LG 55EC9300 OLED HDTV Review
Contrast is king when it comes to the most eye-catching TV visuals.
The soon to be extinct plasma TV was prized for its ability to produce a deep black, and a new technology called an organic light emitting diode (OLED) is poised to take the flat panel crown with superb picture performance in thin, efficient designs.
The latest, the 55EC9300, is the cheapest per-inch to date. Here’s our review.
Size, Style, and Setup
The 55-inch LG 55EC9300 delivers its LG-defined “Infinite Contrast” with an eye-catching design. The EC9300’s slightly curved screen measures about 0.21 inches thick, while a casing on the center of the back contains the inputs and other support electronics. It adds about another 1.3 inches. The EC9300’s screen is encircled with a hint of chrome trim barely visible from the front. The active portion of the picture nearly fills the area inside the chrome, with just a dark strip, measuring about 0.4 inch, framing its edge.
The TV’s matte silver-colored base is factory attached for simplified setup. The base’s centered support places the feet about 12 inches apart, and the curved front and rear edges of the base taper cleanly up toward the sides of the screen. Poised on its base, TV’s screen is slightly angled back.
The EC9300 also incorporates two M6-sized fastener points for hanger-style wall-mounting hardware. This configuration may require use of the TV’s side HDMI inputs, and a recessed power outlet, in order to avoid the use of a spacer along the upper edge of the panel.
Inputs on the rear of the EC9300 include 4 HDMI with one ARC-enabled port, and another that’s MHL-ready. An included dongle provides a component video input, and an optical digital output is available for use with integrated tuner and app output to external audio equipment. Wireless connections include a/b/g/n WiFi and Bluetooth v3.0. A trio of USB inputs made connecting external storage devices a breeze, and LG offers an optional Skype-ready USB camera.
OLED is an emissive display technology, like plasma, that doesn’t require the backlight, light guide, and filter layers of traditional LCD televisions. The 55EC9300’s screen offers per-pixel illumination that renders the black bars of letterboxed movies invisible in a dimly lit room, while at the same time, providing the desirable brightness of an LCD.
Compared to LCD TVs that feature ‘local dimming,’ which boosts apparent contrast by controlling backlight output across a limited number of zones, the EC9300 is able to control it’s illumination on a per-pixel level for superb results that eliminate artifacts such as halos and hot spots.
3D Done Right
For 3D home theater enthusiasts, the EC9300 offers among the best viewing experiences I’ve enjoyed to date. The TV’s passive 3D technology enables the use of lightweight, unpowered polarized glasses that split the screen resolution between each eye, where the brain will supposedly blend it into a full-resolution picture – assuming idea biological conditions, particularly eyesight. Active 3D technology with 1080p resolution displays deliver full resolution to each eye. The four pairs of polarized glasses provided included two clip-on lenses for prescription glass wearers. 3D imagery appeared bright and detailed with a minimum of crosstalk.
An alternative use of the TV’s 3D functionality provides gamers with two distinct 2D views, via a Dual Play option that transforms a two-player split-screen setup into separate full-screen views. Optional Dual Play-enabled 3D glasses are required to use this feature.
The down-firing stereo speakers (40 watts total power) built into the EC9300’s rear casing cannot compare to a decent soundbar or dedicated surround sound system, but I was impressed with its tonal quality. They delivered a clear and warm listening experience. A menu option for optimizing sound output for stand or wall-mount configurations seemed to actually degrade the listening experience (tested with stand attached and placed on a low table) so I ended up leaving this feature at its default (off) setting.
WebOS and the Magic Remote
The TV’s Freespace-enabled Magic Remote provides Nintendo Wii-like cursor control for its beautiful WebOS-based interface using an RF link that eliminates the need for sight to the TV. The uncluttered remote design proved comfortable to hold and operate although its initial cursor speed was too quick for my taste. An adjustment of the related menu control tamed it nicely.
I was mildly surprised to find the otherwise feature-rich EC9300 lacked Bluetooth keyboard support nor did the LG TV Remote Android app provide keyboard input functionality. However, use of the TV’s on-screen keyboard with the Magic Remote was accurate and relatively fast.
The WebOS interface’s visual appeal, with its animated tabbed options along the bottom edge of the screen, was tempered somewhat by its overall sluggishness. Nearly every menu selection required a second or two to respond, and I was grateful for the ‘thinking’ animation to confirm my requested actions.
Configuring the TV’s over-the-air (OTA) tuner highlighted its good sensitivity as it pulled in local stations with ease and stability. The EC9300’s Live Menu channel guide appears on the right third of the screen and displays channel information for three stations at a time. I prefer a full-screen grid-style channel guide like that of the Samsung HU8550, but the scroll wheel on the EC9300’s Magic Remote made for an easy shortcut to quickly select a particular channel. Also, the EC9300 didn’t force detail-destroying overscan with 720p broadcasts the way the HU8550 did.
A close-up look at the EC9300’s screen reveals a four-colored sub-pixel design: red, green, blue, and white. Furthermore, LG’s OLED technology utilizes an LCD-like color filter illuminated from behind by “white” OLED material. One advantage of this configuration is its relative simplicity compared to the RGB OLED materials in other manufacturers’ offerings. The white sub- pixel also offers efficiency benefits in that it produces white light directly, rather than through the combined output of all three RGB sub-pixels (like what every other TV uses).
The 55EC9300 delivered superb off-axis viewing that bested my favorite plasma, Samsung’s F8500. And compared to LCDs, like Samsung’s HU8550, the LG maintained excellent picture contrast and color saturation when viewed from anywhere in the room. The TV’s curved screen also proved effective at minimizing room light reflections, and its LCD-like brightness delivered a pleasing viewing experience in a brightly lit room.
It’s worth noting that OLED TVs function similar to plasma displays in that they are dynamic display devices: they consume power based on the relative brightness of what’s being displayed. So the brighter the image, the more power they draw. In addition, the display voltage is regulated: a full-frame of 100% white measures about a third as bright as the 10% window measurement of 84.64 ft lamberts. When viewing Blu-ray, broadcast, and streaming content, I found that small white video elements like a sports score graphic or the TV’s signal information overlay do appear significantly brighter than any full-frame bright scene but it was never objectionable.
Unlike my favorite plasma TV, the EC9300 exhibited no signs of uneven pixel wear (aka burn-in) or image retention during use.
With all motion video exams, the EC9300 exhibited excellent picture uniformity similar to a plasma display. One case where I did observe uniformity issues was with very dark static backgrounds with a worst case being the Netflix app’s spot-lit launch logo with its very dark gradient background. Vertical banding was noted in this particular instance but was unobserved in regular video content.
Also, the EC9300 review sample I received exhibited a very slight green hue along the screen’s left edge. This artifact was less pronounced at viewing distances beyond seven feet and when viewed from left of center of the screen. This artifact was particularly noticeable when displaying a light gray background that included the TV’s settings menu, but I didn’t find this to be distracting when viewing regular video content.
Contrast and Color
With a test setup utilizing DVDO’s excellent AVLab TPG and SpectraCal’s CalMAN v5 software, the 55EC9300’s factory-calibrated Cinema picture preset delivered a very good ColorChecker result. This measurement tests the accuracy of 20 hues scattered across the Rec. 709 color space, and the TV’s dE2000 (Delta E 2000 formula) average of 1.68 and maximum of 2.83 (sub-3.0 being ideal; lower is better) is the best I’ve recorded in 2014.
Grayscale results with the LG factory setup were decent as well with an average DeltaE of 2.4 – again, sub-3.0 being ideal. RGB balance across the grayscale revealed extra blue/red in the darker grays and a touch too much red in the brighter grays.
Grayscale and color calibration of the EC9300 proved challenging, as the related gain/bias picture controls were highly interactive. The TV’s white balance setup provides an option to duplicate the values across inputs, but other calibration controls including color management, gamma, and even basic picture settings lacked a mechanism to copy the values to other inputs.
Viewing tests using an array of streaming and Blu-ray titles highlighted the TV’s epic picture contrast that included good dark detail representation and beautifully saturated color. Apparent color accuracy and gradation appeared appealing, natural, and artifact free.
Experimenting with the EC9300’s custom de-judder and de-blur controls revealed that enabling maximum de-blur resolved fine detail in motion resolution benchmark tests, although enabling even the least amount of video noise reduction slightly degraded interlaced HD motion detail. Also, the EC9300 was unable to match the absolute motion detail clarity of the Samsung HU8550 UHD LCD TV in side-by-side comparisons.
The EC9300’s processing of interlaced HD video proved solid with content derived from 24p (film-based) and 30p/60i material. A processing feature called Real Cinema (enabled by default) performs a 5x frame repeat of 24p material matching the TV’s 120Hz refresh rate without introducing any undesirable smoothing from frame interpolation. However, enabling a little bit of de-judder via the TV’s TruMotion setting helped smooth out the more glaring strobing artifacts noted in quickly-panned scenes in film content.
Response time measurements revealed the 55EC9300’s Cinema picture preset introduced an average of 108ms of video lag according to the Leo Bodnar Lag Tester . Switching to the TV’s Game picture preset brought the lag down to 50ms. Renaming the HDMI input to “PC” (one of several preset name options) and using Game mode brought the average lag measurement down to 34ms.
Best Pricing Ever
About a year ago, a 55-inch OLED TV cost about $15,000. Six months later, the price had nearly halved. And today, the LG 55EC9300 brings the cost of OLED ownership down to an enticing $3500, with further price reductions likely in the near future. (Note: the LG 55EC9500 is now available for a short time at Best Buy or Amazon for $2999 click the links for the respective pages.) I predict that 1080p OLED televisions will be mainstream within a year and 2160p UHD4K OLED will soon take over as the premium home theater display option.
The most important feature of the LG 55EC9300 is its superior level of picture performance at increasingly affordable prices. The EC9300 delivered the contrast performance of the best plasma televisions while matching the brightness and efficiency of LCD technology. With its good factory-calibrated picture and appealing design, anyone interested in being an early adopter of OLED technology will find the 55EC9300 to be the deal of the year. It’s the first TV that truly offers infinite contrast. Never before have I encountered an HDTV with picture performance of this quality.
Disclosure: Review sample was obtained as manufacturer’s loan.
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