HDTV manufacturers have been experimenting with new technologies, trying to find the next big thing. Ultra HD (4K) televisions are the most notable because they represent a significant jump in resolution over 1080p, but they’re also fairly useless until we get media in that format. Organic LED (OLED) screens have shown promise for years, but haven’t really clicked yet. Curved displays are a new trend, and their usefulness is also uncertain. LG played mix-and-match with these technologies with the 55EA9800, a 1080p curved OLED screen with a jaw-dropping $14,999.99 (list) price tag. It’s not an HDTV many people would ever consider for their home, but the 55-inch curved OLED display produces the best picture we’ve ever tested in the lab. It crushes high-end plasma screens in black levels and offers a wider color spectrum than any other HDTV we’ve measured, all for the combined cost of the aforementioned high-end plasma screen and…a car.
LG calls the 55EA9800 “pencil-thin,” and that’s simply not true. Every pencil I’ve compared to the screen has been significantly thicker than the just-over-0.2-inch-deep panel. It’s so thin my first instinct was to look for the wizard enchanting this curved piece of glass, and at 37.9 pounds is easily the lightest 55-inch HDTV I’ve ever set up. It’s practically bezel-free, with only a thin metal band running around the top and side and a thin black frame of 0.3 inches around the picture. The screen comes in a single piece with a built-in curved, clear plastic stand that holds it upright and contains a pair of clear speakers. LG’s incredibly thin and light design comes with some dangers, though: With no bezel or rigid backing for the screen, you have to be very, very careful when removing it from the box and setting it up. The HDTV doesn’t wobble, but the panel flexes slightly if not held correctly.
The illusion is lost a bit when you look around the HDTV and see the electronics that drive it in a large black plastic lump mounted on the back; overall dimensions are 31.44 by 48.31 by 7.56 inches (HWD). The left side of the screen, facing left, holds four HDMI ports, two USB 2.0 ports, and a USB 3.0 port. The combination composite/component video inputs, optical audio output, antenna/cable connector, and Ethernet port sit in a recessed space on the back, facing down.
The 55EA9800 uses LG’s Magic Remote, a motion-sensing wand with a minimum of physical controls, instead of the typical button-laden remote control. The Magic Remote has Power, Home, Back, Menu, 3D, Mute, Channel Up/Down, and Volume Up/Down buttons, along with a four-direction navigation pad and a scroll wheel that doubles as a Select button. But that’s it. There are no dedicated buttons for online services or settings, and no number pad or color buttons. Instead, the remote controls an on-screen cursor like an air mouse for navigating the HDTV’s menus and features.
As LG’s top-of-the-line, cutting edge 1080p HDTV, the 55EA9800 is laden with features. It comes with two pairs of frankly stylish, could-be-mistaken-for-decent-sunglasses passive 3D glasses with hard carrying cases and another two pairs of clip-on 3D shades for users who already wear glasses. It also includes a separate USB webcam you can plug in for video chat. Built-in Wi-Fi (or an optional wired Ethernet connection) lets the HDTV access tons of online services and apps, including the usual suspects of Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon along with many more specific information, entertainment, and game apps. The LG content hub also offers access to dedicated 3D video online, plus a Web browser.
We test HDTVs with a Klein K-10A colorimeter, DisplayMate test patterns, and SpectraCal’s CalMAN 5 software. We tested the 55EA9800 with basic dark room calibration, manually adjusting the brightness and contrast levels and setting color temperature to the warmest setting. The screen has a built-in Picture Wizard II feature that can walk you through simple calibration, but we found the resulting settings weren’t optimal compared to our own, and didn’t result in the superlative test results we found under our calibrations. For reference, we tested the screen in the ISF Expert1 setting with OLED Brightness (backlighting) at maximum, Contrast at maximum, and Brightness (black level) at 48.
The OLED screen doesn’t get particularly bright, peaking at 99.014 cd/m2 (for a flat white screen; the display seems to get visually brighter under regular viewing). Its black levels are where it really (doesn’t) shine, though. If the 55EA9800 puts out any light when displaying black, it’s so little that our equipment can’t measure it. That’s a first in this lab.
Lots of HDTVs in the past have advertised “infinite” contrast ratio, or contrast ratio in the millions, claiming the difference between the brightest the screen can get and the darkest the screen can get are so impressively massive. In regular lab tests, this has never proven to be the case; HDTVs can completely turn off the display when showing a completely dark screen, and when that’s the case we measure how dark the screen can get, isolated, with another part of the screen (often a bright border) lit. This usually blows those infinite and millions contrast ratios right apart. With other parts of the screen lit, the 55EA9800 shows absolutely no measurable light in black areas. That gives the screen the very first lab-tested infinite contrast ratio we’ve ever measured. Even if the panel doesn’t get super-bright, its incredible black levels more than make up for it, putting it up against the highest-end plasma HDTVs on the market like the Samsung PNF8500 and the Panasonic ZT60 series.
Color is less perfect out of the box, but even inaccurate results were genuinely impressive. The chart above shows CIE ideal readings in the boxes and the measured readings in the dots, at the BT709 (an industry standard) and Wide color space settings. Reds and greens were consistently oversaturated, but stayed generally in line with the ideal tint and hue values, keeping the colors generally accurate. These saturation levels show that the 55EA9800 can reach a wider color space than any HDTV we’ve tested. That’s a remarkable technical feat, but not ideal for watching movies. Setting the color space to Standard reduced the oversaturation, but the color levels still went beyond normal values. This is an HDTV that would genuinely benefit from a professional color calibration, and its $15,000 price tag make the few hundred you’d spend on it look downright palatable. Of course, you can always turn the Color (saturation) setting slightly below the defaults, as well.
These excellent test results translate into the best picture I’ve seen on an HDTV yet. I watched Black Swan on Blu-ray, and the anamorphic letterboxing vanished against the frame in a dark room, displaying perfect black above and below the picture. The extreme contrasts of dark blacks and bright whites on various materials came through with detail on both ends of the spectrum showing remarkable detail on the black fabrics of the costumes in a variety of lighting conditions. Jason and the Argonauts on Blu-ray looked similarly impressive, but its bright 1960s-era Eastmancolor film colorization made the oversaturation issues of the Wide color space mode very apparent. Flesh tones and the blue of the sea balanced against each other without tinting green or red, but they all seemed slightly garish and overly bright. While Wide might sound more appealing, the Standard or BT709 color space modes reduce the oversaturation significantly. Besides that issue, though, the details were incredibly sharp, with no hint of highlight texture or edge swallowed by the bright picture of the film.
The clear speakers in the base look subtle and impressive, although they have a cheesy “Clear Speaker” label on each one, a totally unnecessary addition. Regardless, they’re still HDTV speakers, and aren’t particularly powerful. They sound good but not great, which is about what you can expect from any sound system built into a display.
Curved Display and 3D
The curve of the screen is one of the biggest features of the 55EA9800, and the most dubious. I’ve been holding my opinion on curved displays until I could test them in the lab, and after putting the 55EA9800 through its paces I can safely say that results are inconclusive. The curve of the screen improves off-angle viewing and lets users see the 2D picture with equal contrast and color accuracy whether they’re directly in front of the screen or viewing it from the side. However, the same can be said of a flat IPS panel. Any benefit of the curved display is eclipsed by the benefit of the OLED technology that gives the HDTV such remarkable contrast and color performance. For now, I can’t say that a curved display is effectively worth more than the bragging rights of cutting-edge technology it represents, and it certainly can’t justify a five-digit price tag. An OLED display, on the other hand, clearly offers enough potential benefits to be as valuable as a new car to cinephiles.
The 3D picture also looks impressive, but even the curve of the screen can’t fix a common problem with passive 3D. I watched IMAX Under the Sea 3D on Blu-ray from different angles, and sitting in front of the screen was like looking through a clean glass-bottom boat into the water. The 3D picture remained strong across a wide viewing angle, but crosstalk started to appear when viewed from the extreme sides. More notably, extreme crosstalk appeared when moving vertically, producing a distinct ghost image when viewing the screen from a position higher than where it sat. Your HDTV should be located at eye level or slightly higher, but the 55EA9800′s lack of available wall mounting hardware can make that potentially awkward.
If you were hoping OLED screens would usher in a new age of energy efficiency for HDTVs, you’re going to be disappointed by the 55EA9800. With energy saving features turned off, the screen consumes an average of 210 watts. That number shrinks to 162 watts in Minimum energy saving mode and 122 watts in Medium energy saving mode, which are much more reasonable and barely darken the screen at all (compared to the Maximum energy saving mode, which makes the screen uncomfortably dim). Plasma HDTVs broadly consume more, but LED HDTVs generally consume a fair amount less than this screen.
Is it Worth it?
I can’t speak to the usefulness of curved displays or whether they’re worth the sizable premium they command, but I can say with certainty that OLED screens represent the future of high-end HDTVs. The LG 55EA9800 is a technological marvel and the finest display I’ve ever tested. It’s also by far the most expensive. If you can drop five digits on an HDTV, you won’t be disappointed by the 55EA9800. If you can’t quite justify that investment, consider fractionally expensive high-end flat panels like the Samsung PNF8500 plasma. It doesn’t offer the perfect blacks of the 55EA9800, but it costs a fifth of the price and is one of the best screens you can pick up for less than a car.
|Video Inputs||Component, Composite, HDMI, RF, USB|
|Diagonal Screen Size||55 inches|
|Pixel Refresh Rate Speed||60Hz|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc