Price (RRP): $9,999
A curved, glass fronted harbour-side apartment with reach-out-and-touch views of Sydney’s Opera House and Harbour Bridge is a fitting location for a $9,999 TV, the likes of LG’s 65-inch curved 65EC970T, the first to combine UHD resolution with OLED display technology.
Positioned in front of the postcard vista, the curved screen of the UHD OLED panel tessellating with the arced window framing that spectacular and iconic harbour view, LG’s television message is clear: we create beautiful pictures too.
What is OLED?
OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) is an amazing technology, characterised by smooth, blur-free video, high contrast levels, wide viewing angles and deep rich blacks.
LG reckons it’s the television display technology of the future and, you know, it deserves to be. It really is that good.
So, how does it work?
An OLED panel comprises pixels made from organic materials (‘organic’ meaning natural or ‘carbon-based’) that emit their own light when electricity is applied. When no electrical signal is received by a pixel, no light is produced.
An LCD TV uses an external light source (an array of LEDs or fluorescent tubes) to transmit light through to pixels on an LCD panel. Whether positioned behind the LCD panel (backlit) or around the perimeter (edge-lit), the light tends to lose a bit of its ‘shine’ (so to speak) on its journey, with compromises to colour accuracy.
Whites can appear creamy, blacks can appear washed out, and detail in dark scenes can be hard to discern.
With OLED, white is produced by light on the pixel itself and black is produced by, well, a complete absence of light on a pixel. Black can be absolute black, white can be absolute white and, because of the extreme contrast, colours can appear sharper and more vivid too.
Without a light source behind the panel, OLED televisions can be also be made extremely thin. LG’s UHD model is a super-skinny 4mm at the edges.
And because OLED technology does not require an always-on backlight to produce an image, OLED TVs also consume less energy than LCD-type displays.
The pixels in OLED and LCD panels have to rapidly change colour – from, say, blue to yellow then black – to represent the changing visuals on the screen. Any lag and the image can appear blurry.
OLED technology allows pixels to respond much faster than the pixels in LCD displays, meaning that fast action sequences can be rendered smooth and blur-free. In fact, LG rates response time for the 65EC970T at 0.2 milliseconds, which is around ten times faster than LG LED LCD televisions.
Four-colour pixel OLED
The downside of OLED is that, like all organic materials, it degrades over time. This can result in colour shift (blue has been problematic for the technology) and, like the very early plasma TVs, diminished brightness over the panel’s operating life.
Manufacturers of the first plasma TVs often provided a ‘half-life’ rating for their panels, after which brightness would be around 50% of new. The earliest models rated around 15-20,000 hours.
LG doesn’t provide such figures for its OLED TV models, but seeks to address the issue with proprietary four-colour pixel (WRGB) technology, which it claims to add brightness and improve life span. WRGB adds a white sub-pixel to the usual mix of red, green and blue sub-pixels that make up each of pixels in the 65EC970T.
The approach is also claimed to be easier to manufacture, which translates into potentially cheaper OLED TVs coming to market more quickly.
Ultra High Definition
LG’s 65 inch curved OLED adds more fancy TV goodness to the mix, with Ultra High Definition (UHD) resolution and curved screen.
With up to four times the resolution (3820 x 2160, or 8 million pixels) of Full HD (1920 x 1080, or 2 million pixels) a UHD display can present images with incredible detail. You need to feed a UHD TV panel with UHD source material to realise the full benefit of all these extra pixels, however, and there’s scant of that about at present.
Until there is, built-in upscaling technology within the 65EC970T works to improve the appearance of high definition and standard definition video.
Then there’s the curved design. Curved screens are typically employed in auditoriums and commercial cinemas (think IMAX) to help reduce pin cushion-like distortion at the edges of the screen (where objects can appear enlarged). These projection screens are many metres wide, however, and LG is – wisely – not claiming any picture benefits from its curved approach.
That said, the arched profile of the 65EC970T visually appealing (though this is subjective, of course).
The test loop of UHD video provided by LG for viewing on its curved UHD OLED was super-crisp and sharp, with almost life-like detail. The extra picture information offered by Ultra High Definition video is something to look forward to indeed, but until movie houses and broadcasters start providing UHD content, Full HD will need suffice for owners of UHD televisions like LG’s 65 inch OLED.
And that’s alright, because the upscaling technology in the 65UC970T is very capable.
From a viewing distance of around 2.5 metres, Blu-ray discs looked every bit as good as the test loop, with OLED’s high contrast ratio credentials manifesting as bright, vivid colours, dazzling whites and deep, velvety blacks.
The scenes from Gravity were particularly telling for black performance levels. The pitch darkness of space merged seamlessly with the letterbox bars above and below the movie, something I’ve seen previously only on the best plasmas.
The ‘Jailhouse Tango’ scene from Chicago is another good test for blacks, and LG’s OLED did not disappoint, showing lots of detail and nuance in the dimly lit sequence. Ditto for the opening scene of The Dark Knight, where the cityscape was revealed in nearly every shade of black and grey. LG’s UHD OLED TV was rock solid as the camera pans across the skyscrapers, displaying none of the judder that undoes many LCD televisions.
OLED’s impressive motion credentials were evident in Bad Boys and Skyfall, where even fast action scenes displayed without a hint of blur or trailing. In some instances, a slight ‘heat haze’ effect was apparent around moving subjects. This is produced by a type of interpellation processing that all major LCD manufacturers use to compensate for motion blur. LG’s is called Tru Motion and you can adjust it or turn it off in the settings menu. We preferred the picture with Tru Motion switched off.
Over the course of our evening with LG’s UHD OLED, we discovered more to enjoy from our catalogue of favourite test discs. OLED technology provides superbly watchable images, with rich deep blacks, exceptional colour and minimal artefacting. Viewing angles are excellent too, with no loss of sharpness or brightness, even at the most extreme edges of the couch.
If it’s pure picture excellence you seek, OLED outperforms even the best of today’s LED LCD televisions in nearly every criteria.
The reality for most consumers, however, is that picture performance is just one factor in the buying decision process.
While LG’s suite of Smart TV features, inclusive of video on-demand apps, pointer-style Magic Remote and useful WebOS interface, which overlays menus at the bottom of the screen, help round out the case for the 65EC970T, cost is an obstacle.
At a smidge under $10,000, the 65 inch UHD OLED is more than twice the cost of LG’s Full HD curved 55 inch OLED TV (55EC930T). The TV, which was also installed in LG’s harbourside apartment, now lists for $3999 and, in the absence of UHD content, presents the value choice for enjoying Blu-ray and other Full HD content at its best.
Price-wise, it’s even competitive with today’s flagship LED LCD televisions, including LG’s $3599 curved Ultra HD 55UC970T.
The LCD TV technology that dominates living rooms today is arguably at the peak of its development. Picture quality has never been better, yet it does not match the colour vibrancy, contrast ratios or motion performance of new OLED technology. LG’s 65EC970T OLED shows just how good visual entertainment at home can be.
So OLED is indeed exciting technology, and it’s just starting its journey with consumers. Currently the biggest hurdle it needs to overcome is price. While ‘value’ is subjective of course, at $9999 LG’s 65 inch UHD OLED TV is simply out of reach for most consumers. For now. LG’s first 55 inch OLED TV debuted in 2013 for $12,999, three times more than its current 55 inch model. So prices will fall.
Incidentally, the LG apartment the 65 inch UHD OLED called home for a week, was, as it happens, almost directly opposite the building where this writer saw the very first plasma television introduced in Australia.
Made by Philips, it was 32 inches, standard definition, required an outboard tuner box to receive broadcasts and accept inputs, and cost $24,000.
All of which makes LG’s 65 inch curved UHD OLED TV look like a bargain.