To the delight of many (myself included), LG announced last fall the introduction of its first non-curved OLED TV models. As you may know, LG is the only TV manufacturer that has remained committed to bringing OLED to the North American market (Panasonic has announced a curved OLED TV that will sell in Japan, but there's no word on when/if it will make it to the states), and all of LG's initial offerings were curved. The EF9500 Series is flat and includes screen sizes of 55 and 65 inches, carrying MSRPs of $5,499 and $6,999 respectively at launch. However, the 65-inch 65EF9500 that LG sent me for review currently carries a street price closer to $5,000.
In addition to its flat form factor, the EF9500 Series has a 4K resolution and supports High Dynamic Range (the HDR-10 format), as well as 10-bit color and a wide color gamut. If you're not familiar with how OLED technology differs from the more common LED/LCD technology, check out this story (link tk). In short, OLED pixels generate their own light (much like plasma technology), so there's no need to talk about backlighting, edge lighting, local dimming, the number of zones, and all that other stuff that comes with LED/LCD. In addition to allowing for a superb black level, the lack of an external light source means that OLED does not suffer from viewing angle limitations. Motion blur can still be a concern with OLED, so LG offers its TruMotion feature to reduce both motion blur and film judder. Passive 3D capability is also supported.
The 65EF9500 features built-in Wi-Fi and includes LG's smart TV system, built on the webOS 2.0 platform. It has been over two years since we last reviewed an LG TV, so this was our first go-round with webOS, which LG implemented in its smart TVs in 2014. We'll cover some basics below, but stay tuned for a separate review on the webOS 2.0 system where we go more in-depth on its features and performance.
Setup and Features
The 65EF9500 has a simple but elegant design that is essentially bezel-free on the outside, although there is a black border embedded within the screen. A silver accent strip runs around the outer edge of the display, and the top half of the TV measures only 0.25 inches thick. The bottom half, though, measures about two inches at its thickest in order to accommodate the input panel, tuners, processing chips, and two down-firing speakers. LG should consider the separate-box approach to house the inputs and processing, in order to fully exploit just how thin and light an OLED panel can be. The supplied stand has a silver base, while the TV sits in a clear plastic pedestal that makes it look like it's floating above the stand. Without the stand, the TV weighs 46.7 pounds; with the stand, it weighs 56.9 pounds.
The input panel features three side-facing HDMI 2.0a inputs, all with HDCP 2.2. You also get three USB ports (one USB 3.0, two USB 2.0), one shared component/composite input, an RF input, optical and analog audio outputs, and an Ethernet port for a wired network connection. The USB ports support media playback, as well as the addition of peripherals like a USB keyboard or camera. I connected a variety of sources via HDMI during my review, including the Roku 4 and Sony FMP-X10 4K media players, an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player, and a Dish Network Hopper.
The 65EF9500 comes with LG's Bluetooth-based Magic Remote, which offers motion sensing and voice control but lacks backlighting. Gone are the minimalist remotes of previous years that had only a few buttons; rather, this one combines a full number pad with a scroll wheel and buttons for volume, channel, home, navigation, microphone, setup, exit, back, 3D, and more. You can navigate the LG's onscreen menu using either the remote's directional buttons or the motion-controlled pointer, which I found to have good responsiveness and accuracy. LG also offers a free control app for iOS/Android called "LG TV Plus"; the app interface includes basic TV controls, a touchpad, and the ability to launch smart TV apps and browse film/TV content directly from your mobile device. However, it lacks a virtual keyboard for faster text entry.
As expected for a high-end TV, the 65EF9500 includes all of the advanced adjustments you could want, including: nine picture modes (two ISF Expert modes); an OLED lighting control (similar to an adjustable backlight); two- and 20-point white balance adjustment; four gamma options (1.9, 2.2, 2.4, and BT.1886); a color management system with the ability to adjust the saturation, tint, and luminance of all six colors; standard and wide color gamuts; super resolution and edge enhancer tools; and noise reduction. LG's TruMotion menu includes options for off, smooth, clear, and user, in which you can set the blur and judder functions separately. We'll talk performance in the next section.
The Sound menu includes six preset sound modes and a smart sound mode that automatically tailors the output to the type of content, as well AV sync adjustment and a sound optimizer to tailor output based on where the TV is located (on the wall or away from the wall). The EF9500 Series speaker system has been "designed" by Harman/Kardon, and it produces a surprisingly big, full sound from just two down-firing speakers and no woofer.
During setup of the TV, you can easily configure the system to control your cable/satellite set-top box (no IR blasters are necessary), and the company has done a really nice job of integrating the set-top box experience into the LG onscreen interface. The LG remote can automatically control STB functions like channel up/down, channel recall, and channel info. The remote includes a button to pull up an onscreen interface that mimics the common buttons on a cable/satellite remote, like guide, menu, DVR, etc. LG's decision to put the number pad back on the remote means you don't have to pull up this onscreen interface quite as often, which is more intuitive in my opinion. However, you'll still need to use the onscreen interface to control DVR functions like pause, fast-forward, and reverse. The remote also includes a List button that will pull up your channel lineup with (as long as you're connected to a network) a list of what's currently playing on each channel, as well as a Recommended section that provides show recommendations based on your viewing selections.
As I mentioned above, a separate review of the webOS 2.0 smart TV platform is coming soon. Here, let me just say that webOS 2.0 offers most of the marque streaming services--including 4K versions of Netflix, Amazon, M-Go, and YouTube (but not VUDU yet)--as well as a Web browser, gaming content, USB/DLNA media playback, and an effective cross-platform search function.
The 65EF9500 arrived near the holiday season, and I wound up spending a lot of time casually watching HDTV content before I sat down to officially evaluate the TV. Since there are two ISF Expert picture modes, I set up one for a darker room and room for a brighter room, and that's the only adjustment I made. Even with this minimal amount of setup effort, the 65EF9500's picture quality was outstanding. It doesn't require professional measurement equipment to see how wonderfully deep the black level is and how rich and three-dimensional the picture looks.
When the time came to measure the display, my Xrite I1Pro 2 meter and CalMAN software confirmed that the two Expert modes (which are essentially identical out of the box) are the closest to HD reference standards--so close, in fact, that a professional calibration may not be necessary. The white balance is generally neutral, just a tad lean on red; the gamma average was 2.14; and the overall gray-scale Delta Error was just 1.76 (anything under a Delta Error of three is considered imperceptible to the human eye). Likewise, all six color points had a Delta Error under three, with red being the least accurate at 2.3. As always, I still pushed forward with the calibration process to see if I could get even better numbers. After making a few rounds of gray-scale and color adjustments, I wasn't able to improve the results that much--some numbers got a little better, and some actually got a little worse. But again, all of the numbers fell under the Delta Error threshold of what's supposedly visible to the human eye, so I ultimately decided I was just splitting hairs and moved on.
I measured the 65EF9500's Wide color gamut to see how close it gets to the larger DCI P3 and UHD Rec 2020 color spaces that we'll see in future UHD sources. As you can see in the CalMAN charts to the right, the 65EF9500's color points don't quite fill the P3 color triangle (top chart), with red and green falling a bit short. So far, I haven't measured a 4K TV that could cover the full P3 gamut, although Samsung's JS8500 came a little closer than this TV. No current TV can meet the Rec 2020 color points (bottom chart).
One of the big selling points of OLED is that it can combine the best of both worlds--the wonderful black-level capabilities of plasma and the high light output of LCD. In the long run, OLED TVs may not be capable of as much brightness as LCD, but they can still be very bright. At its default settings, the LG's Expert 1 picture mode measured about 73 foot-lamberts (250 nits) with an 18 percent white window and put out about 120 ft-L (411 nits) when I pushed the OLED light control to its maximum. The brightest but least accurate Vivid mode put out about 142 ft-L (486 nits). Those are higher numbers than many of the recent LED/LCDs I've reviewed, including the HDR-capable Samsung UN65JS8500.
A quick aside: As I did with plasma TVs of the past, I measured this OLED TV using a white window because it engages an automatic brightness limiter when you put up a full white screen, resulting in lower brightness numbers (albeit still higher than what I measured with most plasmas). Most LED/LCDs put out generally the same brightness with a window or a full white field. Most experts will argue that white windows are a more accurate reflection of real-world content anyhow. During calibration, I set HDTVs to about 40 ft-L of brightness, and the 65EF9500 was able to put out about 45 ft-L on a full white screen when I set the OLED lighting control to its maximum--although I certainly wouldn't want to watch TV in a dark room at that setting, as it would be painfully bright (again, the white window measured around 120 ft-L). Let's just say that, with real-world HDTV content in a daytime viewing environment, the 65EF9500 had no trouble going toe to toe in brightness with my reference Samsung UN65HU8550 TV--and easily bested it in its ability to render bright elements within the larger bright scene.
Now let's get to the real treat: the 65EF9500's black level. As I mentioned, because each OLED pixel generates its own light, you don't need a backlight. Even plasma pixels needed to be primed to respond quickly, so some amount of light was generated even with an all-black signal. That's not the case with OLED. An all-black screen, or a portion thereof, can be truly black, and the result is a fantastic level of contrast with darker film and HDTV scenes. When pitted against the Samsung UN65HU8550 edge-lit LED/LCD with local dimming, the contest wasn't even close. The LG's black level was blatantly darker in every instance. One of my new favorite black-level demo scenes comes from chapter two of Mission Impossible 4: Rogue Nation, where Ethan Hunt finds himself chained up in a dark underground room with brick walls. Not only was the 65EF9500's black level and contrast exceptional, but the fine black details in those brick backgrounds were clearly reproduced. In chapter three of Gravity, the black of space was truly black, yet each star remained bright and vivid, creating a more three-dimensional image that made you feel like the characters were really engulfed in space.
The LG's detail was on par with other 4K TVs I've tested at this screen size, and its picture looked clean, with very little digital noise when the noise reduction function was engaged.
All of the above performance characteristics that allow the 65EF9500 to produce a gorgeous HD image--a deep black level, great light output, natural color, great detail, and a clean image--serve it equally well with 4K content. Whether I viewed an external source like the Sony FMP-X10 media player or Roku 4 or an internal streamed 4K source like Netflix or Amazon, the 65EF9500 consistently delivered the best that the original source had to offer, with no major flaw to hinder the experience. The LG had no issues with Netflix/Amazon 4K playback, and it passed the full 4K resolution within YouTube, using Florian Friedrich's dynamic multiburst pattern. The USB 3.0 port also passed a full 4K resolution and played the Florian Friedrich HEVC and MPEG4 4K demos on the Video Essentials UHD USB drive.
I queued up Amazon Video's Mozart in the Jungle Season 1 to test HDR capability. When the TV detects an HDR signal, it locks into a non-adjustable HDR picture mode and gives you an onscreen prompt that the HDR mode is on. The pilot episode of Mozart in the Jungle isn't of very high quality, and I found the HDR to be less than impressive. However, things got a lot better in episode two, where the peak brightness of HDR shone through (so to speak) in many background details and bright skies, and the overall contrast was excellent. Although I don't yet have the necessary HDR-coded test patterns to get an official measurement of peak brightness in HDR mode, I took some on-the-fly readings of bright elements within various Mozart scenes and got numbers around 135 to 142 ft-L (462 to 486 nits). The show sucked me in, and I watched several episodes in a row. When I turned it off and the LG TV automatically switched back to my Dish Network signal, I was struck by how flat and lifeless the image seemed. Trust me when I say that, even in a lower-quality streamed form, HDR can be addictive. I really can't wait to see how it's implemented in Ultra-HD Blu-ray.
With LG's TruMotion control disabled, the TV did exhibit a fair amount of blurring (down to TV 320) in the motion-resolution test pattern on my FPD Benchmark BD. The Clear mode provided only minimal improvement. The Smooth mode is better still, but it employs frame interpolation to create the smooth soap opera effect that I don't like. Ultimately, I went with the User mode, setting the judder control to zero and the blur control to maximum. This created good motion resolution without adding the smoothing effects; however, even at their best, the motion resolution tests weren't quite as clean and razor-sharp as I've seen from the best LED/LCDs.
The 65EF9500 is a passive 3D display. The package comes with two pairs of glasses, but none arrived with my review sample, so I used a pair of RealD 3D glasses I had lying around. The LG's excellent black level and light output result in a great-looking, well-saturated 3D picture that you can watch even in a brighter room. The passive design means no flickering and no ghosting, as long as you don't view the image from too low, too high, or too far to the sides (a passive 3D image will fall apart at extreme viewing angles)--and the 4K resolution means you get 1080p to each eye, so I didn't see the visible line structure that hinders the passive approach with a 1080p TV. This TV supports LG's Dual Play for gaming, in which two people can see different, full-screen 1080p images in a head-to-head game.
The 65EF9500's screen is reflective, but it includes an anti-reflective coating that does make the screen less reflective than many others I've seen. It also makes the screen look darker when it's turned off, and it helps the black level look really good in brighter viewing conditions. Nonetheless, you can still see light sources reflected in the coating (which has a reddish tinge to it), so you should be mindful about where you position the TV in relation to lamps.
Click over to Page Two for Measurements, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...