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The reasons for choosing a flagship 4K TV are obvious. You get cutting-edge technology, a stack of features and functionality and, of course, the best picture quality the manufacturer is capable of delivering. Yes, they’re the most expensive. They’re also the best.

But what if you could get all that flagship stuff – the most advanced technology, all the features, the cracking picture quality – without quite such a startling price tag? Flagship performance for less than flagship money? Wouldn’t that be worth looking into?

Unless you’re made of money, the answer – of course – is ‘yes’. So you should pay close attention to Samsung’s Q90T range of 4K HDR QLED TVs.

This isn’t Samsung’s flagship range of 4K HDR QLED TVs – that honour (and those premium prices) belongs to the Q95T range. But the Q95T range doesn’t have a technology the Q90T goes without, it doesn’t do anything the Q90T can’t do, and the picture performance of the two ranges is identical. Literally identical.

So why would you pay another 15% on the price of this QE55Q90T to buy the £2,299 QE55Q95T? That’s a tricky question to answer – and by the end of this review it’s going to be trickier still.

Design

QLED technology has a lot going for it – especially its brightness, its longevity, its low power consumption and its availability in some quite modest screen-sizes. What it doesn’t have, though, is the showroom pull of its OLED nemesis.

Part of OLED’s appeal is its almost supernatural skinniness, with which QLED simply can’t compete. That’s because QLED technology requires LED backlighting behind its LCD pixels, which adds to the depth of the chassis. And where an almost-but-not-quite flagship TV like this one is concerned, ‘full array local dimming’ (or ‘FALD’) is the most effective way to light those pixels, so the QE55Q90T’s frame ends up looking appreciably deeper than the competing OLED designs.

(Full array local dimming means there are LEDs behind the whole screen, rather than just around the edge. Here they’re divided into slightly over 100 zones, each of which is controllable on an individual basis. So – in theory at least – screen uniformity, contrast control and bright/dark detail levels should all benefit.)

Look beyond its actually-not-that-bad 35mm depth, though, and the QE55Q90T is a discreet, well engineered and actually quite handsome TV. The dark metal bezel surrounding the screen is brief, nicely contoured and tactile. Its stand is agreeably shaped, provides more than enough room for a soundbar to be accommodated comfortably, feels gratifyingly hefty – and, importantly, doesn’t insist on a very wide surface to stand the TV on.

Wall-mounting is also straightforward enough, though at a touch over 20kg the QE55Q90T won’t thank you for being hung on a plasterboard partition wall. Neither will the partition wall.

As much as a TV ever can, then – given that it needs to be almost all screen and nothing else – the Q90T looks and feels like a premium item. One might almost say ‘flagship’.

Features

First and foremost, this is a 4K UHD TV with a native resolution of 3840 x 2160. To help deliver the most convincing images possible, it’s compatible with HLG, HDR10 and HDR10+ dynamic metadata HDR standards. For reasons too political and too tedious to get into here, Samsung TVs don’t incorporate Dolby Vision dynamic metadata HDR.

Picture quality is also bolstered both by Samsung’s contrast-enhancing ‘anti-reflective screen’ arrangement and ‘ultra viewing angle’ technology. In your average sitting-room, where it may not be possible for every viewer to be sitting directly in front of the screen and/or there may be sunlight interfering with the viewing experience, both technologies could come in very handy. These are the kinds of touches that would usually be a strong indicator of a TV’s ‘flagship’ status.

And because we don’t all exist on a diet of native 4K UHD material, Samsung has allowed some of its AI techniques and machine learning algorithms to trickle down from its super-flagship 8K TVs to the Q90T. The world’s not short of 4K TVs that look great with native content but make a pig’s ear of upscaling lesser stuff – but like our encounter with this technology during a test of the superb 75Q950TS 8K TV, the Q90T proves an adept upscaler. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Getting content into the Q90T is, naturally, possible in any number of ways. Physical inputs extend as far as four HDMI inputs, one of which is e-ARC equipped and all four of which are approaching ‘HDMI 2.1’ specification. This, along with ‘4K @120Hz’, is nothing but good news for those who are already preparing to take delivery of their next-generation games console. There are a couple of Type 2 USB inputs, no fewer than three aerial posts (for terrestrial and satellite tuners) and an Ethernet socket too. A CI card slot and a digital optical output complete the tangible inputs/outputs picture. The intangibles include dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2.

And it’s here, and here alone, that the Q90T has to play second fiddle to its Q95T sibling. All the QE55Q90T’s physical inputs are tidily arranged on the screen’s rear panel, as is par for the flatscreen course. The Q95T, on the other hand, keeps all its inputs, as well as mains power, in an off-board box called One Connect – so the only cable the Q95T needs is a single, slim umbilical to cover all its power and connectivity needs. It’s a very neat trick indeed, and it’s what makes the Q95T a ‘flagship’ TV and, consequently, so much more expensive than the Q90T. But is it really worth the extra outlay?

To complement the pictures, Samsung has had quite a hard think about audio performance. And the upshot is a 60-watts audio arrangement laid out in what Samsung’s calling a ‘4.2.2’ configuration. A total of eight speaker drivers are arranged at the bottom, the middle edge and the top of the frame, in order to offer a degree of audio-tracking relative to the on-screen action. ‘Object Tracking Sound’ is what Samsung calls it.

Interface

Samsung has quite sensibly stuck with its Tizen-based smart TV/user interface operating system – and for 2020 it’s as usable, as impressive and as satisfying as ever. There’s no easier way for a TV to seem like a premium product than this, and Samsung continues to be the Undisputed Champion of the Interface.

A two-deck arrangement that looks good and is utterly fit for purpose at the same time, it’s stable and smooth-scrolling – and with the primary background colour now a gentle blue rather than last year’s white, it’s even easier on the eye. Every high-profile streaming service worthy of the description is included (and that means Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Rakuten, Apple TV, Disney+ and plenty more besides), as well as all the UK’s catch-up TV apps.

Navigation of all these options, as well as access to the TV’s set-up menus and performance parameter adjustment, is via one of the two bundled remote control handsets (one a bog-standard plastic clicker with too many buttons that are all too small, one a much more elegant and simplified ‘almost-flagship’ alternative) or via voice control. Samsung’s own voice assistant Bixby is on board for the bloody-minded (and/or Samsung employees), while those of us who live in the real world can also use Amazon Alexa. Google Assistant should be showing up ‘soon’.

Performance

We may as well cut to the chase here: the Samsung QE55Q90T is an excellent television, in all circumstances. Its range of talent is broad and deep, and it doesn’t seem to care in the slightest about the type (or the quality) of the content you want to watch.

Of course, it does its best work with native 4K content, ideally packing an HDR element. A 4K UHD Blu-ray disc of The World’s End, with its HDR10+ mastering, plays right into the Q90T’s –hands and the results are deeply impressive.

Contrast is good. Very good, in fact – the Samsung delivers deep, detailed black tones and clean, bright, equally detailed whites and has no problem combining the two in the same scene. The Q90T’s 2000-nit peak brightness makes for some eye-popping white tones, and despite its fairly miserly number of dimming zones the screen has no problem controlling its backlighting. Quite often the credits of a film can cause a TV some alarms, if they consist of scrolling white lettering on a black screen – but the Samsung doesn’t let the text smear or slur. It simply controls the edges of the text, and its movement, with the sort of unarguable authority that only the most capable TVs are capable of.

And every other aspect of picture-making is equally confidently handled. The colour palette is wide-ranging and convincing – balancing ‘vivid’ with ‘natural’ is not an easy trick, but the Q90T makes it seem the most natural thing in the world. And it’s equally adept where details – whether of pattern, or of texture, or of skin-tone – are concerned. Motion is dealt with similarly, allowing movement both rapid and languid to scroll across the screen without any alarms – there’s absolute solidity to the way the Samsung describes motion that’s a rarity in TVs at any price. And it defines edges with the confidence of a master draughtsman – drawing edges as smoothly and sharply as this can be added to the list of the things the Samsung does as well as, if not better than, its most capable rivals.

Stepping down in quality (at least nominally) to a 4K Netflix stream of Better Call Saul doesn’t faze the Q90T in the slightest. The lurid colours are balanced beautifully, dark scenes (of which there are plenty) are alive with detail, and the brightest, glaring desert skies are equally detailed and gratifyingly free of picture noise.

Moving down to more humdrum resolutions only allows the Samsung to demonstrate what an outstanding upscaler of lower-resolution material it is. From a 1080p disc of The Godfather, via a DVD of Delicatessen right down to an off-air daytime-TV broadcast of The Sweeney, the Q90T remains composed and commanding. Oh sure, detail levels fall away and edges get a little less certain, but the Samsung fights against softness, picture noise and lack of definition heroically. Brightness stays high, black tones stay deep, and the Q90T remains eminently watchable.

Its peripheral technologies prove worthwhile too. That ‘anti-reflective’ screen does exactly that, making this one of the few TVs that can be watched on a bright, sunny day with the curtains open. And as far as sitting off-axis goes, the ultra-wide ‘viewing angle’ technology allows people sitting at quite a steep angle to enjoy the same brightness and colour lividity as those sitting in the sweet spot.

Gamers will be pleased to hear that all of these many picture positives translate faithfully – and with the ‘Game Mode’ preset defeated, the Q90T is capable of lightning-fast response times. Latency of less than 10ms is not to be sniffed at – and when the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X hit the shelves, that number can be expected to be lower still, thanks to the Samsung’s ‘4K @ 120Hz’ HDMI support.

It’s safe to say the Samsung is a slightly more qualified success where audio quality is concerned. In all honesty, the only flatscreen TVs that don’t sound like they need an external soundbar are the ones that come pre-fitted with an external soundbar – which is those Panasonic screens with Technics audio and those Philips screens had at by Bowers & Wilkins. There’s more substance to the sound here than most TVs can muster, it’s true, and that complicated driver layout means the Q90T goes some way to making good on its promise that its sound will track on-screen motion. But it doesn’t sound like 60 watts-worth, and it doesn’t sound as convincing as a half-decent and affordable external soundbar.

It’s at this point I’m obliged to find a few more meaningful downsides to Samsung QE55Q90T ownership – but in all honesty, I’m struggling. The lack of Dolby Vision support is galling, yes – all the more so because you know it’s just pig-headedness that’s keeping it off the spec-sheet. But beyond that, it’s difficult to find fault with this TV. £1,999 is plenty of money for a 55in screen these days, it’s true – but the QE55Q90T is worth it, undoubtedly. And bear in mind you can pay more for exactly the same performance if you absolutely must have the ‘flagship’ alternative.

The Samsung QE55Q90T is available now for £1,999 on Amazon, John Lewis and Currys.
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