Samsung and Vizio: Two Approaches to 4K TVs in 2016

It's always exciting to see what the latest televisions have to offer, and this year we're particularly interested in finding out about all the new 4K UHD TVs. Among the top-tier 4K sets we've tested are models with high dynamic range (HDR) from LG, Samsung, and Vizio, as well as a TCL 4K model with Roku TV.

Here we put the spotlight on the 55-inch Samsung UN55KS9500 and the 65-inch Vizio P65-C1. They sit in similar positions within each company's lineups—they're both in the series directly below the companies' respective flagship models—but they're very different sets in many respects ranging from features to price. The Samsung is a high-performing, feature-laden model that targets a traditional consumer. The Vizio employs a unique SmartCast smart TV platform and will likely appeal to those who are comfortable streaming content from their smartphones or tablets. Taken together, these televisions incorporate most of the features that you'll see on store shelves this year.

You'll find detailed test results for these and more than 200 additional tested models in our TV Ratings.

Samsung UN55KS9500, $2,500

By most traditional measures, the Samsung UN55KS9500 outperforms the Vizio, particularly when it comes to picture quality and sound. In our tests, the Samsung set had the edge in brightness, color accuracy, contrast, and UHD performance, and it does a better job of reducing motion blur on fast-moving scenes. However, like the Vizio and many other LCD-based TVs, it has only a moderate viewing angle, so those watching the TV from the corner of a room won't get the same great picture as those sitting directly in front of the set.

In terms of technology, the main difference between the KS9500 and more expensive KS9800 series is that the KS9800 sets have a full-array LED backlight with local dimming, while the KS9500-series models have edge LED backlights with local dimming. Both are models in Samsung's top-tier line of SUHD 4K TVs.

What does that mean for people watching TV? Essentially, a full-array backlight with local dimming in an LED set gives the TV more precise control over the lighting in each scene. A full-array backlight has LEDs spread across the entire back panel of the TV, where an edge backlight has them along either the top and bottom or sides of the set. Both types of backlight divide the TV into "zones" that can be dimmed or brightened, so the bright areas of the picture don't spread over into the dark areas as much. Typically, TVs with a full-array backlight do a better job at this.

However, we were impressed by Samsung's implementation of edge LED backlighting, which produced fairly deep black levels and great contrast. That's a good thing, since the 65-inch flagship UN65KS9800 TV costs $800 more than the 65-inch KS6500 model.

Both sets have the same Tizen-based smart TV platform (updated this year) and come with a simplified remote control that does a great job controlling a cable or satellite box and your other gear.

Samsung sets have typically been top performers in our Ratings, and the UN55KS9500 is no exception, with excellent high-definition picture quality and excellent UHD performance. It also had excellent HD-to-UHD upconversion. (All 4K UHD TVs upconvert regular high-def content to the set's higher resolution.) The TV, which features a curved screen, also has very good motion-blur reduction, and it's one of only a handful of TVs capable of very good sound right out of the box.

Like other Samsung SUHD TVs this year, this model supports the HDR10 high dynamic range standard, and meets the Ultra HD Alliance's guidelines for Ultra HD Premium designation, which set minimum specifications for attributes such as brightness and color. The TV is among the brightest we've ever tested, and it uses quantum dot technology to produce a wide range of colors.

Overall, the Samsung UN55KS9500 is an impressive TV—but it's relatively expensive. The 65-inch version of this TV sells for $3,700, appreciably more than the Vizio.

Vizio P65-C1, $2,150

Vizio's new line of P-series SmartCast 4K TVs, which fall right below the company's flagship Reference-series sets, includes some of the most unusual sets we've tested in some time. For one, they lack a built-in TV tuner, so technically they're not really TVs. This means that if you get over-the-air TV signals for local broadcasts using an antenna you will need a separate ATSC tuner.

For another, SmartCast TVs offload much of the smart TV capability to a 6-inch Android tablet that comes with the set. The TVs support Google Cast, and most of your interactions—accessing streaming video services, changing settings, and more—are handled via apps on tablet. You call up content using the touchscreen or voice commands, and then "cast" it to the TV. One benefit is that SmartCast enables you to search for content across multiple apps, instead of looking through each one individually. (The TV also comes with a basic remote control.)

For our tests, we bought the Vizio P65-C1, a 4K P-series model that sells for $2,150 right now. This model did very well, with excellent high-definition picture quality and very good UHD performance. Unlike the Samsung, which had very good sound, the Vizio's audio quality was only fair, so you should consider using a sound bar speaker if sound quality is important to you.

This Vizio P65-C1 has a full-array LED backlight with local dimming, and when activated it can produce excellent, deep black levels and very good contrast. It also did a very good job upconverting high-def content to the TV's 4K resolution. Color accuracy on this set was very good, though a notch below what we saw on the Samsung. One anomaly was that we weren't able to able to play any 4K videos, or photos of any resolution, for that matter, from a USB flash drive. Like the Samsung, it has just a moderate viewing angle.

Unlike the Samsung TV, the Vizio set doesn't support the HDR10 high dynamic range standard—although Vizio says that capability will be coming with a firmware update. Vizio is among the few brands that support Dolby Vision HDR content, which is available on some movies and TV shows from streaming services such as Amazon, Netflix, and Vudu. Vizio doesn't submit its sets for Ultra HD Premium certification. (Sony doesn't either.)

Bottom Line

If you're a traditional viewer, the Samsung UN55KS9500 is the better 4K TV. Its overall picture quality is superior, and it has better sound. And unlike the Vizio, it supports 4K content via its USB drive. We also think that many people will be more comfortable with its more conventional smart TV interface. We highly recommend this TV if you're looking for top-notch picture quality and have the budget to indulge your passion.

But delivering a lot for the money has long been Vizio's strategy, and the Vizio P65-C1 achieves that goal—it costs $1,500 less than the similarly sized Samsung KS9550-series model. You just have to be comfortable with the SmartCast feature. We think many people will like it, especially if they're accustomed to accessing content on a smartphone or tablet and sending it to a TV.

While the Vizio isn't ideal for would-be cord-cutters who need a TV with a built-in tuner, it does deliver excellent high-definition picture quality, very good UHD performance, and commendable black levels for an LCD-based set. For many streaming-savvy consumers, it's a great choice.

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