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Samsung’s Neo QLED TV has a revamped backlight system based on Mini-LED.


Drew Evans/CNET

This story is part of CES, where our editors will bring you the latest news and the hottest gadgets of the entirely virtual CES 2021.

Samsung, the biggest TV company in the world, is following up a blockbuster year of sales with new 2021 models that tout even better picture quality and more extras aimed at people spending extra time at home. Its massive, incredibly expensive MicroLED TVs steal the headlines around CES but its lineup of QLED TVs comprise the company’s bread and butter.

This year the best Samsung QLED models, including TVs with both 4K and 8K resolution, are called Neo QLED. The name isn’t necessarily a reference to Matrix 4 but does include plenty of futuristic-sounding tech, all aimed at dethroning the OLED TVs made by rivals like LG and Sony, which continue to beat QLED in my tests for picture quality.


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At the heart of Neo QLED TVs lies a new Mini-LED based, full-array local dimming backlight array that boosts brightness and provides more precise light control. Samsung made its LEDs 40 times smaller than conventional LED units, allowing more to be packed into the TV, and even added a (wait for it…) “quantum matrix” to help direct the LED light more accurately. The result, according to the company, is improved HDR highlights with minimal blooming (stray illumination that bleeds from bright into dark areas) as well as better shadow detail.

Samsung also improved its AI upscaling this year to use multiple neural networks (as opposed to just one in previous years) to tweak image quality on both 4K and 8K models.

Neo QLED technology will appear in all of Samsung’s 2021 8K QLED models (the QN800A, QN850A and QN900A series), as well as two series of 4K QLED (the QN85A and QN90A). As usual pricing was not announced but if the Q85T is in the same price ballpark as the 2020 Q80T, currently selling for $1,500 at the 65-inch size, it’ll be cheaper than OLED and squarely targeted at midpriced TV shoppers.

Beyond the picture, Samsung’s new QLED TVs offer a few other new features for 2021.

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The backside of Samsung’s new TV remote has a solar cell that lets the battery recharge using interior light.


Samsung

Rechargeable remote with solar cell: In a nod to sustainability Samsung’s new remote uses rechargeable batteries instead of disposable ones, which Samsung says could save 20 million AAA batteries every year. In addition to a USB-C port, the clicker can be charged via a solar cell on the back, which even works with indoor lighting.

Read more: Samsung TV remotes are solar-powered for 2021 Neo QLED models

Game status display and ultrawide aspect ratio: Samsung’s new TVs continue to support the next-generation gaming features of PS5 and Xbox Series X, including 4K/120 fps input and VRR, but new for this year you can long-press on the play/pause button of the remote to call up a special status screen, dubbed Game Bar, that clearly indicates which of those features are currently active. You can also play the game in 21:9 or even 32:9 aspect ratios, with black bars filling in the remainder of the TVs’ 16:9 screen.

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The new Game Bar displays game input info.


Drew Evans/CNET

Samsung health with camera-based Smart Trainer: Samsung’s health app debuted on its TVs in 2020 and this year it’s expanding to offer guided personal training. Plug in an optional webcam (Samsung has a list of recommended cameras, all by Logitech) and the app will track your exercises and give you coaching complete with celebrity personal trainers. Jillian Michaels is the first of six to provide workout content. The smart trainer feature is available on 2021 Q70A TVs and above.

Read more: Samsung TVs aid your workout with camera-based, AI-powered smart trainer

Google Duo video chat: Using an optional webcam again, the Duo app on Samsung TVs allows up to 12 others to join the chat. And if you don’t have a camera plugged in you can screen mirror Duo on your phone to the TV and use its camera. It’s not Google’s more popular Meet software, but at least it’s web chat on the big screen.

Google Assistant, Alexa and Bixby voice built-in: Last year Samsung TVs also offered all three voice assistants available via the remote, which included both push-to-talk and hands-free access. In 2021 the company’s remotes are push-to-talk only and far-field hands-free mics, which respond to wake words like “Alexa” and “Hey, Google,” are built into the Q70A and higher TVs. As always you can disable the mics entirely.

Microsoft cloud services, wireless Dex: Connect an optional keyboard and mouse to create or edit Microsoft 365 documents, and even work on two simultaneously on the big screen. Samsung is also expanding the capabilities of its Dex feature, available on Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets, to connect wirelessly.

Samsung’s 2021 TVs will start shipping later this year. Exact model names, series and pricing were not announced, and as usual we’ll have to wait for the reviews to see how well Neo QLED actually stands up to good old OLED.

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