A year ago, Samsung hosted a splashy event in Paris' Carrousel du Louvre for the global launch of its QLED ultra-high-definition televisions. Almost as a side attraction, the company announced another UHD product: The Frame. While not as advanced as Samsung's QLED televisions, The Frame has a unique feature: it can display static art when it's not being used for video.
As Samsung noted at the launch, TVs are typically watched for four to five hours per day. For the other 20 hours, "the TV becomes a black void," said Yves Behar, CEO of Fuseproject, a San Francisco design firm that collaborated with Samsung in The Frame's development.
Interestingly, The Frame generated more buzz than the QLED models among visiting journalists. After living with The Frame for a month, I can understand why.
OUT OF THE BOX
The Frame is available in Canada in 43", 55" and 65" sizes, for $1,699, $2,699 and $3,799 respectively. The middle-size model is just right for the space above the mantle in our living room, and that's what I reviewed.
The Frame consists of two pieces: the panel itself, and Samsung's One Connect box, which performs functions like video processing and input switching, and houses all the connectors.
Having connections in a separate box allows the TV to be mounted flush to the wall, almost like a work of art. Also, it reduces the number of cables connected to the panel, which is an important consideration for a lifestyle product like The Frame.
Video and audio travel from the One Connect box to the panel on an ultra-thin fibre-optic cable. A 5m cable is supplied with the TV; and a 15m cable is available as an option. The cable isn't quite as "Invisible" as Samsung claims, though it's close. But there's also an AC cable coming out the bottom, and that's definitely not invisible. The second-generation Frame, due in the second half, will integrate power and AV connection into a single cable, which will make for cleaner installations.
With the first-generation Frame, after wall-mounting the panel, I ended up routing the AC cord and connection cable through a short length of paintable conduit between the TV and the mantle, then feeding them both behind the electric fireplace and out the bottom to an AC outlet and the One Connect box.
Also in the carton are legs for supporting the Frame on a stand or shelf, and Samsung's No Gap wall mount, plus a nifty Bluetooth remote that negates the need for line-of-sight communication with the One Connect box. The remote also allows for voice control.
Surrounding the screen is a charcoal-black frame. It's magnetic, so that you can attach optional frames with different finishes: walnut, beige and white.
UP ON THE WALL
If you're reasonably handy, you'll be able to wall-mount The Frame, as long as you have a helper and the right tools. It's not exactly easy-peasy, but it's as simple as this kind of thing gets.
The first time you turn on The Frame, it walks you through a setup process where it identifies source components, scans available over-the-air and cable channels, creates a channel guide, logs you onto your home network, and helps you set up an account with Samsung for purposes like purchasing art. The process is quite straightforward.
Together with the supplied Samsung One remote, The Frame's Tizen smart-TV interface makes it dead-easy to find the content you want to watch.
Now it's showtime. Press the home key on the remote to access Samsung's elegant Tizen smart-TV interface. Along the bottom of the screen is a series of tiles for program sources and apps for your streaming services. Directly above are options related to the service you've highlighted. If you've chosen live TV, you'll see a program guide for your available channels. You can move icons so that apps and inputs are presented in whatever order you wish, and delete apps for services you don't use.
When The Frame was delivered, my non-technical wife questioned whether she'd be able to use the TV. I passed her the remote and showed her the home key. After that, she figured out everything for herself.
The Frame is a full-blown ultra-high-def TV, with 4K resolution and HDR10 support. It employs bottom edgelit illumination; and features UHD dimming for enhanced contrast, and Samsung's Active Crystal Colour technology, for a wider range of colours than standard LED illumination.
Out of the box, my review sample was set in Dynamic picture mode, so not surprisingly, the picture looked overblown. Switching to Movie mode made a major improvement, though I found the picture a tad too orange. So I used the Expert Settings section of the Picture menu to switch colour temperature from Warm 2 to Warm 1.
The result was a very enjoyable picture. While not anthracite-deep, blacks were very good. As you'd expect from a current 4K TV, detail on good programming was excellent. Facial modeling in close-ups was realistic.
Contributing Editor David Susilo visited my home to calibrate the TV. Based on test patterns from a video generator, he reduced backlight, and boosted contrast and colour slightly. With the aid of a colour analyzer, he adjusted white balance, cutting green and blue in highlights, and boosting red and green in shadows. This took picture quality up another level, improving colour accuracy, depth portrayal and tonal gradation.
David provided additional details after calibrating the set. "The Samsung Frame had far too much green and blue (visible) starting around 50 IRE and getting worse as the get closer to 100 IRE," he wrote. "Therefore a calibration is a must especially for UHD colourspace and gamma. This is not to say that the HD colour rendition is accurate, but it is more tolerable in the BT709 colourspace."
To see The Frame at its best, I spun a couple of Ultra HD Blu-ray discs on Samsung's UBD-M8500 player. The Shape of Water looked convincingly cinematic. Blacks were slightly milky but nonetheless satisfying. Specular highlights in the sea creature had good sparkle. And there was great detail in highlights like male characters' white dress shirts.
The 4K/HDR footage in the Ultra HD Blu-ray disc of Planet Earth II was positively stunning. Close-ups of animals had exquisite detail. Vistas of mountains and rainforests had wonderful depth. Detail in dark areas was very good, and superb in brilliant areas such as snow-capped mountains.
In short, The Frame isn't quite state-of-the-art, but it's an awfully good TV.
ART FOR ART'S SAKE
When you're not watching video, The Frame goes into Art mode, displaying whatever still image you've chosen. Its motion sensor automatically powers the display down when there's no one in the room, then powers it up again when it detects movement. There's also a light sensor, enabling The Frame to adjust brightness and colour to suit room lighting.
The result, Samsung says, is that digital art "appears like a painting rather than a screen." That's a bit of an overstatement. Images still look electronic, but they're as close to print-like as you can expect on an illuminated screen. There's none of the flashlight-in-the-eyes effect you often see when static images are displayed a television. In Art mode, The Frame invites your attention, but does not command it.
Pre-loaded onto The Frame is an extensive collection of contemporary art, organized into genres like landscape, action, wildlife, still life and architecture. You can also purchase additional art from Samsung. Using the Samsung Smart View app, you can load images onto The Frame from your mobile device, and group them into mixed layouts. Another option is to load images from a USB drive.
There are several options for presenting art. You can choose between two matte styles, or have no matte at all. And you can choose matte colour to suit the image and your décor.
While the pre-loaded art is attractive, my wife and I wanted to view paintings from some of our favourite artists on The Frame. On my computer, I scoured the Internet for high-resolution horizontal images that would suit the TV's 16:9 aspect ratio, cropping them slightly where necessary, resizing them to the Frame's native resolution of 3,840x2,160 pixels, and then loading them onto a thumb drive. (Quick tip: Bing is a better bet for this purpose than Google.) The process isn't difficult for anyone who's used any kind of image-editing software; I did it all with the Mac's Preview utility.
In Art mode, you can choose the style and colour of matte you want to use for each image in your collection.
When I connected the drive to one of The Frame's USB ports, a menu asked if I wanted to upload them to the TV's photo library. Now we have a collection of works by Emily Carr, Marc Chagall, Giorgio de Chirico, Edward Hopper, Gustav Klimt, Henri Matisse, Georgia O'Keeffe, Maxfield Parrish, Tom Thomson and other artists we love. This makes The Frame an integral part of our living room - and (in my view) the coolest TV on the planet right now.
Considered just as a TV, The Frame is unquestionably expensive. Currently, you can buy a 2017 Samsung 55" QLED TV for around $2,000. The QLED model employs quantum-dot technology for higher peak brightness, wider colour gamut, and wider viewing angle. Like the Frame, it features Samsung's elegant Tizen smart-TV interface, clever One Connect Box, convenient One Remote control, and No Gap Wall Mount.
On a pure performance level, the QLED model is a better TV than the Frame, and many videophiles will prefer that option. But I consider myself a ‘phile, and I really like The Frame. For a multi-purpose living space with limited light control (in our living room, there's a large window to the right of the TV and a large mirror on the opposite wall), The Frame does everything I want, especially after calibration.
For a more informed opinion, I asked my art-loving, décor-conscious, financially savvy better half which option she'd choose. Knowing she could buy a more advanced TV for $700 less, would she pony up the extra dollars for The Frame? Her reply: "If it's going in the living room, absolutely." There you go.
Samsung UN55LS003 "The Frame"
Clever Art mode feature gets rid of the black hole on your wall
Connectors, processor are in hideaway One Connect box
Elegant interface makes it easy to find the content you want
Expensive - you can buy a more advanced TV (but without the Art mode feature) for less money
Connection cable is nearly invisible, but power cable isn't