Samsung Q80R 4K UHD TV review: The smart shopper's option in top-tier TVs

Samsung's second-tier 4K UHD TV doesn't sport its big sibling's design flourishes, but you just might like its image better.

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Samsung

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At a Glance
  • Samsung QN65Q80RAFXZA 4K UHD smart TV

The Samsung Q80R is a great TV with a picture that some might just favor over the company’s more expensive Q90R, which I reviewed last month. The Q80R (QN65Q80RAFXZA) costs less in part because it foregoes Samsung’s nifty, but non-essential One Connect breakout box and its new pedestal stand.

With all its electronics onboard, the Q80R is also slightly thicker than the Q90R (2.4 inches compared to 1.6 inches). That’s something most people can live with while saving $800. Put in new-car terms, you’re getting the performance package without the sexy wheels and trim.

Design and features

The Q80R is a 4K UHD (3840 x 2160 pixels) TV that employs a layer of quantum dots (the “Q” in QLED) to enhance color. I tested the 65-inch class (64.5-inches diagonally) model that weighs in at around 56 pounds. As I mentioned, it doesn’t feature the Q90R’s pedestal stand, opting instead for the usual twin legs, though these snap in, foregoing the usual screws. There’s also a 400 x 300mm VESA mount point for wall mounting.

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The Q80R isn’t as slim as the more-expensive Q90R, but it’s hardly a fatty.

The port array on the back of the TV includes four HDMI ports, one with ARC (Audio Return Channel for output to soundbars and such), two USB ports, an optical digital audio output, RF (for cable/satellite or over-the-air antenna), RS-232C, and ethernet. Wireless connectivity options include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Samsung is annoyingly vague about some specs on its website, so being the conscientious  reporter that I am—I asked, The Wi-Fi is 802.1ac, the Bluetooth 4.0, the HDMI ports are 2.0a, and the USB ports remain unspecified. The last easily streamed 2160p video, so they’re fast enough whatever they are. 

Remote and interface

Only last year, Samsung’s top-end remotes were clean and advertising-free. Now there are shortcuts for Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu. To be fair, that’s fantastic if those are the services you use. If not, c’est la capitalisme. 

Where Samsung is vague on port specifications, it’s quite specific that the included remote is model TM1950C. Other than the advertising, and a lack of dedicated transport controls, it’s one of my favorites—simple, easy, attractive, and comfortable to hold.

The configurable Samsung Smart Hub interface that appears on the bottom of the screen is nice to look at and easy to use, so I’m going to skip my usual complaints. To my mind, it’s definitely one of the top three on the market, along with LG and Roku; though the industry in general is doing quite a good job in this department these days.

As far as viewing features are concerned, there’s a channel guide, a curated internet streaming TV ecosystem, as well as all the usual standalone services and features. some of which you can see in the image below. 

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Samsung’s Smart Hub interface being browsed using the latest version of the company’s One Remote universal remote control. Note that instead of the transport controls (Play/FF/Rew) it needs, it now sports Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu buttons.

Ancillary features include an improved ambient mode, which allows you to upload a digital photo that matches the wall behind the TV, rendering the TV’s screen transparent. Well, sort of anyway. Alternatively, you can display digital photos or works of art as though the TV was a picture frame.

The TV supports Samsung’s own Bixby digital assistant, which I like, plus two more popular digital pseudo-slaves: Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. There is an Apple TV app, plus support for Apple’s AirPlay 2 multi-room audio tech.

The Q80R features FreeSync technology, which reduces input lag when you use the TV with a video-game console or a PC. A universal program guide remembers your content choices and recommends programs that it predicts you’ll like. That’s great, unless you’re trying to break old habits.

Like all TV vendors, Samsung likes to bandy about such as “Quantum HDR 16X,” which means the TV has high peak brightness. You should either ignore such pablum or operate on the theory that given the same invented metric, higher numbers are better.

Performance

The Samsung Q80R offers much the same picture as the Q90R, which means it has brightness for miles, renders spectacular HDR, and has extremely accurate and well-saturated color. As I mentioned up top, this is largely due to the use of a sheet of quantum dot re-emitters.

Where the two models vary the most is in their array backlighting. Samsung isn’t forthcoming about the number or zones in use, as they feel simple-minded writers and buyers (that’s me and you) might judge purely on this number and not allow for other less-quantifiable techniques. What I can tell you is that there’s considerably more than one zone in use, and that the black on the Q80R is good, but not quite as deep as the Q90R’s.

The Q80R, on the other hand, doesn’t suffer the Q90R’s defects, which include poor transitions from zone to zone, with small, moving bright objects (a zone counter). To be honest, I prefer fewer defects.

Both models suffer greater issues with moiré or shimmer in highly detailed pans or complex area motion than the stellar 8K, Samsung Q900R I reviewed last May, but that TV’s in a class of its own. Compared to other vendors’ array-backlit TVs (side-lit TVs have far fewer rendering issues, but deliver poor black levels), the Q80R and Q90R are no worse, but no better. 

Complex line rendering tests were an issue as well for both TVs—more so than most of their contemporaries; but complex fanned line patterns are not something you’re likely to run into during normal viewing.

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The Q80R has a very good picture that some might prefer to the Q90R because there are fewer defects.

Screen conformity is quite good, with only slight cloudiness visible with an all-white screen at SDR brightness (around 500 nits). The effect diminishes as things get brighter—the Q80R measured nearly 1,300 nits in full-on white HDR with about 25 percent screen coverage.

Motion is handled smoothly, though I always observe and rate this with motion compensation set as high as necessary. Some Hollywood types don’t like motion compensation, which is part of the impetus for the recently announced Filmmaker mode for TVs. Personally, nothing kills my absorption in a movie quicker than stuttering on a quick pan, so the filmmakers can…. Write better scripts and stop endlessly obsessing over the visual. 

That said, there is some material that will acquire an ‘80s shot-to-early-video look with compensation turned on. In that case—turn it off. Personal filmmaker mode!

HDR formats

Traditionally, I’ve bugged Samsung about their lack of Dolby Vision support, which is the most well-known brand of HDR. According to the company, however, a lot of content (most notably Amazon Prime’s) is also now delivered in HDR10+, which is Samsung’s own dynamic metadata format. Dynamic means that the metadata (i.e., instructions to the TV on how to adjust itself), are embedded throughout the video stream on a scene-by-scene, or even frame-by-frame basis. Standard HDR10 sends this data just once before the movie starts; hence, it’s a compromise between what’s best for bright scenes and dark scenes.

It would’ve been really nice if the industry had for once settled on a mutual standard, but HDR data is infinitesimal compared to video data, so it’s actually no strain on the bandwidth to support multiple HDR standards.

A wise choice for the frugal

The Q80R is a most excellent TV, if I may go Keanu on you for a moment. It’s a toss-up with the Q90R image-wise with ever so slightly less contrast, but less defect-prone black.

Purely from my own not-rich but not-really-poor perspective, if I were to take one home from the lab, it would be the Q90R, simply because I like the pedestal stand. If I were to buy one, it would be the Q80R, because $800 is a lot of money for a breakout box and said pedestal.

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At a Glance
  • The Q80R delivers a superior image, yet costs significantly less than the Samsung's top-of-the-line 4K UHD TV, the Q90R. You won't get Samsung's One Connect breakout box and pedestal stand, but some viewers will prefer its picture quality. It's a great TV for those that want the best for a little less.

    Pros

    • Excellent brightness, contrast, and HDR
    • Svelte remote and easy-to-use onscreen interface
    • Alexa, Google Assistant, and Bixby support; Apple TV ready

    Cons

    • Slightly less contrast than the pricier Samsung Q90R
    • Lacks the Q90R's One Connect box and pedestal stand
  
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