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.
Looking for an overview of the best TVs on the market right now? Check out HomeTheaterReview's 4K/Ultra HD TV Buyer's Guide.
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 a7 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.
I began my evaluation of the SK9000 with the Brad Pitt dark comedy War Machine (Netflix). War Machine is available on Netflix in Ultra HD/Dolby Vision. Upon selecting source material mastered in Dolby Vision the display automatically switched from its Technicolor Expert mode to its Dolby Cinema mode--an option that is not available to you out of the box, but only after the display detects the appropriate incoming signal. Thankfully, you can adjust the Dolby Cinema mode the same you would any other, which means it can be calibrated--only it too was pretty much there straight away. So how did the film look? Brilliant. Colors were rich, well saturated, and above all, accurate in their rendering. Skin tones, despite the slight yellow tint applied in post-production due to the film's Middle Eastern surroundings, looked natural. Detail was as you would expect: sharp and well nuanced without visible artifacts like jaggies or nasty edge enhancements. Contrast was just superb, and black levels were deep, yet still very nuanced--not too unlike my personal experience with Sony's flagship OLED. While the SK9000 lacked that last one percent in terms of dimensionality that I swooned over when reviewing Sony's OLED, considering its roughly thousand-dollar asking price, the depth that was present was just outstanding.
Next up, another Ultra HD favorite: Sense8 (Netflix), by Matrix creators The Wachowskis. Filmed on Sony's venerable F55 CineAlta system, the show has a decidedly filmic look compared to many of today's RED-based shows. The display retained that analog film look, complete with digital noise that looked decidedly grain-like, which is a good thing. Nothing escapes the SK9000, nor is anything artificially smoothed over.
Beginning with skin tones, colors and textures looked very natural indeed, with excellent contrast throughout--be it color or shadows. Speaking of shadows, the display's rendering of black was nearly OLED-like when viewed straight on. Only when watching (very) off-axis did the inky blacks turn just a little purple in hue. Color on a whole looked terrific, very organic and natural, as Sense8 isn't as stylistically treated as some of the Wachowskis' earlier work.
The image, despite not being as bright as War Machine, still popped off the screen. Motion of all kinds was rendered true to life, and free of artifacts save for a few wide shots of San Francisco, where I detected some moiré in the building windows, which is the fault of the Sony CineAlta system and not the SK9000.
I ended my evaluation of the SK9000 with Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (Disney). The final fight between Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker was epic in its portrayal via the LG. The almost painterly hues of the scene were rendered faithfully and didn't at all appear artificial--despite knowing I was looking at a predominately CGI image.
As with Sense8, the grain/noise structure of the image was kept intact, which, believe it or not, goes a long way toward making the SK9000's image appear more natural and less digital. Yes, you can turn on noise reduction and digital this-and-that, but it comes at the expense of the display's terrific ability to render fine detail. Black levels were deep, rich, and above all black, with excellent contrast throughout. Moreover, there was zero light spill or bleeding between areas of light and dark, nor did I detect much if any spill in the film's various space battles, which can give some backlighting systems a run for their money.
I think it's obvious that I feel strongly about the LG's capabilities and picture quality, not to mention its ease of use from the moment you power it up. It's a very well thought out display, with a snappy OS that doesn't need Android branding to give you a Roku-worthy experience. Even its gimmickier features, like its digital picture frame capability (think Samsung's The Frame) are simply implemented better than the competition. Hell, even its onboard media reader--via a connected USB drive or stick--Is light years better than what you'll find on any display I've encountered. It's just fantastic.
As you can no doubt tell by now, I think the SK9000 is pretty much the bee's knees for a multitude of reasons. But not everything about it is perfect. As I said above, you're either going to love or hate the remote, and I would not fault anyone if the remote was a deal breaker. I learned to love it and even fancy it at times, but man would I have preferred almost any other option. Also, the menus, while snappy, are awfully cutesy and honestly maybe a little too much. For a display as feature-rich as the SK9000, the menus feel a bit like those large button phones you buy your grandparents so they don't get confused--they're just a little pandering. But then again, the LG proved to be among the easiest displays I've ever seen to just sit down and start using, so maybe the company has something going on with respect to their gesture remote and large, color-coded menus.
I err on the side of an image being right than ultra-bright, but it's worth noting that the SK9000 in its Technicolor Expert mode isn't going to win any brightness shootouts. Yes, the display can be brighter in another picture mode, but if you want absolute accuracy, you'll (likely) have to part with a bit of light output. This didn't bother me, but it bothered my photographer girlfriend, as she felt the SK9000 looked too dim. To be fair, she was comparing it to Samsung's flagship quantum dot display, which is so damn bright that sunglasses might be in order. To each their own, but if you're eyeing the LG on a showroom, understand that it may not draw you in initially compared to other brands.
The displays's speakers are also a bit pinched and nasally. I know many of you reading this likely won't ever utilize the LG's internal speakers, so this is a non-issue, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that they're pretty crap.
Lastly, and I never thought this would be a drawback, but because I love the SK9000 so, I wish it came in a size larger than 65 inches. I really do.
Competition and Comparison
There is no shortage of good-to-great displays on the market today. I consider the SK9000 to be among the greats, but how does it stack up with its pretty great competition?
For starters, the LG doesn't best my personal reference, the Sony A8F OLED, but it is basically 95 percent the display the OLED is for less than half the price. It's up to you, of course, to decide how much is that last five or so percent worth. For me, I'm not sure I'd buy the Sony every time; it sure would depend upon my mood.
While it may be unfair to compare the SK9000 to an OLED, I feel it is that good. That being said, it does compete directly with Sony's flagship LED backlit LCD, the X900F (reviewed here). I do like the X900F a lot, but I think the LG is simply stone-cold better.
As for how I feel the SK9000 stacks up against Samsung's Q6FN Quantum Dot display, that is an interesting dilemma. Samsung's Quantum Dot offerings win the brightness awards all day long, but I think the LG has it over the Samsung in terms of its user experience. If brightness is your thing, though, then there is no getting around the fact that many of the Samsung models are without peer.
Obviously, there are less expensive options to compare the LG to, options like Vizio and TCL, to name a few. While I still await delivery of the Vizio Quantum Dot display, I know many people love TCL's UI and for good reason--it's a Roku. I cannot say which of these two--Vizio or TCL--is better, but they're no doubt worth a look.
The LG SK9000 is a phenomenal display and one of the best all-rounders you'll find on the market today. Toss in the fact that it does appear to be calibrated, truly calibrated, in its Technicolor picture profile straight out of the box, and it quickly becomes a no-brainer recommendation. Yes, the interface is a bit cutesy. And yes, the remote takes some getting used to. But apart from those two caveats, the LG SK9000 is world-class, only it doesn't command the price tag one might associate with such performance.
For the money, and just for the performance period, I'm not sure there is a better display available today than the SK9000, all things considered.
• Visit the LG website for more product information.
• Check out our TV Reviews category page to read similar reviews.
•Sony X900F Ultra HD LED Smart TV Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.