest canvas yet, with a black that's truly absolute.
In the completely dark room, I couldn't tell it was on. Then the Samsung logo appeared in the middle of the screen, and unlike most other TV technologies that produce a more or less faint greyish glow in the shape of a 16:9 rectangle, the rest of the OLED's screen remained indistinguishable from the surrounding blackness. There was none of the "blooming" of imprecise local dimming, either, just the starkest separation of black and white I'd seen on a TV.
The other half of contrast ratio is white, and OLED delivers. It's not capable of getting as bright as the most torch-like LED LCDs, but it outdoes the brightest plasmas easily, without sacrificing any of those absolute black levels.
That combination is all OLED needs to earn the picture-quality crown. After a few tweaks to confirm basic settings, my first piece of program material was the stunning Samsara Blu-ray. During chapter 3 (at 5:13), the image fades from black to jungle treetops with a temple in the distance. From the deepest shadows among the trees to the bright sky, the image looked better than any I've seen, lifelike and true. A bit earlier, the red of the erupting volcano and the skin of the baby, both set against a black background, looked as punchy as I could want.
Side-by-side panel testing.
(Credit: David Katzmaier/CNET)
I didn't have to imagine how much better the OLED looked than a plasma, because at my request, Samsung's reps wheeled in a PN60F8500 for a side-by-side comparison. It wasn't really fair, but it was still very instructive. In a completely dark room, the OLED's rendition of black made that of the 8500 — one of the best on the market — seem like a dark greyish wash even when I equalised the TVs' light output. That said, the plasma kept up very well.
I switched over to the Macau scene (chapter 11) in Skyfall, and the blacks of the night sky and dark water, combined with the bright lamps and dragon near the entrance, again looked impressively inkier on the OLED, but, once more, the plasma held its own, with plenty of punch. The shadow detail advantage went to OLED, which had no trouble with tough areas like Bond's tux or his face as he walks through the bar.
Colours on both were also rich and vibrant; OLED didn't have a significant advantage in that category. I didn't perform a full calibration, but out of the box, the OLED was accurate enough, if somewhat red in Movie mode on my sample.
Details between the two were basically the same, as I'd expect when comparing two 1080p TVs. Don't believe any claims of "extreme sharpness" due to OLED technology. Yes, the picture looks better, but that's because of contrast ratio (dark blacks and bright whites) and other factors that are independent of resolution.
I also noticed that reflections were both more muted, again thanks to an excellent anti-reflective screen, and much less likely to be caught in the curved screen of the OLED than in the flat screen of the plasma. That's one important, unexpected benefit of the curve. Pretty much the only one.
For a videophile with money to burn who doesn't mind a relatively small 55-inch size, the curved screen is a major fly in the ointment.
It was definitely noticeable from the sweet spot at my seating distance of about 7 feet. The corners seemed wider than the middle, creating a subtle trapezoid effect that I found distracting compared to the flatter shape of the traditional screen. The horizontal edges bowed wider toward the edges, too, creating a subtle "U" along the top edge and an inverted one along the bottom.
Another strange effect was that the roundness of the curve changed as I sat higher or lower relative to the screen. From my standard seating position, in an office chair watching the TV set atop a roughly 1-metre stand, the bottom of the screen bent more noticeably than the top. From off-angle, the distortions became even less equal.
I can imagine the curve is something you can get used to, just like any artefact, but if I was that videophile with infinite funds, I'd probably still wait for a flat one.
Beyond its crazy-good picture, the Samsung KN55S9C can do something else unique: show two different full-HD images at the same time, a feature dubbed Multi View. Passive-3D-equipped TVs can do something similar aimed at gaming, but on the KN55S9C, it's actually designed to be used to watch two TV shows on the same TV. The set ships with four pairs of specialised 3D glasses that include built-in headphones. In Multi View mode, the TV seen sans glasses shows two sources intermixed. Don the glasses, and you can switch freely between watching one or the other; a toggle on the glasses switches both the video you see and the audio you hear through the headphones (the TV itself remains silent in Multi View mode). You can watch any source, including Samsung's Smart Hub or a streaming app, on the "main" Multi View screen, but the secondary screen is restricted to an external input connection (HDMI, etc) or the internal TV tuner.
The Multi View in action, when seen without glasses.
(Credit: Nic Healey/CNET Australia)
I was surprised that Samsung's panel is thicker than OLEDs I've seen in the past, albeit still less than 1 inch in depth. Its other dimensions are also chunkier than pre-production OLEDs we've seen. It weighs 30.9kg and measures 135.6mm deep without the stand, but you'll probably keep the stand, since the set can't be wall mounted. That depth takes into account the curve.
OLED is finally here, and, as expected, it's awesome and quite expensive. Unless you're at the very highest end of the TV market, a good LED LCD or plasma is a much better choice, not least because it'll likely be flat and potentially bigger than 55 inches.
Nonetheless, OLED is something special and genuinely exciting, and even if you can't afford it, you should try to check it out in person. No picture is perfect, but the one produced by an OLED TV is as close to reality as display technology can get.