After years of sputtering progress and stratospheric prices, OLED TV sets seem to be coming into their own this year. LG is betting on making the devices more popular with models like the 55-inch 55EG9100, a set that's just under the $2,000 mark. The TV offers a truly excellent HD picture and all the usual smart-TV amenities. However, with higher-resolution 4K TVs making a big push this year and high-dynamic-range (HDR) formats available, some buyers may hesitate to pay two grand for a 1080p HDTV.
Design: Apple white
The 55EG9100 is a svelte TV — about a quarter of an inch thick at its thinnest point — but its slight curved design means it stands out from the wall more than most sets would, no matter how you mount it. For tabletop positioning, the center pedestal stand is stable yet inconspicuous. LG has also opted for an Apple-white rear chassis, which actually blends in better than the usual basic black in most living rooms.
In terms of connections, there are just three HDMI ports (I've found that four is the magic number for supporting more devices). There are also three USB plugs, Ethernet, RF cable and optical-digital-audio connections, as well as a combination component/composite video input.
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Performance: Best viewing angles
One of the first things you'll notice about the LG 55EG9100 is what you don't notice: Its picture doesn't wash out when you move toward the side of the set. This is known as off-axis viewing, and the OLED set is head and shoulders above LCD models in this regard. Unlike LED LCD TVs, with OLED, there is virtually no reduction in visible brightness or color saturation as you move away from the center viewing position. My only complaint: The off axis viewing would be even better if it weren't for the intentional, subtle curvature of the screen. LG says the curve helps pull the viewer into the picture; I find it a distraction.
OLED, or organic light emitting diode, sets use self-lighting pixels instead of relying on a backlight (as do LCDs) to illuminate the picture. That means OLED sets can completely turn off the illumination anywhere in the picture, yielding inky blacks that LED-lit LCDs just can't match.
So a typically challenging scene, such as Sandra Bullock spinning in outer space in the movie Gravity, can give LCDs fits as the sets try to flash the space suit's spinning lights without lighting up the whole screen or creating a halo effect around the astronaut. The LG EG9100 OLED had no such problems, perfectly rendering the lights without washing out the stars in the background.
The contrast range also benefits brightly colored images. When I watched the Blu-ray version of Mad Max: Fury Road, the fire coming from the flame-throwing electric guitar looked real. Meanwhile, on many LCD sets, those flames look splotchy, like poorly computer-generated graphics. The LG EG9100 also rendered colors faithfully, as color-gamut results show, particularly in what we found was the set's best preset cinema mode.
While the LG EG9100 handles the glare off a space suit or the shadows in a dark tenement apartment with ease, it also upscales DVDs with aplomb. In the discs I viewed, there were minimal rough edges and few shimmering lines, the sort of typical distortion that's often generated during upscaling.
Still, for all of its ability to reveal fine details, such as the pressed-tin ceiling of Charlize Theron's truck cab in Fury Road, the LG EG9100 doesn't match the kind of image precision possible with the best 4K ultra-HD sets. Furthermore, HDR models adhering to the Dolby Vision and Ultra HD Premium specs offer colors that are even more realistic.
Audio: Go for cinema mode
As for the audio portion of the LG EG9100's performance, the TV has a variety of settings, including modes for sports, standard programming, news, music and cinema. The news setting tends to produce a center-channel-focused sound, while sports mode spews a lot of high end, and the cinema mode is open and expansive. (I went with cinema sound.) In music mode, the set seemed more stereo-focused but tended to overemphasize highs, such as Adele's breaths in Skyfall.
Overall, the volume levels achievable with the LG EG 9100 seemed below average. (The set has a combined 20 watts of power, but that doesn't necessarily directly translate into decent sound-pressure levels.)
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Interface: webOS 2.0
LG includes its smart remote control with the 55EG9100. The remote acts like a wireless mouse, allowing you to direct an on-screen cursor. I liked the remote's ergonomics, but it is not backlit, which can be a problem in a dark living room. The remote has a four-way directional pad with a clickable wheel in the center, as well as a numeric keypad and a microphone button for issuing voice commands.
With these commands, you can ask for Clint Eastwood and get a list of his available movies, from Gran Torino to Jersey Boys. Also populating the results will be YouTube videos and other Internet-based clips. The voice-recognition system responded relatively quickly and understood simple commands. I even asked the LG set how far it was to the moon, and received a text-bubble response, saying, "The moon is quite far from where you are now." (I'd have preferred something more specific.
As part of the spiffy webOS 2.0 interface, there's an LG Content Store that includes TV shows, movies to rent, apps and games. There's Bubble Crash, for example, and other casual games; some odd items like Chinese Recipes; and apps from Sirius XM, Pandora and Crackle. However, if you're a cord cutter, compared to Sony's Android TV or Samsung's built-in smart TV offerings, the LG pickings are still relatively meager. There are only a couple dozen streaming sources, compared to scores of options on other smart TVs. (Incidentally, LG's built-in Web browser works well enough but doesn't support Flash.)
The LG 55EG9100 delivers an excellent 1080p picture capable of rendering brilliant pyrotechnics and deep blacks. Even with the relatively lower price tag of $2,000, however, forward-looking buyers may be more interested in 4K ultra-HD models that support HDR. All of LG's newer high-end sets this year will do so, but will cost roughly 30 percent more. Overall, though, the 55EG9100 is arguably the best HDTV yet.