LG 2018 TV Reviewers Workshop, Part 1

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Yesterday, LG invited several TV reviewers to attend a day-long workshop in Hollywood, CA. Of course, the main topic of discussion was the company’s 2018 lineup of OLED and Super UHD LCD TVs, as well as visits to several prominent locations in Tinsletown.

The day started at Mack Sennett Studios, one of the oldest movie studios in Hollywood. Tim Alessi, LG’s Product Development Manager, began with a summary of the features found in the 2018 TV models. I already wrote about most of this in my CES coverage of the OLED TVs here and the Super UHD TVs here.

To recap the most important points, LG’s 2018 LG OLED TVs have a new, more powerful video processor, dubbed the Alpha 9, which exhibits a 35% improvement in CPU and GPU power and a 50% increase in DDR memory capacity. The Alpha 9 supports a four-step noise reduction and decontouring algorithm (doubling the two-step algorithm in last year’s processor), an object-based depth enhancer, and an adaptive color enhancer. In addition, the internal color lookup table (LUT) has been increased from 17x17x17 (4913 points) to 33x33x33 (35,937 points), which results in much greater color accuracy.

The Alpha 9 also supports high frame rates up to 120 fps with 4K UHD resolution via USB and 2K HD resolution via HDMI 2.0. (Tim said that HDMI 2.1 could be implemented in the 2019 models.) Of course, there is currently no consumer content at 120 fps, but video games are pushing that envelope.

Regarding high dynamic range, the LG OLED TVs are the only ones on the market to support four flavors: HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG, and Technicolor. Even better, these TVs apply dynamic tone mapping to HDR10, which includes static metadata, and HLG, which uses no metadata at all. These features are called HDR10 Pro and HLG Pro, respectively. Dolby Vision and Technicolor already use dynamic metadata. In addition, a feature called HDR Effect expands SDR content to simulate high dynamic range. Finally, the 2018 OLED models include black-frame insertion, which the 2017 models did not provide.

Another important development is LG’s partnership with Technicolor. Along with support for Technicolor’s HDR system, which is officially known by the unwieldy name “Advanced HDR by Technicolor,” the LG OLED TVs include a preset picture mode called Technicolor Expert. This mode aims to replicate the performance of a mastering monitor as closely as possible—which includes shifting the white point away from the conventional D65 standard!

Why do that? When the measured coordinates of the white point are equal on different types of displays (such as CRTs, xenon projectors, and OLEDs), they don’t look the same to human eyes. In order to match the perceived appearance of images on these displays, the white point must be offset. This is one aspect of the Technicolor Expert mode on the LG OLED TVs.

One important feature is support for Dolby Atmos immersive sound. Of course, the TV’s speakers can’t fully re-create an immersive soundfield—even the large soundbar included with the W8. The important point here is that a Dolby Atmos bitstream can be sent via HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) to an AV receiver or Atmos soundbar. The bitstream is encoded in Dolby Digital Plus, not Dolby TrueHD. Also, the AVR or soundbar must be able to inform the TV via HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) that it is Dolby Atmos-compatible.

The biggest news about the 2018 Super UHD LCD TVs is that the top two models—SK9500 and SK9000—employ FALD (full-array local-dimming) backlights rather than edgelighting as in last year’s models. (The SK9500 has more dimming zones than the SK9000, but LG would not reveal the number of zones in either model.) Another core feature is LG’s Nano Cell technology, which uses nanoparticles to enhance the red and green spectral components to achieve wider color gamut and improved accuracy. In addition, LG touts its use of IPS (in-plane switching) LCD panels for wider viewing angles, which the company’s research indicates is important for most consumers.

Update: I previously reported that all 2018 Super UHD TVs use true 10-bit LCD panels, which we were told at the briefing. However, LG subsequently informed me that was not correct; all 2018 Super UHD TVs use 8-bit panels with dithering, even the flagship SK9500. LG added that a new process makes the output visually indistinguishable from a 10-bit panel.

In addition, all Super UHD TVs—and the B8 OLED—incorporate the Alpha 7 processor, which is essentially the same as last year’s processor. They can display HFR up to 120 fps, but not with HDR and 4K resolution at the same time.

The LG OLED and Super UHD TVs both offer the company’s new ThinQ AI user interface, which is built on top of the webOS smart-TV platform. This enables voice control using more natural commands, such as “It’s too loud” and “Turn off the TV when this program is over.” You can also ask other questions, such as “Do I need an umbrella today?” No wake-up word is needed, since the system listens only when you push a button on the remote. The TVs are also compatible with Google Home and Amazon Echo products, which do require a wake-up word.

For 2018, the Super UHD TVs join the OLED models to include a Gallery mode that displays works of art—complete with images of frames! This feature rotates between 46 images, up from 13 last year. The OLED TVs can also display two movie clips in this mode. Other shared features include HDR10 Pro and HLG Pro, HDR Effect, Technicolor Expert mode, and Dolby Atmos support.

After Tim’s presentation, Neil Robinson, LG’s Director of Technology Partnerships, offered a few more details. For example, with SDR images, Vivid mode has a color temperature of about 13,000K, while Standard mode is about 10,000K or 11,000 K, and the Cinema and ISF modes are about 6500K with a white point of D65, a peak luminance of around 200-250 nits, and a color gamut of BT.709. In Technicolor Expert mode, the white point is 0.300, 0.327 rather than 0.313, 0.327. This is said to remove a magenta cast in WCG (wide color gamut) content if the white point is at the conventional location on the CIE diagram.

Other tweaks in the 2018 models include the addition of an “apply to all inputs” option as well as a menu control to turn dynamic tone mapping on and off directly. This is welcome news for all calibrators. Also, the Game-mode HDR tone curve is now similar to the Cinema-mode tone curve.

Next, calibrator extraordinaire David Abrams talked about the use of LG OLED TVs in professional color-grading suites. Most of David’s work is calibrating pro monitors, and he says that many facilities now include an LG OLED as a “client monitor” that sits next to the “hero monitor” (typically a Sony X300 30″ OLED that costs around $30,000). The colorist normally looks at the hero monitor while working on the color, while the director and/or DP (director of photography) looks at the larger client monitor. Dave’s job is to make sure the two monitors look the same.

Speaking of calibration, the next presentation was given by Tyler Pruitt, Technical Liaison for SpectraCal/Portrait Displays, developers of the CalMan calibration software. Tyler demonstrated another important new feature of the 2018 LG OLED and Super UHD TVs—AutoCal. As seen in the photo above, CalMan was running on a laptop connected to an E7 via HDMI as a monitor so we could all see what was happening. The TV being calibrated was a new E8, which was connected to the computer via Ethernet. (AutoCal also works via Wi-Fi, but Tyler didn’t want to risk it with all the other Wi-Fi traffic at the Mack Sennett Studios.)

During CES, I wrote about AutoCal on LG TVs here, and we gave LG and SpectraCal an AVS Forum Best of CES 2018 award for it, as I recount here. It’s important to note that the LG implementation of AutoCal is performed at the hardware level, not the user-interface level, which avoids any potential for interference between the menu settings and CalMan’s tweaks. This is a major improvement in the calibration process that cuts the time required to perform a full calibration for each picture mode from hours to minutes.

In one side-by-side demo, we looked at an E7 OLED, E8 OLED, and a Sony A1E OLED (though LG would not explicitly identify it). All three were in their out-of-box cinema mode. Looking at various HDR clips, the color on the Sony was quite a bit more blue-green than the two LGs, with more clipping in bright highlights. On scenes with semi-fast motion, there were obvious artifacts around moving objects on the A1E and E7, but these were greatly reduced on the E8.

Next, we took a look at a side-by-side demo of the Super UHD TVs, comparing last year’s SJ9500 to this year’s SK9500. The difference between edgelighting and FALD backlighting was painfully obvious. The SK9500 exhibited much lower blacks overall, and there was no light banding on images such as the Joker’s bright face on a dark background from The Dark Knight.

As detailed here, the 2018 LG OLED and Super UHD TVs will become available over the next few months. The first OLEDs to appear will be the 55″ and 65″ C8 OLEDs this week. (We will be getting one for review next week.) Those models will be followed by the 55″ and 65″ E8, 77″ C8, 77″ W8, and 65″ W8. The entry-level B8 OLED should become available in June or July, and it won’t be a warehouse-store model like last year. The Super UHD LCD TVs will be rolled out starting this week with the 55″ and 65″ SK9000, followed by the SK9500 and SK8000. Interestingly, there will be a G8 OLED, but it won’t be sold in the US.

After lunch, we paid a visit to the studios of Netflix and Technicolor, which was fascinating. I’ll share the details in a separate article. Meanwhile, I thank LG for a jam-packed but super-fun day in Hollywood!

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