Samsung’s “QLED” is a brand-new term for a lot of people, and the world’s number one TV maker calls it “the next innovation in TV.” With the Q7 series there’s more innovation in design and features than in picture quality.
The Q7, Samsung’s least-costly-but-still-expensive QLED TV, is a tour de force of sleek extras. Its awesome “invisible” fiber-optic cabling combines with an external connection box to make clean-looking installations easier than ever. It can control connected gear automatically using just the TV remote, even if your stuff is stashed away in a cabinet. And its beautiful aesthetics, down to the remote, the stand and even the backside, are perhaps my favorite of any TV yet.
The TV’s design is so good I gave it a “10” in that category and lowered the design scores of other competing sets I’ve tested, including LG’s C7 OLED TV. But this QLED can’t compare to that OLED in the category with the most weight in CNET’s TV rating system: picture quality.
In side-by-side comparisons the QLED TV’s picture looked similar to many other LED LCD TVs. It’s very good, especially in bright rooms, and will certainly satisfy most viewers. But in darker environments where expensive TVs should cater to picky home theater fans too, it falls short of the better LCD-based TVs like the Vizio P series as well as OLED-based sets.
The magic of “invisible” wiring
Samsung has always made some of the nicest-looking televisions, and the Q7 is another stunner. From the front it’s almost all picture, with a very thin black frame edges in silver, with a tiny chrome Samsung logo on the bottom. From the side it lacks the razor-thin profile of OLED, but it’s still super-thin at 1.8 inches deep.
I’m a big fan of Samsung’s new stand designs this year. The Q7’s consists of a tubular bar along the front and an angled support that lets the TV seem to hang in space. It’s simple and attractive.
Even the back is well-thought-out, with textured horizontal lines and covers that conceal two of Samsung’s 2017 TV innovations. One is the new “Invisible connection,” a thin, white fiber-optic cable that runs between the TV and a separate One Connect box, into which you’ll plug your AV gear, antenna, and USB devices.
It’s not quite invisible, but is thin and small enough that you could run it along the outside of a wall and it would be tough to spot, depending on the wall coloring. The Q7 ships with a 16-foot cable, which should be plenty long for most people, and unused slack can be wrapped in the included rubber puck. Convenient! The TV’s power cable and the thin wire can be hidden in a channel on the back of the stand, for the most discreet wiring solution of any TV I’ve seen.
The other innovation is an optional “no-gap wall-mount” ($150 for 55 and 65-inch sizes, $175 for 75-inch). It attaches to the same recessed socket the stand uses, keeps the TV flush against the wall, allows easy leveling and is relatively easy to install. The TV is also compatible with standard mounts ($20 and up), although they’ll introduce a wider gap between the TV and the wall.
A TV smart enough to manage your gear
Samsung has improved one of my favorite features from last year: the TV’s ability to automatically recognize and control connected devices using its own remote and on-screen display. The biggest change is an infrared blaster built into the OneConnect box, allowing its remote signals to reach gear inside cabinets or otherwise hidden.
A good universal remote is more capable, but certainly not as easy to set up. Simply plugging in a device during initial TV setup is often enough to get the Samsung to recognize it and completely set up control using Samsung’s TV remote. This unique auto setup ability worked for many of the devices I tried, but there were exceptions like Nvidia Shield, Apple TV and Playstation consoles. That’s not bad, but it’s hardly “universal.”
Cable box control is particularly impressive and allows you to ditch your cable company clicker for most commands. My Fios box was automatically integrated into the TV’s Home menu bar complete with its own Fios icon. The TV’s on-screen display let me select the box’s own guide (also accessible by pressing the remote’s “channel” button), its DVR recordings or its main menu or change channels, all using Samsung’s TV remote.
The TV remote can also pause and fast-forward through commercials, although it relied on a pop-up menu instead of dedicated buttons (although Samsung did add forward and reverse skip). You can also direct-dial channel numbers and access special keys like A, B, C, D and “Last” using other pop-ups. If the pop-ups are too tedious, voice commands like “Watch channel 570” “ESPNHD” and “Pause” work too.
You’ll need to plug your stuff directly into the TV, so if your setup incorporates an AV receiver it won’t work. In the end I’d stick with my Harmony, but people with simpler systems that use supported devices might be fine using just Samsung’s sleek remote to control everything.
Decent app support, new voice controls
4K streaming with HDR is available from Netflix and Amazon, as well as the Fandango-powered TV Plus app, but Samsung’s Vudu app currently supports neither 4K nor HDR. The UltraFlix app has some niche 4K content and there’s 4K support on the YouTube app. Other major apps like Hulu, Plex and both HBOs (Go and Now) are on-board too, but if you want more you’ll probably still need to connect an external device like a Roku or Apple TV.
I like that app tiles and connected devices both appear in the same menu bar along the bottom, and you can arrange them to taste. Click the Home button and you’ll be able to browse content from within apps like Netflix and Hulu while your current video keeps playing in the background. The menu even serves suggestions and, on some apps, lets you resume stuff you were watching previously.
If you want to avoid the menu entirely, you can try speaking into the remote. Commands like “Netflix,” “Hulu” and “YouTube” worked well to launch apps, but “Amazon” launched the web site instead — I had to say “Amazon video” to launch its app. You also can’t use voice commands within an app. In a cool twist, settings like “Movie Mode,” “Game Mode” and even specific settings like “Backlight 8” can also be adjusted via voice.
Key TV Features
|Key TV features|
|Display technology:||LED LCD|
|LED backlight:||Edge-lit with local dimming|
The main extra Samsung touts is QLED, which it says stands for “Quantum dot Light Emitting Diode.” Quantum dots are microscopic molecules that, when hit by light, emit their own, differently colored light. In Samsung’s 2017 QLED TVs, the dots are contained in a film, and the light that hits them is provided by an LED backlight. That light then travels though a few other layers inside the TV, including a liquid crystal (LCD) layer, to create the picture.
Samsung has been using quantum dots in pretty much the exact same way for the last two years in its SUHD TVs like the KS8000 and JS8500, but says its 2017 dots deliver better color and more brightness. There’s a new proprietary structure that “consists of a metal core, a graded ZnSeS layer and a metal jacket.” In my book, the current generation of QLED TVs are basically souped-up LED LCD TVs, not a separate type of display like OLED. Check out the article below for more.
The Q7 has an edge-lit LED backlight with local dimming, and unlike Vizio, Samsung doesn’t disclose the number of dimming zones. It does say that step-up models like the Q8 and Q9 have more zones, but it’s tough to speculate on whether that will improve their image quality. The super-expensive Q9, for its part, has an extra called “Elite Black+ with Infinite Array,” which might perform better.
The set supports HDR (high dynamic range) content in the standard HDR10 and the upcoming HDR10+ formats only. It lacks the Dolby Vision HDR support found on most competitors’ HDR TVs. I’ve seen no evidence that one HDR format is inherently “better” than the other, so I definitely don’t consider lack of Dolby Vision a deal breaker on this TV–instead it’s just one more factor to consider.
- 4x HDMI inputs with HDMI 2.0a, HDCP 2.2
- 3x USB ports (2x version 2.0, 1x version 3.0)
- Ethernet (LAN) port
- Optical digital audio output
- RF (antenna) input
- Remote (RS-232) port (EX-LINK)
This list is mostly solid, unless you happen to own a legacy device that requires analog video (component or composite) or audio. The Q7 is one of the few TVs that doesn’t at least offer one analog input (audio or video).
All of those connections are housed in the separate OneConnect box, which is bigger than last year’s and equipped with infrared emitters. It also has its own power supply, separate from the TVs, so you’ll have to plug it in as well. In conjunction with the invisible wiring system, it makes stashing all your gear in a cabinet easier than with any other TV.
Here’s where I mention that Samsung’s SmartThings Extend control dongle, promised last year, has no release date as of early May 2017. Samsung has not confirmed to CNET whether it will eventually be released.