LG W7 OLED TV: Hands On

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When LG offered me some unfettered hands-on time with its flagship W7 OLED TV in San Francisco, CA, I jumped at the chance. After a detailed briefing about the improvements LG has implemented in its entire 2017 OLED lineup—which I wrote about here—I had a 65W7 all to myself for a few hours in a darkened environment.

In anticipation of the trip, I posted an article asking AVS Forum members what they wanted to know about the W7. I tried to evaluate as many of these items as I could, but the available time was actually quite short, so I couldn’t get to everything.

Features

The standout feature of the W7 is its incredible thinness—the entire panel is less than 3 millimeters thick, and the 65-incher weighs only 18 pounds! When mounted on the wall using special magnetic mounting hardware, the distance from the wall to the front of the screen is a mere 3.5 mm, which is equivalent to three quarters stacked together. This is why LG calls the W7 a “wallpaper TV.” Also, it can only be wall-mounted; a tabletop stand is not an option. (The other 2017 models can be mounted on a wall or stand.)

Of course, most of the electronics—not to mention the connection jacks—can’t be housed in such a thin package, so they must reside in a separate module. For the W7, LG decided that module should be a large soundbar that connects to the TV with a flat ribbon cable. The cable is unobtrusive, but it is not rated for in-wall use.

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The W7’s electronics and connections are housed in a large soundbar with two upfiring speakers as well as two front-firing speakers and two so-called “subwoofers.” Connections include four HDMI 2.0a inputs, three USB ports, one RF input, one component-video input, one composite-video input, one Ethernet port, one optical digital-audio output, and one RS-232C port.

Unfortunately for those who already have a sound system, LG does not offer the option of a smaller electronics/connections box; the W7 must be used with the soundbar. The company has received many requests for a smaller box to replace the soundbar, which it is considering for the custom-install market. However, I maintain that many retail customers would prefer this option as well—I certainly would.

Otherwise, the only differences between the W7 and the other 2017 models are cosmetic, with different design elements and onboard sound systems. They all use the same OLED panel, and they all have the same video processor. All provide the same controls and LG’s WebOS 3.5 smart-TV platform, and all support Dolby Vision and HDR10 high dynamic range; HLG and Technicolor HDR will be added in a firmware update. 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.

All 2017 LG OLED TVs support 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. Even the W7’s massive soundbar—which has two upfiring speakers—does not provide true Atmos performance, which is a good reason to prefer a smaller electronics box and a separate sound system.

As most OLED 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.

SDR Calibration

LG provided a plethora of measurement gear to use, which was great, since I flew to San Francisco and couldn’t pack along lots of equipment. I used a Konica-Minolta CS-2000 and Klein K-10 spectroradiometer, Konica-Minolta LS-150 light meter, Murideo Six-G test-pattern generator, and laptop running SpectraCal’s CalMan calibration software. I had my CalMan laptop with me, but it needed a driver for the test-pattern generator—one reason I hate Windows! Because time was so short, I decided to use LG’s laptop, which had a slightly older version of the software but all the necessary drivers.

Starting in SDR with the Cinema picture mode, I disabled all “enhancement” features, set the Brightness and Contrast controls as usual, and lowered the OLED Light control to 30, which resulted in a peak brightness of about 100 nits. As expected, the black level was literally 0, which meant the CS-2000 took forever to read black, so I limited the measurements to start at 10% rather than 0.

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Pre-calibration, the dE 2000 errors in the grayscale were all less than 2, and the color errors were 2 or less. Errors less than 3 are generally considered indistinguishable from correct, so I didn’t need to do any calibration—but of course, I did it anyway!

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After a 2-point grayscale calibration, tweaking the 20-point controls got all the dE errors under 1, and gamma tracked 2.4 pretty well across the brightness range.

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Post-calibration, the dE 2000 errors were all less than 1.

Due to time restrictions—and not trusting the CMS (color-management system) controls—I didn’t adjust the colors. This is why the dE 2000 errors are the same in the pre- and post-calibration results. Still, I ran the Saturation Sweeps and ColorChecker routines in CalMan to see how they measured.

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The SDR Saturation Sweeps looked very good, with dE 2000 errors under 3 in all cases.

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The SDR ColorChecker results also looked very good.

HDR Calibration

Next, I moved on to HDR calibration. Dolby Vision calibration in CalMan is not quite ready for prime time, so I didn’t do that. (This process is quite interesting; instead of an LG-supplied “Golden Reference” based on the average of the measurements of several panels, it will use measurements of each panel’s native primaries, peak luminance, and black level to generate an individual or “user” reference file for that particular panel that is then loaded into the TV using a USB thumb drive.)

I was very happy to learn that the 2017 LG OLEDs offer 2-point HDR10 calibration as well as 20-point; the 2016 models offered only 20-point calibration in HDR10 mode. However, the 20-point calibration controls are still labeled with inscrutable code values, like they were last year. During the event, I lobbied hard to change these labels to percentage of peak luminance, which would be far easier to deal with. For now, I just used the 2-point controls.

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Pre-calibration, the dE 2000 grayscale errors in the top half of the brightness range exceeded 3 with an excess of red, though the EOTF looked pretty good.

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I was able to get the grayscale closer to correct using the 2-point calibration controls; the worst dE 2000 errors were just over 4. I could have corrected it further using the 20-point controls, but time was short, and those controls are very non-intuitive, so I didn’t.

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The version of CalMan I was using didn’t have P3 saturation sweeps, so I had to use the BT.2020 sweeps. The behavior seen here is expected for an OLED TV displaying these sweeps.

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In CalMan’s ColorChecker, some colors were farther off than others, but I decided not to try to correct them using the TV’s CMS because of time constraints and not trusting those controls.

After calibrating the HDR10 mode, I measured the peak luminance in windows of various sizes. Here are those results:

5%      727 nits
10%    720 nits
18%    596 nits
25%    455 nits
50%    326 nits
100%  200 nits

Performance

To evaluate the W7’s performance on real-world content, I used the Oppo UDP-203 UHD Blu-ray player provided by LG, which was set to output whatever was on the disc natively (Source Direct). Because of the limited time I had with the set, I couldn’t conduct all the tests I wanted to; in particular, I didn’t watch much streaming content.

I started with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk on UHD Blu-ray, which was mastered at 60 frames per second (fps) from the 120 fps original. I’ve read some reviews of this movie that disparage the script and acting as well as the high frame rate, opinions that I do not share. For more, see my review of the theatrical presentation here.

I really like the look of 60 fps and higher frame rates because of the sharper motion detail, and the W7 did not disappoint in any way. The colors were gorgeous, motion was crisp, and detail was pin-sharp without artificial emphasis. The bright scenes in the Iraqi desert were quite bright, but the TV’s tone mapping kept clipping under control.

The Revenant on UHD Blu-ray has plenty of dark outdoor-twilight scenes—the movie was shot with available light only—and they looked wonderful. Shadow detail in the dark portions of outdoor scenes with a campfire was clearly visible, even with a bright fire in the shot.

Life of Pi is one of my favorite movies, and it looks amazing on UHD Blu-ray as reproduced by the W7. Daylight scenes were beautiful in color and detail, and I saw no big problems with motion judder at 24 fps, even with TruMotion frame interpolation disabled. Then I called up the nighttime shipwreck sequence. As the ship sinks, Pi dives underwater, and I noticed some slight banding in the subtle gradations of color in the water, but it wasn’t bad at all.

Of course, I had to play a bit of Mad Max: Fury Road on UHD Blu-ray. As I’ve seen many times in the scene with the guitar player wearing red long johns, that color of red was richer and deeper than any Blu-ray or other BT.709 source can manage. Also, the flames shooting out of the guitar had plenty of color and detail, though small parts of those flames did peak out to white.

Moving on to SDR on Blu-ray, I played the beginning of Stargate: Continuum, which opens with a deep-space star field. As expected, the black of space was super deep, and the stars really popped with no haloing as you’d see on just about any LCD TV. In other scenes, the upscaling and motion looked great; I saw nothing to complain about.

Next, I took a look at Baraka on Blu-ray. I used this title to test the HDR Effect function, which expands SDR content to HDR. (HDR Effect is a picture mode like Cinema and HDR10.) Overall, the effect was excellent; the image had much more pop than SDR. However, a nighttime star field had much more noise with HDR Effect than it did in normal Cinema mode. Interestingly, this noise did not appear in the title screen with a solar eclipse.

Just for grins, I played the HQV Benchmark 2.0 Blu-ray to look at some of its motion patterns. In particular, the film-resolution clip of a pan across empty stadium seats—which have lots of fine detail—looked very good at 2:2 and 3:2, with only a hint of moire and no significant judder. Likewise, the video-resolution test showed no jaggies on the rotating bar, though there were some artifacts trailing the bar when the static grid was added to the image.

One of the scaling and filtering tests includes patches of horizontal and vertical black and white lines with varying widths, down to one pixel in 1080p. These looked very good on the W7, with some attenuation in the 1-pixel patterns. The result was similar with patches of alternating blue and red lines.

Regarding the soundbar, I thought its sound was somewhat better than what I hear from most TVs, with an expanded soundstage. The upfiring speakers are supposed to make things like dialog sound like they’re coming from the screen rather than below it, and I sorta heard something like that, but it wasn’t pronounced. The soundstage was larger than the confines of the soundbar itself. But overall, the sound still wasn’t all that great and nowhere near what Atmos can do with a good system.

Conclusion

The LG W7 OLED TV—and by extension, all of LG’s 2017 OLEDs—is the finest consumer TV I’ve seen to date. LG improved many performance aspects of the 2016 models, especially shadow detail, peak brightness, and ABL. The addition of HLG and Technicolor HDR to Dolby Vision and HDR10 makes them almost future-proof, and Dolby Atmos via HDMI ARC is a welcome feature, especially as more streaming-content providers offer Atmos soundtracks.

I have two main complaints. First, I really wish that the W7’s soundbar could be replaced with a smaller electronics/connection box. Second, I wish the HDR10 20-point calibration controls were labeled with percentages of peak luminance, not obscure code values. I made these points clear to the LG reps in attendance, so I hope the company considers them seriously. I doubt we’ll see them implemented in the 2017 models, though I suppose the calibration-control labels could be changed in a firmware update.

Speaking of calibration, I eagerly await the ability to calibrate Dolby Vision in the LG OLED TVs using CalMan and the new “user reference” file that’s generated by measuring each panel’s native performance. According to SpectraCal, it should be available this Spring.

Overall, LG really hit it out of the park with the W7 and all the 2017 OLED TVs. To be sure, they are expensive, but no more so than when the 2016 models first appeared. For example, looking at the flagship from each year, the 65G6 was $8000 at launch last year, and so is the 65W7 in 2017. And like the 2016 lineup, the prices of the 2017 models will probably drop over time.

Should you go for it now or wait? That depends on the size of your pocketbook and your need for a new TV. Either way, you’ll be getting the best flat panel money can buy today.