LG 65EC9700 4K OLED TV Review
With 4K resolution and OLED quality, LG has raised the bar to incredible new heights.
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For the last year or so, there have been two mutually exclusive choices in high-end TVs: OLED panels and 4K resolution. As the world's first 4K OLED, the EC9700 breaks new ground and ushers in new expectations for picture quality.
First-generation OLED TVs from LG and Samsung delivered incredible contrast performance and picture clarity unrivaled by anything on the market, but topped out at 55 inches and 1080p resolution, vastly limiting consumer choices. Though it's the spiritual successor to plasma—the previous TV tech of choice for videophiles—first-generation OLEDs risked obsolescence in a market prepped for 4K content.
On the other side of the coin, UHD (4K) TVs—offering four times the resolution of those OLED TVs—are an inevitable next step in display tech, and have quickly become available from major manufacturers in almost any size you can imagine. Yet save for a couple of full-array backlit models, most 4K TVs are still held back by the performance pitfalls of edge-lit LED technology, excelling in pixel count, but not contrast, color, or motion.
As the first 4K OLED on the market, the LG 65EC9700 (MSRP $11,999.99) is incredibly exciting. This marriage of the newest innovations in display tech yields truly breathtaking picture quality, the best we've ever seen. The addition of LG's award-winning webOS platform and the TV's super-slim design is just icing on a very tasty cake.
This is clearly an aspirational product, with a price to match. But realize that this is not merely the flagship product for LG; this is the vanguard product for the TV industry. The future has arrived.
As close to perfect as a TV gets in 2014
If you're a TV or movie lover, you know how important the smallest details are: from cinematography to choreography, you want to watch content—not the TV it's playing on. If realistic colors, rich contrast, and cleanly preserved action are the bread and butter of a high-quality viewing experience, the EC9700 is practically a bakery.
As we expected based on previous OLED models, this LG's inky black levels are completely, truly dark, providing the most realistic representation of night scenes and deep shadows on the market. Put the LG beside anything but the best plasma TVs and there's no contest; this is how your content was meant to be enjoyed.
This is par for the course with OLED TVs, but the EC9700 also sets itself apart with a reserved luminance level that doesn't get overly bright save for the showroom-only "Vivid" mode. While that'll make the EC9700 a sub-par choice for brightly lit rooms, the lessened luminance helps balance out the previous issues we've seen with OLEDs involving aggressive light limiting and uneven gamma performance. And given that this is a TV meant for premium home theater setups with appropriately dim viewing conditions, the loss of brightness is hardly a major concern.
We've heard consistent complaints about OLEDs exhibiting dodgy panel uniformity and image retention. Essentially, low- and middle-gray OLED screens can look uneven or criss-crossed with retained patterns, which is (obviously) rather ugly. The reduced light output of the EC9700 helps stem this issue a bit, but it's also something that clears up over time. After two days of breaking in, I noticed that the EC9700 was dimmer at the sides of the screen than the middle, and that full screen mid-tone grays were rather uneven-looking. After running it another night, however, the edges brightened to nominal levels, and the uneven, retained images were gone. To put it simply: Give the TV a few days to get into its groove when you first boot it up.
The EC9700's biggest improvement compared to previous LG OLEDs, however, is that you don't need to calibrate it to get a world-class setup. In the ISF Expert 1 picture mode, I discovered the best out-of-the-box white balance results I've seen all year, coupled with accurate hues and just a touch of extra saturation in the red and green primaries. In real life, this translates to clean-looking gray and white tones side-by-side with very rich, colorful hues. LCDs in particular tend to struggle to keep errant colors from marring the neutrality of grayscale elements—not so the EC9700. It makes for a very impressive and satisfying image, to say the least.
While most of this TV's best performance points owe their prestige to the OLED panel, LG's 4K upscaling process deserves some praise, too. I watched a few Full-HD (1080p) Blu-rays upscaled to 4K, and was impressed with the image and motion clarity. Older content like The Fifth Element had the same "painted" look that we saw on the Vizio P Series, where content looks a bit stretched and over-sharp. On the other hand, newer films like The Dark Knight look so good that I forgot that the movie wasn't 4K after a few minutes—the hallmark of good upscaling and higher-quality film transfers.
Additionally, the 4K resolution gives the EC9700 a leg-up over previous OLEDs for a number of reasons. First of all, normally visible motion artifacts and noise are 75% harder to perceive, as 4K pixels are 75% smaller than their Full-HD counterparts. Secondly, the tiny pixels also make it possible to sit closer to the screen—when you're only a couple of feet away, the curve starts to makes sense. The end result is a viewing experience that surpasses both 1080p OLEDs and 4K LCDs, as it should.
The EC9700 is best-suited for a dark or very dim home-theater style setup, but it can flourish in sunny environments too—though you may want to use the Vivid picture mode in very bright environments. Don't be afraid to wall-mount this TV, either: The subtle curve may make extreme off-angle viewing a bit dodgy, but the TV's horizontal viewing fidelity is just as good as previous OLEDs.
For more detailed test results, charts, and hard data, check out the Science Page.
This TV's stunning picture is complemented by a fragile, elegant design.
Over the last decade, flat-panel designers have shaved away extraneous bulk, slimmed the bezels around screens, and shrunk down built-in speakers until they're almost invisible. The 65EC9700 is the epitome of that disappearing act—it's mind-bogglingly thin, with practically no bezels to speak of, and it perches upon a thin, curved metal branch that readily disappears in low-lighting. In short, in the right conditions you're left with nothing but a big, beautiful screen.
The EC9700 is also curved—a point of some contention amongst reviewers and consumers both. Though we are still skeptical of the benefits of a curved screen, curved OLEDs at least retain contrast and color performance from off angles with no backlight uniformity issues, since there's no backlight in the first place. What's more, the subtle curve is something of a structural necessity because OLED TVs are so thin. In our experience the curvature doesn't add to the viewing experience, but it doesn't take away from it either.
Whether you dig the curve or not, at least the TV offers an ample suite of video and audio ports. You'll find one HDMI and three USB inputs to the side of the screen for convenience, and three more HDMI inputs, shared component/composite inputs, digital audio out, LAN (ethernet) in, a coaxial jack for cable/antenna, and an RS-232c control port on the back of the TV.
Among the rear inputs, HDMI 1 is HDCP 2.2 compliant; HDMI 2 is the ARC (Audio Return Channel); and HDMI 3 supports 10-bit/12-bit chroma sampling, i.e. color depth. The side input (HDMI 4) is MHL (Micro High-definition Link) compliant, meaning you can play content from a smartphone or tablet through it. All four HDMI inputs support 4K at 60Hz (the best way to render UHD footage right now), ensuring that the EC9700 is fully-equipped for native 4K content as it becomes more widely available.
In the box, LG includes the motion-controlled Magic Remote (with batteries), an owner's manual, polishing cloth, 3D glasses, splitters for the component/composite inputs, and a 4K-capable HDMI cable. In keeping with this TV's posh bearing, everything is neatly packaged in individual boxes—it's a nice touch.
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webOS is as smooth and peppy as ever.
When you boot up the EC9700, you're immediately greeted by a cute animated bird, named "Bean Bird," who guides you through the set-up process. Tasks that are usually dull as dishwater—like selecting your cable provider, or picking out your WiFi network from a list—are spiced up via cute cartoons and illustrations. If anything, the above-and-beyond attention to detail of the webOS setup process is the perfect example of what makes the whole platform so great.
Each action—opening an app, or switching from HDMI 1 to HDMI 2—is accompanied by a colorful on-screen prompt, lending the interface a kind of creamy smooth compatibility with the user that TVs have been missing for years. The speed and snappy functionality of webOS earned our Best of Year 2014 award, and it's equally intuitive on the EC9700. As my co-worker Michael Desjardin said,
Of all the complimentary things I can say about webOS–from its versatility to its convenience–I was consistently impressed by the software's responsiveness. Thanks in part to LG's Magic Remote, navigation is silky smooth and hopping from one app to another is seamless. There's a distinct lack of lag from menu-to-menu, which can't be said for many smart platforms today.
Unfortunately, we can't say the same thing for LG's main menu software. While there's certainly no lack of content within the Picture or Audio menus, the way content jumps from the left side to the bottom half of the screen is frustrating, if only because infrared-based, motion-activated remotes like the Magic Remote are still playing catch-up with TV menus that have been developed with button-based controllers in mind. There's a bit of a learning curve, but what LG really needs is a dedicated smart phone app.
This played into the calibration of the TV, as well. It's fortunate that the EC9700 doesn't require much (if any) tweaking to present a near-perfect image, as doing so with LG's software is very difficult. Like other OLED TVs, the EC9700's light output shifts imperceptibly when the software is on the screen, and dims slightly after a few moments, making the tiny adjustments we do during a professional calibration inconsistent to the point of futility.
What does this mean for most folks? Don't hire a calibrator—you probably won't need one for this particular TV anyway.
If D.I.Y'ers want to try their hand at an at-home calibration, however, the EC9700 offers up all the necessary controls. You'll find a full CMS (Color Management System), 2- and 20-point white balance controls, a gamma selector, and all the usual big-picture adjustments: Color, Contrast, Brightness, and Tint. Just don't say we didn't warn you about how difficult it is.
Is this the future for TVs? We hope so.
In tech reviewing it's easy to throw around superlatives, crowning every brand-new technology as "groundbreaking" or "earth-shattering" when it is little more than a logical step forward in a well-trod category.
In the case of 4K OLED televisions like the EC9700, the superlatives are truly deserved. Hollow words like "incredible" unquestionably apply, because it is difficult to believe that a television can adopt all the best traits of the newest LCDs and dearly departed plasmas with so few drawbacks.
With 4K televisions slowly supplanting the entirety of the high-end TV market, it makes a lot of sense to combine the best panel technology we have today with the resolution we will all want tomorrow. The 65EC9700 may be the first of its kind on the market, but it surely won't be the last.
Yet the most impressive thing about this TV is that LG did the necessary work beyond simply multiplying the pixels in the panel. Many of the recent drawbacks associated with OLED technology—such as aggressive auto-light limiting, excessive image retention, and inconsistent luminance across neutral tones—have been tweaked or fixed entirely via better light and energy management.
The only real drawback, of course, is the price. Right now, the 65EC9700 is $12,000 on LG's website with a $10,000 street price—neither of which are particularly cheap. Yet with 50-inch 4K TVs available for as little as $999, the cost of entry is falling fast. Likewise, the LG 55EA9800—a 1080p OLED model—has dropped in price to just under $2,500 since its release in late 2013. The EC9700 might be prohibitively expensive right now, but we expect the price to drop accordingly over the next year or so. It is likely to remain an aspirational purchase for most people, but LG's mission is clear: Bring this kind of quality down in price as quickly as possible.
Simply put: If you can afford it, this is the best TV money can buy.