I have always thought one of the biggest complements a manufacturer can receive is when a journalist ends up going out to buy the same product, or expresses an interest in doing so. Tech journalists are a jaded and spoilt bunch that get thrown the latest-and-greatest day-after-day. Obviously, they can’t buy everything.
This is exactly how I felt about the Samsung The Frame TV I recently reviewed: I was sad to see it go and my family is contemplating buying one because we miss it that much.
But what makes it stand out amongst the rest?
Gorgeous look and elegant style
The Samsung Frame falls into what the company calls their lifestyle product, and simply put, the TV looks like a picture frame when it is not being used as a television. We first learned and saw the Frame back in 2017 and, like most in tech media, we gushed about the product mainly because it solved one of the biggest drawbacks in consumer tech – that TVs are just big, ugly black rectangles when not being watched. If you have any design sensibility and wished to place a TV in a high visibility area in your home, you spent a lot of time figuring out how to hide the thing when it wasn’t on. Well, Samsung solved that problem by convincingly making the Frame TV look like a framed piece of art when not being watched as a TV. Samsung then created a library of images that you could select and, over the years, has licensed artwork from some of the greatest masters so that you can hang a Van Gogh or a Miro in your living room and most people wouldn’t even realize it was a TV.
In the early days, the value of the Frame was mostly in the technology that allowed art to be displayed without any burn-in to the panel. Back in 2018, say, Samsung had better panels to sell compared the Frame, but the Frame concept revolutionized home design. Today, the Frame TV uses Samsung’s 4K QLED technology and has balanced the lifestyle with the performance. Yes, Samsung has its 8K Neo QLED that is still a better panel than offered in the Frame, but for me, the 4K panel with Samsung’s Quantum High Dynamic Range plus the ability to turn the panel into art is a perfect balance between performance and design.
Returning to the big screen experience
Let me back up. About a dozen or so years ago, I started writing stories on how I cut the cord. Back then, my gripe was with the practice of cable bundling and the fundamentally wrong notion that if I wished to watch TSN, I had to purchase the fishing channel, too. No way! So, I cut the cable cord, I bought a digital antenna from Trutone Electronics in Mississauga and pointed it in the direction of Buffalo. I managed to pick up a few U.S. channels on an LCD that is so old, by today’s slick standards, it looks like an antique.
This story is really an apology, a mea culpa if you will. For over a decade, I have convinced myself and my family that we have all the content that we need through streaming services and consuming content on tablets makes us cutting edge and trendy. Oh, how wrong I have been!
Watching content on a 75” Samsung Frame compared to watching on an iPad is like experiencing business class when you have been flying coach. It’s like driving a Mercedes instead of a Honda or sleeping at the Ritz versus Motel 6. You get the drift. I had spent so many years convincing myself that on-the-go, watch-anywhere content was the future that I saw no reason to think a big screen TV would be loved by my active family. Wrong again.
I am now thinking of all those nights when daughter one was watching Friends on her own in her room while daughter two was watching Grey’s Anatomy on her own too. Meanwhile, my wife watched her show on the couch while I watched mine, downstairs. Four different streams and a family disconnected not from their devices but from the joys of watching together.
Let’s get watching
We set up the Frame TV in our family room. While Samsung provided a wall mount, I opted to set the panel up on a credenza since it wasn’t going to be a permanent installation. Using optical out, I set up an equally impressive Totem Kin Play soundbar and accompanying sub to drive immersive and expansive audio.
Once the TV was plugged in, the magic began. We easily connected to our home Wi-Fi and then a series of QR codes made setting up Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Crave an absolute breeze through password sharing with our smartphones. Samsung has continuously improved its operating system and the latest rendition on the Frame is fully intuitive, easy to navigate, and lightning fast with a scrolling menu on the bottom of the screen. In addition to the big-name apps like Netflix that are pre-installed, Samsung provides an array of in-house and boutique apps for fitness. I still have not added cable, so the Frame recognizes this and defaults to “Samsung TV” with dozens of channels like Outside Television (produced by the popular magazine of the same name) and channels dedicated to travel, décor, and home improvement. As long as you have Internet at home, Samsung offers you content, even if you don’t subscribe to streaming services.
The first impression was just how big the panel is compared to watching content on a tablet or phone! The next impression is how bright and detailed the image is. For the duration of our review period, the family absorbed three seasons of the Amazon Prime Video series Yellowstone. You will notice I said family. Indeed, all four of us made a pact that nobody could jump ahead on a Yellowstone episode, and we all watched the show together compared to the individual viewing that was habit before the 75” Frame came into our life. The biggest takeaway from this review was the consensus of how much joy we have been missing by passively watching content on a portable device. (By the way, if you have yet to watch Yellowstone, it’s a terrific drama set in Montana and revolves around a family trying to keep their ranch while fighting off external forces that wish to see it collapse.) The Montana scenery makes a perfect backdrop for any TV reviewing and the Frame’s dynamic range and adaptive picture technology that automatically adjusts brightness to the room’s environment made the image quality feel almost multi-dimensional.
Saying I have not added cable is, well, true and not true. By using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), I manage to convince my laptop that I am somewhere in the United States. I then sign in to U.S cable provider Comcast that I pay for at a Florida property. I figure there is no reason to have two subscriptions and the Comcast (Xfinity) fees even with exchange are much lower than what I would be charged with a similarly packaged subscription with one of the Canadian carriers.
I then use a USB-C-to-HDMI cable to hook up my laptop to the Samsung Frame and I have access to every Formula One race on ESPN plus all the cable news stations I could want. We have experienced some latency in this roundabout way of securing cable but with the panel’s ability to upscale, you would be hard-pressed to know that the signal is three times removed by the time it gets to the screen.
The best features of the Samsung Frame
The second worse thing for a tech reviewer when they have been denied a chance to buy the review sample is that they now have to go out and buy the product legitimately. In addition to being jaded and spoilt, tech reviewers are also notoriously cheap! Here are the reasons why we can’t live without the Samsung 75” Frame TV:
Design – The Frame is customizable not only in the artwork that you show, but also in the bezel (frame) colour. Have a beach house in Florida and need a white frame? No problem. Perhaps a loft in NYC where a black frame or oak frame would be better? Samsung offers an array of Frame colours to meet any décor. Second, all the brains of the panel, including the power supply, are external and housed in what Samsung calls the OneConnect box. That means every attachment, from Blu-ray players to gaming devices, do not connect to the actual panel. A razor-thin optical cable runs from the OneConnect box to the panel, meaning that all your attachments can be hidden in a closet, leaving the panel clutter-free. Samsung offers optical cables up to 30 feet long.
Art Mode – When the TV is off, I am able to display some of my photography that appears double matted. It simply looks like I printed and framed one of my favourite photos. I can swap out the image with my own or access hundreds of options through Samsung’s media library – some come free, others you access with a subscription.
Picture Quality – High refresh rate for sports, excellent upscaling to 4K and adaptive light control. Watching Netflix 4K content offered a highly smooth picture. With the galloping horses in Yellowstone, I swear you could see the drops of sweat on the horse’s brow.
Operating System – The Samsung OS with the remote makes scrolling through apps a breeze. I didn’t find the voice commands as intuitive as scrolling. If I have any gripe about operating the panel, I seemed to be hitting the back button forever when exiting some apps. I think Netflix has designed their app to make it difficult to leave!
Family Time – A 75” television grabs you and sucks you in. When your kids tell you that you must find a way to keep this television, you know you have a winner! None of us can ever go back to watching content on a mobile device. We have seen the light!
While the sound quality from the internal 20-watt TV speakers was decent enough, it was paltry compared to listening through the Totem Kin soundbar and sub. Like most modern panels, to get them ultra thin, there has to be sacrifice somewhere, and it’s typically with the audio. When using the Totem soundbar with a Samsung panel, we experienced no audio lag. A Formula One racing car, after all, always sounds the best when it’s loud.
The model number of the review sample was the Samsung QN75LS03TAFXZA. The model number of the 2021 75” Frame is LS03A and is currently on sale for $3,299.