LG's new OLED TVs: intelligent processors and HDMI 2.1
When TV and OLED panel manufacturers LG wanted to see me, I sure didn’t reject their invitation. After all, OLED TVs deliver the best picture quality money can buy. The technology is based on organic light-emitting diodes, which not only produce the image, but also their own light. This ensures perfect black, excellent contrast values and therefore better colours.
At first glance, LG's offices don’t match this quality standard: TVs are staged on plastic podiums, the light in the converted conference room is really poor and the location grey and dull. There’s no sign of a pretentious roadshow as known from Sony, nor is there any presentation in a chic loft suite over the rooftops of Zurich’s Niederdorf as in the old days at Samsung. LG prefers to let their TVs speak for themselves.
According to LG, the new ones should be available from May 2019 – and they’re impressive.
The second generation image processor
Last year’s largest LG innovation was the Alpha 9 processor, which boasted a significant performance and allowed displaying High Frame Rate (HFR) content at UHD resolution or upscaling for non-HFR sources. Inserting single black frames, a technology called Black Frame Insertion (BFI), reduces motion blur, but without the annoying soap opera effect of cheap reality TV productions.
In addition, the processor improved noise suppression and increased contrast values of individual objects – always striving for the best possible picture.
This is important, as LG never gets tired of stressing this new processor is about evolution more than about revolution. That's why it doesn’t come with a new number, i.e. Alpha 10, but the addition «Gen 2», which stands for the second generation.
In other words: the new processor can do everything the old one can, but is additionally supported by artificial intelligence and learning algorithms. LG refers to this as «Deep Learning» or «AI Picture» and «AI Sound». Marketing talk. What it really comes down to is that the Alpha 9 Gen 2 processor analyses source material, compares it with a database and then optimises it. This is strongly reminiscent of what Samsung's 8K TVs do when upscaling non-8K content.
Thanks to artificial intelligence, LG's new OLED televisions test incoming video and audio signals much more thoroughly than before. The processor doesn't only make a difference between «film» and «news», but knows if a horror movie or a romantic comedy is on. With this information, it optimises picture and sound. According to LG representatives, it should even be possible to convert a 2-channel stereo sound into a 5.1 surround sound.
By the way: The exchange between TV and database takes place online because the TV is updated every few months with new filters and settings. If you don't like this, you can turn off the data flow. In this case, the television works with the local database only.
The new processor is also capable of adjusting the image to the light conditions around the television, which are recorded by a sensor. Not a bad point. OLED TVs are generally less bright than their LCD competitors due to the organic material LEDs are made of. Indeed, the new OLEDs have a maximum brightness of about 850-950 nits, as an LG representative confirmed. Samsung's 8K-Q900R TV, on the other hand, has a maximum brightness of 4000 nits. This is a blessing, especially in bright living rooms.
But instead of just increasing the brightness to compensate for sunlight that might create paler colours, the new Alpha 9 processor finetunes the colour and tone mapping curve. That's supposed to be smarter. And sounds intriguing. Is the reality as impressive? I don’t know yet, but I’ll put this TV to the test very soon.By the way: Of all OLED models, the B-Series is the only one that was equipped with the Alpha-7 processor last year. Accordingly, it's equipped with the 2nd generation Alpha-7 processor this year. The Alpha-7 processor is like the Alpha 9 processor, just with a little less computing power.
HDMI 2.1 for fans of picture quality, great sound and gaming
What’s finally on board: HDMI 2.1. On all ports. That’s not just great, it’s amazing. HDMI 2.1 massively increases the bandwidth in which data is transferred between external devices and televisions via HDMI cables. This bandwidth is crucial and neglected too often.
It’s beyond me why, as bandwidth is extremely important for anyone who’s into picture quality, sound experience and gaming. HDMI 2.1 isn’t only great for transferring 8K content via HDMI cable – not to mention 8K is still a long way off – but it has even more exciting advantages in store for us right here and now. These include:
- transferring dynamic HDR metadata such as for Dolby Vision
- uncompressed audio formats thanks to eARC, for example for Dolby Atmos or DTS:X
- variable refresh rates for gaming without juddering when image composition and refresh rate aren’t synchronous
- frame rates of up to 120 frames per second (FPS) at UHD resolution, even when gaming
What’s especially interesting for gamers is that the new OLEDs support the Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM). ALLM is a function defined in the HDMI 2.1 standard that detects game signals and puts connected devices in a kind of game mode. For example, the game console, which is connected to an AV receiver or a sound bar and from there, is connected to the television. If all devices support ALLM, unnecessary image processing algorithms are deactivated, allowing the picture to get from the console to the TV with as low a latency as possible.
Why this comes in so handy? Because it means users don't have to fight their way through a menu on every device to game with ideal settings – and they don’t have to revert every single setting again to watch a movie. The last important detail for gamers: The input lag in game mode is said to be as excellent as 13 milliseconds, even with UHD HDR picture quality and Dolby Atmos sound.
What’s more: Google Assistant, Alexa and AirPlay 2
Let’s start with the good news: The new OLEDs will not only offer complete Google Assistant support via ThinQ AI, but will also be able to communicate with Amazon's Alexa. In addition, LG is following Samsung’s footsteps and working with Apple. This allows supporting AirPlay 2 and streaming iTunes and Apple TV content directly to the TV without Apple's set-top box.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? This takes us to the bad news: all this isn’t available in Switzerland for the time being. When will our time come? Nobody could answer this question. «In 2019, but more likely in the second half of the year,» is what the LG representatives told me. I remember getting the same answer last year when I asked about the Google Assistant. And we're still waiting for it today. Seems like no real progress has been made in the confusing Swiss jungle of licences. «In Germany, these services are already up and running with no problems at all,» I am told. Nice for some, but no help for me.
Bright future: 8K OLED televisions and rollable OLEDs
Following the trend of calling everything artificial intelligence that contains halfway advanced software, LG puts «AI» in front of every marketing buzzword. «Artificial intelligence»? More like «As If»! Putting aside my cynicism, I must admit LG has managed to evolve its OLED range in a way that makes sense – rather than attempting to repair what wasn’t broken. Good job.
But the second half of the year promises to become especially exciting for OLED fans: it’s when the first 8K OLED TV ever is released. In 88 inches, a size in which 8K televisions could actually be worth their money. But no LG representative was willing to name a recommended retail price. Maybe because it’s going to be astronomically high?
Anyway, the real star will be the rollable OLED TV, which caused a sensation at the CES 2019 in Las Vegas and will be available on digitec at the end of the year.
I can’t wait to see this OLED screen that disappears without a trace into what doubles as a TV furniture and a 4.2 sound bar system with 100 watts of power.