LG’s extraordinary OLED TVs

We get fairly inured to the wonders of the latest TVs, the iterative advances in brightness, colour, processing and the rest at CES, ISE and IFA. But we confess to being well impressed by LG’s InnoFest roadshow this week, where the company has taken over a swanky home in Cremorne on Sydney's North Shore to demonstrate the full range of LG product to visitors from all over the Asia-Pacific region.

There were cabinets that lightly steam your jacket while it hangs, a battery-powered handheld air purifier, new soundbars, some more of those alarmingly large wireless speakers that flash lights when they play — but the stars of the home were undoubtedly the TVs.

And the OLED TVs in particular. For all the protestations that LED-LCD technology is catching up with OLED, the side-by-side comparison showed the superiority of LG’s OLED screens even against LG's own premium LED-LCD models (which LG refers to as Super UHD - not a resolution descriptor but a layer which tunes light emission efficiency in a similar manner to QLED, with Nano Cell and Full Array Dimming Pro, though no numbers given on exactly how 'full' is that Full Array).

From colour delivery to black gradation, and especially off-axis viewing (where the Super UHD IPS screens maintained colour well but rapidly dropped off in brightness), OLED is holding its lead in picture quality.

8K OLED
LG expects its 8K Z9 OLED TV to land in Australian retailers at an unspecified time during the second half of 2019. Pricing has also yet to be determined.

The ginormous 88-inch Z9 looked magnificent in a real lounge-room scenario, all its electronics and a blade-like soundbar neatly esconced within the integral stand (right). Its processing is powered by the latest gen 2 of the Alpha 9 processor, which assists a six-step up-scaling process applied to UHD 4K content, given that there’ll be a wait for 8K content.

LG’s 8K model will be equipped with HDMI 2.1 from the start, which can carry 8K up to 60Hz, though without any 8K video sources being yet announced or available, there may be a wait for anything to plug in at the other end! Streaming is widely expected to be the key delivery mode for 8K in future years, although as LG Australia’s Chief Marketing Office Angus Jones noted, any streaming 8K content that does appear may require an 80Mbps internet connection to watch. But traditional broadcasters also have a place, as 8K has long been on the broadcast roadmap, whereas 4K never was. NHK in Japan already operates a 12-hour 8K satellite service, and Rai in Italy has just announced 8K plans with the hope of screening the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in 8K.

 

Ahead of the 8K Z9 launch will come three new UHD (4K) ‘AI’ ThinQ OLED TV ranges, in sizes from 55 to 77 inches.

The W9 OLED Wallpaper model (above) has the most impressive form factor, wafer-thin and flat to the wall with no rear chassis protrusion at all, all the electronics being housed in the sizeable soundbar-style unit below, which supports Dolby Atmos delivery. LG calls this ‘Picture-on-Wall’ style, with the most minimalist use yet of LG.D’s WRGB 4K panels in 77-inch and 65-inch sizes.

It’s worth noting that HDMI 2.1 is to be included on the W9 as well, obviously not here to enable 8K resolution but bringing other benefits — VRR variable refresh rate, HFR high frame rate, eARC enhanced audio return including multichannel surround, and ALLM automatic low latency mode. The 77-inch W9 will launch in April at $19,999, the 65-inch version in May at $9999.

 

The midrange OLED series is the E9 ‘Picture-on-Glass’ design, to be available in 65-inch and 55-inch versions, also with the gen 2 Alpha 9 processor, also with HDMI 2.1 on-board. They’re to be available from April at $7099 for the 65-inch and $4299 for the 55-inch.

 

There’s no wait for two sizes of the ‘entry-level’ C9 OLED model, which comes in 65-inch at $6399 and 55-inch at $3899, both out this month, while the $15,999 77-inch will arrive in April.

“We’re continuing to push boundaries…  introducing bigger, better and smarter TVs than our previous range,” says Angus Jones. “More and more Australians are falling in love with LG OLED TVs – their perfect blacks and stunning visual experience – and this year with the added AI benefits embedded in these models viewers will truly get the best visual experience that LG has to offer”.

AI or not AI?
We’re a little cynical of the increasing use of the term ‘AI’ to describe processing of all kinds throughout the electronics market. LG's TVs this year have ‘AI Brightness’, which appears to be an ambient light sensor with nothing deep learning about it, and ‘AI Sound’, which takes room effect into account on acoustics and can also optimise sonic performance for the position of the Magic Remote. It was hard to judge the qualitative change of AI Sound since the demo also whacked up the volume by a good 12dB between non-Ai Sound and AI Sound!

These functions may certainly be mighty smart, but is it really AI?

There does appear to be ‘deep learning’ involved in LG's ‘AI Upscaling’, with the process optimised through the analysis of ongoing scenes over time. But the results are signed off by LG engineers at home base, and are then locked in to the TVs before release (potentially subject to firmware update). So the TVs themselves aren’t implementing AI Upscaling at all — it’s part of the design process prior to release.

Rolling roll-out
Looking forward to future years, what will be the big TV advances of the future? With 8K now coming to market in 2019, what will TV makers sell next? As we’ve noted in the past, iterative TV advances don’t drive annual ranges — it’s the big advances in resolution and size which persuade users to upgrade. Nobody expects 16K to be a thing, so what next?

Well LG seems to have this in hand as well. The rollable ‘Signature OLED R’ TVs unrolled at CES weren’t on show at the Sydney event, but LG Australia is hoping to get some of them from the global quota made available to Australia in 2019. Officially they are “assessing interest from Australian retailers”, but we can’t imagine retailers being anything other than wildly enthusiastic! The benefits of a rollable hideaway screen are obvious.

We reckon a second area of development after 8K will be industrial design. And that integral base on the 88-inch Z9 shows that LG can operate at a high level in this regard also.

There are also many useful advances in LG’s latest onscreen interface webOS 4.5, including fully operational Google Voice Assistant, rather less operational Amazon Alexa, and the slightly hesitant (because of the unknowns behind Apple’s upcoming entertainment announcement) promise of Apple AirPlay 2 as an upgrade later in the year (see our story here).

We were well impressed with LG’s 2019 OLED models. Of course OLED is still expensive, retaining its price premium over LED-LCD. Even with LG.Display’s new China OLED plant coming online this year, and a second LG.D OLED plant now planned for South Korea, this is unlikely to change, especially as China trade publications are reporting that South Korea may restrict the export of OLED production equipment by designating it as a "national core technology."

And while OLED can continue showing its quality benefits as it did at LG InnoFest, it should retain its position as the cream of TV technology.

More info: www.lg.com.au