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One year ago, something called OLED TV hit the market, and it totally outperformed any television we had ever tested. It was also dizzyingly expensive, costing $15,000 for a single 55-inch panel.
Incredibly, LG announced yesterday that its brand-new 55EC9300 OLED TV (MSRP $3,999) will hit shelves later this month for sale prices of $3,500. In addition to super-deep black levels and vividly saturated colors that far outshine LCD and even plasma TVs, the 1080p, 55-inch EC9300 also impresses with elegant design and the company's hype-worthy webOS smart platform.
While the EC9300's lowered price tag is sure to thrill certain deep-pocketed buyers, it comes with a bit of a tradeoff; while the TV's black levels are truly stellar, it struggles more than other OLEDs to really nail home-theater standards. For instance, the TV pleases with highly saturated colors, but it doesn't perfectly adhere to international color ideals without informed calibration.
Barring its handful of mild flaws, the LG 55EC9300 is still a great value if you're looking for the ultimate TV trifecta: gorgeous design, ultra high-end extras, and solid picture quality.
Picture quality is the biggest allure of OLED TVs, and the 55EC9300 has it in spades. Testing revealed the same fathomless black levels and massive contrast that we've tested before on other OLED models. Black areas of the screen truly lack light, making for a very impressive picture. By contrast, bright elements seem to jump right off the screen, full of light and color.
Motion handling looks ship shape for the most part, though I certainly found room for improvement. While the TV handles movement well enough on the whole, it just lacks the kind of breathtaking efficacy I saw in other areas of this OLED's performance. Luckily, LG includes the same motion assistance mode (TruMotion) that we found on the company's Gallery OLED. The TruMotion setting is customizable to suit a range of content types; the feature doesn't perfect every instance of judder or blur, but it does enough to satisfy all but the most blur-conscious viewers.
This wouldn't be a modern TV without color—OLED TVs are also renowned for their ability to produce very clean, accurate hues. For the most part, the EC9300 performed well in this regard, particularly with blue and green primary colors; but its red production is undersaturated, meaning red isn't as colorful and rich as it should be. We did find that the TV's red production can be corrected with an informed calibration, but it's a shame that the TV doesn't adhere to HDTV color standards right out of its box. On the other hand, the EC9300 also offers a wider color gamut, which purposefully exceeds the standard spectrum for those who prefer super-saturated colors.
Another performance drawback I noticed is image retention which refers to ghost-like leftover shapes from previous content. In other words, I would exit a menu screen only to see a momentary trace of its former shape over top of new content. This effect can be distracting at first, but will fade over time. Just be warned that it may really bother you for the first 12-24 hours of use. The burn in on my sample eventually lessened in severity over time, but it took many days before it became undetectable to the naked eye.
Last but not least, consumers considering purchase may want to keep in mind that, despite this TV's incredible black level, it ramps up in brightness in a way that's better suited for a room with normal or even high amounts of ambient lighting. Dark and middle gray tones above black are too luminous for an ideal home-theater setup; for example, if you're watching a dim, wintery scene, highlights of white within dirty snow are so luminous that your eyes will struggle to see the subtler, darker details around them. You can fix this with an informed calibration session, but it's a shame that the TV isn't already set up for dark-room viewing out of the box.
LG's first OLED TVs broke the mold with new, cutting-edge design choices. From curved, transparent stands to wall-mount only gallery frames, LG really kept things fresh in the design department. Of course, many consumers want something more recognizable to decorate their entertainment stands, and that's one of the EC9300's strengths.
A leaf-shaped, metallic stand complements the super-flat OLED panel handsomely. The stand's convex curve actually softens the inverse curve of the panel, lending a welcome subtlety to the TV's appearance. The whole product is beautifully simple, and deftly avoids unnecessary embellishment. Rather than ostentatiously subverting "normal" design, the EC9300's approach feels more like a next-generation norm.
Like every other LG for the past few years, the EC9300 comes with the company's signature Magic Remote. The Magic Remote is a small controller that uses a generated infrared signal to cast a cursor onto the TV's screen, kind of like the remote for the Nintendo Wii. The Magic Remote makes it very easy to jump through the TV's menu interface or browse the webOS platform, but also requires a more granulated operative approach than a traditional controller—in other words, it may frustrate you at first.
On the back of the panel, users will find a healthy spread of ways to turn the EC9300 into a veritable media center. Ports on the rear include one HDMI input, a shared component/composite cluster, an RF (cable/antenna) input, a digital audio out, and a LAN (ethernet) in. There are also three more HDMI inputs on the side, stacked vertically with three USB 2.0 inputs and an RS-232 control port.
The EC9300 is not my first rodeo with LG's new smart TV platform, webOS. At CES 2014 and again while reviewing LG's 55LB6300, I found webOS to be a fresh, intuitive smart TV experience. The platform's app store wasn't unavailable at that time, however, so I was eager to take another look.
This time around, everything's accessible, and the platform feels much more complete. Getting the ball rolling is an appreciably fun experience thanks to the cutesy cartoon animations that accompany the setup process. Once you've connected to the internet, accessing webOS is as easy as pressing the little "Home" key on the Magic Remote. Apps line up horizontally in colorful wedges along the bottom quarter of the screen, so you can keep watching TV while you browse.
The best thing about webOS, however, is that you can utilize multiple apps at the same time. Say you open Netflix; you can back out, hop into LG's app store, download a game, and then jump right back into Netflix without rebooting the whole app. This might sound like a basic necessity in today's digital age, but it's quite advanced within the world of the smart TV.
Picture quality aficionados and D.I.Y calibrators will be happy to know that the 55EC9300's on-board menu software is also very exhaustive. There are multiple picture modes to choose from, such as the Cinema, Sports, and ISF Expert modes. The EC9300's Expert Control menu contains 2- and 20-point white balance controls, a gamma pre-set selector, and a full CMS (Color Management System). These extensive controls allow an informed calibrator to tweak this OLED to almost perfectly match the ITU's specifications for HDTVs.
For $3,500, the EC9300 does a lot of things right. The sleek leaf stand and super-thin panel feel very futuristic, and the TV's smart platform is arguably the most pleasant interface we've ever used. Prices on OLED TVs stood at $15,000 this time last year; with a price drop this big, we're convinced that affordable OLED could be just around the corner for many consumers.
Of course, at its current price of $3,500, the EC9300 is nowhere near cheap. At 55 inches, it also isn't particularly large. The combination of great extras, almost-perfect picture quality, and frills-free design lend it a huge helping of value, however.
If you've been yearning for flashy new TV tech, but want to avoid ostentatious design and hard-to-use features, the EC9300 is a truly brilliant choice. While it isn't the best-performing OLED we've ever reviewed, it's still an OLED—and it's affordable enough compared to the first models to claim the title of best OLED value, hands down.
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