Anyone who sees an OLED TV in the flesh is wowed by its technology. It combines the brightness advantages of LED screens with the deep black levels and rich contrast of plasma displays. It then squeezes them into an unbelievably thin panel. The frustrating thing, however, is that OLED panels have proved tricky to manufacture at the larger screen sizes needed to create big tellies.
LG's 55EA980V may not have a mainstream price -- it costs a whopping £5,000 -- but it does prove that it's possible to produce real OLED TVs that can be sold in the shops rather than just one-off prototypes for showing off at tradeshows. So, when it's actually sitting in a normal living room, does it look and perform as well as we were expecting?
2D picture quality
It's obvious straight away when you switch on the EA980V that it's something special. Its black levels are just so deep and rich that they surpass anything I've seen before on a TV. When you're watching it with the lights off, the picture actually seems to float in front of you. The dark areas are so perfectly black that you can't see where the black bars on a Blu-ray movie start and the edges of the screen ends.
It's actually slightly disconcerting at first, as even on exceptionally good plasma screens, such as Panasonic's ZT65, the black areas of the screen glow so you can quite easily see the edges of the display. Here though, they just blend into the surrounding darkness. The self illuminating nature of OLED screens mean that there's none of the horrible blotchiness in backlighting you get on LED screens. On this display, each individual pixel is its own light source -- there's no backlight -- so darker areas of the picture really do look properly dark.
Also, because it doesn't have to dim the screen in blocks in the way that LEDs with local dimming do, you can have areas of extreme brightness right next to areas of total blackness. This means it can reproduce pictures with huge levels of contrast, making its images look exceptionally punchy. It was also a superb performer in terms of colour, as it delivers a really natural colour balance with beautifully vivid hues when called for and more subtle tones where needed.
The display isn't totally perfect though, as unfortunately it does suffer from motion blur and some judder. Basically, with all processing turned off it has pretty similar levels of blur to most LED displays. On our video motion blur test it had native motion resolution of 300 to 400 lines. If you turn on processing you can improve things substantially to around 600 to 700 lines. In the real world this reduces the blur on quick movement in video. For example, it gives a cleaner looking image on camera pans in footy matches.
Thankfully, it was possible to get rid of most of the worst of the blur and judder by using less aggressive motion-processing settings. In the motion-processing menu, adjusting both the deblur and dejudder settings to 1 seemed to work quite well. Really, though, I thought these issues were relatively minor compared to the overall performance of the TV.
What's also interesting about this TV is its curved screen. LG has decided to bend the screen mainly because it can. I wasn't initially a huge fan of the curve, but the arc is quite gentle and as a result reasonably subtle when you're watching the TV. After a day I'd grown quite used to it. My main problem with it was that I just didn't see much benefit to it. It didn't make me feel like the picture was any more enveloping or engaging, it just makes the set harder to position comfortably in a room if there are lots of people watching it, or to wall mount it.
But let's not get hung up on the negatives, because this TV really is amazingly engaging to watch. Movies just look mind-blowingly good thanks to its excellent colour and contrast performance. Last year saw the release of some really great plasma screens, such as Panasonic's ZT65 and Samsung's F8500, but I'd take the EA980V over both of them any day of the week.
3D picture quality
LG invented passive 3D so it's no surprise that this set uses the passive rather than active system. It comes with two pairs of designer glasses as well as two pairs of clip-ons for those who already wear specs. As with all passive glasses these are not powered, so they're very light to wear -- much like putting on a pair of sunglasses.
The downside to using passive 3D on a 1080p set is that it halves the horizontal resolution of 3D pictures. Still, because of the way our brains process visual information it looks more like the image has around two thirds the resolution rather than half. Up close you can see horizontal black lines in the image on the EA980V, but from a normal viewing distance they pretty much disappear and the only time you can tell the image isn't Full HD is on circles or diagonal sharp lines, which can show a few jaggies.
Other than that, the EA980V is a pleasure to watch for 3D viewing. The lack of flicker form the passive glasses makes for a much less tiring 3D experience and helps the 3D images to feel that bit more solid and real. Plus the panel's high brightness levels and deep black levels made even Prometheus look pretty special in 3D. I found that there was marginally too much judder in 3D with Motion Flow turned off, so it was best to use it on its lower settings to smooth some of this out.
The look and layout of the menus on this set match those of other models in LG's current lineup. This is no bad thing, as the menus are easy to use, look inviting and feel speedy to navigate around. There's pretty comprehensive picture controls, so you can tweak everything from the levels of the individual red, green and blue colour channels, to the aggressiveness of LG's motion processing.