LG 2017 OLED Hands-On Review

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to go hands-on with the updated 2017 OLED TVs from LG. While this isn’t a full review of the new TVs, I couldn’t test apps well because of slow Internet speeds for example, I did run through the image quality of the updated TVs with objective and subjective tests. This year every OLED has the same panel and same SoC, so image quality between the different models should be identical. Based on what I saw with the W7 and E7 models, the 2017 LG OLED models offer the best image that I have seen on a TV to date.

2017 Improvements

Specs
Manufacturer: LG
Model: C7
Display Type: OLED
Resolution: 3840x2160
Inputs: 4x HDMI, 3x USB, 1x Composite, 1x Component, 1x Ethernet
Outputs: 1x Optical
Streaming Services: Netflix, Amazon, Vudu
Wi-Fi Support: Yes
3D Support: No
Display Size: 48.4" x 28.0" x 1.8"
Display Weight: 38.1 lbs.
Review Date: March 3, 2017
Price: $3500
Company Website

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When I reviewed the LG E6 OLED last year, I said it was the best TV I had used. The combination of perfect blacks, wide color gamut, and high dynamic range made for images that look amazing. The only TV I didn’t get a chance to use last year that might compete was the Sony Z9D, and it only has an advantage with HDR content but not regular material. Despite being the best TV I had seen to date, there was still room for improvement from LG. From the time I spent with them and tested, I have to say that LG has delivered.

One persistent issue with the 2016 LG OLEDs was the presence of some slight shadow crush. This could be mostly fixed through a combination of the brightness control and the 20 point white balance, but not perfectly. Having to choose between perfect blacks or more shadow details I always went with blacks, but it was a compromise. On the 2017 panels this has been fixed. All of the shadow details are visible, the brightness control is much finer, and you get the best of both worlds now.

While not something we were able to look for as easily at the start of last year, the differences in tone mapping became apparent between the OLED and TVs with higher levels of nit output. This year the tone mapping of the LG OLEDs is improved with more detail around bright highlights. OLED is not going to be able to win the nits race against full array LED backlights, but with improved tone mapping it helps to minimize the advantage those sets can have with HDR.

Input lag became a big issue last year as HDR video games were introduced. LG managed to fix a bit of their issues last year, but with two different SoCs they had issues. This year all the displays use the same SoC and the input lag for HDR signals in testing is only 21.5ms. Even hard core gamers should be happy with this level of input lag, being just around 1.3 frames in total.

Light output also improved, at least on the panels that I tested. Peak light output with a 10% window was right around 740 cd/m2 while last year the E6 measured closer to 640 cd/m2. It isn’t up to the level of LED TVs that are aiming for 1500-2000 cd/m2 this year, but it is a good improvement over last year.

Sometimes there was also a small tint to the OLEDs last year as well. With calibration it mostly went away, and you were unlikely to notice it unless it was directly next to a more accurate display. This year that tint is completely absent so worrying about if it is visible or not isn’t a concern.

Display Measurements

Measurements were done with a Klein K-10A profiled from a Konica Minolta CS-2000 using a Murideo Six-G test pattern generator with CalMAN software. For SDR content we targeted 100 nits (to make sure ABL wasn’t an issue) with Rec.709 color gamut and the BT.1886 gamma function. For HDR we are targeting the DCI primaries with the SMPTE ST 2084 EOTF and peak light output using 10% windows. We didn’t measure Dolby Vision as the workflow for this was not ready yet, but we will test it as soon as it is available and we have a full review sample.

For SDR mode I used ISF Expert mode with Warm 2 color temperature and the BT.1886 gamma preset. For 99.9% of people, this is all you need to do. Just adjust the OLED Light to the appropriate level, make sure that Brightness is set correctly, and you have an accurate image. Not just accurate, but dead-on almost perfectly accurate. I did improve it with calibration, but by so little that you should not bother unless you own the equipment to do it yourself and really want to try it out. The average dE2000 values for the grayscale was below 1.0 while for saturations, luminances, and the color checker it was below 2.0.

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At CES 2017, LG made a big deal out of the fact that the new OLEDs, free of ABL in SDR mode at 150 nits or less, were good enough to be used as reference monitors by Technicolor. Having seen one and measured it, I can say this is the case. Watching some clips from Harry Potter and Skyfall, the dark shadow details were visible while black levels were pitch black. The Macau lantern scene in Skyfall looked better than it ever has, with the bright orange-red lanterns glowing on top of the water with the wave details clearly seen. Skin tones were pure without any red push, and the overall impact was great for SDR. As with all OLED displays, the contrast ratio is infinite so I left it off this table.

 Pre-CalibrationPost-Calibration
Grayscale dE20000.970.69
Gamma2.452.42
Saturations dE20002.011.61
Color Checker dE20002.181.84
Luminances dE20002.031.49

With HDR I was able to coax a little more performance out of the display with a calibration. This year LG added a 2-point white balance control in HDR where it was missing before. This, combined with a 21-point control, let me adjust the RGB balance and the EOTF to better track the HDR standard. It didn’t get to be perfect, but with maximum grayscale dE2000 values right around 4 and an average error of just 1.34, it was close enough that you’ll almost never notice the difference.

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Colors were close to accurate in HDR mode, but also benefited from a little bit of correction inside of the CMS. Measuring the color gamut size, I had a reading of 99.1% of the DCI/P3 gamut. This improves upon the 96% I saw last year. The color checker showed an average dE2000 of 2.83 so it has some visible errors but the average level is still below the visible level. All of the objective measures were perfect or close to it.

With HDR discs the impact was more impressive. Watching Sully, with its native 4K transfer, shots were completely sharp with even the smallest details present. The opening shot of buildings against the Hudson River had more HDR and pop to it than when I watched it before on the Vizio P65-C1, making it almost like a different movie. Later when he is running at nighttime all the bright city lights contrast against the dark sky and outfits.

During Deepwater Horizon when the oil rig explodes the improved brightness lets the explosion stand out against the black sky. Since OLED also has near instant pixel response time (something I will measure this year in testing displays), those fast explosions light up quicker than they can on an LCD set. On The Secrets Life of Pets the improved tone mapping shows up. Gidget in the film goes from being plain white to having all those individual strands of fur being visible. Bright sections of the sky in Pan also have clarity that you could previously see in the Dolby Vision version but that were washed out in the UHD Blu-ray copy.

Early Caveats

This isn’t a full review of any of the new OLED models because we couldn’t test streaming and other features, but just an overview of the picture quality. We also didn’t look at audio quality at all for this preview. There is a chance the C7 could have worse image quality, but we don’t see a reason that will be the case since it has the same panel and SoC other than sample variation.

We plan to test more features on TVs this year, including color volume and pixel response time, but didn’t get a chance to do that as the testing isn’t ready yet. We also couldn’t run blur tests during our time with the display. That is another area we’d like to improve this year with better tests and more photography.

Once we spend a few days with a C7 we will be more certain about this, but right now that is the TV we would buy for ourselves this year.

The Best TV Ever?

For almost everyone, it looks like the new LG OLED TVs are the best TV you can get today. The only hesitation we have at all is the massive light output that the Sony Z9D series can do with HDR, but those also cost more than the LG C7 and looks worse with non-HDR content than the LG. Since most people only watch a fraction of HDR now, and the LG still looks exceptional with HDR, we had no hesitation in recommending the updated LG OLED models once they are available.

Review Summary
Product: LG OLED
Reviewer:
Pros: Virtually perfect image quality, improved shadow detail, improved tone mapping, better input lag, the 2017 LG OLED TVs make all content look as good as it can.
Cons: Some LED LCD TVs can still produce more nits for HDR content, but can't touch the black levels of the OLED TVs.
Summary: Unless you absolutely need the peak light output of a TV like the Sony Z9D, you're unlikely to find a better TV than the 2017 LG OLED models. They improved upon all the flaws we saw in the TVs last year, which were already superb, and produce an image that is detailed and you have likely never seen before.
Value: 4.5/5
Performance: 5/5
Overall: 5/5

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  • Edmund Holler

    Thanks for the impressions.
    Did you check input lag yourself or is 21 ms the info that LG gave us at CES.

    • LG had a lag setup using a Leo Bodnar into an HD Fury Integral, to an HD Fury Linker into an E7 in gaming mode that was measuring 21-21.5ms. I did not pack my Leo Bodnar for the trip unfortunately.

  • Rob_Zohn

    Very nice review!

    • Thanks Rob! Maybe one day I can finally get to the shootout, but another one of our writers lives in NYC and has been by the store looking at the E6 this past year. He’ll probably come by to see the C7/E7 once you have them in.

      • Rob_Zohn

        No better time than this year for the 2017 TV Shootout. This year the judging will be done by a panel of professional experts. Joel Silver and Kevin Miller are running the event and selecting the judges. You would be an excellent candidate!

        • That would be interesting and I’d love to try to make that work out.

  • Björn Magnusson

    Any impression regarding stuttering and judder, which is something that is discussed in forums as a weak point on the 2016 LG OLED-models?

    • Using the motion tests off Spears & Munsil it seemed fine, though the interpolation on it was really prone to artifacts but most people don’t use that anyway. They did say all panels are 120Hz, so repeating frames 2 or 5 times, depending on content, should work well. I wasn’t able to side-by-side it to a display with known motion, like a plasma, to really be more definitive than that.

      • Björn Magnusson

        Thanx for your quick reply, Chris!

  • T__C

    I’m curious as to how you are going to test the pixel response time, given that barely any oscilloscopes have the memory or sample rate to measure <1ms !
    Also, these sets still use Sample and Hold, so don't expect moving images at 1080p to be up to Kuros plasma standard, unless they use a new type of fake scanline or something to negate the issue. The Sony OLED that uses this LG panel might be interesting, as Sony's video processing is usually way ahead of LG.

    • What I’m aiming to test is response time for HDR to hit peak light output, which I can do do a reasonable level of accuracy. As an example, some films have HDR peak highlights that last a fraction of a second (only a few frames) and some LED backlights can take 1-2 seconds to reach full power. I plan to test the time from pure black to peak white for each, since if something can hit that instantly, there are situations where that renders HDR visible instead of gone.

      The Sony will be interesting, but I don’t think we get pricing until next week, and I have to imagine it is going to be more expensive. It’ll be a question of how much better (if any) is it, and is that worth the likely premium?

  • venus535

    Thanks for the preliminary review! Another area where I feel the LG OLED displays could improve is with upscaling/video processing. Even though I feel a Sony or Samsung would be better in this regard it’s most likely not enough to sway me away from the overall PQ of the C7. Did you notice an improvement in this area? i.e. can I have my cake and eat it too? Thanks.

    • Scaling looked good using the Spears & Munsil test pattern, and noise reduction also looked good. I didn’t bring content with lower quality content like TV to test and will do that with a more extended review later.

  • Alan Smithee

    If it can’t do 3D then I don’t want it. I just got a 75-inch LG with 3D since I heard they were dropping it; the 3D is amazing on it! Anyone who doesn’t like 3D likely hasn’t seen it like this! I won’t go back to boring 2D regardless.

    • Cliff Harker

      Same for me. shame really.

    • Most people just don’t care much for 3D at the home. 3D on the E6 last year was fantastic, but when we asked readers at The Wirecutter if they cared about 3D a couple of years ago, less than 2% did, so it’s easy to see why companies are dropping it.

      • Alan Smithee

        Wirecutter? I’ve never heard of that- guess it should be shut down.

    • Then I guess you won’t be ever buying another TV then. Most manufacturers are dropping it this year as there is very little want for it and less and less films are being shot in or reformatted in 3d.

      • Alan Smithee

        Better to have only a few really good films in 3D (that actually look good) than several awful-looking ones.

  • wizziwig

    Great early preview!

    Since you have a meter capable of very low light measurements, were you able to measure gamma tracking below 5%? That would be an objective way to measure the shadow detail improvement. Previous OLEDs would rapidly increase gamma to 2.5 – 2.7, etc. causing the apparent shadow crush that many complain about.

    Also, were you able to measure the ABL circuit response to verify the claims of stable brightness when running peak brightness below 150nits? Maybe a table showing the measured brightness at different white window sizes would be helpful – from 5% up to 100% screen area. Thanks.

    • There was no visible shadow crush below 5% that I could see. I mentioned the crush when I reviewed the EG9100 and the E6, but I didn’t see it here. Using a PLUGE pattern, and reading with the Klein, there was an even response from video levels 16-21 that wasn’t possible before.

      The lack of ABL is what I was directly told by one of their engineers. I couldn’t test it on the samples because they had ABL completely disabled to allow us to measure them in a shorter amount of time. Otherwise after 2 minutes in HDR the ABL kicks in and you have to back out of the menu system, and go back in to reset it. We all noticed image retention happening if you left up a 10% window in HDR for a few minutes, so it’s important that ABL exists or people would be able to damage the panels I’m sure.

      I did measure window size vs. nits. Since ABL was disabled I’m not totally confident about the 20% size, but the rest should be relatively accurate. This is with HDR enabled:

      Windows Size: nits
      1: 740 nits
      2: 740 nits
      5: 740 nits
      10: 740 nits
      20: 740 nits (uncertain about this reading)
      30: 425 nits
      40: 362 nits
      50: 319 nits

      • wizziwig

        I bet they just disabled what people on AVS forum refer to as ASBL. There is a thread there titled “How to: Turn off ASBL on LG OLED TV” using the service menu. This is not the same as ABL and only applies to mostly static images such as those displayed during calibration. ABL has more to do with average picture level and doesn’t care if image is moving or static. On previous OLEDs, their SDR brightness would stay constant up to about 25% window size. Above that size, they would start to drop quickly, going from ~700nits to ~120 by the time you displayed a full screen white field. There was no way to disable this automatic dimming so things like bright commercials or snow/ice sports would dim visibly.

        There were rumors that the 2017 models could be adjusted to remain at 150nits for SDR content regardless of the white window size – thus effectively disabling ABL if you don’t need more than 150nits for your SDR viewing. I’m sure the ASBL feature would remain enabled to protect the panel from burn-in.

  • HipHop1977

    I’m looking to upgrade to E6 or E7? Is the price jump worth it? Do you have any videos or pics?

    • I’d get the C7 over the E7 myself, since I don’t care about the sound and styling. If it’s worth it depends on what you watch. If you play lots of video games or watch lots of HDR, then the updates might be worth it more. If you watch more Blu-ray and TV, then you might not notice it quite as much. I’d expect the 2017 prices to come down more once the 2016 models are all gone, but that could be a few months.

      • M Britton

        The price of the LG C7 came down below $4000 after I bought mine for over $5000. It is well worth every dollar spent!!

  • M Britton

    I am looking forward to getting the LG 65C7P soon. I will be replacing a 2015 Samsung 65UN7500 with no HDR. I have been studying and reading on the LG OLED TVs and was thinking of getting a 2016 model but thanks to posts like this I will be buying a 2017 model instead (I can learn to live without 3D). Thanks for the review and looking forward to your updates on the 2017 UHD TVs.

  • Freethinker

    Could someone tell me what ASBL stands for? What the letters mean? Also I
    just got the 2017 E7 model and I see that nowhere in the menu, I’d love
    to use the screen saver to protect against burn it but again nowhere in
    the menu. I noticed the screen saver (firework thing) pops up randomly
    when on some static pictures but on other apps like Netflix when in the
    main menu, I can leave it on for ever and the screen saver never starts.
    So yeah, where can I set the screen saver to my preferences?

  • venus535

    Any update when you will be doing a full review of the C7? Thanks

  • venus535

    Any update when you will be doing a full review of the C7? Thanks

    • No, hopefully soon, and we’ll have the Sony A1E to directly compare it to.

  • Chris

    Will lower quality content like 480, 720p and 1080p content still look as good on this 4K oled to compared how good it looked on the older full hd oled models?
    Is HDR a setting that can be turned on or off or is it dependant on the source?

    • If the LG detects an HDR source (since it has to pass metadata), it will kick into HDR mode. For non-HDR sources, you can do a simulated HDR mode if you want to, but it does not force that on you. Scaling and noise reduction were both much improved compared to last year so lower resolution sources will look better than in the past.