LG's smaller 4K TVs get local dimming

Samsung, Sony, and LG have all announced insanely expensive 4K TVs in "smaller" 55- and 65-inch sizes, but only LG's tout full-array local dimming, which may allow its TVs to outperform the others.

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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LG's 65-inch Ultra HD TV
LG's 65-inch Ultra HD TV LG

LG has joined Sony and Samsung in offering 4K (UHD) TVs in sizes smaller than 84 inches and with prices less than five figures.

But the Korean TV maker, whose 84-inch 84LM9600 was the first 4K TV available for sale in the U.S. when it launched last fall, does its rivals one better by implementing full-array local dimming in its new sets.

The 55-inch 55LA9700 and 65-inch 65LA9700 are shipping to select U.S. retailers now, and sell for $5,999 and $7,999 respectively. That's $500 more than Samsung's 4K TVs of the same size and $1,000 more than Sony's, but the difference might be worth it if the LGs live up to the promise of their local-dimming systems.

That's a big "might" and a bigger "if," but on paper there's a chance. According to LG, "The Micro Pixel Control has hundreds of blocks of LEDs throughout the back of the panel that can individually brighten and dim, which enables the deepest, darkest, and most natural colors for superior picture performance." The company uses Nano branding to differentiate its full-array local dimming from lesser edge-lit varieties, like the LED Plus touted for the step-down LA8600 series, including the 84-inch 4K set.

Meanwhile Samsung and Sony also use edge-lit dimming on their 55- and 65-inch 4K TVs. On the other hand, the non-4K versions of those sets, the F8000 for Samsung and KDL-55W900A for Sony, have the same edge-dimming systems and manage to deliver superb picture quality -- better by a long shot than last year's Nano-dimming-equipped LG LM9600, for example. So yeah, a slim chance, but still a chance.

Even though dimming and the superior contrast ratio it creates have a much larger impact on picture quality than resolution, the main selling point of the LA9700 series will be its 4K pixel array. 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 screens of this size, to appreciate the difference (check out my review of the 50-inch Seiki SE50UY04 for a taste). There are many other issues, too, to the extent that we currently consider 4K TVs pretty stupid.

Unlike Sony, LG hasn't tried to address one big issue with 4K: lack of actual 4K content. Of course the LA9700 will convert standard high-def sources for display on its 4K screen, via a fancy-sounding process called Tru-Ultra HD. According to the company, "Picture quality is upscaled through a four-step process that enhances the detail of your show, movie, game or sport, so that you can enjoy the benefit of 4K resolution today." Samsung and Sony tout similar processing.

HDTVtest reports that the U.K.-based equivalents of the LA9700 will be the first 4K sets equipped with the HEVC codec built in. That's potentially a great thing, as HEVC will be the standard for 4K content delivered over the Web, but its benefits today are scant. There's also no reason why Samsung, at least, couldn't upgrade its 4K sets to also handle HEVC (and HDMI 2.0, for that matter) via future Evolution Kits.

LG also talks up its speaker: "LG's unique sliding sound bar provides sound quality that complements the impressive 4K resolution of LG's Ultra HD 4K TVs. When you aren't watching TV, the sound bar automatically recedes, allowing you to maintain a minimalist design."

Of course the LA9700 also includes the rest of the company's bells and whistles, such as passive 3D, the Magic Motion remote with voice control, and an all-new Smart TV system with a content recommendation engine called On Now that suggests content from on-demand and cable and satellite services.

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