Samsung “The Frame” 2018 4K HDR LCD TV Review (UN43LS03N, UN55LS03N, UN65LS03N)
Stephan Jukic – January 19, 2019
Samsung’s The Frame 4K HDR LCD TV is a slightly unusual take on television design. While it comes with a stand and looks similar to many other, ordinary, Samsung 4K TVs when placed upon it and sitting in a living room, it can also be configured for wall mounting in such a way that it looks almost exactly like a hanging picture frame, on which, naturally enough, your favorite movies, pictures and so forth take on the look of works of “art”. Samsung has taken this idea to quite a an extensive degree by even offering a selection of different bezel designs for The Frame so that you can replace its normal, rather thick metallic grey bezel finish with replacements that range from white metal to a polished wood look. There’s even a “No-Gap” wall mount for this TV which lets it sit completely flush against a vertical surface, again, just as if it were a picture frame. Ordinary VESA mounting is also available though.
What all of the above conceals however is the simple fact that The Frame is also a genuinely good 4K TV by any ordinary definition. It may be decorative and “artsy” (very literally in this case) and it isn’t without some notable flaws, but Samsung’s normal tendency toward quality in its 4K ultra HD TVs wasn’t neglected in the process. This is what we’re now going to cover in detail about The Frame.
• Strong peak and sustained display brightness
• Great color rendering for normal and HDR content
• Excellent motion handling, especially for gaming
• Wonderful physical design
• Very good contrast ratios and black levels
• Not nearly as bright as other 2018 QLED TVs
• Overpriced for what it offers
• No Local Dimming
• Typical narrow viewing angles due to VA display technology
• No Dolby Vision HDR
The Frame is a very good 4K HDR TV that offers a broad package of high dynamic range, quality color and solid contrast/black level specs. It’s also wonderfully built with a very physically and functionally enjoyable design. In other words, it’s both a great TV and a subtly nice Avant-Gardesque piece of home theater electronic display art. However, the practical quality of this TV, while good, isn’t quite so great that it deserves the price it still sells for and this is a problem of The Frame; you wind up paying a premium for what are really superficial features on top of a television whose display qualities are mostly just mid-range. For this pricing problem, we don’t entirely like The Frame even if we’re happy with it as a functional television. Users who don’t mind paying the extra for the look of The Frame should however be quite happy with it.
What We Liked
In most ways, Samsung’s The Frame is a very good 4K HDR TV and most of its features and specs work well enough for us to really like this model. It may not quite reach QLED levels of technological performance but The Frame does deliver the goods on most specs, at least as well as Samsung’s other 2018 mid-range 4K HDR TVs. Unlike the Samsung QLED TVs, This TV doesn’t have any characteristics that we thought were actually exceptional and it comes without premium technologies like local dimming and QLED color but The Frame is at least very good in almost everything that counts the most. Here are the main things we did like.
As we said above, the design of the frame is something that we really like. This 4K HDR TV looks very similar to other premium Samsung 4K UHD TVs only at first glance. A closer look reveals that it’s built to be capable of taking on an entirely unusual aspect for decorative purposes. Thus, on one level The Frame comes with a very ordinary looking support stand that makes the TV look extremely similar to Samsung’s flagship 2018/early 2019 QLED TV, the Q9FN. This means it’s sturdily built and stable when placed on a surface, though we think the stand design requires way too much space, since the legs are spaced nearly as widely as the width of the TV itself. The edges of the TV come with a dark burnished metal finish and the entire body of the TV most resembles a dark, thick metal and plastic board, with The Frame being as thick along its outer edges as it is all throughout. This of course is intentional, as we’re about to explain.
Under The Frame’s superficially ordinary look, this television can quickly be reconfigured to resemble a much more decorative looking picture frame. This is The Frame’s single most distinct selling feature and its manifested in the form of a “No Gap” wall mount that lets The Frame sit completely flush against any wall its placed against. This is partly why the edges of the TV are just as thick as the rest of its body, in order to match the look of an actual frame for photos or paintings. To complete this picture (yes, pun intended) Samsung also gave The Frame abnormally thick bezeling along the edges of the screen and even sells replacement bezels in three other colors, ranging from polished white to walnut finish. Like we said, The Frame can be made to look just like what its name suggests.
Overall Picture Performance
The thing we most like about The Frame in the context of its design is that this 4K TV is also a strong performer. Samsung didn’t abandon its fundamental tendency towards building quality ultra HD TV technology just because The Frame is more of a special designer edition 4K HDR TV. In other words, there’s plenty of substance underneath the decorative fluff in this model. As a result, The Frame performs well almost across the board. Its color rendering is mostly excellent, with high quality, vibrant wide color gamut rendering, great color volume in both bright and shadowy content and 10-bit color as well as another aspect of The Frame’s HDR color creation chops.
In addition to color vibrancy, The Frame also does well in just about every other part of its display specs. It creates great black levels to go with its rich colors, it delivers strong contrast and its motion handling is superb in almost every way. The only thing that The Frame is weak on is in how bright it can get but even here it doesn’t perform badly, it just performs moderately when compared to premium 4K HDR TVs. This is a bit disappointing only in the context of The Frame’s price though.
Black Levels and Contrast
Particularly notable in The Frame are its black levels and contrast performance. Both are exceptionally good. Contrast maxes out at over 6,000:1, which is great and black delivery in this TV (a crucial spec for 4K HDR television display picture quality) is uniform, deep and with very, very little backlight bleed during even the most complete dark scenes in content. All the more impressive is the fact that The Frame pulls off these black level and contrast specs even though it completely lacks local dimming technology of any kind or full-array LED backlighting for that matter. The fact that it lacks these features is a shame considering the price and build of The Frame (its already thick body makes it perfect for a full array of LED backlights) but Samsung designed its screen and edge-lit LED system well enough so that most users should be perfectly happy with the quality they see with their eyes during playback of movies or other content in both HDR and SDR.
Motion handling and Gaming Excellence
All of Samsung’s 4K TVs, including the cheapest models, deliver at least good motion handling and downright excellent gaming responsiveness. The Frame, as something of a premium 4K HDR TV from the brand proves to be no exception to this tendency. It offers excellent motion handling and superb performance for use as a console gaming TV, with low input lag in a variety of color, frame rate, resolution and HDR settings. Furthermore its motion control specs are mostly very good across the board, with smooth motion blur handling, excellent interpolation of video from all sorts of sources and at assorted native frame rates. The Frame’s native display refresh rate is 120Hz in all models and this TV also offers a judder-free playback of 24fps movies and programming from all internal and external video sources. For its motion interpolation, the Frame works amazingly well at interpolating movement from all but the most intense action on the screen. We should also note that for gamers using The Frame as a PC gaming display, AMD FreeSync technology is supported for synchronizing frame rates between TV display and any AMD GPU a PC monitor might come with. This however works only up to 60Hz in The Frame despite its screen’s native 120Hz refresh rate due to the limitations of HDMI 2.0 connections between PC GPU and TV.
What We Didn’t Like
The Frame offers lots of quality to back up its special edition TV design and more decorative features but it’s not without a few very notable flaws that look all the worse due to this 4K HDR TV’s rather unjustifiably high price. Here are the main problems with The Frame:
The one really notable problem that we found in The Frame was its surprisingly low sustained and peak display brightness. The TV isn’t absurdly dim or anything like that but it doesn’t manage to get much brighter than Samsung’s much cheaper NU7100 and NU6900 4K HDR TVs, which are both two of the brand’s cheapest 2018-early 2019 4K HDR TV offerings. Oddly, this weakness at display brightness is especially notable when the TV is set to HDR content and should thus be all the more capable of getting bright. Again, The Frame is reasonably bright but much less than we’d expect for its price. It never reaches above 400 nits and even Samsung’s NU8000 (which is much cheaper than this model) can do much better than that. So can Sony’s excellent X900F and even TCL’s 6-Series 4K TVs and they too are both a lot cheaper than The Frame.
No Local Dimming
Few of Samsung’s 4K TV models come with full-array LED backlighting, and for at least a couple of years even their priciest televisions lacked this feature that’s increasingly common in many much cheaper televisions from other brands. Granted, the Samsung premium TVs still delivered some of the best display brightness on the market because the LEDs inside them are so good but edge-lit TVs don’t do so well at delivering high quality local dimming, which has been a consistent weakness of almost all of Samsung’s 2016, 2017 and 2018 models. For The Frame, there is no local dimming feature at all. This is surprising because Samsung gave local dimming to all of its QLED TVs and even to its NU8000 NU-Series television even though the NU8000 and at least one of the QLEDs, the excellent Q6FN, are both cheaper than The Frame. Because it lacks local dimming, The Frame suffers from some bleed-through and halo effects during sequences in which brightly lit content is contrasting with dark backgrounds. TVs that offer local dimming (in which backlight LEDs are completely turned off as needed behind sections of the screen) offer either truly excellent or at least very good deeper black levels and much less halo effects in shadowy or contrasting scenery. The Frame fortunately manages to still deliver very deep black levels and good contrast with little light bleed because Samsung designed its screen and pixel structure well but it could have been an even better 4K HDR TV had local dimming been included to help things out even more.
Viewing angle problems
Vertical Alignment, or VA for short, is the technology used in the alignment of pixels on many of today’s TV screens, including all of Samsung’s models. It basically means that the pixels in the screen are vertically aligned from top to bottom lengthwise in a more narrow formation. On the one hand this allows for extremely good blocking of backlight bleed but the tradeoff is that it also reduces color, contrast and overall picture quality at wide off-center viewing angles. The Frame suffers from this problem to a certain extent and if you’ve got a big living room in which people might scatter around a bit to watch the TV from far off to either side, it will spoil the entertainment experience a bit. Despite this, we prefer VA TVs to their IPS rivals (which have much better viewing angles but also weaker contrast and black levels) Most 4K TVs sold today come with VA display panels, so this is hardly a complaint that’s unique to The Frame, but it’s worth mentioning.
On the other hand, considering what The Frame costs, you might want to just go for LG’s B8 OLED 4K HDR TV instead. It offers perfectly great viewing angles because of its OLED technology and costs almost the same as The Frame in the 55 and 65 inch ranges.
Still No Dolby Vision
We mention this particular detail first because we think it’s really annoying that Samsung refuses to integrate Dolby Vision HDR support in any of its 4K TVs. Yes, we know that there isn’t much Dolby Vision content out on the market yet anyhow but it would be nice to have this exceptional high dynamic range content available for the movies and TV shows that do support it. Instead, Samsung is determined to push its own HDR10+ HDR format as a substitute. The Frame does support HDR10 (which is what all current HDR content supports by default) but we’d like to see the particularly refined picture processing that Dolby Vision creates reproduced on this exceptionally capable 4K TV’s screen.
value for Price & Bottom Line
The Frame is a very good 4K TV in almost all of its specs and features but it’s a bit weak on some key things like its maximum picture brightness and its lack of local dimming technology. Neither of these would normally be serious problems because they’re only mild weaknesses in this particular TV but because The Frame is so expensive compared to better rival 4K HDR TVs, these defects become almost inexcusable. In other words, we like The Frame but we also think that way too many much better or equally good alternatives exist at much LOWER prices. The other 4K HDR TV reviews we’ve linked to throughout this review are all for models we think offer much better value than The Frame.
Key Samsung The Frame Specs
• Screen sizes: 43 Inch UN43LS03N, 55 inch UN55LS03N, 65 inch UN65LS03N (TV being reviewed is 55 inches)
• Smart TV: Tizen smart platform 2018
• HEVC (H.265) Included: Yes
• VP9 Included. Yes
• HD to UHD upscaling: Yes
• HDCP 2.2 Compliance: Yes
• HDR Support: Yes, HDR10, Hybrid Log Gamma
• Refresh Rate: 120Hz native refresh rate
• Screen Lighting: LCD Display edge-lit LED backlighting and no local dimming
• Resolution: 3,840 x 2,160 pixels UHD
• Wireless Connectivity: Yes, includes both built-in WiFi and Ethernet port
• Remotes: Samsung smart remote, voice control, remote app for iOS and Android
• Connectivity: 4 HDMI (all of them 2.0a and HDCP 2.2) ports, 3 USB ports, 1 Ethernet port, 1 Digital Audio Out, all located in eternal One Connect box
• Contrast Ratio: 6012+:1 (no local dimming)
• Maximum Peak Brightness: 355 nits (cd/m2)
• 3D Technology: N/A
• Processor: Q Engine
Display Performance Metrics
This is where we cover the most crucial performance specs and their measurements in the Samsung Frame 4K HDR LCD TV. They all revolve around color reproduction, brightness, black levels, contrast, local dimming and motion handling. These specs may vary slightly from unit to unit so they should not be taken as absolutes in their specific numbers as recorded here. However, they should maintain a generally high level of similarity in all units, making them good enough to be reliable indicators of quality.
We should also note here that different sizes in TV displays can change some of these metrics slightly (for example, larger edge-lit LCD 4K TVs tend to have weaker local dimming and peak brightness). As an edge-lit LCD TV, The Frame can have some slight variations to how its backlight affects local dimming, contrast and black uniformity depending on the size of screen being considered.
The following specs are basically what really decides if a 4K TV is worth buying or not. They’re its most important indicators of real performance and they disregard all the marketing and labeling fluff that manufacturers like to slather their TVs in for the sake of making them seem more exceptional than they really might be. Here we ignore fake color brilliance labels and disingenuous terminology like a TVs “Motion Rate” (which mainly just describes a completely invented motion refresh rate that has nothing to do with what the TV panel can actually do) and other such jargon.
Black Level, Contrast and Local Dimming:
These crucial display specs in any 4K TV are all closely related to each other as far as display performance goes. Thus they deserve to be covered together.
The Samsung FRAME offers a generally very good delivery of all of the above in this section except for local dimming, which it completely lacks, but compensates for by being good at the first two. Its general black level is excellent and sits well within HDR10 standards at less than 0.019 nits, and the TVs overall black uniformity is remarkably good for that of an edge-lit LCD TV with no local dimming to speak of.
Samsung has a tendency towards delivering these specs well even in its lower-rung 4K TVs, so it’s no surprise that they’re good in a premium model like the Frame. Where the Frame also performs exceptionally well is on its maximum contrast ratio. Oddly, it actually manages to take it higher than some of the QLED TVs even though they’re all much brighter 4K TVs than this model. Thus, while the Q7FN only goes up to a maximum contrast ratio of of 5706:1 with local dimming activated, the Frame measured a contrast ratio of over 6012:1 without even having the dimming feature. The difference is small but worth noting. All told, these are pretty good performance specs and they’re crucial for high quality picture performance during playback of high contrast scenes in movies and shows.
Where the Frame falls really flat is on local dimming. As we said above, the TV performs well in how nicely it delivers contrast performance for content and how well it maintains deep black levels where needed even in mostly bright content, but considering how much Samsung is charging for this particular television, they could have thrown in the damn local dimming too to make things even better.
Peak brightness is the maximum possible spot HDR or SDR luminosity of a complete 4K TV display or differently sized sections of its screen as measured in units of brightness called nits (or cd/m2, which is the same thing). Sustained brightness is the highest possible sustained HDR or SDR brightness that the TV screen can manage across its entire screen or parts of it for a prolonged period of time (a few minutes or more). In other words, Peak brightness consists of how luminous sudden bright spots can become and sustained brightness measures prolonged luminosity in content on the display.
The Frame is one surprisingly crappy performer when it comes to peak brightness and to sustained display luminosity under almost all conditions. This particular 4K TV delivers decently strong brightness during playback of SDR video sources (all content that doesn’t have HDR integrated into it) but when it comes to HDR video playback if The Frame is set to HDR mode, it’s mediocre at best. Even its sustained and peak brightness specs during playback of SDR aren’t anywhere close to exceptionally good. The Frame performs about as well as the much, much cheaper Samsung NU7100 in all of these specs and a whole bunch of other, cheaper, 4K HDR TVs we can think of seriously outperform it. This is disappointing and it’s also The Frame’s single biggest defect.
On the other hand, we’d like to mention that The Frame does render color volume very well even during very dark or very bright scenes. This is something that many cheaper or older 4K HDR TVs couldn’t quite pull off too well.
The display brightness numbers below as measured in nits for different areas of display space, under both HDR and SDR settings and under both peak and sustained conditions demonstrate the Frame’s overall capacity for screen luminosity:
Samsung FRAME SDR Brightness
- Overall SDR peak brightness for normal content: 345 nits
- Peak 2% display area display SDR brightness: 197 nits
- Peak 10% display area SDR brightness: 358 nits
- Peak 100% display area SDR brightness: 355 nits
- Sustained 10% SDR brightness: 344 nits
- Sustained 100% SDR brightness: 328 nits
Samsung FRAME HDR Brightness
- Overall HDR peak brightness for normal content: 319 nits
- Peak 2% display area display HDR brightness: 175 nits
- Peak 10% display area HDR brightness: 341 nits
- Peak 100% display area HDR brightness: 339 nits
- Sustained 10% HDR brightness: 339 nits
- Sustained 100% HDR brightness: 338 nits
Samsung’s The Frame doesn’t quite manage the exceptionally high levels of color delivery that the company’s newest QLED TVs can pull off but it comes very close. The difference is small enough that it probably won’t even really be noticeable unless you were to compare this model with something like the Q9FN side-by-side.
First of all, The Frame offers the obvious essentials of premium HDR color delivery: full support for 10-bit color with very little banding of colors during reproduction of content with 10-bit (1.07 billion colors) color support also included for wide color gamut spectrum coverage. The WCG coverage of this TV is strong, with 92.69% of the DCI-P3 spectrum covered. This is really good but not exceptional by the standards of premium HDR ultra HD televisions. The bottom line is that in terms of color vibrancy and realism for both HDR and SDR content, The Frame does a very good job even if it isn’t “perfect”.
Color volume maintenance is also very good in The Frame (as we mentioned above in our brightness section) and it’s definitely superior to what we saw in any of the 2017 Samsung 4K UHD TV lineup. In both shadowy scenes and extremely bright content sequences, very decent color volume is maintained across the entire color gamut and that’s very impressive considering just how tricky it used to be for a TV display to pull this off in older 4K HDR TVs. The QLED TVs and Sony’s best 2018-2019 4K HDR LCD TVs both outperform The Frame on this spec though.
White balance delta E, color delta E and Gamma in The Frame sit at very good levels of 0.19, 1.75 and 2.18 respectively after some moderate picture settings calibration. On the other hand, right out of the box and before any calibration, these same levels are only decent, sitting at 3.5, 2 and 2.7 respectively for the model we reviewed. These details can however be improved away quite quickly for the much better settings we described for post-calibration.
Motion Handling & Upscaling:
The Frame offers very good, highly agile motion handling performance across the board and its motion blur control is exceptionally good at 7.2 milliseconds. The Frame also has some very good motion interpolation capacity in its screen but this can produce a slight soap opera effect when used for movies that play at different frame rates. It’s usually better to turn it down a few notches by setting ‘Auto Motion Plus’ to ‘Custom’ in the TV’s picture controls and making that custom value no higher than mid-range.
As for The Frame’s upscaling, it works well at sharpening almost any reasonably well formatted source of content. It however works at its best when being applied 1080p HD video and 720p programming of any kind.
The Frame delivers robustly smooth motion interpolation of content at all major typical frame rates (24p movies, 30fps TV content, high frame rate streamed video and games) exceptionally well on its native 120Hz display panel. 24p Blu-ray discs, DVDs, cable TV and broadcast TV sources as well as streaming media from both native apps and apps inside external streaming media devices can all be played judder-free as well and with minimal to no judder. The Frame does suffer from some 240Hz backlight flicker during content playback, but this is definitely better than what we’ve seen in older Samsung 4K HDR TVs such as the 2017 Samsung models.
Input Performance for Gaming and PC:
Samsung’s entire 2018 4K HDR TV lineup, from cheapest to priciest models, like the 2016 and the 2017 models before it, pretty much offers excellent performance for console gaming and PC use at different resolution, color and HDR settings as well as at different refresh rates. In fact, Samsung’s TVs have traditionally been some of the best performing 4K sets for gaming that we’ve reviewed in terms of low input lag for consoles and wide support for resolution and color formats.
The Frame television thus delivers some really outstanding game handling performance across the board when used with popular game consoles. This television is easily among the best premium models we’ve seen this year as far as gaming connectivity for smooth gaming is concerned. In fact, in terms of overall input lag performance for gaming in different resolutions, HDR settings and color formatting, the FRAME is slightly better at its job than its pricier QLED cousins.
The FRAME even delivers very low input lag with motion interpolation activated. This is something that was previously not common in 4K HDR TVs. Overall it’s one excellent ultra HD television choice for 4K, HDR and 1080p Xbox or PS4 Pro gamers.
The following are the specific specs for its gaming performance in different console setups:
- 4k @ 60Hz: 15.6 ms
- 1080p @ 60Hz: 15.8 ms
- 1080p @ 120Hz: 9.4 ms
- 4k @ 60Hz + HDR: 16.3 ms
- 1080p @ 60Hz + HDR: 16.1 ms
- 4k @ 60Hz Outside Game Mode : 52 ms
- 4k @ 60Hz @ 4:4:4: 15.4 ms
- 4K @ 60Hz @ 4:4:4 + 8 bit HDR: 14.4 ms
- 4K with interpolation activated: 27.4 ms
The Frame is also great for use as a PC monitor if you want to do high frame rate gaming on it. It’s compatible with multiple resolution and color formats and offers smooth frame rate handling between PC GPUs and what the screen delivers. This TV offers up full 4:4:4 chroma subsampling support as long as you activate HDMI UHD Color from the External Device Manager and enable the input HDMI port for PC use. The TV also offers AMD FreeSync-powered variable refresh rate and supports 1080p @ 120 Hz support when coupled with PC rigs. Other fully supported resolutions and color settings for PC connectivity include [email protected], [email protected], 4K @ 60Hz @ 4:4:4. 1440p support is also supported at 120Hz (the TVs native refresh rate).
The Frame comes with all of its connectivity ports built into a One Connect Box. These all connect to the TV itself through a single multi-purpose cable that goes into the back of the TV There are no other connectivity ports on The Frame’s body. This in fact makes for very flexible connectivity and much simpler cable management. That said, like virtually all newer 4K HDR TVs, the Samsung Frame comes with today’s now standard and essential advanced connectivity specs. No user should have connectivity problems with this model for hooking it up to pretty much any external media device or hard drive as long as all hardware is in working order. In other words, The Frame edition comes equipped with multiple HDMI, USB ports and other crucial connectivity slots. Samsung also gave The Frame full HDMI 2.0 HDR supported bandwidth in all four HDMI ports. This is a nice touch considering that similarly priced rival TVs from Sony only offer this through two of their HDMI ports.
The following are the FRAME’s ports and their specifications:
- HDMI : 4 (all with HDCP 2.2 and full HDMI 2.0a capacity)
- USB : 3 (USB 2.0)
- Digital Optical Audio Out : 1
- Analog Audio Out 3.5 mm : 0
- Tuner (Cable/Ant) : 1
- Ethernet : 1
- IR In : 1
- HDR10 support: Yes
- Hybrid Log Gamma HDR support: Yes
- Dolby Vision HDR: No
The Samsung FRAME TV models also offer audio connectivity in the following types.
- 1 Passthrough ARC Dolby Digital
- 1 Passthrough Optical Dolby Digital
Samsung has released The Frame in several different sizes, for all sorts of budgets. Thus, a 43 inch model is being sold as well as editions in 55 inches and 65 inch ranges. These several Frame television editions sell for the following prices, found in the links below at the time of this writing. Bear in mind that these are subject to sometimes frequent downward change and it’s a good idea to click the following Amazon links for real-time pricing and all available discounts on this model.