flat UHD OLED tele­vi­sion

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With curved TV sales flat­ten­ing out, LG has done the same with its OLED UHD tele­vi­sions...

At last LG has re­leased an un­curved OLED TV model — and oh what a TV it is. The ini­tial OLED TV re­leases were curved pri­mar­ily (al­most en­tirely in­deed) for mar­ket­ing rea­sons — clearly the curved mod­els stood out as a pre­mium prod­uct. But OLED screen tech­nol­ogy stands out from the LCD-LED pack in other ways as well... as we’ll see with this, the LG 65EF950T OLED TV. Equip­ment Just be­cause it isn’t curved doesn’t mean that it isn’t stylish. The 65EF950T is as close as a TV has ever man­aged to be­ing just a sheet of glass. In­deed, the top half of this 164cm screen looks just like that: a 6mm thick slab of glass — no swelling, no bezel, with only a mil­lime­tre or so of the metal wrapped around its edge as viewed from the front. The bot­tom does swell out to around 50mm thick in or­der to ac­com­mo­date the elec­tron­ics and so forth.

All this is pos­si­ble be­cause, we must re­call, OLED pix­els gen­er­ate their own light, so there is no need for any kind of light­ing ar­ray (or mir­rors for edge light­ing) be­hind the panel.

The pic­ture doesn’t go all the way to the edges, though. There’s a touch over a cen­time­tre of ad­di­tional glass around the pic­ture, in­clud­ing at the bot­tom. The speak­ers are mounted in the sec­tion at the rear.

The TV has the usual con­nec­tions, in­clud­ing three HDMI in­puts and three USB sock­ets, in­clud­ing one USB 3.0 suit­able to use with a hard-disk which can then record TV pro­gram­ming (note, how­ever, that the TV has only one tuner). The LG can also record a

lit­tle to its in­ter­nal mem­ory, but the 4GB pro­vided isn’t much to play with.

The smart stuff is built around LG’s we­bOS in­ter­face and its ‘Magic’ smart re­mote con­trol. This op­er­ates as LG’s TVs have for a few years: you move the re­mote and a pointer moves on the screen so that you can select things. It is, so far, the best smart re­mote on the mar­ket. LG has en­hanced it with the in­clu­sion of num­ber keys and an in­put se­lec­tor, so the things you most need from an old-fash­ioned re­mote are at hand. The TV does work with a stan­dard LG IR re­mote as well if you have one handy. I should note that the OS is ver­sion 2.0, not the 3.0 that is on LG’s lat­est pre­mium LCD TVs. The dif­fer­ences be­tween 1.0 and 2.0 were mi­nor, so it’s likely the same with 2.0 to 3.0, but it would be nice for a new TV to come with the lat­est OS. A quad-core pro­ces­sor keeps per­for­mance snappy.

The other rea­son this TV stands out is be­cause it sup­ports HDR (High Dy­namic Range) con­tent. And it does this with a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to the other HDR-ca­pa­ble TVs com­ing out this year.

HDR (see other ar­ti­cles in this is­sue) is about two things: bound­aries, and grad­u­a­tions of light. In the real world, ac­tual dark is much darker than can be dis­played on most TVs, and bright is enor­mously brighter than can be dis­played by any TV. Those are the bound­aries, and TV mak­ers are work­ing on ex­tend­ing to­wards them.

Most com­pa­nies are work­ing on the top bound­ary — mak­ing dis­plays which can go brighter. But LG’s OLED TVs are unique in that they have at­tacked the bot­tom bound­ary: they can go full black at the pixel level. Math­e­mat­i­cally that means an in­fi­nite con­trast ra­tio — of course it would mean that even if max­i­mum bright­ness was truly fee­ble. For­tu­nately, that’s not the case, with the screen of­fer­ing a bold, bright and colour­ful pic­ture.

The sec­ond and per­haps more im­por­tant thing about HDR is the mat­ter of grad­u­a­tions. Cur­rent Blu-ray and DVD tech­nol­ogy uses eight bits to de­fine bright­ness (and eight bits for each colour, al­though it’s com­pli­cated by us­ing com­po­nent rather than RGB video for en­cod­ing). That trans­lates to 256 lev­els. It is for that rea­son that some­times you can see dis­tinct colour bands in a dark sky in the even­ing, as pre­sented even on Blu-ray. These rep­re­sent the clos­est lev­els that blues can be to each other for that sys­tem, and they are not close enough to merge seam­lessly.

HDR 10 is the stan­dard adopted by the Blu-ray Disc As­so­ci­a­tion for UHD Blu-ray, and this en­codes at 10 bits, or 1024 lev­els. That’s prob­a­bly enough to elim­i­nate band­ing, and to en­hance sub­tle de­tail, es­pe­cially in dark scenes, which are crushed into black un­der the 8-bit regime. But this TV doesn’t sup­port the 12-bit Dolby Vi­sion op­tion for HDR (see our Dolby in­ter­view), as do some other LG OLED mod­els.

So what the 65EF950T of­fers on the HDR front is per­fec­tion on the bot­tom bound­ary, rea­son­able per­for­mance on the top bound­ary, and with the in­tro­duc­tion of UHD Blu-ray and other HDR con­tent (from Net­flix, for ex­am­ple), smoother colour grad­u­a­tions and im­proved de­tail in be­tween. Per­for­mance Set­ting up the TV was easy, pos­si­bly even fun given the car­toon pen­guin mo­tif em­ployed through­out. Fol­low­ing the wizard should have any­one up and run­ning in five min­utes.

The pic­ture, as al­ways, needs a few tweaks — see our ‘Tweaker’s Guide’ panel. Those done, we en­joyed the glo­ri­ous pic­ture we’ve come to ex­pect of an LG OLED TV. Ac­tu­ally, it did a re­spectable job even with free-to-air SD TV, pretty im­pres­sive given the sheer size of the screen, and a very nice job in­deed on HDTV movies.

But it re­ally came into its own with Blu-ray. (Only Blu-ray? We’ll get to that shortly.) The TV mapped each in­com­ing pixel sen­si­tively to four dis­play pix­els, tak­ing ac­count of ad­ja­cent in­com­ing pix­els to smooth edges in­con­spic­u­ously in the way that only a proper UHD dis­play can do. The re­sult was sharp and smooth, rather like real life.

While on the sub­ject of free-to-air TV: the TV should store the free-to-air EPG when it’s switched off, in­stead of hav­ing to be pop­u­lated anew each time it’s switched on.

The blacks were ab­so­lutely per­fect. Re­gard­less of any bright ar­eas on the screen, the black sec­tions were com­pletely black since the pix­els were switched off en­tirely. It was al­most eerie watch­ing in a com­pletely dark room, as sec­tions of the screen could ut­terly dis­ap­pear into the dark as other sec­tions were still show­ing an im­age. This is where OLED is so won­der­ful.

A re­ally good LCD with lo­calised LED back­light­ing can some­times give this im­pres­sion, but the lo­cal­i­sa­tion is nec­es­sar­ily coarse. With this TV the OLED dis­play is so closely bonded with the front glass that there is vir­tu­ally no light scat­ter from the lit pix­els, so there is not even a glow around the bright el­e­ments, other than that in­tro­duced by the hu­man eye it­self.

The TV in­cludes a mo­tion-smooth­ing in­ter­po­la­tor, of course. The de­fault ‘Clear’ set­ting I thought was just a touch too glossy, with a lit­tle dis­tor­tion hov­er­ing on the edge of per­cep­tion. The other pre­set (other than ‘Off’) was ‘Smooth’, and this was even stronger and more dis­torted. But there’s also a ‘User’ set­ting. Choos­ing this and set­ting ‘De-Blur’ to 0 and ‘De-Jud­der’ to 3 was a nice com­pro­mise, tak­ing the edge off the worst jud­der, thereby im­prov­ing vis­i­bil­ity dur­ing

mov­ing scenes, with­out adding sig­nif­i­cant gloss or any vis­i­ble dis­tor­tion.

When it came to 3D, the re­sults were bet­ter than av­er­age, but about on a par for LG UHD TVs, with some ghost­ing for parts of the im­age near the tops and bot­toms of the screen. LG’s pas­sive sys­tem seems less ef­fec­tive in UHD than full-HD. Still, it was quite ef­fec­tive and en­gag­ing. (We’d love to see ac­tive 3D on OLED — the in­cred­i­bly fast pixel switch­ing time would pro­vide ex­cel­lent re­sults.)

But how about 4K and, in par­tic­u­lar, HDR? Well, UHD Blu-ray isn’t quite here yet, so I had to rely on some HDR-en­coded video clips pro­vided by LG on USB. These had clearly been cre­ated with a view to show­ing off both the sharp­ness of UHD and the clar­ity of HDR, es­pe­cially in scenes with daz­zlingly bright high­lights in the midst of gloomy back­grounds. And this it did to great ef­fect. It was amaz­ing, switch­ing my fo­cus away from gleam­ing gold to very dark browns and greys that, for the first time ever, were just as de­tailed and rich as the bright parts of the im­age. Like­wise, fig­ures sil­hou­et­ted against a bright back­ground were fully de­tailed, even though dark. This was bril­liant, and con­vinces me (and no doubt cin­e­matog­ra­phers) that HDR is the real thing: a technological im­prove­ment that, with HDR con­tent, pro­vides a clearly vis­i­ble step up in pic­ture qual­ity.

LG’s we­bOS op­er­at­ing sys­tem op­er­ated snap­pily and well. There are lots of apps you can in­stall (with 4GB of space for them), most free. These in­cluded plenty of free video stream­ing sources, plus paid ones such as Net­flix, Big­pond Movies and Stan. The TV sup­ports UHD and HDR con­tent from Net­flix, if your in­ter­net band­width is high enough. (Mine is, sadly, nowhere near suf­fi­cient.)

There were no catch-up apps for the three com­mer­cial sta­tions, and what you get through Free­viewPlus will de­pend where you live —we tested this TV in Can­berra, where lo­cal com­mer­cial sta­tions are tech­ni­cally dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies that do not have their own catch-up ser­vices. How­ever ABC iView and SBS On De­mand were both avail­able as stand­alone apps and via Free­view Plus (which worked with rea­son­able swift­ness, thanks to the pow­er­ful pro­ces­sor).

The unit can act as a DLNA player and ren­derer (i.e. you can use apps to send net­work con­tent to it), al­though for some rea­son it would not play LG’s own UHD test clips over the net­work (it was fine with full-HD). It sup­ported Mira­cast from my An­droid de­vices and, oc­ca­sion­ally, WiDi from my com­puter (al­ways prob­lem­atic in my en­vi­ron­ment for some rea­son). When it comes to smart stuff, this TV is ex­tremely sat­is­fy­ing.

The TV does not sup­port au­to­matic lip-sync ad­just­ments, so you’ll need to dial a fig­ure into the AV re­ceiver your­self. Re­mem­ber, this is not the switch­ing time for pix­els; OLED does that fast, 0.002 mil­lisec­onds, or about two or­ders of mag­ni­tude faster than LCD TVs. Rather we’re talk­ing the de­lay be­tween when the TV re­ceives a pic­ture frame as an in­put, and when it ac­tu­ally dis­plays the pic­ture, the de­lay in­duced by the dig­i­tal pro­cess­ing per­formed on the sig­nal to ready it for dis­play.

In stan­dard pic­ture mode, the de­lay was 130 mil­lisec­onds. In ‘Game’ pic­ture mode — this switches off much of the pro­cess­ing to al­low less lag in the dis­play — it was 54 mil­lisec­onds. Con­clu­sion The LG 65EF950T is our favourite TV on the mar­ket — at the mo­ment. We should note that LG’s $10,499 E6 (‘Flag­ship 4K OLED’) and $11,999 G6 (‘Flag­ship OLED, LG Sig­na­ture Brand’) are promised be­fore the end of June, with even brighter whites and Dolby Vi­sion (the higher spec­i­fi­ca­tion HDR). So if it’s ab­so­lute ul­ti­mate OLED you’re after… Stephen Daw­son

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