OLED beats 4K at 55 inches
LG’s smart TV makes the most of the incredible blacks of OLED, delivering a simply jawdropping picture.
Since the demise of the CRT TV, one of the stranger things about current display technologies is that not producing any light — which might seem to be the simplest thing — can in fact be very hard to achieve. Black levels have been compromised because plasmas and LCDs have difficulty completely turning off specific pixels (actually, plasmas could easily switch off individual pixels, but could not ramp them up again smoothly from the off state).
To be fair, the best LCDs these days are so good that in regular watching you rarely notice their imperfections. But still, I am startled anew each time I set eyes upon an OLED TV. Here a black pixel is truly black. There are no photons issuing from it. At all. And the result is thrilling.
Less thrilling until recently was the price. Sixteen months ago LG's sparkly new 55EA9800 OLED TV had an RRP of $11,999. Its new replacement, the 55EC930T has changed all — the RRP is $3999.
As has been the practice so far with OLED TVs, this 55-inch full-HD model has a curved screen. LG says that the radius is five metres — that is, if you draw a circle with a diameter of ten metres, the screen would nicely align with a section of its circumference.
Our view of curved screens is that they are simply silly, except perhaps for computer monitors where one viewer will sit within the arc of the display. Curved bigscreen TVs are essentially marketing aids: they look different, they look cool, they look ‘premium’. In terms of picture quality, they add nothing and could, in theory, increase effective geometric distortion for all viewers not in the 'sweet spot'. In practice, the large radius of this TV's curve mitigates that problem, so it's probably more or less irrelevant.
All that aside, this TV does look cool, although not quite as stunning as last year's model with its integrated transparent stand. This unit's desktop stand is more conventional and the TV as a whole doesn't quite convey the near artistic style offered by the earlier unit. That said, it is still a fine-looking TV. For one thing, the screen depth around half of the display area is only 6mm. It looks so wonderfully thin. There's a deeper section at the bottom centre — the electronics and connections have to go somewhere, after all. The distance between picture edge and clear space is only 9mm on the sides, 10mm at the top and 12mm at the bottom. Aside from the stand, just about everything you see with this TV is picture. And even when switched off, it remains an elegant looking thing.
As with the inaugural model, this TV deals with the relative inefficiency of OLED blue light production by using four rather than three subpixels: red, green, blue and white. The artful combination of white with the other colours can increase their brightness without making too many demands on the coloured OLEDs, which is particularly helpful for blue.
The other great feature of OLED is the pixel on/off time. A typical LCD/LED TV can manage something around 4 milliseconds, which is around 20% of the display time for a frame of Australian TV (i.e. 50Hz content). LG specifies the response time of OLED at 0.002 milliseconds, three orders of magnitude faster. Instead of wasting 20% of the frame display time switching, this TV wastes just 0.01% of the frame time — none at all, for all practical purposes.
Aside from the OLED panel, this TV is standard LG Smart. It features LG's WebOS operating system first introduced last year, a dual-core CPU and LG's Magic Remote to help you navigate this. Note that it comes only with the Magic Remote — no big IR remote is included, and as far as I've been able to work out, LG doesn't offer them for sale either (although Bing Lee seems to have obtained a supply and sells them for $10).
Plenty of people prefer the good old fashioned IR remote for everyday use of a TV. My own family does. LG is perhaps forcing the issue by gradually reducing the TVs which are supplied with an IR remote. Fortunately the LG Magic Remote is so good that people should soon adjust to it happily. The danger is that other brands may follow suit, and there aren't many that have 'smart' remotes that are good enough to be relied on exclusively.
The usual connectivity is provided, including three USB sockets. You can plug a hard drive into one of these and time-shift or record TV. Unlike some recent LG models, the TV only has a single tuner so you can't record one channel while watching another. FreeviewPlus is also supported so you can get straight to catch-up TV without going through apps. In addition to Ethernet the TV supports dual-band Wi-Fi. It also supports Bluetooth and is provided with an adhesive patch which you can put on the TV or elsewhere for NFC pairing.
The TV of course supports 3D, but unfortunately uses LG's passive system, which effectively reduces the vertical resolution of the picture. With LCD TVs that's a reasonable trade-off for the elimination of ghosting, but the extremely fast pixel switching available with OLED means that an active system would give similarly high performance with the advantage of full resolution.
As usual with LG TVs, a wizard guides you surely and reasonably swiftly through the set-up process, including network connection. Along the way you will need to indicate your acceptance of a couple of EULAs (End User Licence Agreements) in order to have the full range of smart features opened up.
All that done, there was only one manual intervention required: turning the 'Sharpness' control from 25 down to 0. With that both broadcast TV and Blu-ray via HDMI were first class in smoothness and colour. Oh, yes, that wonderful, deep colour. The colours are subjectively enhanced simply by contrast to the perfect blacks. The grey scale was correct right out of the box as well, with the black end of the scale disappearing into nothingness, allowing the almost black to be clearly distinguished from it. Likewise, the white end was properly calibrated to ensure that bright detail was visible.
Those dark scenes, watched late at night with the room lights dimmed, were a genuine pleasure since the subtle mottling of 'black' screens on LCD TVs was totally absent. You can have a picture where every pixel except one is perfectly black and looks that way, while that one pixel can be blaring full brightness in white or colour. That can be only approximately even with grid-pattern LED backlights on an LCD TV, not to this level of perfection.
The TV properly switches to its 'Just Scan' aspect ratio whenever it receives 1080p input, ensuring 1:1 pixel mapping. It features a motion smoothing system — TruMotion — with a default setting of 'Clear'. This provided a good level of motion smoothing without objectionable artefacts. There's also a setting called 'Smooth', which makes things even smoother, but also produces noticeable artefacts. A 'Custom' setting lets you adjust the 'De-judder' and 'De-blur' settings individually.
I had expected my favourite scene for assessing motion smoothing to exhibit very harsh juddering with this system switched off — the slow switching of LCD pixels tends to smooth this out, but this TV's pixels switch extremely quickly. Oddly it wasn't too bad. Certainly there was plenty of judder with the motion smoothing switched off, but between jumps the clarity of the picture allowed a lot of detail to be resolved.
The TV's deinterlacing of 1080i/50 and 576i/50 signals was serviceable, doing a generally good job of detecting whether film or video mode was appropriate and applying it. With both my test discs, the TV was tricked by some of the more difficult sections to flip briefly and incorrectly into video mode.
Delay-wise, the TV is faster than 4K TVs for the obvious reason that two megapixels of data are quicker to process than eight megapixels. With the standard picture processing running the picture delay (at the centre) was 104.9 milliseconds. But there's a 'Game' picture mode (unfortunately buried a couple of levels down in the menus) which reduces this to 47.3ms, which ought to make gamers happy. The TV did not appear to provide delay information to a connected home receiver.
The broadcast TV performance was strong, with quick station changing, although with the Magic remote you don't have the option of just punching a couple of digits to jump directly to a station (you have to pop up a virtual number pad for this, and then position the pointer over the digits). One disappointment, though, was the EPG, and for just one reason: it has to be repopulated with entries every time the TV is switched on. Which means that you have to switch to each station so that the EPG can be read from each broadcaster. A little of the built-in memory should have been employed to hold the entries.
The Smart functions are quite extensive and nicely organisable via the WebOS system, which uses a pop-up bar of items across the bottom of the screen. You can re-arrange these so that the things you use the most are on the front screen. There are pretty animations to make the whole thing look lively.
The apps themselves work well. The web browser, for example, snapped up pages cleanly and readably. Scrolling was achieved with, well, the scroll wheel, while it was easy to point and click with the Magic remote. For really effective surfing, it's worth plugging a wireless mouse and keyboard USB dongle into the TV. That made it just about as responsive as a computer.
The TV supports a limited number of voice commands, but this is primarily useful for entering in web search terms.
The competition for this TV is, of course, the 4K LED TVs which are available for even lower prices now. Your choice at this price, then, is either the greater sharpness and support for future 4K content, or the ultimate blacks of LED. You know, in the 55-inch screen size we'd go for the latter.
SPECS & SUMMARY
LG Electronics 55EC930T OLED TV
. Absolutely perfect black levels supporting top-class picture quality
. Very stylish design
. LG WebOS smart functions
. EPG data purged when switched off
. Reduced resolution 3D
Display technology: Curved OLED panel
Tested with firmware: 04.30.12
Screen size: 138.8cm
Native aspect ratio: 16:9
Native resolution: 1920 x 1080 pixels
Brightness: Not stated
Contrast ratio: Infinite
Inputs: 4 x HDMI (1 x MHL), 1 x composite video, 1 x component video, 1 x stereo audio, 3 x USB, 1 x Ethernet, WiFi, 1 x aerial
Outputs: 1 x optical digital audio, 1 x 3.5mm headphone/analogue audio
Audio: 2 way, 4 speakers, 40 watts total power
Included accessories: Table top stand, 'Magic' remote control, 4 x 3D glasses, cable adaptors and ties
Energy rating: 4.5 stars, 373kWh per year
Dimensions with stand (whd): 1225 x 753 x 204mm
Weight with stand: 16.7kg
Warranty: 1 year