Staring deep into the anti-glare abyss of the Samsung S95D

From the moment the Samsung S95D OLED made its first appearance at CES 2024, I’ve called its anti-glare, anti-reflection technology a game-changer for OLED TVs. But the moment those words left my mouth, concern that this technology might somehow degrade the picture quality started up.

Since then, I’ve seen the S95D in a couple of other settings, but I’ve always said I would reserve my final opinion until I properly review the TV. And I’m prepared to be proven wrong.

Anti-Glare vs. Glossy OLED? Samsung S95D "Glare-Free" Treatment Tested

Well, that time has come. So … was I wrong? Is the S95D’s unique ambient light abatement technology a net positive or a net negative? Let’s find out. But first, there are a couple of things I need you to know.

For those of you watching our video of this television, it’s perhaps the most challenging thing we have ever shot at Digital Trends — at least from the perspective of trying to show you, through our camera, and YouTube’s compression, and whatever it is you are watching this video on, what it is we see here. It is already extremely difficult to capture with a camera something that at least represents what we see with our eyes. But showing reflection — or more accurately, showing non-reflection and non-glare? It’s next-level challenging. Frankly, you probably will not be able to see what we see here. To see what this TV does, you have to see it in person.

The other thing I need you to know is that all this comes ahead of our full review of this TV because (and this is a little spoiler) the discussion around this TV’s anti-glare is a distraction from the appraisal of the TV’s overall performance. And so we’re looking at those things separately.

So, with all that in mind, let’s dig in.

Why is this even a thing?

Let’s start with a little context. Why does this TV exist? For as long as OLED TVs have been around, there have been two consistent complaints that have prevented them from being a great candidate for nearly any consumer with the means to buy them. First is that they struggled to get bright enough to compete with LED-backlit LCD TVs. And second is that they struggled to maintain their native contrast in bright rooms due to a combination of brightness limitations — and reflections of ambient light elements, caused in part by the glass used in the panels.

The last couple of years have seen flagship OLED TVs that go toe-to-toe with all but the most intensely bright LCD TVs. So, that’s problem one addressed. All that was left was to deal with the reflectivity issues.

Now, to be clear, OLED TVs have seen several different types of anti-glare and anti-reflections efforts over the past few years. But while those efforts were helpful toward preventing the TVs from essentially functioning like a dark mirror in your living room, none of them managed to control reflections and glare well enough for those OLED TVs to safely be referred to as so-called “bright room TVs.”

Samsung S95D Anti Glare
Samsung S95D Anti Glare
Samsung S95D Anti Glare
Samsung S95D Anti Glare

That is to say that if you have an OLED TV in your living room, and that living room gets generous amounts of light — natural light from windows or artificial light from lamps — the OLED TV’s otherwise gorgeous picture quality was significantly curtailed.

That’s why the S95D was so exciting when it was announced. Samsung had the S95D positioned in a very convincing demonstration space at CES, right next to Samsung’s own S95C from the year before, showing folks how the light coming through an adjacent window was essentially a non-issue. It seemed that the S95D would be the first OLED TV that could maintain its contrast and color in harsh environments.

Samsung S95D OLED
Zeke Jones / Digital Trends

But then the concerns started pouring in. Folks started talking about “matte screens” and loss of lustre, and compromised baseline black levels. And to an extent I may be responsible for at least some of that concern, as I raised questions like that in my initial coverage. But since then, I’ve seen the S95D in a number of environments and held fast my position that the S95D’s performance was awesome everywhere I saw it.

How the glare disappears

The S95D handles inbound light by scattering it. It’s not a black hole — it can’t absorb light and make it go away, as cool as that would be. But the effect it has on light is as close to that as we’ve ever seen. Still, in the end, the light is being scattered. So instead of seeing a mirror-like reflection of lights — even reduced a bit —  you can still see make out a clear image of a light bulb or some other objects in your room. The S95D scatters that light so that at worst you get a gentle sort of glow, or maybe a sort of haze. Words do a poor job describing it, actually.

Samsung S95D Anti Glare
Zeke Jones / Digital Trends

If you know anything about studio lighting (think photography or videography), it’s sort of like how we soften harsh lighting. We don’t just turn down the brightness — we diffuse the light through something.

That’s what the S95D does with ambient light. It scatters and diffuses it so significantly that the intensity is reduced down to a level where it’s really easy to just ignore. Then you can allow yourself to get absorbed into the content, because the ambient light is now no longer a distraction.

And, I think that’s a key point that not enough reviewers are talking about. The degree to which our minds are able to filter something out is directly affected by how sharp or intense that thing is. You can forget you have a low-grade headache if you get busy, but a sharp, stabbing pain is always going to distract you. Your brain can filter our a low-grade, dull wash of air sound, or droning low-frequency sound, but a sharp piercing sound is not something you can ignore — like the difference between the noise inside an airplane and a police siren.

So the S95D takes light and dulls it down such that your mind can just ignore it.

If you are actively looking for a reflection in this TV, you will always see it. But, most folks aren’t actively looking for a problem when they watch TV. They are getting into the content. What’s distracting is when something pierces through that veneer. The S95D doesn’t allow that piercing to happen.

Samsung S95D Anti Glare
Zeke Jones / Digital Trends

I’ve heard some folks talking about how the S95D’s light abatement performance really depends on what kind of light, or the location of the light. I don’t agree with that. I put a wide array of varying intensity of lights, in different color temperatures, coming from just about every conceivable angle in our review space. I even opened up the massive garage door and flooded the studio with sunlight. There wasn’t a single scenario in which the S95D wasn’t more pleasant to watch than the TV next to it.

Light from the TV itself

So what about what happens with the light coming from the Samsung S95D?

I wager that 99.6% of viewers would never be able to describe the difference between the bright highlight intensity, lustre or wetness, or sheen of the image coming from the S95D versus the LG G4 unless they were comparing them side by side. The difference insignificant, by a long shot. There is a threshold, yes, and the differences between these two TVs with regard to factors considered relative to the S95D’s so-called “glare-free” technology do not pass that threshold. If you sit a thousand people in front of this TV, 999 of them are gonna be like, “that is an awesome-looking TV.”

Samsung S95D Anti Glare
Zeke Jones / Digital Trends

I’ve heard folks talk about there being a corona or halo around bright objects on dark backgrounds, and that’s just your eyes playing tricks on you. It’s the same as when you’re driving at night. Headlights from oncoming vehicles don’t look like pinpoints of light, they look awash, and the way your retina captures that light causes a glow around the intense light source. Camera lenses do the same thing. It’s like lens flare, but it’s your eyes.

But it’s not for everyone

I’m not saying the S95D is for everyone. Some folks just like glossy screens. Some folks aren’t ever going to watch their TV in anything other than a darkened room, and don’t need anti-glare technology at all. If that’s you, you don’t need to buy the S95D.

But for those whose only reason for not buying an OLED in the past has been the frustration that comes with having what is essentially a dark mirror on their wall? The S95D is for them. And that’s a huge potential segment of customers. It reaches a new market. And for that reason, I just don’t think you can successfully argue that the creation of the S95D was a bad business move on Samsung’s part.

Samsung S95D OLED
Samsung S95D OLED Zeke Jones / Digital Trends

To those of you who want the brightest OLED Samsung makes because you want the Samsung, you want the Tizen operating system — you want the brightest Samsung Tizen-powered QD-OLED? Well, for you guys in that relatively tiny club, I’m sorry. Samsung did not have you in mind when making the S95D, and I’m afraid that they will never make a separate, glossy version of this TV, because that would be a poor business decision.

Samsung S95D OLED TV Review | The Most Versatile OLED TV?

In the end, money is going to cast the final vote on whether Samsung does this again. If lots of people buy the S95D because they love what it does, then Samsung is going to keep making anti-glare TVs like this. If this TV ends up being a flop, then I reckon Samsung won’t be doing it in a year or two, and glossy flagship QD-OLEDs will be a thing again.

In the meantime, I think this was a good idea. It’s not a perfect TV. But anything that makes OLED picture quality more accessible to folks is a smart move in my book.