Review: LG 8K 88Z9 OLED TV Delivers Big-Screen Punch
LG’s 88-inch 8K OLED and 75-inch 8K “Nano Cell” LED-LCD TVs are finally here and after a recent review of the 8K 88Z9 8K OLED model we can say we’re mightily impressed.
The jewel of the pair is the world’s first giant-screen 8K OLED set for the home, which we review here. This will set you back a cool $29,999.99 unilateral pricing policy (UPP) price, but its picture and sound performance packs a considerable punch. For all of that dough you’ll get a large, colorful screen with near perfect black reproduction, better than 98% DCI-P3 wide color gamut coverage with rich life-like tones and what LG likes to call “real 8K” resolution performance, compared to some competitive LED-LCD approaches.
The LG 8K 9 Series NanoCell TV is also an impressive piece of tech, with its color enhancing “NanoCell” enhancement film technology, a nice bright screen, and wide IPS-LCD viewing angle. But the set doesn’t match the rich, deep black levels of the 8K OLED model and the full-array LED back lighting with local dimming still yields blooming and haloing issues that washout otherwise dark backgrounds.
We’ll get more into the “real 8K” story for both models below, but understand the primary benefit of that 7680 x 4320 pixel resolution on an 8K screen is to help fill the giant viewable surface area with 4x greater pixel density than 4K Ultra HD displays. This makes it harder to see any pixel structure on the screen from a viewing distance of about 8-feet. The 8K message also underscores the ability to produce images that look more real than any previous resolution display technology, and packs all of those added pixels with purer colors and a wider contrast range between near black and brilliant bright white. The 8K OLED set offers stellar wide contrast performance with rich deep blacks that don’t suffer washout, or distracting haloing or blooming effects around bright objects on dark backgrounds (think star-lit deep space movie scenes where stars seem to be surrounded in unnatural cloudy haze). Wide viewing angles are also contrasty and colorful. This is a major plus for anyone who likes to throw big event viewing parties, where guests will be sitting all around the screen.
Is it the perfect television? No, and neither is any 8K television introduced to date. The set doesn’t get particularly bright in comparison to large-screen 8K full-array LED-backlit LCD TVs from Sony and Samsung and this somewhat diminishes the impact of bright pin-point specular highlight effects that tend to give images a greater sense of 3D dimensionality. Like other OLED TVs, it has a glossy screen surface that tends to reflect light from the room back at the viewer, making it advantageous to watch in a completely dark or deeply darkened environment.
Another thing we’ve noticed from all very big-screen TVs, even those that are 8K, is that despite using some very advanced and impressive AI upscaling systems designed to make lower-resolution 4K, Full HD, HD and SD content fill the screen with minimal replication of artifacts and image background noise, problems still get through in some material; In big blown-up images viewed from a distance of about 8 feet, these issues tend to be more easily picked up by the eye.
So, for example, image judder (which is a problem in OLED and LCD TVs alike) tends to be more pronounced with the smooth motion adjustment turned off. Turning this up along with clear motion enhances the dreaded soap opera effect (SOE) that many filmmakers disdain. However, with LG’s TruMotion system defeated, SOE went away but we saw stuttered pans of trees in the forest scenes from the 4K Ultra HD version of The Revenant. In addition, issues with background noise and blocking around credit lettering (as we saw in the opening title sequence of Psycho from an upconverted DVD), still come through. That said, these tend to be niggling issues and we expect most content played will be upconverted 4K or Full HD source material, which generally looks sharp and clean on this display. In fact, the excellent overall picture quality from the LG 88Z9 was immersive enough to keep us fully engaged when viewing for entertainment rather than critical analysis.
8K Nano Cell TV
If $29,999 is too steep for your pocketbook, LG is providing a more affordable 8K entry option in its just launched $4,999.99 75-inch LG 75SM9900PLA 8K NanoCell television from the “9 Series.” LG’s NanoCell TVs are LCDs that have full-array LED backlighting, and a specially developed “NanoCell” color enhancement film that filters out the impurities between colors. This serves to expand the color gamut making shades more natural and accurate. In addition, since the Nano film is at the front of the LCD it helps to absorb room reflections and unwanted light.
The 8K NanoCell TV has a “Nano Bezel” design that is very narrow and harder to see, comprising less than 1% or the viewable screen area.
The `Real 8K’ Position
LG said its 2019 8K OLED and NanoCell TVs exceed international standards for measuring resolution with Contrast Modulation (CM). Higher CM makes for clearer display of fine image and text details. According to the International Committee for Display Metrology (ICDM), when defining resolution, CM must meet certain thresholds. NanoCell TV has a CM of 88% and the 88Z9 surpasses 90%, meaning both deliver so-called “real 8K resolution,” by this international resolution recommendation.
According the relevant part of the 7.8 spec. covering CM it states, “resolution capability is using contrast modulation, and addressability is the number of pixels. But the actual term for resolution defines how well pixels can be distinguished. That’s where the contrast modulation measurement comes in,” said Tim Alessi, LG senior director of product marketing. “If a product can’t meet the recommended thresholds for CM, then it’s actually delivering less resolution than the addressability indicates. So you can have that same number of pixels but you are not really getting the resolution to your eyes.”
Alessi said these definitions have been in place by multiple organizations for many years, but it is only now that we are seeing some new panels coming to market [with new wide viewing angle technologies that rely on subpixel rendering or dithering] that the resolutions start to diverge.
Alessi compared subpixels of an LG 8K screen using a black and white pattern showing 90% CM, which is well within the recommended threshold of 50%. “But on a competitive TV [Samsung Q900R] you see a lot of blurred vertical lines. The eye can’t see the resolution the numbers would indicate,” Alessi said, adding that LG verified the results with an independent testing lab.
Furthermore, when viewing off axis, LG pointed to artifacts, it calls “mosquito netting,” in certain images showing unnatural effects produced by techniques employed by competitors to fix reduced viewing angles on VA LCD panels.
In our assessment, in real-world viewing on any of these 8K displays using upconverted 4K Ultra HD or lower resolution content, it’s doubtful most people who don’t follow techs and specs closely will realize much difference. Remaining to be seen is whether this will become more of an issue as native 8K content sources begin to become more available.
LG’s 8K OLED and NanoCell TVs have some of the most robust selections of inputs in the market. LG has gone to great lengths to ensure its 2019 8K Ultra HDTVs will remain forward compatible with new specifications and formats that will be required or helpful in getting native 8K Ultra HDTV content at high frame rates to the television. LG is equipping its sets with four new HDMI 2.1 inputs supporting the most compelling features, including eARC, Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), Variable Refresh Rate (VRR), and in time full-bandwidth 48 Gbps speeds that will be required for some future native 8K content and frame rates. But with the HDMI 2.1 certification process still underway and with native content delivery systems still evolving, that’s no guarantee today’s 8K TVs are going to work with all future codecs, formats and systems that will undoubtedly emerge as 8K progresses. If you are in the market to buy an 8K TV, make sure you are comfortable with what it can do right now and don’t be shocked if you find yourself upgrading in five or so years.
LG said starting around December it will offer customers who purchase an LG 8K Ultra HD TV an upgrader box that goes in between the source and the set to support HEVC, AV1 and VP9 decoding in all of the native 8K content coming into the TV over USB, the home network or via the HDMI 2.1 inputs.
From a design standpoint, the LG 88Z9 has elegant contemporary styling, with the large thin OLED screen sitting atop an integrated stand that contains some of the set’s circuitry. This configuration provides greater screen stability and enhanced built-in sound, but this makes it problematic/”inelegant” for wall-mounted applications. For most, the TV will have to be placed on a floor or, where more elevation is required, atop a secondary pedestal or booster base.
The design is somewhat similar to the 4K rollable OLED TV with integraded screen-cabinet base showed at CES 2019 (that set is now scheduled to hit market next year). The integrated stand design helps improve the sound output from the display’s forward- and downward-firing surround sound speaker system that sends soundtracks (including Dolby Atmos decoded ones) below the screen into the hollow center portion of the stand and out at the audience. The effect presents reasonably good bass and clear vocal dialog, but even with LG’s built-in AI sound calibration we didn’t get the sense that we were totally enveloped in music and sound effects.
Do you need one?
Whether you should buy an LG 88Z9 or not deepends on how important getting the best possible picture out of a very large flat-panel screen is to you. Very big-screen TVs are more popular than ever today, and the added resolution that 4K Ultra HD brings is responsible for some of that. Going beyond 65-inch screen sizes, individual 4K pixels become larger and more visible from traditional viewing distances in the home. This almost instantly shatters the illusion of reality. So naturally, making pixels smaller and more densely positioned across the screen helps to preserve the illusion of reality. For anyone with the discretionary income looking for good picture quality from a big screen TV right now, this is one of the best televisions you will find.
Just don’t expect to see much in the way of native 8K content anytime soon. As with the launch of HD, Full HD and 4K Ultra HD resolution TVs, it will take a few years before the pipeline is primed with native resolution movies and television programs.
High Dynamic Range
In our testing of the 88Z9 we ran into a glitch with the sample model’s firmware and couldn’t do an AutoCal HDR calibration. However, our evaluation of HDR using Portrait Display’s CalMan software, a C6-HDR colorimeter, and a Murideo Six-G test pattern generator showed the LG 8K OLED set to be nicely setup right out of the box.
In ‘Cinema’ mode, the LG 88Z9 8K OLED tracked the PQ EOTF curve very closely, before rolling off at the TV’s peak brightness level.
We measured HDR peak brightness performance at 685.918 nits, which is a little below where we measured LG’s 4K OLEDs previously. This is a reading that is within the Ultra HD Premium guidelines for an OLED set as determined by the Ultra HD Alliance.
Our Portrait Display’s C6-HDR colorimeter could only measure a zero nits reading for black level although more sensitive spectroradiometers can pick up a slightly level of brightness. Still, this is as close to perfect black as you will find in a consumer television set. We didn’t notice any overt black detail crushing in our real world movie samples. The display tended to present a nice fully visible field of stars from deep space sequences in The Martian on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc .
Wide Color Gamut
We tested the LG 88Z9 with a wide color gamut of 98.3% of the DCI-P3 color space, which makes for very colorful HDR content. Aided by the excellent black level of the display, colors appear rich, and well saturated. Flames from campfire scenes in the Ultra HD Blu-ray version of The Revenant were a nice bright shade of orange and yellow, although the specular highlight brightness levels were somewhat duller than we saw on Samsung’s Q900R 8K QLED sets. Still, coming from the nearly pure black base level the television offered an excellently wide contrast range.
Standard Dynamic Range
The LG 88Z9 presents standard dynamic range (SDR), BT709 content very accurately. After using AutoCal in Portrait Display’s CalMan software, we registered average Delta E grayscale errors of 0.24 where anything below 3.0 is generally regarded as imperceptible.
The television hit all of the color points for BT. 709 very well and registered an accurate D65 white point.
8K Noise Reduction, Upconversion
Other than 8K Ultra HD resolution, the LG 88-inch 88Z9 and 75-inch 9 Series NanoCell have feature sets that are almost identical to what is available in the respective 2019 4K model versions. One exception, available in both 8K models, is a more powerful processor, the a9 8K Gen 2, which adjusts images, action and color utilizing 6-step noise reduction (3 temporal, 3 decontouring). This employs an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm to optimize the amount of processing and type of processing required to improve the image and sound. We found this to do a nice job of not making the image any worse, while reducing some of the issues inherent in the orginal source file. But as previousy mentioned, what can’t be removed tends to be more evident simply because of the larger size of the displayed image.
We were impressed with how well the system reduces or eliminates banding to deliver smooth color transitions in horizons and underwater scenes. This tends to be a difficult problem for some lesser sets.
The LG 88Z9 had very good motion handling overall, but with the TruMotion system turned off, we did observe obvious motion stutter, or judder, especially playing 24p-based content. This can be adjusted in the TruMotion menu settings with black frame insertion and motion interpolation.
The LG 88Z9 8K OLED presented near-perfect black uniformity. It had a similarly good gray screen uniformity after calibration, although a slight shift to red and blue could be seen to the left and right ends of the screen before calibration. We didn’t observe any noticeable dirty screen effect in gray screen viewing.
The 88Z9 8K OLED uses LG’s webOS smart TV platform, and as in the company’s 4K OLED models, this brings support for built-in Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice control interaction. Google Assistant is tied to the remote microphone button and is integrated into the TV’s functions, while Amazon Alexa is accessed by pressing and holding the Amazon Prime Video button.
The platform includes the Home Dashboard that turns the TV into a central control hub to operate connected smart home devices, from smart thermostats to doorbell cameras.
The 88Z9 8K TV supports a range of gaming options via HDMI 2.1 including variable refresh rate (VRR) and Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM). It will connect with the Xbox One X using VRR, but it does not support the AMD FreeSync system, but the TV can instead use the similar VRR feature for Xbox One game play.
We tested the the display for 1080/60p using a Leo Bodnar input lag tester and got a 17.6 ms lag time, which is very good for competitive action.
On-board sound is better than we’ve heard on many high-end televisions, but still somewhat boxier and more narrow in character than would be expected from a full Dolby Atmos/DTS:X home theater surround sound system or advanced soundbar. The sound stage and surround effects can be expanded significantly by adding on WiSA-compatible wireless speakers, subs etc. with Dolby Atmos capability for a full surround setup without the need for AVRs or other audio components. The 88Z9 is equipped with eight speakers, 4.2-channels, with 80 Watts of total power. As in most of the company’s 4K OLED models, the 88Z9’s speakers are located in the back of the TV and are down-firing with plastic reflectors to send the sound out and forward.
If you’ve got the money and want a nice very large-screen television the LG 88Z9 8K OLED TV is one of the better options out there. Of course, as with any 8K TV today, you aren’t likely to see any native 8K content for a few years yet, but these displays make lower-resolution 4K, Full HD and even SD material look great in most cases. Upconverted DVDs will show up some resolution artifacts, but 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray movies just look fantastic. For a dazzling color fest, check out the coral reef scenes from the BBC’s Blue Planet II 4K UHD Blu-ray on this giant 8K OLED screen. It’s jaw dropping.
Of course, you have some other options in both Samsung’s and Sony’s 8K full-array LED LCD TVs, and in each case the picture quality makes for worthy competition. These LED-LCD TVs will get brighter than the OLED, and the added brightness tends to make images appear more real from proper viewing distances. But the ability to present nearly pure black has been winning awards for OLED technologies for a couple of years. We suggest you get to a store for a side-by-side comparison if you can and decide for yourself if you like a brighter picture or a black one. That’s what it comes down to.
LG’s package of HDMI 2.1 inputs, upgrade box for native 8K decoding format support and expanded video gaming capabilities make the LG 88Z9 one of the best flat-panel televisions we’ve ever seen. And for the price of a new car, it should. The 8K OLED TV is not for everyone, but well-heeled technophiles will find this has that wow factor they are after, until the upgrade in three or four years.
We therefore award the LG 8K 88Z9 five out of five hearts.
By Greg Tarr
Have a question for the HD Guru? HD GURU|Email
Copyright ©2019 HD Guru Inc. All rights reserved. HD GURU is a registered trademark.