Everything comes to those who wait...
What is the LG 55EA980 OLED TV?
Patience might well be a virtue but LG were certainly starting to try ours when it came to OLED.In fact the Korean manufacturer was becoming something of a tease, constantly showing us OLED TVs that never seemed to materialise in the shops or arrive for review. We were confidently told that it would be in the shops by the end of 2012, although we're not sure Harrods really counts and at CES 2013, we were informed that the third generation OLED screen would be coming that summer. Although the term third generation was a bit misleading, as the panels were the same and the differences just cosmetic. Ultimately their biggest rival beat them to the punch, with Samsung's KE55S9 arriving for review at the end of October and seriously impressing us.However, our patience finally paid off as LG's 55EA980W arrived for review this month, nearly two years after first wowing us in Monaco. Would this 55-inch OLED TV deliver the goods and how would it compare to the Samsung? Well it's a curved panel, but that's pretty much de rigueur these days, there's a see-through 'crystal' stand and the panel itself is only 5mm thick. In addition, the feature set looks impressive, there's two remote controls, designer 3D glasses and a clip-on camera. However that's all window dressing, it's the picture quality that we're interested in and if the EA980 is as good as the Samsung, we're in for a treat. Let's find out....
Design and ConnectionsLike it or loathe it the curved screen is here to stay and, if CES 2014 was anything to go by, we'll be seeing a lot more of them this year. As we mentioned in our review of the KE55S9, the curve is quite minor and you soon get used to it, but obviously it precludes wall mounting. However at least LG give you options because they also have their Gallery range of OLED TVs with picture frame speakers that are designed specifically for wall mounting. The panel sits on a transparent 'crystal' stand, so in the evening the image appears to be floating in mid-air. We're not completely sold on the see-through stand and we suspect people will either love it or hate it, but there's no denying it's different. One obvious downside that we should point out is that because you can see through the stand, the cables at the rear are visible, which tends to detract from the otherwise clean lines.
There are 'clear speakers' built into the stand, which appear quite small but at least they're facing forward, so that should improve the sound quality. The panel itself is insanely thin at only 5mm and yet the construction is very solid and robust. We can't confirm this but the rear of the panel appeared to be a carbon fibre weave, which would explain the remarkable strength. It certainly looks gorgeous with its clean lines and attractive finish, making the Samsung OLED appear positively clunky in comparison. There is an illuminated LG logo at the bottom of the screen, which is handy as the blacks are so deep that you can't tell if the screen is on or off when there's no signal. Beneath the logo there is a recessed smart touch button for basic control, although unless you lose both remotes you shouldn't need to bother with this.
Despite being only 5mm thick, the panel is very solid and robust.
The thickness of the panel increases as you get nearer the bottom and this is obviously where all the electronics, additional speakers and power supply are kept. The connections are also down here and we were pleased to see that despite using side facing HDMI inputs, they were sensibly 28cm from the edge. So ignoring the fact that the cables can be seen through the the stand itself, at least they won't be poking out the side of the panel. There are 4 HDMI inputs with support for ARC, 3D and MHL and there are also three USB ports, one of which is intended for use with a separate HDD. There are also aerial and satellite sockets plus inputs for various legacy connections that can be used with the provided breakout cables.
There is a black box that comes with the EA980 and in here you will find various items neatly stored away, all of which help with the feeling of having bought a luxury item. Aside from the previously mentioned breakout cables, there are also provided bands for cable management and covers for the recessed areas where the connections are located. The EA980 doesn't have a built-in camera, partly we suspect because there just wouldn't be room in a panel that thin but there is a clip-on camera provided. This attaches to the top and plugs into a dedicated USB port at the rear of the panel. It isn't the most elegant solution and does rather ruin the beautiful lines of the EA980 but if you want to make Skype video calls, at least you have the option.
LG have included two remote controls, the first of which is a standard version that thankfully includes a Settings button to allow direct access to the calibration menus. The second is one of LG's Magic Remotes and we continue to be impressed with it's effectiveness and functionality. It's probably not a coincidence that Samsung's new remote control for 2014 bears more than a passing resemblance. LG of course use passive 3D on their TVs and the EA980 comes with four pairs of glasses, of which the first two are clip-ons for those people who wear prescription lenses. The other two pairs have been exclusively designed by Alain Mikli, and come with their own hard cover cases and are very stylish and comfortable to wear.
MenusThe EA980 uses the regular LG menu system with the standard layout of options and calibration controls, but there are a couple of differences worth pointing out. Firstly, along with the usual picture modes there are also THX Cinema and THX 3D Cinema modes, for a more accurate out-of-the-box setting. There's also an OLED Light control, which is similar to the Cell Light control found on Samsung's OLED and Plasma TVs, which increases the amount of power going into the OLED and thus increases the overall brightness. Aside from that it's business as usual, with the handy Picture Wizard for performing a basic setup and the ISF Expert1 and Expert2 modes for a professional calibration.
The Picture Menu contains all the standard controls of course, including Contrast, Brightness and Colour and there are both vertical and horizontal Sharpness controls. In the Expert Control submenu you'll find a Colour Management System (CMS) with full 6 axis control over tint, saturation and luminance for both the primary and secondary colours. You'll also find both two- and twenty-point White Balance controls, some pre-set Gamma curves and a choice of Colour Gamut options. Other controls include Dynamic Contrast, Super Resolution and Edge Enhancement options, all of which should be set to ‘Off’. The Picture Option submenu includes controls for noise reduction, black level and the TruMotion frame interpolation feature.
LG’s 2013 Smart TV System is extremely good, highly usable and fast to navigate thanks to the Magic Remote.
FeaturesWe have already reviewed LG's 2013 Smart TV System in some detail, awarding it a Reference Status badge. In terms of other features, the EA980 includes various methods of interacting with a mobile device, including built-in WiFi, WiFi Direct, Miracast and LG's new 'Tag On' feature. This uses Near Field Communication (NFC) to allow a fast and easy connection between your mobile device and the TV itself. All you need to do is simply hold your smartphone or other NFC-enabled device against the NFC sticker and the two devices will then automatically connect. The EA980 is DLNA certified, so it has extensive networking, connection and sharing capabilities - all of which can be accessed from SmartShare, as well as generous file support. There is also LG's standard Electronic Programme Guide, although this is probably overdue for a redesign.
The Smart TV platform is accessed from the Home screen and is extremely good, highly usable and fast to navigate, especially with the Magic Remote. The content is accessibly and cleanly presented and if you have a favourite app you can make it quicker to access by adding it to the ‘More’ bar which runs across the bottom of the Home page. To add to the usability, the Home page can be customised to a degree and it’s all presented in a ‘card’ style format for the different categories – Premium, Game World, 3D World, Smart World and Smart Share. One of the new features in LG's smart platform is the addition of Sky's NOW TV service, which gives you access to a number of premium Sky services - for a fee of course. Annoyingly LG have added adverts to the 2013 platform, which is a trend we would like to see reversed when they launch their webOS platform later this year.
Audio QualityAt first glance we wondered how effective the speakers on the EA980 would be, after all we know that sound is created by moving air and these little transparent numbers didn't look like they could move anything. So we were more than a little surprised by how good they actually sounded, once we turned the EA980 on and began watching some content. In part the effectiveness of the speakers undoubtedly comes down to the fact that they are unrestricted and actually firing forwards, which is always a good start. In addition there are two more speakers hidden away in the base of the panel itself, with a total power of 40W. The result is a nicely defined sound that creates a decent front soundstage and good stereo separation. Dialogue in particular was always clear, pun definitely intended, and the speakers also did a good job of reproducing music and sound effects. The EA980 could go quite loud without distorting and overall the audio performance was really quite impressive; the manufacturers have obviously been listening to the feedback when it comes to the sound quality on modern TVs.
Despite the apparent size of the Clear Speakers, the fact they were firing forward meant they sounded quite good.
The EA980 has a THX Cinema mode, although we ended up using the Expert mode for our basic out-of-the-box setup because whilst both modes shared the same characteristics, we could get a slightly more accurate response from the latter. As usual we set the OLED Light, Contrast and Brightness controls to suit our viewing environment and moved the Sharpness controls down to zero. We selected a Colour Temperature of Warm2, the Rec709 Colour Gamut and a Gamma of 2.2. The resulting performance was reasonably good, with gamma tracking around 2.2 and the DeltaEs (errors) measuring between 2 and 6. Whilst these errors were visible, the result of a slight excess of green in the greyscale, they were only minor. The colour gamut was also very good, with all the colours measuring close to their targets and the only noticeable errors being in the saturation of red and the hue of cyan and magenta. Overall this is an excellent out-of-the-box performance from the EA980.
The EA980 includes both a two- and a twenty-point white balance control and it was relatively easy to adjust the greyscale using the two-point and then fine tune with the twenty-point. The result was a reference greyscale, with errors that were less than one (well below the threshold of human perception) and a gamma that was still tracking around 2.2. We then moved onto the colour management system (CMS) and we were pleased to see we had none of the problems that we experienced with LG's LA970 Ultra HD TV. We struggled to get the saturation of red, cyan and yellow exactly right but everything else was spot on and the overall errors were all below two and most were below one.
When we measured the tracking at saturation points below 100% we found that the EA980 performed very well, with most of the colours tracking very close to their targets aside from some under-saturation in blue. However given that blue represents the smallest part of the visible spectrum, it's unlikely you would notice with real world material. In terms of the greyscale, the LG and Samsung OLEDs are almost identical, whilst the Samsung has the edge in colour accuracy at 100% and the LG is better at lower saturations. Overall though, the two panels behaved in a similar fashion, which is interesting when you consider that they use different OLED technologies.Black Levels, Contrast Ratio and Dynamic Range
We expected the EA980 to perform well in these tests, especially after our experiences with the Samsung KE55S9 but LG have managed to top their rivals by the tinniest of margins. As expected we measured black at 0.000cd/m2, which means if the EA980 was putting out any light our Klein K-10 was unable to register it. The EA980 was also very bright, easily hitting the 120cd/m2 that we use as a target for our critical viewing tests but going up as high as 350cd/m2. That means that technically the EA980 has an infinite on/off contrast ratio, a feat it managed to repeat when we measured the ANSI contrast ratio. We’ve never seen measurements this good, not even on Samsung's S9, so the LG sets a new benchmark record when it comes to black level, contrast ratio and dynamic range.
We were also pleased to see that the screen uniformity was excellent with no light pooling or bright edges. In fact the EA980 delivered a wonderfully consistent image that was free of any of the annoying issues that so often plague LCD and plasma TVs. So there was no banding, haloing or dirty screen effect, nor were there any dead pixels or evidence of image retention. We noticed that if you left a static image up, after a few minutes the screen dimmed, which we assume is to prevent any image retention or screen burn. As far as the lifespan of an OLED TV is concerned that remains to be seen but LG's use of a white OLED and colour filters means that they don't have to worry about blue decay.
The video processing on LG TVs has always been great and so it was no surprise when the EA980 aced the tests. The LG had no problems deinterlacing and scaling standard definition content, with excellent detail and no unwanted ringing. It also had no problems detecting both 3:2 and 2:2 cadence correctly or handling scrolling video text over film. The EA980 performed equally as well in the other tests, delivering a superb performance. The quality of the video deinterlacing at 1080i50 was just as good as it was for standard definition and there were no apparent issues with 24p content. There were also no signs of clipping in red, green or blue; whilst we could see all the detail up to video level 255 and down to video level 17.
Despite the incredibly fast response times of OLED, just like the Samsung KE55S9 the motion handling was more LCD-like, delivering about 400 lines of resolution with TruMotion off. Presumably LG are also driving the OLED pixels in their TV using a method called ‘sample-and-hold’ which, as the name suggests, displays and holds a static frame until the next one is refreshed. The only way to reduce motion blur caused by ‘sample-and-hold’ is to shorten the amount of time the frame is held for by engaging TruMotion. However we actually found that whilst TruMotion did improve the lines of resolution, it also introduced some quite noticeable artefacts, regardless of which setting we used - so we would recommend not using TruMotion, even for sports based action.
We measured the input lag at 138ms in the calibrated Expert1 mode and 54ms in the Game mode. We tried renaming the input to PC but this didn't make any difference, so 54ms is the lowest input lag we could measure. Whilst this is undoubtedly too high for the hard core gamers, it's probably fine for most people and it was slightly better than the lag on the Samsung OLED. It's debatable whether anyone would buy an OLED TV exclusively for gaming but we found the images to be gorgeous and the motion handling was good, resulting in a highly enjoyable bout of mayhem on GTA5. The EA980's excellent 3D performance was also evident during a prolonged session playing Wipe Out, with the bright image, the deep blacks and passive glasses making the experience both immersive and comfortable..
The following measurements were taken with a full screen 50% white pattern:
Out-of-the-Box – Standard Mode: 94W
Calibrated - Expert1 2D Mode: 95W
Calibrated - Expert1 3D Mode: 116W
The EA980 delivered the best contrast ratio measurements we've ever taken, exceeding the limits of our meter.
LG 55EA980 Picture Quality - 2DWell that's enough of the tests, what did the EA980 look like with actual content? In a word - awesome. We were impressed from the moment we turned it on, with the absolute blacks and inherent brightness giving images a punch that you just won't see from any other technology. Once we'd calibrated the EA980 we got suck into some serious content watching and the results were simply stunning. It wasn't just the incredible dynamic range, although that was certainly a factor, it was the sheer level of detail and image accuracy that made almost any content look good. Of course the EA980 was so detailed that it was merciless in showing up the limitations in source material, so anything that was heavily compressed didn't fare well but that's hardly the LG's fault. However feed it a decent source, even a well encoded DVD, and the EA980 could pay some serious dividends. When we sat down to watch the Six Nations rugby, the picture just took our breath away. From the colours of the shirts, to the dynamic range within the image, to the level of detail in the crowds, the EA980 didn't put a foot wrong. In fact the only area where it wasn't superior to a plasma was in terms of motion handling; that's not to say it was bad but plasma still has the edge.
We popped on the scene in the last Harry Potter film where Voldemorts army amasses on a hill at night, always a difficult test for LCD TVs, where all those blacks , browns and greys just merge into one. Not with the EA980, the LG reproduced it perfectly, demonstrating excellent shadow detail to go with those perfect blacks. As luck would have it, our Blu-ray of Gravity arrived before the EA980 was collected, giving us an opportunity to spin a reference quality disc and boy did it look good. Since the film contains numerous scenes set in the pitch blackness of space, often with bright white spacesuits and space ships against the void, it was an ideal test of OLED's inherent strength - dynamic range. The scenes we watched from Gravity just looked incredible, the blacks were completely black, the whites were bright, the colours natural and the detail just staggering. There's no question that OLED is the future of TV and it's hard to imagine it can look much better, aside from increasing the resolution. Although it's debatable how much benefit you would derive from 4K on a 55-inch screen.
LG 55EA980 Video Review
LG 55EA980 Picture Quality - 3DLG use passive Cinema 3D technology on their TVs and whether you prefer this approach is often a matter of personal preference. Yes it's true that the resolution is lower but this is rarely apparent at any sensible viewing distance. Besides there are numerous other advantages - cheap glasses, no batteries or synching, brighter image, no flicker and no crosstalk. As a result a passive 3D experience can often be preferable to one involving active shutter technology despite the higher resolution. The Samsung KE55S9 uses active shutter and delivered a superb performance but the EA980 was equally as impressive with its alternative approach. We watched Avatar for the first time in a while and were reminded just how effectively James Cameron used the 3D, with a lovely use of depth and layers in the image. We then watched Gravity, probably the most popular 3D film since Avatar and the EA980 delivered a wonderful experience. The images were bright, the blacks dark and the detail excellent, motion was handled well and there was no flicker or crosstalk. It was, despite the fall in resolution a hugely enjoyable and highly immersive 3D experience.
The EA980 produced some of the most impressive images we've ever seen - with accuracy, detail and breathtaking dynamic range.
- Absolute black levels
- Reference dynamic range and contrast ratios
- Reference greyscale and colour accuracy
- Excellent video processing
- Superb 3D performance
- Reference features and smart platform
- Excellent build quality
- Great sound
- Curved screen will divide opinion
- Can't be wall mounted
- Input lag too high for serious gamers
- Motion resolution is 400 lines with TruMotion off
LG 55EA980 (EA980) Curved OLED TV ReviewIt's been a long time coming but LG's EA980 was certainly worth the wait, delivering some of the best 2D and 3D images that we've seen to date. The combination of dynamic range, accuracy and detail is just jaw dropping and once you throw in all the features and extras, not to mention the big drop in price, the LG starts to look very tempting. In a straight head-to-head with Samsung's KE55S9, we'd say the LG just edges it and given that they appear to be the only major manufacturer supporting OLED this year, that's probably a good thing. LG are also providing options, if you don't want a curved screen or want to wall mount your OLED TV, there's the Gallery range; if the 'crystal' stand isn't for you there's a new stand coming later this year. LG even plan to support 4K OLED, although it's debatable how much value Ultra HD would add on a 55-inch screen. Whichever way you look at it, LG's use of white OLED appears to have paid off and the manufacturer has been investing heavily in OLED panel production facilities. There's no question that OLED is the TV technology of the future, so if LG can continue to deliver in terms of quality and get the price down, they might well have the market to themselves. In the meantime, the LG 55EA980 OLED TV is a damn fine start that thoroughly deserves its Reference Status award.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level10
2D Picture Quality10
3D Picture Quality9
Ease Of Use9
Value for Money9
Our Review Ethos
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