HDTV

LG 55EA980 55" Curved OLED HDTV

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction to the LG 55EA980 OLED HDTV

For the past decade, we've been hearing about a miraculous new technology called OLED that will reshape our lives. It will be cheaper than LED TVs, produce better blacks than the legendary Pioneer Kuro, as thin as a kitchen knife and curved like an IMAX projection screen. Not only that, but manufacturers hope this will bring new life to their mostly losing TV businesses.

LG 55EA980 OLED HDTV SPECIFICATIONS

(Specs vary between models)

  • Screen Size: 55" Diagonal
  • Processor: 2 x 1.2Ghz Dual core
  • Internal Flash Memory: 2GB
  • Connections:  4 X HDMI (1.4 simplink, 1xARC, 1xMHL) , 3 X USB (one is USB 3.0), Composite/Component, Antenna, SPDiF Out, LAN, Headphones Jack
  • Remote: Magic Motion
  • Communication: Mircast, NFC, BT, WiDi, WiFi direct, LAN, DLNA, MHL
  • Aspect Ratio: 8 Modes ( 16:9, Just Scan, Original, Full Wide, 4:3, 14:9, Zoom, Cinema Zoom 1)
  • Just Scan (1:1 Pixel Matching) 0% OverScan: ( HDMI/Component/RF) 1080i / 1080p / 720p
  • 7 Picture Modes (Vivid,Standard,Eco, Cinema,Game, isf Expert1,isf Expert2)
  • Picture Wizard II (2D/3D)
  • 3D Type: FPR (Film Patterned Retarder, Passive Radial)
  • Formats: DIVX, M2TS, MKV, MOV, M4V, JPEG, DTS, MP3, DD AC3, MPEG, PCM, AAC
  • LG
  • SECRETS Tags: LG, OLED, HDTV, Video

Touted the silver bullet of the video industry, we've been repeatedly disappointed - as each CES comes along and new demos are shown, actual products still do not get mass produced or sold (apart from the now-legendary epic fail of the 11" OLED Sony TV).

That's all changed. Both Samsung and LG now produce and sell OLED TVs, which cost around $10,000 retail - in both flat and curved form factors. These are first generation mass produced units, with more companies like Panasonic and Sony not far behind from mass production.

First generation technology is never perfect, as you shall see from the review, but they demonstrate the capabilities of the technology.

Although this OLED TV contains many features, such as a built in HD DTV receiver, smart applications, a built in streamer and more - In this article, I will primarily focus on the display technology and less on the other features of the display.

 


Design and User Interface of the LG 55EA980 OLED HDTV

The effect of seeing this display is nothing short of stunning. The screen is extremely thin - about half as thin as the iPhone 5s… The bottom area of the display has a slightly thicker area that curves in the back to form the connection area (which has lots of connections, including USB 3.0, a top side "hidden" USB connection, tuner port and more). The bottom of the display is clear plastic and curves around more drastically than the TV itself, thus forming a stable base for the TV to stand on. The curved clear shape, along with almost no bezel gives the impression that the display is floating a few inches from the tabletop.

Two nearly transparent film speakers are found on either side of the clear part of the stand and add even more to the mystery - they produce 40W of great sound almost without being noticed. A bottom facing subwoofer is hidden from view but does give a great punch to this display.

The back of the TV is made from black and shiny carbon fiber resin which simply looks awesome from behind. This is clearly the best looking and best design I have ever had in my testing labs, maybe apart from how I felt about the original Kuro design at the time.

In terms of user interface, the LG interface is fairly bland and far from the flash and colorful experiences that companies like Samsung or Sony show on their TVs. There are plenty of ways to control this TV, including a "magic remote", smartphone control, voice control, touch control and more.

The main remote for this TV is the "magic remote", which has an air mouse that works using a gyroscope - kind of like the Wii remote with a floating cursor you control by physically moving the remote through the air. This remote has relatively few buttons, but does contain a roller wheel instead of an OK button. This wheel lets you quickly channel zap but the problem is that it is really annoying when used elsewhere. Also, the User Interface is somewhat cumbersome and is suitable for a computer savvy person (i.e., geek compatible). I believe normal humans will often be confused by the User Interface, which does take some getting used to. One example of this is how to switch HDMI inputs: There are several options, but pressing the "smart" button brings up the full smart TV interface with many icons - pressing the settings input icon gives you a sliding view of the inputs. Switching from HDMI1 to HDMI2 requires 4-5 mouse operations, for something that should actually be a dedicated key on this TV.

Smart android and iOS apps are really neat and simulate a regular remote very nicely, albeit are problematic for waking the TV up when it is completely off.

Another way to control the TV is by touching its underside, which has a capacitive sensor. This is a neat and cool way to control a TV (although somewhat embarrassing and confusing for any bystanders). Unfortunately, LG did not perfect the navigation technique which is quite difficult to navigate… When plugging in the optional camera accessory into the top USB connection (a small panel can be removed to show this hidden connection), the TV can also be controlled using hand gestures but this is a really annoying way to signal the TV to change channels or reduce the volume - you can even draw a number in the air to try and switch channels but I have had very little luck with this - probably due to the lack of ambient lights.

Finally, the TV can also be controlled by voice, but not to voice commands. The remote contains a microphone and dedicated button. However, this does not let you really control the TV, but does an online search and produces a list of potential videos that you might be referring to. This is really a cool way to access online content and reminds me quite a bit of how the Kinect works (except that the microphone on the remote lets LG detect voice much more accurately than the Kinect).

Curved screen

There are two popular questions I get asked about this technology:

1. Why is the screen curved?
There are many answers to this question, but I think the primary answer is "because they can". OLED needs to be clearly differentiated from LED TVs both because of the price differences but also because this is clearly new technology and this needs to be relayed to the customer somehow. OLED is technically "printed" technology that can be shaped in many different ways (LG even produces the LG flex which is a slightly flexible smartphone using similar technology). The curved screen is not shaped like the IMAX display which is so large that the distance to the projector would cause it to defocus at the corners without curving it. The distance to the viewer is much too short and the curvature much too drastic for that.

I found the real benefit (beyond blowing people away when the catch the shape and thickness of the TV panel) is that the curved shape virtually inoculates the TV from light reflections. Whereas large flat TVs have a problem if they are installed opposite a window or porch door, the curved nature of this display acts like a lens and reflects you back onto yourself - which means you hardly get any light displays (unless you are glowing for no particular reason…).

2. I can get a 55" screen for a lot less. Is it worth it?
Short answer: yes. Longer answer: "hell yeah".

Although this seems like a first generation product, in reality this technology has been in development for so long and is being mass produced for a few years for cell phones (many Android handsets are using OLED in favor of LED/LCD), this technology appears much more finished than almost anything out there.

I did find quite a few flaws in the display, all of which I will share in this review, but my overall impression, based purely on my experience with this specific TV, is that this technology is actually ready for prime time.

 


The LG 55EA980 OLED HDTV On the Bench


Dead Pixels

There are quite a few differences between the various OLED implementations that should be noted. That means that issues that might affect one manufacturer would appear quite different on another manufacturer's implementation. So, caveat emptor - what I'm writing here is relevant for the specific unit and model I tested.

The LG implementation of OLED is WRGB, which means each pixel on the screen is composed of 4 sub-pixels: White, Red, Green and Blue. The white pixel helps with both the resolution (the eye is much more sensitive to luma changes than to color - which means a dedicated pixel for grays will let us get better perception of greys) as well as for luminance and white balance. I believe this also helps LG OLED better avoid burn-in, which was seen in other types of OLED displays.

The downside of WRGB is that you have 2 million more sub-pixels that can fail in production. With the current low yields of OLED, you might very well encounter dead pixels (stuck pixels are much more annoying and far rarer on OLED).

Dead pixels are not easily detectable without uniform color field test patterns. And indeed, I was able to see dead pixels in all primary colors, save the white, which I did not find any dead pixels in. Again, your mileage may vary as other reviews on the Internet were quite diverse with the number of pixels.

Residual Light / Uniformity

Another issue I saw clearly was residual luminance, which was present on all types of primary colors but the reason for it was unclear. The display I got was used as a demo unit before I got my hands on it, which might very well mean that this is some type of burn-in.

The following images were captured by long exposure and some auto contrasting to make the lit areas more perceptible and pronounced.

Since there was a pattern to the residual light output on the screen, I mapped it horizontally using the following luminosity graph.

Uniformity was measured at around 90% average, with a few dips at 80%, significantly better than LED and LCD, but short of plasma uniformity, which typically measures above 90%.

To try and replicate the burn-in effect, I left the TV on for a few days with only a blue 100IRE window at the center. At the end of the test, I fully expected there to be some slight difference between the area surrounding the box and the box itself. Such a test on a plasma screen would often yield noticeable burn-in, or at least image retention which would require a few days at least to resolve. However, no noticeable difference was noticed.

Smearing

The next issue to test was moving pixel test. Most LED TVs (actually LED backlit/edgelit) still have noticeable pixel smearing which is caused by response time. OLED technology is similar to LCD in terms of smear - since it also uses sample & hold for its pixels. Plasma, on the other hand, normally flickers subpixels very quickly, so pixel smear is a non-issue. To resolve this, black frame insertion is used on LED TVs, typically at 240Hz. Response time for this OLED display is around 0.1ms and I did see black pixel insertion (one row at a time) at roughly 10KHz, which was extremely difficult to detect using a Nikon DSLR…

During the tests I did see issues with moving lines, but they were all linked to the image processing mechanism known as Intermediate Frame Creation. This effect adds intermediate frames in order to create smooth motion effect. For some reason, LG cranks this feature up, which both reduces the moving lines resolution dramatically (comparable with typical LCD numbers) and also introduces glitches and artifacts. Switching the Dejudder feature to off (this is user controllable with regards to judder and sharpness) increased the moving line resolution to Plasma levels.

Color Shift

As a videophile, I fully expected to be annoyed by the curved display and the nonlinear nature of the image. While I did only view the TV at the sweet spot (centered both horizontally and vertically) the curved image did not annoy me at the very least and after a day or two, I stopped noticing it…

Off center viewing typically causes color shifts in LCD and LED technology (edge and back lit displays often also suffer from additional artifacts due to off center viewing). The curved display does affect the off-center viewing and increases the image deformity, as well as adds some color shift. The image tends to be pinkish when viewing from a wide angle (>75 degrees off axis).

On the bright side, I had a terrible time trying to photograph light reflections - the image was almost completely free from light reflections, which is a really amazing thing.

Blooming

LG's OLED technology is very bright, and this causes a bit of a "problem" when  bright edgeful objects appear on the screen - they can slightly bleed out of the image. The ANSI contrast of this display is so drastically high (it is impossible to measure), that the effect is nearly impossible to measure or even determine if it is caused by my eyes (or camera sensor blooming) or if it's a real phenomenon…

Clouding

Light spills and clouding are the two banes of LCD/LED technology. The thinner the display, the more susceptible it is to clouding and light spills from edges (or in the case of full-LED or Nano-LED, light spills per light block).

This is not the case with OLED. It can shut down light completely. In my case, I was able to occasionally see some light output while the display was supposed to be completely dark. This was some type of residual light but this was not always reproducible. This image was captured by extremely long exposure (around 10 seconds):

Measurements

Contrast is a tough one, with different manufacturers measuring it differently and all announcing impossible numbers going above the million to one mark. There are quite a few ways to measure or even detect contrast, which is the ratio between lit pixels and unlit pixels. Some refer to the on-off contrast, which determines how a particular display can turn off the display. When we're talking about LED displays, certain areas of the display (or the entire display) can be turned off completely - which means that black level is absolute black = infinite contrast. However, this is not without problems. Pioneer Kuro was the first commercial display to be so utterly black as to almost be imperceptible to the eye - black letterbox marks are so dark as to meld into the black bezel in a fully darkened room.

LED displays have various problems with contrast - edge lit displays can turn off the entire screen (or a large part of it) but this causes a big mess with patterns like checker box patterns. Backlit, local dimming LEDs do better, but still can't really turn off a particular section of the screen. Plasma is better at ANSI contrast, but OLED seems to blow everything away: checker box patterns show extremely bright boxes and purely black boxes. Were you to place this display side by side with LED or Plasma - the LG OLED display would blow away the other two at both the bright areas and the dark areas.

In terms of light output, the extra white sub pixel allows the OLED panel to measure at up to 350cd/m2 (about 300% the capability of plasma and higher than most LED TVs). This changes based on the number of lit pixels, as the power output of the display is monitored - the more pixels are turned on, the lower the overall brightness that the APL system allows, to reduce the power requirements of the display (which max out at 100W). A full 100IRE field pattern generates 89cd/m2, which is more than reasonable.

Video Processing

Nothing out of the ordinary here. LG simply placed its latest generation video processor into the TV. It has basically the same processing as other LG Led TVs (which makes it a pretty average processing experience).

Color Measurements

In terms of color, the OLED technology is capable of the same wide gamut of colors as LED, but it still accurately portrays the REC709 color space. This is the wide color space:

This is the REC709 color space:

And this is how the color spaces translate into real world content:

Color temperature when set to WARM2 mode is around 6300K (D65 targets around 6500K) caused by consistent slight lack of blues. This can be easily corrected by a small increase of the blue bias setting.

The rich blacks of the display causes it try and increase shadow detail by reducing the gamma. I'm not sure that's such a wise decision - I think a higher gamma would actually make the display stand out even more. When set to 2.4 gammas I measured 2.09, which is way too low for me.

The spectral signature of the white OLED is very strange and unlike that of other technologies:

Lag testing measures the time it takes between when the display received the image until the actual light appears on the screen. I measured 146ms on regular content (1080P60) - which is definitely high. When set to game mode, the measurement dropped to 55ms - which is still quite high and could cause problems for serious gamers.

Image Quality

At the end of the day, the image quality is what decides if a high end TV is worth the exorbitant price… There is no question, the combination of a high contrast image, the design and the wide color gamut and fast response time makes for a spectacularly amazing effect.

I'll let the images do {most of} the talking…

Standard def TV looks as good as it can on a TV like this, but the really amazing thing is how wonderful even lower quality HDTV transmissions look like. The OLED really brings out the highlights of any transmission. It's definitely not just the contrast; it's also the color range and complete lack of any banding or false contouring throughout the color gamut range.

But when you feed the display Blu-ray content, it really blows you away. The first sequence I tested was actually the 3D demo content from our friends over at Spears & Munsil, with their HD benchmark 2.0 Blu-ray. The montage images were simply stunning in 2D (in 3D they are even more amazing).

Next up is the test Blu-ray that Pioneer issued with their 2008 Kuro model. These tests are pretty simple - they show a black background with stunning high def content in the foreground. Even LED TV will fail with these sequences simply because they will always have some degree of grayness, cloudiness and light leakage.

Since the Pioneer Kuro virtually the only ones to pass these tests with any sort of success are the latest generation plasma panels from Panasonic and, to a lesser degree, the Samsung. In a privately held shootout I conducted, the VT60 was finally on par with the 2008 Kuro model. However, this first gen OLED not only surpasses this benchmark, but simply looks amazing while doing it. This type of benchmark really shows the capabilities of this type of display and how far it surpasses LED and LCD.

Non benchmark content benefits from the technology greatly. Inglourious Basterds has simply never looked sharper or deeper before.

The final part of Lord of the rings looked gritty and unbelievably realistic.

But the toughest challenge was obviously Sin City - this is benchmark quality tests, not only is it primarily grayscale (which means it is working with only 235 shades of gray during most of the movie!!!), but it has an amazingly rich contrast, which makes it a challenging Blu-ray to look good.

The LG OLED display simply made it look amazing. It was mind-blowing contrast.

Finally, LG gave me some of its own "Kuro-like" test patterns that were a bit more up to date than the original Kuro tests. They use the same trick - black background with rich colors and details in the foreground, bound to fail on most modern displays save the OLED TVs.


The two final movies I tested with were the colorful "Speed Racer", which pushes the color gamut to the max, and the final piece of the second Star Wars trilogy, with rich textures and dark colors.

3D


LG was the first to realize that 3D was nothing more than a feature that you would use occasionally, but not buy the TV specifically for. This realization moved it to be the first to roll out passive radial filters that are bonded to the display.

The upside is that this adds almost no cost to the TV and the glasses are cheap and light.

And LG has even improved on that. 4 pairs of glasses come with the OLED model, two of which are clip-ons for people who already have glasses. The other two were created with glasses maker Alain Mikli, who designed the best 3D glasses I have ever worn. They are paper light and look like a pair of Oakley sunglasses. They fit as good as or better than normal sunglasses and after a minute or so, you simply forget they are there. 

However, I have to say that while I'm a huge fan of 3D and love watching good 3D movies (Gravity and Life of Pi being the last two great movies that came out in 3D), I do have to mention I really am not a big fan of passive 3D. Passive 3D alternates rows between the right eye and left eye, leaving essentially 1920X540 for each eye to see at any given moment. This is half the resolution of active 3D (or the passive 3D you would see in a normal movie theater).

This can be clearly shown by the next photo:

The loss of resolution can be clearly felt when you are sitting too close to the TV. So, keep in mind that if you're up to it, 3D will be easier on your eyes and nose (no flickering, but very light glasses), but on the other hand, you'll need to sit at least 4-5m (13-16ft) away to avoid seeing the "scan line" effect.

I added some photos from Life of Pi, but keep in mind that these were taken when the display had the 3D feature turned off, so that the images would not appear fuzzy.

One additional note, LG's smart section now contains demo materials of 3D. I can't say I like all of it, but it does make for some cool test content to demonstrate if company drops by and you want to demonstrate 3D on your new TV.

Smart LG

I won't go too deeply into this specific rabbit hole… LG's smartTV offerings are quite rich and have improved over the last few years, with the latest generation finally containing most of what you would expect from a major manufacturer, including Netflix and other content vendors. The sad part is that it took me about 20 minutes to sign up, due to network issues and the terrible complexity that LG puts up during the signup process before you can actually start using any apps. That's a terrible experience and would definitely explain why so many people purchase a smart-TV but neglect to sign up, connect it to the Internet, or use it.

The internal streamer on this TV was able to connect to most of my computers and storage devices and view images, music and videos with very little effort. The TV itself can also connect to a USB 3.0 storage drive and become a recording device of its own by recording HD and SD free to air transmissions and playing them back when needed. This combination of quick access to services like YouTube and Netflix with recording of free-to-air, is a clear winning proposition for cord-cutters.

I was able to use DLNA to stream 55Mbps M2TS files (bitrate test content) and up to 70Mbps MKV files before the videos started stuttering…

The TV also remembered which files I started playing and offered to start back where I stopped last. DTS files played fine, which was a surprise.

Finally, voice control was able to let me quickly access YouTube videos with very little effort. This combination of discovery and quick access to online videos is a real breakthrough and I would expect LG to integrate these features into a wider variety of content providers, and not just limit it to a few select ones like YouTube.

 


Conclusions about the LG 55EA980 OLED HDTV

We normally consider first generation technology something that wouldn't be suitable for real world use, but this is not a normal TV. OLED technology has been brewing in the labs for the better part of the last decade and we are finally seeing the fruits of this labor.

This is one of those rare instances where display companies are investing in picture quality after mostly adding features, design and more features.

I have to say that I was blown away by the image quality and can't really imagine how much further OLED technology can push forward without a really dramatic shift in the industry (in the form of 4K Blu-ray, 12 bit content, a switch to REC2020 and more).

The new curved design caught me off guard - I expected to dislike it but given the lack of reflection I quickly turned to really like it. The fact that the screen looks simply stunning might have something to do with that.

With all that to say, not everything is perfect. Any number of dead pixels is unacceptable to me and although normal viewing was not impacted by this, it was disturbing and really needs investigation. The residual brightness issue was also strange and might have something to do with the fact that this was a demo unit prior to me getting it (a flat field uniform burn-in period might be in order, as was the case with early plasmas). Finally, the remote took quite a while to get used to - the concept of a cursor on a TV display is not very convenient.

I think the next big hurdle to overcome is the question of a more natural user interface and even reducing the number of features to a more manageable amount - I can't see anyone using even half of the features included in this TV…