(Pocket-lint) - It's been a long and winding road for OLED TVs. The display technology, which promises deeper blacks and richer colours than LED-backlit LCD tellies, started its consumer TV life in 2013 with the LG 55EM970V. Problem is, that telly cost £10,000. We're guessing there are probably only about two such TVs in UK homes.
A lot has happened in the couple of years since. The rise of 4K ultra-high resolution has become a must-have for future-proofing and getting the highest quality content, which only now has been paired with an OLED panel in the 4K LG EG960V (or 55EG9600 if you're based in the US). Fortunately, and thanks to LG's improving production techniques, the 960V's price tag has come down, and that's despite showcasing a curved panel design too.
At £3,799 for the 55-inch model is LG's first 4K OLED good enough to fend off the plethora of competing tech (if you're not fussed about 4K then the 930V will cater for you at £2,299, as we've reviewed here)? We've been living with the LG 55EG960V for a fortnight to find out whether it's worth every pound of its not insignificant asking price.
Curved is the current fashion, and LG is on trend. The EG960V's latitudinal curved screen is contained within an aluminium edging and, in keeping with the silver-colour theme, there's a cut-out stand to match that curve. Thanks to the stem behind being hidden from view there's the rough impression of the screen floating just a few inches from stand level. It's all rather space age and certainly all very good looking.
OLED has long been touted as the tech to make TVs even thinner, but – and despite the EG960V's screen measuring just 6mm at its thinnest – the curve and the internal processing gubbins ultimately negate that in this design. Sure, a curved panel is a talking point and does look great, but feels like a luxury addition to this particular screen. We'd prefer to spend a little less and have a flatter, thinner panel (and prospective wall-mounters will probably think the same).
The argument for a curved screen is for a more immersive viewing experience and better angles of view for off-centre viewing. The latter point makes sense, but front-on and we've not really found any truth in feeling any more ensconced by the curved image compared to a flat panel.
Still, LG has done a mighty fine job of avoiding irritating reflections from this particular panel, which is important for a curve given how it can catch the light. What we find makes this TV feel more immersive is just how much of the panel is dedicated to the image; there's only a shallow black border to the edge to contain the image. Sat watching late night movies and this makes for real impact, without giant border distractions.
Ultimately if you want 4K and OLED then the only way to buy both, right now at least, is in the EG960V. Try as we might to argue with the curve, we have to concede that it does look great. It's more an interesting design aspect than a huge change in the viewing experience in our view.
Flip the EG960V around and its white rear looks somewhat at odds with its black and silver finish. Not that you'll be staring at it from behind, but this plastic rear isn't as luxe as the carbon fibre finish of the EM970V (perhaps no surprise given that set's £10k price tag).
The EG960V has three HDMI ports, alongside three USB ports, used to plug in your various devices. Three ports feels somewhat stingy for a top-end TV such as this – a set-top box, games console and streaming box would see you at full capacity – as LG does offer four ports on many of its other TVs, such as the 4K UF950V (as reviewed here).
Still, two of those ports are HDMI 2.0 for full 4K viewing, including all-important HDCP 2.2 compliance, which means when 4K content is broadcast in the future (by Sky, Virgin, and the like) that this TV won't run in to any problems.
With on-board Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners you can benefit from the free-to-watch channels too, although your existing set-top box (assuming you have one) will already cover such channels. At present there's no broadcast 4K content, it's all down to streaming and, before the end of this year, 4K Blu-ray (if it ever pulls its finger out and gets on with things).
As with all of LG's latest TVs, the EG960V comes with webOS 2.0, the smart TV operating system setup which cuts through the usual unnecessaries, presenting a colourful overlay bar of shortcut tabs for quick access to your favourite inputs, channels and apps.
These apps and sources can be rearranged, added and removed as needed by using the included remote. For our personal experience we've moved our usual arrangement onto the webOS tabs: Freesat (which presents itself as Blu-ray on HDMI 2 for some reason), alongside BBC iPlayer, PlayStation 4, Netflix and YouTube. Active apps remain open in a tab too, so you can toggle between them using the remote without needing to close them down fully or wait around for re-loading.
The included remote makes navigating quicker too. By pointing it at the screen, rather like a magic wand, a peach-colour pointer appears in order to make light work of selecting options. However, the rotational wheel to its centre doubles-up as the "ok" button, which feels positioned too low down in the design – useful though it is for scrolling up and down through selections. A small design tweak would fix that in our view.
Otherwise webOS 2.0 is smart TV how it's supposed to be – and there are plenty of other apps available beyond those mentioned. With the evolution of smart TVs, such as Android TV, Firefox and Tizen platforms coming from Philips, Panasonic and Samsung sets this year, we find the LG webOS approach a solid contender.
The OLED experience
What really sets the 55EG960V apart from the pack is its inherent OLED panel. Although it does take a little tweaking to get it absolutely right for your personal taste and viewing environment, as the brightness often lacked punch in daylight – but there are plenty of options to tweak and customise as you choose (just don't overdo it, as this hyper bright set can be pushed beyond the bounds of sensible).
Principal to the performance is the resulting deep, rich blacks. That's partly down to how OLED operates, with individual pixels able to switch themselves off, unlike LED-backlighting which tends to "bleed" due to the position of LEDs for edge illumination.
There's none of that bleed on this OLED panel: the EG960V is therefore uniform and really wonderful for nighttime viewing. Which is exactly what home cinema aficionados will want to hear. Welcome to a new era of blacker blacks thanks to a contrast ratio that's pretty much off the scale.
However, OLED's presentation is simply different to that of LCD TVs. Yes the colours are bright and punchy, but sometimes to excess – particularly with greens which can easily become garish. Sometimes it works to benefit, such as with a hyper-real colourful sunset, but other times you'll be sat there trying to work out why things look just a bit unusual.
Dig deep and there are loads of settings to take control though. From individual grass/sky/skin tone adjustment sliders, through to simple green-magenta tint scales, down to full-on 20-point white balance adjustment. Tweak, then tweak some more and you'll get a great image, albeit not quite a perfect one – that's just how OLED balances out in our view.
When it comes to motion we've been pleased with the smoothness on offer. TV viewing can benefit from TruMotion, which adds additional smoothing, but we found movies were best watched with this switched off for that classic cinema look and feel. Fortunately LG hasn't overcomplicated things, it's a case of either having it on or off. Simple, as it should be.
The level of clarity from YouTube 4K or Netflix 4K looks astounding too (both available through the apps section on the TV). Upscaling 1080p content looks good enough, particularly with the sharpness processing pushed up a little, but does highlight the gap between 4K and 1080p. Until lots of standard-def channels catch up, though, they can look pretty awful upscaled. But that's not LG's fault, that's just the state of broadcast at the moment.
Similar to picture settings, sound output can be tinkered with too – but not to quite the same level of detail. There are plenty of modes – Standard, Cinema, News, Sports, Music, Game – which all sound decent, but no individual equalisation adjustment is available beyond the presents. Other settings include sync adjustment and audio type output, useful for those connecting to a receiver and separate surround system.
So is the LG EG960V's OLED panel better than an equivalent flagship LCD? For black levels, absolutely, it's as good as things get. For colour, it's a bit mixed – it loses some of the realism for the sake of saturation. That might be an odd compromise, but a little settings tweaking and the EG960V's picture quality is truly excellent.
Ultimately, and despite its high price tag, the LG 55EG960V sets itself up as the best-in-class 4K OLED. But then it's also the only one out there (ignoring the 65-inch version), so how's that for patting one's own back? We would like to see a flat screen option too, rather than just this curved 4K-er.
Given how well the EG960V handles 4K and 1080p content (plus it's future-proofed to handle 4K broadcast), on the evidence we've seen this OLED option is certainly worth its asking price for serious home cinema enthusiasts. And at least it's not £10k, eh? However, the real challenge the EG960V faces is that alternative technologies at smaller price points are likely to lure in a greater number of prospective buyers, so its purchase depends on just how serious you are about your TV experience.