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LG OLED TVs don't mess with success in 2018

The best TVs we've ever tested get mostly minor tweaks this year, including improved processing, high frame rate capability and voice control.

LG OLED TV 4K OLED65W8

Sarah Tew/CNET

UPDATE March 5, 2018: LG has set pricing for many of the TVs described below, starting at $2,500. Click here for details. Aside from this update, this article has not otherwise been modified since its initial publication.

If you bought an LG OLED TV in 2017, buyer's remorse probably won't be an issue. 

And if you're waiting for a final round of price drops on a 2017 OLED TV, perhaps timed for the Super Bowl, potential buyer's remorse is not a good reason to wait for the new versions, IMO.

LG's 2017 OLED TVs are our all-time favorites for high-end buyers, and the company's 2018 models look to continue that trend with a lineup, and feature set, that's mostly the same. The biggest improvement is the integration of Google Assistant.

The top-end set for 2018, the W8 series, retains the ultra-thin "wallpaper" design that debuted last year, and the step-down E8 series is similar to last year's picture-on-glass E7, albeit with a slightly slimmer sound bar. The less-expensive series, C8 and B8, keep the more standard-looking, while still super-thin, design.

2018 LG OLED TV Lineup

Series Style Sizes (inches) Shipping Processor
W8 Wallpaper 77, 65 June Alpha 9
E8 Picture on glass 65, 55 June Alpha 9
C8 Blade-slim 77, 65, 55 March Alpha 9
B8 Blade-slim 65, 55 June Alpha 7

New for 2018: Processing, high frame rate, voice control

LG's 2018 OLED TVs have mostly the same picture-affecting features as last year, including perfect black levels, similar light output and color gamut/color volume capabilities, and compatibility with all three major HDR formats. For audio all of the series above continue to support Dolby Atmos, just like most of the 2017 sets, and none of them have HDMI 2.1.

New for this year is the migration of a 77-inch size down to a more mainstream series, the C8, although LG said it would continue to be extremely expensive (the current 77-inch OLEDs cost $10,000). It's also adding a fourth HDR format, "Advanced HDR by Technicolor," which will also be rolled out to 2017 OLEDs.

Now Playing: Watch this: LG's new OLED TVs still look great, offer some upgrades
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Here's the stuff that's unique to the 2018 models.

Alpha 9 processor: LG makes a big deal out of its new image processor, which it calls Alpha 9. Said to improve noise reduction, sharpness, contrast and color (the latter with superior color mapping), it's available on every model except for the least-expensive B8. Beefier processing might sound cool, but LG's OLEDs are already so good that it's tough to image how much they'll improve -- assuming the processing helps rather than hurts the image. 

I asked whether any of the processing could be disabled, and Tim Alessi, LG's Senior Director of Product Marketing replied: "If a user control exists in the UI for a particular attribute, i.e. - sharpness, the degree of sharpness can be adjusted. However, items like the frequency based edge enhancement or depth enhancement do not have user controls (and never have), they're just better ways of performing these functions."

lg-alpha-9-intelligent-processor-2

LG

It will also be interesting to see whether the extra processing will be worth the price difference between the C8 and B8, or better than the processing on Sony's OLED TVs (my guess in both cases: it won't). One thing's for sure, however. After years of saying there's no picture quality difference between its cheapest and most expensive OLED TVs, LG's step-up processor in the 2018 models introduces that old familiar uncertainty. We'll have to wait for the reviews to see for sure.

High Frame Rate (HFR) capability: All of the new LG OLED sets will be able to play back high frame rate (up to 120 frames per second) video, which is smoother, particularly during motion, than standard 60fps video. Again that sounds pretty cool, but there are caveats. No HFR content is available today, although LG says some will be available via streaming later this year. Movies that use higher frame rates, for example, ""The Hobbit" by Peter Jackson and Billy Lynn's "Long Halftime Walk" are controversial, and many viewers don't like the effect. With action video and gaming content, however, it might be more widely accepted. If you really must have the absolute cutting-edge display, then HFR might be worth waiting for, but most users can skip it with no remorse. 

Note that because of its lesser processor, the B8 can't play back content that's both HFR and HDR (high dynamic range). It can handle any other combination of frame rate, resolution and HDR, however, including 4K HFR without HDR, and 2K (1080p) HFR with HDR. The C8 and other Alpha 9 sets can play back 4K+HFR+HDR.

And since they lack HDMI 2.1, none of LG's 2018 OLED sets can handle HFR from external devices like 4K Blu-ray players, just via streaming or over-the-air broadcasts.

LG OLED TV 4K OLED65W8

Sarah Tew/CNET

Voice control with Google Assistant and Alexa: Beyond the picture stuff, the other new addition is built-in third-party voice control. Thanks to Google Assistant built-in you can speak TV-specific commands into the clicker ("switch to Cinema Mode" or "Turn off the TV when this movie ends"), ask about actors in a show you're watching or get a weather report, look at Google Photos, or order pizza. Owners of a Google Home speaker can have it command the TV without needing to use the remote, including the ability to power the set on and off and off hands-free.

LG will also support Amazon Alexa owners with device controls as well, although LG reps said the functionality wouldn't be as comprehensive as with Google Assistant -- you can't control TV power via Alexa, for example. In general I expect the 2018 LG sets to behave similar to Sony's sets, which already offer Alexa control via an app as well as Google Assistant.

Buy now or wait?

In 2018 I expect LG to again offer the cheapest way to get the amazing image quality of OLED, but if you want a new TV now, I see little reason to hold off buying an "old" 2017 set. The new processor's impact will most likely be minor, at best, and high frame rates are niche and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Integrated smart assistants are neat, but hardly a major reason to wait.

If you're not itching to get an OLED TV now, your next best opportunity will likely be fall 2018, when prices will probably drop to their lowest points again. That's a long time from now, however, and in the meantime there'll be plenty of other 2018 TVs announced at CES 2018. Just sit back and enjoy.

Updated Jan. 4 to change "A9" and "A7" to "Alpha 9" and "Alpha 7." Updated Jan. 8, to add media.

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