LG's less-expensive 4K TVs still, well, expensive

Joining Samsung and Sony in the nacent 4K TV price war, LG debuts its least-expensive versions yet. Like those of LG's compeditors, these TV start at $3500.

David Katzmaier

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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In October 2012 LG was the first of the major TV makers to release a 4K TV. Almost exactly a year later, it's the third to come out with one that costs "only" $3,500.

The LA9650 series is available in two sizes, the 55-inch 55LA9650 ($3,499) and the 65-inch 65LA9650 ($4,999). That's a far cry from the 84LA8600 that debuted last year, an 84-inch TV LG is still selling for $16,999.

Sony and Samsung beat LG to the "55-inch 4K TV for $3.5K" threshold by a few weeks with the X850A and F9000 series, respectively.

The LA9650 series is the new, less-expensive brother to the LA9700 series, which first went on sale in July. The main difference between the two is the presence of a "unique sliding speaker" and a full-array local dimming backlight on the 9700. Owners of the cheaper LA9650 will have to muddle through with an edge-lit local dimming backlight -- the same kind used to middling effect by the LG LA8600 we reviewed earlier -- and stationary speakers.

The specifications of the LA9650 make it appear very similar to the LA8600, but with a 4K-resolution screen. 4K, officially known as Ultra High Definition (UHD), provides four times as many pixels as standard 1080p. That means a pixel count of 3,840x2,160. The advantage, according to 4K's proponents, is an even sharper picture. One problem, according to us, is that you'll have to sit very close, especially to a screen this small, to appreciate the difference (check out my review of the 50-inch Seiki for a taste). There are many other issues, too, to the extent that we currently consider 4K TVs pretty stupid.

Like other 4K TV makers, LG touts the upconversion processing of the LA9650. "The Tru-ULTRA HD Engine is a series of algorithms designed to upscale content." The press release also notes that the TV is equipped with an onboard H.265 (HEVC) decoder, said to help if broadcasters or streaming services implement that codec.

The LA9650 is not HDMI 2.0-compatible out of the box. We've asked whether the company will address this issue, via hardware or firmware like Samsung and Sony promise, and we'll update this post if we hear back.

Although it lacks a built-in pop-up camera, the LA9650 offers the same extras as the LA8600, including passive 3D, a very capable Smart TV platform, and the company's excellent motion remote. Check out the LA8600 review for more details.

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