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LG's rollable OLED TV is incredible, and it's actually going on sale in 2019

When turned off, the screen rolls up and completely disappears, leaving an unassuming piece of furniture.

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Unrolled in TV form it looks perfectly normal.

Sarah Tew/CNET

When I saw the prototype version of LG's roll-up TV last year at CES 2018, I was blown away. The engineers at LG Display had figured out a way for the flexible OLED screen material to roll into a compact tube, just like a window shade or a poster, to disappear from view inside an ugly white box.

Now LG says it will actually sell a real version sometime in the second half of 2019. Provisionally dubbed the Signature Series OLED TV R and available only in a 65-inch size, it looks a lot nicer than the prototype. Pricing hasn't been set, but you can expect it to be really, really expensive. 

I spent some hands-on time with the final design in LG's suite at CES 2019, and came away impressed. It feels like a finished product, something a wealthy buyer with a huge swath of windows and a million-dollar view would snap up in a heartbeat.

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Rolled up, the screen completely disappears.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Turned off, the "TV" is just a piece of furniture reminiscent of a minimalist, modern sideboard or credenza: a low-slung stand supporting a sleek silver box. Cloth conceals a Dolby Atmos sound system and a full-width sliding door on the top back conceals the screen itself. 

Now playing: Watch this: Watch LG's rollable OLED TV in action at CES 2019
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Power the TV on and the door slides back and the screen slowly majestically rises out of the box, unrolling and achieving its full height in a few seconds. And suddenly, there's a big TV.

Press the button again to power it off and the TV screen goes black and descends back into its box, the door slides shut and it's furniture again. It's like no TV you've ever seen.

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The screen can peek up just a little to display photos, a clock and more.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's also more versatile. A button on the remote lets you put the TV into "line view," where it rolls back up and descends into the box until maybe a quarter of the screen is visible. LG has designed a special home page for this short, wide screen shape, and it can display a clock with weather, personal photos or moving ambient designs. And the screen can disappear completely while music plays -- the set's sound system can interface with your phone via Bluetooth.

Unrolled in TV form, the television screen looks stiff and solid. The OLED screen material itself is affixed to numerous thin horizontal bars that support its structure, raised and lowered by a pair of riser arms on the back side. It's wild. And the sample showed no wrinkles or signs of stress from rolling up that I could discern.

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The back consists of a bunch of horizontal slats, raised and lowered by a pair of arm to either side. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

LG says the TV has been tested to 50,000 rolls up or down. So if you turned it on or off eight times a day it would last 17 years. I asked whether LG would offer additional warranty coverage on the rolly-uppy bits and company reps said that hadn't been determined.

I also asked whether the TV could be oriented upside-down, so it rolled down from a box on the ceiling. Tim Alessi, LG's Director of New Product Development, replied: "The first model of rollable OLED was designed to roll up only. Even if a professional were to figure out a way to hang it from the ceiling, there is no mechanism to re-orient the picture, so it would appear upside down. It's also likely that mounting it from an 8-foot ceiling would result in the panel being too high for comfortable viewing anyway."

Aside from its sleeker silver remote and incredible design, this 65-inch set is just like LG's other 2019 4K OLED TV. In our tests, organic light-emitting diode-based televisions produce the best picture quality available today, and the company promises improved processing, HDMI 2.1 and some other tweaks this year.

Now the only question is: Which will be more expensive, the roll-up OLED or the 88-inch 8K resolution OLED? We'll see.

Correction: LG originally said the TV would be able to descent partway to show 21:9 ultra-widescreen movies without letterbox bars. That feature is not confirmed, although LG might add it by launch time or after with a software update.

Updated January 15 with "roll-down" mode quote from Tim Alessi.

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