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LG EG9600 series review: King of TVs comes at princely price

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The Good The LG EG9600 OLED TV's picture betters that of any LCD or plasma TV we've seen, with perfect black levels and exceedingly bright whites. It's equally adept in bright and dark rooms, showed accurate color, excellent uniformity and solid video processing, and looks better from off-angle than any LED LCD. The TV looks striking in person, with organic curves and an insane 0.25-inch depth on most of its body.

The Bad The EG9600 is more expensive than pretty much any other TV of its size. Its video processing, screen uniformity and color accuracy aren't quite as impressive as the best TVs. The curved screen introduces some artifacts, and 3D is finicky. The TV lacks support for future HDR sources via HDMI.

The Bottom Line The incredibly expensive OLED-powered LG EG9600 series delivers the best picture quality we've ever tested.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 10
  • Features 9
  • Performance 10
  • Value 5

If you've ever seen an OLED TV, it should come as no surprise that LG's EG9600 is the best-performing television I've ever tested. I called its predecessor -- the 55EC9300 , the first OLED TV I reviewed -- the "best TV ever" last year. The new, more expensive version is indeed even better.

LG's 2015 OLED TV adds 4K resolution and a couple of other tweaks, but in my side-by-side comparison it looked very similar to the previous version, and better than any other TV in my comparison lineup, hands-down.

That's all because of OLED. Organic light-emitting diode displays have been commonplace in small phone screens for years, but they're still rare and expensive in TV-caliber sizes (only LG has managed to mass produce them). OLED TVs are fundamentally different from LCD TVs, the dominant type today, and deliver better image quality, mainly because they can produce a perfect shade of black that results in truly infinite contrast ratio. Watching an OLED TV next to an LCD in a dark home theater, the difference is profound.

So is the difference in price, and adding the extra resolution of 4K only drives up costs. The 1080p resolution 55EC9300, which LG will continue to produce throughout 2015, is currently about half the price of the exact same size TV with 4K resolution, the 55EG9600. Unless you plan to sit very close, or simply have more money than you know what to do with, you should get the 55EC9300 instead of the 4K version at 55 inches.

Today 55 inches is tiny by TV standards, however, and what home theater geeks like me really want is larger OLED. The 65-inch 65EC9600 doesn't disappoint, and its bigger screen makes all that OLED goodness even better. I really wish LG had decided to make a 1080p, 65-inch version, but company executives say that isn't in the cards. Too bad.

What is in the cards is a flat model in both 55-inch and 65-inch sizes, due later this year. I'm not a fan of the curve used by the EG9600 series and other TVs, but it doesn't ruin the image quality by any means. Neither does the lack of true support for HDR (high dynamic range, the next big advancement in video after 4K), although that might give pause to future-focused buyers with deep pockets. In the end, OLED drowns all doubt in a sea of perfect black. Now we just have to wait for the tide of price to fall.

Update July 7, 2015: Due to a price drop from $8,999 to $6,999 on the 65-inch size in the U.S., the Value rating on the EG9600 series has been changed from a "4" to a "5," increasing the overall rating to 8.0 and 4 stars. The review has not otherwise been modified.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 65-inch 65EG9600, but this review also applies to the 55-inch 55EG9600 series. Both have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

Like most TVs CNET reviews, my review sample was provided by the manufacturer. The original sample LG sent developed an issue midway through the testing process, where a line of stuck pixels appeared down the middle of the screen and stayed there regardless of my efforts to remove it. LG replaced that review sample with a second one, but has yet to provide an explanation of what happened. I consider this incident a fluke, and any owner who saw it as early as I did could resort to the warranty, but still worth mentioning since it's something I've never experienced before.

Design

Sarah Tew/CNET

Thin, curved and gorgeous, the LG EG9600 certainly looks the part of a ridiculously expensive TV. Its face is almost all picture; the frame between image and edge on my 65-inch sample measures a scant 0.4 inches.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A sliver of silver around the rim is visible from the front, and the only other adornment to the TV itself is the illuminated LG logo set into a mirrored semicircle on the bottom. You can dim it or turn it off completely, and if you reach behind the logo you'll find a little joystick that provides volume and input control, as well as menu access.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Adding to the futuristic feel is the trademark thinness of OLED. The top half of the TV measures 0.25 inch thick -- pretty amazing, but still not quite as slim as Sony's XBR-X900C at 0.2 inch. As usual the need to house electronics, a power supply and inputs necessitates a thicker bulge, so the bottom half of the EG9600 widens to about 2 inches. Sans stand, the 65-incher weighs a feathery 44.1 pounds, while the 55-incher tips the scales at 33.7.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you'd like to wall-mount the EG9600 series, you'll need to buy a special wall bracket, model OTW150 ($99). Unlike most TVs it doesn't work with standard VESA mounting kits.

Otherwise you'll use the included stand, a solid-feeling affair with a silver base curved to match the TV. The OCD part of me was annoyed that the stand's curve takes a slightly more aggressive radius than that of the TV. A transparent chunk of acrylic supports the TV itself. The overall effect is less "floaty" than many TV stands, and lacks the beautiful organic sweep of the 55EC9300. For whatever reason LG decided to color the back and the non-detachable power cord of the EG9600 white.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The latest version of LG's Magic Remote is bigger and better than its predecessors. It's medium as opposed to small, and its motion control felt more precise than ever in my hand. The system was very responsive, and as usual I really loved having a scroll wheel for blowing through lists or quickly scanning Web pages. There are a lot more buttons than before, including a numeric keypad and a much-appreciated settings key, so the lack of illumination is annoying. I also don't love the layout -- in particular I kept hitting "3D" when I wanted settings -- but overall it's very good.

Features

Key features

Display technology: OLED LED backlight: N/A
Screen shape: Curved Resolution: 4K
Screen finish: Glossy Refresh rate: 120Hz
Smart TV: Web OS 2.0 Remote: Motion
3D technology: Passive 3D glasses included: 2 pairs

OLED is much closer to the late lamented plasma than to LED LCD ( SUHD or otherwise). Where LCD relies on a backlight shining through a liquid crystal panel to create the picture, with OLED and plasma each individual sub-pixel is responsible for creating illumination. That's why OLED and plasma are known as "emissive" and LED LCD as "transmissive" displays, and a big reason why OLED's picture quality is so good.

For picture quality buffs OLED is the ultimate display technology, but it's not perfect. In addition to unresolved questions of brightness reduction over time (LG claims a 30,000 hour lifespan, for what it's worth), OLED is more subject to burn-in than LED LCD. The manual reads: "If a fixed image displays on the TV for a long period of time, it will...become a permanent disfigurement on the screen. This...burn-in is not covered by the warranty." It advises owners to avoid displaying 4:3 aspect ratio images and other fixed images for longer than an hour at a time. I didn't actually "test" burn-in in my review sample, but it didn't seem to retain static images as badly as plasmas I've tested in the past.

We've written plenty more about OLED in the past, so I won't rehash it all here. Check out the links at the left if you're interested in further details.

Aside from its display technology the other major feature is 4K resolution. As we mentioned above the company is not going to build 1,080p OLED TVs larger than 55 inches, going all-in with 4K. The higher resolution adds cost -- significantly more so than on an LCD TV -- and a 65-inch 1,080p OLED would surely please videophiles who don't own private islands, but for now the 65EG9600 is the least expensive so-sized OLED.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The visible benefits of 4K resolution might be minute with 2D material, but they should provide a big improvement with passive 3D (sadly, on this TV that's not the case; see below). LG includes two pairs of passive glasses with the 65EG9600, which seems a bit stingy for a TV this expensive.

The 65EG9600 has a curved screen, of which we're not big fans. If you feel the same way, you'll be happy to know that LG says it will launch 55-inch and 65-inch flat OLED TVs later in 2015. And for those of you reading this as you ride your Learjet to your island, there's also a 77-inch flexible OLED in the offing.

HDR and wide color gamut: Among high-end TVs this year one big differentiator is whether the set is capable of displaying next-generation content, for example 4K Blu-ray, that utilizes high dynamic range (HDR) and/or a wide color gamut. The LG 65EG9600, unlike the most expensive 2015 LCD TVs from Samsung, Sony, Vizio and Panasonic, is not currently HDR-capable. One reason is that it can't get as bright as those LED LCDs. At CES LG Display showed a HDR OLED TV capable of higher light output than this model, but it was just a prototype and the company didn't say when a consumer version would hit the market. Check out the video below for more.

That said, the EG9600 and other LG TVs "will get an update to enable HDR later this year (date is still undetermined) but it will be compatible with streaming content only, as the physical connection is not upgradable," according to an LG rep. In other words, while you will be able to connect a 4K Blu-ray player to the EG9600, it won't be able to deliver HDR since the TV will not be upgradeable to support HDMI 2.0a. It will handle HDR streams from Netflix and Amazon, however; the latter available according to LG.

As for wide color gamut, the EG9600 does fairly well. According to my measurements of the Wide color space, it's capable of delivering 87.9 percent of DCI/P3 color, thought to be the successor to the high-def color space. That's a bit less than the Samsung UN65JS8500 (90.5 percent of P3), but closer than I would have thought given Samsung's claims about SUHD. The only other TVs I've measured so far are Samsung's 65JU7100 (82.1 percent) and the LG 55EC9300 (89.3 percent).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Smart TV: Equipped with LG's newest iteration of Web OS, version 2.0, the 65EG9600 delivers a very good smart TV experience. I haven't played with Samsung's Tizen system enough to know which one I like better, but I do prefer Web OS 2.0 to what I've seen of Android TV (available on Sony and Sharp 2015 sets) so far, mainly because it's more customizable. Roku TV is still my favorite.

The biggest improvement over the original version of Web OS is speed. The new interface is markedly snappier, even with the menus' bouncy happy animations, and I had no complaints about responsiveness, even in the deep settings menus. It's worth mentioning that owners of LG's 2014 sets will get an unprecedented upgrade to version 2.0 later this year, although their TVs won't be quite as responsive as true 2015 models.

Otherwise little has changed. Motion control is available in all of the menus and many of the apps, making it relatively easy to select items. I also appreciated the unique screen capture function. Hitting the Home button on the remote brings up a band of diagonally aligned "cards," overlaying the lower third of whatever program or app you're watching at the moment. Other systems take a similar approach, but LG's icon band is both prettier and friendlier.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Unlike with Android TV you can customize and reorder the main interface to populate it with your favorite apps. Netflix and Pandora get cards, of course, but HDMI 1 and 2 do as well, along with the Web browser and local media available from USB or DLNA (WebOS also supports Plex). Click to the left of the main band and a history of the last few apps and other functions used appears. To the right reside the additional apps and functions you can launch and/or add to the main band in the middle.

The updated "LG Content Store" is much better-organized than before, with categories for movies, TV shows 3D, apps and games, and "premium" apps (nine major ones, including Netflix and Amazon but also Go Pro, an LG partner). Choosing a movie or TV show and hitting "watch now" shows you a list of services that offer it, such as Vudu and Amazon, but as with search, Netflix and Hulu Plus are omitted. The myriad other apps are categorized, but unfortunately not searchable.

The system has most major apps, with the exception of HBO Go and Showtime Anytime, and in general Samsung and especially Roku offer a wider selection. As a Rhapsody user I was excited to see that app, but it proved slow and error-prone. The Web browser is decent and the motion remote greatly eases navigation and typing with the onscreen keyboard easier. Still, you'll want to use your phone, tablet, or PC browser first.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Voice search seems as accurate most such systems but if you're like me you'll abandon it after a few failures at recognition, which are inevitable. The search results screen (whether from voice or text) breaks out YouTube and Internet separately, and when it gets a direct hit on a TV show or movie, it surfaces hits from Amazon Instant as well as Vudu. Unfortunately, results from Netflix and Hulu Plus don't show up, and the Amazon results are imperfect. A "Dora the Explorer" search I tried (for my daughters, I swear!) only showed me one episode immediately, and I had to hit the obscurely named "Detail Info" button to see more options, which appeared on a poorly designed page with episode numbers instead of easily accessible descriptions. Once again, Roku's universal search wins handily, and Android TV is better, too.

4K streaming apps: I checked out 4K streaming on the built-inNetflix and Amazon apps and they worked as expected, although as I've seen in the past, getting an actual 4K stream from Amazon isn't easy. As usual I didn't see a massive image quality improvement over those services' HD streams, and in previous tests I've performed, neither 4K streaming services' image quality could quite match the best 1080p Blu-rays. And of course content is scarce, although Netflix in particular deserved credit for continuing to release many of its original series, like "Daredevil," in 4K. Unlike Samsung and Vizio, LG currently lacks the UltraFlix app.

New for this year LG's YouTube app is capable of delivering videos in 4K resolution. Unfortunately the app -- unlike the YouTube website -- doesn't indicate what resolution the video is streaming in, so it's tough to know what you're really watching. I checked out a few of the 4K videos there, including "Honey Bees" and "Beauty of Nature," and they looked sharp enough.

I also tried a quick experiment using Florian Fredrich's 4K resolution pattern. Streaming via LG's YouTube app it didn't deliver the full resolution, but for whatever reason it did look slightly better than the same pattern streamed via the Nvidia Shield's 4K YouTube app. Only when I downloaded the video and played it back from a local file (using the Shield) did it deliver the full resolution of 4K. No surprise: streaming isn't as sharp as downloaded local files, even in 4K.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Picture settings: LG offers plenty of presets and lots of tweaks for calibrators, particularly in the Expert 1 and Expert 2 settings banks. The main determinant of light output is an OLED LIGHT setting, similar to a backlight control on an LCD TV. The set also offers a few dejudder/smoothing presets and a custom mode that allows you to dial in as much or as little blur and/or soap opera effect as you desire. Two-point and 20-point grayscale, a full color management system and selectable gamma (including BT.1886) round out the calibrators' toolbox.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity: I was frankly surprised to see only three HDMI inputs on the white backside of the 65EG9600 when most medium- and high-end TVs today have at least four. It's not a deal breaker by any means, but in my opinion a $7,000 TV should have at least four HDMI inputs. At least they're all equipped with HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2. As we mentioned above, the EG9600 will not be upgradable to support HDMI 2.0a.

There's also a setting called Ultra HD Deep Color. It allows HDMI inputs 1 and 2 to accept 4K/60 signals at 4:4:4 and 4:2:2 chroma subsampling rates, and 10 bits. Sources with that level of color are very rare so I didn't test the feature for this review, but it could be useful in the future.

Other connections include three USB ports (one of which is version 3.0), an analog AV input with composite video, another with component-video; an optical digital audio output, an Ethernet jack, a headphone output, and a RS-232 connection for custom installation systems.

Picture quality

I've spent my career as a TV reviewer touting the importance of contrast ratio, and it's what makes OLED TVs like the EG9600 superior to all others, including the best plasma TVs of yore. It's so important, in fact, that while LG's OLED falls a bit short of its current competition in other areas, such as color, screen uniformity and video processing, its significantly superior contrast gives it a better picture overall.

I haven't yet compared it against the very best models of 2015, namely Samsung's JS9500 , Sony's XBR-X940C/X930C, Panasonic's CX850 and Vizio's Reference series , but I'd be surprised if those LCD-based TVs could measure up to this OLED.

Yes, I wish this particular OLED was flat instead of curved, but in practice the slight distortions introduced by the curved screen aren't noticeable on a day-to-day basis. In some ways the curve can help reduce reflections, but videophiles like me still prefer our TVs flat.

Uniformity and bright room performance are great for the most part, and better than LCD TVs, but they're not perfect. Its 3D is a disaster, unfortunately, but I doubt most viewers care. And as usual with 4K you can't really tell the difference unless you're sitting very close. None of those issues spoil the EG9600's superb picture.

Black level: If you've never seen OLED in action before, and you care about video quality, certain scenes can come as a revelation. The EG9600 can achieve the same perfect black as the EC9300--they appear visually identical in terms of black level--and thus infinite contrast that makes many images appear significantly better and more realistic than on any of the other TVs I've seen, including the ones in this lineup.

One of my new favorite demonstration Blu-rays is "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For," which offers almost as much black level and contrast as it does sex and violence. The inky quality of the LGs' OLED screens came through very well in black and near-dark areas, and simply looked better than the others. The opening shot of Marv falling through the glass against a pitch-black background was all it took to set the OLEDs apart in my dark room; not even the plasma or the Sony (the lineup's best LCD in terms of black level) could compete, and the blacks on the Samsung SUHD and the Vizio looked positively cloudy in comparison. In scene after scene in that movie and other content, the power of those perfect blacks came through as epic, ultra-punchy contrast.

As usual I equalized light output to level the playing field in a dark-room comparison, but all of the TVs in my lineup can get much brighter. The problem with LCD TVs is that black levels also brighten, and "blooming" (see below) intensifies in local-dimming sets, when you increase the backlight control to get more light. With OLED, cranking light output doesn't spoil those perfect blacks, so plenty more contrast can be on tap if you need it -- a great thing for bright room viewing or if you're the kind of person who craves extra-bright images.

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