If you’re spending more than a thousand dollars on a TV, there are very few reasons not to buy an organic light-emitting diode model. Each pixel in an OLED screen acts as its own backlight, and that built-in contrast provides a gorgeous viewing experience.
For years, Samsung—which doesn’t make an OLED TV—has been touting that its high-end backlit LED screens get brighter (and thus work better in brighter rooms) than OLEDs from LG, Sony, and Vizio. This claim fell largely short once you got the two technologies side by side. Brightness be damned, without the near-perfect contrast of OLED, Samsung’s didn’t actually look better. It wasn’t until I got my eyes on the new QN90A that my opinion started to change.
Depending on what and where you watch, the QN90A might actually be a better-looking TV. Samsung’s Mini LED backlighting inches very close to OLED’s perfect contrast, and speedy processing makes it a perfect companion for high-end gaming PCs and consoles. If you watch in brighter rooms or in large groups from varying angles, it’s probably the best-looking TV for you.
Mini LED uses thousands of tiny LEDs to backlight the display, and the technology is now getting very close to OLED-level performance when it comes to blacks, without the limitations imposed by OLED’s Achilles’ heel: brightness.
LED TVs can get brighter than OLEDs, which makes them better for eye-catching colors and bright rooms. Think about moving your cell phone screen from a bright room to a dark one; it needs much more backlighting to look good in sunlight. That’s important, because not everyone has the luxury of a purpose-built home theater. Brightness has a noticeable impact, especially when OLED’s inherent contrast advantage is minimized.
The QN90A looks amazing even with the lights on. When I was watching Formula 1 races and soccer matches, the color of the cars and the green of the field were gorgeous. Even dark shows like The Mandolorian looked great. Turn off the lights and it’s one of the most vivid viewing experiences you’ll find.
But viewing in super-dark rooms is just about the only time you’ll really notice that the TV isn’t getting quite as black as an OLED can. Turn down the lights and put on a film set in space; you’ll notice there’s a touch of “light bloom” around brighter objects, which is when the light from the backlight bleeds around the sides of the illuminated subject.
The QN90A is well-designed. I prefer the inch-thick, nearly bezel-less panel of Samsung’s Mini LED model to the paper-thin LG C1 OLED I previously reviewed. To be honest, having a TV that thin only seems cool until you try to manipulate it out of the box, onto a wall, or onto the included stand. With the Samsung, I had no fears of crushing the display with my fingers.
I also like the pedestal-style center stand, which makes it fit easily on TV stands from the pre-flatscreen era. It just barely sits above Samsung’s soundbars, so if you have a taller bar, you might want to wall-mount the TV.
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With a modern Samsung soundbar like the HW-Q950A in tow, the TV’s built-in speakers can play a supporting role in your listening. It focuses on boosting the center channel—where you’ll find most dialog placed in film and TV mixes—helping them sound like they’re really coming from a character’s mouth. Alone, the TV’s audio is pretty tinny. I strongly recommend grabbing a set of speakers or a soundbar, just like with any other TV.
Samsung’s smart TV interface is clean and functional, with elusive apps like HBO Max available natively. It also works remarkably well as a gaming monitor. The QN90A features Nvidia G-Sync and AMD FreeSync support for variable refresh rates, and can go up to 120 frames per second at 4K resolution. That makes it great if you have any of the latest consoles from Sony and Microsoft, as games will look more fluid and feel more responsive.
I took it for a spin with my AMD Radeon RX 6800 graphics card and *Formula 1 2021—*the short response time and high refresh rate are impeccable. In game mode, it’s nearly as good as the aforementioned LG C1 OLED, which is arguably the best large-format gaming display.
I didn’t expect to like this micro LED Samsung as much as I did. I always found the beautiful brightness of high-end Samsung models just couldn’t compete with the obscene contrast offered by OLED TVs, even if it worked better in sunlight and at odd angles.
But if the QN90A is proof of anything, it’s that in a few years, OLED-beating performance is sure to come from Samsung’s constant Mini LED innovation. For now, it’s a situational winner.
If you want gorgeous picture quality in a well-lit living room, it’s worth considering. If you almost always watch TV in a dark environment, then stick with an OLED. It runs from 43 inches to 98(!), so you can pick it for everything from a bedroom set to a full-blown home theater.
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