There's a lot of ingredients that contribute to the picture quality you see on your TV at home, but the two most important are the quality of the source and the quality of the display.
High dynamic range (HDR) video, whether from streaming sources like Netflix and Amazon, or 4K Blu-ray discs, is the best source you can watch at home today. LG deserves credit for being the first TV maker to support both types of HDR content, Dolby Vision and HDR10, with its 2016 TVs. Today at least, that means TVs like the UH8500 can access more HDR TV shows and movies than other devices.
That leaves the display part of the equation, which is where the UH8500 comes up short. At CES I called out LG's "Super UHD" marketing term, denoting its best non-OLED TVs, as openly derivative of rival Samsung's SUHD brand. Now that I've had a chance to compare both TVs directly, side-by-side, it's clear that the LG UH8500 is the less "super" of the two.
LG's OLED TVs, on the other hand, really are super. In fact, the 55-inch member of the UH8500 series costs just as much as the 55EG9100, LG's cheapest OLED. In terms of source compatibility and cutting-edge features, the UH8500 is superior. But for pure picture quality, the lowly non-4K, non-HDR curved OLED is much better. It's not even close.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch 55UH8500, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specifications and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
LG also makes a couple of other related series grouped under the Super moniker, the UH7700 and UH9500 series. Both have similar picture quality to the UH8500 reviewed here, according to LG. The only image quality difference the company specified was in color gamut; the more-expensive 8500 and 9500 models cover 90 percent of the DCI/P3 color space, and the 7700 about 84 percent (see below for more). The 8500 and 9500 also have 3D while the 7700 does not. Between the 8500 and 9500, the only difference is styling; the 9500 has an "Ultra Slim design with 4-sided even bezel" according to LG.
Metallic TV, motion remote
TVs today look basically the same, with thin frames and more or less-thin cabinets, so the major external difference often comes down to color: black or silver? The quietly attractive LG UH8500 goes the mostly-silver route with its metallic finish, leaving just a thin strip of black butting up against the screen. LG also continues its recent quirk of coloring the back of the TV white.
The remote is basically the same as last year, and I'm a fan. LG kept its trademark motion control, which allows you to whip around the menus with a responsive cursor rather than a plodding directional keypad. That keypad is still available too, if you want it, along with a slick rubberized scroll wheel.
The clicker is bigger than many and relies more on buttons than the menu system, but since they're logically placed and easy to differentiate by feel, I don't mind. Cable box control is prominent, although control for other devices isn't nearly as advanced as Samsung's system. On the other hand, motion control did work on all the apps we tried, and LG says it works on every app in the system.
Web OS is OK, but not as good as other Smart TVs
I prefer the competing 2016 Smart TV systems from Samsung, Sony (Android TV) and especially Roku TV over LG's latest incarnation of its Web OS smart TV system. I appreciate that LG's menus are snappier and easier to use than before, and the new "focus zoom" to magnify on-screen selections is cool, but they seem more cluttered -- especially now that there's an ad on the home page -- and less intuitive than the others.
4K streaming with Dolby Vision HDR is available from Netflix, Amazon and Vudu, which outpaces the HDR selection of Samsung (which lacks Vudu's HDR) and Vizio (which lacks Amazon's) and matches Sony's. 4K-capable apps include YouTube and Xfinity's lame 4K sampler, formerly exclusive to Samsung, which only works for Comcast subscribers.
Other apps are hit or miss. You get Hulu, Crackle, MLB TV, Plex, Google Play Movies and TV, Spotify and Pandora, for example, but LG's system is missing both HBOs (Go and Now), Showtime (or Anytime), Pluto TV, Sling TV, Watch ESPN, CBS All Access, PBS, PBS Kids and more. Roku and Android TV have all of those, and many more niche apps too, while Samsung's selection is about the same, give or take a few services.
To browse new apps you'll visit the LG Content Store, which also lists TV shows and movies from different streaming services. It's a frustrating way to find new stuff to watch. The suggestions are sort of a hodgepodge, menu design is less than intuitive and pricing from Amazon isn't listed until you click through. You can also search TV shows and movies via voice or text, but results are presented in a confusing way, and again less satisfying than Roku, Samsung or Android TV, despite decent voice recognition.
In the end LG's system is good enough to get the job done, but today's external streaming devices, and many competitive Smart TV systems, are superior.
Key TV features
|Display technology:||LED LCD|
|LED backlight:||Edge-lit with local dimming|
|HDR compatible:||HDR10 and Dolby Vision|
|Smart TV:||Web OS|
Features and connectivity
The big standout here is compatibility with both types of HDR format, but even beyond that the UH8500 is well-equipped. Its edge-lit backlight uses local dimming, although since it has an IPS-style panel, its overall contrast is still limited (see Picture Quality for more). Like most 4K LCD sets the UH8500 has a 120Hz refresh rate; its "TruMotion 240Hz" specification is so much hooey.
LG's website lists "LG IPS 4K quantum display" as a feature, but don't confuse that with actual quantum dots, like those found in Samsung's SUHD TVs. Instead, according to LG, it refers to general improvements made to the panel (color gamut, screen brightness and contrast). There's also a "Tru Black Panel" feature that "reduces stray light from being emitted in order to create a deeper black level" according to the company. Not deep enough, according to me.
The UH8500 is one of the few TVs available today to include 3D, a particularly notable feature since Samsung canned that feature in 2016. The combination of LG's passive 3D and 4K resolution should warm the hearts of third-dimension fans everywhere. LG includes two pair of 3D glasses (I didn't test 3D performance for this review, and don't plan to do so unless there's a revolt in the comments section).
- 3x HDMI inputs with HDMI 2.0a, HDCP 2.2
- 3x USB ports
- 1x component video input
- 1x composite video input (shared with component)
- Ethernet (LAN) port
- Optical digital audio output
- RF (antenna) input
- Remote (RS-232) port (minijack)
Most competitors offer four HDMI but the UH8500 makes do with three, although all are state-of-the-art. Unlike many of Samsung's sets, this one actually has an analog video input for legacy (non-HDMI) devices.
Despite the fancy-sounding features and cutting-edge compatibility, the UH8500 is not among the best-performing TVs available. It shows some strengths, including accurate color and the excellent bright-room qualities of high light output and an effective anti-reflective screen. But washed-out black levels and excessive blooming, especially evident with HDR material (regardless of format) resign its overall picture quality to a level below most peers.
Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.
Dim lighting: Although better than the Sony in a dark room environment, the UH8500 still fell a good deal short of the Samsung, the Vizio and the OLED in this important category, and didn't look much better than the Insignia. As usual the difference was best revealed during some difficult dark scenes, including the evening and nighttime shots during Chapter 4 of "The Revenant." The letterbox bars, shadows and other dark areas of the LG's were relatively light, making the overall image appear much less contrasty and impactful than the three superior sets.