LG 55EA9800 OLED HDTV Reviewed
Yep, you read that right, a review of LG’s 55EA9800 OLED! The moment we’ve been waiting for is finally here: hands-on with the (hopefully) next-gen TV technology.
We were invited to LG’s Illinois facility to get a chance to test and measure its first generation 55-inch OLED, recently introduced for sale at a Best Buy store. Even though we would have a limited time to perform tests and viewing evaluations we jumped on the chance.
Our test signals revealed some unexpected results and a few revelations. Read on for our findings.
For years, OLED HDTV has been touted as the ultimate display technology: dead-black blacks, blindingly white whites, wide viewing angle, excellent motion resolution, all in a wafer thin form factor.
We performed a battery of tests as well as viewed portions of several Blu-ray movies.
The 55EA9800, besides being the first large screen OLED offered for sale in the US, is THX certified. Based on prior THX results with other displays, and time limitations, we used the THX settings for most of our testing and evaluations.
For $15,000 you would expect the 55EA9800 would come with all the top features, and it does. Included are LG’s Magic Remote with voice and gesture control, Smart TV functionality, Wi-Fi, 6 built-in speakers with 40 watts total amplification, THX certification, two ISF memories, and a permanently attached transparent base. LG also includes a white power cord (which might be an industry first) to be less obtrusive when you see it behind the clear base.
LG also includes an attachable Skype camera with built-in microphones and 3D glasses.
We looked at a number of scenes from a few Blu-ray discs, including our current eye candy favorite Skyfall. The rich colors, high dynamic range, deep blacks, and fine dark detail mesmerized me. With the room lights off, the image could only be compared to the best of the best plasma displays. But even that’s not entirely true, as the 55EA9800 has completely black blacks, and therefore an even better contrast ratio. Whether it was reproducing subtle colors or saturated ones, everything looked right on. Turning up the lights and the picture still popped, perhaps better than any other display in history.
3D is accomplished using the LG’s film pattern retarder (FPR) technology permitting the use of passive 3D glasses. As is the case with LGs LED HDTVs, the FPR cuts vertical resolution to 540 lines per eye when viewing 3D content. LG includes new 3D glasses by famed French designer Alain Milki. They have very au courant frames, looking more like sunglasses then the typical Clark Kent frames included with LGs LED LCD 3D TVs.
The only thing we didn’t care for was the subtle inward curve of the screen. When viewing letterbox movies, we perceived an upward curve where the black bar meets the active area. We call this the Mister Smiley face effect, matched by the bottom bar’s downward Mister Frowny face effect. Look at our top Skyfall picture and judge for yourself.
We began with maximum brightness. Using the Vivid mode, with all controls cranked to provide the brightest reading, a 100IRE window pattern read a blinding 105 foot- lamberts. However, as time passed, the window got dimmer, dropping down to just 21.6 ft. lamberts after 5 minutes. We could not get an explanation as to why this occurs, however our guess is the pixels would overheat if kept at maximum, or perhaps reducing the panels claimed lifespan. The 55EA9800 is rated at 30,000 hours (to half brightness a TV industry rating standard). By comparison early plasmas were also rated at 30,000 hours lifespan. Today’s Panasonic rates its plasmas at 100,000 hours. LED LCD makers have never published a lifespan, nor will provide a spec when we inquired. In THX mode, initial brightness was 38.5 foot-lamberts, steadily dropping to 17.18 after 5 minutes. We want to point out, we never noticed picture brightness diminish when viewing any motion picture, and do not believe this would affect any viewing experience with the possible exception of a mostly-white screen such as skiing.
One more note, after the 5 minutes we did see image retention of the window pattern, though it did fade away after a few minutes. Could OLED have long-term uneven wear? We do not know. We did not see any wipe or orbit toggle in any of the user menus to indicate it was an issue.
A full screen raster pattern revealed vertical stripes appearing on signals between 1 and 20 ft. lamberts as seen in the photo above (disregard the edge darkness as it is probably due to camera/screen curve and not visible), this type of phenomena is sometimes seen on LED LCD displays and is often called jail bars. We do not know the cause and inquired with LG whether this is typical for this OLED. Again, we emphasize this was only visual on a test pattern, not on any of the content we viewed.
Black appeared as promoted, dead black with no perceptible light emission, therefore making contrast ratio infinite. Our Konica Minolta LS 100 read 00.00 ftl as expected.
In THX mode, color temperature was good: 6421K (x0.309 y0.329) at 20 IRE and 6542K (x0.313 y0.335) at 80 IRE. Our sample, according to LG, was brand spanking new. We do not know if there’s a break-in period that would yield an even more accurate gray. Another question we are investigating.
The Rec. 709 HDTV color, the default for THX what we could call “spot on” as it was within the accuracy range of our spectroradiometer (spec in parentheses) with red x0.644 y0.329 (x0.640 y0.330), green x0.300 y0.604 (x0.300 y0.600), blue x0.147, y0.064 (x0.150 y0.060).
We checked out the signal processing, using the HQV DVD (SD) and Blu-ray (HD) discs. The 55EA9800 aced all the tests indicating high quality deinterlacing and standard definition upconversion.
We asked LG how the OLED makes a picture and are waiting for a response. Specifically, is it like LED LCD, using a method called sample and hold, or more plasma’s method, called pulse-width modulation. Based on the video we captured using our high speed camera (at 480 and 1000 frames per second) we believe it’s sample and hold at a 60 Hz frame rate. Another test that seemed to back up this hypothesis is our motion resolution test, which provided the same result as 60 Hz LED LCD (a disappointing 320 lines of resolution per picture height). LG does offer its Tru Motion mode, which brought resolution up to 630 lines (about the same as 120 Hz LCD), but introduces the soap opera effect of making film more like video.
The screen’s surface is smooth and does reflect bright room objects. This is somewhat negated by the curve, as it limits the room area the screen is aimed at, perhaps another reason LG choose to go with the bend in the US market.
Our last test was with a 0 IRE black screen. There were around 50 or so stuck sub-pixels either white, blue or green (no red). They are extremely small, like stars in the night sky. Our good friends at Digital Trends were kind enough to let us show you their time exposure on right. For a full size image go to the link above. Photo image was taken with a 4 second exposure on a Nikon D8000 with 50mm f/1.8 lens
We could not see this on active content, except for two close together in the black letterbox band at bottom at a viewing distance of six feet. It’s invisible at normal viewing distances (9-10 feet). To put this in perspective, there are 8,294,400 sub-pixels across the screen. These 50 represents only 0.0006% of the image. Is this typical of the LG OLED, or OLED in general? We don’t yet know, and are waiting for an answer. While interesting, dead or stuck sub-pixels are not an OLED-only phenomenon (ask many LCD owners), but we believe it will only bug the most anal-retentive videophiles with test discs while viewing two feet from the screen.
Picture Performance and Conclusion (for now)
While these detailed tests are what you’ve come to know from HD Guru, they perhaps don’t tell the whole story with the LG OLED. The combination of infinite contrast, bright highlights and accurate color made the image to appear jaw-dropping amazing, easily some of the most gorgeous video displayed we’ve ever seen. We loved every disc’s reproduction we popped into the player, and it may well be the best TV picture available today. I’m including in that statement the fact we’ve seen two plasma TVs this year with the best picture quality ever (or so far, I should say).
However, because of the unanswered questions raised with our tests, we are withholding a rating for now. We’ll update once we can determine if our sample was typical for the 55EA9800.
If you want to be dazzled by how good an HD image can be, and you are lucky enough to be in a city that will be selling them at Magnolia/Best Buy, pay them a visit. At $15,000 it’s the Ferrari of televisions. Also like a Ferrari, the 55EA9800 offers incredible performance, and while financially beyond our reach, is damn pleasing to look at.
Disclosure – LG paid travel expenses
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