Introduction and features
For many serious AV enthusiasts, OLED screen technology is quite simply the future of television. It’s all about OLED’s self-emissive pixel design – where every dot in the picture produces its own light level and colour independent of its neighbours. It has proved consistently capable of producing levels of contrast miles beyond what’s possible with LCD TVs and slightly beyond even the best efforts of its closest technological cousin – Panasonic’s much-loved and sorely missed plasma screens.
Two significant problems, though, have stopped OLED TVs from finding their way into AV fans’ living rooms in large numbers. First, issues with manufacturing them in large numbers have meant that their prices have remained stubbornly high – in stark contrast, of course, to the plunging prices of LCD TVs. Second, their shape just hasn’t felt right to many, as almost every OLED TV to date has gone for a curved screen rather than a flat one.
Flat is best?
You only have to look at one of LG’s sumptuously glamorous curved OLED TVs – like the previously reviewed 55EG960V – to understand the attraction in design terms of curving an OLED screen. But for many AV fans issues with curved screens, such as distorted on-screen reflections and geometry issues when viewing from an angle, have made them reluctant to spend big on an OLED screen despite the technology’s obvious picture quality potential. Thankfully LG appears to have been paying attention. For today we’re tucking into a new OLED TV that’s about as uncurved as it’s possible to get.
The OLED TV in question is the 65-inch LG 65EF950V – and it really and truly couldn’t be flatter. In fact, the flawlessly flat finish of its screen is emphasised by the extraordinary lack of depth the TV shows off over much of its rear end. Its large expanse of screen rests on less than 5mm of panel depth for around two-thirds of its rear area, creating a stunning, futuristic look that I’d say is actually more rather than less attractive than LG’s curved alternatives.
Making a screen a TV
The reason LG hasn’t been able to make the whole of the 65EF950V’s rear under five millimetres deep is simply that it has to fit connections, processing systems, tuners and speakers in there somewhere. After all, this is very much a fully formed TV rather than just a ‘dumb screen’. The connections include everything you might reasonably expect of a current high-end TV. There are four HDMIs for instance, which are built to the latest spec and so can play both native 4K UHD content at up to 60 frames a second while also, crucially, supporting high dynamic range (HDR) playback.
HDR – which can also be played via the 65EF950V’s USB ports – is looking set to become the hot new TV ticket for 2016, especially once Ultra HD Blu-rays finally appear. What it offers is the chance to see video with a greatly expanded luminance range that finally moves past the colour and brightness restrictions associated with past TV technologies to deliver much more dynamic, bright, contrast-rich and ultimately more natural images.
Where smart features are concerned, the set provides three USB ports for multimedia playback or recording from the built-in Freeview HD tuner, and also carries built-in Wi-Fi to support both multimedia streaming from networked DLNA-capable devices and access to LG’s online services. These services are pretty rich in content, with the appearance of the Now TV platform and 4K Ultra HD versions of Netflix and Amazon being particularly welcome. It must be said too, though, that following Sony’s launch of YouView on its Android-based TVs, LG is now the only one of the big TV brands not to offer a comprehensive collection of the UK’s most important catch-up TV apps, with the ITV Player and All 4 remaining conspicuous by their absence.
With so many content options to choose from these days, using your TV can be a complicated business. Fortunately LG tries harder than arguably any other brand to simplify matters with its webOS interface.
This has been extensively written about elsewhere, so I won’t go into detail on it again here. Suffice it to say that its brilliantly responsive, economically presented, effortlessly customisable and thoughtfully constructed on-screen interface does a terrific job of both highlighting stuff you might be interested in and streamlining acces to your favourite content sources. Fittingly for such a high-end TV, LG has equipped the 65EF950V with a pretty comprehensive suite of calibration tools. These include a good range of colour/white balance management options, gamma controls, plus separate OLED Lighting and standard brightness settings.
As mentioned in passing earlier, LG has managed to fit some speakers into the 65EF950V despite the incredible slimness of its rear (and the fact that its screen frame is less than a centimetre wide, too). In fact, it’s worked with the engineers at acclaimed audio brand Harman Kardon to come up with a speaker system that will hopefully deliver a credible audio performance despite the lack of physical space it’s got to work with. One last feature to report before finding out if the 65EF950V delivers on its flat OLED picture promise is its support for 3D playback. As ever with LG’s current TVs it uses the passive system, and ships with free glasses (something not commonly found with rival active shutter 3D TVs these days).
While LCD screens have made some seriously huge strides in 2015, within mere moments of starting to watch the 65EF950V you’re reminded of just why there’s always been so much buzz around OLED technology. As is immediately obvious if you watch anything with a wide contrast range, the ability of OLED to render a pure white pixel right next to a more or less completely black one leads to pictures of jaw-dropping dynamism. This applies to transitions from dark to bright shots and vice versa, as well as to the combination of bright, colourful image elements and pitch black elements within the same frame.
Regarding the latter OLED talent, the luminous quality of small bright points in mostly dark images is like nothing you’ll see on any other type of TV. Stars in a night sky, lit windows in a silhouetted building, the glint in people’s eyes, sun reflecting off metal in outer space, torches in a dark forest… All such image elements – many of which are, of course, staples of Hollywood movies – enjoy an intensity and and luminosity that just isn’t possible with any of the current LCD screen technologies.
Self emission rules
This isn’t surprising given that LCD technology has to share external light sources across large groups of pixels or even the entire screen, while OLED can deliver brightness with pixel levels of precision. But just understanding why OLED has an on-paper contrast advantage is one thing; actually seeing it with your own eyes is quite another.
It should be said that while the 65EF950V appears brighter than previous LG OLED TVs, it doesn’t achieve nearly the same amount of peak luminance that some of the latest LCD TVs – especially Samsung’s JS9500 SUHD models – can. However, the way the 65EF950V is able to combine what brightness and colour vibrancy it does have with peerlessly deep black colours still ensures that the 65EF950V’s images have an unprecedented richness in contrast. This fairly fundamental difference between contrast-rich OLED, where pictures are built on incredible black levels, and brightness-rich LCD, where pictures are built more on the brighter end of the luminance spectrum, delivers some particularly interesting results when feeding in my few clips of high dynamic range (HDR) content.
HDR is a go
Some manufacturers have suggested they don’t believe OLED’s relative lack of brightness is well suited to HDR, yet actually the 65EF950V’s pictures look incredible with some of the HDR content I fed into it. There’s a clear expansion in the range between the image’s deepest blacks and brightest whites, and there’s also another level of saturation and richness to the HDR content’s colours. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, with LG’s own HDR content (specially created to show off what OLED can do in HDR mode) the 65EF950V produces the most exquisite images for the vast majority of the time that I’ve ever seen on a TV.
However, having also seen HDR in action on Samsung’s SUHD TVs and, more recently, Sony’s recently upgraded Triluminos-enabled TVs, it’s true that the OLED doesn’t push the brightness part of HDR nearly as aggressively as the LCD models do. It’s also true that the OLED TV struggled a bit – lacking contrast and colour vibrancy – with some HDR content I have that appears to have been mastered by Samsung to suit the brightness talent of its SUHD TVs. While this raises concerns about a potentially problematic lack of HDR content standardisation, though, I don’t think based on the evidence currently available to me that it means OLED is disadvantaged with HDR. It’s just that it offers a different flavour of it, built on the depth of the black end of the spectrum.
Spectacular 4K UHD detail
OLED’s ability to control the light level of each pixel individually doesn’t do its detailing and sharpness any harm with native 4K UHD content either. It lets LG’s TV reproduce even the tiniest of shadow details in dark scenes as well as the subtlest colour shifts. There’s no sign of ‘flaring out’ in bright areas either, meaning that even the lightest image elements look believable and nuanced. In fact, with some 4K footage – especially night time cityscapes – UHD takes on a whole new level of precision and realism that at times border on perfection.
The fact that LG is giving us OLED’s stellar picture attractions on a flat screen instead of a curved one also turns out to be great news. It’s lovely not to have any bright light sources or objects in the room having their reflections distorted across the screen, as happens with curved screens. And it’s also nice that people who have to watch from down the screen’s sides don’t have to worry about the edges of the screen curving round in front of the near side of the picture. These ‘off axis’ viewers also don’t have to worry about losing contrast and colour saturation with the 65EF950V like they would with an LCD TV.
A couple of niggles
While the 65EF950V looks ridiculously good for the vast majority of the time, though, it does suffer a couple of limitations that can occasionally distract you.
First, the left and right edges of the screen sometimes look noticeably less bright than the central areas. You’re not always aware of this, but with some kinds of footage, especially shots that are uniformly bright, you can become aware of the dimming effect. And once you’ve seen it, you do tend to find yourself looking for it again. The other issue is that LG’s management of the OLED pixels currently struggles to deliver subtle lighting steps at just above black. This can mean that sudden surges in brightness in an image can cause those usually immaculate blacks to suddenly slip into a rather LCD-like greyness. The same thing happens if you try to push the TV’s brightness setting above around its 52 level (so don’t!).
The extent and suddenness of the black level reduction is really striking, and can become fleetingly noticeable on occasion during regular viewing – especially with HDR content. Other smaller issues are that the 65EF950V isn’t quite as clever at upscaling HD sources as the best of its rivals, leaving them looking a touch softer and less detailed, and that its motion processing can cause a few distracting side effects. While these issues – particularly the edge dimming and black level ‘leaps’ – mean there’s still room for improvement for LG’s still-young OLED technology, though, the fact remains that for much of your viewing time the 65EF950V produces the most cinematic and immersive pictures the TV world has to offer.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a 3D film, you owe it to yourself to check out the 65EF950V’s 3D talents. LG’s passive technology really comes into its own on UHD TVs, since it enables you to enjoy its benefits of no flicker and minimal crosstalk ghostingwithout forcing you to sacrifice any source resolution. In fact the 65EF950V’s 3D pictures look unusually crisp, while the screen’s class-leading contrast performance helps the screen produce a superb sense of depth and space. Basically, if 3D had always looked this good it’s likely far more mainstream users would still be watching it.
Wherever you find LG’s webOS interface you’re going to find a TV that’s easy to use. WebOS really does do an outstanding job of streamling access to all your favourite content and allowing you to customise its set up to suit your individual preferences. It’s economical with its screen real estate too, letting you keep watching TV while you browse many of its features and content links. Its structure is logical and straightfoward, and it’s pretty enough and friendly enough in its approach – even using an animated ‘bean bird’ cartoon character to keep a smile on your face during initial set up. Even the most technophobic of users won’t be put off exploring it. LG’s attempt to integrate the TV’s picture and sound adjustments into the webOS interface haven’t really worked, I guess, simply unnecessarily adding an extra button press. But this is a small niggle amid all the things webOS gets right.
Compared with the best flat TVs this year, I guess you’d have to say the 65EF950V’s sound is only fair to middling. There’s not all that much bass around, and high trebles can start to sound a bit harsh when the going really gets tough. However, in the context of the screen’s extraordinary skinniness its sound quality is actually very impressive. Its mid-range is expansive enough to produce loud voices and action scenes without them sounding cramped or thin, and there’s a good amount of detail to be heard with high quality movie mixes. The sound even manages to spread beyond the physical chassis of the TV quite convincingly, making the addition of a separate set of speakers much less of an imperative than I’d expected.
If you look at the 65-inch flat TV market as a whole, then the 65EF950V is undeniably expensive. It even comes in a whole £500 dearer than Samsung’s flagship LCD TV for 2015, the UE65JS9500. On the other hand, the 65EF950V is actually remarkably affordable by OLED standards, costing thousands of pounds less than a similarly specified and large OLED TV would have done only 12 months ago. So if you’re hopelessly attracted to the unique picture qualities OLED delivers, then there’s never been a better time to buy one.
Two of the main things that have apparently being putting AV fans off buying an OLED TV are their price and the fact that they use curved rather than flat screens. The 65EF950V attempts to address both of these issues – and in doing so becomes at a stroke the best TV LG has ever made. Its native UHD pictures are frequently breathtaking in a way no LCD can match, and it even proves itself capable of looking lovely with the new high dynamic range content coming our way. Add to all this LG’s exceptionally easy to use webOS interface and despite some black level inconsistencies, you really do have a TV special enough to justify its price tag.
The 65EF950V looks almost otherworldy beautiful with its super-slim design and barely there screen frame. For the most part its picture quality is out of this world too, propelled to glory by the sort of contrast performance LCD technology can currently only dream about. The webOS interface does a great job of making it easy to find content in today’s complicated TV world, too.
There’s a strange shadowy effect down each side of the image that can occasionally be seen in bright scenes, and sometimes the usually remarkable black levels suddenly slip into LCD-like greyness (though you can minimise this issue by keeping brightness controlled). Also, while the 65EF950V is actually great value by OLED standards, it is still more expensive than any similar-sized LCD TV.
Despite a couple of strange lighting flaws, there are times – lots of them, in fact – where the 65EF950V’s pictures look pretty much perfect. Certainly the amount of contrast and shadow detail on show will be a dream come true to home cinema fans still mourning the death of plasma TVs. The set is gorgeously designed too, and LG’s webOS interface is on hand to make sure it’s never hard to find something to watch. The fact that all the 65EF950V’s in some cases unique attractions are here available in a flat screen at a more affordable price than expected is just the icing on the cake.