LG 65SK8500

LCD tele­vi­sion

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LG shows what it can do with LCD ‘Su­per UHD’ with ‘Nano Cell Tech­nol­ogy’... what’s that ex­actly?

It is very easy to get so smit­ten with OLED tech­nol­ogy that one ne­glects to pay as much at­ten­tion as one should to what re­mains the en­tirely dom­i­nant TV panel tech­nol­ogy — LCD. In­deed with the price dis­crep­ancy be­tween the tech­nolo­gies not likely to dis­ap­pear any time soon, it’s clear that LCD is go­ing to be around for quite a while.

Here we have 65-inch LCD in the form of the LG 65SK8500PTA UHD TV, one of the com­pany’s ‘Su­per UHD’ range. In­deed, it’s sec­ond from the top of that range. And it sells for $2200 less than the same-sized en­try-level LG OLED C8 model which we re­viewed last is­sue. How does it com­pare?

Nan­otech­nol­ogy

Let’s be clear, there is very lit­tle dif­fer­ence be­tween this TV and that OLED ex­cept for that one thing: the dis­play panel, and also some changes to the panel driver tech­nol­ogy (prin­ci­pally, the new OLED range uses LG’s Al­pha9 image pro­ces­sor, while this TV uses its Al­pha7).

So, to the pan­els. LG.Dis­play’s OLED tech­nol­ogy — which is used, as yet, in all con­sumer OLED TVs, not just LG’s — uses red, green, blue and white sub­pix­els in each pixel. Each gen­er­ates the colour na­tively. The RGB el­e­ments are rel­a­tively nar­row-band in their light pro­duc­tion, gen­er­at­ing light wave­lengths fairly tightly lumped to­gether, with lit­tle spread into other colours. The white is used to boost out­put lev­els, and take the load off the blue sub-pixels, which are thought to wear out faster than the other colours.

Tra­di­tion­ally LCD TVs, on the other hand, use sub­pix­els which have red, green or blue fil­ters over them. Be­hind the LCD panel is a broad spec­trum light, and the fil­ters in

the sub­pix­els block the un­wanted wave­lengths. Var­i­ous enhancements have taken place over the years. Most ob­vi­ous have been im­prove­ments to the back­light: break­ing it up into chunks so that dif­fer­ent parts of the screen can be at dif­fer­ent bright­ness lev­els.

But when it comes to colour, the race has been on to im­prove the colour gamut, the range of avail­able colours. It is gamut that is en­hanced — ex­tended — if the reds and the greens and the blues each con­sist of a nar­row range of wave­lengths, rather than bleed­ing across into the wave­lengths of the other colours. This can be achieved in two ways. One is to change the back­light. An­other is to im­prove the colour fil­ters.

Quan­tum Dot tech­nol­ogy, as used by Sam­sung, TCL and Hisense, takes the first ap­proach. It uses what you might call ‘tuned’ nano-par­ti­cles to pro­duce light in rel­a­tively nar­row bands of the pri­mary colours.

It seems that LG is tak­ing the sec­ond ap­proach. Last year the com­pany in­tro­duced a new tech­nol­ogy, or at least a name, for its pre­mium Ul­traHD TV pan­els: Nano Cell Tech­nol­ogy. As can of­ten be the case, de­tails on this are a lit­tle sketchy. LG says that “Nano Cell Tech­nol­ogy uses nano par­ti­cles that ab­sorb un­wanted light wave­lengths and en­hance the pu­rity of the red and green colours dis­played on the screen”.

Of course ab­sorb­ing un­wanted light wave­lengths is what the colour fil­ters do have al­ways done. But a fas­ci­nat­ing pa­per by Peter Palo­maki and Matthew Ber­tram was pub­lished a few months ago by Palo­maki Con­sult­ing (we’ve linked to it at avhub.com.au/ppmb). That busi­ness con­sults specif­i­cally on nano tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing var­i­ous ma­te­ri­als and quan­tum dots. The pa­per shows the out­put spec­trum of a Su­per UHD TV and notes cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics that sug­gest the ad­di­tion of a new fil­ter de­signed to re­move light from the area around 580 nanome­tres. That’s the space be­tween green and red. And it hap­pens that this ac­cords with LG’s de­scrip­tion.

The pa­per quib­bles with LG us­ing the ‘Nano’ term, say­ing it’s merely a ‘molec­u­lar dye’ (they dug into LG’s patents to re­search this) with par­ti­cles on the nanome­tre scale. But nano has be­come a widely abused term out­side its strict orig­i­nal ap­pli­ca­tion. What mat­ters is that they con­sider this tech­nol­ogy pushes the gamut of the Su­per UHD pan­els from 82% of the DCI-P3 colour space to 92%.

Con­nec­tions & smarts

To re­cap briefly, this TV has four HDMI in­puts, two USB con­nec­tions. It sup­ports all the good stuff like BT.2020 colour, HDR, Dolby Vi­sion and Hy­brid Log Gamma, though not the new HDR10+ avail­able on some Ama­zon Prime ma­te­rial (un­sur­pris­ing, this, since HDR10+ in­cludes Pana­sonic and Sam­sung but not LG in its con­sor­tium).

You can time-shift TV with USB storage. You can feed sound back to AV re­ceivers and higher-end sound­bars via HDMI us­ing ARC.

The panel is rea­son­ably thin at a lit­tle over 65mm, but it clearly isn’t go­ing to chal­lenge OLED on that front. The rea­son for the thicker panel is the use of a real ar­ray of LEDs be­hind the LCD. LG calls this Full Ar­ray Dim­ming.

The TV in­cludes LG’s lat­est ver­sion of We­bOS. Com­bined with the Magic Re­mote, it re­mains the most effective smart TV in­ter­face in my view. It has been en­hanced this year with LG’s ThinQ AI fea­tures. These at­tempt to im­prove things like voice searches by tak­ing into ac­count con­text. If you ask about an ac­tor, and that ac­tor’s in a movie you’re cur­rently watch­ing, the TV will try to take that into ac­count. Or, rather, LG’s ThinQ servers back in Korea will.

If there was a dif­fer­ence on the gen­eral area of smart TV func­tion­al­ity be­tween this one and the most re­cent OLED, it es­caped me. The ba­sic We­bOS lay­out is the same, only slightly tweaked from how it first ap­peared some years ago. But now the pro­cess­ing power has been en­hanced so that it’s far snap­pier, with few func­tions lead­ing to a pause be­fore re­spond­ing, and those for only a few sec­onds.

I was able to feed it Ul­tra-HD video — although it stut­tered with 100Mbps stuff — mu­sic in­clud­ing in high def­i­ni­tion FLAC for­mat, and photos. Photos were han­dled well, with max­i­mum colour and de­tail res­o­lu­tion de­liv­ered. That func­tion­al­ity is via DLNA. The TV does not sup­port Chrome­cast.

The TV has dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi in ad­di­tion to an Eth­er­net con­nec­tion.

Pic­ture per­for­mance

In most cir­cum­stances the pic­ture per­for­mance de­liv­ered by this TV was first-class. In some

cir­cum­stances it’s bet­ter than OLED. Those cir­cum­stances are when you’re watch­ing in a well-lit room. When you’re do­ing that, ul­ti­mate black lev­els are less im­por­tant. The brighter the room, the lower their im­por­tance. What in­stead be­comes im­por­tant is bright­ness lev­els, and it was clear that this TV can de­liver con­sid­er­ably higher lev­els of that than LG’s OLED TVs. My eyes are ac­cus­tomed to an OLED, and the first few times I switched this TV on, I al­most winced. Not in pain or dis­plea­sure, but just be­cause the bright­ness was higher than ex­pected.

Not that any nasty tricks are em­ployed to achieve that. With the stan­dard pic­ture set­tings there was no crush­ing of white lev­els up against the max­i­mum ca­pa­bil­ity of the panel. Us­ing a test pat­tern, LG seems to have re­tailed sub­tle bright­ness grad­u­a­tions right up to 1800 nits, although it’s doubt­ful that it can ac­tu­ally go that bright.

The colour was truly im­pres­sive. Billy Lynn’s Long Half­time Walk was stun­ning, par­tic­u­larly the scenes within the sta­dium where colours were bold. The sense was one of hy­per-re­al­ity. Colour grad­u­a­tions were smooth. Where sub­tlety was called for, it was de­liv­ered.

Dein­ter­lac­ing and mo­tion smooth­ing were up to LG’s high stan­dards. Gen­er­ally 576i/50 and 1080i/50 con­tent was pre­sented cor­rectly, oc­ca­sion­ally tricked only in the most am­bigu­ous scenes. I’d be per­fectly happy watch­ing 1080i and 576i out­put from a set-top box with this TV. The stan­dard ‘Smooth’ mo­tion smooth­ing is a touch too much, gen­er­at­ing vis­i­ble dis­tor­tion. But if you choose the User set­ting, and set ‘De-jud­der’ to around 4 on the scale up to 10, you get sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits with min­i­mal dis­tor­tion.

Now, black lev­els. I started by play­ing a UHD LG clip it de­vel­oped specif­i­cally to show off OLED tech­nol­ogy. In other words, to show off black lev­els. Lo­calised dim­ming is of lit­tle use with it be­cause there’s a lot of black, but also a lot of bright el­e­ments in­ter­rupt­ing it. With this TV, viewed in a dark room, the bright­ness was ini­tially stun­ning, mak­ing the irises shrink rapidly. But as things set­tled down, it was clear that the blacks were rel­a­tively muddy, de­tract­ing a lit­tle from the im­pact. Later I watched a movie and as the tra­di­tional white-on-black cred­its rolled, I picked up the TV’s re­mote. The on-screen ar­row jumped to life, and as it moved across the screen, this very large glow­ing area fol­lowed it. I put on some test pat­terns. With a full black image, the TV demon­strated that it could con­trol its back­light­ing all the way down to zero. There was noth­ing to dis­tin­guish this TV from an OLED. But then I put on a test ‘pat­tern’ which con­sists of a full black screen, ex­cept for two sin­gle white pixels in the dis­play. Now the black­ness was re­placed with two very large glow­ing ar­eas. It looked to me that the ar­ray con­sists of four col­umns of back­lights, with a stack of eight in­di­vid­u­ally con­trol­lable ar­eas in each. That makes for 32 light­ing zones. I’m con­fi­dent about the num­ber of col­umns, less so about the stack of rec­tan­gles in each col­umn. So, yes, there is a back­light­ing ar­ray. But it is so low in res­o­lu­tion it is of quite lim­ited value.

The of­fi­cial en­ergy rat­ing of this TV is 4.0 stars and 458kWh of en­ergy use per year. That’s less than 83% of the en­ergy con­sump­tion of the same-sized OLED, de­spite it be­ing rather brighter. Those in­ter­ested in sav­ing en­ergy costs and emis­sions may want to take that into ac­count. I found it in­ter­est­ing be­cause we can mount all kinds of the­o­ret­i­cal ar­gu­ments why OLED should be more en­ergy ef­fi­cient. Af­ter all, OLED only lights up the pixels which are in use, while the LCD back­light typ­i­cally lights up a lot more of dis­play. But the re­al­ity is that LCD has been un­der de­vel­op­ment for a much longer time, and this shows in a num­ber of ways. Per­haps OLED will catch up in en­ergy ef­fi­ciency — the OLED65C8 uses 96% of the power of the OLED65C7 — but it’ll take a while.

Con­clu­sion

If you can af­ford it and you view in a darker en­vi­ron­ment, OLED re­mains the way to go. But if you usu­ally have lights on, save your­self a pile of money and look at the LG 65SK8500. Bet­ter still, step up to the SK95 mod­els — a bit pricier but with “Full Ar­ray Dim­ming Pro”, al­most cer­tainly a higher back­light res­o­lu­tion than 32. Stephen Daw­son

LG SK85 4K LCD TV

▲ LG’s Nano Cell Tech­nol­ogy has noth­ing to do with the back­light ar­ray, as some might guess. In­deed the back­light ar­ray is fairly coarse — we think 32 light­ing zones in to­tal — so that while there is ex­cel­lent con­trol of lev­els down into blacks, small ar­eas of light on dark back­grounds cre­ate large glow­ing ar­eas, as shown here.

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