Worth your attention: LG’s 55 inch OLED TV reviewed

OLED is the new TV technology, and likely the one of the future. It brings together the advantages of plasma displays and LCD displays. (LED televisions utilised an LCD display, but with LEDs rather than fluorescent tubes, as a backlight).  

Like plasma displays, OLED panels only light up the pixels in use, so they can save some energy and need no backlight. Like LCD TVs, the panels are thin and as manufacturing techniques improve, likely cheap.

So thin that even flexible OLED panels can be made, although we’re not likely to see that in TVs soon.

But there are other advantages over LCD and plasmas. First, OLED panels can go fully black, instantly and smoothly. LCDs can go fully black only by turning down the backlighting. Plasmas simulate black by flickering white for only a small proportion of the time.

OLED is fast. Extremely fast. Pixels can switch from on to off, or to any level of brightness, in times measured in microseconds rather than the milliseconds used to measure LCD performance. That eliminates motion blur and suits it better to processes in which timing is important, such as active 3D.

But OLED is also new. So it’s expensive. There may well be a price premium attached to the technology for years, but you can nevertheless expect the prices to fall significantly over the next few years. Remember that the first widescreen 42 inch standard definition plasma TV was launched in Australia for nearly $30,000.

LG’s 55EA9800 OLED TV is one of the first two to be launched in Australia (not counting the tiny one Sony released some years ago).

And it demonstrates that not all OLED panels are the same. Indeed, it differs at a fundamental level to the other OLED TV that has also been released.

The white pixel

OLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. A thin layer of certain organic (ie. with carbon in their molecules) materials is placed between two control panels that run electricity through them. The OLED pixels produce light in response.

The colour of the light varies according to the particular materials used. Obviously red, green and blue pixels must be used, just like plasma and LCD TVs, and also the other available OLED TV (from Samsung). But LG has added a fourth colour: white.

So each pixel is formed by a block of four sub-pixels: WRGB.

Blue OLEDs tend to be relatively inefficient in the light production stakes, so to produce a bright picture with the right colour balance, steps must be taken.

One option – the one used by Samsung – is to have larger blue sub-pixels than the red and green ones. LG has kept all three colours the same size and added an additional white sub-pixel. When blue is required, you get a mixture of white and blue. You’d think that perhaps the blue would look washed out as a result, but in practice this isn’t the case. The blue looks just fine.

As for efficiency, this TV scores a 4.5 star energy rating label. The TV using the other OLED colour system scores 2.5 stars.

The results speak for themselves.

Ahead of the curve

Styling-wise this TV is very different as well from the competition.

It follows LG’s slimline approach of recent years. Super slim. The panel is amazingly thin for much of its area: just a hair over 4mm.

From the side it looks like the panel is just a single curved sheet of glass, swelling out somewhat in the middle rear. It is breathtaking.

LG says that the purpose of this is to deliver ‘an immersive viewing experience’. Perhaps. The curve is fairly subtle, though. Especially from front on. Regardless, the beauty of the TV is more than enough reason for it.

It sits on an integrated transparent stand that looks to be made of a high quality Perspex. This sweeps smoothly back, more deeply than the panel, to provide some stability. The panel itself is mildly curved, with the centre some 4cm further back than the edges. Around the full HD panel is – well, not so much as a bezel as a black non-operational area of the panel. This is just over 11mm wide at the sides and about 15mm at the top.

The TV has four speakers: two small rectangular ones in the transparent base and two downwards firing ones in the TV’s body.

The rear of the panel features a smooth, curved finish, with a panel provided to cover some of the AV connections, but not the USB and HDMI ones on the side.

Smart features

The TV of course incorporates the very best of LG’s various ‘Smart’ network features. WiFi is built in. You get lots of internet offerings, including some streaming 3D content made available through LG, such things as BigPond Movies and TV catch-up services.

There is a degree of motion and voice control provided. For the former you need to attach the supplied camera/microphone assembly to the top of the TV (a dedicated USB socket is provided nearby). LG’s ‘Magic’ remote, which controls an onscreen pointer, remains the best system yet for navigating the various smart functions. It has a microphone built in.

For a full rundown of all these features, check out our review of the LG 55LA8600 from a couple of months ago. The smart and control features are identical, including the ability to use your tablet or smart phone as a second screen for the TV.