There are big changes afoot in the TV biz. With nothing to be made from selling Plasma and LED LCDs, television manufacturers have been scrabbling to find the next big thing. Eighteen months ago that looked to be OLED, but insurmountable manufacturing problems have led to a rethink. The future now appears to belong to 4K ultra HD.
Unlike 1080p OLED, 4K offers a measurable jump in performance and more importantly can be made using tried and tested production techniques. Even the fact that there’s no commercial 4K content available to watch doesn’t seem to have dampened enthusiasm.
The first 4K TV out of the gate and into mass distribution is the LG 84LM960V, an 84-inch giant with a double-take price tag. For those who can dig deep enough, it promises a mind-blowing viewing experience.
Despite weighing the best part of 80kg and standing 1.2m tall, this monstrous edifice still manages to look svelte. The brushed-aluminium bezel is relatively slim while the set itself is a mere 39.9mm deep. Connectivity is in line with other top-flight TVs. There are four HDMIs, three USBs - one of which can be designated for recordings to an external HDD - PC VGA and component via an adaptor. Wi-Fi is on board too if you don’t want to use Ethernet.
The set has two tuner options, Freeview HD and European-style DVB-S2 satellite. You can use the latter with a Sky dish, opening up the same number of channels you’d get from a Freesat tuner. Accessories include four passive 3D glasses, clip-ons to go over prescription glasses and two dual-play polarised glasses which can be used for simultaneous two-player gaming.
Two remotes are supplied. A regular infra-red job and LG’s Magic Remote RF wand, designed as a cursor replacement for web surfing and casual gameplay.
As expected, the 84LM960V comes well connected, offering plenty of internet-delivered TV via LG’s bustling Smart TV portal.
BBC iPlayer, Netflix, LoveFilm, YouTube and DailyMotion head the list of desirable catch-up and on-demand services available, and there’s a broad selection of madcap apps and games to download should you feel the need - we didn’t. Remember, on a screen this size you’ll find yourself less tolerant of low-bitrate fare.
The obvious problem facing any 4K TVs at present is that there’s no commercially available material to watch. Currently 4K file sizes are prohibitively big. This will change in 2013 when a new codec, HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding), is formally standardised. HEVC enables 4K to be distributed by satellite and cable and stored on physical media. Indeed, it’s so efficient that NHK says it will use it for 8K transmissions too.
Consequently, we evaluated the LG set with a UHD media server preloaded with a selection of 2D and 3D 4K test footage, consisting principally of time-lapse photography and CG animations. The level of detail able to be resolved by the screen is extraordinary: native 4K footage left raw Full HD looking positively Jurassic.
Thankfully, the screen does a solid job upscaling regular HD. Content from Blu-ray and the BBC HD channels looks remarkably fine (in every sense). The colour vibrancy of the 84LM960V is off the chart, making light entertainment shows appear almost hallucinogenic. There’s a good black level performance too. Watching movies on this giant LG is like having your own personal IMAX - 84-inches transpires to be a very comfortable size indeed and it’s alarming how quickly you get used to it.
There are caveats, of course. The screen uses LED edge lighting, which is prone to backlight uniformity errors. Care also needs to be taken with the picture set-up. LG’s TruMotion picture processing may improve motion resolution clarity but it does tend to introduce artefacts. When viewed on a screen of this size, these smudgy blurs can look quite horrible. The solution is to turn TruMotion off or set DeBlur to zero in the TruMotion user menu.
3D picture quality
3D on the 84LM960V is a wow, effectively setting a new standard for consumer stereoscopy.
Passive FPR panels have always been more comfortable to watch than Active Shutter solutions, thanks to a combination of low crosstalk and no-flicker, but when used on full HD TVs they suffer a drop in definition that’s painfully obvious. That’s not the case here. The extra resolution offered by UHD means that Full HD 3D Blu-rays maintain their clarity; the result is deep, immersive dimensionality.
The 84LM960V has a kick-ass sound system too. Unlike Sony’s rival Sony KD-84X9005 4K screen, speakers are fully integrated rather than hung separately either side, which makes for a slicker overall design. There are two 15w woofers on the rear panel, giving meaningful mid-bass, and a 20w downward-firing stereo pair. The resulting din is far more pleasing than you might hope to get from a flatpanel TV, even one this large.
The price may preclude ownership for all but the super-rich, but LG’s 84LM960V is a thrilling example of where TV technology is heading.
Representing a significant advance over Full HD, 4K will surely usher in a new era of extra-large screens - a trend we can certainly get behind.
There are some niggles. In addition to the aforementioned image flibbles, we noted a clear lag when navigating the set’s menus and when gaming, most likely caused by the resolution upscaler used by the set. Still, the sheer impact of this 4K king has left us eager for more.