(Pocket-lint) - With some LCD TV makers - including LG! - making a big song and dance about the introduction of Mini LED backlight technology for 2021, the pressure on mainstream OLED TVs to deliver their own substantial hardware leap that's been rumbling along for years now has become particularly intense.
Just as well, then, that LG's OLED G1 is stepping up to the plate with a new 'Evo' panel design that promises both more brightness and better colour than any LG OLED TV has managed before. Besides that, it's got all the bells and whistles that cinephiles, gamers and designers will crave in a wall-mount TV. So just how good is it?
- 4x HDMI 2.1 inputs, 3x USB ports
- LAN & Wi-Fi multimedia options
As with LG's debut Gallery OLED TVs in 2020, the OLED G1 - reviewed here in 65-inch, there's also 55- and 77-inch versions - is designed very much with wall-mounting in mind. So much so that it only ships with a wall bracket. If you want to place it on desktop legs you'll have to pay extra for them. And even then they won't really do the G1's thin, elegant profile justice.
The G1 wall-mount is designed to sit within a recess on the TV's rear, allowing the screen to hang perfectly flush to a wall. Its impact on your living space is minimised even further, too, by the extreme narrowness of the screen's frame. You can even choose to play artworks on the screen in a low power mode when you're not watching it, further justifying the Gallery name.
The only issue with the design, perhaps, is that most people actually don't wall-mount their TV, but may well still want to get their hands on the G1 series' unique high brightness panel. If that sounds like you, be prepared to pay the extra for those optional support feet - or a new tripod-style Gallery floorstand LG has introduced for 2021.
The OLED G1's connections put those of most rivals to shame. Especially when it comes to its four HDMIs, which all meet the latest HDMI 2.1 specification and so can support all the latest features of 4K HDR playback at 120Hz, automatic low latency mode (ALLM) switching for faster gaming response times, and variable refresh rates (VRR). Even in 2021 most rival premium TVs are only offering one or two full-spec HDMIs.
- HDR Support: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision
- Processing engine: Alpha 9 Gen 4
The advances of the OLED G1's new Evo panel (which is exclusive to the G1 series) come in two main areas.
First, a new 'luminous element' is included to enhance brightness without using lots more power or, so LG claims, increasing the likelihood of the OLED G1 suffering with the permanent image retention issue that can affect OLED technology.
Second, LG has introduced a new green layer into the OLED G1's panel construction that should, in conjunction with new narrower wavelengths for the red and green colour elements, lead to more dynamic and precise colours across the spectrum.
With Panasonic and Sony also using brightness-enhancing panels on their premium OLED ranges for 2021, though, LG has one other bit of the OLED G1's picture story it's keen to talk about: its new Alpha 9 Generation 4 processor. Without this, LG argues, the OLED G1 would not be able to unlock the new panel's full potential.
The Alpha 9 Gen 4 processor also boasts a few potentially important new more general image tweaks. These include new Natural and Cinema Movement motion processing modes, and enhancements to both LG's AI Picture Pro and AI Sound Pro automatic picture and sound optimisation options.
On the AI Picture Pro front, the latest processor can now use AI learning to identify when an image may be showing a city scene, a landscape or a night shot, and apply specific rules to the image accordingly. It can even apply 'rules' to specific objects or areas of specific content within any overall image, creating a more three-dimensional and natural effect than would be possible by just applying the processing rules equally across the whole image.
The OLED G1's use of an OLED rather than LCD panel - no surprise given the name, eh? - brings with it innate picture quality advantages too. For instance, it can be watched from almost any angle without its colour saturations or contrast deteriorating significantly. It can also deliver light control down to individual pixel level, so that the darkest blacks the panel is capable of can appear literally right next to the brightest whites, without any dimming/greyness/backlight clouding trade-offs. This sort of local light control just isn't possible with LCD TVs - not even those that use Mini LED technology.
As usual with a premium LG TV, the OLED G1 supports the Dolby Vision and HLG formats of high dynamic range (HDR) technology, alongside the industry standard HDR10 format. There is no support for the rarer (in source terms) HDR10+ format.
The OLED G1 picks up where the company's popular 2020 X series OLEDs left off when it comes to gaming, continuing to offer 4K resolution, HDR, 120Hz refresh, plus variable refresh rates (VRR) across all four HDMIs.
It introduces a roster of new gaming options via a Game Optimiser 'dashboard' too. These options include a series of selectable game genre-based picture presets, an AI Game Sound mode, separate tweaks for the bright and dark extremes of gaming graphics, a Reduce Blue Light option for shifting game graphics to a warmer, less fatiguing colour tone, and separate Standard and Boost input lag reduction options that deliver exceptionally fast response times of just 12.4ms and 9.4ms respectively.
There's also a new Fine Tune Dark Areas option for VRR gaming that provides a counter-measure to the tendency of OLED TVs to exhibit raised black levels when playing VRR images. So LG is clearly hell bent on retaining the legion of gaming fans it picked up with its forward-thinking 2019 and 2020 LG OLED series.
- Smart system: WebOS 6.0
After years of merely refining its much-loved webOS platform, LG has finally introduced some really significant changes on the OLED G1.
A new full-screen interface takes over from the old and familiar strip of app icons along the bottom of the screen. This interface focuses for the most part on recommending content based on household viewing habits and currently popular shows from across the wide range of apps the TV supports. There's a substantial box to top right, too, that takes you to a well-presented and wide-ranging content search page.
While it makes sense these days to shift the webOS focus to providing recommended content curated from across supported apps rather than making users explore content on a per-app basis, the layout and 'weighting' of the new home screen doesn't feel quite right. The three link options along the top of the screen in particular feel like they're been given more weight than they really warrant.
The signature webOS source icon strip does still continue along the bottom of the new full-screen home page, and you can scroll down from there to a small selection of further shelves containing a list of all your connected devices, and direct content links to some of the most popular streaming apps. Strangely there's no Netflix shelf at the time of writing, though, and you can't change the order the shelves appear in.
LG's voice control and recognition features - Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and LG's own ThinQ options are all available - continue to be excellent. As does the system's level of app support, with all the key streaming services covered. This includes the UK's terrestrial broadcaster catch-up services via Freeview Play.
The OLED G1 undoubtedly delivers overall better picture quality than any of LG's 2020 OLED TVs. Whether it delivers as much of an improvement as some quarters might have been hoping for, though, is another question.
The new Evo panel makes an impact in two ways. First, where an HDR image, such as a shot of sun-drenched blue sky, features almost full-screen brightness, there's a slightly higher level of overall intensity to the picture than 2020's LG models can provide. Second, the very brightest parts of HDR images - naked bulbs and lights, reflections on glass or metal, sun-drenched clouds and the like - look punchier and, as a result, more natural.
It's noticeable, too, that since the Evo panel is designed to handle slightly lighter peaks of brightness, it typically delivers more subtle detailing and shading in the brightest HDR areas.
These differences, along with a slightly richer, more refined HDR-content colour palette, are more consistently noticeable when playing HDR console and PC games than they are with typical video.
Even with the punchiest games, though, the OLED G1 step up from 2020's LG OLEDs don't elevate the brand's OLED performance into a whole new ball park. It's more refinement than revolution. While this initially feels slightly disappointing, it doesn't take long living with the OLED G1 to start feeling as if this initial assessment is a bit foolish.
After all, the OLED G1 is providing a 10-20 per cent HDR performance boost to 2020 LG OLED TVs - which were themselves sensational performers. And that's actually a pretty remarkable achievement in a premium TV world now so good that even the tiniest improvements should be embraced like long lost relatives.
What's more, the G1's picture improvements aren't just down to its new Evo panel. The new Alpha 9 Gen 4 processor has its part to play too, on two levels.
First, the new AI Picture Pro option is a substantial advance over its predecessor. Its ability to apply more effective enhancements on a more local basis yields pictures which look both more eye-catching and more natural. This eye-catching/natural combination is key, since while LG AI processing has previously delivered enhancements to colour, sharpness and contrast, those enhancements have always been accompanied by distracting side effects. On the OLED G1 the improvements are not only more pronounced, but come at the expense of practically no downsides.
There are, of course, people who won't use the AI Picture Pro mode because they don't like the idea of a TV's processor taking over the way a picture looks. And for those people the OLED G1 still supports all the calibration tools and accuracy of other recent LG generations. The much improved AI Picture Pro is very much worth trying for most users, though.
The other key processing improvement comes from LG's new motion options. The new Natural motion processing mode used by default with most of the OLED G1's picture presets is a little too smooth and can cause unwanted processing side effects. The new Cinematic Movement mode, though, does a superbly well-balanced job of gently reducing the rather 'hard' judder with 24p movie sources that OLED TVs can exhibit without creating really any distracting side effects. It's outstanding.
The OLED G1's improvements have not, thankfully, compromised any of LG's traditional OLED strengths. Black levels still look inky, actually exhibiting slightly less noise in areas of near-black detail, despite also showing more shadow detail in most picture presets.
Colours hardly ever look forced or over the top despite the slight brightness increase and marginally purer presentation, and sharpness is slightly improved without making the image look brittle or harsh. With HD sources, in particular, the new Alpha 9 Gen 4 upscaling really earns its corn by delivering a markedly crisper finish than seen with previous LG OLED generations without exaggerating noise.
The OLED G1's pictures are not completely perfect though. There's noticeable flickering in dark scenes when gaming in VRR, for starters. All Dolby Vision presets (bar Vivid) can cause some crushing of detail in dark areas. There's a new hint of magenta over pictures if you watch from a wide angle, too, although contrast and colour intensity still benefit from OLED's viewing angle advantage over LCD in this area.
The OLED G1 can also still exaggerate compression noise in dark (usually SDR) streamed scenes, and even with the G1 it's still important to stress that while OLED is untouchable when it comes to local (as in, pixel by pixel) contrast, premium LCD TVs can still get significantly brighter with both peak and full-screen HDR content.
Since LG doesn't join Sony in using the screen surfaces of its premium OLED TVs to produce sound, there isn't much space in the OLED G1's super-skinny design for a big old set of speakers. With that in mind, though, in many ways the OLED G1 sounds pretty good.
For starters, a new Virtual 5.1.2 upconversion system introduced by the Alpha 9 Gen 4 processor does a surprisingly convincing job of adding a mild sense of height to soundtracks that don't have height channels built-in. At least the sound expands nicely from all of the TV's edges, even if there isn't any sense of actual overhead sounds. Voices tend to sound clear and believable, and detail levels are quite high for a sound system that doesn't have any forward-facing drivers.
There are two fairly significant issues, though. First, while it's cool that the OLED G1 decodes Dolby Atmos soundtracks (though there's no DTS support), it doesn't do so very well. The speakers just can't deliver anywhere near as much impact as they should with very loud, dense Atmos moments. In fact, the speakers tend to become more subdued just when they're supposed to be ratcheting up.
This makes LG's own AI Sound Pro setting a much better option for most content. This does amp up to take on loud moments, as well as somehow make the sound fill the room more.
However, whenever a film soundtrack features low rumbles - especially in AI Sound Pro mode - the TV's low frequency drivers start to fall prey to significant amounts of break up and distortion. So much so that it can become quite hard to listen to, and a clear distraction from the onscreen action.
Best go buy a separate soundbar/surround system then.
At the time of writing there's a question mark over whether the OLED G1 is sufficiently superior to the upcoming C1 mid-range OLEDs - which don't get the Evo panel - to justify its extra cost. Based on the type of enhancements it brings over last gen's CX models, though, it most likely is a worthy step up from the C1 - if you're looking to wall-mount anyway.
So while it doesn't quite shatter the OLED rule book in the way some had hoped, the OLED G1's new Evo panel in conjunction with LG's latest processing engine delivers comfortably the best OLED TV LG has ever made. That's what makes this TV special. A fact which should rightly have both AV and gaming fans drooling, given how good LG's previous OLEDs have been.
LG OLED GX
If you can live without the Evo panel's enhanced HDR performance and Game Optimiser functionality but like the Gallery design, 2020's OLED GX is still available for a chunk of cash less.
Panasonic was the first brand to introduce new high brightness OLED technology, and 2020's version of this technology is still available at a slightly lower price than the LG. Stocks are apparently starting to run low, though, so get a move on!