Something has happened. Something that shouldn't have. Something that, until this moment, I thought to be impossible. And yet, something has happened. Back in 2011, I wrote an article for HomeTheaterReview.com entitled, "Calibrating Your HDTV is a Problem You Shouldn't Have," in which I railed against the need for calibration given all the so-called advancements in display technology up and to that point. In July of the following year I wrote a mea culpa, an article entitled "Rethinking The Importance of Video Calibration," whereby I completely rebuked all of my prior assertions about calibration thanks in part to two Home Theater Review readers who helped me to see the light, so to speak. In that second article, I outline why calibration is important--both technically and artistically speaking--and why it's (arguably) impossible for a display to be truly calibrated at the factory level. Fast forward to today, six years later, and I feel I'm about to write what will be seen as the third installment in my calibration odyssey.
Enter LG's 9000 Series LED backlit LCD SmartTV, the 55SK9000PUA.
I will be the first to admit that I've had a bit of love/hate relationship with LG products in the past. I've always thought their computer products were topnotch, but some of their earlier TV outings were a mixed bag. One thing I've always appreciated about LG, however, was their value proposition. LG has always packed a lot of features into their products, often at a lower price points than much of the competition. The SK9000 looks to be a continuation of that tradition, competing with the likes of Sony and Samsung, but at two-thirds or even a third the cost. The SK9000 comes in two sizes: 55-inches (reviewed here) and 65 inches diagonal. The 55-inch model carries an MSRP of $1,499 but streets closer $1,099, whereas the 65-inch model generally sells for around $1,699, down from a $2,199 MSRP. That puts the SK9000 in the crosshairs of the Sony X900F Series of LED LCD TVs and Samsung's Q6FN Series of Quantum Dot LED LCD TVs. The X900F is Sony's non-OLED flagship, whereas the Samsung Q6FN is several rungs down from flagship status, and both carry price tags similar to the LG, if not a little more. More on this enticing three-way later.
The SK9000 is a slick piece of kit--sexy, even. Borrowing visual cues from both Samsung and Sony, the LG has a very narrow black bezel lining the inside edge of an even narrower charcoal bezel. For whatever reason, this makes the LG appear less bulky than both the aforementioned Sony and Samsung products. In truth, the SK9000, from a distance of about three or more feet, looks like a thin OLED. It's not, of course, but for whatever the reason the display's industrial design gives it a more svelte look that I believe is going to find favor with a lot of consumers. The SK9000 in its 55-inch configuration measures some 57 inches across by nearly 33 inches tall and two-and-a-half inches deep. It tips the scales at just under 60 pounds.
Around back, the SK9000 sports a rather benign and smooth dark grey plastic finish with small cutouts for the display's I/O panel. Its power cord is a rather a smallish, almost laptop-like receptacle, which keeps bulk (and cable management) to a minimum. As for inputs and outputs, it has the expected complement: four HDMI HDCP 2.2 inputs (side mounted), three USB 2.0 inputs (two side, one rear), one composite AV jack (rear), one optical audio out (rear), one RF antenna input (rear), an Ethernet port (rear), and an RS232C mini jack (rear). The SK9000 has support for ARC, but only on HDMI 2. Non-physical connection options include WiFi (802.11ac) and Bluetooth 4.2.
Under the hood, the SK9000 boasts an LCD panel with a native resolution of 3,840 pixels across by 2,160 pixels vertically, good for 4K/Ultra HD classification. This also means any signal sent to the LG not in Ultra HD gets upscaled to the display's native resolution. It sports LED backlighting with full array local dimming. LG claims a refresh rate of 120Hz, though they tout the SK9000's TruMotion rate as being 240Hz. The TV is an LG Nano Cell Display (LG's answer to Samsung's Quantum Dot or Sony's Triluminos), and it is capable of reproducing today's expanded color gamuts beyond mere Rec.709. It has HDR support in the form of Dolby Vision, Advanced HDR by Technicolor, HDR10, and HLG (hybrid log gamma).
The entire display and all its features are controlled via LG's latest α7 processor utilizing webOS. The SK9000 has Google Assistant built-in and can interact with either Google Home or Amazon Alexa devices--both of which are sold separately.
Which brings me to the remote. LG has been utilizing gesture control in its remotes for years, and the SK9000 doesn't break with tradition. The remote feels good in hand, features a mixture of different tactile buttons in that some are traditional sporting ones and zeros whereas others are shapelier and a little more difficult to discern. The directional pad in the center of the remote features a scroll wheel, which is weird, because you use it in conjunction with the remote's pointer-style gesture control. Yes, you have to wave the remote around like Harry Potter casting a spell to get the display to do anything. At first it feels utterly ridiculous and unnecessary, but after a day or two of living with it, it actually might be genius. No, I take that back: it's stupid and unnecessary. Or is it genius? I honestly don't know how to truly feel about the remote and the way in which it is implemented. Certain days I despise it, but others I don't. To each their own. The remote has zero backlighting and does appear to feature buttons that for the most part don't do anything, outside of certain Apps, so there is that.
Good news, though: the totally free LG TV Plus App for iOS and Android is just awesome, so if you don't want to use the remote, your smartphone can sub in and give you full control over the SK9000 as well plus a few more bells and whistles. Also, you can also get the display to dance via your existing Google Home or Amazon Alexa products, so I guess if you're on the fence about the included remote, there are workarounds.
I took delivery of the SK9000 and promptly set it up in my home office, where I had hoped it would serve as a client monitor for a few in-home edit sessions. Of course, this plan was predicated upon the display's ability to be calibrated, but seeing as how most displays these days can be, I threw caution to the wind and put it in my office. I set the SK9000 on a series of low cabinets using its included table stand, a two-piece design that's a little large, width-wise, though its arcing design does dress it up a bit.
Once the TV was set up, I pulled out my aging Toshiba laptop PC to begin the process of calibration. Using my C6 light meter and CalMan software, I went ahead and measured the various picture profiles out of the box in hopes of finding the one that was closest to right initially that I could then tweak. Remember the previous article I mentioned, about how it seemed impossible for a display to come from the factory calibrated? Well, upon selecting the SK9000's Technicolor Expert picture profile, my whole world turned on its head.
Straight out of the box, all of the other picture profiles--such as Standard, Dynamic, and even Cinema--were as you would expect: wrong. Sure, some were more pleasing than others, but it didn't take sophisticated calibration equipment to be able to tell that none of the aforementioned profiles looked right.
Upon selecting the Technicolor Expert setting, things looked better, but because the previous profiles were so off, it didn't initially appear correct or perfect. I began to do initial measurements of the Technicolor Expert setting, and within minutes it became clear that not only was the profile the most accurate out of the box, it was technically calibrated. With three small caveats in the grayscale--the 20 and 30 percent PLUGE patterns--everything else about the Technicolor Expert setting proved accurate and within the margin of error most calibrators like to see. What was so off about the PLUGE patterns mentioned a moment ago? Their margin of error was slightly higher than what I like to see, each carrying a Delta E nearing four, whereas I (and other calibrators) try and keep things below three. Truth is, a Delta E of 4 or 5 isn't the end of the world, especially considering this is the TV's out-of-the-box performance we're talking about.
Colors were spot on, save for a minor undersaturation of blue with a Delta E of just over three. Brightness was measured at 295 Nits, which may not sound like a lot compared to some displays, but keep in mind this was the brightness for the Technicolor Expert profile. Other profiles, such as Standard and whatnot, carried with them far higher brightness readings. What I also found surprising about the Technicolor Expert setting was its rendering of absolute black, which measured at hair over half a Nit. If OLED can render absolute black, i.e. zero Nits, then barely over half a Nit from an LED LCD like the SK9000 is mighty impressive.
All-in-all, while I was only able to test one SK9000 and not a large sample of random displays from the factory, it would appear that LG has done what I previously thought to be impossible--they've produced a display that is calibrated from the factory. Sure, I still had to turn off a few energy saving features and motion interpolation options, but for all intents and purposes, if you buy the SK9000, you can pop it into its Technicolor Expert picture profile and be good to go.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...
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