Last week I successfully convinced my dad to get a new TV in the living room. We were in the process of doing some spring cleaning for the upcoming Hari Raya. We were trying to tidy the living room space, especially the TV console, where the wires all around were beginning to be an eyesore. At the same time we also changed our internet service provider to MyRepublic, and they gave us this monstrously looking router (The Asus RT AC-88U, which I love it to death) as part of the subscription package deal. So as we were tidying up all the wires and tucking it out of sight, I thought to myself, why don’t we simply get a new TV and get a totally clean, new look for the living room?
At that point of time, I was in the process of looking to replace my ageing TV in my bedroom. I had the 32 inch HD Ready TV from Panasonic. It still works, but its a little bit clunky and bulky for an LCD TV and I have always wanted to get a Full HD TV counterpart. I had been eyeing this 40 inch Full HD TV from Sony for quite a while (the 700 series). Recently Sony had a summer sale going on and it was selling for S$650. It was a good deal at that point of time. So when the idea struck in me to try and find a way to convince my dad to get a new TV, I offered to buy the current one in the living room for $400. It was an LG – a brand that I adore, that churns out TVs of reputable quality and technical excellence – 47 inch Full HD TV. At first, I was hesitant. I did not want a second hand TV, but after careful consideration, I agreed to take it. My dad was also hesitant in getting a new TV. He did not want to fork out money to get a new one when the old was still working perfectly fine. In the end, the $400 was attractive enough for my dad as a way to offset the overall cost of the new TV. On further inspection, I discovered that the current TV in the living was just under 5 years old. So while it has been used quite heavily over the years, it still functions perfectly. And at 47 inch, it was bigger than the Sony model I had been eyeing for quite a while. In fact, I barely had the sufficient length to fit on my mini console tv placed in my bedroom. It was quite large, larger than I would have liked, but for $400, it was a good deal. I cleaned the TV thoroughly, and in no time, it looked just like new.
After agreeing to ‘buy’ the TV that was sitting in the living room, I quickly yanked out my laptop and started researching on the best TV money can buy based on my dad’s budget and our needs. Our TV console had a size restriction, and that had to be taken into account as well. I did a quick measurement on the biggest TV we could fit, and it turned out to be no more than a 50-inch TV. 50 inches was in fact more than sufficient, my family had no problems with that.
Next was the brand. It had to be an LG TV. When it comes to TV brands, I am very partial towards LG. LG TVs are known to be of good quality. They are the leading company in LCD and OLED screen manufacturing technology. Dell computer monitors use LG panels. Apple’s iMac uses LG panels. Their 4K OLED screens garnered rave reviews, producing some of the best looking screens out there on the market. In short, LG panel manufacturing oozes technical excellence. I immediately zoomed in on LG. I remembered reading somewhere that LG recently refreshed its entire 4K TV models for 2016. Also, all of their 4K TV models support HDR in one way or another (HDR capable TV are currently hard to parse and differentiate, especially when there are several standards currently competing for dominance, and with so many technical TV jargons out there, it just further confuses an average consumer). But for LG, it was easy. their refreshed models are all HDR certified and employed WebOS 3.0, making their TVs really smart. Their TVs are also Netflix certified TVs, meaning that you could get maximum enjoyment off watching Netflix from any of the LG’s 4K TVs.
We chose the 650 series from LG, one of their entry level models, and one of the few new 4K TV models that has sizes of less than 50 inches. In the end we settled on the 49 inch UH650T 4K TV with HDR. Standard retail price was S$1650. We went to Gain City’s new showroom at Sungei Kadut. They were selling for $1500, cash and carry. Offsetting my offer of $400 for the second hand TV, and my dad only had to pay $1100. $1100 for an LG, 49inch 4K TV with HDR, 2016 model? That is an absolute steal. You must be wondering; there must be a catch, a little known technical spec that is essential in 4K TVs what is absent in this model but they just won’t tell you. Well I can tell you, that while there are some shortcomings to this model, overall, for the price that it is selling, this is the best 4K HDR TV money can buy.
So let’s talk about it’s strength. As I mentioned, LG’s new lineup of 2016 4K TV offers HDR across the board. Colour gamut of its panels are wide with Colour Prime technology and supports HEVC encoding at 4K 60P 10bit right off the bat. It has WebOS 3.0, a new smart TV interface that is both fast and responsive. Apps are limited at the moment, but the added bonus is that the new LG 4K TVs are Netflix certified, meaning you can ensure that you are watching TV shows and movies from Netflix the way Netflix wants you to (if that is your thing). IO wise, it offers 3 HDMI 2.0A, 2 USB 2.0 and the Magic Remote (which I will talk about later).
LG has two types of 4K TVs, the LCD models and OLED models. The OLED models are considered the signature models, and costs tens of thousands of dollars. Comparing apples to apples, we should only be comparing the UH650T LCD TV with its LCD TV brethren. OLED is a whole new ballgame. LCD panels can never match the colour contrast and deep black levels OLED can offer. So let’s leave OLED out for the time being. LG offers 4 different 4K LCD TV models. The 650T, 770T 850T and the 950T. Upon studying the specs – apart from the size offerings, you realise that there are very little technical differences between them, with 2 notable exceptions which, I feel is quite crucial. They are also key weaknesses in the UH650T models. Firstly, is lack of Dolby Vision support and secondly, lack of Local Dimming.
There are two leading HDR standard currently out there on the market that is being advertised in 4K HDR capable TVs. For most TV brands, whether it is Samsung, Sony, Panasonic etc, they would only support one or the other, rarely both. The two standards are HDR10 and Dolby Vision. LG 4K HDR TVs are unique, in that they decided to provide support for both. Dolby Vision is more important for the upcoming 4K UHD Blu-ray standard, while HDR10 usually applies to 4K HDR streaming content services like Amazon Video streaming services, Netflix and in the near future, Youtube. Those streaming services employ the HEVC encoding standard for all 4K content, which, fortunately LG 4K TVs natively support.
So back to the question: What is the catch at making the UH650T models so cheap? UH650T only supports HDR10, but not both. That is the catch. While it is a HDR capable TV, it can natively support HDR10 standard. Future investments in a UHD Blu-ray player that features Dolby Vision HDR technology, the UH650T may not be able to showcase videos it all its HDR glory. Will LG update the TV via firmware to support Dolby Vision? Time will tell. But as part of market segmentation, it makes sense somewhat, to leave this capability behind in their entry level models. Personally, I don’t find the lack of Dolby Vision support a deal breaker. UHD Blu-ray players and movies haven’t reached market mainstream yet, and it is only in 2016, that UHD Blu-ray players are currently on the market. So in essence, you don’t really feel the loss, yet.
The second more crucial shortcoming found in the UH650T models is the lack of Local Dimming. Local Dimming provides per pixel light dimming controls on its LCD panels. With pixel size dimming controls, black looks black as light is switch off at certain regions depending on the picture being shown on the panel. This fine control of light increases the overall brightness and contrast range LCD can offer. LCD, traditionally requires a backlight, and the UH650T still employs edge-lit back technology. So while the panels can produce magnificent colours due to its wide colour gamut (very important in HDR capable TVs), in terms of brightness and contrast, this is where the UH650T fell remarkably short. Despite the fact that UH650T supports HDR, but full dynamic range that HDR can offer is muted. With this in mind, to fully appreciate HDR in UH650T TVs, you will probably need to watch TV in the dark. Local Dimming technology is quite expensive to deploy, because you need to put a whole array of LED white light behind the LCD panel, which naturally increases cost. So to exclude from the entry level model, is justified. But still it would have been a really really great TV for the price that is going for, if it offered Local Dimming just as the rest of the models do.
There are many other differences between the UH650T models and the higher end counterparts, but personally, I feel that these differences are minuscule and at the end of the day do not affect the quality of the TV panels much to notice. If you are willing to spend the extra cash, by all means, go ahead and get a bigger and higher end model. The extra features are well justified for the price that it is currently selling. Which ever model you get, you are still getting a great quality TV from LG.
So now that I have mentioned it’s strengths and weaknesses of the TV and my justification in getting the model, how does it perform? What is the picture quality like? Does the 4K panel really lived up to its name? Does the TV upscale FullHD content to 4K resolution accurately?
I have got a lot of say about the visual quality of the TV. But for now this is my first impression: Holy SheeeeT!
I mean. really, holy shit!
Let’s me begin by talking about the visual quality of 4K content. The only readily available 4K content for me right now are from Netflix and Youtube. Netflix has a number of stellar in-house TV show productions such as House of Cards, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Orange is the New Black just to name a few. They are also available in 4K. I loaded up a couple of episodes and I was floored by the picture quality. Everything looks so clear and colourful! My TV is connected to the router by an ethernet cable, and while 4K content requires at least a sustained 25mbps connection, I had no problem streaming the entire show in 4K. The difference is quite substantial. The LG panel is amazing. Colours pop, everything looks sharp, and you can discern individual pores from a person’s face. It’s crazy! I have seen the beauty of 4K panel displays while looking at demo units in stores, but having it in my own home is surreal. I have never been so absorbed by the quality of the picture than the actual story that goes on in a TV show. I sometimes watch the show just for the sake of admiring the picture quality itself.
Colour and contrast improvements were more evident when I streamed Marco Polo season 1. The show not only featured 4K, but also in HDR. The TV was able to correctly identify that I was streaming 4K HDR content, (which is good news, meaning that it can natively display content in HDR) and very soon, the TV settings changed to allow HDR content to show as intended. Unfortunately, I did not see much a difference between HDR and non HDR content. Like I mentioned, before, the TV’s lack of Local Dimming doesn’t particularly show the TV display’s full potential when it comes to playing HDR. Perhaps, if I watch the show in the dark, I might be able to tell the difference. I did note however, that colours were more prominent, and that shades of grey or the regions between dark and light were more subtle, eliminating colour banding altogether. This makes certain scenes and its associated colours stand out a little bit more than usual.
But despite all these improvements to the picture quality as a result of increase resolution to 4K, the one aspect that I’m most impressed by this TV and LG TVs in general is their 4K upscaling technology. Although I have nothing to compare against with, but the LG 4K upscaling technology built into the TV is one of the best I have ever seen. After witnessing what the 4K upscaler TV technology has come a long way. 1080p content (be it downloaded from torrent, or played through a blu-ray disc, was shown with near 4K clarity. I was blown away, especially when I played back 1080p content downloaded from the net. Most of the time, you will see compression issues, like inaccurate colour representations in certain scenes in a video clip. This is especially evident in dark areas, or scenes. Blacks, don’t really show up as blacks but pixellated greys, and colour banding is evident. This is very prominent if the video bit rate is low despite the fact that it is encoded in 1080p. But when played on the new LG 4K TV, it disappears. Like magic, the colour is vibrant and accurate, and it was as if, the TV ‘cleaned’ up the image, increasing the visual quality of the content in real time. Most of time, my eyes were fooled thinking that I was watching a downloaded movie, or TV show in 4K, when the actual content is only at 1080p. Sure, some blemishes are apparent, and images aren’t as sharp, but it is a vast improvements to other TV I have seen so far. After all, the quality of the source matters a lot. If you have a movie downloaded from the net that is encoded from a blu-ray source, at 1080p with high bitrate, then you can be assured that the TV will show the picture in near 4K quality.
Playing blu-ray discs on a blu-ray player is even better. I loaded up Star Trek, Darkness Within, and Avatar, and I swear I thought I was watching the movie in 4K. The 4K upscaling technology is that good. Having such a technology breathes new life to my blu-ray collection. I feel so much at eased now that I know for a fact that blu-rays aren’t that outdated yet and with a good TV with a good 4K upscaling technology, you will be guaranteed to make the best use of your current blu-ray collection.
It is highly unlikely that I would personally invest in the next generation 4K UHD Blu-ray player. We seldom buy blu-ray discs to keep and collect and current UHD Blu-ray discs are expensive now that it is recently out on the market. The demand for such medium hasn’t gone mainstream yet.
So after raving and ranting about the new LG TV, am I happy with my dad’s purchase? Mostly. I have not encountered a most cost effective TV that has most of the features a 4K HDR can offer. And for that price with the features listed, it is perfect for my family’s needs. 4K is terrific. It is the future of TV. Despite the lack of content, I am very sure, that more are on the way. Give it a couple more years and you will see 4K content proliferating widely. While I can’t comment on HDR just yet, since my TV can’t really reach its full potential (due to lack of key features like local dimming), I think HDR is the next step forward in enhancing the contrasts and colour reproduction on an already high resolution display. Having a sharp image shown on your TV is worthless if you can get colour reproduction accurate and brightness levels that would truly make pictures pop.
For the budget conscious who wants a good quality 4K TV with HDR, this is the TV to get.