At a celebrity-packed gala launch event at the Museum of American Finance on Wall St. yesterday, Samsung unveiled more details as well as production models in its 2013 HDTV line-up. One of the stars of the show was their 85-inch Ultra HD (4K) TV, the UN85S9. This gorgeous beast sports a screen resolution exactly four times that of 1080p HD - 3840 by 2160 pixels to be precise. The set is expected to begin shipping soon with pre-orders accepted before the end of this month. The price? A cool $39,999: That's $10K per K! That's also more than twice the cost of LG's current 84-inch 4K offering and 60% higher than Sony's 84-inch model.
So what makes the S9 Ultra HDTV so special? It's a Samsung! It's got a cool industrial design that makes it look like an enormous easel picture frame! Did we mention all the pixels?
But seriously, the S9 is unique in at least a couple of ways. It features a full array LED backlight with local dimming technology. Samsung calls it "ultimate dimming" because that's how they roll. This feature, which used to be commonplace on high-end LED/LCD TVs, has virtually disappeared in recent years, being replaced by inferior edge-lighting or side-lighting technology. The advantages of true local dimming with a fully array of LEDs lighting up the panel include better lighting uniformity (no "hot spots") as well as better contrast. By selectively dimming or turning off specific zones of backlight, the set can reproduce true black on some areas of the screen while others are at full brightness.
The set also employs Samsung's new "Intelligent Viewing" technology which optimizes the image for the content. And for those who like to stream or just want some ideas of what to watch, you'll find Samsung's new improved Smart Hub app and streaming platfom with enhanced user interface and improved voice and gesture control.
But perhaps one of the coolest features of the S9 UHDTV is the upgradability of the set. As of yet, there is no real standard for 4K/Ultra HD broadcasting, nor is there an agreed upon specification for a connector format. HDMI in its current incarnation (1.4) can support 4K resolutions, but only up to 24 frames/second (24p). This is OK for movies (unless it's "The Hobbit" at 48 fps), but it's not ideal for gaming or sporting events. And no one wants to plunk down $40K on a TV just to have it become obsolete in a year or two.
Samsung's "Smart Evolution Kit with Connect" is something that didn't appear in the press release, but we found out about it while grilling the product experts at the event. It's a little black box that can be attached to the set at some point in the future once broadcast and connection standards for Ultra HD TV have been finalized. The kit is similar to Samsung's standard Smart Evolution Kit (which starts shipping this spring) but with the addition of new connector options. The kit will be user-installable and will plug directly into the TV's audio/video board via a proprietary connector. The Smart Evolution Kit with Connect will enable an upgraded CPU, improvements to apps, user interface and software and a new collection of connector ports, whether they be HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort, or some as yet unimagined audio/video connector.
At the event, the UN85S9 was playing a native 4K loop from locally streamed video files - and this content looked superb - but it will also intelligently upconvert standard and high definition content to optimize image quality on this Ultra HD panel.
Details were not yet available on the 85-inch model's big brothers, a 110-inch model (UN110S9) shown in prototype form at CES, as well as a 95-inch model (UN95S9) that was not shown but proposed by Samsung executives at CES as another potential screen size in the Ultra HD model line.
Distribution of the S9 will be fairly limited, and we're not expecting them to sell too many at this price tag, but if you're looking for bragging rights and a sweet Ultra HD picture, you'll definitely want to check it out.