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Hands-On Review of the LG 55EA8800 OLED HDTV: Fit for Framing
LG flattens out its OLED and wraps it in a unique bezel. Our interest is piqued.
LG’s newly updated 55EA8800 OLED HDTV has a minor but valid claim to fame as the first wall-mountable OLED television. That's because the only other OLEDs on the market–one from LG and one from Samsung–are both curved screens that require stands. The 55EA8800 is also notable for its unique frame, which hides a 2.2-channel speaker system.
Some review sites have suggested that the largest obstacle to wider OLED acceptance is the fact that none of the OLED sets available to date could be wall-hung. I respectfully counter that the true source of consumer reluctance is OLED's enormous price tag, which ranges from $8,999 to a whopping $15,999. The new 55EA8800, priced at €8,999 (approximately $11,800) doesn't tackle that problem, but we’re nonetheless bowled over by the impressive image quality this TV produces.
Every Time I Put Your Picture in a Frame
The flatness of the 55EA8800's screen would be completely irrelevant if not for the fact that the only two other OLEDs are curved. The curved screens we've seen so far haven't been objectionable, but don't seem like much of a value-add, so we’ll just say, "Thanks for giving us a flat option," and move on.
LG took full advantage of the flatness by embedding the panel in a dark brown wood frame, which extends out about 3-4 inches past the bezel in all directions. In the space between, where a framed photo might have matting, is a bed of neutral gray fabric. Peel away that fabric and you’ll find the hidden 2.2-channel speaker system.
It’s a smart bit of design, since many people go to great lengths to hide unsightly audio components in their living rooms. LG’s approach may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s novel and certainly caught my attention. The marketing efforts really play up the "high art" concept, going so far as to include high-resolution images of works from van Gogh and Gauguin.
For the time being, LG only offers the one frame style, but much of the LG booth at IFA displayed alternate frame designs that could, perhaps, become available sometime down the road.
OLED is Amazing. End of Argument.
The 55EA8800 features a 55-inch 1080p screen using OLED technology. If you’re a little fuzzy on OLED, read this primer from USA Today. In short, OLED screens combine the amazing black levels of a plasma screen with the spectacular brightness and vivid color of an LCD. The downside is that OLED manufacturing is very much in its early stages, and hence is still offered at a huge price premium.
The benefit is apparent to anyone who looks at an OLED set side-by-side with a traditional plasma or LCD panel. These colors just leap off the screen. According to LG representatives, the screen achieves about 115% of the Rec. 709 color standard.
They’re Making It, But Who’s Buying?
OLED TVs won't be flying off the shelves any time soon, at least not in the lofty numbers that LCDs and plasmas achieve. Industry analyst DisplaySearch stated in January that by the year 2016, OLED sales are expected to grow to 7.2 million units. It’s not clear whether those numbers are for the US market or the entire world. As the total American market is about 45 million TVs, it would still be a small fraction at best.
Amazing picture quality will convince some early adopters and enthusiasts to convert to OLED, but the technology needs a more affordable price point for wider acceptance. We loved what we saw of the 55EA8800, but we didn’t love it to the tune of nearly $12,000. Until the price drops, all but the wealthiest will have to content themselves with LCDs and plasmas.
Note: We wrote a First Impressions review of the LG 55EA8800 at CES in January 2013, but the frame and some other details are new.