Game Changer4K TV’s are gaining a lot of attention lately because of the incredible image quality that is rapidly amplifying home-theater standards. When we began creating our upcoming time-lapsed film, “Illusion of Lights: A Journey into the Unseen,” we realized the end product needed to be viewed in 4K resolution to maximize our viewers experience. Seeing our videos and images on a large 4K screen for the first time, was like going back to the scene where we captured the original footage. The whites were brighter, the stars seemingly popped out of the screen, and the richly vivid colors made each painstaking detail sharper, almost as if we were inside the scene itself. Just imagine for a moment what it could be like to view at least 4 times the amount of detail than you’re probably seeing with your current system. When I think back on my experience, two words come to mind: GAME CHANGER
That’s cool and all, but what is 4K?
4K resolution is 4096 x 2160 pixels, and is 4 times larger than HD (High Definition) which displays at 1920 x 1080 pixels. Traditionally, consumer 4K TV’s don’t accurately display ‘true’ 4K resolution. Instead, consumer 4K TV’s adapted to what’s known as Ultra High Definition (Ultra HD), which has a slightly lower resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels. HD is the most common resolution nowadays and is now customarily offered by cable service providers, popular video websites like YouTube & Vimeo, and video streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc. In fact, the desktop monitor you’re likely viewing this article on is probably HD resolution. Why should you be intrigued by 4K? Because soon, HD will be recognized similarly to how you recall DVD’s right now; remember 1280×720 pixels? We do.
Today’s modern digital cameras, including cell phones, have the ability to capture real-time, 4K video footage and produce still images that surpass 4K resolution. Unfortunately, you’re not going to see your content in 4K if viewing on a typical HD display.
Enter LG’s EF9500 4K OLED Smart TVSo what did we do when LG Electronics asked us to review their latest 55EF9500 4K OLED Smart TV? Well, pretty simple actually… we converted all the time-lapse footage we’ve shot over the past 3 years to 4K Ultra HD, loaded it onto a flash drive, viewed it, stared in awe, picked our jaws up off the floor, and quickly came to the conclusion that we finally found a device that displays our work in the way it was meant to be. Like we mentioned before, from a professional photographer’s viewpoint, the 4K OLED Smart TV is a GAME CHANGER. Why? Because the ability to see our images and videos in a resolution 4 times greater than our traditional video displays, allows us to edit our images much more acutely and digitally master our content to produce the highest level of viewing experience.
Overall: We HIGHLY Recommend
The Good:Picture quality of the 55EF9500 4K OLED Smart TV is the biggest appeal. Whether we are viewing HD or Ultra HD content, the super deep black levels, infinite contrast, and color accuracy seem to make the combined elements jump right off the screen. With all the write-ups about its webOS 2.0 operating platform, we found it hype worthy as it was simple, fast, easy to use, and extremely intuitive. Bonus points were also given for the pre-loaded entertainment apps and games. The Magic Remote allowed us to easily control the various features via the mouse-like, infrared cursor signal on the screen. The ‘floating’ design of the unit is beautifully sleek, thin around most of the body giving it a simplistic vibe, and surprisingly lightweight for its size (an important feature for us ‘cuz we’re on the road a lot).
The Not so Good:As with most flagship tech toys out there, the EF9500 series will set you back a few bucks. However, compared to a few years ago when OLED TV’s first hit the market at 4x the price, we’re betting that LG’s quality OLED’s are fast becoming affordable for every household. Another plus is you probably won’t need to substantially upgrade anytime soon because this series comes fully loaded and is already compatible with future developments (we’ll touch on that later). Lastly, mainstream programing hasn’t caught up to 4K quality yet. Since 4K players are currently in development, you will need a fast internet connection to stream Ultra HD entertainment from on-demand media services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc., therefore access to content is still very limited.
DesignLG’s 55EF9500 model is a 55″ Flat OLED 4K Smart TV with its own platform, webOS 2.0. It’s a beautiful, ultra-thin device that appears as if it’s ‘hovering’ due to the transparent, structural acrylic stand and silver base. The 55EF9500 weighs in at 37.9 lbs and measures 48.3″ x 29.9″ x 8.4″ including the ‘floating’ stand. The back panel of the unit breaks away from the traditional ‘all black’ color scheme to a solid milky-white color. My wife loved it because she found it much easier to find the inputs/outputs on a light background. On the back of the TV are the traditional ports to plug various devices into, with the addition of advance portals we didn’t expect to find: i.e., RF In (Antenna/Cable), Component Video In, Composite In (AV), Optical, 3 HDMI Inputs, 1 USB 3.0 & 1 USB 2.0, LAN, and a RS232 (Phone Jack). We appreciate the inclusion of a USB 3.0 input so we can plug-n-play our 4K videos during instruction, image critique, and presentations. (More on that later).
webOS 2.0LG’s operating system within the EF9500 OLED 4K Smart TV series is called web OS 2.0. The interface is simple, intuitive, and easy to access. Navigating within webOS 2.0 is extremely fast and responsive using the Magic Remote. When you press the Home button, colorful blocks of app choices line the bottom of the screen so you can keep watching your program while you browse. Favorite apps preinstalled on the unit included Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, a Web Browser, Photo Gallery, to name just a few. Unlike our old Roku player, a nice benefit of the interface is the ability to update the apps easily with a few clicks. The 55EF9500 OLED 4K Smart TV is also one of the few units approved by Netflix because LG’s new platform offers such superior performance and ease of operation.
An additional benefit we loved about webOS 2.0 is the Smart Share app. This feature recognizes flash drives, external hard drives, computers, DVR boxes, speaker systems, cell phones, tablets, and more. We loaded our 4K time-lapse videos onto a flash drive, plugged it into the USB port, and the OLED Smart TV quickly recognized the device and displayed a list of playable content. However, the unit was only able to play H.264 & DivX video files, so we hope this improves in the future. Lastly, everything we tested including jumping from one app to the next was smooth and efficient thanks to the quad core processor. This seamless process seems like a no-brainer, however in the world of smart TV’s; it’s an advanced feature to be able to switch apps and customize layouts by easily dragging and dropping on the screen from the comfort of your couch.
On a side note, my beautiful, intelligent-but-non-tech-savvy wife found the system a breeze to use. She regularly finds it a challenge to constantly keep up with the newest gadgets and electronics. I briefly mention this because I imagine that many households include members of all skill levels using the same devices in the home. She found that the learning curve for this unit was easier than expected because it so closely resembled her home computer.
LG’s ‘Magic Remote’
Yep, we felt the remote deserved its own magic section. The device included with the 55EF9500 is similar to a motion controlled, wireless mouse. LG’s Magic Remote allows you to point or gesture via motion control and click through apps, settings, games, Netflix, and everything else incorporated into its operating system. The ergonomic remote has a small scrolling wheel, just like you find on a traditional mouse, with standard directions (up, down, left, and right) for easy navigating. It’s slightly frustrating to pinpoint the on screen cursor at first (different than traditional controllers). However, as with most new things, a little practice aiming the remote, scrolling/clicking on icons, or entering text, it quickly became a non-issue. Did we also mention you can give voice commands to the remote? Press the microphone button and say, ‘open Netflix.’ A small popup of text displays on the bottom right of the TV screen to confirm the command, and it obeys. It’s that easy.
Plug-n-PlayAs we pointed out previously, one major issue in the 4K world right now is the lack of content offered in Ultra HD. Since we primarily work in 4K, we loaded a 1TB USB 3.0 external hard drive, plugged it into the OLED Smart TV USB 3.0 port, and were able to access our content through the Smart Share app. When you plug in a USB device, the Smart Share app opens and lists the images & videos available for viewing. Secondly, the app displays a list of folders which makes it simple to pinpoint exactly what you’re looking for. In addition, The OLED Smart TV also recognizes and displays the resolution, file type, and audio type of each file. Within seconds of plugging our device into the unit, not only was our content playing without delay, but the automatic slideshow feature is incredibly useful for presentations, gallery showings, and in our workshop instruction. It will be such a useful tool when we need visual examples of creating a time-lapse video, or demonstrate acute differences of color details, levels, clarity, etc. when teaching post processing.
Visual QualityWe’re used to viewing with 2 million pixels and now we’re able to experience our work at 4x that level. OLED TVs are known for their ability to produce very clean, accurate hues. Since we have 4K content with our images and time lapse videos, we put the 55EF9500 through its paces. Nuances of the picture quality and fine details were simply amazing to watch. The screen itself is glossy and includes an anti-reflective coating that helped reduce the intensity of the effects without dulling the picture however, it still reflected in ambient light conditions. Another great feature with the 55EF9500 OLED 4K Smart TV is its off-axis viewing capabilities. This means the screen display was not compromised several feet from dead center. This was an important point for us because when using the TV during instruction and having a room full of students looking at the screen, every view from each vantage point was uncompromised. All in all, we think the visual quality is rock solid and a vast improvement from what we’re used to.
Perfect ‘Black Levels’As you can well imagine, we are very particular about color representation in our work. At the top of our list of what we were really looking forward to testing out was the EF9500s ability to display perfect ‘black levels.’ It was a priority for us because traditionally, LCD screens emit black levels which appear dark blue and sometimes gray instead of true black. This type of color inaccuracy is difficult to balance and can be very frustrating. Most of our work displays the beauty of the night sky with vast landscapes illuminated by starlight and moonlight. With the introduction of perfect black levels our viewers can experience our imagery with little distraction in the very way it was intended.
Tru-4K UpscalerAvailability of 4K content is still a bit limited. However, you still get to enjoy the benefits of near 4K quality thanks to the Tru-4K Upscaler included in the EF9500 series. This feature performs what is known as ‘upscaling’ and is used to interpolate HD (1920 x 1080) content into Ultra HD (3840 x 2160). This means when viewing simple HD content on the OLED, it is up-scaled to the pixel dimension of the TV. With this added feature, we experienced a major increase in HD quality compared to our older HD models. When we performed a comparison with our video trailer in HD and Ultra HD, we found the HD version still maintained its high image quality. Of course, the experience was not same as viewing Ultra HD, but it’s a vast improvement as industry content is still in transition.
HDRHigh Dynamic Range is the next step up in picture quality of Ultra HD, and refers to content that’s been programmed to deliver more dynamic contrast information. Already offered by Amazon Prime, HDR promises to deliver higher levels of contrast between light and dark images. What does that mean? It allows the TV to really take advantage of all its capabilities. Take the basic principle of HDR Photography. Cameras don’t have the ability to capture what our eyes see (yet). Have you ever taken a picture at sunset? Remember how your camera focused on a bright, vibrant colored sky and the landscape portion of the image came out too dark? That’s because the camera didn’t have the dynamic range needed to capture the bright sky and dark landscape simultaneously. One way photographers get around this, is to merge three photographs into one: a brighter exposure for the dark foreground, a darker exposure for the bright sky, and a final exposure to tie all the elements together. Now, imagine applying this method to your favorite film or TV show. You are now able to see infinitely more detail within the darkest shadows and brightest colors.
AudioFrom an audio perspective, the sound performed fairly well from its built-in speakers designed by Harman Kardon. The system includes a variety of settings to help customize your audio experience and enables external sound devices. There’s no substitute for surround sound, however the sound is loud enough when called upon and we did not have any issues with the quality of its internal speakers. We will likely add a surround system with a subwoofer so that the audio matches the visual quality of the unit.
Final ThoughtsAs we’ve hinted above, the 55EF9500 4K OLED Smart TV is a game changer and will revolutionize the way we can present our films and images. The ability to view and edit our work in Ultra HD enables us to digitally master our content and provide the most dynamic experience possible.
There are minor software updates we would like to see. For example, when you switch between 3 different apps, the unit does not remember where you left off and takes you back to the app’s startup screen. If I was playing a slideshow, switched to two other apps, then came back to the slideshow, the interface would take me back to the Smart Share app, therefore making me browse and setup the slideshow again. It’s a minor software issue that does not take away from the overall experience.
In our near future, we know Ultra HD resolution will become standard, but for now, it’s difficult to find content. We think it would be valuable for first-time Ultra HD users and LG to include some examples of 4K Ultra HD videos. (Perhaps a pre-download example in the unit or free access via the LG Store). Wouldn’t it be great to give clients a small taste of what they could be experiencing when 4K content becomes the industry norm? This may also encourage streaming services like NetFlix/Amazon Prime to offer more Ultra HD content.
HighsPerfect black levels, bright whites, incredible contrast
Ultra-slim and sleek design is more futuristic than ever
Ability to update apps & interface
WebOS 2.0 exceeds expectations
Best off-axis viewing we’ve ever seen
LowsSettings still need tweaking to achieve best results
In-unit speakers could improve
No 4K videos that comes with the purchase for demonstration and compare/contrast
Experienced subtle changes in screen brightness because the ‘Energy Saving’ option was on ‘Auto’