Review: LG’s deliciously gorgeous 55” UHDTV will make you hate 1080p

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You may have noticed the post regularity over the past week or so has been reduced and there’s one very good reason for that. I’ve been spending far too much time with the TV, putting it through it’s paces, but that really over represents this as work, when in reality it felt much more like a good old fashion entertainment experience.

Since the moment it arrived I focused on exploring every aspect of the device and there’s plenty new to look at. Regular readers of the site would have seen posts on my First impressions of the TV, Using a UHDTV as your monitor, Next-gen gaming on a next gen TV and The best places to source 4K content for that UHD display. There really is a lot of new functionality to write about and as you can see there’s already thousands of words been written about it, but now it’s time for a white nuckle, balls to the wall review of the 55LA9700.

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Hardware

This TV comes in three sizes, 55”, 65” and a massive 84”, regardless of the model you select, the stunningly gorgeous display pushes out four times the resolution of HD. That’s 3840 x 2160 pixels or the easy way to explain it is double the horizontal and double the vertical resolution of your current TV. While 55” is no longer seen as new by industry standards, the resolution certainly is. Everyone I showed the TV to is fell in love when I played the 4K content.

Watching the provided content form the USB3.0 LG HDD is an absolute visual orgasm for your eyeballs. It’s so clear you’ll easily confuse it for actually being there. Sure the content has been shot in best case scenarios, but I honestly don’t care, I could watch it for hours.. and did. I’m really addicted to 4K content now and will happily watch pretty much anything at that quality, regardless of the subject matter.

The screen has plenty of tricks beyond the extra quality, thanks to a complex array of LEDs to light the back the display. Movies are the best test of this, particularly in the dark scenes, when the screen goes black, it’s seriously black, like can’t tell it’s on kind of black. I thought my TV was good, but a side-by-side shows it’s a clumsy mess of grey instead of black.

The next thing to discuss is IPS, this advanced in-plane switching technology allows displays to be more accurate and visible at more angles. While Apple may have popularised this technology, LG really take it to another level with this TV. Forget about your couch arrangement in the loungeroom, you can see this at any angle.

Gone are the days where TVs where unintelligent pieces of glass, let’s not kid ourselves, they have computer smarts built-in. LG have included a Dual-core Plus processor to power their Smart TV interface that we’ll talk about in a minute. While it works, it’s certainly not breaking any speed records with some interactions feeling delayed compared to expectations. We’ve seen phones move to quad-core processors and maybe that’s what’s needed here to really feel like the interface sings. It’s also possible a speed improvement could be achieved through software optimization, much like Google’s butter project for Android. Whatever the resolution, it needs work.

Dimensions

If you ever get a chance to own this TV, please do the right thing and hang it on a wall. There’s no silly break-out box for connections, yet it’s still just 40mm thin. For those playing at home, this is thinner than my almost 3 year old 52” Sony Bravia. In terms of height and width, you’ll need a wall that’ll fit 1230mm x 714mm. Probably the most amazing thing about the TV is it’s weight. It turns out that pixels weight lots and stacking 8.2 million of them inside this TV results in a hefty 28kg if you add the stand, that’s 31kg. Moving UHDTVs is definitely a job for two people.

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Remote

Known officially as the Magic Remote, there’s nothing magical about it, it’s simply a new take on existing technologies. The remote features Wii-like aerial gestures, along with the ability to control a mouse cursor on the screen. There’s also a scroll wheel usually found on mice and this works to skim through channels at record speed as well as some interface lists. Finally there’s a microphone built-in so you can command voice searches for content online.

While the TV ships with a standard remote as well, I forced myself to use the new Magic remote to see if it really worked or was more gimmicky than practical. The result is somewhere in the middle. The scroll wheel was great to speed through channels, in fact this was a breath of fresh air for a channel surfer, easily moving from channel 5 to 80 in a second. The problem comes whenever your sit the remote down next to you on the couch, it’s sensitivity is far too high and easily gets knocked.

The voice works well most of the time thanks to it’s proximity to your mouth. I often had much better success with the magic remote than Kinect across the room. Fortunately my environment is pretty quiet, but when I have friends over, there’s no way I’m using voice. Technically capable is one thing, socially acceptable is another one entirely.

The mouse cursor on-screen was amazing accurate, probably assisted by the large 55” display. The biggest problem was entering information like email addresses or websites into the browser. If you have an iPhone or Android phone there is an LG TV remote app that can assist in exactly this process. Overall the magic remote isn’t a smash success, but LG should be rewarded for taking a risk and trying something different.

Camera
Playing it safe when it comes to privacy, LG decided to build in a camera that physically slides up and down. When not in use, you wouldn’t know it’s there, but when enabled, the HD camera is available for video applications like Skype. It’s a cute touch to make it a physical sliding option, but most of us are happily pointing a Kinect camera that constantly watches us and we’re ok with that.

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Sound
While we’re talking things that slide, one of the finer points of industrial design from LG is the speaker. When you turn on the TV, the 50W, 4.1 speaker bar elegantly slides out of the bottom of the screen. That really is a magic tricky you can show off to your friends. The Dolby Digital and DTS compatible sound is as impressive as the display. Most of us who care about a great home theatre experience consider built-in speakers as junk but that’s really not the case with this TV.

As good as it is, this isn’t going to threaten a $5,000 7.1 surround sound system, but it’s without a doubt the best on-board sound I’ve heard. I’ll take this opportunity to apologize to my neighbours for the ‘testing’ performed over the last week. I never managed to reach max volume and I like things loud, so that should tell everything thing you need to know about it’s volume capabilities.

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Software

Video sources

LG have been making Smart TVs for years now and that carries over to their UHDTV lineup. The interface provides access to a decent collection of video sources including Bigpond Movies (no need for a T-box), ABC iView, YouTube, SBS On Demand, Crackle, Red Bull TV, c|net and more.

3D

Next is 3D World where you can try out a pair of the 4 included passive 3D glasses provided with the TV. 3D World features a pretty limited selection of content, most of which is targeted at kids. The movies section includes just The Avengers and Iron Man 3 which both cost A$7.69 to rent. The content is so limited here it feels like LG have completely given up on the 3D craze as well. I just hate that it’s the second group of apps on the interface.

Games

Game World is designed for those rich people who can afford a UHDTV, but can’t afford an Xbox for their kids. Some of the games are supposed to support a dual display mode where two people could see different things on screen the same time, but I couldn’t find a game that supported this. Also this mode required different glasses again than the 3D ones we had on earlier. This is a mess and should be ditched completely from LGs smart TV, I guarantee people don’t buy TVs for this and everyone could appreciate a cleaner, simpler UI.

Smart share

The last section of home screen tiles is Smart Share, which is a confusing name given we associate sharing with pushing content to the web, not accessing media from USB and network storage. This area also gives you access to recorded TV, music and photos. The strangest feature was the ability to trim a recorded video, but then can’t share it anywhere. I assume this is to save space on the 5GB drive, but most using this DVR feature seriously will connect external storage.

Updating your TV

Having a connected TV (via WiFi or ethernet) means your TV can get software updates. By default, these are optionally applied by the user. Thankfully there’s a checkbox to have these downloaded and installed automatically, making sure you’re always on the latest software. There’s been 2 or 3 updates in the week and a half I’ve had the TV, so LG are working hard on squashing bugs. Something you’ll become accustom to is the notifications in the top-right of your TV. We’re used to them on our phones and computers, it’s just time we got used to them on our TV as well. Notifications let us know about app installs, discounts in the Store etc.

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Social Centre (2 screens in 1)

One of the more intriguing apps is called Social Centre. This attempts to perform dual-duties of the second screen in one device. On the left you’ll continue to watch your standard, OTA broadcast television, while the right features a panel of social activity from Facebook, Twitter. The concept is great, the execution is not. I get it, we’re a long way from the screen and some people have bad eye sight, but having social posts so large that only 1.5 – 2 are visible at any one time is ridiculous. Increase this to around 7-8 and it’d be a killer feature. Oh yeah.. it’s uncensored so may be one you want to skip while kids are in the room.

While you can connect your accounts to read and post from the TV, the most interesting parts of the app is the context-sensitive social stream. This works by switching channels and the stream searching for tags associated with the current show title. As you change channels and programs, the search terms update automatically – that’s awesome. The isn’t always content that matches and at that stage users can search their own TV topics.

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Miracast

Intel’s technology to wirelessly stream content from the laptop on you’re knees to the big screen works really well, sometimes. Just as the frustration that occurs with miss-heard voice commands, a miss-connected Miracast is equally frustrating. This is a new feature of Windows 8.1 and this is the first Miracast-enabled display I’ve had the ability to test it on. It’s supposed to be a counter to Apple’s AirPlay technology that generally works pretty well. The problem is that Microsoft don’t let you broadcast from the desktop, so any plans of using your TV as a wireless display are dashed for now. It’s a sad state of affairs when the best way to get your computer connected to a TV is still a long HDMI cable, but that is still true.

PIP
Picture in Picture is normally not worth a mention, but LG have done something many don’t. You can finally watch a HD Tuner while using the second HD tuner in a window. This enables you to monitor one (without sound) and switch to it when something exciting happens. Coming into Cricket Season, this is the perfect use case for an extended game that has occasional highlights.

Time Machine II

The DVR functionality is very limited especially compared to what I’m used to with TiVo. Sure you can schedule programs or times to record but a must-have feature is the ability to rewind live TV. Interruptions are a fact of life and when they happen during TV programming, it’s fantastic to pick up the remote and rewind the current channel you didn’t know you needed to record. LG would need to add this feature before I could recommend you ditch the DVR.

DLNA
There’s no need to connect a set top box to get digital content from devices on your network, to your TV. Having DLNA built-in to the TV means network shares like that from a home server or computer will be available form streaming straight to the big screen. This is a very welcome feature and format support is pretty great as well (DivX HD, Xvid, MP4, MKV).

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Upscaling
Unfortunately a large majority of content available to us, is in HD (stupid non-4K content, might as well rub direct in my eyes). Worse yet, an awful lot of the broadcast channels are still in SD as are the videos from a number of the video apps like ABC iView. There’s nothing like spending up big for a UHDTV and having nothing to play on it. Thankfully LG provide hours of UHD content on a hard drive, but this is limited a limited time offer. The problem of course is where to source 4K content from when you’ve watched all that? Your choices today are pretty limited and for a more extensive answer, check out The best places to source 4K content for that UHD display.

LG has a Ultra HD Resolution Upscaler which takes lower resolution content, runs an algorithmic analyses of the content over it and does the best job it can at removing noise and pixilation from the stretched image. There’s no getting around it, the best upscaler in the world can’t do much about stretching 576i content to 55” and beyond. When it comes to Blu-ray movies and even 1080p IP-delivered movies like Xbox Video, they look amazing, not 4K amazing, but bloody good.

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Issues

Privacy
You may have heard media reports about LGs questionable policies of collecting data on users. It was interesting timing when the story break as the day before I had signed into my TV and connected my social accounts. Personally I expect all device manufactures to be collecting data on how their users actually use products. That information is critical to supporting your case when proposing new functionality or changes to the product in future revisions.

LG have since confirmed they will correct the “bug” that sent some anonymous information to the company without explicit permission from users. While the media, particularly mainstream media are quick to use the invocative term of ‘spying’ in headlines, the reality is that user behavior ultimately results in better products. This week, we received a software update and a new terms of service that users were required to accept after their TVs update.

Picture mode

I did find a strange issue when gaming with the Xbox 360 and this TV, with the picture mode set on anything other than Game mode, the input lag was severe. A simple change to Game mode and driving in the game (GTAV) felt immediately as responsive as it I knew it to be. Maybe there’s a way to set the picture mode automatically based on the HDMI input you have selected, but I didn’t find it. Switching between picture modes is about 4 clicks of the remote, so not something you want to do each time.

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Price and Availability

LG are currently running a promotion until 6th of January, 2014 where you can get score a bonus Xbox One valued at RRP$599. This will go a long way to justifying some of the cost of the UHDTV as they still remain very firmly in the enthusiast or AFL player price range. The great news for everyday Australians is that this is change.. and fast.

Competition is a wonderful thing that consumers reap the benefit from and UHD displays are a great case in point. With more manufacturers in the game, the prices are coming down much faster than we ever imagined. This TV would a year ago would have cost more than double its current price. The premium end of the market at the larger sizes will remain high for a while yet, so don’t start clearing a place for it just yet if your at all budget conscious. That said the real benefit of 4K comes when the quality of HD breaks down and that happens more severely at larger sizes. If you’ve ever seen an 84” UHDTV next to an 80” HDTV, you’ll know just how critical the extra pixels really are.

The 55LA9700 (55” version) costs A$4,999, the 65” version is yours for A$6,999 and the mega 84” is a dreamy A$15,999. By comparison, Sony’s 4KTVs start at $4,299 for the 55” and range up to a staggering $24,999 for the 84” model. Samsung’s UHDTVs aren’t even out in Australia.

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Overall

The mark of a great product is often how difficult it is to send back the review unit. This is hard, really hard. Despite the challenge of content sources, if this is anywhere close to your budget, it’d make a great gift to yourself for Christmas. We first seen UHD TVs at CES a couple of years ago and the price has dropped fast. As it continues to drop, these TVs will reach a price point inviting to a mass audience, which will closely be followed by an increase in 4K content distribution. It’s a classic chicken and egg battle, but what we do know is there will definitely be a chicken and definitely be an egg.

The easiest path to a world of 4K or UHD, seems to be to take the Hollywood production process and have them deliver 4K movies  over the internet direct to consumers. Most movies in the past few years have been shot in 4K, so the source material is there, it’s just a matter of a transport mechanism and that has to be the internet. We also know internet speeds will only increase over time and had we got the FTTP NBN we were promised, Australia would be uniquely positioned to lead the way in 4K distribution and sales.

The picture quality of all UHDTVs are fantastic, but to really take advantage of the difference in quality, the 84” monster is my pick of the bunch. Start saving. Now back to the world of 1080 and below, it honestly will be hard to go back, just like going back to dialup after using ADSL2+.

More information @ http://www.lg.com/au/tvs/lg-55LA9700

  • boss

    sweet review !!