LG 55EC9300 review:

OLED TV: Best. Picture. Ever.

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars 12 user reviews

The Good The LG 55EC9300 OLED TV's picture betters that of any LCD or plasma TV, with perfect black levels and exceedingly bright whites. It's equally adept in bright and dark rooms, showed accurate color, and looks better from off-angle than any LED LCD. Its 1080p resolution is plenty for a 55-inch screen. The TV looks striking in person, with organic curves and an insane 0.25-inch depth on most of its body.

The Bad Albeit the most-affordable OLED TV yet, the 55EC9300 is still very expensive for a 55-inch TV. Its video processing and color accuracy don't measure up to that of the best TVs, and the curved screen introduces some artifacts.

The Bottom Line The 55-inch LG 55EC9300 offers the world-beating picture quality of OLED TV for the lowest price yet.

8.1 Overall
  • Design 10.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 10.0
  • Value 6.0

Note: A newer version of this product, model 55EG9100, is available.

Videophiles who mourn the loss of plasma, take heart: OLED is better, and thanks to LG it's finally getting cheaper.

The LG 55EC9300 is the cheapest OLED TV yet--the 11-inch Sony XEL-1 from 2008 doesn't count--but $2,500 for 55 inches is still really expensive. (In Australia it's AU$3999 and the model is the EC930T.) On the other hand, considering that its 2013 predecessor launched for five times as much, it's great progress and around the same price as other flagship-level 55-inch TVs, like Samsung's JS9000 SUHD.

But what about 4K, you ask? First off, that resolution is a waste at this screen size unless you're sitting very close, like 4 feet from the screen. Second, the 4K version of this TV costs almost twice as much. Sadly, there's no larger, non-4K version available now, and there might never be one, according to LG. For "bargain" 1080p OLED, it's 55 inches or nothing.

If you want a 55-inch TV, however, the 55EC9300 is my top recommendation. It reproduces darker blacks and brighter whites than any non-OLED TV, for sumptuous images (and I don't say this lightly) you have to see to believe. LG bobbled the color accuracy and video processing somewhat, and yes, I wish it was flat, but none of those problems spoil OLED's supremacy.

The next picture quality battle will be fought between LED LCD and OLED. For this review I compared two of the best new 4K-resolution LED LCD TVs to LG's OLED, and the outcome was never in question. OLED delivers the best picture you can buy today, and the 55EC9300 is the most affordable way to get it into your home.

Editors' Note, October 9, 2015: The TV reviewed here has been discontinued and replaced by the LG 55EG9100 . That model -- new for 2015 -- is nearly identical except for some cosmetic differences in the stand, an updated remote and a newer version of the Smart TV interface.

Editors' Note, June 29, 2015: This review has been updated due to recent price changes and further testing as part of the EG9600 review. Its value rating has been increased from "5" to "6." Note that LG says the official price (or UPP) is still $3500, but its selling price is regularly around $2500 in the U.S.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Design

People like me gush about the picture quality of OLED TVs, but their futuristic razor-thin design will appeal to many TV shoppers even more strongly. This is easily the best-looking TV I've seen this year, and one of the best designs I've ever reviewed.

Unlike the chunky Samsung KN55S9C (which was only on sale briefly in 2013), the LG 55EC9300 takes full advantage of OLED's ability to shrink the depth of the panel to a fraction of an inch. Most of the LG TV measures an incredible quarter-inch thick.

Spoiling the pencil-thin profile is the need for stuff like speakers, a power supply, and, you know, enough body to house the HDMI ports and other connections. All of that lives in a central section that bulges the rear out to a thickness of about an inch and a half.

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Like many newfangled LCD TVs, the LG 55EC9300 is curved. In person the curve appears slightly less drastic than that of the Samsung UNHU9000 but it's still obvious, especially when seen from off-angle. LG will release a series of flat OLED sets later in 2015, but since they're 4K they'll be a lot more expensive than this one.

LG complemented the curve with a graceful, organically curved stand in matte silver that really adds to the TV's gorgeous looks. It provides the requisite floating quality yet still gives the lightweight TV plenty of stability. It doesn't swivel. You can also remove the stand to wall-mount the TV using a special hanger, model OSW100, and a VESA standard wall-mount.

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The remote is a smaller version of the motion clicker I liked so much on sets like the LA8600 from 2013. The new wand is even more compact and button-averse, and unfortunately now lacks backlighting, but I still like it a lot. It fits comfortably in the hand and places all keys, including the brilliant scroll wheel, within easy thumb access. The organic shape still naturally upright on a coffee table, and the clicker doesn't need to be pointed at the TV to function.

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The motion-control aspect, where you wave the wand to move a cursor around the screen much like a Nintendo Wii game controller, simply works. It makes for substantially quicker navigation than a standard remote, especially when dealing with lots of items on-screen at once. Control was pleasingly precise after I chose the "slow" pointer speed, and I loved the scroll wheel for whizzing through long menus.

I'm still annoyed that the "select/OK" action, the most commonly used function on any remote, is a down-press on the scroll wheel. The click is too stiff, and worse, I often scrolled accidentally when trying to simply click. Another annoyance is that the cursor seemed to disappear too frequently, necessitating a button-press or vigorous shake to bring back up. These issues, as well as the LG's reliance on menus instead of buttons for functions like Play and Fast-Forward, and are the main reasons I like Samsung's 2014 remote better.

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I was initially very impressed by the design of LG's Web OS system, but after living with it and using it for a few days on the EC9300, I discovered some flaws. LG's deep settings menus are tailored for the motion aspect with bigger icons and numerous layers, but they're awkward at times, particularly during calibration. Those settings menus often take a while to load as well, although the actual Smart TV menus seemed responsive enough.

Key TV features
Display technology: OLED LED backlight: N/A
Screen shape: Curved Resolution: 1080p
Smart TV: Yes Remote: Motion
Cable box control: Yes IR blaster: Built-in
3D technology: Passive 3D glasses included: 4 pair
Screen finish: Glossy Refresh rate: 120Hz
DLNA-compliant: Photo/Music/Video USB media: Photo/Music/Video
Screen mirroring: Yes Control via app Yes
Other: Optional Skype camera (AN-VC500, $60), Dual-Play 3D glasses (AV-F400DP, $22 for 2 pair)

Features

As a display technology OLED is much closer to plasma than to LED LCD. Where the latter relies on a backlight shining through an LCD panel to create the picture, with OLED and plasma each individual sub-pixel is responsible for creating illumination. That's why OLED and plasma are known as "emissive" and LED LCD as "transmissive" displays.

There's also more than one type of OLED display. Traditional emissive TVs like Samsung's KN55S9C OLED and most plasmas use three subpixels, one each for RGB (red, green, and blue), to create each actual pixel. LG's WRGB OLED TV system, on the other hand, uses OLED material of all three colors sandwiched together, in combination with four filters (clear [or white], red, green, and blue) for each pixel. The additional white subpixel in the LG design is said to add brightness, helping power efficiency. Check out

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LG

For picture quality buffs, OLED is the ultimate display technology, but it's not perfect. In addition to unresolved questions of brightness reduction over time, OLED is more subject to burn-in than LED LCD. The manual reads: "If a fixed image displays on the TV for a long period of time, it will...become a permanent disfigurement on the screen. This...burn-in is not covered by the warranty." It advises owners to avoid displaying 4:3 aspect ratio images and other fixed images for longer than an hour at a time.

Of course, LG's plasma and even its LCD manuals say pretty much the exact same thing, with "long period" defined as "2 or more hours for LCD, 1 or more hour for plasma." In my testing I noticed that the OLED behaved much like a plasma in this regard, retaining certain bright static images, such as test patterns, at about the same rate plasma, but I didn't actually "test" burn-in further than that.

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LG's passive 3D technology makes an appearance on the 55EC9300, complete with two pairs of white glasses and two pairs of clip-ons, designed for glasses-wearing folk like me. If you purchase special glasses (about $22 for two pairs) you can take advantage of the Dual-Play feature that allows you to play split-screen games on the entire screen.

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Smart TV: The 55EC9300 enjoys LG's Web OS suite, which offers a refreshingly simple design and all the capabilities you'd expect from a high-end smart system. That said, it could still use some refinement, and while I prefer it overall to Samsung's more crowded 2014 smart TV offering, my favorite is still Roku TV for its dead-simple layout, easy customization, and profusion of apps.

Later this year LG will roll out an unprecedented upgrade to Web OS version 2.0 later this year, promising improved responsiveness and other tweaks. The 55EC9300 will get the update, although LG says that aven afterward it won't be quite as responsive as 2015 models.

LG's interface immediately impressed me with its thoughtful, colorful layout. Hitting the Home button on the remote brings up a band of diagonally aligned, pastel "cards," lying atop but not obscuring whatever program or app you're watching at the moment. That program stays full-screen as opposed to shrinking to an inset window in favor of of icons, menus, and/or ads.

Notably, Vizio and Sharp have been taking the same approach for years with their simpler overlay bands, and in 2014 Samsung's smart interface is also less intrusive than before, with a similar band of app icons as its initial offering. But LG's interface is prettier than any of those, and the icon band seems more natural and organic.

You can customize and reorder the band to populate it with your favorite apps, and like Roku TV, WebOS aims to treats everything equally. So Netflix and Pandora get cards, of course, but HDMI 1 and 2 do as well, along with the Web browser and local media available from USB or DLNA (WebOS also supports Plex). If you set up cable box control, the name of the input changes to that of your cable system.

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Many smart TV systems require multiple "pages" to show all of the content, but WebOS takes a novel approach. Click to the left of the main band, which LG envisions as "The Past," and a history of the last few apps and other functions used appears. Conversely, the right of the band is "The Future"(above) where reside the additional apps and functions you can launch and/or add to the main band in the middle.

Another click to the "LG Store" takes you to the fire hose; the many many other smaller apps as well as, confusingly, on-demand and live TV offerings too. That's where the design starts to fall apart. The store is a hodgepodge, grouping together TV shows and movies from cable and streaming services, along with apps, in a confusing muddle of thumbnails seemingly designed to overwhelm. Once you delve in, many items are decently categorized, but the paginated system is much more opaque than Samsung or Roku.

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The system has most of major apps covered, with the exception of HBO Go and Showtime Anytime, and in general Samsung and especially Roku offer a wider selection.

The Web browser is also not as polished as Samsung's, but it beats the pathetic offerings found on other smart platforms, and the motion remote greatly eases navigation and typing with the onscreen keyboard easier. Still, you'll want to use your phone, tablet, or PC browser first.

Voice search is accurate enough and does hit your TV listings, but without DVR integration those results are useless. Search also seems to default to opening the browser too often, and wasn't accurate enough to be something I'd want to use regularly. It hits Netflix and Vudu but not Amazon or Hulu Plus, and depending on the term, can surface a crazy-long list of results seemingly unfiltered for relevance, with thumbnails crowded into a tiny side window.

You can also control a cable box with the system. I didn't test that feature this time around, but I was told it's similar to last year; see the LA8600 review if you're curious.

The system felt quick and responsive most of the time, with few delays in bringing up content and other screens, although again it wasn't quite as nimble as Roku.

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Picture settings: LG doesn't stint in this area, with plenty of presets and lots of tweaks for calibrators, particularly in the Expert 1 and Expert 2 settings banks. The main determinant of light output is an OLED LIGHT setting, similar to a backlight control on an LCD TV. The set also offers a few dejudder/smoothing presets and a custom mode that allows you to dial in as much or as little blur and/or soap opera effect as you desire. Two-point and 20-point grayscale, a full color management system, and selectable gamma round out the calibrators' toolbox.

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Connectivity: The back panel houses a quartet of HDMI (one ARC, another with MHL), three USB ports, a composite and a component AV input, and an Ethernet port. That's standard in every way for a TV at this level, and I have no complaints.

As with other LG TVs we've tested, the 55EC9300 is incapable of passing full 5.1 audio from HDMI out via its optical digital jack; it dumbs Dolby Digital down to PCM stereo.

Picture quality

The most important component of picture quality is contrast ratio, and in that arena the LG 55EC9300 trounced the best TVs I had on hand for comparison. That's enough to make it the best-performing TV I've ever reviewed, but it doesn't equal picture-quality perfection.

The LG OLED lagged behind in its color accuracy and also fell short of their video processing prowess, showing more excessive judder at times. Uniformity was not perfect, albeit much better than LCD, and LG's passive 3D showed the same sorts of artifacts I've come to expect from non-4K TVs.

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And then there's the curve. Videophiles will bemoan the slight distortions and strange reflections caused by the 55EC9300's bowed shape. Yes, the curve of LG's set is slightly more shallow than that of the Samsung LED LCDs, but the issues I complained about are still there, albeit to a slightly lesser extent. I won't go into more detail on that curve here, but suffice to say I still wish for more options in flat ( fat chance for now).

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