I’ve just returned from an extensive briefing about the 2017 LG OLED TVs, including the opportunity to evaluate the flagship W7 for myself. In preparation for the event, I posted an article asking AVS Forum members what they want to know about the W7. I’m working on my review of its performance, which I’ll post as soon as I can. Meanwhile, I’d like to share what I learned about the changes LG made in the 2017 lineup compared with the 2016 models, including answers to questions posed in the thread linked to that preparatory article.
One of the most common questions from enthusiasts regards the LG OLEDs’ shadow detail. In the 2016 models, low-light areas of the image could lose detail and exhibit lots of quantization noise and banding. With higher internal bit depth, a new dithering algorithm, and a new de-contour filter, the low-light performance of the 2017 models has been greatly improved, with much more visible shadow detail and less noise and banding. In addition, a new Neutral Black OLED (NBO) polarizer has been added to the existing anti-reflection film to enhance black levels and reduce reflections from ambient light.
Automatic brightness limiting (ABL) has been improved as well, with a 25% increase in peak brightness. Of course, brightness still drops as average picture level (APL) increases—this is unavoidable with most display technologies—but the profile is certainly better than it was last year. In particular, the brightness of dark images (APL less than 3%) has increased by 25%, while bright images (APL of 50-70%) are now about 37% brighter than the 2016 models. The brightness of images with an APL of 10-40%—what LG claims is the APL of most images—is about the same as last year.
What does this mean for real-world images? For example, consider a night scene with a few bright street lights. Those lights, which occupy a very small percentage of an otherwise very dark image, will be much brighter than they were on the 2016 models.
Color accuracy has also been improved. Last year’s LG OLEDs used a 9x9x9 3D LUT (look-up table) for color-gamut mapping; this year, they use a 17x17x17 LUT for greater accuracy. Also, a new color-clarity enhancement algorithm calibrates color saturation.
LG has made some significant improvements on the HDR (high dynamic range) front as well. Both model years support HDR10 and Dolby Vision, while the 2017 models will add HLG and Technicolor HDR in a firmware update. I applaud LG for supporting multiple HDR formats in its OLED TVs, which is analogous to supporting multiple audio formats in an AV receiver or preamp/processor.
Even more important is a new feature called Active HDR, which synthesizes dynamic metadata for HDR10 and HLG signals. HDR10 uses one set of metadata specifying the peak and average brightness for an entire program (movie, TV show, etc.), while HLG uses no metadata at all. By contrast, Dolby Vision uses dynamic metadata, which specifies the peak and average brightness for each scene or even each frame, which results in much better picture quality overall. By adding dynamic metadata to HDR10 and HLG, the LG OLEDs improve their HDR performance dramatically.
Another HDR feature, called HDR Effect, expands the dynamic range of SDR (standard dynamic range) content—which is most content these days. Last year, this feature was quite rudimentary, with less-than-stellar high/low grayscale performance and low color saturation. In 2017, a much more sophisticated process detects highlights, enhances contrast, and corrects color to produce a much more impressive HDR-like image.
All 2017 LG OLEDs support Dolby Atmos immersive audio, but at CES, it was unclear to me exactly what that meant. At the briefing, I learned that the TVs convey an Atmos bitstream from their internal apps and external sources via HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel). As of this writing, only the Vudu app offers streaming content with an Atmos soundtrack, and Netflix is working on adding it.
In addition, the onboard sound systems of all 2017 LG OLED TVs simulate Atmos with DSP (digital signal processing), but none have true Atmos speaker systems. I was surprised to learn this about the W7, which comes with a big soundbar that has two upfiring speakers. But the soundbar is designated as 4.2.0, with two front-firing speakers, two upfiring speakers that are not Atmos-enabled, and two “subwoofers.” The upfiring speakers help create a sense of vertical spaciousness, but not overhead sounds specifically.
LG’s 2017 smart-TV platform, called WebOS, went from version 3.0 in 2016 to 3.5 this year, indicating a few refinements. One cool new feature is Quick Access, which lets you map your favorite apps onto the remote’s numeric keypad, so you can call them up by pressing one button. Magic Zoom lets you zoom into the image and save photos and videos from the zoomed portion to a USB storage device. The new Music Player has a full-screen mode and synchronizes the lyric display to the song as it plays. Magic Link provides access to keywords, TV programs, and other info about the show you’re watching by pressing one button without having to input search terms. If you’re into VR (virtual reality), you can play 360° content and drag the image around with the remote.
The new OLED Gallery app turns the TV into a digital art gallery. Several included images can be supplemented with your own photos.
Questions from AVS Forum Members
Here are some of the other questions asked in the preparatory thread, and the answers I got from LG:
Is it possible to buy a W7 with an outboard processor/input box instead of the soundbar?
No; the processing and other electronics as well as all the inputs are integrated into the W7’s soundbar. I made it clear that this is a strong deterrent to many people willing to pay $8000 for a 65″ TV, because they are likely to have a separate sound system and won’t want a big soundbar as well. I was told that LG is considering making a smaller electronics box as an option for the W7, but I got the impression this probably won’t be available until next year at the earliest.
Is the processor/scaler the same in all 2017 models?
Yes. Among the 2016 models, the C6 and E6 had the same processor, while the B6 and G6 each had different processors. In 2017, all models have the same processor.
Is the processor upgradeable?
Have the CMS (color management system) controls changed in 2017?
Can the CMS settings be copied to other inputs?
No. The basic picture settings can be copied to all other inputs, and the grayscale-calibration settings can be copied to all other inputs separately, but the CMS settings cannot.
Do the 2017 models offer BFI (black-frame insertion)?
No, because that would reduce the overall luminance, and OLED needs all the luminance it can generate in HDR mode.
Can the 2017 models display 1080p at 120 fps (frames per second)?
Theoretically, yes, but this might not be implemented in the 2017 models.
If the TV is being fed from an AV receiver, and the source devices connected to the AVR are mixed in capability (for example, UHD, HD, HDR, SDR), will the TV automatically select different settings depending on the signal?
Probably. The TV’s default EDID (Extended Display Identification Data) is for SDR (10.2 Gbps over HDMI 1.4), but if it sees an HDR tag or something that indicates it needs HDMI 2.0a, a message pops up asking the user to confirm that the signal is HDR.
What material is on the front of the W7?
Glass, just like the other OLED models. Glass can bend a bit, as LG is fond of demonstrating with the W7, but don’t try to force it too far!
To demonstrate the difference in picture quality between the 2016 and 2017 models, LG set up a demo with a 2016 65E6, a 2017 65E7, and a 30″ Sony BVM-X300 HDR OLED reference monitor (L-R in the photo at the top of this article); all were fed the same signal. The E6 and E7 were in their default Cinema mode with no calibration. (Note: The iPhone photo does not accurately show the differences we saw in person; I’ve included it only to show you the setup and to provide an opening graphic for this article.)
We started with clips from Pan (which was mastered at 4000 nits peak brightness) and The Revenant (mastered at 1000 nits), both of which were tone-mapped to the OLEDs’ capabilities. It was immediately apparent that the image on the E6 had a greenish cast, while the E7 looked much more natural—and much closer in appearance to the X300. The E7 was brighter as well, and low-level detail was better—for example, in Leonardo DiCaprio’s beard in The Revenant.
Next, we looked at some nature footage by the BBC, mastered at 1200 nits using HLG. Again, the E7 looked brighter with more detail in things like clouds, and it had no greenish cast as on the E6.
A luminance test pattern mastered at 10,000 nits demonstrated the OLEDs’ tone-mapping capabilities. The test pattern included white segments with different brightness values in 1000-nit increments. The E6 started clipping at 5000 nits, while the E7 started clipping at 7000 nits. Obviously, no OLED can reproduce anything near 5000 or 7000 nits; the sets’ tone-mapping algorithm brought these high brightness levels within their capabilities to reproduce.
LG had a Leo Bodnar input-lag tester on hand, which was used with an HD Fury on the E6 and E7 in their Game mode. The E6 measured between 32 and 33 ms, while the E7 measured between 21 and 22 ms in the center patch of the test pattern.
Finally, we examined low-level noise in Skyfall from Blu-ray, which is SDR, with noise reduction disabled. Looking at a low-light scene near the end, there was much less noise in dark areas on the E7. We also took a look at an SDR PLUGE pattern with the TVs set to gamma 2.4; on the E6, a luminance value of 18 was not visible, while on the E7, luminance values of 17 and 18 were visible.
Clearly, there have been several major improvements in the 2017 LG OLED TVs compared with the 2016 models. Ironically, LG used the word “perfect” in describing the 2016 models’ blacks, color, and viewing angle when they were introduced a year ago, yet they found ways to improve on that perfection for 2017. Does that mean the 2018 models will be even more perfect? Probably; technology never stands still. But the 2017 OLED TVs from LG are certainly stunning by any standard.