This TV is kind of a big deal, and I don’t say that just because it’s literally big—as in six feet wide. The new LG 84LM9600 is the world’s first 4K resolution 3D smart TV. Because production quantities are understandably low, and this is a pricy set, it was easier for me to go to the TV rather than for the TV to come to me. I spent several hours alone with the TV and my test gear at LG’s Chicago headquarters.
When we discuss 4K, we mean a TV with a resolution of at least eight million active pixels—3,840 horizontally and 2,160 vertically in a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is exactly the resolution of this model (as well as the Sony model that is also just hitting the market). The industry recently agreed to call 4K “Ultra HD,” so for this review consider the terms interchangeable.
This is LG’s flagship model, so it carries a flagship price of $19,999, though retailers are selling it for a minimum advertised price of $16,999.
The 84LM9600 includes all of LG’s top TV features, including the smart TV platform, the gyroscope-like Magic Remote (with voice features), built-in Wi-Fi and a pretty good audio system. It also comes with a standard remote. (For more about LG’s smart TV features and the Magic Remote, see this review.) It wears an attractive, fairly narrow bezel for a TV of this size and is only a hair over 1.5 inches thick. Sharp’s 80-inch 1080p TV models are more than three inches thick.
That slim depth is a result of LG going with an edge-lit design rather than a full-array LED design, which Sharp uses in its big TVs. Edge-lit LED TVs are thinner, but they can suffer from some light blooming and uniformity issues that don’t plague full-array models.
Like all LG 3D LCD TVs, this one uses the passive 3D method with polarized glasses (no battery or LCD lenses). The TV comes with six sets of 3D glasses.
The LG Ultra HD comes with a small, but very sturdy-looking table stand that permits it to swivel to either side. A swivel stand is unusual in the massive class of TVs, and this one swivels remarkably well—you’d hardly guess by how easily it moves that the TV weighs 150 pounds (Sharp’s 80- and 90-inch TVs actually weight just a bit less than this).
Another issue with edge-lit TVs is their inability to locally dim the LEDs nearly as well as full-array sets. LG and other companies do employ an edge-based local dimming technology, and I’ll discuss that a little later. Again, for comparison, the big Sharp TVs do not use local dimming, but the Sharp Elite brand TVs do. (Note: I use the Sharp 80- and 90-inch TVs as a reference only because they are the closest comparable in size. Being 1080p TVs, they are considerably cheaper, but also a different technology class).
Big TVs are fun—who doesn’t love a TV that makes the neighbors’ jaw drop? However, arranging a room around a TV this big raises particular issues, especially seating distance. Using the THX seating distance formula (diagonal screen size divided by .84) gives us an ideal seating distance of 8.3 feet. That might seem a bit close, especially if you’re using a 1080p TV, but with Ultra HD resolution, you can actually sit much closer (the THX calculator is for determining an immersive viewing field, and does not necessarily take screen resolution into account). Most living rooms will put a little more distance between the TV and the sofa, so I set myself up at 10 feet.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I started off digging into the TV’s menu and doing a basic calibration. The TV has a variety of pre-set video modes, including a Cinema mode that came very close to the final value after my own calibration. It also includes a feature called Picture Wizard II, which guides you through a set of images to help you properly set the TV to your preference. I’ve used it before, and it works well.
In addition to the basic controls, LG includes advanced features like Dynamic Contrast, Super Resolution, Color Gamut, MPEG Noise Reduction, Black Level, Dimming Level and TruMotion (a 240Hz refresh rate processor). This set also offers full ISF day/night modes. For some reason the advanced picture settings are divided into two menus: Expert Control and Picture Options. This can make finding the feature you want a little difficult.
After finalizing my settings, I ran through several Blu-ray discs of test patterns. On dark fields I could clearly see some light blooming around the edges from the edge-mounted LEDs. This was most noticeable on the lower right and top left corners. When a bright white element was added to the scene, I could see some light leakage affecting an area around the bright element—I was able to improve that by engaging the local dimming (which seemed to work best on Medium setting). I was told that the set had 16 dimming zones. Light issues are prevalent on every LED LCD TV, especially edge-lit ones, which comprises most of the market. You don’t encounter this on plasma T Vs, but there are no 4K plasma TVs. Among other edge-lit TVs, the blacks on this set mostly looked pretty good. On real content material, the light bleeding was minimal and not enough to be a distraction unless you tend to be fanatical about that kind of thing.
I did see some slight uniformity issues which appeared as barely noticeable bands. The only time I saw this was during very bright scenes in the disc The Art of Flight. I’ve seen this issue before on TVs, and it seems to be associated with edge-lit LEDs. This was not a major issue, and if you weren’t looking for it, you’d probably miss it.
On other test patterns, like color, motion and deinterlacing, the TV performed very well.
After the test pattern discs, I switched to some 1080p Blu-ray movies. First up was Tron: Legacy The scenes in this movie are almost all dark, and the light issues were not apparent accept in the top and bottom black bars of the Cinemascope feature.
I watched clips from several other 1080p movies, including The Dark Knight, Avatar and The Art of Flight. While the 4K upconversion didn’t necessarily make the 1080p video look any better (and it didn’t make it worse), it did completely eliminate any pixel structure unless you were practically leaning on the TV. It’s quite impressive to sit five feet away from a TV that’s six feet wide and still see a perfectly smooth image.
Next I switched to 3D mode. As stated earlier, this TV uses the passive polarized system (known as Film Pattern Retarder). I’ve been a fan of this type of system because the cheap, lightweight glasses make 3D a little less of a burden than active shutter glasses, but the system has a significant flaw. With 1080p TVs, polarized glasses cut the resolution in half so you end up watching less-than high definition. It doesn’t look bad, but the picture isn’t as crisp as the full HD view you get with active shutter glasses. Ultra HD TVs turn that upside down.
With an Ultra HD TV, the passive glasses still cut the resolution in half, but you’re starting with double the resolution (because the TV upscales the 1080p signal to 4K). When the glasses divide up the left and right image you’re still getting 1080p in each eye, but without the flicker and irritation sometimes encountered when wearing active shutter glasses.
All of the above was preparation to report that this TV displayed the absolute best 3D I’d ever seen on a television. I watched segments from a few 3D Blu-ray discs, but IMAX Under the Sea was the most impressive. The image was completely natural and realistic. In one scene a large grouper swims up close to the camera, and I could swear the fish was three inches from my nose. The illusion was THAT convincing. Other, less dramatic scenes still produced a depth and clarity that was stunning.
After all the 1080p material, which is what most buyers will watch on this set, I switched over to some 4K video that LG supplied on a hard-disc server. These clips were mostly landscape shots of attractive cities and towns around the world, and they all looked amazing. From 10 feet the resolution shouldn’t have made much of a difference, but the effect was more subtle than just more pixels—it created the closest thing to looking through a clear window I’ve ever seen. A single 3D 4K clip (this one animated) was also pretty amazing.
The image on the TV looks fuzzy because it’s a 3D animation in 4K viewed without the 3D glasses.
So is Ultra HD the future of television? Well, maybe, probably. How’s that for a firm answer? There are a couple of ways to look at this—first, 4K is a natural progression from 1080p, and unlike some other TV innovations (3D), it is an actual improvement. More real pixels means more real picture information. But how many pixels are necessary for a given screen size? I honestly don’t think I can answer that for every person, but I can say that on this 84-inch TV, the extra 2,000,000 or so pixels made the picture more realistic, added depth and improved clarity, especially in 3D.
But what about 4K content? Currently Sony is offering buyers of its 84-inch 4K TV a hard-disc server with ten 4K movies, but Sony’s TV also cost $8,000 more than the LG unit. For now, this LG (and all the other 4K TVs that will launch next year) will mostly be used for watching the high-definition sources you already have, and this TV does a good job of that. Remember, TV broadcasters don’t even send 1080p video out. Do you actually need 4K content to appreciate a 4K TV? The answer to that is obviously no. You already watch lots of 480p, 720p and 1080i content on your 1080p TVs. A 4K TV just upscales those lower-resolution signals even further to make them more viewable on a very large screen. Having a good built-in video processor and extra resolution improves the visual experience of plus-size TVs and dramatically improves passive 3D.
$19,999 ($16,999 MAP)
Full specs here.