LG 65C7 4K/UHD HDR OLED TV Review

LG has been making large-screen OLED TVs for several years now, and they get better with each new generation. The 2017 lineup includes five series; from least to most expensive, they are the B7, C7, E7, G7, and W7. The B7, C7, and E7 are available in 55″ and 65″ screen sizes, while the G7 and W7 come in 65″ and 77″ sizes.

All five series use exactly the same OLED panel and video processing. The only differences are the cabinet design and certain features. For example, the W7 is wallpaper-thin and includes a separate soundbar. (For my mini-review of the W7, click here.)

Because all the 2017 LG OLED TVs are virtually identical in terms of performance, I decided to review the C7, the least expensive series available from a wide variety of outlets. (The B7 is essentially the same and available only at CostCo and other big-box retailers.) In particular, I chose the 65″ LG 65C7, which lists for $3500; the 55C7 lists for $2500. (Note: The prices for these two sizes dropped by $1000 and $700, respectively, on June 12.)

Features

The C7 shares the same basic features with all the 2017 LG OLEDs: a resolution of 3840×2160, super-deep blacks, support for high dynamic range in the HDR10 and Dolby Vision formats (with HLG and Technicolor to be added in firmware updates), and wide color gamut (100% of DCI/P3, according to LG). They also create dynamic metadata for HDR10 and HLG content, and the SDR-to-HDR function, called HDR Effect, is much more sophisticated than last year.

Like all OLEDs, the LG 65C7 can’t get nearly as bright as modern HDR-capable LCD TVs. But it’s blacks are much deeper than just about any LCD’s, so it can fully render HDR content with no problem. The only caveat is that it must engage tone mapping at a lower luminance level than most LCD TVs.

Another common feature is support for Dolby Atmos immersive audio by sending an Atmos bitstream via HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) from their streaming apps—Vudu is the only one providing Atmos as this time—and external devices connected to the TV’s HDMI inputs. The TVs also simulate Atmos from their onboard sound systems, but it’s simulated using DSP, not upfiring speakers.

As most enthusiasts know by now, LG dropped 3D from all its TVs in 2017. If you really want 3D in an OLED, the only solution is to grab a 2016 model while they’re still available. However, it won’t have the improvements made in the 2017 lineup, such as better shadow detail, higher peak luminance, and better ABL (automatic brightness limiting). I’d choose those improvements over 3D any day, but you might feel differently.

Ergonomics

All 2017 models provide the same menus, LG’s WebOS 3.5 smart-TV platform, and the Magic Remote, which you wave around to move the cursor on the screen. Among the important features here are hot buttons for Netflix and Amazon on the remote and the ability to define other hot buttons on the numeric keypad.

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The Magic Remote includes hot buttons for Netflix and Amazon, and you can define the numeric keys to be hot buttons for other apps.

You can also display your own photos and videos from a mobile device and even watch 360° VR content by waving the Magic Remote to change the perspective. A Magic Link icon identifies similar content to what you’re watching and calls up additional info, such as the cast of a show or the lyrics of a song.

The menu system and WebOS 3.5 user interface are straightforward; I had no problem finding my way around them. However, I do not like the Magic Remote. It feels clumsy and inaccurate to wave it around to move the cursor where I wanted it. I strongly prefer a more conventional remote.

Calibration & Measurements

Calibrator extraordinaire David Abrams of Avical did the calibrations and measurements on the LG 65C7. He used a Colorimetry Research CR-250 spectroradiometer and CR-100 colorimeter and SpectraCal’s CalMan software for all measurements. Test patterns were generated by SpectraCal’s VirtualForge software controlling a Blackmagic DeckLink 4K Extreme 12G graphics card in a PCI breakout box connected to a Mac via Thunderbolt. VirtualForge and the Blackmagic card can generate HDR signals, but the software can’t generate HDR metadata, so David used an HDFury Integral to inject HDR metadata into the signal.

David found that the ISF Dark Room picture mode was the closest to accurate for SDR out of the box:

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Pre-calibration in SDR mode, the grayscale got worse as brightness increased, with a growing deficiency in red. Gamma was quite good, and the colors were pretty good, with only yellow (and white) exceeding a delta E of 3.

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Pre-calibration in SDR mode, the ColorChecker in CalMan revealed moderately good color performance, with an average delta E of 4.41 and a maximum delta E of 11.04. Most colors had a delta E less than 3.

Next, David calibrated the SDR grayscale using the 2-point controls:

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David got the SDR calibration essentially perfect using only the 2-point controls. Peak brightness was 102.6 nits.

Unlike the Sony A1E (see my review here), all LG OLED TVs provide a color management system (CMS) to tweak individual primary and secondary colors. According to David, it’s far better than last year’s CMS; as he says, “It’s worth utilizing this year.” After calibrating the grayscale, he decided to measure the colorimetry and ColorChecker before and after tweaking the CMS:

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Post-calibration, the colorimetry was pretty good without adjusting the CMS; average delta E is 1.68, and max is 3.12.

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After tweaking the CMS, the colorimetry improved significantly, with an average delta E of 0.99 and a max of 1.62

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Before adjusting the CMS, the ColorChecker was quite good, with an average delta E of 1.53 and a max of 3.5.

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After tweaking the CMS, the ColorChecker was even better, with an average delta E of 0.99 and a max of 3.02.

Turning to HDR, David performed a 2-point grayscale calibration of the HDR mode. He didn’t do a 20-point calibration because that can introduce artifacts and banding. Fortunately, he didn’t need to; here are the results:

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Post-calibration, the HDR grayscale had an average delta E of 1.32 and a max of 2.25, which is great. Also, the EOTF and luminance followed the target curves almost perfectly. Peak brightness was 620.4 nits in a 10% window.

David set CalMan to measure the post-calibration HDR colorimetry two different ways: taking luminance error into account and ignoring it. Why? Because of HDR tone mapping. As the colors get brighter, tone mapping kicks in, preventing the colors from getting brighter than a certain maximum that depends on the display. As a result, CalMan thinks it’s seeing an error in luminance. By ignoring the luminance error, we can see how close each color gets to the correct x/y coordinates at the high end of the brightness range.

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With CalMan taking luminance error into account, the average delta E was 4.97 and max was 10.33 in the colorimetry.

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Setting CalMan to ignore the luminance error and looking only at the DeltaE 2000 chart in the lower right of this screen shot, delta E was less than 2 in all cases. Only this chart was set to ignore the luminance error, which is why everything else in this screen looks identical to the previous one.

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Taking luminance error into account, CalMan reported an average delta E of 4.69 and a max of 11.77 in the ColorChecker. Also, notice that David added a delta ICtCp chart, which is Dolby’s method of measuring errors. It’s a new formula that the company says is more accurate.

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Ignoring the luminance error in the delta E and delta ICtCp charts, the errors are much lower for the most part. Again, nothing else in this screen was set to ignore the luminance errors.

David performed a Dolby Vision calibration using the service menu to input the values he measured for the panel’s native white, red, green, and blue points. After entering these values, the processor knows what the display’s capabilities are and compensates to render Dolby Vision correctly. However, without a target—aka “Golden Reference,” which LG has not yet published—there’s no way to generate any screen shots.

During his measurements, David discovered that the LG 65C7 can achieve a peak brightness of about 150 nits regardless of window size, all the way up to full-field white. By comparison, the Sony A1E can reach only 95 nits at all window sizes. However, on a shallow ramp pattern, the LG exhibited slightly more banding than the Sony.

Performance—Test Material

I started my performance evaluation with test material; first up was the Samsung HDR10 reference disc. The dynamic-range tests all looked great; all had excellent detail in the bright and dark parts of the image. Likewise, the color tests all looked very natural.

In the Motion Sharpness test, a pan across rocks exhibited bad judder with TruMotion (frame interpolation) turned off. The Smooth preset worked best to eliminate judder, as did setting the De-Judder control to maximum in the User preset. The same was true in the Motion Interpolation test, which consists of scrolling text of different sizes in black or white on gray backgrounds.

I was particularly interested in the 10-bit/8-bit test, which presents an image of clouds passing by over a coastline with 10-bit and 8-bit encoding. On the C7, the 8-bit image looked essentially as good as the 10-bit version, with no banding that I could see. Obviously, the TV does a great job with 8-bit content.

One of my favorite test Blu-rays is called FPD Benchmark, which isn’t available to the general public. In fact, I got it long ago, and I doubt it’s available anywhere at this point. In the Motion Resolution tests, motion blur was quite pronounced until I enabled TruMotion frame interpolation, which cleaned it up considerably. High-contrast shots looked excellent, but the 0-100 gray ramp had lots of banding, and the 0-25 gray ramp was much worse. The differentiation in different shades of black in very dark shots and different shades of white in mostly white shots was excellent.

A stepped-colors test showed that blue and magenta were almost clipping near the top end, but the other colors were fine, and all colors remained consistent throughout the brightness range. Subtle colors looked good, though there was some slight color shifting from off axis; this affected bright colors more than dark ones. For example, in a shot of balls of pastel yarn, I saw some loss in saturation and color shifting from way off axis, though this was not nearly as bad as it is on most LCD TVs.

Performance—UHD Blu-ray

Turning to real content, I took a look at Planet Earth II on UHD Blu-ray. The HDR imagery was exquisite, with plenty of detail in both dark and bright images as well as shots that combined both. Colors were gorgeous, including green foliage and blue water, and the wildlife looked entirely natural. And the detail in things like animal hair, tree bark, and sand was stunning. I turned TruMotion frame interpolation on and off; when it was off, judder was very bad, so I left it on.

I know that some folks don’t like high frame rate (HFR), but I love it. The only example currently available to consumers is the UHD Blu-ray of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which plays at 60 fps. (It was shot at 120 fps.) On the LG 65C7, the movie looked truly beautiful. I especially love the shots inside Billy’s family home with an open door in the background; I could easily see plenty of detail in both the darker interior and brighter exterior through the door, which is impossible with standard dynamic range. Likewise, the halftime show itself looked stunning, with deep darkness in the stands and brightly lit soldiers and performers.

Interestingly, dark areas in the image—for example, the dark-green uniforms of the Bravo soldiers and Chris Tucker’s face as they wait in front of the hotel near the beginning—had more detail than they did on the Sony A1E. Same with shots in the limo that takes them to the football game. I suspect this is because the LG derives and applies dynamic metadata to HDR10 content.

Performance—Dolby Vision Streaming

Next, I watched a couple of Dolby Vision titles from Netflix. Marco Polo was absolutely gorgeous; dark scenes were deep and rich, and bright scenes were startlingly bright without being blown out in any way. In mixed dark/bright scenes, I could clearly see detail in both parts of the image. Once again, turning TruMotion frame interpolation off caused motion to be very juddery. Turning it on smoothed out the motion completely, but the soap-opera effect was evident.

Daredevil in Dolby Vision was not as noisy as I remember it being on the Sony A1E in HDR10, but it was still noisier than most UHD Blu-rays I’ve seen. The night scene in the shipping-container yard was beautiful, with very bright city lights in the background and dim shadows in the foreground that were full of visible details. Overall, the image is a bit too contrasty, but that could well be the content.

Performance—Blu-ray

I also looked at a couple of Blu-rays, which exhibit 1920×1080 resolution, BT.709 color, and standard dynamic range. Starting with Baraka, SDR looked a bit dull compared with all the HDR I had just seen. Don’t get me wrong; the image looked great, but a bit muted compared with UHD HDR.

To address this, I tried the HDR Effect feature, which is actually one of the preset picture modes. It has more limited controls than the other modes; for example, it has only one color-temperature control with 100 steps between W50 (warm) and C50 (cool). It also has three strength settings: Light, Medium, and Strong.

HDR Effect works pretty well, making the image much brighter. However, it can’t recover much shadow detail—for example, in the black cloaks of the whirling dervishes. I thought the Strong setting was too harsh and garish; Light or Medium worked best.

The same was true with Stargate: Continuum on Blu-ray. The opening starfield was super-deep black with lots of bright stars, but the shadow detail in the opening long shot and on the Achilles steamer was not great. Going back to the calibrated ISF Night mode, the image looked a bit duller, and the black of the starfield was not quite as deep, but shadow detail was better.

Conclusion

I am a big fan of OLED TVs. Yes, they don’t get as bright as LCDs, but they have much deeper blacks, which I value over super-high brightness, especially in my light-controlled environment. In addition, uniformity is generally better, and they don’t have the off-axis performance issues that most LCDs can’t avoid.

So it’s no surprise that I love the LG 65C7. The entire 2017 LG OLED lineup has been improved over last year’s models in many ways, including shadow detail, peak brightness, and ABL. The addition of HLG and Technicolor HDR to Dolby Vision and HDR10 in a future firmware update will make them almost future-proof, and Dolby Atmos via HDMI ARC is a welcome feature, especially as more streaming-content providers offer Atmos soundtracks. On the downside for some, they no longer have 3D capabilities.

Another big improvement is the CMS, which is now actually helpful, unlike last year. And Dolby Vision “self-referenced calibration” is coming along; SpectraCal hopes to have the process automated in an upcoming version of CalMan.

Of course, OLED TVs are generally much more expensive than most comparably sized LCD TVs, even with the recent price drops. But in my view, the higher price is worth it to get those deliciously deep blacks, superb colors, great uniformity, and superior off-axis performance. If you agree—and you’ve got the dough—the LG 65C7 is a no-brainer.

Thanks to David Abrams of Avical for letting me hang out in his studio and play with the LG 65C7.