LG 84LM9600 Hands-on Preview
84" Edge-lit LED LCD 3D Ultra HD (4K) TV, $19,999
I recently had the opportunity to trek up to the Chicago offices of LG Electronics and spend a couple of hours of one-on-one time with their newest flagship TV and their first Ultra HD model, the LG 84LM9600.
I have already written a couple of articles about Ultra HD or 4K TVs. Their displays have four times as many pixels as today's high definition TVs (3840 x 2160 vs. 1920 x 1080). Simply, more pixels gives the TV the ability to display greater detail.
I have encountered prototypes of 4K TVs at past CES events, but you need to fight the masses just to catch a glimpse of the screen. Usually, before I write too much about a TV, I wait for a review unit to be sent to our office where I can enjoy some serious alone time with it.
Considering that the 84LM9600 is in short supply, weighs 150 pounds and costs just shy of $20,000, understandably the good folks at LG decided to bring reviewers to this 84" mountain of a TV. And I jumped at the chance to take this Ultra HD TV for a spin.
To cut to the chase, after a couple of solid hours poking and prodding this TV with all types of content, I'm very impressed with the 84LM9600.
The display of native 4K content can be breathtaking. But perhaps more importantly for a consumer today, 1080p Blu-rays look wonderful upscaled by the TV's processors.
Currently selling for about $17,000, is this 84" Ultra HD TV worth the $10,000 premium over similarly sized 1080p HDTVs. I'll discuss that later, but ultimately that will be an ongoing discussion between consumers and their pocketbooks for years to come.
(Editor's note: I'm labeling this a Hands-on Preview. For a full review, I usually have the TV for a couple of weeks, which allows me to work through all of a unit's features much more exhaustively and under a wider range of conditions. As such, this is a shorter article and I'm not assigning my normal Star ratings.)
Out of the Box
With a screen size of 84", this LG flagship TV is an ocean liner. And at 150 pounds dripping wet (without its base), I was glad that I didn't have to heft it out of its box and on to the stylish silver stand, which surprisingly swivels very smoothly (10 degrees, left and right).
I didn't spend much time looking at the connection panel in the back of the TV, but judging from the spec sheet, the 84LM9600 furnishes the normal audio visual inputs, including four HDMIs.
Of note, the 4K content was being fed by an UHD server box that was connected to the TV by a normal HDMI cable plugged into one of the HDMI inputs on the 84LM9600.
This Ultra HD TV is also a SmartTV, which means that LG supplies a customizable menu of Apps from streaming content providers like Netflix, CinemaNow, Hulu Plus, YouTube and MLB.TV. (For your wireless convenience, LG has integrated a Wi-Fi adapter into the TV.)
YouTube does offer a few 4K videos, though I wasn't surprised that they didn't look as fantastic as the 4K content streaming from the UHD server box.
The 84LM9600 also plays 3D content, employing the passive 3D glasses which don't require batteries. (Six glasses are included in the box.) If you look at the image above, you'll also notice LG's "3D World" menu with links to popular 3D programs (some for rent, others are free). I'll talk about 3D performance later.
One of the gaming features that I didn't have a chance to play with was the 84LM9600's "Dual Play" technology. LG describes, "While wearing the special light-weight and battery-free glasses, each player is only able to see his unique point-of-view (in 2D) and across the entire TV screen without being able to see the opponent's. Dual Play works with most current gaming systems or even older consoles as long as it is a split-screen game. Dual Play uses two pairs of special glasses F310DP sold separately in a bundle. "
My major regret is that I didn't bring a USB thumb drive full of Ultra HD resolution still images that I could play back on this 4K TV. I've seen high resolution photos displayed on 4K TVs before and they look gorgeous. If you are a photographer, this feature alone makes Ultra HD TVs compelling.
I assume that the 84LM9600 would perform as admirably. I just can't speak to how robust its photo menu is.
I also didn't try to control the TV through voice commands, an available option. Rather, I used the Magic Remote, which you wave at the screen like a wand, a cursor appears and you click to select. It takes a little practice, but it is definitely faster than navigating the screen with a normal remote.
On their website, LG has not indicated if the 84LM9600 has earned an Energy Star rating and this model is not on the current Energy Star list of TVs.
That does not necessarily mean that this 4K TV is not energy efficient enough. It could simply be that Energy Star has not tested and listed it yet.
The one conclusion that I feel comfortable extrapolating is that this 84" TV will suck its share of electricity. But even on the high end, calculating that the TV is on five hours a day, the yearly power bill will probably be under $75 (based on 11 cents per kWh).
LG does provide a number of energy saving features that I would suggest exploring and implementing.
When I review a TV, I usually run through a fairly standard setup procedure. In this case, I reckoned that the LG tech guys had already calibrated the TV and I didn't have the time nor the inclination to fiddle with it.
And not to sound too cavalier, but if you can spend $17,000 to purchase the 84LM9600, you can afford to have it professionally installed and calibrated. If you do, what is important is that this TV is ISFccc Ready. Which means, it "contains the detailed standards necessary for professional calibration ...to meet local lighting conditions for both day and nighttime viewing. Settings are added to preset modes for easy access from your LG remote."
If you are a DIYer, I have found other LG TVs have user friendly calibration tools, which the 84LM9600 also supplies.
Once setup, your main task will be exploring and registering all the Apps that are available on this TV.
When coming face to face for the first time with a TV screen that measures seven feet diagonally, the first impression is "Whoa, Nelly. That's a whopper!" And you tend to back away.
But for me, it didn't take more than a couple of minutes before I started to scoot my chair closer and closer to examine and enjoy the 4K display.
Now, depending on who you consult SMPTE or THX, the suggested viewing distance is between 8.33 (THX) and 11.4 (SMPTE) feet away from the TV. I prefer the THX concept of moving you closer to the screen to give you a more immersive experience.
Though from what I can tell, both suggestions are based on viewing angle and not necessarily display resolution. Since an UltraHD TV has four times the resolution of a 1080p HDTV, I say feel free to push the La-Z-Boy a little closer.
Perhaps because I watch so many movies on the big screens at the local cineplexes, it didn't take me long to adjust to this seven foot TV. After a few minutes, it didn't seem that big at all. Though I can imagine that a few significant others might disagree when you talk about mounting a TV as large as a twin bed mattress on the living room wall.
With that said, the LG 84LM9600's 4K luscious picture quality puts all that screen real estate to good use. This LED Edge-lit TV does employ local dimming which creates deeper blacks and richer looking colors.
Of course, to achieve the full potential from an Ultra HD TV, you should feed it 4K content. And the 4K material streaming from the UHD server looked marvelous. Alas, currently there is scant 4K content readily available at the consumer level.
That is why I spent most of my time looking at Blu-rays played back on a regular Blu-ray player with the 1080p signal fed into the 84LM9600 via an HDMI cable. The movie is then upscaled to 4K by the TV. Until more consumer ready 4K material becomes available, Blu-rays will likely be the most common source of content.
I didn't notice any annoying artifacts from the upscaling of the Blu-rays. But you must remember when you are talking about picture quality you need to separate the quality of the display from the quality of the content.
A 84" Ultra HD TV because of its size and native resolution, will tend to magnify any flaws on a Blu-ray. Therefore, the better the Blu-ray, the better it will look upscaled to 4K. For example, the Blu-rays of Avatar and Tron looked smashing at 4K.
The real problematic content were standard definition DVDs. I spun the DVD of Once and the warts started to show, which is not surprising since the Ultra HD TV is attempting to upscale a 720 x 480 resolution movie to 3840 x 2160. That requires a lot of filling in the blanks.
A couple of other points should be mentioned. Edge lighting is prone to not spreading the LED light uniformly, causing occasional hot spots. I can only imagine the uniformity issue becomes more evident when you are edge lighting an 84" display. I did notice very minor uneven backlighting once or twice during very dark scenes. But it was fleeting and never detracted from the viewing experience.
In addition, the screen was a bit reflective. I was in a darkened room but a sliver of light was coming through the doors and hitting the screen. It really wasn't a problem when a movie was playing, and with a little planning, you should be able to control any errant reflections in your viewing room.
As for 3D playback, I brought along my current favorite 3D Blu-ray movie, Brave. As mentioned earlier, the LG 84LM9600 uses the passive (FPR) method of displaying 3D content, which I prefer over the active shutter type. The glasses are battery free which makes them less expensive and more comfortable. Also, the shutter glasses tire my eyes.
One of the drawbacks of the passive type are telltale thin horizontal lines which are barely visible on a 1080p TV. If I get very, very close to this Ultra HD screen I can discern the lines. But if I step back to a normal viewing distance, I don't see them. Notice them or not, they have never detracted from my 3D viewing pleasure.
And, by the way, Brave in 3D on this Ultra HD was stunning.
This LG can also convert 2D material into 3D through a bit of interpolated sleight of hand. I never been a big fan of the results of this conversion process and I honestly never really tested it on the 84LM9600.
Finally, let's talk about the stepchild of TVs, audio quality. I will give LG credit, they really did attempt to bulk up the audio muscle of the 84LM9600.
Instead of the normal pair of 10W speakers that are usually integrated into 1080p HDTVs, the designers packed in ten speakers including two subwoofers. Where they found the space, I don't know, but they are stacked in there below the screen.
I cranked the volume to eleven and the speakers didn't wobble or crack. The audio quality was good, but really, if you are paying $17,000 for the TV, plan to budget at least two or three thousand more for a dedicated 7.1 audio system.
The picture quality of the LG 84LM9600 Ultra HD TV is definitely a major step up from the output of a high-end 1080p HDTV. The difference can be startling when playing 4K content. But even when comparing playback of Blu-rays, the LG's upscaling to 4K is noticeably better.
Which begs the question, is the picture quality improvement worth the rather lofty premium for the Ultra HD? I cannot answer that for you. Though I can give you a baseline, which might seem obvious, if a similarly sized 1080p HDTV and this Ultra HD were the same price, I would take the Ultra HD in a heartbeat.
Now, the question for you is how much more would you pay for the Ultra HD? Right now, at these prices, for most of us that is not a pressing concern. We are truly at the beginning of the UltraHD era and if the timetable for the adoption of HDTVs is any indication, the UltraHD marketplace will take five to ten years to begin to mature.
But make no mistake, the process has begun and we will see many more Ultra HD TVs announced next month at CES.